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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.

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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.

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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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Forza Horizon Review

(As first published on ITWeb)

Forza Horizon is a departure from its predecessor Forza Motorsport 4. While it keeps the physics that made the Forza franchise so popular, the addition of open-world gameplay created a mash up of a serious driving simulator and arcade racing game.

The story has elements typical of the arcade genre – players compete to become the champion of the Horizon festival in the wide open Colorado countryside.  The environments are beautiful, from country roads to twisting hairpin bends on mountain roads. They’re varied enough to always keep the races fresh.

The game takes place in an open world environment, much like the very popular Test Drive Unlimited. Players have a number of races to choose from and can start the race by selecting it on the GPS and driving to the start. One of more interesting features is the use of the Xbox Smartglass app that allows an iPad, iPhone or Android device to act as a touch screen GPS. It works incredibly well.

The regular races in the festival are standard, generally point to point races. Performing stunts like near misses, powerslides and precision passes unlock ‘milestone events’ that have strange race types associated like racing planes through checkpoints. Most of these events have impressive prize cars attached.

There are also outpost events that reduce the cost of transporting to the ten fast-travel points on the map. These include a speed camera event (go past a speed camera faster than a target speed), a Photo challenge (take a picture of a vintage car with a landmark in the background) and a Stunt Run, where the player needs to display their best driving skills.

In true Forza style, the handling is exceptional, whether weaving through traffic or sliding along a gravel road. For those new to franchise, it is important to mention that this is not a game where a player can mash the throttle – it requires a lot more finesse. Steering or counter-steering, tapping the brake and even using the handbrake becomes essential to traversing the sharp mountain bends. If the controls are too difficult there is a plethora of driving assists to help.

The online gameplay is fun. The Rivals mode earns the player bonuses by beating the ghosts of friends who have raced the same stage, while the competitive game modes allows eight player online racing. These include the traditional Forza Cat and Mouse and Virus races and are exceptionally well implemented. Unfortunately, the game suffered from lag and significantly impacted my gaming experience.

The mashup between the typical Forza physics with a competition-based arcade game is a masterstroke. The result is a high intensity racing game that is fun, skilful and beautifully created. It is definitely a must play for racing fans.

Score: 9/10

Pros: Realistic Forza physics, fun new game modes, great vehicles, paint and vinyl customisation of vehicles

Cons: Multiplayer lag, Radio music is annoying


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Need for Speed Most Wanted Review

(As first published on ITWeb)

Need for Speed Most Wanted is the latest iteration in the long running franchise of arcade racing games. With this title, the new developer Criterion Games (known for making the Burnout racing series) has been able to refresh the title and push the boundaries of the arcade racer genre.

The storyline the same as most of the titles in the need for speed series: a ‘climb the ranks and become the most wanted driver’ scenario. From the outset you have 41 vehicles available to you, from the slower Nissan Versa to the top of the range Aston Martin V12 Vantage. This is a significant departure from previous games where you had to race and earn each vehicle. All you have to is find a ‘jackspot’ where the vehicle is parked, drive up to it and press the Y button.

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Each car is fitted with standard components and you can upgrade them by entering street races to win new parts. Every car is designated with five races – which vary from ‘circuit races’ to ‘average speed races’ where you need to maintain a high average speed while weaving through traffic.

My favourite event was the Ambush races where you need to elude the cops by either outriding them or breaking their line of sight. As you destroy more vehicles and property your heat level increases and the cops employ more mechanisms to take you down, including faster cars, roadblocks and spike strips. These races are difficult but the reward of finally evading the cops of a tense 20 minute chase is exhilarating.

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The in-game menu system, Easy Drive, is probably the best executed aspect of the game. NSF dispenses with a clunky static menu system and allows to you to make upgrades to your vehicle or navigate to your next race using the DPad. This adds to the open world feel of the game.

The race gameplay has a distinctly Burnout feel to them. You start every race at full speed, there is a big focus on taking out your competitors by destroying their vehicle and unfortunately, there is significant rubber banding in the race: the faster you get ahead, the quicker your competitors catch up, but when you fall behind it isn’t too hard for them to catch up. However, the cars handle well and the race gameplay is fun and addictive.

The multiplayer allows you to drive around the city challenging friends to races. Between races you can to even perform mini challenges, like clocking the fastest speed at a speed camera or performing large jumps through billboards. The multiplayer works well and is woven into the single player missions – a billboard a friend burst through will carry his face. This is a highly effective way to get you to perform the mini challenges.

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With NFSMW, Criterion clearly brought a number of Burnout dimensions to the game. Great graphics, beautiful cars and dynamic open world environment makes this a must play for all NFS fans.

ITWeb is giving away one Xbox and one PS3 copy of the game. To win a copy just tweet the phrase “I want to win a copy of NFS from ITWeb”, together with the hashtag #ITWebNFSMW and either #Xbox or #PS3 depending on which console you have. The winner will be chosen by random draw. Competition ends 16 November 2012.

Pros: Jaw dropping graphics, awesome cars, all of them available from the beginning, brilliant menu system, open world environment, decent multiplayer, fun integration of your friends scores into single player

Cons: Rubber banding in the racing, unrealistic physics

Score: 8/10

RRP: R599


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Resident Evil 6 Review

(As first published on ITWeb)

In the latest iteration of Resident Evil, the game moves back towards its horror roots. While it has a darker tone to the story and a plethora of new characters, it sticks to the core game that made the franchise so successful.

The story takes place ten years after the events of the previous game. The world is plunged into a massive outbreak of the C-Virus – a deadly disease that instantly turns any exposed into a mindless zombie. The ensemble of old characters, including franchise favourites Chris and Leon, are joined by completely new characters and are weaved through four separate but intertwining stories.

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While the campaigns cut across the same timeline, each character’s story feels and plays differently. For example, Chris’s story focusses on combat, while Leon’s campaign has more horror elements to it. Unfortunately, because the story intertwines, you have to replay sections of the game with different characters and this makes the game feel incredibly long. Also, the plot is relatively convoluted but only becomes clear once you finish all the campaigns; you play most of the game muddling through a vague storyline.

Each of the campaigns sees you partnered with another character. Chris and Piers, Leon and Helena and Jake and Sherry are paired together and can be played in drop-in drop-out split screen. If you’re unable to get an online, the AI will control the other character. The AI is much smarter than the previous game and no longer a hindrance to enjoying to playing on your own.

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Combat is similar to the previous games. You get a basic handgun and gain new weapons as you go along. Ammo is always in short supply and this forces you to choose between firing, running away or just using the melee option, which only works for as long as your stamina bar is filled. It is often easier just to run away.

Some small tweaks to the gameplay have significantly improved the fluidity of combat. You can now walk and aim at the same time and also you can dive back or sideways during combat. This is counteracted by an increase in Quick Time Events (QTE): miss a melee attack and you need to quickly twiddle your thumbstick or press of a button. These come frequently and completely distracts from engaging with the story.

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The online game modes are a mixed bag. ‘Mercenaries’ mode returns, where you hunt down other players in a small arena. As with the previous game, the mode is well executed but unfortunately, offers nothing new in terms of gameplay. ‘Agent Hunt’ mode allows you play an enemy in a random online player’s game. Unfortunately, the combat and camera control of the baddie very poor and incredibly frustrating.

Overall, there are noticeable improvements from the previous title. The lighting is brilliant, environments are dark and moody and enemies are varied. Unfortunately, RE6 tries to be too big of a game – the storyline is convoluted, the action feels laboured and the game can be very frustrating at times. While fans of the franchise will appreciate the game, it signifies a decline from heights of RE5 in terms of both gameplay and story.

Pros: Great lighting, massive storyline, cool bossfights, 2 man co-op campaign (split screen or online co-op), significantly improved AI in single player games

Cons: Storylines are convoluted; replaying the same sections of the game over, action is stifled by QTE; crappy online gamemodes

Score: 6.5/10

RRP: R599 on Xbox/PS3 and R499 on PC


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Review: Fable the Journey

(As first published on ITWeb in October 2012)

Fable: The Journey is a spin-off of the popular Fable RPG series made specifically for the Kinect motion controller. This is Microsoft’s first venture into “hardcore” Kinect gaming, and while the game has some serious flaws, it can be loads of fun.

The player is a young unwitting hero, Gabriel, a traveller, who is destined to save Albion from nefarious forces. Early on, Gabriel meets Theresa, a blind soothsayer who reveals his destiny and helps him on his way. As a fan of the Fable series, I loved how this game was able to bring the trademark humour, distinct cartoony visual style and storyline elements of the original, while building on new characters and gameplay.

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The mechanics are quite simple: for more than half the game, the player is riding a horse and uses the Kinect motion control to steer, spur it on or stop it completely. During combat, players push forward with their right hands to cast spells and then use the ‘aftertouch’ ability to bend them around corners. Pushing the left hand forward creates a tether to pull baddies towards the player or move objects in the environment. Finally, the player can lift his left arm to block attacks and bounce back projectiles. And he can do all of this while sitting down.

As the game progresses, the player gains experience points that can be used to upgrade skills and health. Unfortunately, even though the player is able to gain new spell abilities later on, none of the upgrades fundamentally change the way the game is played.

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The Kinect controller works well… for most of the game. In some of the busier battles and rather epic boss fights, the player is required to use various combinations to effectively combat baddies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work – in fact, the further the player gets in the game, the controls become more and more unresponsive, inaccurate and rather frustrating.

Overall, the game is quite enjoyable. The environment is wonderfully recreated, the story is engaging, and the action – even though simplistic – is loads of fun. Unfortunately, the linear on-the-rails storyline is a major letdown and the Kinect motion controller can be excruciating at times. While this game is definitely aimed for tweens, fans of the Fable series will enjoy this spin-off story despite its shortcomings.

Pros: Beautifully recreated world of Albion, Epic story, awesome boss fights
Cons: Linear story, glitchy controls (that you can only recalibrate by exiting the game), too much time spent petting your horse
Score: 6.5/10
Time to completion: 10 hours