‘Gentlemen Of The Road’ by Michael Chabon – Review (Book)

I can safely say that Gentlemen Of The Road is quite unlike any other book I’ve ever read.

The story of an African and a German, both Jewish, who are road travelling bandits around the year 950AD stands alone in both tone and good old fashioned story telling.

Gentlemen Of The Road is the kind of book I’d expect my father or grandfather to have read as a child – it’s written in a very traditional style and this certainly lends some character to the proceedings.

The two main protaganists, Amran and Zelikman, find themselves caught up in a plot to restore a displaced Khazar prince to the throne. As they make their way across the land they help trigger a sequence of events that make for a great read.

Amran and Zelikman’s banter and discussion give an impression of how much the pair have been through together and for the most part was written well and used subtly.

At times Chabon’s style was a little bit too much and felt more like I was reading a text book than a novel but overall ‘Gentlemen Of The Road’ is well worth your time, especially if you enjoy a good, old-fashioned tale.

Rating 7/10

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Mafia II – Review (PS3)

Mafia II tells the story of Vito Scaletta, a returning war veteran who comes home to find life has changed while he’s been away and soon finds himself mixed up in the world of the Mafia.

This game is an interesting beast, as during a lot of the promo leading up to its release we were led to believe it would be open world (ala GTA) at least in some parts. In reality this is a very linear experience and that has led to some negative feedback.

Personally while that discovery came as a disappointment if you can look beyond it then you will find a strong, solid single player experience with a well crafted and immersive story.

Vito’s tale takes place over many years and in some interesting environments, all based (on the whole) in Empire Bay. The mission structure is fairly varied throughout and the story progresses at a nice pace.

Unfortunately there are a few issues that stop the game from being a great experience.

Firstly there seems to be no balance in terms of your death and the death of your enemies. For you to take down an enemy usually takes between 3 and 4 shots (headshots not withstanding) but it felt like you could be downed by two shots or even one which, while realistic, didn’t seem fair when faced with 4 or 5 enemies at a time.

Even worse than that is the somewhat insane decision to have minimal checkpoints in missions. Sometimes I would battle through two or three areas of numerous enemies only to die and have to start right back at the beginning. On a few occasions there was even a break in play and conversation between characters – a perfect place for a checkpoint. 😡

Enemy AI also felt a little random – half the time you faced hapless fools walking into your line of fire of their own accord and the rest of time your enemies were like a well trained SWAT team.

The world created for Mafia II is stunning – it’s how you want the 50’s to have looked and it is a lovely touch to have the city change over the years of the game. Graphically the game is good, not stunning, but certainly one you’ll enjoy watching.

I had a blast playing through this game and as I said if you take it for what it is, as opposed to what it isn’t, you’ll be well rewarded.

The plot of Mafia II is your standard gangster fare with a few surprises thrown in and that is the game’s strongest point. It’s well written and the chemistry between the main characters is believable and, at times, genuinely funny.

If you have any interest in this era or the workings of the Mafia then this is a game that will let you play through a slice of that lifestyle.

Rating: 7/10

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Dante’s Inferno – Review (PS3)

Dante’s Inferno was one of those games where I had seen mixed reviews, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Sometimes those games turn out great and other times not so much.

Taking it’s cue from the novel of the same name, but making it clear it’s inspired by rather than true to it, Dante’s Inferno see you play as Dante who upon returning from the Crusades finds an unsavoury fate has befallen his loved one.

To regain what he has lost Dante must venture through the 9 circles of hell.

This gives the game designers a chance to show off some wonderfully vivid art styles. The book is dark and the game matches it, with some of the visceral backdrops and enemies inspiring a sense of wonder and disgust – often at the same time.

The gameplay is very much God Of War with a light attack, heavy attack and ‘magic’ in the form of Dante’s Holy Cross, which can be used to smite enemies and tortured souls.

My initial problems with the game were mainly due to a challenging difficulty level that I found led to some repetitive early battles. I expect the makers were aiming for ‘epic’ but for me it was just too frustrating and boring to keep hitting square repeatedly. Switching down to easy meant the enemies took less hits which helped make the game flow better (in my opinion).

Graphically the game is superb and the cut scenes have to be seen to be believed. The first half of the game was really impressive and while it felt like an extension of a God Of War title due to the similar controls/gameplay Dante’s Inferno was holding it’s own against Kratos huge adventure.

Unfortunately from around halfway through things began to get a little tired in more ways than one. Some of the environments started to appear less and less engaging and more like traditional versions of hell.

The boss battles were interesting at times but silly things like timing jumps and leaps accounted for more than a few unwarranted deaths and the last level smacks of laziness. I won’t spoil it for you but to battle through a game like this only to be met by a completely uninspired and tedious final level killed my enjoyment of the game.

Overall then for me this is all about context – if this game had come out last year it may have scored more highly but in a year when I’ve battled my way through Bayonetta and God Of War III, Dante’s Inferno just feels a little bit like too much of the same.

Sadly while there are some great ideas in here a lot of the gameplay is lifted almost directly from God Of War. Worth a play through then but if you fancy some hack and slash you’d be better off sticking to God Of War III.

Rating: 6/10

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PES2011 v FIFA 11 (PS3)

 

The perennial battle for football dominance in the gaming marketplace has kicked off with both FIFA and PES releasing their latest iterations last month.

Regular readers of my blog will know that after a decade of PES I switched to FIFA last year and have not regretted the decision.

So how do the two compare this year? Here’s a breakdown of areas so we can see them side by side:

GRAPHICS

                                                                                    PES 2011 really does shine graphically.

Graphically PES takes this one. While FIFA11 is an improvement on last year’s FIFA title, Pro Evolution definitely trumps it in the looks department.

TACKLING

A fairly even one here, with both games giving you the ability to slide or block tackle and both games doing it well.

SHOOTING

                                                                                   FIFA 11’s numerous goal celebrations always raise a smile… for the scorer at least.

Both games have similar shooting mechanics and it’s possible to score some great goals in both games. I feel FIFA’s shooting has been refined nicely and PES’ has been improved on since the last game.

PASSING

FIFA11 starts to come into its own as you delve into the deeper gameplay aspects. Passing is superb and you truly do have full control over where the ball goes. In PES they have finally introduced a power bar for through balls and given you more control but it doesn’t quite match up to FIFA’s freedom.

AI

Sadly AI is where PES falls down completely. Players not making runs (or worse starting one then stopping just as you’ve passed it to them) and defenders standing redundant as attackers breeze past are just two of the problems. The goalkeepers in particular are still a bit unpredictable and while FIFA’s AI isn’t perfect it is certainly believable.

OVERALL GAMEPLAY

 

                                                                                FIFA retains it’s title as king of the football games for another year.

Overall then FIFA11 just feels like a better game, the range of freedom is too great to dismiss. It’s not perfect but it is one of the best football games I’ve ever played. PES 2011 is the game 2008 should’ve been. This is essentially the first proper ‘next gen’ PES. An overhaul was needed and that’s what PES got – now they need to tweak the formula. I suspect next year will be the closest battle between these two for a while but currently FIFA retains the crown as king of the football games.

FINAL RATINGS

PES 2011 – 7/10
FIFA 11 – 9/10

So big strides forward this year for PES but not enough to close the gap completely on FIFA. Next year should certainly be interesting though, especially if PES continues to improve over the next 12 months.

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