Crysis 3 – Review (PS3)

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I wasn’t a massive fan of Crysis 2 but enjoyed it enough to be looking forward to giving Crysis 3 a shot. I hadn’t seen much in the way of trailers or previews so I was expecting more of the same.

And for the most part that’s what I got. However Crysis 3 does some things to set it apart from it’s predecessor.

Graphically I’d say the game is another step up, especially in terms of the human faces on the characters. The world is well crafted and the opening moments in the rain are gorgeous.

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My main gripe from the last game, enemies spotting you from miles away while you’re trying to formulate a plan, has thankfully been remedied. If you keep yourself relatively well hidden it’s rare for enemies to randomly spot you (at least on Normal difficulty) and this adds even more depth to the tactical options you have.

The ‘nanosuit’ you wear delivers different abilities that all drain the suit’s power level. The power recharges over time but this means you can’t just spam one ability indefinitely, which is a good thing.

You can either try to just blast your way through trouble using the armor ability to soak up more damage, use your suit’s super jump ability to get yourself out of a situation or avoid the situation altogether by activating your cloaking ability and sneaking past the enemies.

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I found myself mixing and matching a lot more in Crysis 3 as opposed to the previous game because of the extra freedom afforded to the player in terms of enemy patterns/awareness. I don’t feel any of the changes that improved things have affected the AI of enemies – who still deal with you ruthlessly if they get the chance.

I wasn’t particularly invested in the story that carries over but I did like your British colleague ‘Psycho’ and thought his voice acting was fairly strong. I could take or leave the story though, unfortunately it didn’t really resonate with me. It was a surprisingly short campaign as well but to be honest that was a plus because it meant minimal filler.

Weapons have a hefty feel to them, which is nice, and the bow is a welcome addition. I didn’t use it as much as I did the one in Tomb Raider but it definitely got me out of a few sticky situations – especially the explosive arrows!

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The multiplayer was fairly decent fun but there was nothing really in there to pull me in and keep me playing. Unfortunately, Crysis 3 seems to be one of those titles where the multiplayer isn’t really needed but they persist with it anyway. It’s definitely not bad, it’s certainly playable and competitive, however the suit abilities aren’t really enough the hook you in. Even the new ‘Hunter’ mode doesn’t add much to the package.

Crysis 3 is a weird game to review – it’s an improvement on the previous game and it’s online offering is better than Crysis 2. I liked some of the characterisation and graphically it looked great. It’s just that the rest of it was, well… average. I wouldn’t recommend people not to play Crysis 3, it’s worth the time but perhaps this is a title that would be best suited to a rental as opposed to a purchase.

Rating: 7/10

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Tomb Raider – Review (PS3)

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It’s not often I find myself in a position to make a u-turn on my feelings for a game when I’ve already played some of it and wasn’t keen.

Here’s the main part of my comments on Tomb Raider having played a section at the Eurogamer Expo last September:

I know I joked about it previously but if you only have an XBox 360 and haven’t played the Uncharted games then you’ll love this. Sadly for me, while it plays well, Tomb Raider is just a clone of Uncharted. Hopefully the story will lift this above that status.”

Perhaps a busy exhibition floor wasn’t the most suitable place to experience the game because within 10 minutes of starting Tomb Raider at home I was impressed.

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Graphically the game looks pretty amazing, with good character models and some great lighting and fire effects. Lara’s movement is fairly smooth and animations for both the good guys and enemies are nicely done.

Crystal Dynamics have delivered on their promise of a reboot for Lara Croft. Gone is the Lara of old with the wonky body shape and in her place is a more realistic Lara, both in terms of appearance and character. As a wannabe archaeologist Lara is not a trained hunter/killer and is still wet behind the ears after coming out of college/university.

The opening few hours are definitely the strongest here – Tomb Raider is at its best during tense moments with just one or two enemies. With Lara coming to grips with the fact she’s going to need to do whatever it takes to survive. It’s been talked about a lot but her first kill is handled perfectly.

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Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for Lara to start mowing down 10 or 20 enemies at a time. And it jars more here than it does with something like Uncharted. Possibly because of the tone of the game, I’m not sure but I think if they could’ve found a more creative way to deal with this it could’ve made this one of the best games out there.

The answer isn’t immediately apparent – maybe keep adding new enemy types to keep things fresh but keep the fighting to small skirmishes with just one or two enemies. And then keep that 25 enemy fight for the end of the game? Possibly they could’ve incorporated the great optional tomb puzzles as main quests?

Regardless, on a personal level at least, using the bow for the most part (Lara had studied Archery) and guns as a last resort enabled the disconnect to not be too serious for me.

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Jason Graves (of Dead Space fame) delivers once again with the score and incidental music – this is one of the better scores I’ve heard this year so far. The voice acting is strong and it’s nice to hear so many different local UK accents in one place!

There will no doubt be the inevitable comparisons between Tomb Raider and Uncharted but I think they are different beasts – for now at least. Lara’s origin story is gritty and harrowing. For the most part she is alone, fighting to get her friends back. Nathan Drake spends a lot of time with Sully/Elena/Chloe and that brings with it the opportunity for a few wisecracks and conversation.

In fact the part of the game that felt like Uncharted-lite was the multiplayer – not bad in any sense but the addition of traps isn’t enough to differentiate this from Naughty Dog’s superb online offering. As I said at the top there, if you only have an XBox then you may love this online as it’s different to most stuff out there on the 360.

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Overall though Tomb Raider is a fantastic game. There are a few annoying difficulty spikes here and there but that’s par for the course in most games. Lots of action packed set pieces and climbing/falling moments raise the bar but it’s the quieter moments in Lara’s journey that really struck a chord with me. Considering I wasn’t massively psyched for the game it’s nice to genuinely recommend it as one of 2013’s best offerings so far.

Rating: 9/10

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The Playstation 4 Is Coming… What Do We Know? And What Do We Want?

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So the hype is starting to build on the new Playstation, which is expected to arrive before the end of 2013. I thought it might be a good idea, now that the dust has settled on the reveal, to recap what we know and what I feel Sony need to nail to make the PS4 a ‘must-have’ console for the majority of gamers.

So what exactly have Sony shown us?

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REDESIGNED CONTROLLER

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The Dualshock controller has been revamped with new triggers that curve outwards instead of inwards, redesigned sticks – this time with a ridge feel as opposed to the smooth curves of previous thumbsticks. In addition to that there is a ‘Move’ bar on the back that will be used as a replacement for the red lights currently on top on the PS3 pad. There are also other potential uses for the bar but the ramifications of this aren’t readily apparent to me. Hopefully as time goes on Sony will clarify. There is also a headphone jack right in the pad and a touchpad (that also clicks in) in the centre, much like the rear touchpad on Vita. One of the biggest features is the Share button, which I’ll talk about further just below…

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SHARING CONTENT

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It seems the PS4 will be capable of sharing game content at the touch of a button. The console records some of your gameplay as you go along. You can hit share, quickly edit the footage down and send it on to friends, or the internet at large, straight away. Perfect for those moments where you wish your mates had seen you pull off a genius move/do something so stupid you can’t even believe it. As well as uploading to Facebook or Twitter you’ll also be able to stream gameplay to Twitch TV etc. If you’re stuck on a section you can ask a friend to jump in online and take over the controls. This could also be used for an online version of old skool couch co-op where you and a friend would take turns doing a level each.

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MORE POWERFUL

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I have no idea what all this really means if I’m honest but from what I can gather the above is all good news for us gamers because the PS4 will be more powerful and links in to the next point…

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BETTER FOR GAME MAKERS

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It’s no secret that Sony have been courting indie developers over the last few months, with games like Hotline Miami, Spleunkey and possibly Fez making their way to PS3/Vita. This bodes well for the appearance of future projects of these developers and hopefully we’ll see lots of great titles coming to PS4. Rather than just making the console and getting it out to developers it looks like Sony actively went to developers and asked them what they needed/wanted from the PS4. It seems the PS4 will be easy to develop for from the get-go and will avoid the issues game makers had when getting to grips with the PS3’s complicated architecture. This is good for gamers as it means better, and more, games should be coming for PS4.

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YOUR OLD GAMES WON’T WORK

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The PS4 will NOT play your PS3 game discs. A lot of people have been fairly negative on this point but for me this isn’t a major sticking point. Of course if it played them then great but if it keeps the cost of the new machine down then I’d rather they left it out. I had a backwards compatible PS3 and I can probably count on one hand the times I used it to play a PS2 game. Also if rumours are to be believed old games may be available via streaming.

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BETTER FUNCTIONALITY

PS4 Updates

One of the biggest complaints about the PS3 is the fact that you can’t download updates etc while doing something else. It’s so frustrating to get fired up to play something then have to wait 12 minutes for an update to download. Well with PS4 we will finally have background downloading for updates and also the ability to start playing games while they are still being downloaded from the store. These might sound like small things but they will immediately remedy a big issue with the PS3, so that’s a great thing in my book!

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VITA CROSS OVER

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As a Vita owner another positive of the reveal was the fact that Sony are aiming to have 100% of PS4 games playable on Vita via Remote Play. PS3 has limited remote play so I’m dubious about Sony’s 100% claim but this would be fantastic, especially for me – in a house with just one television. It would give me the option to play a PS4 title while the TV is in use for something else. As well as hosting games the Vita also has a potential use as second screen, like the Wii U controller. I’m personally not excited by this prospect but it might be used in interesting ways so perhaps it could be something more than an inventory/map screen.

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GREAT GAMES ALREADY ANNOUNCED

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At the PS4 reveal Sony showed off a lot more games than I thought they would – in among the impressive tech demos we saw trailers for the following (click on each to see the footage):

While these might not all be brand new IP’s they serve to remind everyone of the strength of the Playstation exclusive universes out there. The Killzone and Infamous series are two of my favourites in recent years so I was happy to have new games for them confirmed.

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So that’s the information we have for now, what is left for Sony to reveal before, or at, E3 in June?

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THE LOOK

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This was probably the biggest gripe from the press/public at large – that Sony didn’t show the actual box for PS4. As much as I love how sleek the consoles have been designed in the past I was more concerned with hearing about the direction Sony were taking with PS4, so the form itself isn’t an issue. How it looks will not affect my decision on whether to get one but I understand that it might for some people.

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RELEASE DATE

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Sony did say ‘Holiday 2013’ but didn’t confirm whether this will be a global release or whether us folks in Europe will have to wait, possibly until early 2014, to get our hands on the hardware.

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PRICE

PS4 Money

This is my personal sticking point. How much is this going to set me back? Some websites have listed the price as Β£399 and said they will not charge more if PS4 turns out to be priced higher than that. I can’t imagine a retailer agreeing to that without some sort of information on the rough price. I would like to see it closer to Β£300, I think at Β£400 it starts to become too expensive. Maybe Β£350 is the right ballpark?

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We should find out about those three things very soon. But what else would I like to see at E3?

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MORE GAMES

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Of course Sony will have more games to announce at E3, either self published or via third party developers/publishers. Here’s a list of titles I’d love to see them talk about at E3:

  • Uncharted 4
  • Fallout 4
  • Red Dead Redemption Sequel
  • New Quantic Dream Project
  • Rainbow Six Patriots
  • New SOCOM
  • Just Cause 3
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 3
  • New Syphon Filter

While some of these are likely (Uncharted 4, Just Cause 3 and Rainbow Six Patriots especially) most are just wishful thinking – Rockstar will be fully focussed on GTA V so I can’t imagine they will be looking to announce anything new at E3. The same goes for EA and Battlefield 4 – they won’t want to muddy the waters by talking about Bad Company 3 (though I wish they would!). The launch of a new console gives Sony a chance to launch new franchises like Knack and Drive Club but also relaunch older ones like Syphon Filter or SOCOM. It will be interesting to see what announcements are made.

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PLAYSTATION PLUS

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As someone who has benefited massively from Playstation Plus I’m keen to find out what the plans are for the service going forward. Rumours point to a streaming service for PS3/PS2/PSOne games being a part of it and that certainly would be interesting, given the ongoing support for PS3 that is continuing through 2013.

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It’s an exciting time in gaming and as someone who wasn’t convinced on getting a PS4 right out of the gates, after the reveal I find myself becoming more tempted. Essentially I expect it will come down to price for me.

But what about you guys? Are you planning on picking one up – if so are you thinking you will at launch? Or further down the line? What is the biggest consideration for you?

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Persona 4 Golden – Review (Vita)

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As someone who has never played, or been interested in playing, a Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG), such as Final Fantasy or Valkyria Chronicles, I was intrigued to see Persona 4 Golden essentially clear up the Vita Game Of The Year awards at most gaming sites last year.

Released back in 2012 in the US/Japan the game finally arrived to Europe in February. Having read from practically every gaming site I trust/respect that this was the best Vita game out and one of the best JRPG’s around I felt obliged to give it a try.

The jazzy intro left me with a smile on my face but also a quizzically raised eyebrow as I wondered exactly what I had let myself in for.

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The game is a year in the life of Yu Narukami as he transers schools to spend a year living with his Uncle in a small town called Inaba. You have control over his life, from schoolwork to making friends and even deciding on where to work part time. While the story doesn’t change your decisions do affect your relationships throughout the game.

And Persona 4 Golden is all about relationships. Whether it’s your friends or relatives, everything you do has a knock on effect on what the game calls your ‘Social Links’. The better your social links the more powerful your (and your allies) Personas can become when fighting shadows.

Oh, did I forget to mention as well as Yu Narukami’s daily life of school and work you also FALL INTO TV’s AND BATTLE SHADOW MONSTERS πŸ˜†

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Without getting too spoilerific, you discover that you can access this other world through the TV. After a spate of murders in Inaba, you realise they are tied to the other world. You and your friends decide to try and save whoever might be the next victim.

Because I hadn’t played a game like this before I put Persona 4 Golden on ‘Very Easy’ and to be honest this was probably a wise move. I died in battle only a handful of times and when I did was able to revive on the spot with full health. While this reduced the challenge of combat it enabled me to get to grips with the game without becoming frustrated. It also meant I was free to concentrate on the social side of the game and just enjoy the story.

And what a story it is. Traditionally Japanese games have been a bit more ‘out there’ than Western titles (see Bayonetta/Vanquish/Metal Gear Solid) and Persona 4 Golden is no different but the game also deals with some interesting themes – loneliness, responsibility and even coming to terms with one’s masculinity. It might be wrapped up in J-Pop gloss but Persona is definitely full of great character arcs.

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The characters are well written and by the end of the game I genuinely cared about them. It’s not often that happens with game characters – probably The Walking Dead, Mass Effect and Uncharted games are the most recent examples I can think of.

As you build relationships with the other characters you’ll get different options in terms of who to spend time with and the game often gives you a few options when you only have time for one. You may even eventually get a girlfriend (or several if that’s more your ‘style’) and the game does a good job of conveying the slightly embarrassing beginnings of a school relationship at that age.

The difference between this and other games with social options is that Persona 4 Golden isn’t just a case of ‘this person likes/dislikes you’ it’s that in forging and building these relationships you are effectively levelling up. Even studying and doing well at school gives you bonuses. It means that of all the 41 hours I ploughed into the game not a minute was wasted. There was no filler.

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The combat is based around fighting monsters in dungeons that are themed around various thoughts/fears of the townspeople. You have the ability to call on monsters of your own (Personas) to aid you and you’ll always be with a few of your friends (another difficult choice, who do you take with you?). You walk around the dungeon freely in third person and once an encounter is initiated the action moves to a turn based setting.

I won’t go into story details beyond the above but I enjoyed it and thought it did a good job of maintaining the mystery of events until the reveal. One word of advice though, keep 3 or 4 rolling saves because it is VERY easy to miss the real ending of the game. First time out I got a disappointing ending that skipped 3 months of in-game time (around 8/10 hours of gameplay) so keep a spare save ready to go back if needed.

Even going back and getting the proper ending I still missed a part of the game and didn’t have a back up (thinking I’d finished) so I will have try and get to that on my next playthrough. Yep I plan to go back through the game again, this time on a more competitive setting.

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I didn’t imagine Persona 4 Golden would grab me so hard if I’m honest – as I said at the outset I’ve never been interested in this type of game before but I’ll be keeping an eye on the genre now and hopefully might find some other great experiences for my Vita.

If you have a Vita then I can’t recommend this enough, Persona 4 Golden is a fantastic game that offers a lot more than just turn based combat and will leave you wanting more at each turn.

Rating: 10/10

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