Monday, 29 October 2007

Football Manage 2008 Review

Football Manager 2008

It is that time of year again, the leaves are falling off the trees, the weather is turning cold and wet, the football season is well under way, and the latest Football Manger is released. This is the latest instalment from Sports Interactive, the developers behind the old Championship Manager series before corporate shenanigans led them to release under the Football Manager moniker.

This latest version does the basics well; the database has been fully updated for the 2007/2008 season, the match engine has been tweaked and other changes to finance and international management are welcomed. However there seems to lack the major singular improvement that we have seen in previous versions. The media still gets stale after a few hours of playing with the same options repeating themselves all too regularly.

Something about this version still gets me though, whether it is the new skin or the new on-the-fly tactical changes that have been taken from the upcoming FM Live I don’t know, maybe it is the joy of seeing Hasselbaink and Fowler lining up in a Cardiff shirt, who knows. Despite the lack of any game shaping changes (at least in my mind) I would stick highly recommend it to any fans of the series and anyone looking for a nice distraction between lectures.

Rating – 9/10

Orange Box - Review

The Orange Box

The Orange Box (OB) is the latest release from the gaming giants, Valve. The OB is a collection of three new games, and two old ones thrown in for free, and it costs the price of a single game at retail. So what are these games you ask? Well let me tell you!

First off we have Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 1, these are the two free games I mentioned. The three new games are - Half-Life 2: Episode 2; Portal and Team Fortress 2. As Half-Life 2: Episode 2; Portal and Team Fortress 2 (TF2) are the new games, I will take each in turn and review them separately! On with the show….

Half-Life 2: Episode 2

Playing Episode 2 is like waking up from a long long sleep and being immersed into the best day of your life straight away. It has been a long while since Valve’s first shot at episodic content was released (Half-Life 2: Episode 1) 16 long months of waiting, but here it is, Episode 2, the middle part of the trilogy of Half-Life 2 Episodes, and it is well worth the wait.

The story picks off from where we left Episode 1, that is the end of the gameplay experience, not the video that appeared upon completion of the game, and you can also discount many of the teaser trailers Valve released last year. I will avoid giving away and more spoilers, but I will let you know that the story is magnificent and has been written with a style that anyone who has played a Half-Life game before will be accustomed too, and newcomers to the series will find to be a breath of fresh air compared to many other current First Person Shooters.

The gameplay is a brilliant; we are taken out of the oft claustrophobic depressing environment of City 17 and put into a race to White Forest where Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance await your arrival with Alyx. This journey takes place in underground Antlion tunnels, a road trip in a muscle car that is a great improvement on Half-Life 2’s buggy and an amazing forest area and a couple of others besides. The changes of gameplay areas provide for a much more refreshing experience than achieved in Hall-Life 2 and Episode 1, and the pacing is exquisite, the game ebbs and flows without leaving you over-burdened with action and bored with travelling. This is something that many modern games get wrong. I must also say here that the end section of the game is much better than in Half-Life 2 and Episode 1, this time you are presented with a monolithic battle, of which I shall say no more except that it shows Half-Life at its best.

The Source engine that powers Episode 2 (and everything else in the Orange Box) has been given a stunning face-lift, all the models and textures have been improved in every way, and it is evident that the artists have utilised the new environments they worked in excellently. Facial and body animations are as ever brilliant, in particular with the mysterious G-Man. Everything just seems crisper than they have done; it was worth some delays to see the engine like this!

Overall I think Episode 2 has the edge over Episode 1, and in some ways over Half-Life 2 due to the tighter pacing and the fact that I love the new environments. The achievement and Director’s Commentary provide you with many reasons to go back and play this game again, and you will love to do so. Valve have really done themselves proud with a must own game for any gaming fan.


Portal wakes you up from a long long sleep. Hang on…I already made the sleep analogy in the Episode 2 review….hmm. Well at least in the case of Portal the sleep comments are justified as you start the game waking up from a deep sleep in your room in Aperture Science. You are a character known as Chell and you are in for a crazy ride!

Portal is the second part of Valves’ Orange Box and it is a short piece clocking in at 2-3 hours of gameplay in the main mode and a whole lot more replayability in the other game modes. It may be short, but it is very sweet, kind of like a cake if you will. Your character Chell is tasked by GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System) to complete a series of tasks set inside Aperture Science. These tasks are made special by the use of the ASHPD (Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device) which as the name suggests is a Portal device. What is a Portal device I hear you ask? Well it is a device which allows you to create Portals in the game world through which you, and pretty much everything can travel through.

Yes, Portal is a puzzle game, but it is a great one involving dark-dark-humour, cake and great fun. The writing of Portal is perhaps the best writing I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing and listening to, GLaDOS is a machine whose personality is evident from her introduction and comments during the various levels of Portal, and even the gun-turrets are magical with their comments after you kill them.

I must talk about the gameplay, Portal has been built upon the Source engine by a group of students who were hired by Valve after showing off the spiritual predecessor to Portal, Narbacular Drop. You open portals using two buttons, the left and right mouse buttons and the portal can be placed anywhere allowed by GLaDOS in the level you are currently on. You step through one and you come out the other, do this at speed and you can go flying. Pretty simple eh? Well it is until you get to some of the latter challenges which can be very challenging!

After completing the excellent main game you can take part in the Bonus Maps, with ‘Advanced’ maps where different restriction are imposed upon you and ‘Challenge’ maps for you to complete by using the least portals, in the least time and the least footsteps. These along with the Achievements add a layer of replayability well beyond that of many ordinary games making this somewhat special.

Overall this is an amazing game with very few faults, I may have bought the Orange Box for Episode 2, but I came away enjoying Portal the most of anything that came with it. Get this game, and get some cake to play it with. Amazing.

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 is here! Finally the sequel to Team Fortress Classic has been released after numerous attempts by Valve to make something they felt was right. And boy have they done it! Team Fortress 2 is a game that breathes a new lease of life into the online first person shooter genre moving away from the current trend of realistic modern-day Middle-Eastern warfare and futuristic alien invasions to a setting of fun! That is the key to this game, fun! Team Fortress 2 is a class-based online shooter that is immensely fun and cool.

The graphical design of Team Fortress 2 is in stark contrast to the other games in the Orange Box, providing us with a visual style that immediately grabs your attention. Everything is semi-cartoony but with a basis of reality, I can’t give it justice with words, but trust me that it looks, and more importantly feels right! In fact everything about this game feels right, the look of everything, especially the classes fit in, and the voice acting also perfectly matches what you expect them to be like.

The gameplay itself is brilliant, all the classes have specific styles of playing, a Scout quickly nips in and out of areas, an Engineer builds defences and a Sniper picks off the enemy from a distance, throw in the rest of the classes and you have a nice blend of approaches you can take to play the game. The weapon load outs for each class suits them perfectly, and looks as they should, powerful and might cool.

The maps, while small in number provide quality entertainment, there is a Capture the Flag map, 2Fort which has been reincarnated from Team Fortress Classic and Territorial Control maps, both game modes do exactly as they say on the tin. Grab the Flag (Intelligence actually) and control the map with control points. They are nice and simple, but more importantly fun to play on. Get a group of mates together, find a server and go wild, I assure you that fun will be had!

The achievements are back again which along with a stat tracking system will keep you coming back for more just to be able to clinch the final kill that you need for an achievement. With the Steam Community you are also able to compare your stats with those of your friends who have played Team Fortress 2.

Overall this is a great new addition to the PC multiplayer scene, everything seems to be spot on which is what we come to expect from a Valve game. Everything about Team Fortress 2 is fun, it is well worth playing!


The Orange Box combines three of the best games to be released this year, and with the bonus of Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 you are getting a great deal. The standout game is Portal for providing us with something new and exciting, while Episode 2 continues the excellent legacy of the Half-Life series and Team Fortress 2 provides and exciting new multiplayer component to the online gaming scene. Due to all the games being built on the Source engine they should all run on any modern PC with a graphics card from the past several years. The Orange Box can be had for about £25 from most retailers and from Steam, a bargain for five games. A last note is that the internet is required to activate the game.

Rating – 10/10

Monday, 15 October 2007

'Orange Box'

I have the Orange Box, the epic grouping of epic games by the epic Valve. *note to self, stop using 'epic'* I have fallen in love with everything in the OB, Episode 2 of the Half-Life franchise, Portal and Team Fortress 2!

I will be doing a review of each of these soon! Well maybe not TF2...already done a first impressions piece..will just edit that :P

Just to say, the OB ruuuules :D

Monday, 1 October 2007

Peggle Deluxe - Review

Peggle Deluxe is quirky game presented to us by PopCap Games for the bargain price of $9.95 or about £5. This really is a bargain for a game that will provide you with hours and hours of entertainment! The gameplay is simple but fun, you have a ‘level’ in which you shoot balls at pegs and blocks. It may not sound much but it is damn addictive! Your aim is to hit all the orange pegs and blocks but shooting the ball towards the pegs/blocks and hoping it bounces well for you. The majority of any given level is taken up by blue pegs/blocks which give you points when hit, there is also a pink peg/block that changes position every time you relaunch your ball which gives you bonus points. Finally there is a green peg which activates whichever special feature is available in the zone you are in (for the main game mode at least). Now this may not sound too much, but it all works so well! You will find yourself constantly trying to complete levels with higher scores and by clearing more of the pegs/blocks in the level than you did before. There are several game modes, an Adventure which takes you through all the levels in a set order, Quick-Play which allows you to play any level completed in Adventure, Duel which lets you play against the AI or another player on the same PC and a Challenge mode where you have to complete different tasks from Adventure mode. These are all very good, and the Challenges can be very tough at times, as can the AI in the Duel mode, however this just makes you want to win the level even more! My one major gripe is that there is no online play which would add a lot more to the game, but as it is this a really fun game to fill in those gaps between lectures, and for $9.95 it is well worth it!

Vital Info

Cost - $9.95 via Steam

Requirements – A PC that works

Pro’s – Really fun, cheap and masses of replayability

Con’s – No real multiplayer mode, frustrating at times

Overall – 9.5/10

Ultimate Doom - Retro Review

The classic Ultimate Doom has recently been released via Steam for $9.95 or with today’s’ exchange rates a fiver. Ultimate Doom is the original Doom game with a new final level added on to the end. For those who don’t know, Doom was a key game in the first wave of First Person Shooter (FPS) games by developer id Games. Doom was a follow on from Wolfenstein 3D (also by id) and added new graphical features and gameplay features such as….stairs! The gameplay may be considered basic and limited by modern standards, however for a game over ten years old these things can be forgiven. The premise of the game is that you are a Marine on a moon of Mars where Hell has literally broken loose. You have to fight through the demon hordes collecting guns, ammo, health, armour and key cards which allow you to progress through the levels. Due to the ageing engine any modern computer should run this and allow people to enjoy a classic in video gaming history. My closing comment is, buy this…now!!!

Retro Rating – 9/10

Team Fortress 2 - First Impressions

Team Fortress 2 Beta – First Impressions/Preview

So the Beta for Team Fortress 2 (TF2) has finally been made available to all of those who pre-order the Orange Box via Steam. Any by finally I do mean finally as for those of us in the UK at least we had to wait until the early hours of Tuesday, the day after the Beta was meant to be unlocked. However this is a Valve game and as such we should all be used to this by now, and I think the wait was worth it.

My first impressions of the TF2 Beta are that this is a very highly polished release. All the Character Classes are available, as are all the maps, map videos, taunts and everything else. The Stats system is up and working in-game and via the Steam Community pages. This certainly gives off the impression of a Beta just being used to show off the game and test on a wider range of systems rather than a Beta which feels more like an Alpha version.

The graphics and sounds are, in a word – perfect. Well they are at least on my rig. Running a P4 3.2, 1 GB RAM and an nVidea 7900GS at 1024*768 with the recommended settings gets me solid frame rates. Unlike in some other games the use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) is done with a touch of style. The graphical style is at first striking, but soon you learn to appreciate the direction Valve took with it. The contrast in graphical styles on some maps, CTF_2Fort for example is brilliant with the contrast between the Red and Blue Bases. The sounds are very good (despite the rare occurrence of the ‘stutter bug’ that plagues Source Games) with all the Characters voices sounding very unique, and some of their taunts are very humorous. My one gripe is that the sound for healing from a cabinet is the same as what is used in HL2, but this is a mere personal taste.

I must note here however that the infamous ‘Stutter Bug’ has resurfaced, while not present for everyone, I have read reports of it, and even I have started to become a victim of it. Whether or not Valve will find a fix for this issue remains to be seen.

The gameplay itself is fantastic, having never really played Team Fortress Classic I am not in a position to compare gameplay styles; however I am willing to base my views on what I have seen and done myself. The gameplay is a finely tuned, and finely balanced thing, all the Characters (or Classes, I prefer to call them Characters as they have so much of it….character that is) have roles to fill, Scouts are there to run in, get the Intelligence or cap a point quickly, the Heavy is the big mean killing machine, the Engineer sets up defence, the Medic is the healer and the Spy is a game decider in the right hands. However using a Character a role they are not designed for is likely to get you killed, and quickly. While I have seen many fans of TFC complain about the lack of grenades in any form, I find the Demoman has removed the need to have grenades in for every Character. The maps themselves are very well made, CTF_2Fort is (slightly disappointingly the only) Capture the Intelligence map, where a briefcase containing ‘Intelligence’ must be taken from the enemy base and returned to your own. The other maps are variations of the Capture to Control Point gametype. However they are done in different styles, some maps are straight head-to-heads, and others involve a switch between attack and defence.

The Stat Tracking and Achievements is a very nifty feature, though I do wonder whether Valve is just catering to the Xbox 360 gamers? I sincerely hope not and I hope to see an expanded Achievements section, hardcore TF2’ers are going to complete them all within no time. However I must say this is early days for the Stats system, and the incorporation of it into the Steam Community can only be seen as a positive sign for the future. If anything I think this is the one area which is lacking Valves’ trademark uber-high levels of quality we have come to expect from them.

Overall though this is a very good Beta for a game, and I hope Valve will take into account the fans comments and make changes as they feel are necessary. The gameplay is great and the Graphical Style has been done to perfection! The maps are great as are the Characters, and I think this will be a great game once completed and a brilliant part of the Orange Box.