Tag Archives: Xbox 360

BioShock Infinite | Review | Gaming

Bioshock Infinite

Nothing like a man with a gun on the box to say "shooter".
Nothing like a man with a gun on the box to say “shooter”.

It took me an embarrassing three years to complete the original BioShock, so with this new title I vowed not to get sidetracked.

Luckily the bright and colourful land of Columbia is a far more compelling and addictive setting than the murky and often spine-chilling corridors of Rapture.

A (sort of) simple tale, well told

BioShock Infinite is a game about Elizabeth. More than just a plucky young sidekick, Elizabeth is a well-educated teenager who has led a sheltered life in captivity. You, as American Booker Dewitt, must rescue her.

Don’t go thinking this is all cliché and sunshine though. First off, Booker’s motives are hardly pure – something he is up-front about from the beginning – and Elizabeth is hardly a helpless damsel in distress.

Gifted with the power to manipulate the universe through ‘tears’, doorways through space and sometimes time, Elizabeth can control reality as “a sort of wish fulfilment” (as she puts it), giving you access to munitions, provisions or even escape routes.

Your first introduction to Columbia is too good to be true. Wandering around this bright and bountiful place, a floating city filled with happy people, cheerful acapella groups and celebrations in the streets, your Spidey sense starts tingling immediately.

Getting your hands dirty

The skyhook (left) serves as transport on the skyrails as well as a brutal melee tool.
The skyhook (left) serves as transport on the skyrails as well as a brutal melee tool.

The game’s turning point, marking its inevitable slip into violence, couldn’t be more abrupt, and the bodycount grows from there. Luckily Booker is a war vet and has no trouble taking lives, which is more than can be said for your sheltered-life-d companion.

The gameplay will be familiar to BioShock players, but to a 2013 audience can be a bit clunky and slow, particularly aiming, which is relegated to a click of the right stick. The reason for this is that the left trigger is home to vigours, the Columbia incarnation of plasmids which grant special powers such as electric shock or the ability to posses enemies.

The vigours are what make this game different from other first-person shooters you might find lying around in the bargain bins across the country. As it does with its entire philosophy, Infinite commits entirely to making vigours work. Though limited to eight options, they can be upgraded and all have a secondary function – which generally grants the ability to lay traps – introducing a raft of different tactical options.

On the flipside are the guns, of which there are a reasonable selection, but since you can only carry two at a time you’ll find yourself getting comfortable with a pair and sticking to them. These can also be upgraded, and after a little while through the game you’ll find the majority of enemies a pushover.

Tried but not too trying

In fact, the difficulty (on normal at least) seems far easier than your standard modern shooter. It might be that the pace is slower than fans of Battlefield or Call of Duty multiplayer are used to, but the ease at which you can breeze through enemies at times borders on disbelief.

One aspect which gives you opportunities to try and do things differently are the skyrails. Huge rollorcoaster-esque monorails carving through the sky, you can zip along the rails and leap off onto enemies. They also provide a handy escape route if you do find yourself swamped. These, coupled with Elizabeth’s ability to call in a bunch of health kits from another reality, come in handy for staying out of trouble.

The story is a complex web, and something worth experiencing rather than explaining, but needless to say it is worthy of its widespread critical acclaim with equal parts pondering speculation.

An old-school spectacle

Bioshock Infinite
The water above looks stunning, but it doesn’t all look quite so shiny.

Visually the game is wildly inconsistent. In general it is stunning, beautiful and awe-inspiring, but if you look too closely you start to see the paint peeling in the form of low-quality textures and awkward animations – a sign that the next generations of consoles has a lot to offer.

The water effects in particular show this the most strongly in the opening scene when you see beautiful rain speckling on a rock next to the ocean, which, by contrast, looks like an odd collection of sprites leaping for freedom.

There are some missed opportunities, such as a fairly limited selection of enemies with few specific tactics needed, and less time having fun on skyrails than expected (though a scripted, literally ‘on-rails’ section would have been woeful).

From the mind of Booker Dewitt

Characters are the real strength which Infinite builds its legacy in. You wonder if it would have been as successful if Elizabeth had been a young man instead of a young girl, but you quickly dismiss these concerns as having little significance and enjoy yourself.

Elizabeth reacts quite believably to situations, investigates areas with you, and has the good sense to keep out of your line of fire in a firefight. There was one awkward moment when she entirely disappeared and didn’t shop up again until I loaded a new area, but its easy to forgive these glitches when her company is such fun. The journey between the two characters is as rich as their overall adventure and by the end you have respect and admiration for both of them.

Not to be missed?

Unashamedly ambitious and engaging throughout, Infinite is the icing on the cake for developers Irrational Games, who have worked up to this greatness from the already impressive heights of the original game back in 2007.

This is a game which should be played for the experience, and if you really want the challenge there is not only hard but ‘1999 mode’ on offer, the latter of which strips everything back to give a pre-millenium feel.

If you haven’t played BioShock, then you can enter this world without missing much, but if you have then there’s more on show here, as well as a couple of nods back to the past (as well as countless parallels).

A title filled with excitement and wonder, Infinite is a game to remind you why you got into gaming in the first place.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Pictures courtesy GamesPress
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Playstation 4 First Look | Gaming | This Is Entertainment

Playstation 4 announcementThe official announcement of the Playstation 4 (or PS4, if you’re cool) late on Wednesday night marks a step forward in console gaming, as gamers begin to take ‘next gen’ seriously.

The contenders

We might already have the WiiU, but most have been waiting for the big boys to show their hand. Sony has kicked the sales race into top gear by teasing the industry with the PS4, not even showing onlookers what the console itself looks like.

Is this a masterstroke piece of clever marketing to get people like us overly speculative about the whole affair? or simply because the final look isn’t quite nailed down yet? or perhaps something which is considered to be important?

What’s in a name?

The name ‘PS4’ was widely rumoured to be scrapped for the more minimalist and Apple-esque ‘Playstation’ ahead of the reveal, due to ‘4’ being an unlucky number in Sony’s home country of Japan, but in the end Sony went for the smart option, which is easy for consumers to follow.

There’s plenty of new Xbox names knocking about too (Nextbox, Xbox 720, Xbox Infinity, Xbox Loop, Xbox 8) but really everyone is just waiting for some information to see how the two companies stack up against each other.

Playstation4 announcement (Power!)A numbers game

Throughout the announcement the word ‘power’ was mentioned frequently, to an almost dizzying extent at times, and winning the specs race is clearly high on Sony’s priorities.

The system boasts 8gb of RAM, a ‘specially optimised’ processor and dedicated high-end GPU – also tailored for the console. Undoubtedly there is a lot of power knocking about, and having a second processor to download games while you play another one is definitely a time-saver.

More than just a pretty (old man’s) face

What Sony don’t seem to realise is that though power is handy, gamers aren’t going to be impressed simply by shinier graphics. From the games which have been shown so far, most appear to have a high level of graphical polish, but what gamers are really reaching for are innovative and original gameplay experiences.

Enter Halo creators Bungie with Destiny, an always online massively multiplayer game which, following an exciting reveal of its own a few days earlier, has some big ideas about what gamers are looking for. The game promises a lot, including some exclusive PS4 content (did that sting Microsoft?), but to justify always-online it has a long way to go to compel gamers (especially in the UK).

Other games, with only a handful of exclusives, refused to raise excitement levels much, other than Watch Dogs, which continues to look promising (but has since confirmed as multi platform and multi-generation).

Playstation 4 controllerNew hardware

The controller is the closest we got to the console itself, with a fancy touchpad and a share button being the only noticeable additions to the look and feel. There is a big push to using the PS Vita as a controller, which is a more pocket-sized alternative to the lap tray-esque WiiU controller, and the aim is to have all PS4 games stream-able to the Vita.

There is also a lot of cloud-based action with the PS4, thanks to recently acquired expert company Gaikai, and there does seem to be a few nifty innovations there, but nothing we haven’t already seen in a more basic way on other platforms before.

Play(station)-ing it safe?

In all there’s a lot to love about what the PS4 will be able to do. The biggest benefit will be one we never see, as the architecture of the console makes developing games much easier than before, but there is sure to be more reveals to come as the sparring between Sony and Microsoft ramps up over the coming months. Strap yourselves in games fans, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Below an amusing round-up from Matt Lees (@jam_sponge) at VideoGamerTV:

James Michael Parry

13 for 2013: Our most anticipated films, music, gaming, technology and cyberculture | Entertainment | This Is Entertainment

The fun and games of 2012 is behind us, so it’s time to stop doing Gangnam Style, put down your ‘New’ iPad and think about all the exciting things which will clamour for both your attention and your wallet this year. Here are 13 things we are really looking forward to:

  1. Ingress (Available Now)

Screenshot_2013-01-03-07-50-32It might seem strange to start with something which you probably haven’t heard of, but its mysterious nature is what makes it interesting. Currently search giant Google is beta testing an augmented reality app, which calls for users to investigate the world around them using their phone as a scanner.

Using the software from the Google glasses demo released last year, the team have come up with a narrative based around CERN’s Higgs Boson experiment. To request an invite for the beta go to the Ingress website (but expect to wait a few weeks). Expect more on the site in the coming months as we delve deeper into the mystery.

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  1. DmC: Devil May Cry (11 January)

dmcWhile the obvious candidate for the crown of ‘anticipated game of the year’ is Grand Theft Auto V, we decided to avoid tackling Rockstar’s media-teasing monstrosity and talk about some of the smaller hitters, beginning with DmC, a reboot of Devil May Cry.

Danté is back, now with a harcore-fan-outraging new look, and a more user-friendly play and combat style. Developers Ninja Theory haven’t held back in taking the series’ ingredients and throwing them in a blender to make a more dynamic and edgy game, not that it’s tricky to make a demon hunter who is half angel and half devil look edgy. What we’ve seen so far looks impressive, though the team have an uphill struggle to convincingly gain ground in the third person slash-’em-up arena.

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  1. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law (21 January)

Wolf's LawAfter a stunning debut album from the Welsh three-piece, they are due to strike back this year with their second album. The band perform amazingly well live, and their songs have that element of originality mixed with a few familiar pop tricks which make them compulsive listening.

Lead vocalist Ritzy’s voice is immediately striking and the synergy in the group is second to none. First single ‘The Ladder is Ours’ picks up where the first album left off and drives the band’s music forward. Expect some well received live performances on the back of this CD later in the year.

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  1. Bad Religion – True North (22 January)

True NorthHardcore punk rockers Bad Religion continue to churn out albums at an alarmingly consistent rate and this latest effort is looking to be no exception. First single, ‘Fuck You’, has all the uncompromising energy and attitude you could expect from a punk band who have been making music for over 30 years.

Title track ‘True North’ reveals more, and gives a sense of the overall tone of the album itself, somewhere between the blisteringly quick songs of early days with albums like Incomplete and the philosophy of The Process of Belief.

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  1. Windows Surface Pro (28 January TBC)

Windows Surface ProWe’ve already waxed lyrical about Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, and what more could you want? Windows 8 in a handy portable package of course. The RT version of the Windows Surface tablet has been out for a few months and has sold “modestly”, but many IT enthusiasts are holding off for the full ‘Pro’ version, which runs standard windows programs as well as Windows‘ own tailor-made apps.

With boosted specs and plenty of positive reviews of the RT version already circulating, this could be the technology purchase of the year (well it’s less likely to be replaced in a few months like a new iPad might in any case).

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  1. New(ish) gaming IPs: Remember Me (May 2013) and South Park: The Stick of Truth (March 2013)

Remember MeDespite the Xbox 360 nearing the end of its life (see point 11), there are still new IPs coming to the console which look promising. South Park: The Stick of Truth, though not entirely new since it is based on the South Park cartoon series, is the first which cartoon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been directly involved with throughout (reportedly because they were sick and tired of bad South Park games). The game riffs on the classic staples of turn-based RPGs and is sure to have plenty of the sort of laughs and cultural references the TV show is known for.

Remember Me is Capcom’s take on manipulating reality by changing people’s memory in the near future. The game features a protagonist called Nilin, a ‘memory hunter’ who has lost her own memory and is on a quest to get back what she’s lost, while forcing people to kill themselves through memory manipulation along the way. The game is being handled by newcomers Dontnod Entertainment, but reception to the game so far has been promising, so hopefully this won’t be a case of all shine and no substance like fellow near-future jaunt Syndicate was last year.

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  1. Star Trek into Darkness (17 May)

Star Trek into DarknessZachary Quinto and Chris Pine reprise their roles as Spock and Kirk as we go Star Trekking once again, this time with the help of Sherlock Holmes, well, Benedict Cumberbatch. Star Fleet is under direct attack this time around, and Cumberbatch, who plays an unknown character who may or may not be linked to classic Trek film The Wrath of Khan‘s Khan.

The first teaser trailer shows all the destruction and drama you have come to expect from J.J. Abrams’ reboot, and with the acting talent in the mix it would be difficult to not make this the cinematic spectacle of the year. At least unless a bunch of superheroes turn up…oh…

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  1. Man Of Steel (14 June)

Man Of SteelZack Snyder directs the latest in a long line of Superman films, but this time, for the first time ever, Superman himself is British. Jersey-born Henry Cavill, who you may have seen in The Tudors TV series or 2007’s Stardust, dons the red boots in a familiar tale, retold.

Not much to get excited about you might think? But with Christopher Nolan on Producer duty, the studio must be keen for some of his success with The Dark Knight Trilogy to rub off on Man Of Steel.

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  1. Comic book films return (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (4 Oct USA), Kick-Ass 2 (19 July), Thor: The Dark World (Nov 8), Iron Man 3 (26 April), The Wolverine (26 July))

Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Kick-Ass 2Superman isn’t the only superhero doing the rounds this year of course, there are a bunch of sequels on the way to astound and delight us all. Of these the most exciting is Kick-Ass 2, which sees Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist all return, with original actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Morentz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, for another round of crude and comic caped action.

This time Red Mist is seeking revenge, as teased at the close of the first film and Jim Carrey also makes an appearance as Colonel Stars and Stripes. With so many dark and ‘mature’ style superhero flicks flying around it’s good to have something like this as an antidote.

(No Kick-Ass 2 trailer just yet I’m afraid, but Iron Man is shaping up nicely too).

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  1. Reading Festival 2013 (23-25 August)

Reading Festival 2012With organisers Festival Republic kicking off the hype train early this year, we already know that Eminem will be one of this year’s Reading Festival headliners. Also in the mix are Alt-J, Deftones and Sub Focus.

The event always pulls in some of the greatest acts in the world for the year and the atmosphere is difficult to beat for a full weekend festival. Plus following the re-jig and re-brand last year things will be running even more smoothly, leaving more time for drinking and moshing than ever before.

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  1. The next Xbox (Q4 TBC)

The next Xbox?The Xbox 360 has now been on shop shelves for seven years, with hardware older than that, and in some places it’s beginning to creak at the seams. The lack of big game release dates after May this year leans heavily towards a hardware reveal at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, after a decidedly by-the-numbers affair last year.

The gaming community are beginning to cry out and despite manufacturer Microsoft’s claims in 2010 that the console was only half way through it’s life cycle, the clock is ticking. The time makes sense for the company too, since they won’t want to risk falling behind rival Sony‘s next release, which is still unannounced.

At present no concrete news has come out about the next Xbox console, despite rumours being rife, but whatever happens it is likely to slot effortlessly into its parent company’s efforts with Windows 8. The question is, will they strike while the iron is hot?

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  1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (13 December)

The Desolation of SmaugAfter the success which Peter Jackson had with the first instalment of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, we have our fingers firmly crossed he can keep up the momentum for a further two films. The subtitle for this year’s film, The Desolation of Smaug, would suggest this is the chapter in which Smaug is vanquished, but what does that leave for film three?

The multi Oscar-winning director is doing it for the love at this point, so it’s hard to see him making a misstep at this stage, but the real draw for this next film is the returning cast, all of whom shone in part one. How can you say no to more Gandalf?

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  1. The digital entertainment tipping point (TBC?)

The final point in our list is more speculation (speculation you say? On a blog? Outrageous!) around the subject of digital distribution. It might not be something to look forward to if you are keen on polishing the boxes on your CD shelf, but the digital revolution is happening right now. In music in particular the market is struggling to cope, as consumers begin to buy songs online through the likes of iTunes more and more.

The BBC recently reported that in 2012 CD sales fell by 11.2% overall, with sales of physical copies down 20% to 69.4million, compared to a rise or 14.8% for digital, bringing its total up to 30.5million. Surely the day we see digital in the majority isn’t far away?

In gaming and films too things are changing, as more people stream or watch films online, sometimes through games consoles, and various on demand services such as Netflix providing access to thousands of films without the bother of popping down to Blockbuster. Games on demand on Xbox remains uncompetitively priced, but avenues such as Valve’s Steam platform are proving more popular than ever before.

The interconnected nature of technology is making viewing entertainment easier every year and this year could be the time when we start to see the digital future really come into its own.

A Digital FutureJames Michael Parry

The Game Pad explained: what, where, when, why and how? | Gaming | This Is Entertainment

The Game PadTroubled high street retailer Game is poised to make an unusual new assault on the gaming market in 2013 with the launch of ‘The Game Pad’, a rent-your-own gaming hideaway featuring the market’s shiniest new titles.

Bespoke services are nothing new in retail, but such an intimate, personal offering is immediately an intriguing step for such a mainstream store. Located in Staybridge Suites near London’s Westfield Stratford City Shopping centre, the Pad is a customised room kitted out with enough consoles, games, snacks, pizzas and beer to keep a group of gaming enthusiasts occupied for an entire evening in secluded luxury.

Costing a shade under £200, the set up may sound like a pricey night out, but a hotel in London is hardly peanuts by itself, and the suites are a far cry from your local Travelodge in terms of quality – not to mention you can cram in as many people as you like.

The suite comes with a king-sized bed and all three main games consoles: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii U, plus the latest off-the-shelf titles – unfortunately no secret previews of Grand Theft Auto V to be found here. Unsurprising perhaps, but it would have been a great feature if you could get a couple of days head start on other gamers with 2013’s big-name releases.

Grab your friends, controllers and beer.The company boasts the Pad is “the ultimate gaming experience”, but for such a hefty price tag, you would expect a suitably top-of-the-line experience. At present there is no customisation available for the suite, meaning if you fancy an eight-way Halo 4 party then you are out of luck, plus the inability to take your save game with you when you leave (unless, possibly, you have a handy USB stick), could prove to be a turn off for some serious players.

The Pad does have high speed internet and a really chilled-out feel though, so it might be an attractive prospect for a geeky bachelor party or a music game marathon – with no parents to tell you to keep the noise down or neighbours to complain, the fun could easily carry on through the night, just in time to be perked up by the complimentary breakfast.

Whether the package is for you or not is down to personal choice, and for those who are fanatical enough to be excited about something like this, a lot of the games on show will be featuring on people’s Christmas lists anyway.

If you do want to make a social occasion of it and you have a diverse group of friends though, there’s more than enough room to have all three of the consoles on at the same time – all it needs is an iPod friendly music system to tap into and you’re set for an evening of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale while listening to soundtracks of your favourite 90s classics.

The current so-so popularity of HMV‘s Gamerbase and a past failed wandering into the realm of specialist gamer-pampering in the form of Virgin’s Gamestore, not to mention dwindling boxed-game sales, are hardly an encouraging starting point, but something bold like this may prove to be a game-changer (ahem…) if pushed in the right way.

What could be even more successful is if Game made it possible for you to have any combination of consoles you wanted from the past 15 years or so, meaning you could follow your Super Mario Kart Grand Prix on the SNES with a winner-stays-on run of Goldeneye, rounding things off with some classic Tomb Raider. Surely something as individual as that would, undoubtedly, be a gamer’s paradise?

James Michael Parry

If you want to check it out, take a look at their official site.

Windows 8 Review: Is it really worth upgrading? | Technology | This Is Entertainment

Look how colourful and right-angle-y it is...Fans of sweeping curves and a sleek, minimalist, colour scheme might think twice about Windows 8 – but that’s the point.

Apple has dominated the ‘cool’ factor in the computer industry for years, and Microsoft is well aware it can’t compete directly, so what it has done with 8 (and the Xbox 360 dashboard and Windows phones, lest we forget), is make a visual statement of its own.

Right angles are nothing new – think back to Windows 95 and remember the blockiness of edges – but to follow a design concept all the way through has taken courage on Microsoft’s part. The result is ‘Metro’, or what was referred to as ‘Metro’ until they decided to do away with a name altogether, a regimented yet customisable layout in bold colours.

Of course, appearances are always just the tip of the iceberg, and since consumers willing to give 8 a closer look are not likely to be convinced by style over substance, the OS needs to have the talk to accompany its fancy new trousers.

The functionality of how the system works changes from the outset, with an immediate link to your Windows Live ID or Hotmail login (though local logins are still available, if you can find them). From here the first thing desktop fans will notice is the missing start menu.

The multi-coloured and multi-tiled start screen stands proudly in its place, luckily still connected to that Windows key on your keyboard which you may be fond of. The first few hours spent with Windows 8 will most likely be spent getting to grips with where the start menu items you know and love have run off too.

At first the logic is frustrating, but soon you find yourself being able to combine the functionality of multiple programs with ease and the benefits of 8 start to shine. Menus are hidden on virtually on every side of the screen, with the most useful being the ‘Charms’ menu on the right, which gives you instant access to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings, most of which adapt and change depending on what you can see on the main window.

Fancy pictures I know...A handy example of the functionality is that you can set a picture as your lock screen and in the same breath share it with your admirers online. Depending on how connected you are with your online world makes a massive difference to how helpful you will find many features of 8.

What 8 really gives you is a strong starting point. At present, the App Store is limited – particularly for third party sites and software, Facebook and Google are conspicuous by their near-absence. Also Microsoft’s own services are still struggling to pull together, in the long run the ‘live’ brand will cease to be and the consistency of the own-brand offerings will mean they all tie together seamlessly.

Admittedly, the first party apps on show so far, whose instant updates make up many of the almost uncomfortably transfixing ‘Live Tiles’, are impressive, and the system itself is quick and responsive.

That said, it’s clear that the interface was designed for touch input. Navigating around with the mouse can be clunky, occasionally needing pinpoint accuracy to make something appear and then not immediately sink into the background once more.

After the initial setting up, customising, and getting used to not having the one-stop-shop of a start menu, you quickly find things begin to make sense. The programs which you would have used on the desktop before are still there, but the Windows 8 interface mops up all the other bits and pieces which can take time like checking email, messaging, or stalking people on Facebook (now you can do Facebook, Twitter and others all from one screen).

At the current upgrade price of £25 from Microsoft it’s difficult to say no. Make full use of the compatibility program on offer, which automatically determined if programs will need to be re-installed, to minimise fuss, and perform a full back up – just in case.

The infrastructure which Microsoft has put in place is one which strives on its simplicity, and provides a platform to build on with more of a lean towards user-friendly operation than ever before. Once more big names get on board with apps of their own it will undoubtedly be a far more flexible experience, but right now is the perfect time to give it a try and get used to it before you have too many complicated new toys to play about with.

James Michael Parry

And now for a nonsensical trailer…

Gaming | E3 2012 Debriefing – What does it mean for Xbox 360? | This Is Entertainment

Oooo greenGoing into this years Electronic Entertainment Expo (that’s E3, technophobes), there were no illusions that the current console generation is approaching its end.

Nintendo is on the eve of announcing a release date for its new WiiU, revealed last year, and the speculation about the PS4 or Xbox 720 has reached boiling point. Luckily the signs that this generation wasn’t just a giant waste of time are there in the form of Nintendo‘s ‘Pro Controller’, which looks suspiciously like an Xbox 360 pad. Before all that excitement of shiny new things though, we need to be entertained in the meantime – so what’s left for 360 players?

A cynic would say we are at the bottom of the barrel, scraping together sequels to drag out the life of a console which is past its sell-by date. Ever the optimist however (hmm…) I thought I would take some time to contemplate before dismissing this year’s E3 offering as disappointing and think about what it means as we creep ever closer to the next generation.

Microsoft‘s conference this year wasn’t surprising, it wasn’t unexpected, what it was was logical. What makes the Xbox an effective games console is that it’s no longer just a games console, it has diversified into the multi-media hub which MS always envisioned.

The harsh reaction to the latest changes to the dashboard earlier this year gave a pretty clear message from those who would happily call themselves ‘gamers’ however, so it remains a fine line MS must tread to keep everyone happy – from the hardcore Halo fans who dress up as John 117 on the weekends to the working mums who just jump onto Your Shape for 15 minutes every Tuesday morning after Loose Women.

Get your Spartan onTo address these concerns, MS‘s E3 conference began by taking things back to the console’s roots, with a new instalment in their flagship franchise. In the hands of a new developer, 343 Industries, the game offers a fresh breath of life into a series which began at the original Xbox‘s inception back in 2001. There are new enemies, new weapons, new locations, but still the familiar touches which make the series what it is, including its protagonist Master Chief (who is John 117, if you were scratching your head earlier).

Next to be flaunted were (among others) a new Splinter Cell title subbed ‘Blacklist’, which seemed to throw away even more stealth than its predecessor, Tomb Raider, which still featured Lara Croft making odd sexual noises and a new Gears of War (Judgment – missing an ‘e’), this time with Damon Baird in the spotlight. Plus there were three blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Xbox exclusives, but very little was revealed about them other than the names: Ascend: New Gods, LocoCycle and Matter.

In terms of numbers of games at least, things were going well, and the 360 has always been at home with action-heavy gun-dominated titles like Gears and Halo. “…but what about innovation?!” I hear you cry.

Can you watch two screens at once?Xbox Smartglass, technology which allows you to use the smartphones and tablets you already own to control your 360, was undoubtedly the biggest innovation. While convergence of technology is nothing new, utilising products consumers already own is a masterstroke. The only problem is what about the people without these add-ons, are they going to get left behind as a brave new world comes along to slide its shimmering glass surface across their face?

With another console not a million miles away, this is software which will make the jump, and in many ways ease the transition between today’s gaming world and tomorrow’s. There are undoubtedly tons of things which can be done with touchscreens, but like the possibilities presented by Kinect, it will take a long time for them to be used effectively, and most importantly to enhance the experience rather than intrude on it.

After a few more services, including the shrug-worthy Xbox Music and marginally more interesting film and TV deals, featuring copious amounts of American sports which all have their own acronyms, it was time for more games.

Resident Evil 6 looked the part, albeit with plenty of potential to stray down the path away from its roots, something so commonly picked up on these days that it practically becomes a given. There was also a good show from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who notably mocked Smartglass‘ drive for interconnectivity, and surprisingly the pair proved to be the more civilised and fitting ‘celebrity’ guest appearances compared to the shocking performance from Usher in conjunction with the inevitable Just Dance 3. Jaws across the auditorium must have been on the floor for all the wrong reasons.

The grand finale was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which was the least surprising sequel of the day, but the footage shown was undeniably impressive, causing those who had sworn of ‘COD’ for life to sheepishly reconsider.

Here boy, walkies!The surprise of the week really came from Ubisoft‘s conference in the form of the gritty criminal underworld of the Watch Dogs, an original IP which nods to both Deus Ex and Grand Theft Auto IV. Grand masters of GTA themselves, Rockstar Games, were dutifully absent as usual, and no more was heard about the upcoming GTAV.

In all it was a business-sound case from MS, with enough games in the mix (predictable but present) to keep gamers occupied which they put the final touches on their new platform, sure to be revealed this time next year. The amount of services may seem dizzying, but with so many new partnerships and deals announced, it’s a safe bet the 360 will be around for a few years yet, even after its successor is released.

Now all we have to do is wait…in the meantime, have a listen to what industry veteran and passing colleague of This Is Entertainment Jon Hicks (@MrJonty) from Official Xbox Magazine, has to say about it all – and happy gaming.

James Michael Parry

pictures courtesy: gotgame.com, archetypegamer.com, openthefridge.net, monstervine.com

Gaming | Review: Mass Effect 3 – Part 2 | This Is Entertainment

Take back EarthAfter 45 hours of fighting, the Earth has been saved. Mass Effect 3 is undoubtedly the greatest conclusion to Shepard’s fight against the Reapers we could have hoped for, but it’s far from faultless. Just like in the first part of our review, in part 2, you can expect minor spoilers, but will stop short of ruining it for you (hopefully), just enough to explain ourselves.

After countless disc-swaps, we reached the midpoint in the story (see part 1), which is centred around the Citadel – the same could be said for the entire series to an extent. Needless to say once it is over, things have changed over at the hub of the galactic community, and this brings up the first of a few bugs.

You will find the map highlights ‘places of interest’ as well as people on the right hand side. Unfortunately, due to the endless number of plot threads, the game can often get confused about which people should be there and which aren’t. For example it assured us banking Volus Barla Von was behind his desk at his store in the banking area in the Presidium Commons, but after Act 3 he could no longer be found there. Luckily, the journal marked his quest as completed, so we weren’t short of his war assets for the grand finale.

Other issues with the game stem from its cover system. While leaps and bounds ahead of Mass Effect 2, the game still struggles with cover at various points, sometimes taking you around a corner rather than mantling over cover, and rolling into cover often ends up with you just standing there looking at a wall. Generally it isn’t a major issue, but in the occasional fight, particularly the more frantic battles you face towards the end (think four Brutes at once…) you feel as though the game restricts you rather than enables you.

Scanning, while now dealt with in systems rather than planets to an extent, is still a fairly laborious process, with no clues as to whether there is even anything to find in a particular system, and some entire clusters seem to be pointedly empty, as if DLC might unlock something to do on one of their many worlds. The impending danger of scanning revealing the Normandy to the Reapers provides an initial fear, but quickly dissipates when you realise the auto save merely takes you back to when you entered the system – meaning if you can remember where the assets are, it is a simple case of trial and error for the game to give up its treasures.

Cut scenes too are riddled with issues. The usual conversation wheel loops from ME2 remain, which allow you to ask for elaboration on a point multiple times, and at one point in a conversation with Liara on the Normandy, both she and Shepard decided eye-contact was for losers and instead looked to their left and right respectively, while continuing to talk normally.

Can you beat Cerberus AND the Reapers?Despite this, it isn’t enough to ruin what is an incredible tense build up to the finale. In the second half there are a number of side missions (depending on how many you did in the first half, obviously), which see you meet up with more members of your ME2 crew. In our playthrough, we only had one squadmate missing – sociopath biotic queen Jack – and we didn’t miss her. Some squadmate appearances seem more significant than others, and you feel that without mainstays like Garrus and Tali you would lose a lot of what makes the game fun.

Passive conversations take a step up a notch as well, depending on your personal story. Some moments we enjoyed from these were Garrus and James Vega’s verbal sparring, EDI and Joker’s romancing in Pergatory and Tali drowning her sorrows in the lounge after Shepard meets up with Miranda to face-off with her controlling father.

The From Ashes DLC provides you with a brand new squadmate, a Prothean called Javik who was preserved in a life pod back on Eden Prime to be discovered by Shepard. The debate rages over whether this content should have been included in the retail release, and for 800 points the price is high for little more than a simple side mission, but having a Prothean in the ranks makes for some interesting encounters through the game.

As you near the end of the game, you feel the urgency of the mission build, in what is a masterstroke from BioWare in terms of their much boasted ‘integrated storytelling’. The occasional line is often thrown in to hark back to the first title in the series, but sadly the memorable side missions from Mass Effect, such as collecting Keeper data, aren’t tied up in what would have been a great opportunity to reward veteran players.

Combat difficulty gains momentum as you take the plunge and commit to finally taking down The Illusive Man, something many players have been begging for since the shifty head of Cerberus (voiced expertly by Martin Sheen) appeared on the scene at the opening of ME2.

The War Room in the Normandy gives you a breakdown of your forces, as well as the chances of success, ahead of the final assault to take back Earth, and it’s here that the Galaxy at War multiplayer really makes a difference to your final fighting strength.

The odds are always stacked against Shepard and his crew, and setting down on Earth – in London no less – this time around is no exception. While the setting raises a smile from a British perspective, (little other than big ben’s clock tower and some traditional English phone boxes set this apart from any post-apocalyptic warzone) the streets lie strewn with rubble and destruction as all manner of Reaper-class enemies advance on you almost relentlessly, particularly the instant-kill weilding Banshees, created from biotically charged Asari.

Despite the uncertainty of a war zone, Shepard still makes time for a chat, catching up with each of his squad members – end even video calling those who aren’t in the thick of it – for what is a deep breath before the plunge of the final big push.

The games ending  (which will try our best not to spoil) is the biggest bone on contention with the game as a whole, with Facebook campaigns and petitions already well underway in outrage at how BioWare could have ended the game as they did.

The truth of the matter is that there is no way the ending could ever have lived up to the events that paid the way to it, and the team have ended up tying things up with a head-scratching moment rather than a definitive ‘The End’.

While many would argue the conclusion alludes to the finale of Deux Ex: Human Evolution in its simplicity, the result is that players can discuss their ending knowing that the context of others’ games – which are infinite in complexity – are irrelevant, which is both and a strength and a weakness at the same time.

However players decide to end their game, the fact that their is still a choice goes back to what BioWare set out to do, and the ride always had to end sometime.

In the end, Mass Effect 3 is up there with the likes of Skyrim for epic story, but has a wealth of different experiences for each player in a totally different way. If a character is there or not changes the experience significantly, but doesn’t disadvantage or penalise the player as other games would. In the case of our playthrough, it was easy to work out where Jack should have been, but the mission was still hugely enjoyable without her.

Shepard’s story is one which everyone who plays ME3 will have a different level of investment in. To get the best possible experience, an import is crucial, and too an extent a lot of the emotional weight from the story just wouldn’t be possible without it.

Regardless of your choices, ME3 is a game which helps define this gaming generation, and makes the best stab at a Hollywood-esque franchise ever committed to disc. The issues tackled, romantic sub-plots, combined with the action and drama, make Mass Effect as a whole the most affecting story in gaming history, and one which demands attention from anyone who has ever picked up a control pad.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry