Friday, 30 October 2009

Game-Debate News: Team Fortress 2 Halloween Update!

The guys at Valve have given Team Fortress players something to celebrate this Halloween with The Terrifying Haunted Hallowe'en Special Update!

The update includes a new map - Koth Harvest - which features a ghost that can scare players to death. (Their in game characters....not the actual players of course)

It also includes new hats and pumpkins that can be collected for prizes. Naturally, there are new achievements to go along with the spooooky themes. They are:

Candy Coroner: Collect 20 Halloween pumpkins from dead players to unlock a hat.

Ghastly Gibus Grab: Dominate a player wearing the Ghastly Gibus to earn your own.

Scared Stiff: Kill a player scared by the ghost haunting KOTH Harvest.

Attack O' Lantern: Cause the deaths of 5 players by exploding nearby pumpkin bombs.

Costume Contest: Kill a Spy disguised as your current class.

This may only be a small treat but its a nice one - especially when most of the Team Fortress 2 are working on the even more Haloween appropriate Left 4 Dead 2

Have a spook-tacular time kids!

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Thoughts on the MCM Expo, London

The London Movie Comic Media Expo took over the Docklands Excel centre this weekend and this being fairly local to me I decided to pop along and check out some upcoming releases first hand.

Unfortunately, the expo was so packed with people - many of them dressed up as games characters - I didn't actually manage to get my hands on any playable games. However, I did see a lot of demos.

Assassins Creed 2 proved to be the highlight my already high excitement levels have been raised further. Its renaissance Italy setting looks absolutely beautiful with every single building packed with meticulous details. It was good to see the combat in action and this looks improved over the somewhat repetitive nature it followed in the original. Overall Assassins Creed 2 looks very impressive and it should be a hit when its released on PC next year.

Bioshock 2, is another beautiful looking offer. If you thought Rapture looked good in the first game then you've seen nothing yet. I didn't get to see much game play but even if I had it's likely I would have been distracted by all the pretty colours.

Left 4 Dead 2 had a high profile at the centre but alas I didn't get to see it. The demos on offer were inside bunkers and the queues were huge. Fans of the original may have been up in arms about just the idea of a sequel but given the amount of interest at the ExCel centre it looks like the new release will be a top seller when it comes out next month.

So there's a lot to look forward to coming out in the not too distant future and I can't wait!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Review for Game-Debate: Fairy Tales Three Heroes

There’s a person you totally fancy who you know looks good but don’t really know that well. You finally manage to talk to them and find them a little on the flawed and not so attractive on the inside because they’re an idiot/mean/a Nazi and suddenly you’re not so keen anymore. Maybe you could work your way around it if you tried your hardest but that depends on you. ‘What are you talking about?’ I hear you ask! Well Fairy Tales: Three Heroes has this problem. It looks good but has a number of flaws it could be difficult for the player to ignore However, if they can look past these it makes for a decent hack and slash action RPG...sort of.

This creation from Russian (Yes, Russian!) developer Cats Who Play certainly carries a distinct and very bright visual style. Its cell shaded nature is very pleasing on the eye and the game even has its own physics engine in which barrels and other scenery can be smashed to bits. However, from the opening cut scene it’s evident that the voice work is a little off. The main characters – more on them in a bit – don’t sound too bad but there are many, many minor characters that just sound...weird. It’s hard to decide if this is a deliberate move – perhaps based on the style of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Nee!) – Or if it’s just the voice artists providing poor accents. Three Heroes does aim to be humorous but these accents do get annoying very quickly.

However, this is nothing compared to the text subtitles which are full of spelling errors, so fans of the correct use of the English language may struggle with this. Again, Three Heroes is from Russia but it is difficult to get around the numerous spelling errors leaving the game feeling somewhat unpolished.

Unfortunately, the basic story doesn’t exactly make up for these issues. One of our Three Heroes – Steve Irwin lookalike and archer Alesha – catches bandits outside his home and decides he and his two buddies – strong man Dobryna and even stronger man Ilya – must rid Medieval Russia of all of the evil bandits, thieves and robbers...and there are a lot of them to get rid of in this mission based adventure. Unfortunately the combat feels rather like a chore in the early parts of the game because the Three Heroes don’t have much in the way of abilities at this point. Heck, Alesha can’t even properly aim at a man standing four feet in front of him without missing four times in the very first mission! Thankfully the combat does improve as our heroes’ level up and gain new abilities. A nice feature of combat is the player can switch between the three heroes at any point and utilise their individual skills. For example, while Alesha is good at taking out enemies from afar with his bow he’s useless at close combat. On the other hand Ilya is massively powerful and excellent going toe to toe even with groups of enemies – unfortunately he also makes a Team Fortress Heavy look like a champion sprinter. When not being controlled by the player the two remaining heroes still help out in combat but the ‘chosen’ hero will be doing most of the work. Once the characters are past the early levels the combat may still be slightly basic but the abilities they learn (through a skill tree) make it entertaining enough.

The missions on the other hand they are not so entertaining and are a bit simple. A mini-map of the level displays any available tasks which fall into six basic categories. Destinations that need to be reached, People that need to be talked to, People that need to be escorted, items that need to be picked up, areas that need to be cleared of enemies and areas marked ‘Pay Attention’ can either signify somewhere the player should go to or avoid. Escort missions can be frustrating because NPC AI is often suicidal while the clear up missions offer the most variety but even this is limited. This will usually involve Dobryna having to use his special jump ability to get somewhere or Alesha shooting something with an arrow. There are some missions that are made a bit more interesting through having the three heroes split up to perform individual tasks but these still tend to lean towards more of the same. Of course being an RPG some of these are optional side quests but if you fail one of these its game over which is frustrating.

Fairy Tales: Three Heroes is certainly not a bad game and it looks nice. It doesn’t have any major flaws but little ones such as voice acting, spelling errors, and basic repetitive missions do snowball and make this production from Cats Who Play less enjoyable than it could have been. However, if you can get fast all of these flaws it is enjoyable enough and it certainly offers something different to anything else available at the moment. So hey, if you can enjoy this despite this, maybe you can enjoy the flawed company of that person you really fancy after all.

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Review for Gobshout: Manu Chao - Bainonarena EP

Born in Spain and raised in France, Manu Chao is truly a renaissance man when it comes to music. The Baionarena Live EP may only contain four tracks, but within its eighteen and a half minute playtime there are easily identifiable influences from the worlds of Latino jazz, folk, rock, punk and ska – and they fit together very well indeed. Most listeners in the UK will have to make do with enjoying the music over the vocals because even though Chao does occasionally sing in English, most of this EP is in French and Spanish! (Makes sense given his background though doesn’t it?)

Clandestino opens as you’d expect any South American style music to open with a lovely acoustic guitar introduction along with a calm but bouncy beat on the drums and cymbals. The vocals are in Spanish so this reviewer unfortunately can’t dissect them. Despite this, the tune is catchy and the listener can hear the crowd at the Roman Amphitheatre in Bayonne singing the lyrics. (For all you geography fans out there, Bayonne is in the Basque region of South West France, close to the Spanish border) The first track finishes with a quiet solo on the guitar that completely fits with the style of the track.

Mr Bobby takes a different path. It’s faster, rawer and while still holding true to its Latino roots, it also encompasses some great rock guitar work and a ska beat that really complements the rest of the band. Its electric guitars this time and they sounds brilliant. Chao is an exceptionally talented master of the instrument. At over six minutes in length it’s a long track but all this does is further demonstrate the ability of Chao and his band.

The ska influence arguably increases in L’Hiver est La, the third track on the EP with a beat that will make the listener want to start skanking – or at least nod their head or move their feet – wherever they are. Combine this with some insanely quick instrumentals and possibly even an accordion in there somewhere and this is another upbeat catchy track. Unfortunately, the British listener may not be able to understand this, another track in a foreign language but the beat more than makes up for this. The song is crazily fast and somehow the tempo manages to increase further in the final minute of the five. Being in a band with this much energy must be extremely tiring but the crowd are obviously enjoying what’s in front of them.

‘Rainin’ in Paradize’ is the final track on the EP and well...instrumentally it’s probably the most crazy of the four and it definitely has the biggest punk influence. Everything is non-stop and high tempo – the drums, the vocals, the weird electronic sounds in the background and the excellent guitar work.

Manu Chao’s Banonarena Live EP certainly offers something completely different to anything else around at the moment. There is a massive amount of energy and the music is played very well, especially when you consider the sheer amount of genres that have been fused into these four tracks. Unless you can speak French or Spanish it’s unlikely you’ll get much out of the lyrics but in this case it really doesn’t matter. The music is so good it could be on its own. Definitely worth a listen if you love Latin American music, or ska, or punk or anything with a bit of energy!

Released through Because Music on 19.10.09

(Originally written for Gobshout)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Review for Gobshout: Gliss - Beauty

Two parts American and one part Danish. No this isn't some mad selection at a hotel breakfast buffet, but Los Angeles based three piece Gliss and their latest single is called Beauty. Before that, have a look at the image above and guess which one is Danish... yes you're stereotypical views of Scandinavians are correct. Blonde bassist Victoria Cecilla was born in Copenhagen.

The introductory melody - repeated throughout - lives up to the name of the track in that it's beautiful to listen to especially for those in a more reflective mood. Beauty wouldn't sound out of place towards the end of some teen romantic comedy - you know the scene where everything has gone wrong and everyone is depressed but you just know that everything will be resolved by the end of the film. The song does carry the appropriate themes of love and loss after all.

Back to Beauty and vocalist Martin Klingman has a nice voice which fits well with the melodies and the theme of the track. It would be fair to say these vocals have an element of The Thrills circa 2003 to them but it's unlikely to be an influence. (Whatever happened to those guys anyway?) The overall sound of Gliss however is quite different to this.

Victoria's bass line in this track is pretty simple but it's steady and holds the rest of band together steadily - what more could you want from a bass player? This distorted guitars sound good and the sound is refreshingly dreamy. The melodies don't jump out at the listener, quite the opposite in fact they are very relaxed. The only issue with Beauty is that occasionally the vocals can be lost against the sound of the guitars, but with a track like this it really is the instruments that do the talking.

If this is a sign of what Gliss can do there are good things to come from this American/European outfit and next months album Devolution Implosion will be something to look forward to.

Maybe having American and Danish together isn't so mad after all.

Released through Cordless Records on 19.10.09

(Originally written for Gobshout)

Friday, 2 October 2009

Review for Gobshout: Eight Legs - I Understand

You may not know it, but you've probably already listened to music by Eight Legs. Their 2007 single These Grey Days featured in the background of a television anti binge drinking campaign - the one where the bloke throws up over himself before going out - which is probably rather apt considering the track begins with 'I've been short of logic so I'm passed out on the patio'

Moving forward two years, its 2009 now and one debut album later the band appear to be working towards a second - if the release of new single I Understand and a mini tour to promote it are anything to go by. What this single offers is another track from the four piece that appears to blend an upbeat tempo with angst filled lyrics. (They're only young bless 'em they can't help it)

This angst also appears to give singer and guitarist Sam Jolly the opportunity to do his best Robert Smith impression and the vocals certainly do have an element of The Cure to them. Who would have thought it? Someone called Jolly who sounds a bit glum! Not that emotional influence in music is a bad thing at all - if music didn't have any it wouldn't exist as we all know and love it! The only negative issue with Jolly's vocals is that they occasionally dip into the world of mumbling so it could take the listener a few attempts to actually decipher what 'the message' of this track is.

The lyrics may be somewhat downbeat but this is nicely juxtaposed against the lively guitar riffs of Jolly and Jack Wharton. Meanwhile, Adam Neil and Jack Garside keep the beat flowing well on the bass and drums respectively. Eight Legs sound is hardly revolutionary, but I Understand is easy on the ear and the band play their instruments well. Despite the downbeat lyrics, this single could quite possibly have been a festival hit if it had been released a couple of months ago - it's easy to imagine a bunch of people in a muddy field bouncing along to it.

Stay Cool is the singles B-Side and it's an all together rawer affair and the introductory guitar riffs could easily be mistaken for something by The Hives or The Vines. It's louder, shoutier and has more energy than I Understand and could it's not hard to imagine this being part of a double A-Side rather than just a secondary track. Perhaps this slightly punky offering suggests the band might be heading in a different direction with their second album.

These two tracks certainly show that Eight Legs have some potential and we'll have to wait for their second album to be released to see if this is the case. But on this evidence it sounds promising.

Released through Boot Legs on 05.10.09

(Orginally written for Gobshout)