james debate
james debate

Monday, 2 June 2008

There have been a lot of really good games released recently, and like a lazy sack of crap I haven't reported on them for a long while. I will make up for that now by reporting on some of the best of the recent bunch of games.

The shortlist of games that deserve to be played now is as follows: Super Smash Bros Brawl, GTA4, Crysis, Bully, The World Ends with You, Mass Effect and Guitar Hero 3. I will briefly give you the low down on Brawl, GTA4 and The World Ends with You, not because they're the best games, but because they're the most worthy of note for various reasons, and appeal to very different audiences, so whatever you like, you'll probably find something here.

Super Smash Bros Brawl (Wii):
If you had an N64 or Gamecube, then I'm sure you know what this is. This is the latest entry into the Smash Bros Franchise, and indeed it is the best one yet.

Imagine Melee, the gamecube incarnation. Now imagine it bigger... a lot bigger. More characters, more levels, more game modes and slightly improved graphics. Add to this the awesome new stage builder, hundreds and hundreds of trophies and stickers you can collect, and online capability for multiplayer games and custom stage downloads. Add to this the first ever non-nintendo characters to enter the fray, including the very much demanded Sonic the Hedgehog, so now you can finally pit Sonic against Mario and settle the question gamers have been asking since the dawn of the modern videogame era. Starting to get some idea of how big this game is? I've probably not even half conveyed the sheer scale of this game. Contains all that I've mentioned and more, and then to put the cherry on top Nintendo have packed this game full of more nostalgia and music and collectables and throwbacks to the last 20 years of games that you simply will not be able to see all this game has to offer without months of playing, and even then you might not be bored of it.

The control is something I thought would be an issue, finding it hard to imagine how the wii remote would fill the full functions of the old gamecube controllers, fortunately this is a non issue, as Nintendo have made it so that you can use your gamecube controller or your wii remote, or the wii classic controller, so whatever you prefer, you're sorted here.

It is hard to pick out areas where the game doesn't work, the most obvious thing to mention is the new story-based single player mode that is sure to be adored by some, but detested by others. Fortunately for the latter, you don't have to play it if you don't want, so it's hard to criticise this. The only thing that I found disappointing whilst playing this is how the developers have not fully taken advantage of the online capability of the wii in the same way that the xbox360 does for its games. In an age where DLC is fast becoming the norm for games, it seems foolish for Nintendo not to jump on the bandwagon, but then they have always been slow to embrace this 'internet' stuff. Downloading custom stages is one thing, but you can only have one on your console at a time via this method, which is a shame. More than that though, it seems like such an obvious idea for developers to be able to add more characters and stages to the game, perhaps even as a method for promoting upcoming Nintendo games. New final fantasy game coming out? download the character to brawl and check him out in anticipation! seems like an obvious idea, and one which is certain to make an appearance in the next iteration.

Grand Theft Auto 4 (Xbox360/PS3):
What more can be said that hasn't been said already. Unless you've been living under a rock recently you'll be aware of the impact of this game. For the first time ever reviewers are handing out perfect scores like they were candy, and new records are being broken every day. Grand Theft Auto 4 has even surpassed all the Harry Potter books as the best selling entertainment product in its first 24 hours, very impressive. But is it justified, or all more media hype? Well it has to be said in retrospect that it is a disappointing mix of both.

Don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic game, one of the best there is, and truly a landmark title. But it is by no means perfect. First the good bits; this game is massive. Massive isn't impressive any more there are lots of massive games, but where this stands out is that despite being massive it never feels repetitive or empty uninspired like other similar games do, such as Just Cause, and to a lesser extent GTA San Andreas. Easily the highlight of this game is how lovingly crafted every single inch of the world is. Everything is unique and personalised, it feels real, it feels like its crawling with history and character and life. It is truly a stunning achievement and it is hard not to just get lost in this world, seeing all that there is to see, enjoying the nightlife and sit in the park or on the river bank and watch the sunset, and doing things with your ingame friends. Sadly this also contributes to my biggest issue with the game, but more on that later. The game is also well written, and the story is engrossing and emotionally engaging, which is rare in a game. A very inspired addition to the game is a sims style 'friends' aspect where you can spend time doing various activities and enterring relationships with various characters in the game. A more basic verison of this existed in San Andreas, but this is so far beyond this they're barely worth comparing.

But the game is not perfect. In fact I think once the media hype has died down, a lot of the reviewers out there will look back at their perfect scores and feel very embarrassed. The gameplay is solid, but far too glitchy and frustrating at times for a game that's been in development for so long, however not enough to seriously impact your enjoyment. On top of this the missions do get a bit repetitive, as they all too often follow very similar patterns, 'take package from point A to point B' or 'go chase and kill this person' with little to differentiate between a number of the missions despite the strong narrative. However the biggest issue is a choice in gameplay design. The entire focus of the game appears to be to encourage you to live in this world, to see your friends and go do things and to enjoy everything, and yet once the main missions are done there are very few ways to get any more money and very little to do aside from the traditional 'collect hidden packages' or in this case 'shoot flying rats'. This is a very glaring problem once you're done as you need money to do things with friends, and significantly cuts short the lifespan of what could otherwise be a game with near limitless life in it. The saving grace of this is that there will be DLC available for this game, which hopefully will patch up holes like this and give you more to do.

there is also multiplayer, but it is only online. It's pretty cool, but why oh why don't you allow for multiplayer on one machine? the old GTAs had this, it seems like a step backwards.

The World Ends With You (DS):
A bit of a departure here as it is not a massive killer franchise like the last two games and certainly only appeals to a very particular audience, but anyway it is worth a serious mention. This is the latest IP from SquareEnix, the brains behind the classic Final Fantasy Franchise and similar titles like Chrono Trigger and the like. These games are wildly popular, but seriously inaccessible and not for everyone. For those that know how to appreciate them though they are a truly unique experience.

Think Final Fantasy meets Jet Set Radio. This game is a little more approachable for the uninitiated, taking a much more casual approach, as befits the handheld nintendo DS, but keeps all the magic and inspired, engrossing story and characters that make their other titles so absorbing. The most striking thing about this game is the presentation, unrivalled for a handheld game. The graphics are vibrant, smooth and colourful, well animated and very very impressive, taking an anime style that will be familiar to fans of SquareEnix, except with much more of a realistic edge that is very similar to Jet Set Radio. Turning it on is faintly reminiscent of when you first played Zelda Wind Waker. On top of this the sound work is absolutely flawless and brilliantly sets the mood and tone of the game as well as putting annoyingly catchy tunes into your head.

What really grabbed me into this game however was the story, the setting, and the ingenius ways in which the DS's wireless capabilities are worked into this. The story is brilliantly mysterious and twisted, and yet delightfully simple. A guy wakes up with no memory in a busy part of town and a mysterious timer on the back of his hand. He gets a text on his phone that can't be deleted telling him that he has 7 days to do various tasks or he will be 'erased'. It works very well and even if the script work isnt fantastic, the story is very very well worked out, and provokes a similar sensation of 'not knowing what the hell is going on' that i get from watching Lost, which i love. The setting is Shibuya, a very very busy and trendy part of Japan where teenagers go to hang out. The ability to get new powers by collecting different coloured pins and following trends to get new clothes is certainly something that appeals to the teenagers and young adults out there in a very 'close to home' way that not many games do. The clever part is the way in which the DS detects nearby DSs playing the game and automatically exchanges and integrates information between the two. This works well in conjunction with a real time element, whereby time in the game passes at the same speed as real time, making the game feel far more real and important and giving a greater sense of urgency to matters. Very clever, very well worked and certainly one that will be back again in the future. The title is pretty intriguing too.

However this game clearly isn't for everyone, and it does occasionally end up feeling quite lame and cheesy, which is not unexpected for a game like this, but nonetheless disappointing for a game that sets out from the start to defy conventions, it just makes it a little bit worse when at any moment it fails to do so. Nonetheless very much worth a look if you like this sort of thing.

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