Friday, 29 October 2010

REVIEW: WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011

Smackdown vs Raw 2011 logo

It must be tough working as a developer on a yearly franchise. They know that they’ve made important changes to the game, but the tweaks might be so subtle that gamers don’t recognise that this is the case. This year however, Yuke’s have made a special effort to ensure that Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 works differently to previous games in the franchise. The controls have been tweaked, Career Mode has been replaced by an all inclusive WWE Universe, and there have been changes to the Road to Wrestlemania story mode. The good news is that these changes are generally positive, and Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 will likely be a welcome addition to any WWE fans game collection.

The biggest change in gameplay is the new physics system that has been introduced for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Objects now react more realistically in a variety of situations. No longer will that table just be moved out the way by unseen forces if your Superstar performs a move near it. Your opponent (Or indeed you) could end up going straight through the table as it smashes into little pieces. Other ‘foreign objects’ also act more realistically in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Ladders for example will lean against the ropes, against the ring, and a variety of other places allowing you pull off a wide variety extreme moves. The new physics system certainly makes WWE Smackdown vs. Raw feel more realistic – if you can call pro-wrestling that! – and special match types are a lot more fun as a result.

Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 Image 1

Yuke’s have also made changes to specific match types for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 with Hell in a Cell in particular the most improved. The ‘demonic structure’ is now a full replica of its television counterpart. Now there is more than one persons worth of space between the ring and the cage, and weapons can be pulled out from under the ring for even more carnage. Of course, you can still get out of the cage in – this time by smashing your opponent through it – and unleash further mayhem outside and on top of it.

Ladder Matches have also changed for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, but they still prove somewhat frustrating. You don’t need to spend as long wrestling with the belt/briefcase/prize of choice above the ring, but your opponents need to practically unconscious to give you enough time to do so. Ladder match AI can sometimes go awry as I saw in a Triple Threat match between myself, Vladimir Kozlov and Chris Jericho. My Superstar was out for the count, Kozlov was trying to grab the briefcase and Jericho just stood there and let him do it! Still the AI of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 generally works well overall – if less so in Tag Team Matches – but seasoned players will need to ramp the difficulty up to Hard or even Legend for a proper challenge.

Perhaps the most significant change for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is the introduction of the WWE Universe. The WWE Universe essentially combines Exhibition Matches and a Career Mode into one and the game will react according to how you play. The outcomes of matches will change rankings, determine future matches on the in-game schedule (though you can change or just simulate these if you’re not interested) and will create alliances and enemies for superstars. Of course, titles can change hands too but the challenger needs to be high enough up the rankings when a Pay-per-view comes along in order to do so.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 Hell in a Cell

Naturally, with this being the WWE rivalries and interference play roles in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 and they’ll develop you play matches in the WWE Universe. For example, playing a match as Matt Hardy vs CM Punk ended up with Drew McIntyre attempting to interfere, leading in turn to Big Show running down to the ring in order to even the odds. Matt Hardy and Big Show’s relationship improved because of this and they could eventually go on to form a tag team. Relationships between superstars plays a big part in deciding what cut scenes occurring before, during and after matches in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Enemies could assault you on their way to the ring, or after a match. In turn your allies could run to your aid, or even betray you . It’s all rather unpredictable but that’s what makes the WWE entertaining, and it’s a welcome addition to WWE Smackdown. vs. Raw 2011.

This year, Yuke’s have also made changes to the Road to Wrestlemania story mode for WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011. The biggest one of these is the fact your chosen Superstar can walk around back stage, interacting with other Superstars and performing mini challenges are essentially RPG elements. Completing matches, partaking in backstage ‘events’ (i.e. fights in the locker room) and finding hidden objects all give your Superstar experience points, which you can use to upgrade stats. It’s an interesting new system and it works quite well, but sometimes wandering between one end of the backstage area to the other in order to try and find someone to talk to (or pummel) can get tiresome. The lip syncing is completely off too which takes away from the ‘real’ life of a Superstar.

However, the actual stories in the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 more than make up for the occasional lack of depth in the backstage area. There are five different Roads to Wrestlemania on offer each following a particular Superstar. You can choose John Cena (Yes, again.), Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Christian or a Vs. The Undertaker story. The last one allows you to play as one of four pre-determined Superstars, or one you’ve created yourself, as they try to end The Undertakers legendary Wrestlemania winning streak. Personally, my favourite Road to Wrestlemania story was Christians’ as it made me feel as I was watching WWE in 1999 all over again.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 Royal Rumble

One odd thing about Christians’ story however is that it takes place on the ECW brand which was cancelled all the way back in February this year. There are also storylines that involve wrestlers who aren’t even on the books of the WWE anymore, and of course there are plenty of Superstars who’ve appeared this year that aren’t on the games already impressive roster. It’s a small annoyance, but one that could frustrate hardcore WWE fans.

Naturally, if you think someone deserves to be in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 you can always attempt to add them yourself using the create a wrestler tool. This feature remains mostly unchanged from last year, but you can still expect thousands of fan created Superstars to appear online for download. The option to create a finisher has also been tweaked for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 allowing you more freedom as to how you beat down your opponents.

Overall, Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is an improvement over the previous irritations of the series. The improved physics of the weapons and combination of exhibition matches and a career mode into ‘The WWE Universe’ works well and makes every match played an interesting and enjoyable experience, even if they are occasionally let down by AI issues. Meanwhile, the Road to Wrestlemania storylines remain as enjoyable as ever, but the introduction of the RPG elements lacks some depth. Aside from that and a few other minor issues, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 a highly enjoyable game and is a must for any WWE Fan, and highly recommended as an enjoyable fighter for anyone else.


WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 from 29th October 2010

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Arcania: A Gothic Tale (aka Gothic IV)

Arcania: A Gothic Tale is the latest game in the Gothic series, now under the stewardship of new developer Spellbound.

If you want your Arcania: A Gothic Tale review to be short but sweet, here it is: The game looks good, but is let down by repetitive quests, some graphical glitches and poor, poor voice acting. Seriously, the dialogue often sounds terrible but you'll get to a point where you can enjoy it in an ironic way. Still, it's a pleasant enough, if incredibly generic fantasy RPG adventure. So where does our story begin?

Arcania begins with our nameless hero working as a shepherd on a little Island. Life is going quite well for our chappy, who's planning to propose to his girlfriend. Of course, if everyone lived happily ever, Arcania probably wouldn't be much of a game. So, as you can probably guess, bad things happen that means our man heads out into the world seeking revenge.

Now then, what is the best way to get revenge in an RPG fantasy? Why, it's by carrying out lots of menial tasks and goblin bashing of course! The people of Gothic IV are perhaps the laziest and most demanding people you'll ever see in an RPG. You name an item and they want it collected. Naturally, they're far too bone idle to do it for themselves so our nameless hero is sent to various forests, caves and dungeons in order to pick mushrooms, retrieve lost boxes of money, and lots of other dull tasks. Of course, any loot you find on the way is yours, which is nice. Unfortunately this doesn't make up for the somewhat repetitive nature of the quests.

Naturally you can't travel from point A to point B without any problems occurring. On your travels you'll have to beat the crap out of a familiar list of RPG enemies including Orcs, Goblins, the undead, and various types of large lizards. Combat is simple enough with left click used to swing your choice of stabbing implement - or magic spell - while right click is used to block and evade. It's simple but effective, so much so that the combat can occasionally feel too easy. This hack, slash, avoid, counter routine can therefore begin to feel repetitive. Noticing a repetitive theme here yet?

The people of Arcania: A Gothic Tale also feel rather familiar. There are two reasons for this. The first is that most of the characters confirm to usual RPG stereotypes such as Kings, mages, and plenty of common townsfolk. The second is that Arcania's population seem to share about four faces between them. A lot of important named characters share the same faces which can make understanding who they are or what role they're playing somewhat difficult! It doesn't help that the graphics occasionally glitch and you therefore find yourself talking to someone without a head.

Speaking of graphics, the game world generally looks amazing with realistic weather and lighting effects. Arcania: A Gothic Tale is a beautiful looking game - especially when you're exploring the wilderness - but is let down by noticeable issues. Shrubbery will regularly just disappear right in front of you, which is to be expected in most games. However, when an entire temple on a hill disappears then that's an issue. These glitches don't occur that regularly but it's obvious when they do.
That all said, if you can ignore the glitches, Arcania: A Gothic Tale isn't a bad RPG but it isn't a great one either. Its simple nature may put off veterans of the genre, but Arcania does provide a somewhat entertaining, if somewhat generic RPG adventure in the 16 hours or so it'll take you to finish the story.

Perhaps you could invest in Arcania: A Gothic Tale if you need an action RPG to fill the time between now and the release of Fable III on PC. That said, I can't help but compare Gothic IV to the similar - and far superior - Divinity 2: Ego Draconis. The latter offers up more goblin bashing action in a world that's less repetitive, more fun when it comes to combat, and is just as pretty.

However, if you're a die-hard dungeon crawler, or a fan of the series, then you can do worse than invest in Arcania: A Gothic Tale despite the fact it doesn't live up to its potential. Just be prepared to do a lot of quests that involve picking up fruit and vegetables. However, if those sorts of quests are your thing, then Arcania: A Gothic Tale is very much the game for you!

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

Monday, 11 October 2010

Review: Lionheart: Kings' Crusade

The thing with real time strategy games is that there often doesn't seem to be too much strategy involved. Confused? Let me explain. Most RTS titles will give the player a set of objectives to complete, based around the old capture this, defend that and the kill those guys philosophy we all know and love. When it gets to that third part, it's entirely possible to be victorious even if there's only one poor soldier left standing! A new army will then magically appear from nowhere for the next battle.

This isn't the case for Lionheart: Kings' Crusade. It follows on from its predecessor King Arthur The Wargame in requiring the player to actually keep their units alive. Why? Well firstly, the more battles a unit comes through, the more powerful it'll get. Meanwhile, if the unit is lost then it's gone forever and you'll have to fork out large amounts of cash to replace it. See, it's worth thinking about strategy, and this clever take on the RTS genre makes Lionheart: Kings' Crusade an enjoyable, if challenging experience.

Neocore Games latest title moves forward from the Dark Age setting of King Arthur the Wargame to the Crusades of the 12th century. Naturally, you may have already guessed that Lionheart: Kings' Crusade puts you in the boots of Richard the Lionheart, the famed King of England. He may not have been able to speak English, but King Richard was certainly pretty good at killing foreigners and it's your goal to conquer the Holy Land. Then you can play the campaign from the Saracens view, assuming the role of Saladin the Great and driving those awful Christians out of your homeland. Getting the opportunity to play as both sides is rather rare in an RTS and Lionheart: Kings' Crusade therefore gets a tick.

Initially, Lionheart: Kings' Crusade appears to play like a Total War game with units counter-balancing each other in a rock, paper, scissors fashion. For example, light infantry units are weak against the long distance fire of archers; archers are vulnerable to cavalry charges, while cavalry can easily be dispatched by spearmen. Morale, weather conditions, time of day and terrain type all play a factor in battles which can make victory - be it through defending an objective, capturing territory, or simply wiping out enemy forces - quite challenging.

As mentioned above, you need to be especially careful when managing troops on the battlefield because if a unit is lost, it's gone for good. This is a problem for two reasons, firstly replacing lost units costs money and you'll often find yourself with not enough funds to do this. Secondly, keeping units alive opens up an RPG style levelling up system which allows you to increase their stats and equip them with special items and abilities to make them more effective on the battlefield. These veteran units can become quite the force, so you'll spend a lot of time deciding on a strategy designed to keep as many of your troops alive as possible.

On the subject of strategy, Lionheart: Kings' Crusade will often offer you a variety of different battle plans to complete missions. When playing the Crusaders campaign, these different strategies come from four different factions - The French, the Holy Roman Empire, The Templar's and The Papal Court. Not only do these different strategies offer you huge amounts of replayability, but selecting a faction's strategy will raise your fame with them. Higher fame with a faction will bring specific perks such as new units and unique heroes becoming available to your army, plus other benefits such as being able to recruit higher level troops. The Saracens meanwhile use a more traditional tech tree.

You can also increase the Crusaders fame with factions through the optional unique scenarios that appear on the world map as you make your way through the 15 territories. Scenarios can be diplomatic which involve you making a decision favouring one faction or another, or they can involve fighting extra battles. Of course, of these different types of scenario provide benefits in the form of money, troops and items, and it's up to you to decide which one will be more beneficial to your style of play. It's unlikely you'll get fame for every faction up to its maximum, which offers yet more incentives for replaying Lionheart: Kings' Crusade in their more difficult campaign.

The game however, isn't without one or two drawbacks. The need to keep your units alive may prove overly difficult for those new to the RTS genre, and that's even on normal difficulty. The AI also seems to suffer from a few minor niggles that are slightly detrimental to the gameplay. There are scenarios in which the computer is only reactive to your actions, which means in theory you could leave your troops standing in their starting formation on the map without the AI actually bothering to do anything. In addition to this, zooming right into the heart of a battle demonstrates that the AI does have a few path finding issues, with surplus troops just wandering back and forth while others are fighting in close combat. Fortunately, these minor issues don't take too much away from the overall experience of Lionheart: Kings' Crusade.

Neocore have certainly produced an impressive RTS/RPG hybrid here which provides an enjoyable challenge. Lionheart: Kings' Crusade is also a massive game, providing excellent value for money. Completing both single player campaigns and the additional ‘scenario' battles could easily result in up to 30 hours of gameplay, and that's before replaying missions with the different strategies on offer. Lionheart: Kings' Crusade offers a different, but very enjoyable, alternative to the traditional RTS format, and is highly recommended to hardcore fans and newcomers to the genre alike.


(Originally written for Game-Debate)