Tag Archive: ps3


Developer: Airtight Games

Release date: PC – June 21st via Steam, Xbox 360 & PS3 – July 11th via download

A couple of years after co-creating the groundbreaking hit Portal, lead designer Kim Swift left Valve to join, Airtight Games. After the colossal success of Portal setting up an equally sizeable precedent for her first project, no longer in the loving embrace of Valve, can Quantum Conundrum live up to its predecessor?

Quantum Conundrum, much like Portal, is at its heart a puzzle game, where you manipulate time and physics of the environment around you in order to progress. You start off with the ability to turn even the heaviest objects as light as a feather, by transforming the world into fluff; so if you need to carry an object like a safe on to a pressure activated switch, you turn it to fluff, place it on the switch and go back to normal, bringing it to its full weight. As you progress, more options are given to you how to change the world around you, including the ability to make everything heavier, slow down time to a crawl, and reverse the flow of gravity completely; the caveat here, is that while this is all happening, as the one who manipulates these physics, you’re immune to the changes that take place.

Some men just want to watch the world burn… or turn to fluff.

The plot to Quantum Conundrum is pleasantly simple: you play a 12-year-old boy who’s been sent to stay at his uncle’s mansion for the weekend, who happens to be an eccentric scientist and inventor called Professor Fitz Quadwrangle, who also created the Interdimensional Shift Device (or IDS for short), the very tool you have to use to make your way through his mansion and its many puzzle rooms, in order to reach the generator which will open up the pocket dimension the professor trapped himself in after a botched experiment.

The simplistic plot – while welcome for avoiding being convoluted in a game based around physics manipulation – falls somewhat short. The professor does offer background narration as you make your way through, via a disembodied voice but there’s little to compel players to keep progressing through the game’s many levels, beyond seeing and attempting to solve the next puzzle. Luckily, its puzzles are strong enough that it can hold a player’s interest, and much like Portal, its later levels can leave you flummoxed at first, and make you feel like a genius for solving it.

One of the many, many safes you’ll see throughout the game.

It’s hard not to compare Quantum Conundrum to Portal, given that their frameworks are almost identical, but this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing; ever since its release, apart from Portal 2 there haven’t been very many games to even attempt to emulate the formula laid out by it. Quantum Conundrum doesn’t necessarily have that charm that Portal has, but it does have a charm of its own; there are jokes littered throughout, including classic books with scientifically parodied titles (such as ‘Great Exponentiations’, ‘To Kilowatt a Mockingbird’ and ‘Prime and Probability’ among many others), paintings of the professor and his pet Ike (a bipedal feline-type creature with the ability to teleport) and their journeys through time, and bizarre contraptions which aid you along your way.

No, this isn’t the vomit dimension, this is what happens when the world flips.

Quantum Conundrum may not have set a new standard the way that Portal did, but it’s definitely a game that you shouldn’t ignore; it’s extremely clever, fun, engaging, and has a level of ingenuity few game developers even dare to live up to. I got around seven hours of playtime out of my first playthrough, but there are challenges that can keep you returning, like finishing a puzzle with a limited amount of dimension shifts, completing them within a set time limit or finding hidden collectables. As far as downloadable titles go, Quantum Conundrum is a must; give your brain a work-out and play it.

 

Overall: 8/10

After almost a decade long hiatus from the world of games (and a brief, yet abysmal foray into the world of cinema), Max Payne is back once again to shake up the third person shooter genre. During his absence, many contenders have come along and changed the landscape of the genre, including Gears of War and Uncharted, both with their own brand of combat and bombastic narrative, and both enjoying great success; so can Max Payne still stand out in such a competitive climate? The short answer is: yes, but read on, and I’ll tell you why.

For those of you who didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the first two games, titular character Max Payne is one of your classic anti-heroes; the grizzled cop whose life was turned around upon the murder of his wife and daughter by a drug addict. Upon his quest to exact revenge against the people who were supplying the drugs the addict was taking, the story is befitting with its noir backdrop, having Max tumble down the rabbit hole, and his actions turn from righteous to morally ambiguous.

This is the kind of fashion I want to rock when I’m in my 50s.

Many deaths and many years later, we return to Max in Max Payne 3, more grizzled, more self-destructive, and – as usual – with nothing to lose. We see Max in his new job, retired from the police and working as private security for one of the richest families in Sao Paolo, Brazil. At first, it seems like an easy gig for Max; watching over rich kids who party all day as he drowns his sorrows at the bar in a tailored suit, but wherever Max goes, trouble’s sure to follow, and true to form, it does. Members of the family are targeted and kidnapped by some of the city’s most dangerous gangs, and Max and his security partner, Passos, are tasked with finding out why they’re being targeted, along the way discovering things are not quite as they seem.

Up until the release of Max Payne 3, many expressed concerns with the game, based on impressions from the trailers, and changes in development. Unlike Max Payne & Max Payne 2, which were developed by Remedy, Rockstar (creators of the Grand Theft Auto series) took the helm, and series creator and original writer, Sam Lake, was replaced by Dan Houser (writer of Red Dead Redemption and most of the Grand Theft Auto series). Initially, people complained that the noir elements which embodied the original games and the change in writing duties were detaching the series from its roots; thus, it wasn’t going to be a Max Payne game. I can say with all certainty that those naysayers are dead wrong. For one thing, noir isn’t just how something looks; a greyscale world do not a noir make. Noir is all about story; it’s about the self-destructive anti-hero, the conspiracy, the hard drinking, the ambiguity, the darkness of the setting, it’s not just about how it looks, and Max Payne 3 nails down noir perfectly.

It’s like they made a game based on my daily life.

As for the change in writing duties, Max Payne 3 has a narrative that’s stronger than ever; since the triumph that was Red Dead Redemption, Dan Houser has proven himself to be one of the strongest writers working in the games industry today; he has the ability to make you truly care about the characters you need to care about, and invest in their quest. The story is tightly threaded throughout the entire game, forgoing the comic book stills the past games used as transitions to tell the story, and repurposing them through cut-scenes and Max’s narrative during gameplay. The narrative works as an effective tool that works dynamically with Max’s actions; if you pick up a bottle of painkillers (the game’s health restorative) Max will justify his reasons for picking them up and using them, much like anyone would in the grip of addiction.

Now, to the gameplay; the original Max Payne games pioneered the usage of Bullet Time in its gunplay, a technique which many games that followed it adopted. True to its predecessors, Max Payne 3 reintroduces this mechanic; when you have enough time built up through killing enemies in normal speed, you can slow down time or perform leaps through the air, which gives you greater control of your aiming and take down a room filled with enemies with greater efficiency. You’re not invincible during this time, so you have to keep on moving and be wary of your environment. Thanks to Rockstar’s repurposing of the RAGE engine and its fantastic implementation of body animation, it can cause problems for Max; if you perform a Bullet Time leap too close to an object and leap into it, it can appropriately interrupt your action as you collide with it.

Gunplay is always fun, fast and frantic, and staying true to the original games, Max Payne 3 has ignored the modern shooter trope of regenerative health, and makes the player reliant on a health bar, something that will both challenge players, and make them realise how the modern shooter has a tendency to coddle them. As such, Bullet Time can be the saving grace which can help you make use of those last few bullets and your last slither of life.

Everyone hates campers.

Max Payne 3 is also pleasing to the eyes and ears; not only does it offer animations that few games can rival, characters and environments are impressive in both their design and variety; never did I encounter repetitive enemy models, or areas that mirrored another aesthetically. Both Max and his enemies make good use of the world around them, vaulting over railings, tumbling down stairs when knocked back by a shotgun round and even diving through windows. The game also delivers some spectacular set pieces; similar to quick time events in other games, there are moments where the player is forced into Bullet Time (usually during some reckless stunt performed by Max), and you’re tasked to take down as many enemies as possible. They’re always welcome, and never fail to impress.

Max Payne 3 also marks the series’ first entry into the multiplayer realm, and whilst one might see this as one of the ways modern developers haphazardly tack on the feature to increase longevity, this is not the case. Max Payne 3 has a robust, rewarding and most importantly, fun. It includes modes such as deathmatch and team deathmatch (along with versions with higher player counts and larger maps), but it also features some interesting and unique variations. There’s ‘Payne Killer’ where gang members with limited arsenals are tasked with killing two other players who take on the roles of Max Payne and Passos (who are kitted out with more substantial weapons and painkillers), should they kill one of them, they take on their role, and hold on for as long as possible. The ones who attain the most kills as the main characters wins. There’s also ‘Gang wars’, where two rival forces compete against each other; one attempting to fulfil their objective, as the other does their best to prevent them. This mode tends to be the most challenging, as the player count is higher, it’s not just about killing, and it takes place over the space of six rounds.

All in all, Max Payne 3 is a solid return to the series; its campaign feels richer than its predecessors, both in scope and length, lasting around 12-14 hours. Few will feel the need to return to the campaign, once it’s finished, unless they want to complete modes such as score attack or New York Minute (where you have to make your way through a campaign level as quickly as possible without dying once), but for those who don’t, the multiplayer is more than to keep people returning to Max’s world, long after you’ve seen his tale of corruption and redemption reach its thrilling conclusion.

 

Rating: 9/10

PC version reviewed

2011: A Year in Gaming

2011 was a very eventful year for gaming; first of all there was a bevy of sequels released on all platforms, well established franchises returning for another outing; some with significant changes, be it mechanical or graphical, some, working off the back of a well established formula. Various major gaming websites have already posted their winners for game of the year, and the numerous categories that precede them, and I’m sure very soon we’ll be seeing the accolades in renewed marketing campaigns and on the front of their respective game cases, and such awards can lead to a huge spike in sales. However, none of these awards can compare to what I have to say on the matter, so if you’re willing to indulge my delusions of grandeur, here are my awards for this year in gaming.

(Note: with the increasing amount of titles being released multi-platform, I’m keeping platform awards specific to exclusives.)

Best PC game: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Witcher 2 is a game that dared to be different. Developed and published by CD Projekt Red – the largest game publisher in Poland – the follow-up to the critically acclaimed, but little played first game from the developer, gave gamers the world over a damn good reason to start playing PC games again, and gave PC gamers something they could be proud of.

The Witcher 2 is an action RPG that adopted the sensibilities of old school RPGs by creating a vast lore for its world and inhabitants, along with a fantasy setting that would make even the biggest Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings fan salivate, but it mixed this with a wide variety of modern innovations; from its beautiful graphics engine, insane attention to detail, and a morality system that developers such as BioWare would do well to take note of. The Witcher 2 is set in a world of moral ambiguity, where choices aren’t simply black or white/good or bad, but are rife with shades of grey, and these decisions can impact the later stages of the game greatly, even so much as affecting the outcome of the game’s third act entirely. The game was an astonishing feat, CD Projekt Red created a triple ‘A’ title on a non-triple ‘A’ budget, and continue to support the title with free updates. Luckily, Xbox 360 owners will get to experience the game next year, and it’s a title no gamer should miss out on.

Best PS3 game: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

The PS3 had the good fortune to be graced with a wide variety of console exclusive titles, all of which were great in their own right, and worthy of the time of anyone who owns the system. However, none could equate to the scope or scale Uncharted 3 had to offer. In a way, Uncharted 3 could’ve been developer Naughty Dog’s “difficult third album”; after 2009’s Uncharted 2‘s critical success and numerous ‘game of the year’ awards, the accomplished developers practically set the bar on for action games, and how developers as a whole shouldn’t limit themselves on ambition. Naughty Dog proved with Uncharted 3, that their ambitions reached even higher than their player’s expectations.

To start with, the game was absolutely stunning, it’s hard to believe that this was a game made for hardware that’s nearly six years old; it had a polish and sheen to it that’s usually reserved for technologically accomplished PC titles, with amazingly well modelled and fully realized characters, and beautiful and ever dynamic vistas, it’s a game that’s virtually impossible not to be impressed by. There are moments within that’ll leave you truly on the edge of your seat, coupled with a compelling and satisfying campaign, it also came packaged with an immensely fun multiplayer mode which in no way felt like excess fat, Uncharted 3 set a new standard again for the genre.

Best Xbox 360 game: Forza Motorsport 4

Note: Okay, confession time; whilst I have played various games on my Xbox 360 this year – both physical and XBLA releases – I haven’t played any exclusive titles. So rather than taking a cue from the selections of other sites, I’m going to allow my good friend, Charles Brown to offer his choice for his favourite Xbox 360 exclusive this year.

When it comes to racing games, Forza 4 set a new standard. The game features visuals that are honestly too good to be true, every time I play the game I find myself using auto-vista (a mode that allows you to walk around a car and get into it, a new feature Turn10 put into the game) than actually in races! Okay, so that’s not entirely true but Autovista is definitely a fun mode.
The actual racing is fun and engaging at all levels, if you prefer racing in “affordable” cars, you can… but if you want to try your hand at a car that only the super rich can afford, then you can do that too… Turn10 have taken the time to accurately map out the intricate details of 600+ cars (and more to come via DLC) and their very unique personalities. Not every car is the same, nor its sound. where else can you discover that a 2011 Ford Fiesta is better at cornering at top speed than the worlds fastest production car, the Bugatti Veyron?
It’s a game shouldn’t be confined to just “racing-sim-lovers”, this is a game every Xbox 360 owner should buy, rent or borrow, and one of Microsoft’s benchmark titles. A game that deserves to sit on the same shelf as other classic titles. It’s a console-defining racing simulator and honestly, it’s a shame it’s a console-exclusive as everyone should play this shining example of a racing game.

Best Handheld Title: Super Mario 3D Land

When the Nintendo 3DS was launched back in March, I, like many others decided to take the plunge and become an early adopter of the system, enthralled by the prospect of witnessing fully fledged 3D technology without the burden of those stupid stereoscopic glasses. As someone who considers himself a cinephile, I admittedly hated the trend of more and more films becoming available in 3D, and currently rejoicing in its downfall. “Why?”, because like many before me have said, 3D is a gimmick, it’s an excuse to bump up ticket prices and scupper piracy that worked for a brief moment, but with consumption habits changing, the film industry is slowly becoming irrelevant, and it only has itself to blame.

I do however believe, that 3D technology has potential when applied to gaming, it just depends on how it’s used, and how relevant it is. It has to make the player ask themself “Would this be better in 3D?” And in comes Nintendo. It’s no secret by now that Nintendo are masters of innovation; they’ve pioneered ideas in gaming that some of us can’t even dream of. When the 3DS was first release, for all its flare and features, and for every time I showed someone the 3D in action and they gave that same dumbfounded reaction mixed with an ear to ear smile, in my head I was always thinking “It’s great, but it’s a shame there are no great games for it”.

Later in the year, all that changed with the release of Super Mario 3D Land. It was the first fully fledged Mario title for a handheld in a long time, and when it was first announced, legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto claimed that it would change 3D from a gimmick to a necessity, and when Shigeru Miyamoto makes a claim like that, you better believe he’s a man of his word.

Super Mario 3D Land made owning a Nintendo 3DS worth it, whether you were an early adopter like me, or someone who bought it after the price drop. It’s a Mario game, through and through; it’s loaded with content, has beautiful, vibrant worlds, it brought back the long absent tanooki suit, there’s a challenge for players of all ages, and most importantly, it’s pure, unadulterated joy. Say what you will about Nintendo recycling their franchises, but there’s good reason for this; they can take something old and make it fresh, and in some cases, ahead of anything else at the time.

Best Downloadable Title/Indie game: Trine 2

There was a time when people heard the term ‘indie game’, they thought of titles that were graphical throwbacks of the 8 and 16-bit era, and as a gamer who’s a product of that time, it offers a sense of nostalgia that the aesthetic of big titles can’t offer. However, we’ve come a long way in the past couple of years, Trine 2 showed gamers that it’s quite possible to combine the innovations of modern graphical prowess along with classic gameplay stylings. Trine 2 is reminiscent of Blizzard’s The Lost Vikings, swapping between three characters on the fly, and making use of their abilities in order to overcome obstacles, enemies and puzzles, all whilst navigating the gorgeous 2.5D landscapes. Players also had to make use of the world’s realistic physics in order to progress; water flows realistically, and objects and debris can fall with the heft and momentum as their real-life counterparts.

Indie titles are growing ever more popular and ambitious by the year, and 2011 was no exception. Indie developers are becoming a force to be reckoned with, by even the biggest developers, and if games like Trine 2 are anything to go by, the future of indie developers like Frozenbyte are very bright indeed.

Most Improved Sequel: Portal 2

When Portal came along in 2007 as a title included in Valve’s ‘The Orange Box’ compilation, it became an unexpected hit of leviathan proportions, its simple yet brilliant concept astounded players the world over, by offering puzzles that at a cursory glance seemed next to impossible, yet when looked at by “thinking with portals” and manipulating space and time, the solution became elegant, yet simple, but also made you feel like a genius for solving them.

Creating a sequel to one of the most original and critically acclaimed games of all time looked to be a harder task than any puzzle Portal have to offer, but this is Valve we’re talking about here, and Valve make really, really, really good games, they’re the Pixar of the games industry, so pretty much everyone who’s ever played a Valve game had every bit of confidence that they could pull it off. And holy Hell, did they pull it off.

Despite being a sequel, Portal 2 felt every bit as fresh and unique as its predecessor. To say that it was “more of the same” would be an injustice to the title; we learned more of the enigmatic world the game was based in, the origin of the misanthropic matriarch, and antagonist, GLaDOS, the rise and fall of Aperture Science (all told posthumously through pre-recorded messages from its CEO, Cave Johnson, voiced by the fantastic J.K. Simmons) and it introduced us the best game character of 2011, Wheatley, brought to life by the insecure ramblings of Stephen Merchant.

But what did Portal 2 do, apart from expand on story? Well, it took the somewhat simple mechanic of placing portals to solve puzzles above and beyond our imagination, and this was largely due to the game’s co-op play. I think many who’ve played Portal 2 will agree that its co-op play was nothing short of a revolution; it required two minds to work in near-perfect harmony in order to reach a solution, and showed that even though you may have more portals to work with, it doesn’t make things any easier. Cooperation was an absolute must, and when the interplay of two minds came together in order to succeed, it offered a sense of gratification I’ve rarely felt with other games. Not only that, but it made gamers realize that to create these puzzles, Valve must have some truly magnificent minds working for them, and we’re all the better for it.

Literally everyone should play a Portal game at some point in their life, they’re a work of art and a great example to those uninitiated to gaming what the medium is capable of.

Best Multiplayer: Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 was announced back in February 2011, and from then on, more and more was revealed about the game via a series of teaser trailers from the campaign level ‘Fault Line’. Whilst the modern gamer is no stranger to the military shooter, thanks to franchises like Call of Duty, there was something special about Battlefield 3 that grew apparent with every reveal; even though the game was a technical and visual tour de force, it had a sense of substance and reality that had been lost in the shooter genre over the past few years.

Anyone who’s ever played a Battlefield game will tell you that developers DiCE are masters when it comes to creating a multiplayer experience, and Battlefield 3 was no exception. In the run up to the release of the game, DiCE made sure to tout the Frostbite 2 engine that was used to make the game. What made this engine so unique, apart from its ability to create models and environments uncannily realistic and render gorgeous dynamic lighting effects, is that it allowed for realistic destruction, and this wasn’t a simple gimmick. Should you be in a situation where a squad of enemies are holed up in a building, an RPG can decimate their once safe haven, and leave them at the mercy of your team. This was one of the many elements that made Battlefield 3 one of the most intense and unique multiplayer experiences of the year.

DiCE made the now uncommon decision of making PC their lead platform for the game, utilizing the best of today’s modern hardware, and gave those who invested in a decent gaming rig a visual and technical treat, boasting maps that allowed up to 64 players to fight it out. Battlefield 3 set itself apart from other contenders in the genre by including vehicle warfare, where players can take command of anything from Jeeps, tanks, helicopters, fighter jets and everything in between, making it a diverse experience every time you played; this coupled with the game’s balanced and intuitive class system made for an experience few others could match. The game isn’t easy though, by any stretch of the imagination. You need to play to win the objective, whether it’s gaining territory in Conquest mode, or arming an MCOM station with C4 in Rush mode, it all requires team work, and those who go it alone are more often than not doomed to failure. Playing with a team that works together will always lead to sweet victory, in a game that perfectly illustrates that there truly is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.

Most Underappreciated Game: Rayman Origins

After a long hiatus from his 2D platforming roots, Rayman finally returned to us this year with the aptly titled Rayman Origins. Released as a physical title for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii (not as some would expect as a downloadable title), it was released in November, during the notoriously hectic Autumn release calendar, so it’s easy to understand why this game fell under the radar. The fact that this game was ignored was quite frankly, criminal; anyone who’s ever picked up a wired controller with no analog sticks owes it to themselves to play this game.

Built on UbiSoft‘s new UbiArt engine, this entirely 2D world is like a cartoon come to life; characters jump, run and punch their way through levels, all gloriously animated and characterized at a glorious 60 frames per second. Every environment, object and character has been lovingly hand-drawn, all breathing life into a franchise, which up until now had been relegated to being represented by raving Rabbids, which would’ve been a shame, as in the tradition of games of the 8 and 16-bit era, Rayman has turned out to be a character that doesn’t need to be voiced in order to be appealing.

The game oozes with charm, and no two levels feel alike, further adopting the tradition of classic platforming, the game allows local co-op for up to four players. Whether excluding online play was a nod to its lineage or not is another question, but playing with a friend does elicit that sense of joy and camaraderie that came from playing a video game with a school friend or some kid from your neighbourhood.  As was the standard with games back then, Rayman Origins has little in the way of story yet doesn’t suffer because of it, and has one of the best music scores this year (no, seriously). More people need to play this game, so UbiSoft can continue making games like it, rather than milking a certain assassin based franchises dry. If you see it on sale this January, pick it up, you will not regret it.

Overall Game of the Year: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Yeah, I know, shocking, right? Well, there’s a good reason why Skyrim is picking up ‘Game of the Year’ awards left right and centre, and there’s a good reason why I’m no exception to this: Skyrim is a masterpiece.

The follow up to Bethesda’s critical and commercial hit The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you play the role of the dragonborn (or ‘dovahkiin’ as they’re known in the language of dragons), one of whom is born every few centuries. You assume this role as your chosen race, gender or even species, and upon learning your origin, you learn your purpose in the world of Skyrim, to defeat the long dormant dragons. What happens next, is up to you.

To call Skyrim ‘vast’ would be an understatement; its world spans as far as the eye can see, and every square-foot is drenched in beauty and attention to detail. But what is beauty without substance? Bethesda have proven time and time again that they can create a world that players can invest in, and Skyrim is testament to this, in fact, it’s set a new standard for open world exploration. A couple of hours into Skyrim and players can find themselves with a severe case of wanderlust, scouring the lands for new locations, new enemies, items, weapons, friends and so much more. It’s the seemingly random nature of the world which makes it ever more believable and engrossing, you never know when you’ll stumble upon some random NPC in the middle of nowhere who can trigger off a chain of events that lead you ever deeper down the rabbit hole.

The more time you spend in Skyrim, the more you feel your character truly has a place in the world, gaining notoriety for being benevolent or even wicked, changing the lives indefinitely for its inhabitants, and even becoming a major catalyst for a land wrought in conflict. As you grow, so does the world. Even when you’re not doing anything in particular, you can simply be in awe of everything the world has to offer, whether this is exploring ancient dwarven constructs, being caught up in a snowstorm as a dragon circles above you, simply acknowledging your existence in these lands, or even witnessing the beauty of aurora borealis in the night sky.

You can sink literally hundreds of hours into Skyrim, be in the middle of nowhere, yet never feel lost. Even though the game isn’t immune to some of Bethesda’s notorious bugs, and it may have spawned one of the more annoying internet memes this year, Skyrim’s impact on 2011’s gaming landscape is undeniable. It also made publishers and developers realize that including a multiplayer mode in a game isn’t always a necessity to increase longevity, that rich singleplayer campaigns can offer up so much more than the often repetitive endeavours of an online game, and that given time, attention and love, you can create an experience that will be forever cemented in the player’s mind.

This year, Skyrim won the hearts of millions of gamers, it was a tremendous and well deserved success, and a game that lead designer, Todd Howard and all at Bethesda should be incredibly proud of. If you still haven’t played Skyrim, believe all the hype; it embodies the unique and wonderful experiences only we, as gamers get to enjoy, and little else comes close.