Month: November 2011

Alan Wake

Firstly, let me introduce you to Hidden Gems before I start my review. This section of the website is all about games that the team have played and thought “Hey, this game deserves more recognition than what it’s getting!” Have you ever found yourself going into your local gaming store or browsing the internet, looking at a game, picked it up cheaply and after playing it thought it was a really good one but none of your friends have heard it even existed? I’ve found myself in this situation so many times and I feel their missing out on fantastic games that have just gone under their radar due to bigger games being released on the same day.

For this piece, I’m going to be discussing Alan Wake which, because it was out the same day as Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption, I feel got shunted to one side as everyone frantically bought the bigger title. Personally, I didn’t think much of RDR but that’s for another day – let’s talk about Alan Wake!

Alan Wake is a thriller game which will provide you with an enjoyable yet scary gaming experience. The game starts as your character; Alan Wake, a best-selling author decides to take a break for a week in the small town of Bright Falls with his wife. But alas – there’s always something that goes wrong isn’t there? Unfortunately, Alan’s wife goes missing unexpectly and now Wake is set to uncover the truth behind her disappearance. Not only is there this, but Wake starts to have blackouts and sees characters from his latest novel, that of which he cannot remember writing. Oh dear – things are not looking too good for Mr Wake are they?

One of the main features of the game that you can even notice from the game cover is that it’s very dark. I’m not talking Goth’s, witches and everything in-between but, there is the constant battle against darkness in the game. Equipped with only a flashlight for the most part of the game, this did make me feel uneasy as you can’t see anything around you apart from where the flashlight is pointing. Whilst playing, I was forever checking over my shoulder and doing the typical movie move of pointing the flashlight in every direction I could within a short amount of time. As well as the darkness, the visual effect of the game were very well done in my opinion. Whether there was something that actually moved or just my eyes playing tricks on me I will never know but it certainly does add to the experience that you’ll get from playing this game.

One of the main enemies you’ll encounter in the game is humans who have been beaten by the darkness themselves – these are called ‘The Taken’. Lovely chaps if they wouldn’t scare the living daylights out of you for the most part of the game but I’m sure they’re just after a big hug. If so – I didn’t give them much of a chance to extends their arms and embrace me. To defeat The Taken, you must, yup you guessed it, point your flashlight at them until they die. Thankfully, like any human being, they don’t like bullets either, so find yourself a gun or two and you should be fine. With The Taken coming at you from anywhere, Alan Wake really does keep you on the edge of your seat during the whole game. Some nights, I thought to myself “Yeah I’ll pop on to the Xbox for a little while before bed” however five minutes later I found myself curled up in a corner with my Tigger teddy never wanting to sleep until morning. Okay that’s an exaggeration but you do feel the adrenaline pumping through you more and more with every scare you get in the game.

One feature of Alan Wake that people are either going to love or hate is the fact that the game is being portrayed as a TV show. With this, it has it’s perks with cliff hanging endings that keep making you want to play more however, at the end of each episode you loose your precious weapons somehow does get a little annoying.

The game itself is a short but could be expanded out by looking for the collectibles in the game and doing some exploring of the scenery that is really beautiful if you bother to take the time to look at it. Personally – I was more concerned about getting to the place where there was most light to save me from ‘The Taken’. The story line within the game can be a bit of a challenge on the brain to try and keep up with what’s going on with Wake’s wife and where he is with regards to finding out more about her disappearance but once you do get your head around it – you’ll be glad you did.

After playing through it on Normal, I did find the game pretty easy to get through and sometimes did feel as if the game was holding you hand as to where to go next and creating no challenge to the player as to figure out where to go to next. This aside though I really enjoyed playing Alan Wake and would easily play through it again for a similar experience as what I’ve mentioned above. I’m not one to give out spoilers but it does make you think and wonder even several hours after completing the game.

There as been rumours of a sequel to this game so I highly recommend that you pick this up and play it if you’re into survival horror/thriller games or just fancy a bit of a scare! Alan Wake is out on Xbox 360 and PC and is available to play now.


My Retro Years: Kirsty Fraser

As a contributing writer to Zero1Gaming.com – it’s obvious that I would have an interest in games so I’m here to talk about how I first got into them and my first experiences of gaming.

I vaguely remember sitting in my living room and playing my next door neighbours Sega Megadrive that I had borrowed for the weekend. I would be playing as everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog – Sonic, a very old version of FIFA ( this was back when I did actually bother playing football games, nowadays – I don’t see the big hype) and a game called James Pond.  James Pond always amused me to be honest – I think it was the title mostly due to the many spin-offs of James Bond in the game through mission titles etc. This was my first ever interaction with games and I must of only been perhaps 4 or 5.  I hated every time my parents told me they wanted to watch something on the television resulting in the MegaDrive having to be turned off as I loved sitting on the floor for hours playing on it.

There was one week I was coming home from being at my Grans during the Summer holidays in which I was glad to be going home because I could play the Sega Megadrive again for hours – yippee! Instead, my Dad took me to my room and showed me that they had bought me my own television for my bedroom. Instantly my mind wandered to “Yes, I can play the Megadrive up here and not have to worry about the parents wanting to watch some stupid documentary!” however, there was a bottom attachment on this new TV. To be honest I just thought it was part of the stand, no big deal, so when my Dad started laughing at me as I turned it on to watch The Simpsons (had a bit of an obsession with them as did any kid growing up in the 90’s), I was rather confused. Turned out the ‘attachment’ was actually a storage drawer with a lovely new gaming console for me by the name of Playstation One. This became my new obsession. I loved playing so many games on that including Spyro, Theme Park World where I would cause countless hours of chaos on the little visitors entering my park, V Rally 2 that my Dad officially was rubbish at and the game also featured a heartbeat sound that was at the start of every race when it was loading up that I got really scared of . Throw in a couple of the odd WWF wrestling game (where I could never learn all of the moves which is where I soon learnt the wonder of ‘button bashing’ ) and I was on my way to becoming addicted to gaming.

I vividly remember playing a game called Croc 2 and this soon started my rage at games when I found them difficult. I would spend hours playing  a cheap copy of it (I got my Playstation chipped for around a tenner which meant I could play copies of games for around a fiver each – perfect for my Dad who was buying me all my games at the time to feed my new found gaming addiction) It was always a game that even though I was getting annoyed because I couldn’t get past certain points, I would forever go back to it in the hope that some miracle had happened so that I would manage to get past that frustrating point. This only lead to me chucking the controller onto the floor twenty minutes later and shutting the Playstation off and never speaking to it again for several hours.

Apart from this, with a games console that was actually mine instead of having to borrow my next door neighbours – I really couldn’t be happier. I could honestly loose days being in my disgusting looking room (sickly looking yellow with posters of 90’s pop bands… yeah, you can imagine *cringe* ) just merely sitting playing video games and completing them. The first ever game I completed was the tie in game for the Harry Potter and the Philosphers Stone movie. I was honestly so happy that day that I had managed to fully complete the game as me and my friend had a small competition going to see who would complete it first. Instantly I was on the phone to her bragging about it. Even to this day, I get a warm feeling in my stomach whenever I complete a game, which grows depending on whether I’ve obtained 100% in the game, or got all the achievements for a game. To me, the game doesn’t stop after the campaign, there’s so much more to do in games these days.

Soon after this introduction to gaming, I became aware of more and more consoles and was highly impressed by Nintendo’s GameBoy. It was portable. You didn’t have to hook it up to a TV but just go through countless amounts of batteries just to play a black and white pixelated game on the tiniest of screens. This  solved the problem of being bored at my Grans during the summer holidays – no more watching four channels for a whole week. One of my favourite games for the GameBoy was indeed the Pokemon series. The music was always a thrill to listen to and I am still purchasing the latest instalments of the games even today when I’m twenty years old. Over the years I’ve gone through so many different games consoles including the Nintendo 64 spending hours on 007 Goldeneye multiplayer with friends, Playstation 2 and seeing the Guitar Hero series taking shape (The third instalment will forever be the best one for me) and playing the amazing GTA series. Finally, after months of saving up, my beloved Xbox 360 called Charlie got bought and put through its paces. This was when I first got introduced to the Assassins Creed series and I’ve never regretted playing them.

I think one of the things that always made me love games is the fact you could be controlling a purple dragon one minute and with the change of the disc be driving around in snowy Monte Carlo with a lovely Subaru Impreza and this feeling had never gone away.  I’m always being surprised on how much gaming has changed and expanded especially in recent years bringing more and more people into it and enjoying gaming as well whether it’s by themselves or over Xbox Live or Playstation Network.  I only hope in 15 years’ time I can look back and talk about the Xbox 360 as I’ve spoken about all of the older generation consoles that I’ve mentioned in this retro years post.

 


 

The Greatest Video Game Music – Album Review

The Greatest Video Game Music – London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Video games have been around for nearly 40 years now and only within the past 5 years have they really started to make a breakthrough into the mainstream. Yet even now they do not get the respect they deserve in the way that other forms of entertainment media do.

One area of gaming that does garner a lot of respect, both from players and peers is the music. Music in games has come along way from simple beeps to full-blown symphonies and a few bars of a tune can instantly trigger memories in gamers that we didn’t even know we had. It’s this feeling that the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Skeet, are hoping to ignite with this album.

There are 21 tracks, or 22 if you have the Bonus track edition, which cover every possible aspect and genre.From the FPS worlds of Modern Warfare and Battlefield to the RPG summit of Elder Scrolls and even the portable gaming of Angry Birds. All colours, creeds and tastes are catered for. The album covers 20 different video games with combined total sales exceeding 1 Billion units globally.

A  favourite of mine is their take on Final Fantasy VIII’s Liberi Fatali, just a few notes and I’m transported back to that opening scene of one of the series most under appreciated games. Bioshock: The Ocean on his Shoulders is a hauntingly simple piece that does well to convey the sense of isolation and insanity that the game provides.

The Tetris and Super Mario Bros. themes both get an orchestral makeover, with the latter ending up with a very jazzy sound that wouldn’t seem out of place in the background to one of the recent batch of 60’s style Tv shows.

The rousing strings and horns of the Call of Duty and Battlefield themes are a brilliant accompaniment to Halo 3’s: One Final Effort, each bringing that sense duty and achievement.

You have to wonder what the inspiration was to make this album and you can’t help but look towards Nintendo’s own Symphony efforts as part of the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary. This album does have a Legend of Zelda Suite and they do it justice but in my opinion it does fall just short of what you can hear on the CD included with Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

That is just a small blip on what is otherwise a fantastic album and a great introduction to classical music. Classical music might not be to everyone’s liking but any serious gamer has been listening to it for years in between loading screens and during opening cinematic. What this album shows is just how wonderful these tracks are and how talented the people who create this music are.

The album is available now from Amazon and iTunes.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls. When I say, or shout that to you, what do you envisage? Sweeping lands of beauty? Dungeon crawling your way through the massive single-player? 2D sprites and about a million NPC’s (non-playable characters) you can interact with? Every iteration of The Elder Scrolls brings a new perspective on the game and on a wider scale, your life. Your job/girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/kids go straight out the window, now only Bethesda’s masterpiece means anything to you. I even remember reading a post on the Bethesda forums a day after release asking one of life’s greatest questions: “How do I get Skyrim off my wife and still get laid?” The modding community goes nuts, another Bethesda game to edit! Under a week from release one mod has been downloaded 100,000 times. 250,000 people were playing the game on steam at release day alone. There is a reason for this.

There is a legacy that The Elder Scrolls has left, starting with a small and very hard game on Microsoft DOS (disk operating system) called The Elder Scrolls: Arena. You can download that game for free at http://www.elderscrolls.com/arena/ though you will need a DOS emulator to run it. It became an instant hit with the hardcore RPG players which were some of the more common gamers at the time, showing that even the west could make a massive, challenging masterpiece. Even though it had no icon, no big name legend in gaming on the front of the box, all of the sequels sold; even if they did run into a bit of financial trouble before the stunning 3D world in Morrowind.

The reason Elder Scrolls didn’t have a figurehead is because it is your own game, you can make it what you want to within reason. You can be a rebellious handsome Nord, hunted by the Imperials for joining the Rebels and massacring all of their troops using only a blunt sword; or you can be a well mannered Elf, just trying to get by in a world full of tyrants, making a name for himself by being an expert blacksmith, even though on the inside he is a softie who just wants to save up for a house, meet the girl of his dreams, marry her and kill dragons. Unfortunately the dragon massacre is part of the structure so I would not recommend getting this game if you are a die hard fictional-animal rights activist, or if you think imaginary creatures that have nothing but an urge to devour you and your chums should be treated well, given free homes and carefully tended to.

The combat mechanics in Skyrim are perfect, you can have fun and slay dragons, whether you have a battleaxe or balls of fire in your hands. The controls felt a bit slow and imprecise but after several hours going through the game you get the precision pinpointed right down to a tee, with a brilliant lock-picking system returning from The Elder Scrolls V: Oblivion and several Fallout games. The all-new favourites menu helps you swiftly select another spell, or if you are out of magicka switch to your trusty melee weapon or bow without having to go into your inventory and sort it out like that, making otherwise awkward moments that interrupt the flow of battle into a even faster paced and more exciting experience with a maelstrom of guards, wizards and the undead clawing at your face even more rapidly! How delightful does that sound?

The main quest, a big hook for many, is magnificent and will make you choose between not right and wrong but your perception of it, with many grey areas in there for added confusion, not for the weak willed with an attention span of 5 minutes before setting something on fire. The basis is you are a dragonborn, this kind of guy who from what I can gather by Skyrim’s citizens’ constant gasps and asking “Is that really him/her?”   This dragonborn seems to have a knack for dragons, especially murdering them and collecting their souls to shout at people and things, which makes said things and people fly and fall over and do various other things depending on which of these shouts you unlock. Back onto the main quest, there are 2 main factions you can join. These are the crumbling Imperials who are starting to lose a grip on their land and the rebels who hope to have some freedom of the tyranny by rising against the Imperials. Whichever side you choose will pave the way for the rest of the story and the outcome of the war between the 2 factions.

You can also join Guilds as a side adventure. Each one focuses on a different proficiency. For example: Winterhold College is a school of magic for mage classes, but you could also join the Dark Brotherhood, a shady group of assassins that pay you to kill less beastly targets than you will be required to do in the main quest. The side quests are very expansive and can help get a leg up on your enemies, offering a fair amount of game time. Not a game to lightly skim around the edges.

Bethesda sticks to the no multiplayer for multiplayer’s sake format.  Even though some form of playing this game with your friends would be gladly appreciated, the game does give the feeling of company with all of it’s NPCs; be it a novice guard who you cannot interact in any significant way with or the Imperial leader who is commanding and intimidating to even the most battle hardened of soldiers.  Nobody creates an interactive world quite like Bethesda, and what a world they have created.

Sweeping lakes, twisting rivers and the highest mountains make this game look stunning. Even those who have a psychopathic hate of the white stuff (snow, not milk or the other thing you thought of, disgusting man!) will fail to not fall in love with this world.  Even if finding a way to climb up a mountain is stressful, especially when you find an actual road leading up it when you finish the great climb. Bethesda have accepted that more people will want to roam freely and you can find a way from point A to point B, regardless of the terrain in your path; which is a big step up from when you were led along paths in Fallout: New Vegas.

Never before have I said there are too many perfect games coming out. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim may not be perfect, with it’s bugs and glitches; however it’s unbelievably close and nevertheless perfection does not make it a 10. Charm, wit, elegance, beauty and making you love it does, which is what Skyrim manages to execute so perfectly.

10/10


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

November eh? Must mean it’s time for the new Call of Duty game and this year it’s a sequel to the bat shit crazy, yet bestselling, Modern Warfare 2. After they split the remnants of Infinity Ward and all of the all new, brought in studios Sledgehammer, Raven and Sandy Isle Games have been working for a while on this one and every Call of Duty (COD) fanboy and fangirl (why the odd looks? I know some) has been lining up to get it. In fact over 9 million people around the globe have pre-ordered it so the new developers have to really step up the metaphorical plate and kick some ass with this one.

For the singleplayer portion they have, if you excuse the pun, gone above and beyond the Call of Duty’s of old and created a truly enjoyable singleplayer experience that new players and veterans of the multi-million selling franchise can sink their teeth and bullets into. If you have not played the previous Modern Warfare instalments then I suggest you swiftly watch this timeline video updating you on the events of the last Modern Warfare games http://www.whosay.com/larry/videos/87161

 The singleplayer is not what you expect to find really fun in Call of Duty, more like the younger brother with stunted growth, compared to the beefy, handsome older brother that outshines it’s sibling in everything it does. In this game that is so far from the truth. For once in a Call of Duty the singleplayer lasted more than 5 hours (7 to be precise) and the plot actually made sense. Imagine just how good this games already fantastic singleplayer could have been if it hadn’t had to mop Modern Warfare 2’s stupid and unfeasible plot off the bloodstained carpet. Hats off to the new developers, they know how to put a story together as well as putting together the moments that I refer to as “MichaelBay’s porn”. What I mean is those enchanting moments, usually filled with emotional trauma or explosions that make you whisper “Oh wow!” There are about 5 moments in Modern Warfare 3 that have that desired effect, amongst them seeing the biggest explosion ever followed by the Eiffel tower falling over and in a cutscene the saddest scene since that little girl clawed at her parents’ dead bodies in Homefront.

 

The story picked up exactly where Modern Warfare 2’s bled out, with Captain “Soap” MacTavish in need of urgent aid, while Captain Price and ally Nikolai try to save him. All 3 have been disavowed and are top priority targets to theUSmilitary. In smaller news,Russiais launching a full scale assault onAmericaand later,Europe. Playing as the non-disavowed army trooper of Delta Force “Frost” you need to kill some enemies that are a bit clearer than in Modern Warfare 2, because they are an army with tanks invading your country not some shady looking Brazilians who you’re not entirely sure why you’re shooting, and the only explanation you get is it helps you defeat a Russian person that one of your company could have shot when he went undercover before that Russian massacred an entire airport and shot your mate anyway.

 

Nevertheless the past is the past and some great city missions ensure that the majority of the stuff you do is in a recognisable real world location not a field in the middle of Ukraine, hence making the action a lot more intense and leading to more of “Michael Bay’s porn” with a lot of stuff getting blown up or collapsing. For once Call of Duty has a stellar campaign that everybody can like and enjoy from start to finish.

 

Multiplayer is back and the reason everybody plays Call of Duty has been a bit revamped this year. Now you get to choose between 3 packages – Assault, just like the killstreaks of COD 6, kills with your earned streaks count towards your next streaks and if you die your streak resets. Support is a little different, if you die your streak continues on but the rewards with support are less kill orientated as Assault and help your team more. The third strike package, specialist, is really different; as it gives you some perks instead of killstreaks and at an 8 streak you unlock all perks.

 

As opposed do previous games you can get your streaks without even shooting a bullet. Some actions like capturing a domination flag for example will reward you with a point towards your streaks, as well as getting kills. The rest of the multiplayer has stayed the same though, but with poorer quality multiplayer maps and unbalanced guns with built in lag ensure that this is the worst Call of Duty multiplayer to ever see the light of day. That may seem like I am damning the multiplayer to hell but I’m not. It’s just the only Call of Duty game so far whose multiplayer has failed to capture me and draw me in, trapping me in that game for 90% of the year.

 

A multiplayer feature to spend time on instead of the competitive multiplayer is the returning co-op mode from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. Being my favourite feature of that game it certainly makes the cut in this title as well, with not only the returning mission based gameplay but an all-new mode entitled survival. Imaging the famed Nazi Zombies of the Treyarch games and then those zombies are people with guns, dogs with C4 strapped to them, helicopters and men in hulking suits of armour. All this and a co-op levelling system mean you can have fun with your bestie for hours!

 

MW3 is flawed but still lovable. And still the same game as the original Modern Warfare. Thats why it gets

8/10