Previous Blog Archive - Reviews

[24/10/12] Windows 8 Release Preview
I have been playing around with the Windows 8 Release Preview for some weeks now. During that time, I have also read other reviews from other websites. Most have been criticising of this new OS, but I think it is great. A new step up from the old.
Starting with the installation, it is fast and simple. Once it has loaded all the files necessary for installation, it will progress, taking roughly twenty minutes. Once it boots up again, it will ask for your colour and a PC name. Do this, and then it is to the next part of setting up an internet connection. Again, simple. Then you have a choice to make a normal PC account, or use your Microsoft Account to sync all apps together and be able to access the Store and get easy access to other apps like SkyDrive. Once the account has been set up, you will see a black screen with "Your PC will be ready in a moment". Then you are taken to the new Start menu, the previously named Metro.
The Metro interface runs in conjunction with the normal desktop view. While other reviews have had a lot of negative to say about this new interface, I think it is the best with what it does. Initially for the new Microsoft Surface tablets launching alongside the proper release [October 26, though the Surface Pro doesn't release until January], it is quick and simple to use. Open up an app and it will load almost instantly, with the occasional longer time for the more complex apps. Then, when done, just bring the mouse cursor to the top of the page and drag it to the bottom. Or if not, place the cursor on the bottom left corner to bring the start menu icon up then move it up along the side of the screen to see all open apps. You can also see the last open app by doing the same thing but placing the cursor at the top left. Or you can just press the Windows button to get to the start menu.
The apps themselves work wonders, and work in great order. The Store, where you buy all the apps necessary for work and play, the XBOX LIVE Games app for the serious gaming, is very much like the XBOX 360 Dashboard, with its apps split into different areas like Entertainment and Social. Talking of the apps, some work in conjunction with others. Load up the People app, and it will show you all contacts linked with your Microsoft account in alphabetical order. Just click on a name and it gives you their info and options. If they are online, and you want to send a message, the Messaging app will open up for you to type. Sending an email and the Mail app will open. It can also work the other way around. Want to start a group message? Go to the Messaging app, right click and choose new, People app will open up and you can then choose who to include in the message. Same goes for mail.
Working in the desktop, you can swap between any Metro app and the desktop at any time, as, in effect, the entire desktop view is another app in Metro as well. Or that's what it treats it like, anyway. Gone is the usual messages when you insert a disk or memory stick. Instead you'll see a message in a box at the top right corner in the colour of your Start Screen asking you what you want to do instead.
The faults I can recognise are that, while fast, it has had to do away with some of the things that would slow it up. No booting to the desktop as soon as you start up. You will see the Start Screen first. No visible settings are available, including the option to turn it off. That is in a menu helpfully hidden at the right hand side of the screen, ready to appear when you put the cursor in a right hand side corner.
While I haven't had a test of all features, Gadgets return, but the Aero feature, which produced the glass bar effects in Windows 7, has gone. There are still Aero themes, but you will have to select them from Personalize. Having more than one monitor is also included, but how that works, I have no idea. I suppose it would be easier than on Windows 7 anyway.
All of this, the move to a new interface, and the syncing with a Microsoft account, might seem useless to most, but Microsoft is working to get all services it produces together. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 work with the same Metro interface, both can connect with the XBOX 360 to search the new Internet Explorer on it, and can also be used as a second screen, as part of the new XBOX Smartglass feature.
In other words, it seems that Microsoft are doing the right thing, even if most people aren't inclined to think that due to the touchscreen friendly look that Microsoft have adopted for this new operating system, which most seem to think is a pain with a mouse and keyboard. Yes, it will get a bit of getting used to, but if you consider it, the Metro interface, with its Start Screen and hidden settings, aren't that different from Windows 7 and its Start Menu.

Edit [26/10/12] I now have upgraded to Windows 8 Pro through the upgrade assistant, and can report that, in the final version, the Gadgets and Sidebar have been removed. Unfortunate, I know. This was because all of the preview releases were using the Windows 7 desktop view with an edited taskbar. Hence why the Aero themes were still available. The new themes are alright, and have a good active/inactive scheme.


[3/11/12] Need For Speed Most Wanted PSV
The way this game has turned out surprises me. EA showed off the footage for the console versions, showing us the open world, the high octane police chases, and the races through traffic. Then they said the whole thing would come to the Playstation Vita as well. Ony recently was it confirmed that the PSV version would be exactly like the console versions but with a few minor adjustments.
How true to their word they were.
You see, the main idea of this game is a Burnout Paradise style game, but more gritty. Instead of the Paradise radio, you have access to the police radio whenever you get into trouble with them. This means you can better escape them. Talking of the police, the system used is like that of the GTA games. The more wreckage you perform and the more persistant you are, the higher your code rate goes. Escaping is the same as well. Get out from their gaze and you enter 'cooldown'. Your code ratings will start to go down, until either the cops get you in their sight again or you lose all your code ratings. The longer you can keep the cops off you, the more your Most Wanted score will go up.
And it's this Most Wanted score that is the main aim of the game. During racing, meeting special requirements or the police chases, you will earn Most Wanted points. The races themselves are great. Whether circuit or street rally, they will provide a challenge, what with fighting the traffic as well as battling for position. However, I've only come across five of them during my playtime. There might be more, but they are still diverse. When you get enough Most Wanted score, you can challenge the elite racers, then earn their car. This is much the same as in Burnout Paradise, where if you win, the car is released into the world and you have to take it down. But with Paradise you didn't have police onto you and the other as soon as the race starts, or the fact that it is a code three chase and you cannot enter 'cooldown' no matter what. Not that you'd want to anyway, as the police are as much help as hinderance, and the fact that these elite racers aren't called elite for nothing. These racers are harder than the normal ones, as they'll be speeding along to the max. Unless they make a mistake.
Then there is all the other things you've got to do in the game. Just like Burnout Paradise, there are gates and billboards dotted all over the map, which you locate and smash. Doing this will also get you Most Wanted score. As well as these, there are jackspots, where you can find new cars, including an Ariel Atom V8, and speed cameras which you need to hit. The billboards record your jump length, and the speed cameras record your speed. Any reason for this? The new Autolog of course.
This shares your data between your Need For Speed friends, so they can try and beat your records. But that's not all on the online front. While I haven't extensively tested it, the online is great as well. Joining a group, you have a number of challenges, in which you get more Most Wanted score. You can unlock other mods for your cars through the online mode, and you can still do what you want. However, if you don't get to the meet up after a certain amount of time, you will be relocate there. While the events are fun, there is a bit of lag. Hence why there are no police in online mode. At the end of the events,the total points are added up, and your Most Wanted score is added to the full score on your profile. You can join or leave a game at any time.
The graphics are top notch, but with a few glitches here and there, especially with the skid marks. The sound is also good, but you might be asking, any reason specifically for the PSV version? Why yes. Since the PSV can play music at the same time as playing a game, it makes great sense. But here is this game's masterpiece. If you are playing music from the PSV's player, the in-game music is muted. You still have all your engine sounds and police radio, but your own music is slotted into the game. Genius.

Those who'll most likely enjoy this - those who play racing, action, adventure or simulation games, or a mixture of those.

Postnote - When winning a race, you will also get extra additons to add to your car to make it better. These are only for that particular car, however, hence the repeating of races in different cars. As such, this adds a sort of RPG element to the game.

PSS - Critereon weren't kidding when they said it was a significant achievement and that there were performance issues. To be honest, it is a significant achievement to get this game running almost perfectly on the PSV, but they still haven't got rid of most of the performance challenges. I had something I have never seen before on my PSV. A GPU error. And that doesn't count all the times it has seemlessly crashed. However, don't be downheartened at this, since it doesn't happen that often if you close everything else except music, and seems to go away all together if you run it without the music player.


[11/4/13] Things On Wheels - Xbox Live Arcade
So then. Another review.
This one will be a work in progress though, as I work my way through the full of the game. I'll still manage to cover most of the game straight off though.
Things on Wheels is an RC racing game found on XBLA for 400 points. A good deal for the content it hosts. Or so it seems. The game features twenty tracks set over four episodes, making it five per episode. What makes it interesting is it's story. Even if there isn't much of it. A millionnaire hosts an RC racing car tournament every year in his mansion. Your uncle has a champion in the tournament, but that champion acquires a broken wrist, and so you have to take his place. You start by going to the prologue, reading the first blog entry which explains all this, then head out to the sandbox to practise driving. It's cool, as this sandbox is the garden of the mansion, and some of the races will come out here as well. Once you've had enough practise, exit out of the sandbox, move back to the menu and select Championship [or arcade if you want to practise actually racing] to get straight into the first race. This first race is where we get our first look at the powerups.
These powerups are fairly straight forward. Boost, shield, ice, and electric. The first two are fairly obvious, boost and shield, but the other two are attacking moves. Ice covers the wheels of nearby drivers to make grip a thing of the past. Electric slows nearby drivers down, sort of a slow motion thing. These powerups are freely available to all drivers and are visible on field so you can see what you will be getting. And that's a good thing, as you can drive through the same powerup again to stack the meter so you can use that powerup for longer. But beware - drive through a different powerup, and you'll get that powerup instead, and it will drag the meter back to minimum power.
Since this is an RC game, you can forgive the shonky physics. Really? In the first five races you might think this. "It's just an RC game. These kind of driving physics are expected." But then you get to the next five, where the tracks become more complicated, and you'll find yourself wanting to be struck by the electric powerup yourself just so you can make a tight corner properly. Things aren't helped by the fact that no matter what race you are in, you have to finish first. Thankfully there are checkpoints on the track, and you can press Y to reset to the last checkpoint passed if you get lost [or stuck].
This then leads us onto the AI, which to be fair, is completely terrible. If you're not busy crashing into every item you see on the track, it is easy to get way ahead of them. So much so that if you do get stuck right near another checkpoint but don't pass it, then reset to the previous checkpoint, no-one will have passed you. Other times, they're uselessly barrelling themselves into a wall right next to a checkpoint. Honestly, its the most silliest thing ever. In the last race, I made a complete mess of the first corner and gave the competition a huge lead. Instead of restarting, I decided to go ahead and catch them up. It was only on the second lap that I realised I was in seventh. I hadn't passed anyone, or so I thought. Coming up on a checkpoint, I see another racer curve too early and hit the wall. It then reset. It made exactly the same move, then reset again. I continued watching it, and again and again it would make the same move.
Now then, I don't want to make any more paragraphs on this title, so important things to note. The sounds don't seem to have had much effort put into them, and even the soundtrack is just one track. The graphics are alright, and stand up with most games, but against others of the latest times, there is a pretty sizeable difference. If you want to go online - don't bother, it's dead. Local multiplayer is alright though, and features the same modes from the single player arcade mode. Some of the achievements are god-damn easy [look at the last page of blog??] and others are just so near impossible it's untrue [complete a lap in 56 seconds on a track that doesn't even seem able to be completed in under a minute].
Honestly, the only thing this seems worth it for is this XBOX Live Rewards [April 2013] MyPunchcard promotion as one of the games you buy.

Likes
-Good for pick-up and play despite the radical controls
-It's cheap
-Range of modes
-The tracks are good, but...

Dislikes
-...can be a pain to navigate at times
-Uninspired sounds and soundtrack
-Uninspired AI
-Basic powerups
-Dead online multiplayer
-Stats that are just for show

Rating 4/10

Last Word: I can see now why this was launched "quietly" on XBLA. While a good racer, the only thing I can recommend if for is being cheap, and at 400 MSPoints, I'm pretty sure there are more better things to buy anyway.


[16/6/13] My Reviews From Now On [Update]
So, I was thinking about my reviews that I have done on here so far, and feel that they have been very varied in their style and approach. Especially the games. If anyone has been on Neoseeker and read my reviews on there, you'll know what I'm talking about.
This is for game reviews only, however, and when I do other reviews, I will outline how I will go about them first.
From now on, I'll be doing a free flow approach, starting with what I feel is the main point of discussion. From there, I will cover a lot of other things as well that are needed for that game. This will be varied, depending on how much time is needed to cover it. Once that is over, I will then list ten pointers, both good and bad, which will form the basis of the entire review. There will be no score, although the good pointers of the review will sort of form the basics of that score. Eight good points will be eight out of ten, for example.
This might be a shorter post than what it previously was, but that was explained in detail with each pointer. This type of review hardly needs much explanation, and is better shown through example, which is why there'll be a review in a couple of days. And since I'm halfway through writing this one, it will be posted.


[30/10/13] Sonic Lost World 3DS
Lost in the World.
Don't get me wrong. This game is good. But something is lacking within.  It's a typical Sonic affair. Eggman's up to no good, and Sonic and Tails set out to stop him. Amy and Knuckles are in the game too, but Knuckles hardly does anything, and Amy is just for contact with the Earth below, and due to a very specific plot point, I can't say more than that. The Lost Hex, where the action takes place, is home of the Zeti, who are under Eggman's control. The story has some interesting twists in it, but the end result can be predicted. The best part of this story has already been shown to hype up the game, where the Deadly Six take control of Eggman's mechs after Sonic makes a mistake. This doesn't take place until the end of the second world, but the rest of the story follows on from this with Sonic and Eggman teaming up to take back control of the situation. The ending, not to put too fine a point on it, is sort of anti-climatic, leaving out big questions that need answering. But it is a better story than the previous offerings of Colours and Generations, and for the first time in a handheld Sonic game - proper cutscenes. While the cutscenes themselves only show a glimmer of their beauty, they are considerably compressed so that they hardly shine above those in the WiiU version. And talking of the WiiU version, the 3DS version has less cutscenes included, though none of these are actually vital to the story, as they involve the first encounter with each of the Deadly Six which isn't included in the 3DS version, and are referenced in the second encounter, which are shown in the 3DS version before each boss battle.
This leads us into the gameplay itself. And that first time thing is continued here as well. As for the first time in a handheld Sonic game, we have 3D levels. Seven zones, three acts and a boss fight in each zone. We get a tutorial in Windy Hill, but the controls are simple enough anyway. A and B control jumping, double jumping and homing attack. X and Y control spin dash [in which you'll need to release the button and hold it again to get the unlimited dash, which is sort of like the boost of previous games] and the bounce attack when in the air. The R button makes Sonic run, which is vital for speed, and the L button centers the camera, which seems pointless when it could have been used for Wisp activation instead. Unlike the WiiU version, no Wisps are controlled with the gimmicks of the console [except quake] but have to be activated by tapping the Wisp icon. The bottom screen holds the Wisp icon, the gadget icon, and the power-up icon, as well as showing how far along the level you actually are. The controls themselves work well enough, with gameplay being smooth if a bit jarring. Running is good enough but does feel a bit of a risk on smaller platforms. Sonic also still has his annoying brake slide, which always feels as though it's on ice. That means if you can't slow down quick enough, it's goodbye to one of your lives. And you can only find the lives within stages, as collecting 100 rings no longer gives you a life.
Parkour is activated if you have enough speed for it, so even if you aren't holding down the R button [which is the only way to activate it in the WiiU version] you'll run up or across a wall. Even when in a spin dash. It isn't much of an issue in the earlier levels, but when you get to the last few zones, it does become a bit of a problem when using parkour, especially when you need to use the sidestep. The jump also feels too floaty to be very effective, although it does the job more often than not. The homing attack now comes fully charged, with a wind kick activated with X or Y when locked on, and a triple tier system which charges depending on how long the lock is left for. These two moves are vital for most enemies. For example, in the E3 and other demos which showcased Desert Ruins Zone 1, people were stuck on the giant purple worms and couldn't work out how they defeated them [if they ever did]. The trick is to use the wind kick [weirdly classed as the somersault in-game] when locked on, which then reveals the yellow stripe. Wait until the full lock is shown [three yellow rings with the normal red lock] then attack. You'll have to dodge the purple sludge spewed by the worms, but if the lock-on is quick enough, you'll have nothing to worry about. And most of the enemies follow the same sort of format.
And that is Lost World's biggest flaw. Aside from the basic controls and some slight tricks [which can be accessed from the pause menu anyway] it hardly gives any tips whatsoever. And for a game that is meant for newcomers to the series, that is a bad sign. But if even veterans are getting stuck, you know it's a serious flaw. When you work it out though, it does become a lot easier to defeat these types of enemies. The puzzles in this game also suffer from the same fate. They tell you what you need to do, but little beyond. There are many classic references in this game, but the difficulty and hints needn't have been fully referenced as well.
And talking of references, access to special stages is granted by holding onto fifty rings at the end of a level after hitting the button on the Egg Pod [also a reference to the Mega Drive games]. If the access to them is easy though, playing them is a lot harder. If the Wisps hardly use the gyroscope of the 3DS, these special stages test it to the limit. In a SEGA take of Face Raiders, you have to twist and turn to control Sonic through space collecting orbs and plus time while avoiding obstacles and negative time. There are three sets of orbs to collect [except in the seventh stage, where there are four], and then a mad dash to the Emerald itself. Collect all seven, and you get access to Super Sonic. That's if you can, of course. While the first few are easy, later stages get harder, reducing the time and placing more time reducing boxes around the levels.
Other collectibles include five Red Star Rings hidden in each level [except bosses], materials [which you get upon completion of a level], and hard mode stages which unlock upon completion of the final boss, then after completing the boss of the hard mode zone. These hard mode stages make slight changes to the levels to make them harder [obviously] but only give you one ring to get the level complete. To add to the hardness of it, the stages are set at night. The effect is slightly ruined though when some assets still look exactly like their daytime counterparts.
This then, brings us to graphical quality. While it does look good, it also looks a little basic. Rings are less flashy than usual, as are the enemies. Objects are blocky, and textures look more flat than usual. Sonic's model, and in-game models of the Deadly Six, look a little blocky, or to use the better term, pixelated. Effects like explosions are also horribly rendered. The background, while good to look at, also looks low-res.
The graphics don't spoil the gameplay though, or in fact, the music. As per Sonic tradition as of late, Tomoya Ohtani and the musicians of Unleashed return, and the first thing you'll notice is how wonderful the music is. The main theme seems to show that, what with it being called Wonder World. That name also means a whole new world to explore. The music is as diverse and varied as the levels themselves, but it still doesn't feature such a varied soundtrack as the Adventure games [and perhaps that's for the better]. What we do get is beautiful to listen to music, all orchestrated. And with earphones in, it sounds even better.
Then we get to Tail's lab. This is where you use those collected materials to create gadgets and power-ups to help you on your playthrough of the levels. Upgrading the lab gets you even more to build. These range from stealth jets, fighters, and helicopters. While good in practise, you have no control of them other than to activate them. Which means you can't deactivate them. These can also be transferred to the WiiU version for use in the WiiU co-op mode.
Multiplayer is good fun. There are one custom level of each of the seven zones that up to four people can play on, either online, in local play, or download play. The ranking system returns, giving you points when you win, and taking points off if you lose. It also helps if you come first, as you can attack the pod multiple times to get materials from it. Some of these are harder to get in single player unless you 'aced it' and got an S rank. The frame rate suffers here though, even more so than in the single player, where it only really slows when underwater and you get hit by an enemy.

This is one of the better Sonic games on handhelds, and can even compete with some of the 3D console games, but the flaws of the 3D Sonic games come with it as well, including twitchy controls and camera, though both seem less pronounced here.

+ +  One of the better stories in a Sonic game, and arguably the best of recent times.
+ +Diverse levels across seven zones, but some fall a bit flat
+ + + A great soundtrack
- - Controls are troublesome in later stages and sometimes earlier stages
- Final boss fight is a bit underwhelming after a build up of better end of zone boss fights.
- - Good special stages but use the gyroscope controls, making them fiddly. 

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