Fight Night Champion – Review (PS3)

“A story mode? In a BOXING game? Oh you mean a career mode… What? An actual story?!”

It was one of those announcements that prompted a double take – EA Sports latest instalment of the Fight Night series would contain a Rocky-esque story mode in which you take on the role of Andre Bishop, a former Gold medalist who finds himself wrongly sent to prison.

The immediate concern for some fans of the series was that this would be at the expense of the career mode, where you build your own fighter and battle to the top.

That certainly isn’t true, career mode is present and correct, but what surprised me was that after playing the story I had no interest in moving on to the career mode I loved in Fight Night Round 4.

That isn’t a criticism of the career mode at all, it’s just that the story mode (clocking in under 6 hours) was more than enough single player action for me and I suspect the career mode wouldn’t grab me as much.

Let’s back up a little bit and talk about the game in general.

The graphics are improved and the fighters move fluidly enough, there are still a couple of stiff animations but overall Fight Night Champion looks the part. The cut scenes in the story mode look great and you can see a lot of care has gone into them.

As for gameplay, they have included face button controls for those who don’t want to use the analogue sticks – so hopefully everyone’s happy? – and the fights themselves are great to be involved in. A plus for me is the inclusion of one punch knockouts, which were missing last time and I felt Round 4 suffered for it.

Moving back to the story, it’s a nice little tale – if a bit predictable – with some good voice acting and writing. The story mode isn’t just straight up fights all the time, it will also throw you into various scenarios (only use one hand, defend your cut eye etc) which helps add to the drama and spectacle.

Fight Night Champion’s story won’t be winning any awards but it’s well told and does the job it needs to. I certainly came out of the other end with a smile on my face and would be interested in playing another story mode if EA made one (whether that’s in boxing, football, hockey or whatever).

The online works fine and I enjoyed my time during the free trial – I don’t think I got enough out of it to pay up for the online pass (if you buy the game new you get the pass with it) but there was no lag whatsoever and I had a couple of good fights.

Overall then I’d recommend Fight Night Champion but as good as it is, maybe more as a rent than a buy. If you’re really into boxing games then I’d say buy it but for the more casual fan I’m not sure there is enough longevity for a purchase.

Rating: 8/10

‘Your Heart Belongs To Me’ by Dean Koontz – Review (Book)

Ryan Perry is a man with a problem. A heart problem to be precise. After suffering a few episodes in which he feels himself slipping away he seeks medical advice and is told he has cardiomyopathy, an heredity condition which is the deterioration of the function of the myocardium (the actual heart muscle) for any reason. People with cardiomyopathy are often at risk of sudden cardiac death.

He waits patiently for a donor, which is his only shot at surviving beyond the next year. Suddenly the opportunity arises via a different doctor and he takes it. Then the fun begins.

As things begin to turn sinister Ryan tries to track down the family of his heart donor. But is everything that is going on really happening? Or has his paranoia finally got the better of him?

Dean Koontz’s usual writing style shines through but I found it hard to sympathise with Ryan Perry, in fact I ended up feeling more for his girlfriend, Samantha – who ended up having to deal with the fallout from his illness.

‘Your Heart Belongs To Me’ certainly isn’t one of Koontz’s strongest novels but it moves along at a fair pace and it isn’t a dull read.

For whatever reason this novel didn’t really ‘click’ for me and I found it less enjoyable and not as captivating as some of Koontz’s other work.

Rating: 6/10

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LittleBigPlanet2 – Review (PS3)

LittleBigPlanet blew the doors off User Generated Content (UGC) back in 2008 with it’s full level designer and freedom of creation. Staggeringly the levels just kept getting made and topped 3 million 😯 by August 2010!

With that in mind a lot of people questioned whether a sequel was needed but Media Molecule reassured everyone that this would be a substantial overhaul… they weren’t kidding.

There has been a fairly big improvement graphically and several new materials have been added into the mix, all of which look great.

What we thought was freedom previously has turned out to be a small cupboard and with LittleBigPlanet2 Media Molecule have ripped open the back of it to reveal a Narnia-type world of creation.

Pretty much limited to horizontal and vertical scrolling viewed from the side on in the first title with LBP2 you can create all types of games; top down racers, first person shooters and even stunning recreations of existing games (you should most definitely check out the Super Mario Bros. GameBoy level).

The key to creation in LBP2 (as it was with the original) is that you can make a decent level with basic skills if you have a good idea to go with it. For the more creative/technical among us there is a massive selection of wizardry to help spice up your levels.

The single player experience is decent enough and while some of the new puzzle ideas are clever there wasn’t much that really taxed me. As someone who sometimes struggles with much beyond what I call the ‘Uncharted level of puzzling’ I was quite surprised.

I certainly died a lot less than the first game, which was welcome and while the story is fluff, it’s fun fluff and is one of the more charming games out there – especially in terms of characterisation.

LittleBigPlanet2 is a great game with a decent story mode and enough user created levels to last a life time. While it doesn’t make the same impact as the original it’s a worthy sequel and I’m looking forward to dipping back in from time to time to check out what other PSN’ers have been creating.

Rating: 8/10Β 

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Hacksville: Population 70m+

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last three weeks you’ll have noticed that the PS3 has been without it’s online component, the PSN.

Someone hacked into the network and stole users personal data so Sony shut down the entire online aspect of it’s service to investigate.

It took a week or so for them to fill gamers in because they were waiting for the investigation to be completed by a third party. Once they had the confirmation they let us know the following day.

Online is a big part of the gaming experience for a lot of people.

This is apparently standard procedure (see here for more details) but it was the announcement that the hackers could also have got hold of users credit card details that ruffled feathers.

It usually takes something controversial for gaming to appear in the mainstream news, let alone make the headlines, so the theft of over 70m users credit card details was just what the media ordered.

The truth of the matter is that, at present, Sony has nothing to prove that credit card details were taken and no-one has reported any unauthorised activity on their cards.

Killzone 3 was a recent flagship online game for Sony, will people return to it or play fresher titles?

From a personal perspective I immediately cancelled my card and ordered a new one. Any concerns from my end were then finished.

Sony vowed to increase security and apologised for the breach. They have also offered some compensation in the form of some free games and a month of Playstation Plus for free.

As time rolled on and a few days turned into a week, which turned into two weeks… gamers seemed to be getting overly irate.

What impact will the outage have on the sales of a game heavily based around multiplayer, like Brink?

Now I accept that Sony has to shoulder some blame for this but someone breached the security they had in place and attacked them. I’m presuming this was a data theft issue because any group, such as anonymous, that attempted this to inconvenience Sony will have lost any support from PS3 gamers.

In terms of getting back online I would much rather the PSN was down an extra week or two now with better security than have it back up and running now, only to see it taken down again a few weeks later with problems.

Sony’s initial response was by the book according to people in the know, so waiting until the investigation was complete before commenting was ok with me. But the handling of it over the last few weeks has been ridiculous. The phrase ‘a few more days’ has been wheeled out at every opportunity, when realistically they must have known they were looking at weeks rather than days.

Were some gamers really desperate enough to play Call Of Duty that they would trade in their PS3?

There haveΒ been plenty of claims of people trading in their PS3 for an XBox 360 so they can play online, which I find hard to believe. Buying a 360 as well? Can see that as an option for people with the cash to do so. But trading in your PS3? What about the exclusives coming up such as Infamous 2, Resistance 3, Uncharted 3 or the just announced Starhawk?

The time the PSN has been down has been a blessing in disguise for me as I’ve knocked out a huge chunk of my single player backlog before the arrival of L.A Noire.

Over the last three weeks I’ve made my way through Bulletstorm, SOCOM 4, the first episode of Back To The Future: The Game, Stacking, Crysis 2, Portal 2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Not to mention throwing countless hours into Mass Effect 2.

The outage meant I cleared a big chunk of my game backlog.

I rediscovered my love of single player gaming. With the PSN showing signs of life this week it might be time to rediscover my love of online gaming.

What did you guys so in the downtime? Play much? Turn to other pursuits? What did you think of Sony’s handling of the situation – from the actual security itself to the response and release of information?

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God Of War: Ghost Of Sparta – Review (PSP)

Ghost Of Sparta takes place after the events of the original God Of War game and sees Kratos going in search of his brother Deimos.

Ready At Dawn have already shown themselves to be masters of the PSP with the previous God Of War handheld release, Chains Of Olympus, and they do not disappoint here.

This is a God Of War title so expect the usual mix of hack ‘n’ slash & puzzle solving. Those looking for something new will be left wanting, despite a few additions in terms of weapons and magic Ghost Of Sparta is very much God Of War by numbers. For me personally that isn’t a big issue as I enjoy the gameplay style and light puzzle sections.

Graphically the developers are wringing everything possible from the PSP and some of the set pieces are spectacular. God Of War is also fortunate in that the camera problem that usually arises in 3rd person adventure games on PSP is negated by using a fixed camera view. Less freedom but also a lot less frustration.

While the story had a few twists and turns the fact that it’s set before most of the other titles in the series meant that if you’ve played the later games you had a good idea of who would survive this part. On the other hand it’s always nice to have recognisable characters from the series drop in and cause a bit of havoc. πŸ™‚

The combat is good and follows the standard template, with combos and ‘fire’ attacks that help break enemies armour. QTE’s return and are used at a decent enough interval that they don’t feel too stale. They are as gory and violent as ever, really giving you a feel for Kratos’ thirst for bloodshed.

Magic has been given some new varieties and can be a welcome assistance at times, especially when trying to handle multiple enemy types all at once.

Overall then, Ghost Of Sparta is an awesome PSP title and the developer has done a great job of pushing the PSP to it’s limit. If you liked Chains Of Olympus (or are a God Of War fan) then you will enjoy this game – it’s more of the same but when it’s this good that won’t be a problem for most people.

Rating: 9/10