Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate In Massive eShop Sale

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Those looking to indulge their JRPG Monster Hunting cravings should head on over to Nintendo’s eShop, as Capcom’s critically acclaimed Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has received substantial 40% discounts in both European and US eShops.

The 3DS version can be had for the paltry sum of £23.99, while the Wii-U version will set you back £29.99. So if you’re looking for something to tide you over until 2014’s sure to be stellar offerings of Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, then you can’t go far wrong with one of the 3DS’ top titles – boasting hours of content and substantial replay value – for almost half the recommended retail price.

With the offer only running until February 6th, you’ll have to be quick if you want to grab yourself a bargain.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The next gen is here, and while the rest of the world is busy getting excited over yet another annual release of Assassin’s Creed or the latest Call of Duty, I decided that playing the role of a sword swinging elf-child, clad in green and on an adventure to save a princess would be a far more enjoyable experience this holiday season and a welcome break from the usual green and grey shooters.

A Link Between Worlds is the latest release in the iconic Legend of Zelda series, and a bold move from Nintendo; not only is it a sequel to one of the most highly-regarded and beloved video games of all time, it is also entirely aware of its predecessor and willingly embraces its heritage, providing a Hyrule overworld that is almost exactly how we remember it. The game plays more like a Link to the Past remake than a direct sequel, but Nintendo manages to make everything feel fresh by playing on your expectations, relocating secrets, changing up puzzles, and introducing an intriguing item rental system that is brand new addition to the franchise.

Link’s myriad of gadgets and contraptions are now accessible at any point in the game, and while this makes treasure chests far less interesting to discover, it does mean that dungeons can now be tackled in almost any order, a mechanic that is reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda’s non-linear progression. I was initially worried at this drastic change to one of my favourite Nintendo franchises, but I quickly found it only increased the sense of exploration and adventure, the two aspects that should surely be the defining characteristics of any Zelda adventure.

Nintendo also chose to cut out the unnecessary tutorials and excessive dialog that bogged down a number of the other entries in the franchise (notably Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword), resulting in a concise and streamlined experience that really feels at home on a handheld system and thrusts you into your first dungeon within 15 minutes of starting the game.

All in all, this game is the shot in the arm that this franchise needed. It feels fresh and exciting, throwing new ideas into the traditional Zelda formula but never straying far enough to lose sight of the series’ tradition or negate the charm that made these games so beloved in the first place. It will be interesting to see how much of this new Zelda makes its way into the inevitable  HD Zelda for Wii U.

Man of Steel Impressions

Man of Steel

No one has managed to articulate Man of Steel’s shortcomings as passionately as Mark Waid.

I urge you all to read his lengthy and thought-provoking post that details the moment of betrayal that would have seen him leave the theatre if it wasn’t for the intervention of his slightly embarrassed girlfriend.

Mark describes in detail how the Man of Steel’s emotional climax broke his heart, as the shining beacon of hope that Superman usually embodies was abruptly extinguished, as the last son of Krypton killed General Zod by snapping his neck.

It appears that, in Zack Snyder’s interpretation of the character, Superman is a killer; no phantom zone imprisonment and no “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” moments. How can this Superman feasibly exist in a DC Universe alongside a Bruce Wayne that, when Ra’s Al Ghul instructs him to kill an imprisoned murderer, insists “I will go back to Gotham and I will fight men like this, but I will not become an executioner.”

The sheer indulgence of mass destruction throughout the film’s finale seemed entirely unnecessary, and (for a character that should be trying to minimise the destruction of Metropolis) Kal El seemed wholly uninterested in anything other than the spectacle of destroying General Zod in the most destructive manner. Superman did not go out of his way to prevent falling buildings or debris, and he rarely (if ever) attempted to protect General Zod’s civilian victims from the carnage he was responsible for.

This whole scene was a missed opportunity, the finale could have focussed on the last son of Krypton’s epic struggle as he juggles the responsibility of protecting those around him with the need to take down this Kryptonian supervillain; we could witness the moral struggle as Superman’s beliefs almost become his undoing.

I didn’t dislike the film, but I wasn’t blown away by it either. A lot of things didn’t sit right with me and, like eating a doughnut, I enjoyed the experience but left the theatre feeling an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with this portrayal of the Man of Steel.

For a more articulate approach to the Man of Steel, read Mark Waid’s brilliant article: Man of Steel, since you asked. | Thrillbent.

Review: Bioshock Infinite

Bio Shock Infinite

After fours years in development and tens of millions of pounds in resources, the team at Irrational have finally shipped the highly-anticipated sequel to one of the most beloved video games of this generation.

You play as Booker Dewitt, a man tasked with rescuing a girl from the floating city of Columbia in order to pay off his gambling debts. It’s no coincidence that one of the first actions you make reveals a reflection of Booker’s face; this isn’t the typical faceless vessel that the majority of games present you (FPS games in particular), Booker Dewitt is a genuine and fully realised character whose perspective we happen to share.

While it bears the BioShock name, Infinite is far from a rehash of the original. Sure, the opening is a definite head-nod towards its predecessor, as Booker Dewitt approaches a lighthouse amid dark and stormy waters, but the game literally launches you skyward and immediately eschews any thematic association with Rapture, and this proves to be a running theme throughout. BioShock Infinite is both keenly aware of its roots, and willing to disregard them entirely without hesitation.

Your first glimpse of the floating city of Columbia is spectacular; it’s a pristine and beautiful world of retro science-fiction – a floating city of cloud and Zeppelins that revels in its unique oil-painting aesthetic. Columbia only continues to impress the deeper you delve into its lore and fiction, and while Rapture provided a leaky, broken down environment and an isolated experience, Columbia is clearly in the midst of its own Renaissance; the streets are lined with people and music, there are bright colours and a fairground for you to explore should you feel so inclined. By the time you arrive in Rapture, the drama has already occurred and you’re left to piece it together; in contrast, Columbia is in the middle of a revolution by the time you stumble through the entrance.

It quickly becomes apparent that this paradise of barbershop quartets, hot dogs and beaches hides a more sinister underbelly; seemingly innocent posters hide ulterior motives and propaganda, calls for ‘racial purity’ and pop-culture references that are not of the 1912 era all serve to unsettle the player and position Columbia as an off-kilter society with some serious corruption problems. Zachary Comstock – one of the founders of Columbia – is the egotistical dictator hell-bent on antagonising and de-railing Booker Dewitt from the moment he sets foot in Columbia. Comstock is a worthy successor to Andrew Ryan, with his deplorable views of race making him instantly hateable.

The wonderful thing about Infinite is that it has such a compelling narrative, but it doesn’t force it upon you. You can play this game like Call of Duty and race through to the finish line and the game won’t stop you, but go out of your way to collect the various Voxophones and code-books that are scattered around the city and you’ll be rewarded with further insight into this remarkable world. If there’s one criticism to be had about this new focus on narrative, it’s that you have to go out of your way to find the interesting characters and discover how they fit into this society; the game no longer forces the likes of Frank Fontaine or Dr. Steinman down your throat, you now have to go out of your way to discover their stories.

It’s not until the introduction of Elizabeth that the game really begins to take shape; Elizabth revolutionises both the narrative and the focus of the gameplay, providing an interesting companion for Booker and an emotional outlet for the player, as her awe and enthusiasm at her surroundings mirrors your own experiences. Elizabeth drastically alters the battlefield following her arrival, with her ability to pull objects from alternate realities affording you a more strategic approach to combat by introducing cover, automated gun-turrets, health packs or ammunition on the fly via these trans-dimensional ‘tears’. Combine these elements with the Skylines, and BioShock Infinite’s combat is immediately elevated beyond the realms of a typical first-person-shooter, despite its all too familiar weapons and vigors that (for the most part) are pulled straight from the original BioShock.

After your first encounter, Elizabeth remains an ever-present NPC for the majority of the game. This could prove distracting, but NPCs have come a long way since Goldeneye’s Natalya; instead of becoming an annoyance, Elizabeth becomes a genuine ally and regularly supplies you with health packs, weapon and ammunition. It truly is a technical marvel how well she has been implemented into both the gameplay and narrative; the few occasions where you’re actually separated from Elizabeth feel unnervingly quiet and empty, and are the moments that most closely resemble the original BioShock’s sense of isolation and atmosphere. Returning to BioShock after investing so much time in Infinite would certainly be a jarring experience.

The Skylines prove to be one of the highlights of the game; these exciting one-man-roller-coasters allow Booker to quickly navigate the various islands of this vast floating city. The mechanic is truly an accomplishment and has been brilliantly implemented into some of BioShock Infinite’s action set-pieces; jumping from a skyline and obliterating a nearby foe in one seamless motion is one of the most satisfying and visceral moments you can experience in a video game. However, leaping to and from these skylines in the middle of combat is not as seamless as it should be, and frantically thumbing the right-stick in search of the elusive ‘A’ button notification can leave you open for some serious punishment. As a result, the skylines are sometimes forgotten about once Booker is grounded – especially on the easier difficulty settings – leaving the fight to unfold in a more traditional manner with shotguns and vigors.

BioShock Infinite introduces two new enemies in the form of the Motorised Patriot and the Handyman. Motorised Patriots are robotic versions of George Washington (seriously) or Father Comstock that can provide a significant threat when encountered alongside a handful of typical grunts; the Handyman is a human head attached to a disproportioned mechanical body. While both of these new adversaries are compelling and fit nicely into the fiction that Columbia weaves, neither of them comes close to the iconic stature of BioShock’s Big Daddies. Your first encounter with a Big Daddy was a memorable and intimidating experience; they were physically imposing and were often heard well in advance of the actual encounter, adding to the atmosphere and the tension, especially if you were ill-equipped for the fight. The Big Daddies would be out of place in this new setting, but it does feel like a missed opportunity that Irrational were unable to introduce a character that could provide a similarly iconic experience within the realms of Columbia.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, BioShock Infinite feels like a shotgun blast to the face of ideas. So much is thrown at you that some things just fly by your peripheral vision, with very few of the themes ideas explored to their ultimate conclusion. The religious themes and issues of racism that are introduced early in the game are quickly neglected in favour of a science-fiction tale, which still provides one of the most incredible narratives in recent memory, but leaves you thinking that some of the most compelling parts of Columbia might have been left on the cutting room floor.

Let’s be honest, you’ve probably already played BioShock Infinite to completion or have at least added it to your collection. If you’re a video game fan, or a fan of visual media in general, then BioShock Infinite is something that you absolutely have to experience. Judged on its mechanics alone, BioShock Infinite would be little more than an average FPS game, but it’s the narrative, fiction and interaction with Elizabeth that elevate this title to legendary status.

9/10

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Independent Film Released Exclusively On Xbox

Pulp

Pulp leads the way for Microsoft’s media strategy…

Xbox is following in the footsteps of Netflix by distributing exclusive content over Xbox Live.

British independent film, Pulp, will make its debut on Microsoft’s platform, with a Microsoft spokesperson informing the BBC that the company plans to secure more deals of this nature in the future.

Pulp follows hot on the heels of the recent Netflix exclusive House of Cards, and opens the floodgates for the gaming giant’s first foray into media distribution. The Xbox boasts a vast user base and a burgeoning reputation as one of the best media hubs on the market, making it an attractive proposition for directors and film producers looking to bypass the rapidly shrinking market of physical media.

It will be interesting to see what these deals mean for the next Xbox and the future of the platform.

Pulp launched on March 4th 2013 to Xbox Live subscribers, and will set you back 1180 Microsoft Points for the standard definition version, or 1420 Microsoft Points for a high-definition version.

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Review: Gears of War – Judgment

Gears of War: Judgment

The Xbox 360′s testosterone-fuelled swan song?

There isn’t much to say about Gears of War that hasn’t been written countless times before. It’s undoubtedly one of the most beloved video game series of the 360 generation, going from ‘unknown IP’ to ‘legendary’ status in record time, as it quickly became one of Microsoft’s signature trump cards. Now the bonafide system shifter returns for one final go-round before the 360 rides off into the sunset. Can Gears of War: Judgment be the 360’s swansong before we usher in a new era?

The game takes place immediately following the events of Emergence Day, and opens with a well produced, epic, cinematic cut-scene. Accused of treason, familiar face Lieutenant Baird emerges from a Raven helicopter, bound by handcuffs and escorted by Colonel Loomis and a number of armed guards. In the background a city stands ablaze with the ever imposing Reavers circling overhead. It’s an impressive opening that really demonstrates the scale of the war, and kick-starts this latest installment with the kind of grandiose presentation that has been a hallmark of the Gears franchise ever since it debuted way back in 2007.

The absences of Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago (two of the primary protagonists from Gears 1, 2 and 3) are notable, although learning more about Lt. Damon Baird and and Pvt. Augustus Cole is refreshing and provides enough variation from Judgment’s predecessors to ensure that it succeeds as a stand-alone experience rather than an extension to the existing trilogy.

As Lt. Baird and Kilo Squad are about to begin their tribunal, the player is thrust into the action. Baird’s voice-over narration accompanies your first tentative steps into the war zone. This narration becomes a regular occurrence throughout the campaign, as Baird describes exactly how each mission and the happenings throughout have contributed towards the trial.

Lt. Baird is clearly the Marcus Fenix character this time around and the majority of the campaign revolves around his story, although we are given the opportunity to play as Augustus Cole and the other members of Kilo Squad, as each one is afforded the opportunity to give one’s testimony to the court. Each mission is bookended by a cut-scene that brings us back to the trial at hand before ushering in a fresh set of allegations and tasks for the following mission to either justify or debunk. These moments break up the campaign into bite-sized sections that encourage repeat playthroughs to improve your score and increase your star tally.

‘Declassify’ missions crank up the challenge of the campaign by introducing a number of stipulations. These range from decreasing your health, increasing the number of enemies, reducing visibility or forcing you to use specific weapons that are less effective for the situation you’re about to face. As well as making the campaign more challenging and enjoyable, these stipulations also tie directly into the narrative; for example, a lack of ammo in one particular area forced Kilo Squad to implement tactics that are actively discouraged by COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments), which doesn’t bode well for their ongoing trial. Upon completing these missions you’re award with stars based on how well you performed. There are a maximum of 3 stars per mission, and depending on the number you have acquired, additional content, characters and features are made available to you, the most notable being the ‘Aftermath’ campaign.

‘Aftermath’ is a short stand-alone campaign that takes place during the events of Gears of War 3 and lets players experience significant moments from a brand-new perspective. While ‘Declassify’ missions aren’t required to complete the game, ‘Aftermath’ provides ample incentive, and it should definitely be a priority for anyone intending to gain the ‘full’ experience of Gears of War: Judgment.

Even if you opt for the added stipulations described above, the ‘Normal’ difficulty never provides as much challenge as you’d expect, although Epic does recommend that war-hardened Gears crank up the difficulty to ‘Hardcore’ for the best campaign experience.

Epic’s flagship series has never been renowned for its story and Judgment does not break this tradition, with the narrative never straying far from the typical video game tale of Humans vs Monsters. It’s clear that Epic has tried to inject some charisma into these glorified grunts, but while Cole remains as entertaining as ever and Baird demonstrates some muscle with his leadership, they’re ultimately as meaningless as the army of generic Locust creatures you’ll encounter.

If you purchased Judgment for three-dimensional characters and a narrative that rivals Orson Welles then you’ve come to the wrong place. Gears of War is all about high-octane action and a solid gameplay experience. Judgment delivers the action with some of the best pacing a video game can muster; the quiet periods provide just enough time to catch your breath before another relentless onslaught from your enemies. The combat is built on an engine that randomly selects the enemies you encounter from countless possible combinations, and those enemies attack from different directions, spawn in different areas, and ensure that each battle is unique. You can gear up to face a Boomer only to have some other abomination cross your path, leaving you entirely unprepared. It’s an approach that games like Left 4 Dead have utilised brilliantly, and it’s baffling that it has taken so long for other developers to cotton on and implement similar systems.

The Gears of War cover system was revolutionary upon its arrival in 2007, with countless titles imitating and replicating the mechanic, and the same solid system has been fine-tuned and honed for its return in Judgment. It’s rare that you’ll find yourself stuck in the open due to a button press that wasn’t registered or some other malfunction, leaving unprepared co-op partners with fewer excuses when you’re replaying an area due to their untimely death.

Alongside the great cover system, Epic has tightened up the controls this time around; changing weapons is seamless and requires a simple button press rather than the d-pad scrolling of previous instalments. Despite the improved controls, Epic Games still seems reluctant to improve on a few jarring animations that have been prevalent throughout the series. Jumping over objects still requires entering cover before launching yourself over, when a more natural animation after double-tapping ‘A’ would be a welcome improvement. Sure, it’s nitpicking, but surely a developer the calibre of Epic could have addressed such a minor imperfection after six years of working on a AAA franchise.

Gears of War would not be complete without its myriad of devastating weapons, and all the old favourites return this time around. The iconic, chainsaw-laden Lancer is as gruesome as ever and the Torque Bow still packs an explosive punch. New weapons are also introduced, like the One Shot, a gun that (as its name suggests) can destroy practically any enemy you come across with a single round. The game does a good job of balancing its more effective weapons; heavy ammo is sparse and infrequent, leaving you to pick your targets appropriately and ration rounds in preparation for the climactic shoot outs that close most chapters. AI throughout is adequate and enemies never seem overtly stupid, but your team-mates will regularly obscure your line of fire, inexplicably leave you for dead when you’re down, or simply stand over your lifeless body as you bleed-out in the midst of a firefight. It’s not irritating enough to ruin the experience or break the game, but it’s definitely a noteworthy flaw.

Visually, Gears of War: Judgment is as brilliant as ever. Taking a moment to admire the quality of textures on the wall, or the detail in the sprawling city-scapes you’ll encounter makes you really appreciate how much work has gone into this title. One stand-out moment sees a large black cloud slowly encompassing a devastated city, a glance to the left and the Endeavor Naval Point enters your field of view, a glance to the right and a giant aircraft carrier lies broken on some nearby rocks, bobbing and swaying precariously. While we’ve surely reached the limits of what the Xbox 360 can accomplish in terms of visuals, revisiting the original Gears of War after seeing this really demonstrates how far we’ve come in seven short years; Gears of War was no slouch, but Judgment is in a different league.

While Gears of War: Judgment offers an impressive campaign, the experience feels like a ‘cut-and-paste’ job from the previous three games. Some of the missions are among the best the series has to offer, but there are no iconic moments or big action set-pieces that could rival the likes of the Brumak Rodeo from Gears of War 2.

If you’ve played a Gears of War game then you know exactly what to expect with this outing; everything from the sound effects to the way characters handle remains untouched and, while it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel, the departure from the lineage of the original trilogy could have seen Epic attempt to refresh the experience for the adventures of Baird and Cole.

Conclusion:

There’s no doubt that Gears of War: Judgment is a great game and one that will probably be used as the standard to which other third-person cover-based games will be measured. It’s as solid as ever and the top-notch pacing makes it an exhilarating campaign to play through.

That being said, it’s hard to overcome the ‘been-there, done-that’ feeling it inspires. If you’re a die-hard fan of the series then it’s definitely worth completing the story and experiencing Emergence Day through the eyes of Lt. Baird. For casual fans that have played any of the previous Gears of War games, there isn’t really anything new in Gears of War: Judgment that makes this worth the £40 investment.

New to the series? Then this is the perfect introduction to one of this generation’s landmark series.

8/10

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Dishonored To Receive New DLC

The Knife of Dunwall

Name, price and release date announced…

Bethesda’s critically acclaimed first-person stealth game, Dishonored, is set to receive a shot in the arm this spring with the release of some fresh DLC.

April 16th will see The Knife of Dunwall hit virtual shop shelves, setting you back 800 Microsoft points for the privilege of extending this entertaining but all too brief experience.

The Knife of Dunwall will introduce some new weapons, characters and locales, as players take on the role of Daud – star of the previous DLC add-ons – and embark upon “a search for redemption”.

A Bethesda statement reads: “Your search will take you through never-before-seen districts of Dunwall as you face off against new and terrible foes. Employ a unique arsenal of new weapons and powers that enhance Dishonored’s dynamic combat, mobility and stealth systems. In the struggle to hang onto the last shred of your humanity, the choices you make will ultimately determine your fate.”

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Gears of War: Judgment – Launch Trailer

Gears in motion as launch day looms…

With the March 19th release of Gears of War: Judgment drawing evercloser, Epic Games has stoked the flames by releasing a cinematic trailer for the upcoming release. Check it out below…

So, what do you guys think? Are you excited for the new installment in the series, or are you experiencing Gears fatigue after such a prolonged stay at the forefront of the Xbox 360 library. Sound off in the comments below.

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Star Wars 1313 ‘On Hold’

Star Wars 1313

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

The highly anticipated Star Wars 1313 may be ‘on hold’ according to sources close to the developer.

Despite claims that Disney would not interfere with existing LucasArts projects following their 2012 acquisition of the Star Wars visionaries, that appears to be exactly what has happened in this situation.

With J.J. Abrams set to reboot the franchise, it makes sense that they would prefer to focus their creative efforts on the upcoming film and – seeing as the current generation is rapidly drawing to a close – a delay could align nicely for a next-gen release for Star Wars 1313.

Here’s hoping that the project still has legs and hasn’t been completely canned.

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.

Ubisoft Announces Assassin’s Creed IV

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Pirate themed adventure coming to Xbox 360…

Ubisoft has announced the next instalment in the popular Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

The Pirate-themed adventure is coming to Xbox 360 and all other major platforms (PS3, Wii U and PC), with the PS3 release receiving 60 minutes of exclusive gameplay.

A confirmed release date is yet to be announced, but expect Black Flag to hit store shelves around Q4 of 2013.

So what are your opinions on Ubisoft’s latest Assassin’s Creed announcements? Intriguing new direction, or shameless cash-in? Sound off in the comments below…

I wrote this for Pure Xbox. I’m crossposting it here for my archive.