Going Underground – Metro 2033 Let’s Rock PC Game Review

I like a game with a good story, and this one is based on a successful novel of the same name by the innovative young Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky, so it already hits that mark sufficiently successfully. The story weaves a winding tale as main character Artyom wends his way through the churning guts of Russia’s capital city Moscow after the nuclear bombs have fallen and the surviving people are forced to live underground. What they aren’t expecting is for mutants from the not-quite-completely-dead world above to try to invade their already delicate realm.

The visuals in this epic work by THQ and 4A Games are fantastic, capturing the feel of a frozen, post-nuclear apocalyptic Moscow perfectly. Top marks to the designers involved. There are certain points when you’re hunkered down in the darkness, trying not to be spotted by enemy soldiers, that you almost stop breathing as you think they might actually hear you. That sounds a little dumb, but the full-on experience of Metro 2033 really gives you that thrilling sense of being there.

The monsters are unlike those in other games too, as most of them have mutated from creatures that were already in existence on Earth before the bombs dropped, such as moles, insects and dogs. This gives the game a unique angle that it maximises brilliantly. It is the small touches like this that set this game apart from many other derivative sci-fi adventures.

The tension in the air is palpable as well. You also get to battle or evade human opponents, be they bandits, rival factions of Red Line and Fourth Reich, or the frightening demons and Dark Ones from above. The bleak underworld and post-apocalyptic overground regions of Moscow are intricately rendered, making this a fascinating game to explore, but it’s the driving storyline as you go from station to station on your developing mission that really gives the game its engaging pace. Metro 2033 is a great game that you will happily submerge yourself in for hours at a time.

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A Cut Above – Assassin’s Creed II PC Game Review

There are some games that leave an indelible impression on you for life, and Assassins Creed II is one of those games. From the start, we become embroiled in a dark plot that is taking place in a near future time, meeting a character who is mentally transported back in history to the time of the Renaissance Italy, envisaging the life of his predecessor, Ezio Auditori. It is a neat concept, and it only gets better. To begin with, you learn the basics of the complicated and amazing fighting system. The variety of moves and weapons are outstanding, and give you a flowing method of attacking enemies that really is a work of art in itself. Then there is the ability for you to climb around the buildings of the open world of the cities that you exist in, and it really is an open world when you are able to scale the sides of huge churches and cathedrals, leap from rooftop to rooftop, glide across ropes, walls and wires that criss-cross the streets and leap through the air into uncertain emptiness, only to grab onto a projected street sign at the last moment. Phew!

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The glistening world of Renaissance Italy is recreated with a stunning degree of accuracy. Even down to the filigreed costumes, it looks immaculate, like a Renaissance painting in itself, but one that lives and breathes! A lot of the time you can just amuse yourself by climbing to the top of a steeple when the moon is high and admiring the astounding view.

The storyline then adds another level of brilliance to the proceedings. You are implicated in a conspiracy involving a mysterious century-spanning religious sect no less, and have to expose the perpetrators and face them personally, in a slew of heated, passionate battles and combat.

There are sub-games that keep things interesting too, such as flying through the air on Leonardo da Vinci’s makeshift glider, and hurtling through the countryside on a horse and cart being pursued by your mortal enemies. This all adds more texture and excitement to an already dense and enjoyable game.

Ultimately, you play through a massive amount of satisfying and inspired levels to a breath-taking ending.

98/100

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Left 4 Dead 2 PC Game Review

If you are looking for zombie-based co-op games, Left 4 Dead 2 is the one for you. It has a huge amount of options for the discerning co-op game player, and the inventive four-way survival engine has you really watching out for each other’s backs (well, mostly, unless you’re playing with some douchebags, which rarely, but occasionally happens) as the hordes of zombies attack. The variety of evil undead that sweep towards you are impressive, and brilliantly animated to give you no chance of sitting around until the next crazed fiend approaches. There are some great, if wildly difficult, Easter eggs and achievements, such as the garden gnome challenge, that will keep you revisiting this game regularly.

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There are many other elements to Left 4 Dead 2 that are worth mentioning, such as the realistic landscapes that are beautifully rendered, and the non-linear routes that you can take to the end of the levels, which keeps things nicely fresh. The end sections to each level also give you a real buzz (just like the juddering chainsaws you can pick up), both in their exhilarating build up and when they’re taking place. Running around a disused theme park or igniting fireworks at a stadium rock show, defending various abandoned houses and shacks while the waves of chilling ghouls approach is a top gaming experience that everyone should enjoy.

Also available are add-on levels that keep expanding the game universe, and there are some really great ones out there, such as Highway to Hell, Suicide Blitz and many more. I’ve played through a few of these and they are every bit as good as the original levels introduced by keen enthusiasts.

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Don’t be left for dead, play Left 4 Dead 2 today!

97/100

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Mad World – Batman: Arkham Asylum PC Game Review

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This game really puts the ‘detective’ in Detective Comics’ most famous exponent – Batman. You feel as if you are really going undercover in a film noir epic as you follow in the footsteps of Gotham City’s most famous son. The game is deep, with acres of map to explore to find hundreds of hidden clues and easter eggs. It’s very nice to look at too, the art design is immaculate, and evokes that haunted, gothic science fiction atmosphere that fans of Batman want from a game. Particular scenes of note are the Scarecrow sections when Batman is under the influence of hallucinogenic narcotics and has to guide himself away from the clutches of a hideously huge Scarecrow, complete with glowing lamp eyes. Pretty hair-raising stuff.

The fight dynamics in the game are reasonably good, but don’t advance much beyond punching, kicking, and a handful of different Batarangs and weapon choices. Where it does get interesting are the stealth power-ups that allow Batman to silently swoop down and snatch up the thugs and villains that he has to contend with. This gives the game an authenticly exciting feel, as you’re never entirely sure if the criminals will notice you or not, always keeping you on your toes. Sometimes the line of vision is not entirely clear and you feel unfairly busted, and then you have to play through the same section again when you’re mowed down by machine gun fire, but there’s enough skull-cracking, bone-crunching fun to be had that it doesn’t really matter that much.

The bosses are excellent, covering a swath of characters from Gotham. We meet Poison Ivy in all her botanical glory, along with the deliciously delinquent Harley Quinn, the harrowing Scarecrow as already mentioned, Krok, Viktor Zsasz, The Riddler (never in person, as far as I’ve found yet, but in the background, taunting us mercilessly), and of course, the king of quips, the jester of death, The Joker himself – as voiced by Mark Hamill of Star Wars Luke Skywalker and Batman – The Animated Series fame, no less! These give the game a real nostalgic Batman feel, echoing all of the greatest elements of the movies, TV show and comic books, but in a hefty punch-packing package.

Batman: Arkham Asylum does not disappoint on any level and will keep you coming back for more bat-tastic amusement.

96/100

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim PC Game Review

Let me tell you a few things about Skyrim that you might not know if you haven’t played it. It’s big. You may have heard this from others, but it bears repeating. You don’t really realise just how huge it is until you’ve played it for a while and then realise that you’ve only found 5% of the locations and completed a similar amount of achievements. It’s BIG!

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It’s also beautiful;  an artwork of gaming. It’s just as enjoyable following a quest as it is walking through a shimmering forest glade sometimes (just watch out for wolves, bears and frost spiders, ok?!). The atmosphere created by the changing weather, lighting and other environment effects are staggering. When it snows you almost feel as if you should put a winter coat on, even though you’re indoors on a sweltering hot summer’s day.

If I was to be critical of this amazing feat of gaming, my one gripe would be that perhaps they could’ve done with a few more creepy monsters for variation, instead of so many butterflies, fish or roaming creatures, but that’s Skyrim for you: unashamedly pretty to look at.

That’s not to say that the fighting system isn’t gripping, as it definitely is, with neat level-up stages that deftly improve your self-styled character distinctively over the game. This gives you decent character development, as every great RPG should.

Now we come to the substance of the game: the quests. Oh my sweet Talos! There are more quests in Skyrim than you can possibly imagine. I mean, literally hundreds, maybe hitting the thousand mark (I’ll have to check!). I’ve notched up nearly 400 hours of play, and I still haven’t completed all of the side quests. This is another small (dragon) bone of contention about the game. When I bought it, I was a relative newbie, and naively hammered my way straight through the main quest first, completing it by the time my character had only reached level 20, which was enjoyable, but not as epic as it could’ve been if I’d realised that I could take more time building my character up and exploring more of the world to improve my skills. The other open world stories that you stumble across as you traverse the mighty map are deeply engaging and satisfying, making you feel part of an evolving history of the fantastic fantasy setting. Then you discover there’s a whole underground world of Blackreach too, in some of the most breathtaking visuals I’ve ever witnessed.

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Ok, another very slightly annoying part of the game is that you can only carry a certain weight of items at a time, which can increase, but never seems enough for what you really want to keep with you (why make dragon bones so heavy?!). You can store items in your home or safe depositories, but it’s still a bit awkward working out which sword to bring with you for your next mission, then realising it was the wrong one halfway into the dungeon. But enough of my griping!

The sense of real personal engagement in parts of the game such as the Thieves Guild storyline, which involves an enormous swath of quests from quick burglary tasks right up to the thrilling Nightingale story thread, really enriches the game immensely. There’s also The Wizard’s Guild, Bard’s Guild, Companions plotlines, and a number of others. The Dark Brotherhood of assassins offers a particularly grim and gruesome storyline, featuring some brilliant characters and a devilishly dark plot.

Skyrim is a highly absorbing, enjoyably scripted, intricately decorated and sumptuously set smash hit. It’s a gorge-stretching gorgeous game featuring acres of game world to explore. You’ll feel as if you’re a real fantasy adventurer! Watch out for arrows in the knee!

98/100

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For more information about the game, check out its wikia pages: http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/The_Elder_Scrolls_Wiki

Grand Theft Auto Vice City PC Game Review

I played this game when it first came out on a friend’s Playstation, and to be honest, I sucked at it. I just couldn’t get the hang of the movements and various actions to be able to control the character without getting run over or crashing my car and turning into a human fireball within a matter of seconds. My gaming ability was not strong back then. So, I let it rest for a while. A long while. Until the game came out as a bundle package on Steam along with GTA I-IV, GTA San Andreas and GTA Episodes from Liberty City, in fact. I decided to play through the games starting with Vice City, since this was where I left off, and I’m glad that I did. I’ll tell you why.

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Vice City is a game crammed with wry humour, kitsch pop references, amazing music and slick visuals in abundance. Oh, and violence. Lots and lots of violence piled on top of more violence. It’s sick, it’s harsh, it’s gratuitous, but somehow, it’s intensely satisfying. You play a cold-blooded killer hunting down the gangsters who set you up and stole your boss’s drug money, and the dynamics of the game ensure that you revel in the experience.  Vice City is a hilarious mash up of all things 80s, capturing the feel and mood of the time immaculately. Sleek speedboats? Check! Scantily clad beach babes? Check! Cool as helicopters! Checkarino! Flash, snazzy cars! (I’m using 80s lingo here deliberately by the way!) Check’sinthepost! Dodgy drug deals and scorchingly neat weapons? Oh hell yeah! They’re all here. You get such a kick driving along the seafront while The Buggles ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ blares from your radio and cops are chasing your tail. It’s a total blast!

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The storyline manages to hang together nicely, incorporating parodies of tv shows and movies from the same era that it’s set, making this a multi-layered experience. It’s nostalgic, but in an unflinching, ironic way, and puts you right on the set of a John Hughes movie or in the middle of Hill Street Blues, or of course, Miami Vice (as a villain, of course, as that’s much more fun!). Get hold of a copy to intoxicate yourself with this heady mix. It’s still refreshingly stylish, dark and gruesome today as it was when it first came out.

95/100

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Mega Bites – PC Game Review of Sleeping Dogs

I wake from unsettled dreams. Voices echo in my head. I have seen such things, such horrors and such wonders, that I need to take time to catch my breath and shake off my slumber.

Sleeping Dogs is a game that you will lose sleep over, for good reason. Mainly because it’s so damn cool. It’s a Square Enix endorsed product, so we expect quality and depth, following the tradition of their excellent, epic Final Fantasy games, but I still wasn’t ready for the amount of immersion that this game provided. It’s so real that you could almost be in modern day Hong Kong. The way that the rain reflects the neon shop signs off the tarmac is solid and more realistic than anything I’ve seen in any other game. The backdrops are stunning, if you get time to look at them as you’re hurtling by in your vehicle, which are sleek as heck, and the characters are all ultracool. Wei Shen is a satisfying main character to play as, not too dumb, conceited or annoying, he broods moodily just as a proper film noir detective should.

The game oozes a sense of foreboding. From the very beginning Wei is chewing over his past and the injustices done to his family, like a pork dumpling over-heating and ready to burst out of the pan on fire. The game starts with a chase. You assume that it’s going to be linear, which would be fine, but oh no, that’s just to break you in gradually. The help some people at the market to earn some respect, and then it all opens out… and out… and out! You meet an old pal, Jackie, then get into a fight. Ah, the fighting. It’s an integral part of the game, and boy, is it enjoyable! The skill level improvements are pitched just right, you learn new moves at just the right time that they’re required, and to sustain interest. The fight system is sturdy once you get stuck in, you can kick, punch and do a decent variety of combos or evasive manoeuvres. Perhaps one small complaint is that the variety of moves required could be altered for specific enemies to make the player think about which combo to apply, as you can just hammer the punch button to bring down most enemies, if you wanted, although that would avoid much of the fun, and miss out on some of the most graceful and brutal moves ever seen in a game.

Then there are the ‘environment interaction’ end moves. They are so much gory fun. You mean you can do THAT with THAT?! Woah.

Cut scenes are pithy, relevant, often exciting and don’t get annoying on repetition like some games. In fact, the cut scenes in Sleeping Dogs are better than a lot of gangster films that I’ve seen.

The game doesn’t clock in at a great amount of hours to finish, I did it in 36 hours, a fair amount, but this isn’t a criticism in any way. In fact, it’s a big compliment, as the visceral thrill of it all, the pumping adrenaline rush, was amazing from beginning to end. You can keep playing the open world sub-plots as long as you want to afterwards too, so there is technically many more hours of fun to be had. You are thrown right into the action (sometimes literally!), and if there is a longer driving section, it is covered by some decent, plot-developing dialogue. The drives aren’t usually too far away, anyway, and the spectacular surroundings and sweet-looking vehicles will have you gob-smacked throughout. The driving mechanics are smooth and easy to control without careening into buildings too often, making for a slinky, satisfying experience.

Oh, and did I mention that you can leap from your moving vehicle and grab on to another one? YOU CAN LEAP FROM YOUR MOVING VEHICLE AND GRAB ON TO ANOTHER ONE!!! This gives you a killer buzz when you do it, it’s James Bond type stuff, amongst many other elements of the game that make you want to punch the air and shout, “YEAH! WOO-HOO!”, only you can’t do the punching part as you’re trying to steer your car while chasing after some criminals.

However, the thing that makes Sleeping Dogs truly great is its storyline. It’s all meat, and no fat. United Front Games, the company that produced the game, should be given top credit for this. They take the traditional undercover cop theme, with the right amount of tough talking, as well as some genuine affection towards certain characters, and also some mean, blood-chilling villains. I’m not just talking schlock stock and too many smoking clichés. I’m talking people that you would not want to meet in a dark alley, or even in a day-lit one. The finale is immensely well planned, pitched and executed (no pun intended).

As the wise vendor says, “You look like you could do with a pork bun!”

97/100

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See the Sleeping Dogs webpage here: http://www.sleepingdogs.net/