Puzzle games and Online games

Archive for June 2010

Midnight club has dragged itself out of the shadows and in doing so has instantly disassociated itself with the slightly teenage Fast and Furious aesthetic. This is an older, wiser, classier racer than before, with slick, HDR-lit visuals and a genuine sense of power in its engines. As its core, though, Midnight Club remains faithful to its original premise. The open world is used to stage races with no boundaries point-to-point challenges where having a taxi-driver like knowledge of the streets pays dividends.

You can follow the flaming checkpoints, of course, but savvy drivers will use back alleys, subtly disguised ramps and corner-shaving petrol stations to gain an advantage. Nothing new of course, but rarely has it looked and left so coherent and substantial. The RAGE engine has been created not just to shift polygons but also to emote, to allow Rockstar’s development teams to suck us further into their games.

A good example of such immersive techniques is Los Angeles Turbo mode. The camera slides in behind the car when you hit the NOS, the screen fades to sepia and the bass begins to thud. The sense of danger is dramatically increased: the motion blur combined with a narrowed viewing angle makes dodging through the traffic a harrowing experience. Just as it should be, and when you crash, the impact is terrifying. Whereas other racing titles may revel in the pornographic glory of a traffic accident, Los Angeles has gone for a raw, gritty, nasty feel.

Adding to this notion of gritty reality, Los Angeles is a stringently streaming gaming experience, while the arcade handling and ridiculous speed disregard any notion of genuine realism, this is still a world that wants you to believe its real. So, after flagging a rival driver for a race, you drive to the start line, race your wheels into the axles, and then finish, straight back into the city. No loading times, no menus, everything has been crafted so you feel connected to the Los Angeles streets. Immersion is Rockstar’s ethos this generation.

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Although World War II may be the most popular video game setting since the omnipresent lava world, usually we only see combat from the ground. Heroes of the Pacific focuses on the aerial component of that war, and pull if off with such finesse that it earns a mark next to such great WWII labels as the Brothers in Arms and Call of Duty franchises.

Although Heroes is far from the first WWII fight sim, it soars high score above the other games thanks to its incredible attention to detail. The shifting, multilayered clouds are truly a sight to behold, and the water below is equally impressive. Of course, what is more stunning is the sight of a hundred Japanese planes barreling down on you.

Of course, looks aren’t anything without substance (just look at Paris Hilton), and fortunately Heroes delivers on this front as well. Controlling the various planes is completely intuitive and each one has its own unique handling. The different missions are also expertly paced – dogfights are broken up with bombing runs and a huge variety of other tasks, so you never feel like you’re simply shooting everything that flies. There are even a nice variety of multiplayer games modes and bonus missions included.

Syphon Filter:  Take the graphics, for instance, which were already quite stunning the first time around. The character models still look as good as ever, but some of the environments are especially impressive.

Water plays a part in some of the new environs, and while it looks amazing when you are on the surface, actual underwater combat is only so-so. The bulk of the game centers on either being stealthy or flagrantly combative, but underwater combat strips that away (you’re slower and can’t really use cover). It’s not horrible by any means, but we definitely prefer fighting with ground beneath our feet.

One complaint we had about the first game was that the story wasn’t all that engaging, and sadly, we have to say the same about Logan’s Shadow. The basic premise of sidekick Lian Xing possibly being a double agent is intriguing, but the major plot points are predictable – which is kind of surprising given that author Greg Rucka (Queen and Country, Whiteout) helped craft the story.

Everything else is great, though. Both the multiplayer and the gameplay are better than ever – the former thanks to two new modes (Retrieval, which is like Capture the Flag, and the Sabortage, where you, well, Sabortage your opponents), and the latter thanks to new features like being able to use enemies as human shields. It’s enhancement like these that help make Logan’s Shadow the best in the series.

Functionally Open Warfare 2 is flawless: connections are mostly solid and reliable with little slowdown. In terms of features, Worms is far in advance of any other PSP game too. As well as regular deathmatches, it is also possible to take part in ‘Fort’ games, where each side protects a base, and ‘Races’ where teams compete to Ninja Rope from one end of level to another. Each mode is bolstered by a healthy set of leaderboards that rival even the best Xbox Live games for comprehensiveness.

If the game judged on these merits alone then it would surely achieve the highest possible score, if only for the fact that it is that much more advanced than any other PSP title. Sadly Open Warfare 2 features a slight variation to the rules that will infuriate Worms purists for the way that it unbalances the game. Play a ranked match in any other version of Worms and the weapon scheme will be limited to the low powered weapons in order to force players to adopt strategic tactics, which ultimately makes the game fair. In Open Warfare 2, though, every ranked game is assigned a random weapon scheme that could potentially allow a player to win a game in just one turn with a Concrete Donkey, the most powerful weapon, and send them flying up the leaderboards.

That such an oversight has crept into series that always prides itself on balance in both astonishing and shameful. What is genuinely the best Worms game in years in reduced to one of the worst when playing online, which is even more of a shame, considering the potential offered by the wealthy set of options? Anyone who cares about ranking should therefore stick to Live Arcade for now.