Firstly, Sorry for the lack of recent posts. I’ve moved house and am having a nightmare getting the broadband installed.

Exhumed for the Playstation 1

Friday morning…I was scouting through Ebay, looking for a bit of retro action, a quest I undertake a few times though out the year. After sifting through an endless collection of Spyro, FIFA and Crash Bandicoot titles I stumbled across a little gem. It was my very first FPS experience which had been buried deep in my memory… Ebay did not know what it had Exhumed!

Set in the ancient Egyptian stronghold of Karnak in the late 20th century. The city has been seized by unknown forces, with a special team of kick ass soldiers sent in to investigate. After your helicopter is inconsiderately shot down and your platoon disbanded, you remain a lone wolf in desolate hunting ground…your adventure begins now.

Exhumed has some great game-play for it’s time with many features which also made it unique and fun. You have to collect special items which in-turn the Egyptian Gods reward you for with powers. Such as anklets which allow you to walk over lava. This adds a whole new level of fun to the game. Rather than just running and gunning everything, Exhumed allows you to explore by letting you revisit previous areas after gaining new abilities to find new paths, items and secrets.

I will admit that going back and playing an early PS1 game is usually a testing experience (…graphics that looking like a PC spewed pixels all over the television…you know what I mean)…Exhumed, however is different I mean. The game play keeps you hooked…there’s still life in this little gem.


Christmas 1995…Santa finally came through for me…with the newly released Sony Playstation. A few days later, I was strolling the streets looking for my first ‘next-gen’ adventure. While browsing the very limited collection of games, one cover stuck out from the rest…A little wizard partnered with Death (riding a luggage chest) being chased by a giant turtle … I’ve always had a strange sense of humour and when I spotted the familiar name of Monty Python’s Eric Idle on the cover I happily parted company with my cash.

Discworld did not disappoint in any way. It looked fantastic! One thing I still love today is the hand drawn, unique styled backgrounds. Not only did they bring the magical world to life, but with a re-render I think they’d still look great against anything today.

The game’s charm didn’t stop with the design, which Pratchett had personally overseen. The voice talent was also incredible. Eric Idle, Jon Pertwee and Black Adder’s Tony Robinson were brilliant. It was a real shock for well known actors to step into the gaming world. I guess this was an early stage when games started using acting talent to enhance their characters. Whilst writing this short piece I also stumbled upon another name on the credits. Gavin and Stacey’s Rob Brydon, this must have been after his own adventure into shopping Television.

The story revolves around a dragon which terrorizes Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the Discworld. The wizards of Unseen University are charged with the task of banishing the dragon. You play as Rincewind, the University’s worst wizard and thus you are also its most expendable…It is your quest to deal with the beast. The plot thickens as you discover that it has been summoned by an evil brotherhood…Rincewind has his work cut out.

Just like Rincewind, the gamer is equally challenged. Discworld is a hard, unforgiving game that adds its bizarre humour into puzzles…with an obscure logic. For example; at one point you need to acquire the magic staff of a high ranking wizard at the Unseen University, unfortunately he’s clutching it while in a restful slumber. So how do we get it? You soak a snake in starch to make it stiff OF COURSE…WHAT ELSE?! Then use your Indiana Jones style skills to swap it without him knowing.

The bulk of the events throughout the game escape me…it was 1995 when I last played it…but I do remember loving every minute. Besides, that’s the best time to take the game for another spin, when everything seems almost new and you can’t remember how to solve every puzzle. So I’m off to keep my appointment with death…he’s a keen poker player!

I think Death is bluffing...but how do I tell?

Sleep deprivation, square eyes and occasional petrification…Final Fantasy XIII is here….

Imagine this…You’re lying in a warm comfortable slumber, experiencing the tranquillity only achieved in the knowledge that you have a day off from work…when suddenly you’re rudely brought back to the real world by the sound of your girlfriends hairdryer. You rub your eyes and reach for the alarm clock…its 7am. On any normal day I’d let out a groan, turn over and spend some quality time with my pillow…but this was a Final Fantasy day…a day that comes round roughly once every four years.

Like a deep sea diver bailing from his boat, I pulled back the duvet and made my way to the kitchen. I knew the postman would deliver my Special Edition copy of FFXIII at 11am so I attempted to kill some time. I ate breakfast, had a shower and switched on sky sports news…7.45am…This wasn’t going to work. At 8am I was in the car, I turned the ignition and made my way to buy ANOTHER copy of FFXIII…my excitement grew.

Game in hand, I rushed back home, watched the disc slide into my console and felt a shiver down my spine. Despite some negative press I for one could not wait to hop on my trusty Chocobo and ride into the world of Cocoon.

As the intro music faded and the game started I immediately knew that Square Enix had achieved something remarkable…every crafted scene was visually brilliant. The animation was outstanding, even lip movements are perfectly synced with character speech and pronunciation. Environments are spectacular too. The new world of Cocoon was breathtaking….I only wish they had given me the opportunity to explore more of it. The lack of freedom for an RPG let alone a Final Fantasy is a big issue for me. The route was restrictive and it felt like walking on a leash. In reflection, maybe this was done to mimic the struggle of the characters, but at times it felt like a movie…and NOT an RPG.

Then came the second act! With huge mountains, mystical forests, dark caverns and scores of monsters THE GAME CAME ALIVE. I was blown away from the opening cinematic scenes of chapter 11 to the final battle. This is also where it starts to feel like an RPG. You’re finally let loose on the game…it was like leaving the glumness of Midgar for the open plains or stepping out of Balamb Garden for the first time…It’s just such a shame this happens so close to the end. However, just when you think the game is over you get a nice surprise. FFXIII repays you for your patience by allowing you to continue playing AFTER the credits have rolled…this is a first.

The lack of freedom has an effect on the control the player has on their party too. At the beginning you cannot level up, after that you can max out you characters only to the point of the next major boss fight where your Crystarium (similar to FFX sphere grid) is expanded another level meaning you can never really get a battle advantage. The game also dictates who you control in battles for the first 20 hours of the game. It constantly switches between characters not allowing you to change your party leader. However, this helps to develop the story from various perspectives.

I found the lack of ability to develop players frustrating. Each party member has access to what are called “roles”. The idea is that instead of having characters that only fulfill one role on the battlefield, such as a healer or damage dealer, each character is flexible. In a fight you can trigger a “Paradigm Switch”, which allows you to change the role of each party member. You may begin a fight with Relentless Assault, which includes one Commando (melee), and two Ravagers (damage-based spell casting), but when your party’s health decreases to near zero, you’ll want to Paradigm Shift. This will allow you to introduce a healer into the party to fix you up.

Imagine the typical JRPG boiled down to its most pure and basic form and you can imagine how FFXIII works. Your enjoyment will ultimately come down to whether or not the story grabs you. For the first 20 – 30 hours there is literally nothing to do but follow the main story and if you’re not hooked then it could be hard going. I can see why some people feel the changes made are hard to swallow. However, after completing the story in around 60hrs I now have 95hrs on the clock and I’m still trying to hunt all the marks, level up my characters and unlock all the trophies. Maybe it’s because I’m a self confessed Gold Chocobo-breeding, Ozma-killing, Lionheart-wielding Final Fantasy completest…nevertheless if all the format changes were so terrible I would have stopped playing.

Maybe it’s not the Final Fantasy many wanted…Maybe it’s the Final Fantasy some feared…but put simply…it’s a final fantasy that I enjoyed and then continued playing…GAME ON!

Who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman, Schwarzenegger or Stallone…Plants or Zombies?!?! This is a question that I have rarely pondered, but ‘Pop Cap’ did and thus released a version of their award winning PC game to the iPod Touch and iPhone.

I admit; I’ve never played the PC version. However, after hearing rumblings of praise from like-minded friends I splashed out £1.79…yes that’s nearly two whole pounds…on this little gem.

The premise is simple, you have a brain and the zombies want it. All they have to do is cross your lawn to get it. So with the help of your foliage friends and seeds in hand you battle to save your grey matter.

The touch screen, controls are effectively simple and become second nature very quickly. Once you have amassed enough sun power (it falls from the sky and is produced by sun flowers), you touch which seed you want to plant from the panel on the left then touch where you want to plant it…just watch as the zombies fall to pieces under the might of your flower power!

Just as you get the hang of things and get cocky the game throws a curve ball. Suddenly you’re fighting at night (no sun power) or the zombies attack your back garden where you have a swimming pool. Add to this a hilarious variety of zombie abilities, like Michael Jackson calling up dancing recruits or the zombie bobsled team, it is important to adapt your strategy regularly.

You’re never going to get bored of the plants at your disposal either. You unlock a different seed type at the end of each level or purchase new ones from crazy Dave…with over 40 in total, each adding a new string to your strategy bow.

Plants vs Zombies takes the tried and tested tower defence genre and adds that little something that lets it climb the beanstalk to go above all the rest. So grab your spade…Game on!

The sequel to the BAFTA award winning Bioshock hit our not so sunny shores last week and I was cautious about booking my ticket to revisit the only city under the sea. I was concerned by how quiet it seemed to be, with only a week to go before release…no reviews, no hype…nothing! It seemed very strange to say it was the sequel to a videogame lauded as one of the best this generation. Nevertheless I sunk to the depths of the ocean world with an air of trepidation.

The story picks up 10 years after the original Bioshock, playing as a Big Daddy searching for a specific Little Sister. For those that don’t know Little Sisters go around collecting ADAM which you use to upgrade and buy plasmids (magic powers). This precious red liquid is highly sought after by all inhabitants of Rapture which adds a new moral dynamic when collecting ADAM. As you adopt the role of a Big Daddy you get the option to harvest (kill) the Little Sister or to adopt her to be the over protective parent as she collects ADAM from corpses, you earn more, quicker if you harvest them but this moral choice will affect the outcome of the game. 

"One of us is in deeeep trouble!"

The problem I found playing as a Big Daddy is that the other Big Daddies seem to have lost their aura. I remember how I felt in my first trip to Rapture. As I entered a room and heard the familiar sound “come on mr bubbles” from a Little Sister I would prepare for an ass kicking in my pursuit to earn some precious ADAM…they now just felt like another enemy. In an attempt to counter this, the makers have introduced ‘Big Sisters’ which are a faster more deadly form of enemy which turn up randomly after you harvest or save a Little Sister. They are undoubtedly a formidable opponent but they turn up too irregularly to have a great impact on the player. 

"I'm tougher than I look..."

Like most sequels this generation, Bioshock 2 has been given a multiplayer option which does have its perks and a distinct Bioshock feel but it follows a tried and tested system of levelling up and unlocking weapons and abilities as you progress. If you’re looking for a Bioshock style multiplayer they have done a great job but I didn’t feel the urge to spend much of my time on it. I find myself in a strange position because I enjoyed playing Bioshock 2 but came away feeling under whelmed. If I wanted to take a third journey through rapture I would skip playing this again and replay the first.

A fun game, but given the choice I’ll always remember my first journey to Rapture…Game Over

This is an appeal to my brothers in arms…if you’re sat on the fence, grasping Modern Warfare with postmortem hands and a fear to try something new…JUMP DOWN, grab your ammo, fear no explosions, enlist and ship out!

I was once one such person, curious about what MAG said it would bring to the table with its 256 soldiers battling it out for supremacy in the shadow war. I had a vision of chaos reigning supreme, nobody listening to orders, DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER…but in reality, Zipper Interactive have made an addictive shooter with depth and strategy creating that “just one more round” feeling.

For those who enlist there are three factions to choose from but once you join a faction you cannot pick another…until you reach lvl60 at least. I originally thought this was a bad idea but this persistence builds faction loyalty as you fight alongside familiar teammates trying to make your faction superior. You become a band of brothers in the virtual sense.

When playing on the larger maps it can feel a bit overwhelming at times with planes flying over, AA guns firing and people dying all around you. This creates the atmosphere…add to this the knowledge that everything around you is being caused by someone and not a set scenario the fight morphs into an organic manmade battleground.

As you progress you become eligible to apply for squad leader, this is your introduction to the command structure of MAG which takes it above and beyond the call of duty. A squad leader is in charge of a squad of eight players and can designate a target such as a bunker or AA gun for his squad to assault. Staying near the squad leader boosts abilities like increased reload speed or resistance to damage. More importantly, squad members will earn double experience for following orders and taking out or repairing targets along with any enemies within the vicinity, which is a powerful incentive to follow orders. With further progression up the ranks you can apply for further promotions and with these come more powerful abilities to swing the battle in your favour like air strikes or calling in respawning squad members as paratroopers (providing all AAguns have been taken out) add to this the idea of being in charge of a team of 127 other players is mouth watering.

So for those of you who are unsure about MAG, bored of modern warfare and crave a deeper challenge then my advice is simple….give it a try. You may love it, you may disagree with everything I’ve said but at least you will make your own opinion and that is the least MAG deserves….GAME ON!

Where were we?…ah yes….the PS1 Era and Solid Snake.

In February 1999 – I donned my headband, started smoking and sank into the shadows in Metal Gear Solid. I spent my late nights (and early mornings…very early mornings) in a  tension sweat, patiently waiting for guards to move out of range, allowing me to make my silent move for the air vent and leave the room like I was never there. I soon became engrossed, learning all the tricks including swapping the controller from port one to port two to stop Psycho Mantis using mind control. Stealth had never felt so exciting and this would later be surpassed by Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty on the ps2. The ability to hide in lockers, shoot in single person  mode and hold up guards, making them drop items were a few additions that managed to bring extra depth to an already fantastic brand…I just wish I could have played as Snake.

Where Metal Gear Solid was a lonely experience, it was another game of the PS1 era that would make my gaming journey a far more sociable affair. Command and Conquer ignited my interest in multiplayer games…of course it was not the first, but this one was something special. I would devote days off of my precious school holidays to stay over at Trev’s house, taking my own TV so we could enlist in the war between GDI and NOD on link up (the things we had to do before the Internet really took off). My multiplayer experience would grow as console games became more of a social event. Over the years my friends and I competed to be the top agent in Goldeneye (on the N64), weaved through traffic ridden streets at break-neck speeds in Burnout, punched off zombie heads as Roboduck in Timesplitters and destroyed each other…and the scenery in Red Faction on the PS2. After playing games which were pretty much solo events it was good to be able to let off steam with friends.

By my mid-teens my gaming passion was truly alive. I took to reading magazines, buying walkthrough guides and after many hours of browsing, forming an unlikely friendship with the owner of my local games store. I discovered a way to play import games by plugging an Xploder cartridge into the back of the Playstation. This meant fashioning a blue tack inspired device to place upon the button beneath the lid which would stop the disc from spinning and allow me to swap the PAL disc with the import…Voilà. The main reason I went through this struggle was to get my hands on Chrono Cross….and the juice was definitely worth the squeeze. I loved every minute of it. The Final Fantasy franchise had opened my eyes to the world of RPG’s which led to a quest to find games of a similar style. Chrono Cross ticked that box and I felt like I was playing FF7 for the first time all over again, the simply designed character models, the gripping story and the great music…and then…Tragedy! After roughly 30hrs of game play I reached the end of disc one and it didn’t give me the option to save and with switching off the console the only way of loading the second disc I was screwed.

More like Chrono curse

In an attempt to re-kindle my affection towards Sega I treated myself to a Dreamcast in 1999 but even with the blue hedgehog in their corner, Sega had lost the fight…Sony had won my affection in with a first round knockout. In the coming years the Nintendo would suffer a similar fate with the Gamecube. Though it did have games like the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker which deserves special kudos. However, all Nintendo could do was sit along side my PS2 like a jealous sibling idolizing its stronger big brother.

I dabbled in the PC gaming world on several occasions, but it seemed like I never had a powerful nor reliable enough PC. I do remember getting seriously addicted to Dungeon Keeper…being bad never felt so good…who’d have thought it…me…running my own dungeon, slapping my imps about, keeping my minions happy while trying to conquer the realm…I even managed to get my physics teacher hooked on it.

The PC also gave me the chance to have another crack at Chrono Cross on an emulator… I took great pleasure in finally reaching the end of disc one and with a satisfied smile I observed the “Please insert disc two” screen that had haunted me for years. I swapped the disc and the journey continued with a great amount of relief…and then the Chrono curse struck again…my PC died and as a result I lost my saved game. Maybe one day I will try again as it remains one of the best games I’ve played…just never finished.

Ironically, after many failed experiments in my quest for a new gaming experience, it was the Playstation 2 that took me to the next level and the fantastic variety of games that would come along in its era. One such game was Ico. Never before had I wanted to jump into the screen (except maybe take on Sephiroph in the Forgotten City). The scenery was a work of art that made the real world look dull in comparison to its beautiful finish. On paper, the story of a small boy trying to escape a castle whilst protecting a mysterious girl from demons sounds so simple. However, the enchanting world of the endearing duo brought the game to life and made it linger in the memory.

Ico: A treat for the eyes and ears

In contrast when the first God of War was released in 2005 I discovered a whole new set of feelings with its mixture of sheer violence, mythological plot and orchestral soundtrack it was truly beyond epic. From the fight with the Hydra at the beginning I knew I was in for a hell of a ride with Kratos. I was in awe as he entered Pandora’s temple on the back of a giant Titan or climbed out of the underworld with the sole aim to kill Ares the god of war…Kratos knows how to enter a room, and has a talent  for clearing one.

So ends chapter 2 of my gaming experience…the journey continues soon…or should I say the next part is currently ‘Uncharted’