I'm Currently Playing...

Blur [Xbox 360]
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 [PS3]

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A New Dawn- DedicatedToGamers.co.uk

If you've been enjoying Birkett's Blog then why not take a look at my new gaming site that I have only just set up. It can be found at www.dedicatedtogamers.co.uk and I'd love it if people could get joining the forums, posting comments etc. to create a burgeoning community.

I'm aiming to create a great gaming site, delivering quality reviews, previews and news, as well as specific features from a number of different writers. Please pop over and join the site, it'd be very much appreciated.




Thursday, 29 July 2010

Trailer- Halo: Reach

Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Format(s): Xbox 360
Release Date: 14th September 2010

Popping up today was the new Halo: Reach campaign trailer, entitled "The Battle Begins". Cue an intense orchestral score and vast, sweeping shots of space vistas. The trailer also climaxes with the looks of a huge space battle- a la Star Wars. With just over a month now till release, Reach looks set to send Bungie off in style.  Take a look at the trailer below...

Trailer- Medal of Honor (2010)

Developer(s): EA LA (Single Player), EA DICE (Multiplayer)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Format(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Release Date: 15th October 2010 (UK), 12th October (North America)


Moving towards modern warfare is not the most original undertaking for a series since, well, Modern Warfare, but EA's Medal of Honor reboot ought to be taken notice of. Not least for the excellent trailers that are being produced for the more realistic of first-person shooters (and a departure for the series), the multiplayer portion of the game is being expertly handled by the team at EA DICE who have experience in reams from the Battlefield series.


The latest trailer includes the single "The Catalyst" from the ever brilliant Linkin Park and their new album "A Thousand Suns" that is released this September. Proving an ideal soundtrack to the action, EA have also not ruled out further projects with the band. Indeed, bassist David Farell told USA Today "I definitely think we could do things with them down the road." Nothing has formally been announced at this moment in time, however with EA outputting the creative output of Harmonix, my money has to be put firmly on a Rock Band game dedicated to the band's outstanding career and that'll come most welcome, thank you very much.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Trailer- Gran Turismo 5

Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Format(s): PS3
Release Date: 2nd November, 2010


Sony have been ever so reluctant to settle on a confirmed release date until recently for prestigious racing title Gran Turismo 5 that it borders on ridiculous. But whatever us impatient gamers think of their marketing strategy, the end result will speak for itself and by the released trailers and screenshots seen thus far, it certainly looks mighty impressive. The visuals look insanely well detailed and beautiful- take a look at the recreation of Rome within the trailer- with an insane number of modeled cars (claims up to 1000) and tracks (including the Top Gear Test Track) also making sure this will be the racer of the year, nay, the decade.


Whatever you feel of Polyphony's reluctance to release the game that has long been thought to having been completed, you can't help admire their positive attitude towards giving the game every layer of polish that need be applied to make this the must-buy for the PS3.

Review- Blur [Xbox 360]

Developer: Bizarre Creations
Publisher: Activision
Released: 28th May 2010
Other Formats: PS3, PC


Straight from the Project Gotham Racing series, Bizarre Creations have taken inspiration from the unlikeliest of sorts by placing their latest 'realistic' racer in power-upped flashes of insanity in the same vein of Mario Kart. In fact, Bizarre were no holds barred in their admittance of such a design choices, basing a whole advertising campaign on it, seeing a cutesy Nintendo-like character contemplating what lay beyond the fencing from his colourful, cartoon world as real-life cars sped past in a swathe of intense neon projectiles and colour.


It's Project Gotham meets Mario Kart certainly, and make no qualms about it, Blur is worthy of such comparisons to either of the stalwart series. Similar to Project Gotham in nearly all aspects of its design, from the 'Kudos'-like system of 'Fans' to the similarity of 'Lights' to PGR's medal types. Working in favour of the overall experience, Bizarre have brought an understanding of what made the PGR experience so great to begin with whilst putting that added layer of power-up mayhem that their new footing gives. 


You'll see no weapon-drops or items that you've not seen before, lets be honest, so everything from rocket-type shock projectiles, 'Nitro' and 'Mines' are all here, although Blur manages to add enough new design choices that the racing somehow feels fresh and skilful, allowing players to use each power-up differently and to their own preferred style. An example of such a statement derives when 'Nitro' is equipped. Sure, you can go ahead and use the power for an added speed boost (and sensational blurring of the screen), or choose to speed into a corner, only to hold back on the directional pad and use it for an 'air brake', slow-motion approach into the corner. Another example would be the use of 'Mines' where they can be dropped behind you in a normal fashion for static bombs on track, or be fired as a missile in front. It's such instances that Blur exceeds expectations and lifts itself from being another hackneyed power-based arcade racer into a true, skill-based racing game. The handling system rarely equates to anything on their realism levels of Project Gotham, although it needn't be. The handling feels responsive and weighty enough to make perfect racing lines remain the best way to first place, although there is enough room to allow the perfectly balanced and multi-coloured weapons to be effective, while not make racing an impossibility, nigh, an utter nightmare. In actuality, being hit from an opponent's weapon is so deftly handled in a short animation that the frequency of such occurrences never get too much and you'll be up to speed in no time. The only handling aspect I feel Bizarre could have refined is the drifting mechanic, which feels much too weighted down and difficult to pull off. With Blur pulling out a number of varying challenges to reach its 'One-on-One' meetings with the 'bosses' at the end of each section within career mode, the game is also deftly handled for each race to remain interesting and insane fun. In addition to building up stacks of 'Lights' in order to unlock further instances in career and more 'Mods' that alter power-ups, the four meta-game style challenges to get the chance to race/defeat each driver for another 8 lights range from nitro-ramming five cars (using nitro to shunt opponents) to drifting for a total of 1,500m. And it doesn't stop there, for the 'Fans' system will also award fans within each race for individual 'Fan Challenges' that lay about the track and might request that you exceed a certain speed or destroy a car whilst drifting, for example. Between the meta-game devices, fan challenges and the fan multiplier scoring system, you'd be hard pressed to find a more engaging racer. In my hours invested in the game, I've found myself so engrossed in the short and sweet modes that I've lost all track of time, only to look up and it being several hours later without me realising. If only Bizarre could have bolstered the number of modes (Race, Destruction, One-on-One and Checkpoint), then I'd have even more reasons to praise Blur than that which I already have.


The racing is nothing short of remarkable to say the least, where you'll often have to have eyes in the back of your head to maintain composure. The rear-view mirror and 'Shield' will often be your unlikely saviours when the homing missile-type red orb comes into blistering view of your screen. Also adding variation, such powers as 'Barge' (which releases a burst of energy circumvented around your car) also protect if released at the right time. There's none more satisfying a feeling than stopping the race leader in his tracks with a well timed projectile shot, or wrecking other opponents into crumpled heaps of metal (each car has a life bar that depletes through hits until either destroyed altogether or repaired through the 'Repair' pick-up) that come from the game's key mechanics.


The contrast between real-life cars (of which there are a bountiful array, ranging from sturdy Range Rovers to the more rallying supercars) and swathes of neon from weapon drops is bizarre yet extraordinary to look at and Blur is one of the more graphically impressive racers on the market to date. Such tracks as 'Brighton'- that models itself on its pier- also demonstrate Bizarre's intention in delivering fun within course design. Basked in unnatural light, Brighton is one example of the approach of the team, ensuring each track is entirely suited to the dynamism of the game. In spite of their experience in modelling tracks on famous cities, Blur still features real-world locations (such as Brighton and LA), although the developer has chosen to relax their stringent approach on sticking to each relative twist and turn, instead favouring a more altered track design which ensures each are ideally suited to play whilst still maintaining a familiar feel. Short-cuts are obviously an introduction to the PGR-like racing approach, and the tracks are much wider and less akin to tight and twisty sections, much more aligned to 90-degree turns and sweeping left and rights which further lend credence to Blur's racing style.


Bizarre might have left their preceding racer series to the confines of memory, but they have already informed us that Blur is only the start of a brand new franchise. Is it as good as Project Gotham? Without question! Blur has as much excitement as the aforementioned series to home in on racing fans, as well as the thrill and fun that comes with having brilliantly implemented power-ups and frenetic driving action, only bolstered when in multiplayer. Blur is without doubt one of the racing games of this generation.



Developer Profile- Bizarre Creations

'Developer Profiles' is a series of articles that allow me to take a look at some of my most favoured companies within our industry, reflecting on past work and possible future acquisitions.


My latest look towards one of the leading developers within the industry is a studio I much admire for the fact that they were the team behind one of my most favoured racers of all time in the Project Gotham Racing series. The developer is also one of few remaining leading studios staying put within the UK- Liverpool to be exact.


Established way back in 1994, Bizarre Creations were originally involved in the Formula 1-licensed games for Sony's Playstation and PC, whilst also focusing on other projects such as third-person shooter Fur Fighters. Perhaps first tested fully on the precursor to Project Gotham, Metropolis Street Racer for the Dreamcast introduced the rewards system of 'Kudos'...[ctd.]


*Click here to see the rest of the profile from MidlifeGamer.net

All Format Chart- Week Ending 24th July 2010


5
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, iPhone)

4
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, DS, Wii, PSP)

3
Dance on Broadway (Wii)

2
Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PS3)

1
Toy Story 3 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)


Toy Story 3 has risen straight from last week's fifth spot to first this week following the release of the movie, whilst Crackdown 2 goes the other direction down to number 10 from last week's number one. Red Dead Redemption still continues to show its strength by remaining in the chart. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 has re-entered the chart, take a look at my review to see what I thought of the latest instalment.


Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty will debut in next week's chart following its Tuesday 27th release date. The RTS has been 12 years coming and should enter the top 5.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Preview- Fifa 11

Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: 1st October 2010
Format(s): Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, PS2, DS, PSP, Mobile


As a massive fan of videogames, football and Fifa in general, I find myself with a huge obligation in reporting some of the planned features that EA hope will make this the, yes here it comes, “best Fifa yet”. 


The first of many planned improvements to the formula come in the form of the new Personality+, which aims to completely address each player's “individual personality” within the game, hoping to provide complete “differentiation” sought between each player. To me, it sounds way too sophisticated to be applied effectively within the game within its first iteration, and we've seen such features touted in bygone years, although I hope to be proven wrong. Could we be seeing Arjen Robben's fluid, fast dynamism as he sprints down the wing, only to pull in onto his left foot to fire a shot home? Or Wayne Rooney to lumber about up front? (Sorry, cheap shot). Goalkeepers are also being given the Personality+ overhaul that will dictate how each will react to ongoing play, although EA have also been enthusing in detailing all-new goalkeeper abilities that will give them a much needed reality kick. Keepers will now react realistically to lobbed shots, sprint toward oncoming, stray passes, and “demonstrate urgency” when scrambling back towards their empty net. If all goes according to plan, the technology sounds absolutely incredible and could give Fifa another push towards the lofty heights of true realism.


Last year's 360° control is also publicised as having being further developed and can now calculate how collisions between multiple players will play out, in the natural progression from individual jostling. The yearly lauded “advanced intelligence” phrase crops up in EA's press release once again for the yearly franchise, now claiming “real AI” (I have no idea what that means) to control CPU players that will be bring much more sophisticated styles of play to the forefront. Again, it's hard to take EA too seriously when year-on-year we hear about such developments in AI and the like. Furthermore, Career Mode has been overhauled once again, with its new engine allowing players to play as either a real player, created player or Virtual Pro, in which instant feedback on performances will now be given, as well as a “vastly improved status system”. Other heralded details reference “authentic tournament structure, results and new calendar system”, and players can now create both players and whole teams in the new Creation Centre. Opportunity to realise my local Sunday team's Premiership ambition? I think so!


With each release in the series bringing unique faults of its own, it makes you question whether the race for perfection is ever going to be hit, although the Fifa franchise is too big not to have a yearly release so we're going to have to live with such claims for years to come. I don't doubt the quality of the game however, and will happily buy Fifa 11 like I have for the many Fifa's throughout my life. Will it live up to the exceptional Fifa 10 or flounder like Fifa 07? We'll have to wait until the 1st October to find out. I'm hoping it's the former.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Review- Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 [PS3]

Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Released: 8th June 2010
Other Formats: Xbox 360, Wii, iPhone

How do you go about reviewing a game that year on year is so incrementally different to its precursor. In fact, approaching Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 with new eyes is difficult, a series that strives for familiarity over vast changes to the core game play mechanics. Sticking with the basics first off, PGA Tour 11 alters the key fundamentals in its golfing game play very little, only refining the upgrading rewards, skill advancement and career progression aspects of the game, making sure the latest update is the best yet.

The 'flick-stick' swing mechanic returns once again (ever difficult to master as always!), whilst the ability to put spin on the ball mid-air, adding extra power through repeatedly tapping 'X' and improving accuracy (reducing the size of the expected drop-zone circle) by pressing 'X' within the shot preview screen are also all here. If you'd rather, you can also click the right stick for a more accurate (and my more preferred) setting to hitting the ball, the precise flick mechanic replaced by a more friendly and accessible cursor mechanic in which you must click to begin the back swing, click for power selection and then click when it approaches the right zone. The amount of 'draw' or 'fade' can also be altered by moving the cursor over where you wish to hit the ball. The basic set-up is as ever, tight and easy to use, however, what the latest offers elsewhere is what the game can be remembered for in differentiation from its rivals. The addition of the versatile and brilliantly implemented 'Focus' meter- its semi-circle folded over the HUD of the ball and club type- will enamour those who loved the previous games' granting of unlimited ball spin or power boost in every shot, whereas here you'll have to take into account what aspects of your game are lacking/which will suit the hole, since using any of the mentioned power boost, spin and putting previews will slowly drain the meter (only filled in slight quantities if un-used for a single shot). The system works so well that in actuality, it gives PGA Tour 11 a new lease of life from those that came before it, which were ever so slowly ebbing towards a stale death. You'll be cursing your impatient use of spin onto the green once you then approach a long putt with little more than the coloured gradient grid to help you along, putt preview an impossibility, yet a necessity, with the focus meter drained of all its accrued matter.

Otherwise, the only other additions come from the inclusion of the prestigious Ryder Cup- the dramatic Europe vs. USA battle for supremacy available either online or offline (good luck in getting the whole set of players together), whilst events including 'fourball' (each member of team has their own ball, the lowest scored hole earns a point), 'alternate shots' (teams of two play alternate shots for lowest shot count) and 'single play' all add variety away from the well handled progression of the career mode. This time centred around earned XP deriving from a number of instances (in-game targets such as sinking a long putt, or progressing through the game's other game modes, such as Tiger Woods' 'Skill Challenges' mode against rival golfers- from Suzann Petterson to Tiger himself), experience points will go some way in making sure your once weak character goes on to rival the cream of the crop, as it were, within the game. Thus, you can choose where to spend your accrued XP points in a number of areas; focusing on 'swing speed' and 'power boost' for added power, or 'balance' for accuracy, among others. Again, bringing into play what aspects of your game you feel you must concentrate on is paramount to how you approach such levelling; should you focus on putting prowess, or supreme power? It'd have been nice to have a few more choices regarding where to apply points, although the spread is large enough and broad enough to remain relevant.

The final addition to the game comes in the form of the new 'True Aim' mode which aims to replicate a more realistic golfing experience for those who want added depth and challenge. Removing the over-layed shot circle, as well as moving into a first-person viewpoint in simulation of tracking the ball as the player, 'True Aim' is likely to be enjoyed by only a select few gamers who will sink their teeth into the expansive game play, whilst others, like myself, can applaud its addition into what is otherwise an already weighty package.

Already incredibly accomplished in its TV-style aesthetic, PGA Tour 11 looks vivid, bright and graphically excellent- golfers are accurately animated and modelled, while each golf course is well realised with the lush, green grass contrasting to the ever-altering light and dark from the ever-changing weather effects. Neat TV tricks such as the pseudo EA 'live' tracker bar for shot updates from other golfers is a nice touch and adds to the competitive feel of the game. The way the camera moves and is worked into the style of the game is also well choreographed; panning, zooming and tracking movements to ensure each snippet of play is captured- although once or twice the ball is difficult to spot in its choice of long shots!

PGA Tour 11 can be considered another major step forward for the series, that has struggled recently towards yearly updates becoming insignificant. The addition of the 'Focus' mechanic is superbly handled, ensuring gamer's can finally be held from exploiting the artificiality of the game. Excellent in multiplayer as it has always been, with modes ranging from 'Target' to 'T.I.G.E.R' and 'Bingo Bango Bongo', it's a shame that EA have chosen to include the online pass system as part of its upkeep, requiring players to purchase a code for online play if not purchased new from retail. All in all, it's well worth a purchase if you're yet to get into the series, and a worthy addition to the mounting pile for fans.




*This review is all features on DPAD Magazine. The review is here.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Review- Alan Wake [Xbox 360]

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Released: 14th May 2010

“Stephen King once wrote “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there's little fun to be had in explanations; they're antithetical to the poetry of fear””- so begins Alan Wake, protagonist suspense writer Alan Wake's wearisome tones narrating over the sweeping vistas of the idyllic setting of Bright Falls. Inspired by the collected works of novelist Stephen King and the TV series Twin Peaks, Alan Wake by the Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment has been a while coming to fruition- revealed a whole 5 years ago at E3 2005 in fact.

The serial drama style seeps through every aspect of the title, which is split into six chapters of varying length, each with their own “Previously on Alan Wake” opening and dramatic cliff-hanger close to the 'episode'. As a matter of fact, Remedy handle the proportions of drama and tension extremely well, with each close to the episode delivering enough force for want to play through the following section of the game. The TV stylistic undertaking can be commended and praised in maintaining an engaging narrative that settles on the writer's-blocked suspense writer Alan Wake as he searches for his missing wife in small-town Bright Falls, infused with bleak psychological horror, paranoia, delusion and the psyche of a schizophrenic. Also no doubt a helping hand in the pacing department, Alan Wake is a prime example of how to approach said trait, with each episode both a contained narrative in of itself whilst also contributing to the on-going plot, perfectly proportioned to deliver enough set-piece and chilling moments in equal to the array of quieter scenes between the mis-matched cast of supporting characters. It's such a shame that Remedy seem almost to have forgotten about writing a decent set of characters to relay the narrative back to us, choosing one of the most depressing and damp squibs of a protagonist (with a tiresome voice actor to support) seems strange for a title so revolved around its dramatic ambition. Characters come and go in a flash, with only Wake's highly irritating manager, Barry, sticking round long enough to get a thorough glimpse towards a true personality (even if his failed purpose is to serve the script's comic relief- badly).

Playing a major element within the game, light is dealt with on a number of levels- a marker towards the darker thoughts in Wake's mind, the thematic link to the horror underbelly, and the lack thereof within enemies- 'The Taken'. Doing very little in terms of innovative game play mechanics, Alan Wake's combat tasks players to 'extract' the darkness from those that have been consumed by the dark (focusing the beam until a flash of light expels from them), allowing you to use conventional weapons. Of course, Wake's torch is often the tool of choice when approaching foes (topped up with product-placed Energizer batteries scattered around areas), although Remedy also allow the use of flash bang grenades, car headlights, spotlights, and flares- the ever reliable spark that forces enemies back for a brief respite from their close-quarter combat in allowing your health and batteries to re-generate and re-charge respectively. Using each item effectively and in the correct way will ensure you are to escape the darkness, although the emphasis on close-quarters combat is often frustrating due to the lack of a melee option for Wake, instead solely focused on guns. It's a huge oversight by Remedy, and can make the game demanding in tight spaces when enemies attack from all sides, with dodging doing little to escape their attacks. Also lacking in enemy type, the game instead focuses on three types; small (that dark can be extracted from whenever), large (the darkness meter will recharge if not drained for a while) and environmental objects (possessed by the darkness and thrown at you- where a well-timed dodge is your best option). Entirely devoid of any ideas, Alan Wake's action sequences are verbose and dull, rarely altered throughout the game. The control scheme is also twitchy and fiddly, with Wake's animations breaking up any fluidity that can be sought.

And while it's extremely hard to speculate on whether the planned open-world sandbox design that was planned to go ahead for the game would have worked, you can't help but feel that the game often suffers from large bouts of linearity and 'A to B' syndrome. Working well when the action takes place within Bright Falls -where the artistic design is minute yet necessary for the small-town feel- the game falters where vast stretches resort to running past tree after tree in any of Bright Falls' wooded areas, not helped along by the repetitive tasks, such as finding a generator to power the gate that halts progression. The team more concerned with trying to infuse these strenuous sections with collectibles (manuscript pages from Wake's as yet unwritten novel, or strangely, coffee Thermoses), although they are merely lazy and pointless additions that add little to the core game play, other than allowing Remedy to tick the box labelled 'Replayability'.

More than favourable in presentation stakes, Alan Wake's drama is lent a hand by the well composed cut scenes that intersperse the action, with well shot sequences and exceptional lighting and particle effects, only animation and lip-syncing of Wake et. al diffusing from the overall gorgeous graphics and presentational style.

Alan Wake is a compelling and engaging experience, in which the narrative is strong enough to remain involved within the game, although its control method and repetitive manner sometimes draw you out of what could have been an exceptional drama and game to boot. In the end, it's slightly above average but by no means great. 



Interview with Illfonic

Ten days ago, we reported on the brand new FPS arena-based shooter Nexuiz that is soon to hit XBLA and PSN. Promising a “AAA digital downloadable title”, Nexuiz is powered entirely by Crytek's advanced middleware technology, CryEngine 3. Sufficient to say, here at Midlife Gamer, we're eager to see what Illfonic's title is all about, and when we were given the chance to interview creative director- Kedhrin Gonzalez, we had a whole load of questions to press at him regarding the engine, Nexuiz, independent development and the downloadable space.


Richard Birkett: First off, could you introduce yourself to the readership here at Midlife Gamer, who are you and what do you do?


Kedhrin Gonzalez: I'm Kedhrin Gonzalez, the Creative Director for Nexuiz.  I work on various things with the project from art to design.  We're a tiny team of people, everyone is multi-talented...[ctd]




*Read the rest of the interview here at MidlifeGamer.net

Monday, 19 July 2010

All Format Chart- Week Ending 17th July 2010

5
*New Entry*
Toy Story 3 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)

4
Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PS3)

3
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, DS, Wii, PSP)

2
Dance on Broadway (Wii)

1
Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360)

The entry to fifth for Toy Story 3 is a little lower than I had expected for the Disney tie-in game. Take a look at my review for my impressions on the game. Crackdown 2 stays top for the second week running in a long, barren spell for videogame releases.

It's been at least 10 years coming, but Starcraft finally gets it sequel this week with Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. It should make it into the top five, perhaps the top three.

Developer Profile- Relentless Software



'Developer Profiles' is a series of articles that allow me to take a look at some of my most favoured companies within our industry, reflecting on past work and possible future acquisitions.

For this week's developer profile, I'm concentrating on a studio that is perhaps unlikely to be considered by most 'core' gamers for the simple fact that they produce more family orientated titles and party games. Undoubtedly talented and full of fresh and exciting ideas however, Relentless Software are the sole creators of the hugely enjoyable Buzz! quiz game series, exclusive to Sony. In fact, it was perhaps their effort in 2004 with the original Buzz! The Music Quiz that set off the party game craze.

One of the more obscure of company foundings in game developer history, Relentless was originally formed by...[ctd.]


*To read the rest of the profile, click here, or go to www.MidlifeGamer.net

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Review- Darksiders [PS3]

Publisher: THQ
Developer: Vigil Games
Released: 5th January 2010
Other Formats: Xbox 360, PC

Drawing immediate comparisons to the likes of Sony's flagship God of War series is no mean feat for a game that was overlooked at launch due to Platinum Games' swift, excellent and ravishing combo-heavy Bayonetta, but Darksiders plays akin with some of the most effective and joyful videogame tropes available in an engaging, action-rich experience (albeit with a terrible and clich├ęd story to back it up!)

Putting its emphasis on an ever popular hack-and-slash combat system may raise eyebrows as being hackneyed, underdeveloped and devoid of ideas (particularly within the Apocalyptic and mythological setting), however Vigil Games manage to keep harsh critical reception at bay in delivering the combat with a unique set of skills to accompany the extremely basic button-tapping monotony that you are likely to endure. With each new ability enabling previous parts of the world to become entwined into game play, Darksiders is particularly clever in how each new skill or item is possessed. Unlocked in regular intervals, the game manages to allow the player to become accustomed to each unique skill in time, never forcing more than one skill into players' hands before the previous feels second-nature. One of the most intriguing aspects of the game, item acquisition ranges from “War” (yes, that is his name) to be granted ability to use cross blades for a blend of weaponry and gadget to activate forlorn switches, for example, or the ability to fire portals in order to teleport from one area to another (an extension of Valve's Portal into the 3D action game space). Not only giving the game apt room in providing a number of different ways to dispatch the horde of dark beings that populate the hellish setting, but also allowing Vigil to craft some of the most devilishly tricky and fantastic 3D puzzles seen in this generation. Lost in most games these days, Darksiders is an ode to platformers of time's past where thwarting enemies is only a small proportion of the vast gaming experience, where exploration within its many (and multi-layered) dungeons and solving puzzles is vital for progression. However, it also brings up one of my key frustrations with the game, that of the dubious map. Extremely irritating to interpret the various levels of the stage, it's a detriment to the often excellent new IP that has been produced, where idly wandering any of the game's dull, lifeless chasms and corridors will become the norm, not alleviated with the lack of colour on the palette or any weight of graphical beauty. When each area looks almost identical to the next, it makes many of the complex puzzles and tasks hard to swallow, although it still has to be said, they are exceptionally well thought-out for the most part.

Built around a huge, open world, the aforementioned acquisition of new skills and weapons allows previously unfounded parts of the map become free to traverse, meaning the game has a distinct 6-part structure- four of which acting as separate entities where War must defeat the end-boss Demon and tear out their heart to return to the Demon Lord 'Samael', who can grant access to the Black Tower where the “Destroyer” lay. I'd loved to have seen each area pose a stylistic switch in design, although this is never really perceived or alluded to. With each distinct segment of the game offering new tasks to complete and new enemies to face, the game never begins to tire in the least, instead opting to constantly throw new ideas at the player (such as the ability to slow down time, or introducing War's valiant steed). It's a nice approach and a neat separation from the weight of other games thrown at us on a weekly basis, where every game play concept is driven in from the second the 'Start' button is pressed.

In a nod to the previously mentioned God of War, Darksiders insistently rips on the three levels of orbs that populate the hugely popular series. Called “souls” within this title; here, green orbs (sorry, “souls”) fill the health bar (also upgraded through progression, akin to GOW), yellow, the 'Wrath' meter (a meter for magic to be performed for added variety in combat) and blue acting as the currency of the game. Used to buy upgrades, combos, additional powers and weapons from the many Vulgrim locations within the game, the idea is another extension of how deep the initial combat system levels. War also has the added ability to transform into his 'Chaos Form' when the 'Chaos' meter fills (from delivering damage), which envelops him in a giant, demonic form for a short duration in which an added damage boost is accustom.

And although many games of its type suffer from an extreme syndrome of repetitiveness, Darksiders can not be considered amongst them- to a degree anyway. Although the world is often distinctly boring, the array of enemy types is a great thing to see. With some requiring you to perform different attacks to defeat them- perhaps best witnessed in the epic boss battles, where the game exceeds expectations in playing out some great ideas- the format is never tired. One boss battle is particularly memorable in which you must manipulate the portals on the floor in order to float onto the enemies back and deliver some devastating blows. In fact, Darksiders is an amalgamation of some of the best game design ideas available, and in that, it may be considered cheap and superficial but it ought not to be. This is a well drawn out and demanding release that is worthy of attention amongst the very best action-adventure games.