Reviewed by Lewis

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Skyrim: Dawnguard Review


To celebrate the release of Dawnguard and Dragonborn Skyrim DLCs for PS3, (finally), please enjoy this special, two-part review. Dawnguard is up first, with a review of Dragonborn on the way.

After cutting a swathe through the snowy hills of regular old Skyrim I was excited when I heard about the imminent release of Dawnguard and Dragonborn. Then of course I realised that was just for Xbox 360 and PC. So, as I am cursed with a PS3, (my 360 is doing a very admirable impression of a dodo) I was forced to wait.

I purchased the two DLCs, Dawnguard and Dragonborn on the same day; watch this space for my review of Dragonborn. First up is Dawnguard; it’s set in Skyrim but there are a fair few new locations to explore. The main two are the vampire hunter HQ Fort Dawnguard and Castle Volkihar, the vampire’s lair.

Pretty quickly you get to choose between aligning with the Dawnguard, a group of vampire hunters, or the vampire lords.

Choosing the vampires gives you access to the vampire lord form. It’s all fangs, claws and destruction magic. The new form feels very reminiscent of gothic vampires like Dracula, especially with some of the powers on offer; including bats, which works much like whirlwind sprint. You become an invulnerable swarm of bats and jump to a spot several feet away. It is pretty handy in a tight spot. Combat is interesting as a vampire lord; blood magic gives you a spell in each hand. The default is an area of effect drain life spell, which is damned powerful almost a one hit kill. Then you get a powerful raise corpse spell in your other hand. Switch to melee and you get to use your claws and teeth. This is similar to being a werewolf, if not more powerful. As an added bonus you get a cool cinematic when you pull off a critical hit bite attack.

There are some negative points though. The obvious; sunlight weakens you. It doesn’t kill you but you take a hit to health, stamina and magicka. You can feed on humans to lessen this, but it also weakens your vampire powers. The less obvious; as the vampire lord form wasn’t in the original game design, the extra height of the vampire lord makes it very hard to navigate narrow spaces, for example doorways, stairs and so on. You’ll have to drop in and out of the vampire lord form (which you can do as often as you please), to get around this. Also you can only interact with the world in a very limited way. No looting. This is a bit of an annoyance. I am rather loot happy.

The Dawnguard vampire hunters are a lot like the Vigilants of Stendarr, but they have way better weapons, armour and a cool, super-secret fort. Well, it’s kinda secret in that every guard in Skyrim knows exactly where it is. The best thing about the Dawnguard, in one word, is crossbows. You can get a basic model, the steel crossbow as soon as you enlist/ visit Fort Dawnguard. Ammo’s another matter but there are tricks to get around this, as you won’t kind crossbow bolts as regular loot. They pack one hell of a punch (better that a standard bow) but are slightly slower to reload. There are loads of new quests available on both sides, needless to say choosing one side precludes the other.

As you would expect there are tonnes of new items available including shiny, new weapons and armour to find and craft. One of the most notable additions are the Dragonbone weapons. You need 100 crafting and the Dragon Armour perk. It is well worth it. These weapons have a better damage output than their Daedric equivalent and look awesome to boot.

Also it is worth a courtesy mention. Combat on horseback is pretty cool, if of limited use. So there you have it Dawnguard breathes new life into Skyrim. It’s a must own for Skyrim fans and it runs pretty smoothly on the PS3 too.

Click here for my review of Dragonborn


Skyrim: Dragonborn Review


Part two of my Skyrim DLC special two part review. I hope you enjoyed my review of Dawnguard. Up next is Dragonborn.

Dragonborn is more in keeping with previous downloadable content i.e. Shivering Isles for Oblivion. It’s all set on an island called Solstheim. A Dumner (Dark Elf) province, so the architecture, creatures and landscape are very much reminiscent of Morrowind. It’s rather pleasant, for an ash-blighted wasteland. There is a greater focus on exploration than in Dawnguard. The whole island is about the size of a regular Skyrim hold, but there are loads of caves, mines and tombs to raid (I made a pun.) There are also some Dwemer ruins to explore too. They have some particularly good loot.

The plot is centred on Miraak, the first Dragonborn, basically he has got his panties in a bunch because he thinks he owns the copyright on the name Dragonborn and doesn’t like to share. So after slaughtering a few of his cultists it’s off to Solstheim to shove a spanner into his evil schemes. To do this you have to find black books that are sources of forbidden knowledge and power. They transport you to the aptly named realm of Apocrypha. Hermaeus Mora is back in his tentacle ridden, gorge rising, glory.

But main quest lines aren’t why we play Skyrim. There are plenty of new weapon and armour sets to make and craft; including the new Nordic gear, which has similar specs to the Elven weapons and armour, but looks awesome. There are of course plenty side quests on offer as well. There is a brand new smithing element to play with: Stalhrim it’s bright blue and shiny. It makes some interesting looking gear, and it has a rather decent damage output/ resistance. It wasn’t really to my liking as my main character is all about the black knight look. Hell there are even pirates and buried treasure to be fought and found.

There are also lots of new powers (plenty of these), shouts and spells to acquire. It feels like Bethesda have gone all out on Dragonborn. After you’ve played the main quest line and explored Solstheim and Apocrypha a bit your character is going to be way more powerful, rich (this is important to me as I horde gold like crazy) and better equipped than he/she is already.

Without giving too much away; get ready for a birds eye view of Solstheim and Skyrim as the new shout, Bend Will gives you some interesting transportation options. If, like my character, being a werewolf is an integral part of his/ her persona then seek out the hidden clan of werewolves who have some interesting trinkets to boost your beast form.

If it came down to a choice between getting Dragonborn or Dawnguard I would probably go with Dawnguard, mostly due to the awesomeness of the crossbows and Dragonbone weapons. However Dragonborn has way more playability and ‘hang time’, as it has a whole new island to explore. According to the Elder Scrolls wiki there are over 90 new locations to explore. It does what a good DLC should do. It enhances and lengthens the player’s experience while bringing something new and different to the ‘table’.

Hitman: Absolution Review

hitman-absolution-2012_00437696Agent 47 makes his come back after a few years of down time. Absolution picks up after the events of Blood Money, at the end of which everything went to hell. The plot is more linear than Blood Money. It involves a young girl who needs 47’s help and game’s tagline is: ‘how many lives will you take to save one?’ This gives you an indication on what going to be happening.

The game is split in two. After the fantastic opening ‘trailer’ (very reminiscent of a bond film) you can choose it’s personal (main story) or it’s business (online). The story is pretty standard fare, however the gamplay has evolved somewhat. Whereas before 47 was somewhat clunky and slow moving he has now upped his game; allowing for fast hand-to-hand take downs and slow-mo shooting that uses a tag and execute function, similar to Splinter Cell: Conviction.

These new features are great, however the new grading system punishes you heavily for being spotted or pretty much any overt or overly hostile act. This includes shooting people and killing civilians. The points unlock perks/ abilities and if your system is online you can see how you rank against both the world and Great Britain. The challenges system also encourages you to find innovative/ wacky ways of offing your target. These work similar to trophies/ achievements and boost your score.

All of this means that you will likely spend a great deal of your time with your gun firmly in it’s holster. Still, if you do want a good, old fashioned shoot-out there is nothing to stop you; just be prepared to take a massive hit in points. There is something satisfying about executing a flawless hit on your target and getting the silent assassin rank. However these moments are often sparse. I found that I was more frequently frustrated than flushed with victory. Occasionally I just shot the git in the face and ran away. Not subtle, but never the less just as effective as donning a disguise and poisoning their cocaine.

Hitman: Absolution is a little hit and miss; the multiplayer features a new and interesting approach. Instead of all out team death-matches. You pit yourself against other players in custom contracts. It’s just you versus computer enemies but a player has constructed and completed this contract at least once. Can you do it better than it’s creator?

The graphics aren’t as sharp as they could be but Hitman: Absolution is an enjoyable enough game, even if it can be a bit clunky and frustrating at times. The word that springs to mind is ‘meh’, but if you are a fan of the series don’t let that stop you.

Dishonored Review

Don't look up yet!

Don’t look up yet!

I originally had my misgivings about Dishonored, ‘Dishonoured’ if you are English and picky about spelling. At a glance it seemed somewhat derivative. There are lots of action-RPG games that empathize player choice. I am a big fan of Bethesda not just Elder Scrolls and Fallout but some of their other projects too, such as Hunted: Demon Forge, which I recommend.

However the initial premise didn’t grab my attention, betrayed bodyguard to murdered Empress turned assassin, choices have consequences blah blah. But as soon as I started, I was hooked. I chose the bloody, high chaos route because I find it’s more fun that way, and that’s just the kind of guy I am. I still used a lot of stealth and I had a merry old time opening arteries with Corvo’s nifty folding sword.

Dishonored is set in the city of Dunwall in an era very reminiscent of steampunk/ Victorian culture. The city, which is at the mercy of a terrible plague, is a great place to explore. There are lots of shadows to skulk in and plenty of high rooftops and ledges to stalk your prey from. The 1st person gameplay features a mix of swordplay, ranged weapons (guns and a crossbow) and otherworldly magic. If you go the pacifist, undetected route then you won’t find the gun or the sword all that useful. Corvo’s crossbow, appropriately loaded with knockout darts of course, will be your go to weapon. You can also use your blink ability to teleport stealthily all over the environment.

But as I said I went for the high chaos route of cutting down any guard that got in my way and a large dose of bullets to the head for those that saw me coming. This route represented one of the extremes available, and I am happy to report that there were indeed consequences to my ultra-violent approach. More corpses meant more plague rats, more rats meant higher infection transmission, and more plague is generally viewed as worse than less plague. Your allies will respond to your choices as well.

The combat and assassination gameplay is excellent. The ability to drop assassinate was my favourite. Drop from a ledge or rooftop and take out the poor sap directly below you; it even works on the tough, armored enemies later in the game. The parry, counter-attack combat is great fun; the 1st person perspective makes it very visceral. You can’t always see an attack coming, very different from say Assassin’s Creed and it’s 3rd perspective. You need to react fast to get your guard up. Having your gun to hand is useful when you need to break through some guard’s block. Immensely entertaining to shoot a guy in the face while he’s attempting to block your sword strike. Maybe I’m just mean.

Dishonored is a fantastic game, the plot is engrossing and while a little predictable has great scope for you to make it your own. The gameplay/ combat is very different to your average 1st person action-RPG. The smaller pool of weapons and tactics available make it more fast-paced than the combat offered up by Skyrim and Fallout. A must buy.

Assassin’s Creed III Review

Assassin’s Creed III lets you take up the fight for the liberation of the Colonies during the American War of Independence. The Animus plants you firmly into the life of Connor, the half-English, half-Native American assassin. Much like Ezio, the story follows Connor for a large chunk of his life.

Much of the main story focuses on the war between the loyalists (English), and the colonials (American settlers). Connor is for independence! More importantly he continues the age-old fight between the Assassins and the Templar Order. Without giving too much away, the lines between the two sides are more blurred than ever before.

Assassin’s Creed III lets you explore the frontier lands, including New York and Boston as the American’s fight for their freedom. There is a lot to see, do and collect.

While the game is massively ambitious, and a lot of fun to play it does have problems: there are some issues with its physics engine, muskets hover in the air, people get stuck in the floor/ground and often vanish from sight.

While these glitches by no means ruin the game, they do detract from the sense of world-immersion.

Much of the fun to be had in Assassin’s Creed III comes from the side missions and activities that you can carry out away from the main plot. You can and probably will spend hours on these side missions.

The main story line is also great fun; there are some brilliant moments to be found in the main missions, including many great historic events in America’s history. I would imagine anyone with an interest in the War of Independence would get a special kick out of it.

Combat and free-running have both been simplified for ACIII, combat has now become a parry-counter affair, and free-running is much more automatic than before. It makes for a streamlined experience but does take away some of the flair that was present in Ezio’s outings.

Flintlock pistols and a bow and arrow have been included into the arsenal. This marks something of a departure, as they are much less subtle than the old weapons. (I include the hidden gun attachment and the crossbow in that statement). It makes sense as Connor is fighting a war; it’s not a very subtle business.

One of the best features added to Assassin’s Creed III is the naval warfare missions. Ubisoft made a bold, ballsey move adding this element. Connor takes the helm as Captain of the privateer vessel ‘Aquila’, rather aptly named (two-headed eagle).

There is something massively entertaining about sliding up on the broadside of a British frigate and firing a volley that sends them down into the depths. The naval missions including some of my favourite highlights of the entire game: including crippling a ship then boarding it. Connor’s captain outfit is pretty badass too.

The cat and mouse style multiplayer puts in an appearance again. It is very similar to what we got in the previous Assassin’s Creed games. It is quite fun, stalking your target while avoiding your own pursuer. It takes the stealth aspects and applies them to the online world. It is rather slow at times but it is a challenging, unique multiplayer experience.

When the original Assassin’s Creed was released, I remember reading a review that summed up the game as “flawed genius”. Well I would say that as the series has progressed, it has improved drastically. Assassin’s Creed III is genius, and game-changing on an epic scale, but it is still flawed.

That said, not since the days (and weeks) spent on Skyrim have I found a game so addictive and enjoyable.

Many of the missions, both side and main, feature bonus objectives, things like using a certain weapon to assassinate a foe, or completing an objective within a set time limit. You need to complete all the bonus objectives to achieve full synchronization.

I found these to be rather hit and miss. Occasionally they introduced a challenging, cinematic element to a mission. Making the action more dramatic or satisfying. But the majority of the time it created a frustrating restriction on game-play, forcing you into a course of action that you would not normally use. An example of this is being prompted to ram an enemy boat during the naval missions, when you have a perfectly good set of cannons.

Connor manages to step from under the shadow of Ezio, and carve out an enthralling and action-packed story. The game-play is very similar to previous incarnations. However the timely inclusion of naval warfare and hunting elements have prevented the series from growing stale. Assassin’s Creed III is an absolute must. It is bold, blood soaked and completely addictive.

Ghost Recon Future Soldier Review

Future Soldier is the latest outing for the Ghosts. The 3rd person shooter series from Tom Clancy and Ubisoft has previously stood out in the sea of shooters with its high-tech gadgets and weaponry.

Ironically Future Soldier has less high-tech gear for you to play with, and feels less distinctive than its previous incarnations.

If you play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and lets face it pretty much everyone does, the weapons and equipment on offer will seem rather familiar.

Future Soldier has also drawn on elements from Splinter Cell: Conviction, another Ubisoft/Tom Clancy release, including stealth attacks, weapon systems, gadgets and marking hostiles for execution. The stealth element, which has always been rather passive in previous Ghost Recon games, has taken on a higher priority.

That said Future Soldier is the first time in the Ghost Recon series, when you actually feel like a ghost. This is due to a new piece of tech: optical camo, it is similar to the stealth camo in Metal Gear Solid.

However it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy, rather a decent piece of tech that feels new and absolutely indispensable. It kicks in automatically when you are crouched. It is cancelled when you attack or move from a crouch or prone position.

The drawback is that you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time crouched, slowing the game down in the process.

The old Splinter Cell standard of penalizing the gamer for raising alerts has reared its head again; it makes for somewhat restrictive game-play. The high-tech, x-ray vision, very similar to Batman’s detective vision, looks amazing.

However it is something of a double-edged blade. During recon, it is very handy for spotting hostiles, however during a pitched firefight it can be confusing. You may find yourself shooting at enemies that are safely behind multiple layers of cover.

Another feature that appears to have been borrowed from Splinter Cell, is the tagging and executing/ sync shot feature. It is an interesting addition, however sadly one that has been done by others before, and better.

It’s all very well tagging and stealth killing four hostiles at once, but sometimes you just want a stand up fight. After all it is a 3rd person war game. That said, in the later levels you’ll find yourself in more intense firefights.

The Sync shot function comes into its own when combined with the co-op game-play, which allows you and three friends (or strangers) to team up and save the world from extremists again.

Being a fan of the Ghost Recon series I had high hopes for the latest installment. However it feels something of a let down, while the stealth/recon game-play element is fun, it pales when compared to some of the stealth greats. The insane level of weapons customization is enjoyable, and gives you a great level of control over your load outs.

There are better 3rd person shooters out there but the co-op campaign, guerrilla mode and multiplayer makes Ghost Recon Future Soldier a solid choice if you’ve got some spare cash kicking around.

Resident Evil 6 Review

The first thing I noticed about Resident Evil 6 was that the spider web design of the new logo was creepy and could mean nothing good. The second was how girly Leon looked.

Still the potential for creepy zombie-spiders and overly androgynous protagonists aside I was reasonably impressed with RE6.

RE6 put me in mind of Resident Evil 2, Leon is back in the game and the zombies are much more like the traditional walking corpses that we all love to shoot in the head.

Plenty of Leon’s his old friends make an appearance. His campaign takes place in lots of poorly lit urban settings, laboratories, sewers and underground tunnels, just like old times. I’m just thankful that Leon didn’t stumble across a croc in the sewers, this time around.

RE6 has continued the trend of downplaying the survival horror elements in favour of increased gun-play and more traditional 3rd person shooter elements.

I didn’t find Resident Evil 6 (or RE5 for that matter) all that scary. Perhaps I’m not as jumpy as my 12-year-old self was, back when I played RE2.

RE6 features lots of quick time events, I mean a lot! I have never really found QTEs all that exciting; they essentially take the action out of your hands, but don’t allow for the film fun of a cinematic. They should be used sparingly, but RE6 lays them on a bit thick.

The game-play is much the same as RE5 including the partner/ co-op functionality. Capcom have included a few nifty extras, for example the cover mechanism has been upgraded to allow jump out shots (although because of the camera, you may find yourself staring at the back of Leon’s head when you line up a shot). The HUD is in the guise of the characters smartphone/PDA, which is a nice touch.

One of the more fun features added for Leon is the ability to duel-wield his pistols. This can be quite useful in a tight spot. However you rarely have enough ammo to justify going Matrix on the zombies. Also the recoil makes it hard to aim.

The graphics are amazing, hair moves pretty much as hair should, head shots that don’t kill, still blow off a chunk of zombie skull. Leon’s leather jacket has been loving rendered, so has rather a lot of the female characters cleavage, not surprising given the target audience of most survival horror games.

However my biggest issue with RE6 is the skill points system. Essentially you collect points from dead enemies and certain locations and spend these on increasing your characters stats. This has replaced the weapon upgrade option from RE5.

The annoying thing is that these points are in every crate and container you smash. Meaning you won’t be finding much in the way of ammo and recovery items in these places. Including during boss battles, when an extra 500 points is useless but a herb or ammo drop would be a life saver, quite literally.

That said there are some genuine standout moments, shooting a liquid nitrogen canister out of a zombie’s hand then calmly putting a bullet to them and watching the pieces fly is one of my favourite moments.

The melee and close combat has been amped up allowing powerful, and satisfying, attacks that will floor or finish zombies. Just like RE5 you can combine attacks with your partner for massive damage. If you are like me you will find yourself relying on your knife a lot. This lets you conserve ammo and decapitate hostiles, bonus.

Resident Evil has evolved from the days of old; the survival horror elements that made the series a success just aren’t there any more, but the plot and zombie-wasting action does help increase the joy of playing RE6.

The 6th offering of the series has done a tribute to the history of the series and the zombie genre in general, although jumping zombies are rapidly becoming my least favourite type of reanimated corpse.

RE6 isn’t perfect, but the story is engaging, and killing zombies never gets old. The boss battles are cool, if a little clichéd. Resident Evil 6 is enjoyable but not the powerhouse that I was hoping for.

Dead Space 2 Review

This is a review that I wrote a while back for 

Dead Space 2 is one of my all-time favourite games and this is one of my best reviews (even if I do say so myself).

Just when it felt safe to switch on your console again, Isaac is back, and he’s carving his way through another Necromorph outbreak. Dead Space 2 picks up three years after it’s predecessor, and finds our plucky, and very disturbed hero neck deep in reanimated, murderous corpses. The popular gameplay of strategic dismemberment has been retained from the first game, so it will feel very familiar, however there have been some inspired new additions to the ranks of the undead, watch out for the stalkers (the clue is in the name).

Isaac’s no errand boy in this one, there is an actual sense of the engineer hiding behind the plasma cutter. While the game play is no great improvement on the original, it’s hard to argue with the powerhouse that was Dead Space. There are many genuine, standout moments, including the emergency ejection sequence when Isaac needs to get back to the fight in a hurry.

Visceral Games have obviously paid attention to the criticism of their audience, as within in the first 30-minutes you see Isaac’s face and hear his dulcet tones, and then see him flee in terror.

The survivalist element is downplayed somewhat, in favor of giving Isaac more firepower and an improved right hook that floors a rampaging necromorph. There is also a very strong psychological element, voices whisper Isaac’s name from the shadows and the talon-tipped corpses remain just out of sight as they stalk you in darkness. While this was present in the original it has been amped up to a whole new level.

New weapons and equipment have been added to the inventory, these allow for different strategies, and give Isaac the firepower he needs to survive. Some old favorites have been retained, including the ever-reliable plasma cutter and the industrial saw ripper.

One of the better additions of the game is the inclusion of an online multiplayer. While it suffers from some connectivity issues, and the game types are limited, the team-based showdowns are very enjoyable, and make a welcome addition to an already tremendous game.

Dead Space 2 does what every good sequel should do, the action is tense, the story is immersive, and draws from the original. Visceral and EA have outdone themselves. Be prepared to very creeped out.

Issac Vs a Necromorph

Max Payne 3 Review

Max Payne, the quintessential self-loathing anti-hero is back and more badass than ever. As Max Payne 3 begins you see Max standing over a bleeding man aiming a rather large gun at some poor shmuck’s head. Cut to a decadent party in Brazil, where our plucky hero still has a full head of hair and has no idea why he is at this shindig when he doesn’t even speak their language.

Not to worry soon plenty of armed thugs burst in and give you plenty to shoot at. The third installment, and the first to grace next generation consoles marks a departure from the previous two which followed a film-noir style and were set exclusively in snowy New Jersey.

The gun-play elements, while very similar to the previous games have been given a good polish, including the use of duel-wielding which allows you to use any two, one handed weapons in concert, which makes for a great deal of variety in gameplay.

Plenty of elements have been retained including the trademarked bullet-time and bullet dodge abilities. These allow you to get the drop on the hordes of enemies and their many, many guns. One of the new elements to be introduced is the last stand ability, allowing Max to survive a potentially fatal gunshot wound if he can shoot and kill the attacker in time.

The Max Payne series has always been marked as incredibly cinematic, and ultra-violent, with lots of vice, conspiracy and murder thrown into the batch, this one is no different, in fact it takes it up a notch. This is the first Max Payne to include the now almost obligatory online multiplayer. Not to say this is not a welcome addition as it gives the game longer playability even if it is a somewhat by-the-numbers class based affair.

Max Payne 3 is an entertaining, stylish, and brutal 3rd person shooter that packs plenty of punch in its gameplay and plot. It is well worth your time assuming you can handle Max’s incredibly damaged personality.

Batman: Arkham City Review

One of the most highly anticipated games of the year (2011) and without a doubt the best comic book video game to date. After the events of Arkham Asylum, Gotham’s resident lunatics led by the Joker are causing havoc in Arkham City, a closed off section of Gotham.

The story begins with Bruce Wayne walking into Arkham City in chains, why he’s there and just why the people of Gotham have decided to house a lunatic asylum in the middle of their city is a mystery at this point.

The game gets right into the action with plenty of old enemies making an appearance. Without giving too much away, if there were any enemies that you missed battling in the first game, then you’ll be in for a treat with this one.

For an open-world game the map is a tad small, but the shear brilliance of the plot and the game play more than make up for this.

The story borrows inspiration from some of the best Batman story arcs, including Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, Hush and The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul. The plot also strikes out in it own, and it keeps you guessing right through to the end.

There is plenty of freedom and loads of side-quests to sink your teeth into. So done the cape and cowl, equip your batarangs and face the deadliest villains Gotham has to offer. This is the Batman game we’ve all been waiting for.

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