Geometry Wars: Galaxies review

Everyone’s favourite fake retro shooter Geometry Wars has come a long from its origins as a humble mini game in Project Gotham Racing 2. When it was released on Xbox Live Arcade is was met with a kind of excited dizziness not normally seen in this day and age. The following transformation to a retail title raised a few eyebrows, but though we here at Gamestyle were unsure, we never really believed it would be allowed to fall short in terms of quality.

For those that dont know, Geometry Wars sets you in an arena into which enemies of different shapes appear. You fly around and try and stay alive as long as you can. It may be simple but then most of the best ideas normally are. While the previous version of the game only had one arena Galaxies has many of all different shapes and sizes. To progress through the game you must play each arena or planet to earn points which are then used to unlock more levels.Helping you in your shape shooting quest is a drone. This is a small square which can be programmed to do a number of things. For instance you can get it to go and pick up score multipliers, defend your ship or aggressively go after and shoot targets. As you progress you gain experience points for your drone which raise its effectiveness.

There are a whole host of different planets to visit and, surprisingly, they all manage to add variety to the simplistic Geometry Wars gameplay. Some are merely a different shape, while others contain new enemies, different attack formations or extremes such as meteor showers and moving blocks. The developers really have done an admirable job of keeping the game interesting from start to finish. Also special congratulations must go to whoever designed the soundtrack, as is it excellent and matches the frenetic grove of the game.Control wise the game lets you use, pretty much, whatever you want. For those settling in for the long haul you may want to master the intricacies of the remote. For the rest of us the classic controllers twin stick set up will do just fine.

Of course the key to longevity in Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360 was always the live leader boards. Thankfully the Wii has its own set for each level. After each encounter players have the chance to upload their score and see where they stand against the rest of the world. Unfortunately you cannot check how you have done against your friends as you are restricted to looking at the top ten and scores around your own. This is a bit of an over sight as not many people will really care what score some random stranger has posted on level three. The real nature of competition exists only if you can see your friend is a couple of hundred points ahead of you.

Overall Geometry Wars Galaxies is a tight and fast paced shooter that is guaranteed to get the pulse flowing. The difficulty builds nicely over the different planets and there are so many good ideas that it adds variety that we really didn’t expect to see. Galaxies shows that the basic idea of the game is more than strong enough to stand as a retail title and every single Wii owner owes it to themselves to give it go. It truly is a game for all occasions, whether you play it for five minutes or a few hours at a time it will always leave you wanting more.

Guilty Gear Core review

Each generation represents a step away from the two dimensional genre, so its refreshing when a title such as Guilty Gear Core lands on Gamestyle’s desk. Beat ‘em ups nowadays are a pale imitation of what they once were and have become bloated, unresponsive, full of novelty characters and frankly dull in comparison to their forbearers. So can Guilty Gear Core continue the fight and show that such titles remain a viable option?

The simple answer without hesitation is yes, but first lets dispense with the storyline. Any seasoned gamer will know that such commodities in this genre only exist to create a platform for a punch up. Thankfully Gear Guilty does not have aspirations above its station, instead content to overhaul the mix of characters and presentation on offer including two fighters new to Western gamers. 505 Games have also seen fit to shorten the elaborate American title Guilty Gear XX Accent Core to something a little more digestible, although the cover art still boast the extra strong motif.

The novelty factor with this release is the inclusion of a control method that attempts to match a fluid fighting system to the Wii Remote. Despite the work that has gone into attempting this feat, ultimately it just doesnt work with such a fast paced experience. The Wii Remote handles punch, kick, slash and the heavy slash, while the nunchuk covers actual movement, guard and jumping actions. Even on paper it seems convoluted and despite some effort trying to come to terms with the system, it fails to deflate Gamestyle’s initial scepticism.

Guilty Gear Core as with any release in the series is all about fluid fighting movements that are linked together to form a devastating chain. The Wii Remote with the nunchuk cannot cope with the sensitivity and rapid fire of commands that are essential to winning a bout. Shaking the remote may work for titles such as Cooking Mama or specific movements, but to try and map a fighting system just doesnt work.

An admission of some sorts from the developer is that Guilty Gear Core supports a variety of control options including the Gamecube and classic controllers. Either option is a lifesaver and the only way to truly appreciate what a brilliant fighting experience Core represents. Of course Nintendo Wii owners bought the system in pursuit of motion sensitive pleasures. In our opinion after a series of short-lived and repetitive Wii titles, one that offers a challenge and experience such as this is very much a minority on the console, and deserves better.

Visually Core is as brash and colourful as any arcade beat em up can hope to be nowadays. Each character is distinctive and expertly balanced so that one does not have an unfair advantage over the rest of the roster. The action flows fluidly with a top gear frame rate that does not stutter or falter, even during the most frantic and visually stunning attacks. While the animation is impressive, arguably the characters and environments could to with a final polish to remove some rough edges. However that is the only technical criticism Gamestyle can levee against Guilty Gear Core, as the audio is suitably arcade in nature and you could easily imagine it blaring out in your local amusement hall.

The staple modes are offered in what is a comprehensive package, including a detailed training option that allows you to polish your fighting skills. The expected arcade, CPU and two player offerings are also in place. The only real deviation from the norm is the MOM mode where the knockout format allows you to pick up medals that in turn boost your multiplier. Its nothing sizeable and Gamestyle could argue that the time for a similar option to that seen in Virtua Fighter is now warranted, given the history of this series. Even the most hardened followers may suggest that not enough is included here to warrant upgrading from the previous edition. Certainly minus the Wii controller scheme, Guilty Gear Core is playing it safe and treading water.

Aficionados of the beat em up genre will know all about the Guilty Gear series, however the vast majority of Nintendo Wii owners are casual gamers and probably without a Gamecube or classic controller. Gamestyle promises for those that do make the required double purchase, a game that is the best fighting experience on the system.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]8[/author_image] [author_info]Guilty Gear Core Review Summary

The best fighting experience on the Nintendo Wii system.[/author_info] [/author]

Halo 3 review

A concept image for Halo 3 on the Xbox 360

Is there any point in trying to keep our emotions in check for this Halo 3 review? Should we start by trying to remind ourselves of the series genesis with Halo: Combat Evolved on the Xbox console and how it redefined the console shooter?

Perhaps then moving on to discuss the nature of hype and how it affected the reception of the sequel? No. We all know why you’re here: you want to know if Halo 3 is good. Well, simply put, yes, it’s good. Actually, it’s better than good, it’s fantastic and it’s the game that your Xbox 360 has been waiting for.

Undoubtedly, most players’ first port of call will be the single player campaign, which starts off pretty much where Halo 2 left off. The Master Chief makes one of the hardest, most impressive entrances in military history, performing a parachute jump from two kilometres high with no parachute. Being the Chief, he simply shrugs it off and starts shooting Covenant without even so much as a limp. The game starts off in a jungle, which shows off the amazing lighting techniques as it filters through the dense trees. Make no mistake, Halo 3 is a beautiful game; perhaps not the graphical powerhouse many thought it would be, but the art direction and lighting effects more than make up for it. It’s subtle, not overdone, and most importantly, it looks like ‘Halo’.

The distinctive aesthetic continues throughout, and everything runs smoothly at all times without a hint of slowdown and no graphical glitches that spring to mind. Gamestyle is sure some people may bemoan the game’s graphics for the first five minutes or so, but by the time four hours have gone by, all such complaints will be non-existent.

It’s hard to pick out any one element to extol over the others in Halo 3, as it all works so well together. It continues the series’ fine tradition of intelligent and tactical skirmishes over vast open battlefields, but turns everything up to 11. There’s vehicular combat, fighting alongside marines, taking down all manner of Covenant forces with a varied selection of guns, turrets and explosives. The holy trinity of guns, grenades and mele all at your fingertips entrench Halo 3 as the best combat shooter around. Marine chatter is natural and responsive (and often quite funny) and the musical score is epic and powerful, kicking into its well-known motif at appropriate intervals.

The craftsmanship here is astounding, but unfortunately the game is not perfect, as there are a couple of shortfalls. The first is the game’s storyline, which throws players in at the deep-end and requires prior knowledge in order to fully appreciate it. This isn’t a problem for fans, but anyone else who wants to enjoy the game will be wondering what is going on. Still, if you’ve been following the series, you’ll appreciate the story as well as the gameplay all the way from the intro to the game’s heart pounding (if familiar) end sequence… especially considering Halo 3 actually has an ending! The other shortfall is in Bungie’s tendency to include at least one bad level, despite all common sense. That the game’s quality in the latter third takes a bit of a downturn is unfortunate considering how brilliant the first two thirds are. Still, it remains enjoyable throughout, but peaks a little too early in its eight-hour lifespan and doesn’t reach similar levels of excellence until the very last mission.

But the single player portion is only the beginning. As anyone who plays the game knows, the multiplayer component of Halo games is just as important, and the same Bungie dedication has been applied here. Halo 2’s multiplayer was the next step-up for Xbox Live titles, and Halo 3 improves on that, partly because of the four player co-operative mode. It makes the Legendary difficulty, an otherwise excruciating trial by fire, into a fun and incredible experience that should not be missed.

Within the normal multiplayer arenas, the familiar game types return – deathmatch, CTF and so forth – and are accompanied by Bungie fan favourites such as Oddball, Territories, and Juggernaut. There are even some new game types which have come about due to the ravenous Bungie community, such as Zombie, where one player starts with a sword and over-shield, versus normal players, who must defeat the zombie. However, every time a zombie player kills a normal, the normal is switched to the zombie’s side, until either all the normal players are killed and converted, or all the zombies are dead. This game started off as a fan-made Halo 2game type for custom games, but has now made it into the official roster. It’s touches like this that show Bungie really appreciate its legions of fans… or, if you’re cynical, know how to keep the money coming. We believe the former is the truth because of the two other big features of the game – namely the amazing theatre mode and, of course, the Forge.

The former is probably our favourite feature thus far, but the Forge has the most potential. In basic terms, the Forge is a multiplayer level editor that lets you edit practically everything in a level aside from its actual geometry (and you can even do that to a certain degree with enough imagination: crates on top of gravity lifts, creating a reverse suspension bridge, perhaps?). You can choose what weapons to use, where they spawn, what vehicles to use, the power-ups on the map, and what these power-ups actually do. The Custom Power-Up tool lets you create your very own that can do pretty much anything. Want your players to have 300% weapons damage with it activated? It’s there. Or perhaps make their shields disappear entirely, or allow them to hit rockets with a hammer, if you edit it right. It’s amazing what you can do with the Forge, and you can even share what you create over Xbox Live.

There are limits, of course, since everything has a price, literally. To make sure nobody fries their 360’s memory, every item in the map has a cost in dollars. The prices range from the low for basic equipment (such as two dollars for a simple crate or fusion core) to the insanely high priced items, mainly in the vehicles section (where a Wraith tank costs forty). You can accrue more dollars by removing items from the map, but the more you put on, the less money you have; so be careful when trying to make an eight-on-eight Scorpion versus Wraith deathmatch, as you may need to scrimp on other areas, such as respawn points, to do so.

But the theatre! Oh, the theatre! Such a brilliant feature that saves a video of every single game you play of Halo 3 – or, more specifically, saves the last 25 you played, whether they be single player, co-op, or multiplayer, online or off. Then, you can view these movies and save them permanently to your hard drive, make clips or take screenshots and save them to your hard drive, or upload them to your Xbox Live ‘share’ folder for other users to download and view. It’s a great tool that allows users to forever record their greatest and/or worst moments of Halo 3. It’s a brilliant feature that brings the community together and will no doubt lead to, amongst other things, a slew of custom wallpapers for computers. But more than that, recorded footage is also a useful training tool for online matches, as you can see exactly what everybody else is doing and how they’re doing it.

Halo 3 isn’t perfect, but it’s so close it’s unnerving. There’s very little to fault with this game, and the flaws that are there are almost completely overshadowed by the overall quality and incredible amount of content and features.

Project Gotham Racing 3 review

Like Clarkson, we caught ourselves repeatedly mumbling “powerrr” whilst zooming through PGR3’s cities in a Ferrari F50GT (due to omission of said Bugatti), hypnotised by the room-shaking engine audio and obsessed with overtaking the car up ahead. PGR3 is definitely the Xbox 360’s flagship launch title – by a mile.

On the surface, Project Gotham Racing 3 plays like any other racer: you pick a car, you hit the streets, and you beat your opponents to the finish line. But in addition to numerous race types that offer challenges far more varied than the usual ‘get first place’ objective, PGR3 has its own particular system of reward: the unique kudos point system that encourages flashy driving during races.

Drifting, clean racing, sticking to a racing line, passing rivals, and stringing such moves together racks up kudos combos. Push your kudos rank high enough and you’ll unlock super-powered concept cars for purchase in the store.Both the car physics and the kudos system have been substantially improved since the second Project Gotham Racing. Control is more intuitive and the cars move a bit more realistically. Bonus kudos are now awarded for special types of drifts and turns – a shallower, less extreme drift that doesn’t look too slick (but allows you to take a turn just the way you need to catch that opponent up ahead) will now earn you far more points than in previous games.

It still doesn’t quite reward good racing on an equal level with showing off, but that’s kind of the point in PGR3. A lengthy solo career takes you on a whirlwind tour of the game’s locales; New York City, Las Vegas, London, Tokyo and the Nurburgring play host to automotive events, ranging from straight-up street races to cone challenge agility tests to the brand-new Time vs. Kudos event, in which earning kudos actually stops the clock from running down. The five difficulty levels should keep just about anyone busy for some time, but Project Gotham Racing 3 really wants you to hop online for some Live competition. Even more modes are available there, spanning team events to a racing permutation of Capture The Flag.

Gotham TV also allows you to spectate races – from observing the top players of the game to sneaking a peek at the people on your friends list. Your saved replays and photos can also be found here, but Gamestyle has yet to find a way to transfer our photos to a USB stick, or even directly to our computer using Windows Media Connect (offered in the Xbox 360 dashboard). A slight oversight by Bizarre/Microsoft perhaps, or a deliberate decision? Whichever, the all-new photo mode is a stroke of genius – it allows you to wander around each city within the track’s boundaries, taking snapshots of the cars in action, or the city’s infrastructure.And that’s where PGR3 undoubtedly makes the leap into the next generation: rendering some of the most amazingly recreated environments ever seen in a videogame.

The detail put into each city is mind-blowing, and Microsoft must have spent months – if not years – taking all the photographic material needed to ensure nearly all the buildings and businesses boast their real-life corporate logos and signage. Viewed from the New York bridges, the Manhattan skyline sprawls out before you like an impossibly moving picture postcard. And then you drive straight into and through it (preferably with the viewpoint set inside the cockpit). The only glitches we found included a little delay before all the high-resolution mapping was in place, and some very distant scenery pop-up – both minor issues, as far as Gamestyle was concerned.

All this graphical splendour does come at a price, however. Load times are a bit of a problem in the game, although it’s nothing that ruins the overall experience. They’re just long enough to be noticeable – particularly the five to seven seconds it takes to restart a race after you’ve failed your objective. Annoying for some, handy for others, as it allows another sip from your cup of coffee or tea.Also in the negative department: the radio stations that have defined each city in past Project Gotham games are now gone, replaced by a virtual CD changer that can accommodate up to six playlists. While the licensed music selection is excellent, the radio stations added a lot to the personality of each city, and they are sorely missed. When it comes to sound effects, PGR3 excels – engine noises are accurate and impressive, and other sound effects like screeching tyres and shattering side mirrors add to the aural experience (with the only let-down being the collision effects, which sounded a bit too plastic for our liking).

Another appeal of the series’ previous incarnations has been the ability to take everyday cars and race them on the city streets. Working your way up the ladder to the exotics made driving a Ferrari feel like a privilege. In PGR3, the lowest performing car in the roster is the Ferrari Testarossa. While the selection of cars is extensive, it’s a Supercars-only club, and the similarity of your automotive choices can feel limited. The roster will disappoint those who enjoyed whipping SUVs and muscle cars around the hairpins in past Gotham games.

Longish load times aside, Project Gotham Racing 3 strikes an excellent balance between arcade and sim gameplay without alienating fans of either, and everyone – from Sunday drivers to Autobahn veterans – will find something to love here. Whether it truly earns the moniker of “next-generation” remains open to debate, but it’s an enjoyable experience and a near-faultless one at that.

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge review

Exotic aeroplanes and giant zeppelins which sport the skull and crossbones leave little doubt that the history revisionist’s pen has been at work here. Fanciful machinery, styled much like that of television’s classic Wild Wild West series, cultivates a vision of the 1930’s that is ripe for adventure. Grab the bomber jacket, and get ready to relive the heyday of ‘big air’ piracy – as a swashbuckling barnstormer in Crimson Skies!

Ladies’ man, gambler, heroic adventurer… lead character, Nathan Zachary, sounds for all the world like a classic Errol Flynn type (well, except maybe for that forgettable name). In fact, Crimson Skies’ storyline reads almost like a textbook lesson in the classic melodramatic action/adventure film style, and works as well today as it did then. A few dramatic scenes keep the audience immersed; forming the perfect glue that binds together copious dollops of action.

Some alterations were made to the formulaic path of film, which helps the game establish its own identity. Nathan and his band of pirates, known as the Fortune Hunters, sail the high skies to adventure aboard an enormous zeppelin (which also serves as their mobile base of operations). In a nod to the increasingly open-ended convention popularised by titles like Grand Theft Auto, each area allows the simple freedom to just fly around if desired. Icons identify key areas of activity – offering repairs, opportunities to race or steal another plane, and missions that advance the storyline. A classic touch to the videogame pastiche comes in the form of collectibles scattered throughout each area (and needed to earn aircraft upgrades).This complex framework adds depth to a game that unashamedly makes action its main focus. In this case, the action consists of flying and shooting – indeed, lots of shooting. Twisting through the skies, struggling to get a bead on the enemy, is a thrill that everyone should get the chance to enjoy. That chance has arrived. Unlike the intimidating flight controls and physics of many airborne games, Crimson Skies allows anyone to pick up the controller and play like a seasoned pro.

Flight control requires little more than moving the left stick. Planes respond intuitively, instilling a sense of confidence even in novice fliers. Clever controls allow the layering-on of more sophisticated techniques without ever being mandatory to enjoying the game. Barrel rolls can be performed with the right stick, and buttons allow momentary increases or decreases in speed for manoeuvring. Spectacular aerial stunts bring dogfights to life; like the Immelmann or Split-S, but many would fail to recognise the terms, much less the technical how-to of implementing them. Assigning such moves to button combinations – much like in a fighting game – makes them accessible to everyone.Choosing which plane to pilot and exercise these controls may prove more difficult. Nathan’s “Devastator” model, available from the start, serves well enough throughout the game, and is interchangeable with a good selection of unlockable models. Well, not so much unlockable as attainable. How else would a “pirate” acquire more planes?

Excellent balance between planes attests to the benefit of an extended development cycle (Crimson Skies for Xbox is actually a user-friendly remake of a PC game from a couple of years ago). Varying combinations of speed, attack power and defense offer the right fit for a number of playing styles. As a result, anyone can find a favourite but not everyone finds the same one. Regardless of choice, these beautifully-realised flying machines deliver an impressive visual package. Screenshots can tell only half the story; special effects and lighting tricks play across the planes to vividly bring their flight to life. Neither was any expense spared with the environmental details, all lovingly work to sustain the illusion of being in the game. Spectacular skyscapes bring an unparalleled sense of depth too, and placed within a picture-perfect framework. Speaking of frames: as with many of the current generation of Xbox titles, graphical splendour does not impinge on the “smooth” operation – meaning framerates are silky-smooth throughout.

Ditto for the seamless translation to the Xbox Live multiplayer arena. As is becoming the norm for Live-enabled games, play is effectively complimented by smooth updates and imperceptible lag. After enjoying several rounds of straightforward dogfighting, Gamestyle uncovered some more in-depth offerings – along with the expected Capture The Flag variety, this included the hilarious Wild Chicken game. In this contest, each team tries to grab the wild chicken and bring it back to their base to score. Only five multiplayer levels ship with the game, and this somewhat detracts from the long-term playability. However, the prospect of downloadable levels could soon compensate for that.

Numerous airborne games have sought to bring the much-ballyhooed PC flight experience to consoles – with mixed results. Crimson Skies is not a flight simulator, but ultimately that is why it works so well as a game. Matching the console’s strengths with pick-up-and-play action, gorgeous graphics and appealing story, makes for an unqualified winner, and a title worthy of every Xbox owner’s library.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon review

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon PS2 Screenshot

Ghost Recon may be set in 2008 but the events depicted throughout the game could have taken place anytime over the last decade: such are the turbulent times we live through. The new war of peacekeeping and political manoeuvres involves far more than just standing guard, as any recruit to Ghost Recon will gladly testify.

Devised by Tom Clancy (Splinter Cell) you are the leader of the Ghosts, an elite group of American soldiers who are unofficially involved in the Georgian conflict. Russia has seen fit to return to its old ways and has started a campaign against former members of the Soviet Union. Several former Soviet block countries have fallen and Georgia is next in line, however peacekeeping forces are already in place to ensure that Russia progresses no further. America has also instructed its military to unofficially cause as much disruption to the invading forces as possible, and this is where the Ghosts come into play. War is always unpredictable and soon the Ghosts become a vital faction in the war against the Soviet forces, which spills out into new countries.

The missions themselves are well designed and feature a variety of possible situations and goals, which you must complete with additional target being available. The need for covert war and maximum disruption is highlighted by the fact that rarely will you face the enemy head-on, instead due to your minimal numbers you must use stealth and surprise to your advantage, thereby minimising casualties. One mission may have you purely on recognisance whilst the next may need you to protect peacekeepers or extract downed airmen. Some would argue that each mission plays exactly the same, despite the various goals and although I would agree initially, you need far more than being able to shoot to progress in Ghost Recon. This feeling isn’t helped by the environments, which for the first few levels take place in the lush countryside of Georgia. Eventually you move into more urban locations and arctic environments – each requiring different tactics and such progression improves the game greatly.

Nothing is left to chance with releases such as these, which go back to the successful Rainbow Six – having built a reputation for authenticity and real life situations. If you have played Rainbow Six or even Special Ops then you will be on familiar territory with Ghost Recon. There have not been any dramatic changes to the game play, which is very reminiscent however the package feels more rounded and far more accessible in comparison to Rainbow Six. Whereas that game relied heavily on tactical planning, this element is greatly reduced, as here you will need to react to unforeseen situations. The ease at which you can control both teams is subtle and extremely easy to utilise. Both teams have three soldiers and your group will automatically follow your lead, directing the second team is simply a case of pressing down on the analogue stick and they will immediately move to wherever your sights were pointing. The misconception that games such as Ghost Recon require a complex control system or keyboard is easily shattered by the excellent control system we have on display here. The squad AI underlines the atmosphere and player involvement, as your comrades will deal with enemies within their field of vision efficiently. The only real hindrance comes when you need to go in and out of rooms, as bottlenecks form and you try to brush past the obstacle, otherwise known as your teammate.

Tom Clancy Ghost Recon PS2

Although the events are structured in a similar A to B scenario without any freedom of choice the illusion is much improved: sizeable levels, numerous enemies and a greater sense of involvement. Earlier this year I reviewed the successful Conflict Desert Storm release and whilst thoroughly enjoyable the scripting was far more recognisable. The emphasis with Desert Storm was on team play and being able to switch, Ghost Recon does contain a similar feature but the focus is firmly on leading both Alpha and Bravo units through the missions. On the easiest difficulty setting it is possible, and perhaps too straightforward, to clear the first few levels whilst taking the role of the sniper. The enjoyment of sniping is a strange concoction of guilt and pleasure: even if the sights are sometimes misleading. Each member of the team has unique abilities and you can equip each as you see fit before the mission begins. How you progress is largely down to how much emphasis you put on preparation and tactics during the mission. For instance one mission may require you to deal with armour, therefore your demolitions expert must be equipped with a suitable anti-tank weapon, and as you cannot pick up weapons from fallen comrades – don’t put him at point until it is necessary.

Having experienced the Xbox version of Ghost Recon, when initially faced with the Playstation 2 release I wrongly believed it would be totally inferior. Despite lacking Dolby Digital and Xbox Live support, Ubi Soft has fashioned a version which holds firm under scrutiny. Sound plays an important part in communicating with Bravo & Alpha teams, and stereo does an effective job of conveying the tension and need for stealth at all times. Some of the textures and detail are evidently reduced but there is no loss of speed or visual distance, and experience is almost as good.

Normally I wouldn’t spend much time reviewing the special features included in a release, however after Panzer Dragoon Orta, these sections can be extremely worthwhile. UbiSoft has crafted a collection of special features, which enhance the Ghost Recon experience. Here you can view detailed information on the Ghost division, soldiers, weaponry and other utilities, medal information and history, design sketches and interviews. This pursuit of authenticity sets it apart from other shooters including Conflict: Desert Storm.

Ghost Recon is ideally pitched towards the fans of the genre, but is far more user friendly and forgiving to new recruits. To date this is the best example of what the genre can offer and is an ideal starting point for those interested in the science of modern warfare.

Panzer Dragoon Orta review

Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox) screenshot

Sega, eh? Despite producing some incredible hardware they’ve never really been commercially successful with their own consoles since the Megadrive era. They’ve had their hardcore fans (this reviewer included) but for the most part gamers have ignored the Saturn and the Dreamcast in favour of the relevant PlayStation iteration. Reasons why folk chose to do this is sadly beyond the scope of this review, I’d be here for hours lamenting over the whys and wherefores, and it’s all sadly academic anyway, as Sega’s own-branded machines are confined to history, their software reduced to the bargain bin and the oft-seedy realms of the bearded collector.

Regardless, they’re still pumping out some amazing software, and whilst the Xbox hasn’t received the very best of Sega’s current generation games, titles like Jet Set Radio Future and House of the Dead 3 at least look the part, even if the gameplay isn’t quite up to scratch. Gamers old enough to remember Rainbow, though, will no doubt fondly remember the Panzer Dragoon series back in the day, when Tomb Raider was a Saturn exclusive and Wipeout looked gorgeous on the black box – and there isn’t a set of games in history that has a stronger following of dedicated fans, gamers willing to fight to the death over the sadly mistaken beauty of the titles.

It’s hard to describe the Panzer Dragoon series (Saga aside) without upsetting someone. At it’s heart they are a cross between Space Harrier and Rez, viewed third person and directly into the screen. Orta is a direct follow up – although not necessarily in terms of storyline – and doesn’t move too far from the tradition. You’re still on the back of a dragon and you’re still up against thousands of enemies.

Your dragon has 3 freely interchangeable types. Firstly, you start out in Base mode, which has a large number of lock-on targets, a decent rate of fire for your normal gun, and average defense. You can also store up to two glide moves which work a little like the brake and boost in Starfox for the N64. A tap of the Y button switches to Heavy mode which is a bulkier version of the dragon, with fewer lock-on targets and a slower firing rate, although both missiles and the gun dish out higher damage; your defensive capabilities are lower, though, and you can’t glide. Finally, you have the Glide Mode, which is a small, nippy model, with a automatically targeting machine gun, up to 3 glides, heavy armour (oddly enough) but no lock-on missiles. As you can tell, selecting which mode to use at any given time is a requisite, and it’s a skill you’ll need to have mastered by the end of the first of ten levels.

The game’s split into ten levels, although Sega like to call them ‘episodes’, and within each of these is the level boss. Brilliantly, the bosses don’t always appear at the end of the level leaving you to delicately nurse your post-boss battle wounds through other scraps before you get to the end of the section. Whilst early on in Orta the tale follows something of a rudimentary storyline, later on in the game the various cutscenes dissolve into a sub-Rez level of storytelling: ultimately, of course, the whole thing revolves around 360 degrees and the final boss shouldn’t really come as any surprise, but to get there you’ll be led through some fairly preposterous levels. This shouldn’t cause too much concern, though, as graphically, well, Orta is a thing of beauty.

Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox) screenshot

People often like to link games with art, but this truly is the next generation. Without a solitary doubt, Panzer Dragoon Orta is the single-most visually impressive videogame in existence – it really is that good looking. Everything from the liquid smooth 60 frames a second to the gorgeous models, the amazing graphical effects like smoke and fire, the way the game effortlessly throws hundreds of things at you at once without a single stutter – it’s breathtaking, and the only downside is that nothing is going to come anywhere near for a long time yet. If you’ve seen the screenshots (especially those from level 2 that are full of trees, water and plants) and you impressed then wait until you see it in motion. Wonderful.

Sadly, not every level is quite as beautiful as some of the others (the penultimate level is somewhat of a disappointment visually), but there’s more than enough here to justify maximum marks for aesthetics; it really is that far ahead of the pack, and hats off to Smilebit who must be feeling very proud with what they’ve managed to pull off. Aurally it’s almost as impressive – the music is certainly epic and orchestral (and most definitely lives up to the high standards set by the previous Dragoon games), and the sound effects match up just as well, but there’s something oddly dumbing about 3 hours of gameplay with only 3 different samples for your guns. It grates, not massively, because you do need to fire almost constantly, but it’s a shame Smilebit couldn’t have varied the sounds a little more. It’s all in Dolby Digital, though, and for fans of the series it’s quite delightful.

Those worried about the lack of first-run gametime need not be too troubled, though – whilst you can reach the end in under 3 hours, it’s a different story entirely on the higher difficulty levels – Sega really do cater for the hardcore and this reviewer was forced to re-asses his gaming skills after facing the final enemy on any level above easy. Of course, this being a Panzer Dragoon game there’s plenty of things to see and do once the main game is over – the Pandora’s Box in Orta features not only a complete sub-game (with multiple levels, cutscenes and it’s own storyline) there’s also a number of side-quests featuring episodes that run concurrently alongside those in the main game, but with different characters and so on. Glossaries and encyclopaedia’s make for essential reading for PD fans, too.

Orta stumbles slightly in the presentation stakes though. Whilst the English subtitles, menus and appendices are greatly appreciated (despite this being a Japanese release) the menus themselves aren’t as attractive as the rest of the game, and the Pandora’s Box feature becomes far too messy to really appreciate fully without wading through realms of text and menu options. There’s also loading delays that tend to get in the way slightly.

However, it’s not my intention to let these niggles get in the way of what can only be described as the finest on-rails shooter in existence. Panzer Dragoon Orta is most definitely the best of it’s genre and for shooter fans it’s absolutely unmissable. Those with even a passing interest in Sega’s most commercially underrated series, though, will already have it pre-ordered, and if you haven’t, you’re going to be missing the ride of your life. Orta oozes playability and style, and is a real graphical tour-de-force for the Xbox. Enjoy.

Rez review

A screenshot of the original Rez for Playstation 2.

This is something that perhaps we can identify with more than most given that we’d rather enjoy a highly anticipated release on a Friday than go out on the town. The things we’ve seen and done, places we’ve been, without stepping outside of our homes. Since details on Rez were first announced I have followed its development eagerly and now the finished version is here.

Rez is already the source of controversy in America as when the game was deleted by Sony after its initial launch pressing. Was Sony unhappy about Sega’s lack of support for its machine or were they worried that Rez would affect the sales of their own game Frequency. Perhaps we will never know but the trouble is many punters won’t understand Rez and will take it at face value. This is shown by the varied reviews that it has already received, loathe Rez or love Rez, you must experience it to know for sure.

The story like the control method is simplistic. You are a cybernetic character labelled by the developer as an endorphin machine. I’m not sure about the tag as it sounds like a medical appliance. Rez is set in the future where networks represent life and network crime is on the increase. A better system was created, within it Project-K (couldn’t they think of a better name?) is the central axis of the system. This works in tandem with Eden; which represents the power and intelligence of the system. Before perfection is realised Eden becomes self-aware and questions its own function and existence. The answer is simple; Eden shuts itself down barring anything from the outside gaining access. You are sent into cyberspace to locate and reactivate Eden from within. Standing between you and Eden are viruses and firewalls contained within different areas, which are broken down into levels.

As you hack into each new area viruses will appear intent on destroying your form; these come in many different shapes and sizes. At the end of each area you will meet a firewall (boss) and here you will try to shut it down, constantly fighting against the every changing pattern as it rebuilds itself and swarms in an attempt to be victorious. In cyberspace it seems that viruses and firewalls have unique identities and characteristics rather than just data or patterns that we perceive. To succeed you only have a lock on laser capable of firing only single shots and your senses.

A screenshot of Area 2 in Rez for PS2

There are no health bars in Rez rather your status is shown by your appearance. A disco ball is your lowest form, rising to a wire frame then a dural type figure and so on. Instantly recognisable and freeing up the screen from more icons than necessary. Your health increases by shooting and collecting blue orbs that are scattered around the levels, often in limited quantities. Your health is not measured by levels and is quite severe, one hit will send you scuttling down to the form below your original status but this is no hardcore shooter. If you judge this as an R-Type game then you are taking it on visual appearance alone. Rez is very much an assault on the senses like no other game before.

The visuals are stunning incorporating familiar shapes and figures from history in a variety of styles ranging from simple wire frame drawings to modern art. The game when running is a moving art form in itself, always changing, surprising, and never ending. The world that United Games Artists have created is like no other before it, forget realism; this is what games should aim for. It could be described as encompassing the whole period of videogames from the beginning with such titles as Pong or Battlezone to modern day graphics with lavish colours and shapes.

Not content with capturing your vision UGA have assaulted your senses of touch and hearing in an attempt to capture your heart. The game uses the vibration feature of the controller more than any other game, the bass will thump and you will feel it. In Japan they were lucky enough to have the option to buy a peripheral, which plugged into the USB port. This vibration pack could then be placed under a cushion or in a pocket resulting in a higher level of immersion. For now I’ll have to make do with my B&W 603’s Series 2 however if anyone should come across this item, please let me know.

Music in videogames is often cheated; name the genre and you could predict the style of music contained within. To label Rez as dance, trance, Electro-beat, Jas-dub is meaningless as the most important aspect is the player because you control where the music goes and this is central to the whole concept of Rez. Each time you fire a shot, hit, destroy or lock onto multiple viruses a musical note applies. The note varies according to what type or how many viruses in question. You can shoot everything in sight but then you realise the control that you have over the music. I find myself waiting until the suitable moment in my tune to destroy a virus. The viruses in your mind become musical notes to be plucked from and put into the order that you feel is appropriate not enemies which can harm you. Build, create, this is the way games are heading.

Those who criticise Rez for its limited nature or playtime have taken the option to shoot till reaching Eden not realising every time you play you create a unique accompanying soundtrack. Yes there are only five areas each with ten levels and a lost area making up the main game. There are score attack and travelling (where you cannot die) modes to offer life beyond the main mode if you so desire. Judged purely on a basis of shooting games Rez will offer little challenge but this was never the intention. It is the first 3D shooter that works even though you are very much on the rails and only able to control the aiming sight and firing of the laser. I never felt limited as the field of vision throughout is 180 degrees but during boss battles it doubles. On the first few boss attempts I ultimately failed because I could not conceive that I had total vision.

Boss fights are fantastic to participate in or view as the boss dissolves and circles all around you. In fact Rez is a hypnotic experience like no other as my skill of being able to have a conversation with the girlfriend whilst playing a game is useless on Rez. I doubt I even blink at the screen anymore, yes I know the patterns and levels yet I must have my fix whenever I return from a stressful day. Perfect to chill or lose yourself in, UGA have succeeded in what they wanted to achieve.

As I own both the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 versions there is no difference between either. You could state that as the project was conceived for the Dreamcast hardware it is perhaps the more graphically smoother of the two versions. Even with the Playstation 2 optical output being used there is little sound difference between either game, the Yamaha soundchip in the Dreamcast is a wonderful thing. If only the Playstation 2 version included a Dolby Digital signal, perhaps next time? Be thankful for the Playstation 2, otherwise you may never have had the opportunity to play the game. The Dreamcast version has been released in such small quantities in Europe. A city such as Edinburgh that boasts large EB and Games branches has had only three copies to date. One belongs to me and two reside with lucky staff at Game, not much joy for the public. This scenario is common when a machine is on its last few releases but as stated elsewhere it pays to stick with a console to the bitter end.

When it comes to scoring games overall or in any single category I perhaps am the most critical and cynical at Gamestyle. I am never happy, there is always something wrong, and five represents average to me not seven! Given this and the fact that I have never scored a game as being perfect overall or in any single category I feel I am about ready to do so. Scoring Rez is the hardest task that I have faced on Gamestyle to date. I cannot find fault with the game, although it is a single player experience, watching can be fun and the developer deserves praise for pushing the boundaries further. If I were to put the game away it would be placed alongside Radiant Silvergun, Gunstar Heroes, Zelda, Elite, Goldeneye and Tetris in my collection.

Burnout review

Burnout Gamecube Screenshot

Cruising down the A56, with the only thrill being slightly breaking the speed limit, keeping a close eye out for Vauxhall Vectra’s with no hub caps, in case that the extra few miles an hour are worthy to warrant a small fine and a few penalty points, I often wonder what it would be like to put my foot down, cross the grass verge and play chicken with the unexpecting on-comers. Of course in reality this kind of thought would lead to a psychological examination. But finally I get to see what this would be like with the imminent release of Burnout. Will it finally satisfy my curiosity, or will I actually write off my Mondeo? Continue reading “Burnout review”

Shenmue II review

Shenmue II (Sega Dreamcast Review) Screenshot

After finishing the first installment of Shenmue, I felt somewhat disappointed with the game, and spent weeks afterwards wondering why I felt this way about a game that was so hyped and praised months, even years before it was released. It was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed what was undoubtedly one of the games that made me and many others first purchase the Dreamcast.

After many a sleepless night contemplating about why I didn’t feel how I knew I should’ve felt, I eventually found the reason: I needed more. I needed to step into the shoes of Ryo Hazuki again to see where I would end up, who I would come to love, and who I would love to hate. A year later the geniuses behind Shenmue, finally released the game that would fuel my addiction. Will I feel the same disappointment that I felt the first time round? Will it leave me in the same state of detox, leaving me wanting Shenmue III more than food or sleep? Continue reading “Shenmue II review”

All-Star Baseball 2002 review

It’s quite easy to sum up what we at Gamestyle know about rounders, it can be done in one word: nothing. However as I went to the Boardwalk & Baseball theme park in Florida a good few years back I was the most qualified to give judgement on the latest release from Acclaim. 

Its good to see minority interest titles getting a release in other parts of the world as no doubt there are a few hardcore baseball fans in Britain if not Europe. Still why on earth do we get baseball titles while gems such as Final Fantasy Tactics (and perhaps PSO ver.2) remain firmly out of our reach? Gamestyle will never know. As you would expect from a major American publisher, it must have it’s own sports brand. EA have the most infamous brand and Acclaim have their lesser known All-Star range – perhaps due to the fact its been exclusively on the N64. Will this offer something new or more of the same statistics and faithful representation of a traditional sport?

Although this game does offer arcade settings don’t be fooled, it is a pure simulation and one for the fans of the sport. For your money you get the chance to select from all the 30 Major League teams – unfortunately being a Texas Ranger doesn’t involve beating up innocent civilians or acting like Judge Dredd, shame. In total there are over 700 hundred players here from the Major League, I won’t provide an example as they are all household names. There are statistics coming out of every section and you can choose to digest or ignore them, thankfully. You choose how in-depth you wish your game to become. Added to the package are the realistic and authentic stances, stadiums, uniforms, awards, drafts, free agents and team mascots. On the subject of mascots surely after sitting through another “funny” routine from the team mascot you could have the option to beat the crap out of them? This would increase your batting skills and you could be rewarded on the basis of damage inflicted?

Even though the game is from Acclaim it does remind me of EA’s Madden 2001 which I reviewed earlier this year. The style of presentation and the range of options is very similar, perhaps EA have set the benchmark in this field but these American sports games (and FIFA) are becoming very generic. If I had the misfortune to play EA’s Baseball title or one of the various basketball titles which clutter up EB shelves no doubt I could say the same again. A new approach is quite frankly needed as even with all the options and graphical touches you cannot change one thing about baseball, its boring! Simple additions as used by Virtua Tennis (lets face it, a tennis game without the women involved should be boring) to increase the enjoyment such as mini games, rewarding controls and gameplay could have been included. This sense of boredom applies to multiple players; such is the stop start nature of the game that it isn’t perhaps to our taste. The whole experience feels under control and is quite relaxing but everyone soon began to loose interest. It must be hard to follow a baseball team; at least with Raith I don’t know what’s going to happen next and often laugh so much that it hurts. None of that here.

There are plenty of modes to keep the baseball fan in heaven till the next instalment is released. I found the range of options and customisation quite daunting, for instance you may choose from Series, Home Run Derby, Practice, Exhibition, Quick Play, All Star, character creation and Season. Within each mode you can customise to your hearts content, fancy 162 game season? Not me! The practice modes are invaluable, as most would believe that baseball involves just hitting a ball with a diet cricket bat. By using the control method that Acclaim has obviously spent a great deal of time on, it soon becomes possible to place your shots. Getting to 1st base is pretty easy but it takes time, patience and a bit of skill to get to 3rd base as we all have experienced. Never mind a home run. The skill settings and options offer a variety of means to allow the more inexperienced person a chance of success.

All-Star Baseball 2002 looks great on the PS2 and every stadium, player, official and sound effect is beautifully reproduced for your pleasure. There are the odd glitches such as the occasional animation problem or the sleep-inducing commentary but overall you can tell that this product is made by fans, for fans.

Halo: Combat Evolved review

Halo Combat Evolved Screenshot Xbox Original

Stunning images of an alien world seemingly built on a metallic ring deep in space with human marines, military vehicles and menacing aliens helped Halo grab the attention of everyone who saw it during it’s development. These fantastic shots left many questions about the world and the story, but most of all they left us anxious to get our chance to jump into Halo. The wait ended on Xbox launch day. When you finally set down the controller the first time, and eventually hunger or exhaustion do force all of us to take a break, Halo has pulled you completely into its world and started one of the best sci-fi gaming adventures of all time. Continue reading “Halo: Combat Evolved review”

Project Gotham Racing review

Project Gotham Racing Xbox Microsoft Screenshot Original

Just for a moment envision yourself at the wheel of your dream car. As the light turns green your machine leaps forward responding to your foot on the gas. Turning up the radio to better hear your favorite song over the engine you blast through the streets, smiling ear to ear. Not just a daydream anymore, this also perfectly describes the XBox’s latest racing game, Project Gotham. Continue reading “Project Gotham Racing review”

90 Minutes: Sega Championship Football review

90 Minutes: Sega Championship Football review screenshots

The outgoing European CEO revealed just before his departure that Sega were too aware that they needed a good football game on the system. Everything that they required was collated and sent to Japan, where Sega gave Smilebit the task of meeting everyone’s expectations. 90 Minutes: Sega Championship Football is I believe the product of this – Sega’s final attempt to provide all football mad Dreamcast owners with a quality football title that they so deserve. So have they finally pulled it off after numerous attempts in the last months of the Dreamcast? Continue reading “90 Minutes: Sega Championship Football review”

Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2 review

Phantasy Star Online ver. 2 screenshot review

Over the last fortnight you would be forgiven in thinking that I have been abducted by aliens, crashed my car or had passed out in the middle of nowhere in a drunken stupor, never to be found again. If you actually know me a little you should have guessed that I had finally got around to purchasing the update disk for Phantasy Star Online, more commonly known as version 2. Unfortunately, another Gamestyle staff member has also succumbed to the fate of online living and we can guarantee that little, if any, work has been done by either of us. Continue reading “Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2 review”

Crazy Taxi 2 review

crazy taxi 2 dreamcast review screenshot

Crazy Taxi was a game only Sega could create or have the nerve to develop. Such a strange yet simplistic idea caught the imagination of many and influenced countless other games. Still not everything was perfect with the original, for it was an arcade conversion yet the sequel is designed purely for home consumption – more of the same or something else? Continue reading “Crazy Taxi 2 review”

Phantasy Star Online review

Phantasy Star Online review screenshot

You may recall the 6 Billion-player advertisement that Sega ran upon the Dreamcast launch, which met with such uproar and ridicule from the press and rivals. Time to dig it out and run it again because finally (18 months too late) Sega have achieved the goal. Phantasy Star Online is an online adventure where you will meet other players from around the world and together solve the mystery of Ragol. Continue reading “Phantasy Star Online review”

Madden NFL 2001 review

Remember when it was cool to follow American football? Back when it was on Channel 4 interest in the sport was at it peak, since the jump to satellite it has dwindled even though we have a European version but I’ve recently regained an interest. Perfect timing to pick up Madden and see how it plays but why should we care – its another annual EA update? 

The attraction of this version is that you can play it on several levels from the practice or exhibition modes to the in-depth franchise option. If you tire of playing a game you can even let the console play it for you and amazingly its just like watching television coverage with no loading times or annoying advert breaks. The franchise option allows you to control a team for up to 50 seasons. In this period you can control the roster, make trades, create players and plays, do the college draft and all while ensuring your team is successful and you keep within the salary cap. All the statistics you will ever need are here but they don’t infringe on the game play.

As this is from EA the presentation is of the highest quality with user friendly menus and a simple control system. All the teams, stadiums, players and coaches tactics are here with another 200 hidden for you to discover as you progress. Graphically this game is very impressive from the resolution and lighting of the players to the animation. This is probably the closest yet we’ve come to a realistic simulation due to the game tackles being calculated on a real physics engine i.e. size, speed and power of players. Unlike previous games, players cannot suddenly change direction at full speed adding to the realism. Injuries can occur and you can take pleasure in seeing your target rolling around in agony, nice. The surround sound is very impressive with the crowd; announcer and player noises creating a realistic match day feel. The commentary is good compared to other sports games that I have played but during the season and franchise modes it can begin to grate if you hear the same Madden quote about you star player for the 152nd time!

To add more depth with a touch of Pokemon, EA have added the clever Madden card bonuses. These cards can be collected and will open up cheats, special options, stadiums etc. They are judged on a rarity value and are bought with points earned during the game, for instance the gain 100 yards running you’ll 10 points but 150 equals 15 and so on. Often during a game you may find you decisions influenced by what points you can earn and certain cards can be played during a game to boost performance. Just like Pokemon the Madden cards can be traded in order to acquire a full set and then used as you see fit.

As with most American Football games the most enjoyable way is to play with friends and here you can play with up to seven others. Although who actually has two multi-taps and a stack of controllers? Don’t expect to win very often if you play against the console but the chaotic mess that we endured was great fun. Once you become more accomplished you can turn off the various Easy play options for passing, running, clock penalties etc.

For all of its gloss there are some annoying faults with Madden that EA should have sorted before it’s release. During games players will often walk through one another and when the action is at its peak the speed will drop. The kick meter is red on a brown background; surely the game testers must have noticed that this is very hard to follow? The 40-second play clock is an important feature if you wish to run down the game clock and avoid penalties but in certain stadiums it isn’t clearly visible or even shown! No doubt Madden 2002 will correct these but the main flaw is that an American Football game can be perceived by the public to be long, boring and complex. Give it a go and you may be surprised.