BigGeekLittleGeek

A geek parent in South Africa


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XBox One

The next generation Microsoft console, the ‘Xbox One” was revealed this week.

New XBOX ONE

Here are the some of the highlights:

  • The Xbox One is positioning itself as an all-in-one entertainment unit rather than just a console; the HDMI pass-through will allow South African users to plug their DSTV decoders into the xbox; the machine is powerful enough to allow users to instantly flip between games, tv, movies and browsing the internet
  • While single player games will be able to be played without internet connection, many games will be constantly improved by an always-on connection that will provide the in game content
  •  Voice and hand gestures will be improved dramatically with the addition of the Kinect 2.0 with every console; you can even switch on the xbox with a voice command
  • Xbox live will be run on 300 000 game servers, more computing power than existed on the planet in 1999; your current xbox live account will be transferred over to the new Xbox One, including all achievements and gamerscore
  • Xbox 360 will not be able to be played on the new console
  • Games will still be able to be resold on the 2nd hand market (http://majornelson.com/2013/05/21/xbox-one-and-used-games/)
  • Also, unrelated to the actual console, Steven Spielberg will be making a live action Halo TV series

While the console has been getting lots of flak from critics, I was very impressed with the overall direction of the technology. I will definitely purchase one when it releases at the end of the year.


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WWE ‘13 Review

(As first published on ITWeb)

WWE ’13 has been hyped as a new revolution in the wrestling gaming genre. While the core of the title is still a brilliant fighting game, THQ succeeds in significantly improving the story and creating a more fluid game.

The game plays like a typical WWE game: button mash until the opponent is weak and take him down through traditional signature moves. The controls are simple and intuitive, making it simple to pick-up. There are also a number of smaller changes to the controls like auto-finishers that make that it easier to play.

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The typical shallow single player story is thrown out for a linear, six chapter story of the Attitude era:  a period of 90’s when the dominance of WWE is being challenged by the WCW, a rival wrestling company. The Attitude era story revolves around the WWE’s biggest stars (including the Rock, Triple H and others) and how they help to make the WWE the preeminent wrestling company. The story engaging, fun and replays some of the most memorable fights and plot points of the last 20 years.

Unfortunately, not everything works well in the game. The sound and commentary is cut from live matches and the camera is changes to match approach used on TV. Unfortunately neither of these works and takes away from the theatrics of the game. The commentary is very distracting, the sound doesn’t always match the feel of the match and the camera shifts are jarring and confusing.

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Customisation is a huge part of the franchise and there is a massive amount that can be done – from customising your wrestlers looks and moves, all the way to the wrestling ring and arenas. These can also be uploaded to the online community with a relative amount of ease. The one negative is that the menu was very clunky and needs significant improvement.

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This is probably the best wrestling game in the WWE series. The new story mode is fun, controls are intuitive and makes for a great party game. While the game is definitely unpolished and there is significant room for improvement, it will definitely satisfy fans of genre.

Pros:  Attitude era story is great, controls are intuitive, great party game

Cons: Sound, commentary and camera angles are poor, framerate issues

Score: 7/10


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Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (with guest blogger Aasif Rawoot)

(As first published on ITWeb)

Black Ops 2 is the ninth game in the highly successful Call of Duty series. Treyarch, the developers, have made subtle changes to the story, gameplay and multiplayer that has significantly improved the already popular game.

The story follows two different timelines – in the cold war era, it follows Alex Mason and Frank Woods as they track the rise of a new villain, Raul Menendez. In the 2025 timeline, Alex’s son, David chases down Menendez as he threatens world peace. Menendez is a complex character and while he is clearly the villain, it is also very easy to understand his plight. This duality is at the core of what makes this game brilliant.

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Choices play a big role in the story. For example, choosing to spare or killing people have an effect on the course of the story. Even failing missions opens new, harder missions rather than just offering a replay of the same stage. There is a sense of finality in every decision and theres no clear path to the happiest ending.

The “strike force” missions are a new gamemode. This mode provides a top down view of a map and allows control over a number of soldiers, drones and turrets as waves of baddies attack. While these units can be moved or positioned on the map quite easily, it is much more exciting to zoom into a unit, take direct control of it and engage in battle directly. I found the control systems rather frustrating and since the AI wasn’t too bright, I often took control of a soldier and killed off the hordes of baddies myself.

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The multiplayer also sees a number of improvements. The revamped class system allows the character to select ten items including a variety of weapons, attachments, grenades and/or perks. In addition to the traditional game types like ‘Deathmatch’ and ‘Search and Destroy’, there are a few new modes like Hardpoint (a kill-the-king) and ‘Sticks and Stones’, ‘Sharpshooter’ as well as ‘One in the Chamber’ (which was first introduced in Modern Warfare3) – both more casual party modes. There is also an option of multi-team matches: four teams of three makes for interesting gameplay. They can still be played in four player local split-screen play or two man split screen online play.

In the third gamemode “Zombies”, a team of up to five players have to fight waves of the undead. This can be done in a number of modes including Survival, Tranzit (where you take a bus ride and explore a massive area) and Grief – which pits you against another team to see who survives longer. The zombies mode is a brilliant addition to the Black Ops world and a massive amounts of fun. I might end up spending more time playing this mode than the regular multiplayer.

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Call of Duty Black Ops 2 sets a new bar for first person shooters. The way choices affect one’s progression and the course of the game makes for a deeply engaging story, the action is tense and has huge replayability. The massive multiplayer content and zombie mode makes this a title diehard fans can really sink their teeth into. This is the best Call of Duty game yet.

Pros: Choices affect the end, brilliant multiplayer, zombies mode

Cons: Story was confusing, lag on the multiplayer

Score: 9/10

RRP: R699 (Xbox and PS3) R499 (PC)


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Hitman: Absolution Review

(As first published on ITWeb)

Hitman Absolution is one of the most anticipated sequels of 2012. It has been seven years since the last title and IO interactive have delivered a sequel that should keep even the most rabid fans happy.

Hitman 01

The game focuses on the iconic hero of the franchise, Agent 47, the top hitman of the International Contract Agency. In the first mission he is asked to kill his former handler and things quickly unravel from there. Unfortunately, the narrative suffers from a short attention span – Agent 47 is asked to complete missions that are not central to the plot and often I felt disconnected from the story.

While Agent 47 is capable of going in guns blazing, the game favours a stealthy approach.  Typically, he can survey the area and then take out one enemy at a time. Immediately hiding or dumping the body is essential to not raising any alarms. After subduing an enemy, Agent 47 can disguise himself in their clothing, though the effect is limited. For example, after changing into a cop’s uniform, he will raise suspicion if he passes too close to another policeman. Fortunately, he has ‘instinct’ to help him to get out of hairy situations.

Hitman 02

Agent 47’s instinct can be activated at a press of a button and helps him to decrease the suspicion from in-game characters. Instinct helps to survey areas of the map, anticipate where NPCs will move and highlight useful items. While it can used up, finding ways to distract enemies or kill them in inventive ways replenishes his ‘instinct’ levels.

Agent 47 also has a number of weapons available to him. While the traditional fibre wire can be used to strangle enemies from behind, he also has access to a number of silenced guns that can be used quite effectively. In similar fashion to Splinter Cell, Agent 47 can tag and target multiple enemies in the same room and take them out simultaneously.

There is scoring system on each stage that rewards you for efficiently finishing the mission. You are penalised for killing characters unnecessarily and are rewarded for using more of the environment to your advantage. To help you along, there are mini-challenges on each stage that provide clues on how to best progress through the level. At the end of the level, it tallies a score and challenges to beat the highest score on your friends list, in the country or the world.

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In the Contracts mode you can create custom challenges within the game’s levels. The mode allows you to select the number of NPCs, weapons or disguises and then challenge your friends to complete the contracts faster and more efficiently than you. This is a fun social way of engaging your friends.

Overall, Hitman Absolution is an enjoyable game. While it has a weak story, the brilliant stealth gameplay more than makes up for it. The gameplay is fun and social aspects of the contracts mode and leaderboards makes for massive replayability. It is a must play for fans of the franchise.

Pros: Multiple ways to approach each level – high replayability, contracts mode, brilliant level design, tense gameplay

Cons: Weak narrative, unfocussed story,

Score: 8/10

RRP: R599 (Xbox and PS3) and R399 (PC)


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Assassin’s Creed 3

In this, the fifth chapter of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, the setting moves across the ocean to North America and focuses on a brand new hero, Connor, an American Indian. While the character and the environment will be new to fans of the franchise, Ubisoft have created an engaging journey into the American Indian culture in the backdrop of one of the tumultuous times in their history: the American Revolution.

AC3-1

The story once again focuses on the series protagonist, Desmond who enters a machine called the ‘animus’ to relive the lives of his assassin ancestors. Through accessing their memories, Desmond tries to fulfill his destiny of fighting the evil Templars and ultimately, saving the world.

The story now moves to the native-American, Connor, as he attempts to find the location of an ancient technology that will help Desmond save the world.  Connor’s journey takes place in the late 1700’s in Boston and New York at the start of the American Revolution.  While he has enemies on both sides, Connor finds himself on the side of rebels doing everything he can to protect his people and culture. The story and dialogue is well written, with an incredible amount of effort put into historical accuracy of the American Indian culture.

AC3-2

Each chapter of the story focuses on Connor as he stalks and then kills a high profile Templar target with the aim of getting closer to the truth. In between these story missions Connor can recruit new assassins to his cause, chase down collectables, build up his homestead and even partake in naval battles.

The game provides a sense of freedom and ability to explore a massive open world environment. The one criticism I have is that once Connor is engaged in a mission, the game is quite limiting and places very tight boundaries on the objective. Straying too far immediately ends the game.

Gameplay remains largely the same. The strength of game lies in the parkour style movement and combat which this has been improved significantly from the previous game. Connor can easily scale large buildings and leap seamlessly between rooftops. In combat, baddies attack one at a time and are easily dispatched using a parry-and-counter combat style. While there are new weapons in form of an axe and more guns, those familiar with controls from the previous game should pick up this up easily.

AC3-3

The multiplayer has also seen slight improvements. Wolf Pack, a cooperative mode requires a team of assassins to work together to kill targeted NPCs. Also, the traditional Assassinate mode asks you to search for and stalk a victim in a crowd, while being stalked yourself. The game is incredible tense and very enjoyable. It also unlocks a separate Animus story and definitely worth the time.

Overall, this game plays and feels like a typical Assassin’s Creed title. The story is deeply engaging and the change of environment and main character keeps the story feeling fresh. Finally, refinements and additions to the gameplay are just enough to keep fans interested. It is a worthy successor to the franchise.

Pros: Keeps the core of Assassin’s Creed gameplay, engaging story, Return of Assassination mode

Cons: Framerate issues, missions are slightly too prescriptive

Score: 8/10

 


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Dance Central 3 Review

(As first published on ITWeb)

Dance Central 3 is the next in the line of successful dance games from Harmonix, the creators of the popular Rock Band franchise. With the latest iteration, they have been able create a game that is not only a good dancing game but also a great advert for the functionality of the Kinect.

DC3-2

As with the previous games, players have follow on screen prompts or flash cards as part of a dance routine. These represent a single move in the dance sequence and stringing them together with a relative amount of fluidity, is the key to success in this game.

The song list is exceptional with a number of current titles and classic pop hits, from oldies like YMCA and Ice Ice Baby all the way to current tracks like LMFAO’s Sexy and I know it and the Black Eyed Peas’ Boom Boom Pow. In addition each song has three difficulty levels that have to be unlocked in turn. The songs list will keep any party going for ages.

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The Kinect motion control is probably the best of any game on the market. I was able to perform movements where I’m folding backward or forward, with the Kinect still keeping track of my body. Even though, the point scoring is relatively forgiving, the game is designed to make sure the player is actually doing the movements correctly and not faking it.

There are a variety of modes. These range from a single player mode to a party mode where an unlimited number of players can enjoy the game, two at a time. Here the smartglass functionality comes into play, where the DJ can add songs to the playlist using any iPhone/iPad or Android device. It keeps the game going without annoyingly having to go back into the menu.

For uncoordinated dancers like myself, the game has a ‘Rehearse’mode, to replay the routine one step at a time and even slow down the moves. Unfortunately, it is very structured and there is no way to practice one specific section of a song. There is also a workout mode which keeps a track of calories, though I hardly used it.

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Dance Central is a brilliant Kinect gaming title. Harmonix have been able to create a title that is fun, addictive and a great party game.

Pros: brilliant motion detection, great song list, smartglass integration

Cons: No story mode or unlocks, only two players at a time, not four

Score: 8/10