Posts Tagged Reviews

Kinect Review

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It seems like only yesterday the internet was in awe of Microsoft’s Project Natal. I remember watching videos of gamers in their huge showroom living rooms fighting, talking and dancing around with no controller in sight, amazed at a new technology that felt light years away.

Yet here we are, and Project Natal now renamed to the quirky ‘Kinect’ is with us and has been in my living room for over a week already. I’ve waited this long to share my thoughts so I could have a chance to watch friends and family interact with it, to get an overall view of Kinect as a gaming platform rather than just my so called ‘core gamer’ opinion.

Firstly I skipped the midnight launch, sorry folks but there were plenty of main stream sites live covering the London launch with Call of Duty Black Ops one night followed by Kinect the next it was just too much hard work, plus it was freezing! So the next day I tried a different journalist approach, actively turning into in a casual gaming consumer in my quest to source a Kinect in London the same way that the target audience would, by hitting the high street. Similar to the Wii launch stock was sparse, but determined to get a Kinect without pre ordering I found Argos had stock, albeit only a few and only in one store which luckily was local to me. Fellow Gamdo staff G-r0 had alot less luck in his quest to source a Kinect in central London, unable to find a store with stock on day one.

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After collection and mandatory twitter post, I rushed home complete with what felt like the only Kinect in London and began unboxing and setup. This is where Kinect shows signs of first generation technology, teething problems which as a techy I can deal with but I can imagine alot of casuals would find annoying and confusing. To be fair Microsoft has done a great job, getting this technology to market so quickly and providing a reasonable step by step on screen setup process. The main issue which is going to be a huge problem is setup when space is limited, especially in London and other densely populated cities which makes the process a tad frustrating.

Kinect requires 6 feet minimum, only due to reading piles of previews and reviews did I know this. Yes there is a tiny warning on the box but for the average joe buying this as a gift its too late. I can see alot of space issues popping up, and alot of refunds when people realise they just don’t have the room for Kinect. The advertising doesn’t exactly warn you that you need an airplane hanger sized room to play it in, although every scene in the adverts are set in gigantic over-sized spaces which aren’t just there for the wow factor, you do actually need to upgrade your house.

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Setup takes a while but is dam exciting with the sci fi music playing in the background and the anticipation of being in the Minority Report. It’s also dam frustrating even in what I thought was a moderate sized living room. I started with the Kinect sensor in front of the TV, which seems sensible if you have your TV on a bench or stand. The problem is unless you bring the Kinect sensor forward to the edge of the bench it cannot see the floor which is a requirement and will halt your setup progress. Already short on space moving your Kinect sensor further foward will remove more room to play. So I balanced Kinect on top of my TV and began the setup process again. By placing Kinect above your TV you give yourself an extra foot of playing space, which really helps. Ideally you need the official TV mount, or you can make your own like this guy, or you can risk it and just leave Kinect to balance on its own, I chose the latter as I just wanted to play!

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Kinect has its own dashboard or ‘hub’ as its called, which is a bit of a let down. I was expecting to control the Xbox dashboard with gestures and voice but alas this is not possible (yet?). But what this does give you day after day is that pretty cool moment after you turn your Xbox on to say ‘Xbox Kinect’. In a calm and quiet voice from anywhere in your room (or even in the room next door as I accidentally discovered) you can access the Kinect hub with voice, or by waving (a set motion wave not any old wave). Once in the Kinect hub voice and gestures can be used to navigate around. At this point you say Xbox Kinect Adventures and boom, the game loads. It still takes a while getting used to voice commanding your Xbox, not because it doesn’t feel natural, but because it’s so dam cool.

Each time you start up Kinect Adventures you have to run through a short setup process, why it doesn’t remember this each time I have no idea. It is SO important to get this bit right. You have a visual indicator on screen as to what part of the room you are standing in, and it is grouped off into two areas, GOOD and BEST. Standing as far back as I could without landing on the sofa I was borderline between the two, so believing ‘best’ would be best I chose that. Big mistake. The best area was basically where my sofa and bookshelves behind my sofa were, so Kinect kept losing me and my first in game Kinect experience was terrible. My Xbox kept pausing the game and telling me to step back. I can imagine plenty of people have had this same issue with Kinect Adventures, as you are lured into thinking ‘best’ is the best way to play when infact if you don’t have the room you need to play in the ‘good’ area. Restarting the game and selecting ‘good’ changed everything. Kinect Adventures is so much fun.

I’m not going to review Kinect Adventures as a game because I don’t think it is a game as such but more as a technology demo for Kinect, and that it is. Your entire body is tracked, I knew this but I began just standing still waving my hands in awe, slowly discovering I could kick, headbutt and even pelvic thrust the incoming balls. (ed. innuendo?) I then realised I could step left and right, back and forward and all is tracked and portrayed on screen. This is the point when you start to want to upgrade your house, or just clear everything in your living room out the way. Luckily my L-shape sofa is detachable, and now remains unfixed so I can quickly move the L part of it out the way to make room for Kinect. I don’t have a coffee table, coffee is gross, but if you do, move it and any other junk out the way and watch out for overheard light fittings or nearby children otherwise you could end up like this poor kid below or find yourself ripping out your lights Penny Arcade style.

Kinect also has facial recognition, which works perfectly. Spend a few minutes scanning your face from different angles around the room and linking it to your gamertag and as if by magic when you stand up Kinect will sign you in to Xbox Live. Combine this with voice commands and full body tracking this technology is really amazing, Kinect takes us one step closer to Red Dwarfs Better than Life and Star Trek’s Holodeck. And that is exactly what everyone is forgetting, this is a new technology like nothing we have seen before. Most reviewers put me off Kinect with mediocre scores, but the lure of this new tech still made me go out and get it, and I’m glad I did. Kinect has to be experienced, and everyone who has tried it with me is left in amazement at how well it works.

Yes there is a bit of lag most noticeably when you jump, and yes there are setup bugs and space concerns, and yes Kinect Joy Ride does suck. But putting all that aside the technology is so advanced and such a good attempt for first a generation commercial release that I can look past these teething problems, bad games and space requirements, because Kinect really is fun. Even for a hardcore gamer like myself who thought the Wii was a terrible gimmick with low accuracy and crap games, I can highly recommend Kinect.

9/10 Great technology, great fun, just make sure you have the space to play

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The Art of Mass Effect – Book Review

I’m a big fan of game art books, actually I’m a big fan of any books relating to the game industry (yes real life books, made out of paper). For another new feature here at gamdo, I will make it my quest to seek out, read,  review and recommend as many game related books worthy of your hard earned credits, bottle caps or plain old cash. It’s a difficult genre to find reviews or recommendations on, and there are certainly very few top 10 ‘gamer books’ lists online (The New York Times Books website skipped this genre, strange?). Most books about gaming atop the Amazon best seller list are guides, by Prima, and they pretty much suck.

The Art of Mass Effect, a great book for any ME fan

Saying that, Prima produced a must have title with “The Art Of Mass Effect”. If you’re a fan of the game, or even if you just played it once, this is one book that you will want to buy, read and keep forever. The Mass Effect universe is a dazzling sci-fi masterpiece, giving us near movie quality visuals, locations, characters and cut scenes not seen in any game before. Infact Mass Effect is more like playing the star in a Sci-fi movie. This makes it easy to play through the entire game without noticing how much hard work was put into the art, instead concentrating on the hugely addictive and rewarding game-play, after all it is a game!

The Art of Mass Effect, a Limited Edition art book will take you back to places you passed through in Mass Effect, bringing back gaming memories like an old holiday photo reminds you of trips you’ve taken years ago. Flicking through the pages you will begin to realise what goes into creating such a fascinating and convincing game world. Every detail is sketched, painted, then re sketched and painted again, until a final design is no doubt argued over and finally chosen, from prospering planets to futuristic furniture and alien clothing to double barreled guns (a signature trait seen throughout all weapons in the Mass Effect world).

With just enough text to keep you interested with a brief intro and history to each piece of art, and enough pages of images to keep you occupied for a few hours, this is a great book for every Mass Effect fan. It also hold’s a big secret that the internet buzzed about for ages, what does the Quarian Tali look like under that mask? The only way to find out is to pickup a copy from your favorite online retailer, although due to it being limited edition, it can be hard to find, but well worth the hunt.

A book worthy of everyone’s collection, but good luck finding a copy.

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Left 4 Dead 2 – The Passing DLC Review

The latest DLC for Left 4 Dead 2 is out. We waited patiently all day, and here it is. Normally the release is too late to play and I end up waiting till the next day, but the download started around 11pm (UK) and after some slow transfer rates due to my ‘new’ connection it finally completed, along with most of my L4D2 buddies.

We just finished the new campaign ‘The Passing’ which is the main bulk of the free DLC (free for PC, 560points for Xbox 360). There were plenty of us online waiting for this DLC so four of us hit the servers quick, finishing the campaign in around 30 minutes or so. There are some great scenes, without spoiling it and revealing too much, all I will say is wow, the sewers are great! I’ve not touched L4D2 for a while, but coming back to it after all this time with the new DLC really brought back some fond memories of first playing the original Left 4 Dead. Good times!

What I was expecting to be the highlight, left me a little disappointed. The dialogue between the old L4D characters and the new the first time round was just not as hype as I thought it would be, but on a mass team death, repeating the final battle there was some witty banter aimed at Rochelle from the original L4D characters, nice touch Valve. Although playing as Coach (I always try to) I was subject to some stick being accused of being her dad? All in good jest, no stereotyping at all Valve?!

The Passing DLC for Left 4 Dead 2 is a great freebie, offering some new weekly modes which look interesting, but most of all an entire new campaing which is well worth playing. The final scene is the usual epic battle, but with a little help from some old friends and laser sights, and the sewers, the sewers are wow! What more can you ask for, and all for free? Valve keeping up the good work and keeping us customers happy, long after putting down our hard earned cash.

9/10 For DLC, sorry for free DLC, what more can you ask for? Valve hit the nail on the head again, great campaign!

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Art Lebedev Tetrius Review – The Tetris fridge magnet every gamer should 0wn.

As a gamer and a geek, I often find myself searching for stuff that can lie around the real world reminding myself and others that I’m a gamer, and a geek. In my quest to help you guys (and girls) fill the decorative hole in your home, office or basement, I will be reviewing as much geekery that I can find, as well as bringing you all my usual reviews and views of the gaming world.

Art Lebedev is one of my favorite artists. Combining geek and design, Art Lebedev creates everything from sleek websites to cool looking microwaves as well as all kinds of weird and wonderful geekery. Tetrius is one of Art Lebedev’s greatest products, in tribute to one of the greatest games of all time, Tetris. A fridge magnet that deserves a place on everyone’s fridge, Tetrius offers you one of the only ways to game and make a sandwich.

Tetrius comes with seven multicoloured pieces, each piece consists of four elements combined in every way possible. The build quality of each block is quite high, although the magnet is not the strongest. Enough to attach to a fridge and not fall off, but I would have preferred a stronger grip. Instructions are in english and russian, should you require them?

I must warn you now, Tetrius will consume your time in the kitchen. Every visit to the fridge involves a re-arrange of the pieces, in an epic fail attempt to get four lines in a row (there’s just not enough pieces). I recommend making space by removing all other unnecessary magnets from your fridge, after all Tetrius is a piece of art and requires the white space of your fridge surface to make it really stand out and shine.

Tetrius makes a great gift for any gamer in your life, it also makes a great gift for yourself. Shipping from russia can be quite expensive from Art Lebedev so be sure to checkout their full range and make the most of that delivery. I will soon follow up with a review of other Art Lebedev products to inspire your shopping spree, until then keep Tetrius in your basket.

9/10 The ultimate gamer geekery, every fridge needs Tetrius.

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Dirt 2 Review – What happened to rally games?

I’ve always been a fan of rally games, real rally games that is. One of my greatest gaming moments was on Rally Championship PC nearly a decade ago. Twenty minutes into a sunny forest rally, I lost second gear due no doubt to my granny shifting (just like real life). With a good few minutes left of the course, I was forced to maintain speed in third and fourth gear. Slowing down was not an option, without a second gear available I needed to stay in a high gear or end up dropping all the way down to first and crawling along the finish line, losing my position and hard work for the last twenty minutes of perfect rallying.

I crossed that finish line, I maintained enough speed so as not to drop gear and it was exhilarating, racing at full throttle to victory, one of my fondest gaming memories. For those last few minutes I felt like a rally driver, I was so immersed in the game making critical rally decisions, carrying on to the end in a broken car, a scenario that I guess all rally drivers have experienced.

But now we have the new generation of rally games, Dirt 2. Don’t get me wrong Dirt 2 is fun, but only for 25% of the time. Dirt 2 is totally sexed up, it screams X games and feels like someone from the skate boarding world came along and started adding bits until the actual rally game was left hidden behind the liveries (car stickers), rock music, partying, fireworks and radio chatter. Ken Block and his buddies shouting abuse over the in game radio does nothing other than annoy you.

Where there is rallying, Dirt 2 is great, the handling is spot on (unlike the first Dirt which felt like cars sliding around on an ice rink) and the graphics are gorgeous. This was the Directx 11 show case game. After all it came bundled with my Radeon 5870 (well a Steam download code came inside the box) and really shows off some of the Directx 11 features like realistic cloth, of which you end up not even noticing when screaming around at 100mph, but at least its there advancing the background from the days of 2D stick trees!

Either way it looks great and runs perfectly smooth at a constant 60fps now, thanks to the latest Catalyst 10.3 update. I first played Dirt 2 when the demo came out for Xbox Live gold members last summer, but the latest ATI drivers gave me reason to come back to this game on PC and play it all the way through. Ok there are no 30 minute rally sessions with realistic wear and tear to engine, gears and suspension, but I’ve learnt not to expect that anymore. What is disappointing about Dirt 2 is all the other so called ‘rally’ events.

Landrush, domination, rally cross, gate crasher and last man standing have absolutely nothing to do with rallying. The vehicles in Landrush are slow, handle like crap and sound like whirring annoying machinery not roaring throaty rally cars. Domination and last man standing feel like last minute add ons to give some variety but just end up being tedious game modes to play through until the rallying starts again. Gate crasher is another gimmick, which I very much doubt has ever been a real life event. Rally cross, a multiple lap based mode around short tracks set around various non rally locations such as London’s Battersea Power Station do nothing other than showcase the engine’s lighting effects.

If you can stick it out and play through or avoid all these extra game modes, then you can enjoy some beautiful scenery and some great rallying around the jungles of Malaysia and the green forests of Croatia. Ignoring the fireworks at the end of each race there is a hidden joy behind all the X games style overlay and rock music. Ignoring Ken Block and his friends chatter, jump in the MKII Escort and power through the long China countryside and this becomes a great rally game. It could have been so much greater without all these extra’s if they had just focused on the rallying, instead of these extras which only cater towards selling the game to kids who want a quick fix of so called off road rallying.

7.5/10 No longer a Rally game, but worth playing for a few classic rally moments.

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Mass Effect 2 Review – and Miranda Sex Scene

Finished ME2, 32.1 hours later and I

I’ve never really been a fan of role playing games (RPG’s). My first experience was an old Final Fantasy back in the 1990’s and I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t until Fallout 3 that I fell in love with the genre albeit an RPG/Shooter hybrid. Wanting more of the same, one game kept popping up in my search, Mass Effect. Winning countless Game of the Year awards on Xbox 360, but not arriving on PC until way into 2008, I waited patiently. I even waited until it was available on Steam, as putting a DVD in a drive feels so 1990’s, besides, my gaming box doesn’t even have an optical drive.

I wish I didn’t wait. Mass Effect combines science fiction, first person shooter and RPG elements, all rolled into a cinematic epic movie like experience that you control, what more could you ask for? Playing it is like watching Battlestar Galactica, Aliens, Star Trek and every other Sci-Fi made, all rolled into one where YOU control the plot and the action. So when Mass Effect 2 came up for pre-order on Steam I was eager to continue the saga. And what a saga.

Mass Effect 2 continues where you left off in the first Mass Effect, so if you’ve not played the game I would highly recommend you either watch IGN’s hilarious recap below, or play it, then watch the recap!

After importing my save game from Mass Effect (luckily I had this saved) I was thrown into an epic opening scene. Mass Effect 2 feels like a movie from the start, and when you do take control the action is much more fluid and fun than the first game. I only played Mass Effect through once, despite hearing about the multiple different stories that I did not see on my play through, I wanted to experience one story throughout so that the choices I did make in the heat of battle were meaningful and final. Saving and reloading to see every bit of the game was never an option for me, and I continued this rule throughout Mass Effect 2. This intensifies every choice in the game, leaving the relationships you make with each character at the risk of being broken at any time, giving meaning to every action as it would in real life.

From early on its clear to see the combat has been greatly improved. As a soldier class, you can just take control as though it was an ordinary FPS (apart from the slight third person view which takes a short while to get use to). I pretty much played through the first Mass Effect with just guns, and began episode 2 the same. But as I progressed I began to appreciate the biotic powers of my team mates. I also added my favorite biotic power ‘Slam‘ to my own character until I could walk around with Miranda lifting swarms of enemies out of my path in a synchronized way that made me feel like Yoda from Star Wars. Replaying this game as an Adept class with nothing but biotic powers is tempting, but I don’t want to ruin the story that I’ve already experienced, and of course the next episode Mass Effect 3.

What makes Mass Effect 2 such a good title apart from the insane combat, is the characters. Recruiting team members, creating new relationships and bumping into old friends all of which have distinct personalities, sub story lines and actual depth and meaning is the key to this titles success, and of course the females. Without sounding like a desperate male, my first chance to find Ashley (my love interest from the first game) was hot on my list of things to do. But this soon becomes of little importance, once you get to know Miranda.

Miranda, voiced and modeled by the equally hot real life Yvonne Strahovski is the star of Mass Effect 2. It felt like the majority of the game I spent with her at my side, fighting, talking, gaining her loyalty and of course flirting like mad to reach the inevitable sex scene below (spoiler alert). Apart from her obvious curves, Miranda has, well great curves. She also has a great history, it’s a typical Sci-Fi story which you will no doubt find out if you attempt to seduce her and take her on the mission in search of her sister. All the characters, not just the females have something to offer, although some I just had no interest in (like Jack) and others I couldn’t get enough of (like Samara). Spending time on the team members individual missions, uncovering their past, gaining their loyalty and perks and forming bonds in Mass Effect 2 is very rewarding.  These bonds you work so hard on then feel totally threatened in battle as you are making leadership choices and viewing events that risk the lives of all your team members. Never before in a game have I felt so much connection and worry for an NPC (mainly Miranda and the Asari chick), the risk of losing someone you’ve spent so much time and effort with really makes this game shine.

Of course my Mass Effect story is totally different to the next gamers, each choice and reaction in game can spawn a huge number of story lines. If you choose, your love interest can be any character. Take your pick from the selection of weird and wonderful aliens or humans, females or males, or just run around blowing things up and ignore the cheap chat up lines and sex scenes altogether. Either way I can guarantee some connections with at least a few characters, and some that you just will just ignore or enjoy sending to their deaths. However you choose to play Mass Effect 2, you are going to have a colossal adventure in space, and at the end you will be left gagging for the next episode. For once you will be thankful for trilogies.

9.5/10 An epic cinematic masterpiece.

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Tinker Review – Free Achievements & Gamerscore

Download this game for FREE, get FREE gamerscore

Games For Windows Live is throwing a second surprise my way this week. A free puzzle game available on the front page of the GFWL client, complete with free gamerscore! Tinker, although slightly buggy and a tad puzzling at first (ed; it is a puzzle game), this game became great fun and can easily help you lose a few hours.

The idea is to navigate Tinker the robot through increasingly more difficult puzzles by turning, moving forward and pressing switches within time and power constraints. With these limited controls you can navigate the most complex of levels, melting ice blocks with lasers, detonating bombs and teleporting, all whilst taking in the view of funky surreal landscapes and a cute robot.

Everyone loves robots, and since Braid, everyone loves puzzle games. I guess Microsoft put two and two together and decided to cash in on the indie puzzle genre, without cashing in, and offering it for free? Whatever the idea, this is a great game, with cute artwork and addictive gameplay. And of course did I mention you get free gamerscore with this? 200g is up for grabs, but I challenge anyone to get all of these achievements without punching a mass effect sized hole in their monitor. This game becomes painfully difficult once you pass the first couple of sets (20 levels per set) and most sane people will give up trying to get the ‘Perfection Achieved’ or ‘Mastermind’ achievement.

Not quite as genre defining as Braid or a World of Goo replacement, but certainly worth a go if not for the fact that its free, but for the gamerscore, that’s also free!

8/10 Free Gamerscore! Worth a download just for that.

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Trials HD Review – Xbox Live Arcade’s best title?

Motocross Maniacs on Gameboy vs Trials HD Xbox Live Arcade

Motocross Maniacs on Gameboy vs Trials HD Xbox Live Arcade

Xbox Live Arcade has created some incredibly addictive titles. Number one for me was Shadow Complex, but this has since been replaced by the dangerously addictive Trials HD. Possibly my love of bikes (pedal :Ed) or my youth addiction to Motocross Maniacs on the Gameboy, or quite possibly the fact that RedLynx has created a gaming masterpiece, either way I am addicted.

A very simple game, drive a bike from left to right in the fastest time without falling off. Sounds basic, but whats not so basic are the bike and rider physics RedLynx have hammered into this game. Apart from acceleration and the brake pedal, which are responsive to how hard you hit the analogue triggers, you also have the ability to adjust the riders position. Lean forward on your bike of choice to help climb to crazy heights, or swing back to lift the front wheel and perform jumps onto obstacles that at first, seem impossible to reach.

With no steering to get in the way and little else but wildly barmy obstacle courses, Trials HD manages to put pure fun back into gaming. Easy to pickup but rock hard to master, RedLynx have made an XBLA title that attracts casual gamers yet still caters for the hardcore. The leaderboards are the prime example, with the lap times for every gamertag, the top times bordering on the insanely inconceivable. You can also compete with gamers on your friends list, with the on-screen indicator showing their real-time position on the course as you are driving, a small touch but genius nevertheless.

Hours will be lost repeating each map and going for the gold medals, which require zero faults and tight time limits to hit, and later once you have unlocked the platinum medals, you will end up replaying every map again only to realise how impossible they are to achieve. Speaking of achievements, Trials HD gives you some absurd ones to get the 200 Gamerscore allocated to this and most XBLA titles. I spent the good part of an afternoon going for my favourite, the Unyielding Achievement, which requires the Groundhog Returns level to be completed with nothing but accelerate and brake. I am so proud of finally achieving this I thought I would post my effort so others may use it as a guide.

This game and a large friends list will be never ending, for only 1200 points that’s more value than most full Xbox titles. I found myself going through the leaderboards and picking out where my friends had faster lap times and replaying the levels until I came out on top. Falling off a bike has never been so fun! Where most games become annoying repeating the same parts over and over, I found myself laughing ever time I did fall off, picked myself back up and carried on determined to beat the obstacle, even if some times it does take over 300 attempts on one ramp.

9/10  A Must Have Title

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