VIDEO GAME REVIEWS
God Of War 2 (PS2)
Set in Ancient Greece, you play as Kratos, the fallen God, betrayed by Zeus. Aided by Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth, you must fight through varying landscapes and overcome many obstacles in your quest to have vengeance upon the King of the Olympian Gods.
Kratos is a formidable warrior, and his arsenal includes both weaponary and magic. His primary weapons are two flame-covered swords with the ability to extend in a chain like fashion, meaning that enemies in the near distance are susceptible to his attacks.
A variety of weapons are obtainable throughout the game, including magical spells and upgrades as a reward for destroying your mythical foes. Of which there are many, in the form of trolls, flying creatures, undead Spartan warriors, the mighty Colossus and other bosses, which hark back to the epic ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ tale.
God of War 2 is a fantastic action adventure game, featuring visually stunning locations, awesome gameplay, and a fine balance between combat and puzzle solving. (5/5)
Shinobido: Way Of The Ninja (PS2)
A classic on the Sega Megadrive system years ago, the stealth based action franchise shifts to a province under civil war with rival clans vying for your lethal ninjitsu ability.
The anti-hero is Crow, an amnesiac Ninja, searching for fragments of his memory, whilst working as a hired mercenary in the province of Utakata. It is the leaders of three main clans that offer Crow employment and the reward of information concerning his past.
There are references to gameplay offered by Metal Gear Solid, in that evasion and discretion were the two most important aspects of Crow’s abilities. Escaping enemy attention is often necessary, and stealthy kills are vital for mission success.
However, this game certainly is no Metal Gear Solid. Whilst the graphics are acceptable, they are by no means overly impressive. The gameplay quickly becomes repetitive, and even if you accept varying missions from the Clan masters, the natures of the missions are but few and similar. Either you’re smuggling, assassinating, or retrieving, in only a few different locations.
As far as fighting is concerned, Crow has a large inventory and is capable of carrying up to eight items at any one time, of either medical or weaponry nature. Therefore, his arsenal is quite a plus, and fighting the enemy is quite fun, especially when more than one opponent is present – this often happens as upon being discovered, the enemy will shout for help.
Overall, this game is mildly entertaining, and the ninjitsu featured will have you playing for a while, but ultimately, it lacks the drive that makes other stealth based games the successes they are. (2/5)
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (PS2)
The latest upgrade to the beat ‘em up franchise sees additional sub-games included alongside the traditional Arcade Mode, in which there are sixty characters to choose from. Each fighter in this game commands two unique fighting styles, whereas in previous installments, they might have had up to three. Transition from one to the other, the latter involving a specialist weapon, is easy, quick, and offers a whole new palette of attack combos and moves.
Armageddon includes the addition of two new sub-games. A Mario Kart style racing mini game, ‘Motor Kombat’, features a small number of the characters, wherein players are able to attack fellow racers with power ups and various weapons. A 3D environment based sub-game, ‘Konquest’, puts you in control of Taven in your quest to collect artifacts, rival your nemesis and brother Daegon, and to unlock characters and items for use in Arcade Play.
The Arcade gameplay remains enjoyable with graphics reminiscent of Soul Calibur, lush fighting environments, varying fighting styles, and a wide range of characters makes it an enjoyable game. (3/5)
God Of War (PS2)
Ever wanted to be drawn into the world of the Minotaur and other Greek Legends? GOW propels you steep into Greek mythology, fighting against the foes of Men for the will of the Gods.
Our anti-hero Kratos, once the prized fighter for God Ares, loses his reputation and must find redemption for his own honour and revenge. GOW is beautifully pieced together. From the well thought-out levels, that changing viewpoints depending on how close you are to an enemy, to the powerful soundtrack that fulfils that Greek mythology fantasy. All of this bleeds into a strong plotline that has become a major feature of epic titles to date.
The variety of environments allows the journey of our anti-hero to progress with the plotline, as flashbacks are also incorporated into the gameplay. Apart from the great number of backdrops, there is an army of monsters and other hordes of demons to plough through with a decent level of AI to match any accomplished gamer. At times the controls are primitive and become repetitive, but different foot soldiers of the underworld and level bosses will require you to string together the limited number of combinations. Attention to detail on the effects of these attacks is devastating to those on the end of your ferocity, but a pleasure to watch!
Aside from the small degree of attacks, once you become fully acquainted with the arsenal of weaponry available to you, GOW becomes a great experience of furious gladiator-like fighting and puzzle-solving adventure that pieces together the story of one fighter’s resolve to avenge the Gods. (4/5)
Soul Calibur 3 (PS2)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Following on from its predecessor’s success, SC3 further cements this Namco franchise as one of the best in the genre of Arcade fighting. This new instalment loses none of the original features, while adding further options such as ‘Chronchiles of the Sword’ (fighting based real-time strategy) and ‘Soul Arena’ (intense practise mode).
The over-the-top manoeuvres and fight combinations can only match the outrageous garments that our fighters are unfortunately dressed in. Slick wielding of their weaponry is still not lost on the eye. Namco has obviously honed in on what makes a SC title appeal to both the arcade and console gamer and that is extreme combat, without any lag. Even when super-combos are performed, there are no signs of a slowdown.
A feature that is apparent in Namco’s other blockbuster series, Tekken, is the fine detail paid towards battle arenas. The nature of SC3 combat system requires a 360 environment that is able to keep up graphically with the movement of the two fighters. Not to settle for a static backdrop, the design team has once again created that harmony of a swift interchange of camera viewpoints between the warriors and their arena. While they rotate, other features in that environment alter, such as boats oscillating in the harbour’s waters or bellowing of fire in the deep caverns of hell’s underworld.
The controls have been tightened. Where many combat-based games will have an element of repetitive button-smashing creep into the gameplay, SC3 makes you work for those deadly combinations. With plenty of characters at your disposal, and an arsenal of weaponry to deploy into battle, this instalment is far from stagnant.
SC3 does what all good arcade fighting titles should do. It leaves you with a craving for just one more go! (5/5)
The Path of Neo (PS2/ Xbox/ PC)
Developer: Atari/ Shiny
Now you can immerse yourself in the complete trilogy of the Matrix, playing as Neo in each episode back-to-back with all the best bits. Competing against Morpheus in the ‘training program’, dodge bullets and battle against multiple Agent Smiths!
The games were written especially by the Wachowski Brothers and ‘Enter The Matrix’ follows characters not central to the film. PON instead follows a stronger narrative from the beginning to the end of the trilogy. When Hollywood directors have become directly involved with the production of the licensed game tie-ins, this typically has meant that the gameplay has been brought up to the cinematic level. Induction of real footage of each movie, actors’ voices, motion-captured fighting sequences and the amazing collaboration between Don Davis, who scored the original soundtrack, alongside tracks from DJ Rob Dougan set the tone for a greater gaming experience.
Before Matrix there was no Max Payne. Now with the release of PON it seems a reversal of roles has taken place. Both will be compared, but have existed in separate domains till now. Even the ‘bullet-time’ feature feels better with this one. When playing Max Payne, you always closed your eyes and pretended that you were Neo. PON is the real McCoy.
What PON combines best is the shift between firearm play and the trademark style of ‘Matrix Kung Fu’. The original mastermind behind this phenomenon in western cinema was Woo-ping Yuen, and it seems as if he passed on a bit of his know-how to the team at Atari. The mix of Jiu Jitsu, White Crane Kung Fu, Judo, Aikido, Shotokan Karate and many more, is more fluid in this title than it has been in any other third-person action titles, which is a completely different computing environment to the likes of Soul Calibur and Tekken.
It tries to convey through its gameplay of no ‘one perfect’ style, hence no style at all. So offence and defensive manoeuvres work beautifully in fluid motion, without too much lagging during the game. A minor aspect includes a few tedious stages at the beginning as ‘Mr. Anderson’. Even if the final parts of the movie trilogy didn’t fit the billing, PON still manages to show us once again just how incredible the original really was. (4/5)
The Warriors (PS2/ Xbox/ GC)
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Toronto
‘Listen up boppers’…this one of the best brawling flicks to have ever come out of the New York. Set during the struggle between rival gangs in the big city and they’re turf, and everybody’s struggle for life in a corrupt town riddled with brutality.
It follows the long trip home for our group of young ‘soldiers’, ‘The Warriors’. In just one night they’ve been framed and must bop they’re way from the Bronx back to the safety of Coney Island, with every gang on their tail.
For those who suffer from nostalgia, it was a godsend that Rockstar were behind this project. Rich experience with creating highly interactive cityscapes in the GTA series, and have obviously learnt a lot about multiple fighters on one screen from ‘State Of Emergency’. To fully realise the potential of this title, Rockstar implemented a solid fighting system that relies on combinations, not mere clumsy button smashing. It’s a gritty street style, with all the moves that would be banned in the ring, a form of rogue boxing. Not pretty, with very little polish, apart from Warlord ‘Cleon’ and his devastating series of Karate roundhouse and snap kicks.
This is brought up to another level during co-operative mode. Combining forces in such a rough situation as on the streets, allows you to perform ‘tag-team’ manoeuvres, expanding the realms of dirty fighting further. Weapons and other objects within your vicinity can be used in conjunction with any mass brawl. Just think twice about picking on a cop, they’re rough!
The lifespan of this title is not in jeopardy, as it precedes the events before and during the film. Not forgetting the iconic brawl with the ‘Furies’ in Central Park. Life-like and real actor’s voices, in-depth storyline and a thumping original soundtrack from Barry De Vorzon, can only add to a game that lives up to its nostalgic license. (5/5)
Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes (Xbox)
Developer: Deep Silver/ Phantagram
Compete against the armies of Orcs, Elves and Men. Control separate divisions of archers, horse-back cavalry and foot soldiers within your own army.
KUF:H tires to bring the RPG Strategy back to the console. Even with the option of online gaming via Xbox Live and the use of the Xbox console engine, it still doesn’t match those on PC. The reasons why it does not compare don’t lie just with the difference in processing speed and graphics card.
Set during a fantasy medieval era, why does KUF:H have a metallic rock soundtrack? That doesn’t create an atmosphere of tense excitement during gameplay, but confusion. Combine that with a combat system that seems over-complex and it doesn’t quite work. Viewpoints shift from overview to the foot soldier perspective during close combat. Even these controls jump from confusion beforehand to over simplistic button-smashing. Can a little a bit of hack ‘em slash action can take the frustration away?
The back-story and vision to KUF:H is very engaging, but is let down by a control system lacking coherency and limited individual swordplay. KUF:H doesn’t match the third-person action or RPG strategy present in the LOTR game franchise. (2/5)
Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King (PS2/ Xbox/ GC/ PC)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
The final chapter on one of Hollywood’s greatest trilogy epics of all time has been brought to the interactive level. Its predecessor, ‘Two Towers’, combined the first two films of the trilogy into one continuously flowing game. LOTR: ROTK builds upon those foundations on a larger scale, with the bonus of a co-operative mode.
As our heroes must follow separate paths in the struggle against Mordor, the game splits into three: Gandalf, Aragorn (with Gimli and Legolas), and Frodo & Sam combat Mordor forces on different fronts. All characters have their own particular strengths, such as Gandalf’s wielding of both the staff and sword, and weakness, such as Frodo’s small reach. Each hero can claim power-ups during the progression of each level, so enhancing the damage of their attacks and stunning combinations against the horde of Orcs!
As you’d expect from a major movie-license, all original scores from Howard Shore, alongside the actor’s voices and sound effects from the film have been inducted into the gaming experience. Great care has gone into the level designs and interaction within these environments. This is especially potent during Gandalf’s last-stand at the siege of Gondor. Spectacular!
Variation in characters and their abilities with sword, axe, staff, and the bow & arrow offer ROTK a longer lifespan, where TT became repetitive in parts. Many move tie-ins fail to realise the scale of the original movie, due to poor planning and a rushed schedule. From ROTK you can clearly see how Peter Jackson’s early intuition and willingness to place greater emphasis on the gaming experience has paid dividends for LOTR fans and alike. (5/5)
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2)
The original PlayStation MGS was groundbreaking in its superb control system, ‘stealth’ approach and nostalgic referencing to American anti-hero movie figures.
Hideo Koijma has brought the MGS series to the next –generation with great success. MGS2 has an enhanced level of AI in enemy troops and character interaction with the change in climates. The deft stealth agility from our anti-hero Snake has not been lost. His methods of evasion have been tightened and still resemble a ninja assassin.
It is very clear from the opening title sequence that Konami have drawn even more references from Hollywood. This means even more beautifully digitized CGI cinematic cut-screens, but these can interfere with the pace of the game. For a cinematic experience the services of Hollywood composer Harry Gregson-Williams [The Rock] were enlisted by Koijma, to progress his enthralling plot-line. Gregson-Williams produced a soundtrack that wasn’t far in its content from the original, but has matured the franchise.
Snake’s primary attack against another terrorist organisation is once again stealth manoeuvres, which appear throughout much of the game and are professionally executed from the composition of the opposing characters onscreen to the crack of the enemy’s neck, ouch! Secondary force, weaponry, is for the big epic moments usually against boss opponents. The shift between Snake’s arsenal and hand-combat is still slick. Helpful when caught in tight circumstances.
MGS2 is a shining light in the games industry, even if it is a bit short. This is a gaming experience that is not easy to forget. (5/5)
Fight Night: Round 2 (PS2/ Xbox/ GC/ PC)
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Sports
FN: R2 brings together contemporary fighters and golden oldies. Previous boxing titles have usually been over complex and frustrating in the combinations of punches and that have had the genre rather static in recent years. Whereas FN: R2 builds upon the original, and requires a series of training levels to complete before you can harness the full impact of your fighter!
This licensed title offers life-for-like reincarnations of all the top boxers from Ali to Holyfield. These include how they react to rigorous training regimes and the resulting performance in the ring. The intimacy of a contest between two fighters changes due to a shift in camera viewpoints at key stages in the ring. The view spans during moments of inaction, but twists, turns and zooms-in as each blow is delivered at very close proximity. A striking blow is met with a shivering crunch. Ouch!
The career mode brings longevity to FN: R2 and puts it above par of previous boxing series. The immense attention to detail paid to each fighter’s behaviour, attitude, technique and style shows it was created for fans by fans. Looking forward to the next round. (4/5)
Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner (PS2)
Fans of Japanese Anime, especially with the likes of ‘Gundam Seed’, will appreciate the world of ZOE and its computer-enhanced and heavily armed robots. Piloted by people who either seek to protect their friends and family or to destroy the inhabited planets surrounding Jupiter.
Created by Hideo Koijma, the genius behind the Metal Gear Solid series, ZOE: 2nd Runner is a huge improvement upon the original. It still harnesses the terrific combat system that allows you to control your robot effectively even at high-paced confrontations, and doesn’t become repetitive or sluggish with the overall gameplay. As with MGS, the storyline of ZOE: 2nd Runner evokes a cinematic experience within your living room. Moments of destruction are always plagued by moral obligations of the main characters, and create a human face behind those robotic carnations.
ZOE: 2nd Runner utilises the game engine of the current PS2 console, and shows what it is capable of. Enabling Konami to push the agility and impact of the ZOE robots during combat. As ever in Japanese developed titles, the heavy cocktail mix of Tokyo-Pop techno and classically influenced pieces are fused together to form a bizarre soundtrack that can only match the intensity of the skirmishes between two heavily armed robots. Visually stunning gameplay with a progressive plot line that looks the part. Just imagine what ZOE: 3 will achieve on the next crop of consoles. (4/5)
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (Xbox/ PS2/ GC)
Developer: The Collective
Since Star Wars first hit our screens in ‘77, Stunt Co-ordinator and Swordmaster Nick Gillard, has been perfecting the lightsabre as the choice of weapon of Jedi. In the final instalment of the SW saga, Nick Gillard collaborated with those at ‘The Collective’ studio on ROTS. He demonstrated and even trained a few members of the design team for a short while, in order to engross them into the Jedi’s world of swordplay.
Particular attention has been attuned to how economical each strike of the lightsabre has to be. This has been fully realised in this title. While in combat, it is best to keep to short or a combination of strikes, rather than plunging in with a rash lunge that will leave you open to counterattacks. The rotation in the game between Obi-Wan and Anakin offers up a variety of moves and countermoves that have been drawn from established fighting arts such as Kendo, Iaido and Fencing. As your environments change during the course of the game, so do your enemies and knowledge of ‘the force’ and your lightsabre.
A lot of care and attention has been put into researching the dynamics of the two Jedi Knights, with a fully assembled license and soundtrack from LucasArts to complete the grand experience. By the end the swordplay of the Jedi becomes repetitive and you lose that original spark. A strong attempt at a game-movie tie-in. (4/5)
Soul Calibur 2 (Xbox/ PS2/ GC)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
One of the best titles to have ever emerged from the PlayStation was the original Soul Calibur. It blended the rhythm between defence and offence, only previously seen in ‘Street Fighter’, with weaponry. Genius! This latest instalment builds upon those great foundations that looks and feels the part.
No more smashing of the buttons. The timing of execution is still key in SC. With the enhancement of memory capacity and processing in the new consoles, combinations of each character have become more swift and stunning against well-rendered backdrops. The time that Namco has invested in studying the arts of Fencing, Kendo and Iaido is plain to see. It makes super combos enthralling to watch on replay, even if you lose.
SC has a great amount of fighters, stages and tournament modes to rival any other. This is a superb title for those interested in the arts of weaponry, in a purely fictional context. The only drawback is the soundtrack to this franchise. As with many other of its genre, a fusion of rock, classical and techno is threaded together to form a heavy cocktail for the night ahead. SC packs a heavy punch even without its epic score thumping out of the speakers. It is one of few titles that have clearly understood the relationship between hand-to-hand combat gaming with weaponry. (5/5)
X-Men Legends (Xbox/ PS2/ GC)
Developer: Raven Software
Professor Xavier and the rest of the X-Men must combine all their powers to tackle the growing menace of Magneto. An evolution in fighting games, a decade since the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage, has seen the transition from 2D to a more interactive 3D environment for the next generation consoles. ‘X-Men’ blends past memories of 16-bit action, of smashing that punch button, with a larger array of manoeuvres and co-op action between three other friends. This is a definite improvement upon ‘Fighting Force’, an earlier stab at the classic beat’em-up in 3D.
Where this Marvel franchise starts to fall apart is its love affair with the 16-bit era. All the action still fills conscripted, as are the pathways through the game. Once you’ve utilised all the X-Men at your disposal, most of the excitement has gone. Constant smashing of the buttons starts to creep back into play, as characters appear to pull-off a dazzling array of combinations, while you’re still hitting the same button. Co-operative play with another friend or more can break this cycle. By combining moves together against your enemies you can create stunning power-ups.
Most of the surrounding environment is interactive, and therefore you can wreak total carnage. Parts can be used against the hordes of mutants that come at you constantly through each level. ‘X-Men’ is a terrific title that does justice to the beat’em up legacy, keeping to a hard-beat soundtrack that keeps in step as you plough through Magneto’s henchmen. The full license offered by Marvel has been utilised fully in this title, but the game won’t keep you glued to your consoled for long. (3/5)