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10 best journeys to a galaxy far, far away

Considering The Force Awakens is still dominating the box office I thought I might do a countdown of my top 10 games that took us into a galaxy far, far away. Just a quick disclaimer as a console gamer there is only one PC game on the list and I haven’t played anything that predates the N64, so if one of your favourites doesn’t appear don’t hold it against me but would love your opinion in the comments.

10.Shadow of the Empire – N64 (1997)

I’m not going to argue that Shadow is a perfectly produced game but it had a really good bases as it allowed players to take on a unique character that shared traits with one of the favourite hero form the films without having a predetermined outcome. In addition, it was possibly the first Star Wars game which combined different modes of game play whether it’s plying on foot as Dash Render or piloting the Outrider. The opening stage is definitely a highlight and while most players find it drops away the longer you play it definitely opened up possibilities for the future.

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9.Republic Commandos – PC/Xbox (2005)

A unique chapter in Star Wars gaming as players take command of an elite band of clones rather than the usual role of a hero. This first person shooter developed using the Unreal engine has obvious similarities with other squad based games like Gears of War released a year later, as players can be revived by squad mates and issue commands. Therefor it’s no surprise the fast paced action left players wanting more and the only real drawback was the short length of the campaign and multiplayer.

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8.The Force Unleashed – PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii (2008)

Excellent graphics, a good storyline and a well voiced protagonist helped this game establish itself as one of the best sellers for 2008. However, The Force Unleashed was well hyped before its release and the repetitive method of game play combined with the absence of multiplayer disappointed some fans. Never being much of an online gamer this was never that much of a drawback and I just try to change up my own tactics to keep it interesting, after all where else can you electrify your lightsaber before thronging it.force_unleashed_1a-1920x1200

7.Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga – Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC (2007)

Combining one of the most successful toys and Star Wars started something as the Lego series has since expanded to including Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and The Avengers. These games allow players to jump into well-known story lines and regularly change amongst their favourite characters while experience a fun easy to learn method f game play. Star Wars was able to capitalise on this combination due to its wide fan base and the desire to play through the events of the films for less serious gamers. Lego Star Wars might not be anything special on game play but all the sequel means that it has definitely had an impact.

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6.The Old Republic – PC (2011)

The only exclusive PC game on my list grab my attention due to its console origins is an MMORPG based 3500 years before the films. On release it became the fastest growing MMORPG but after the initial surge it had trouble keeping subscribers and has since introduced a free-to-play option.

The game play draws heavily from its predecessors and distinguishes itself from other MMORPG’s through the introduction of companion system. These companions are linked to your chosen class which also offer a range of different builds to explore. The scale of the Star Wars universe has never been bigger and this is definitely a must for serious fans

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5.Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy  – PC, Mac, Xbox (2003)

Jedi Academy like its predecessor Jedi Outcast combines first person and third person shooters with elements of RPG’s by allowing gamers to customise their characters’ force powers. Academy’s main advantage is the story allows players to jump straight into combat with a lightsaber this allows players to develop their fighting technique and customise their lightsaber later on. In addiction the game brought an enhanced multiplayer which allowed players to take on each other using Xbox live. The drawback for me was the replay value of the campaign as the limited customisation did nothing to change the story or levels. Even so Jedi Academy ranks as one of my favourite due to partly to it’s application of force powers, being able to push storm troopers off a ledge never gets old. Jedi Academy is now available along with all its predecessors in the Jedi Knight series on steam so if you haven’t had the pleasure I suggest you check it out.

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4.Knights of the Old Republic: Sith Lords – PC, Mac, Xbox (2004)

Obsidian’s follow up to Bioware’s original lived up to fans expectations as it maintained the same game play while making an effort to expand and introduce new characters. In every way it feels like a sequel as some of our favourite characters like HK-47 return and the storyline links back to Revan and the Mandalorian Wars yet it does this in a way that is approachable for new comers. The game maintains the party, combat and levelling systems from its predecessor but does add some welcome tweaks such as the character’s ability to influence your companions. This evolves into your ability to change their alignment and their physical appearance and will also open up the opportunity to train several of your companions to use the force. Combined with the additional prestige classes this gives a sense that the player is able to take the next step beyond the original.

Like the original the storyline offers great replay value with a plethora of side quests each with multiple outcomes and several core decisions that can affect the progression of the main story. As expected with a sequel it expands our knowledge of the Star Wars universe by taking us to some new places while revisiting some familiar planets that have been left scared by the events of the original. My only real criticism of the Sith Lords is that perhaps more could have been invested into the graphics as they are not a massive leap forward but this has never stopped me playing on my Xbox 360.

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3.Star Wars Rogue Squadron – N64, PC (1998)

Back on my N64 Rogue Squadron was up there with Goldeneye as one of my favourite games. The arcade style action game allows players to pilot different rebel craft through 16 levels to fulfil different objectives and is set alongside the original trilogy. Using passwords or attaining medals on all the levels also gives players access to bonus levels from the movies including the Death Star run and special crafts like the Millennium Falcon. These elements combined to make Rogue Squadron an enjoyable and accessible simulation of aerial combated without focusing on it. Recently playing Battlefront on my Xbox One has remained me a little of Rogue Squadron but it lacks the mission objectives to keep me interested for long periods.

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2.Battlefront 2 – PC, Xbox, PS2 (2005)

A sequel that surpassed the original and has inspired the latest large scale console game in the franchise. Gameplay is based around third person combat with a collection of different playable classes available and a range of power ups based on in-game performance. Into this framework the game adds vehicles including full scale space battles and playable heroes awarded for meeting unspecified objectives. If this wasn’t enough Battlefront 2 includes the four major armies from the prequel and original trilogies which introduces players to a larger range of classes and different vehicles.

This last point contributes to what separates and raises Battlefront 2 above the more recent incarnation as it offers 2 different solo/co-op styles of play beyond multiplayer. Initially campaign offers players the ability to fight through the entire saga and develop their skills. It was the Galaxy mode which really impressed players and has probably been the biggest disappointment with the new version as players could choose an army and take over the galaxy one plant at a time. All this combined for a great experience with excellent replay value that appealed to hard-core Star Wars fans and was accessible to all levels of gamers.

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1. Knights of the Old Republic – Xbox, PC, Mac (2003)

This should not come as any surprise as the 2004 Game of the Year not only took Star Wars games to a new level but redefined RPG’S. Since the success of Knights of the Old Republic BioWare have continued to use the same companion, decision and dialogue system with a few developments in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. It was these elements along with a high level of customisation which has given all these titles their replay value.

However, none of these titles would have been successful without a great storyline, characters and an expanded universe to explore and this is where KOTOR delivers with spades. The overriding storyline of Darth Revan, Malak and the star forge is compelling with Empire style twists. The side quests allow players to explore some of the more well-known planets and aspects of the Star Wars universe while introduce new lore or building characters. The final piece of the puzzle is characters and while Carth can become a little tedious or Juhani & Jolee appear stereotypical the game delivers entertainment in the form of HK-47 and Canderous while Bastila Shan providing an unusual level of development for a companion. If you haven’t played KOTOR before it is a must for any hard-core RPG gamer or Star Wars fan and regardless of the dating graphics, it’s still one hell of a game.

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Would love to hear some of your views and hits of gaming nostalgia so don’t be afraid to comment.

Jono

 

 

Retro – Review: Halo – Combat Evolved

Less than 10 days out from the release of Halo 5: Guardians I thought it was the perfect time to look back on each chapter of the Master Chief’s journey so far, starting with the game that started it all way back in 2001. Back then after a Nintendo 64 I was tossing up between a PS2 or jumping on board Microsoft’s new Xbox. Not invested in any PlayStation titles due to my previous experience with the N64 Halo was one thing that helped me reach a decision, one I have never regretted. This is all easy to say but what has made Halo, one of the most successful franchises in gaming and allowed it to revolutionise the first person shooter?

Gameplay

In the late 90’s the first person shooter was dominated by Rare’s Goldeneye and Perfect Dark with an overflowing bag of weapons with multiple firing modes, duel wield and different level objectives. Halo was a departure from this formula as for the first time it introduced a two weapon cap on players which means you had to think about your load out, ammo and the terrain. The addition of grenades and mêlée attacks without holstering your weapon enhanced the speed of combat making it more intense than other shooters at the time. This combination, Bungie’s “golden trilogy” is a large part of Halo’s success as it added strategy to the well-established run and gun experience.

Halo never just relied on the traditional FPS format however as after the first stage the straightforward “The Pillar of Autumn” players are quickly introduced to more open environments with a range of more complex objectives. Once the Chief crashes on the ring the game takes on a whole new life with the addition of a range of vehicles from Warthogs to Banshee’s. Not only does this continue to add diversity to the campaign but vehicles have become a key element of the multiplayer experience. I will never forget taking out a guy in a Scorpion with a shotgun and then repeating it with his brother in a Ghost, priceless.

This diversity is definitely a highlight of the first part of the game whether it’s the covert start to “The Truth and Reconciliation” or the playful beach combing of the “The Silent Cartographer” the game just draws players in with the combination of elements. Unfortunately, the only criticism I have is that some of the later maps just can’t keep this up and become a little to repetitive. In part this is because you are in fact back tracking at times through the same environment while fighting the Flood. Even so Halo’s game play developed a winning formula which has now redefined the way gamers approach first person shooters since the old Rare days.

Storyline & Setting

Being the first entrant into the Halo universe the game needed to introduce gamers to the Covenant, the UNSC and their ongoing conflict without trying to bore us with long explanations. The opening sequence with Captain Keyes does this really well as we know that humanity is at war against a more advanced Alien species and the ship you are on has been trying to escape. Aside from this you are introduced to Cortana and set out to kill some Covenant while trying to escape the besieged Pillar of Autumn.

During game play Cortana is actually able to build your knowledge of the Halo universe whether it is through intercepted Covenant communications about the ring, an analysis of the artificial weather or simply warning the Chief of incoming ‘Hunters’. This is extremely well-done as Cortana’s dialog works within the context of the game to assist the Chief yet teachers the player almost subconsciously to be able to recognise different types of enemies or build their knowledge of the wider backstory. It is through this ongoing communication that we first learn that Halo holds some form of religious significance for the Covenant as this is never mentioned in any of the games cinematics which like the opening tell you enough while avoiding explorations by focusing on the development of plot.

It doesn’t take long before the universe you thought you were getting to know gets thrown upside down with introduction of the Flood. Quickly you find yourself trying to work out this new enemy without Cortana who is temporarily replaced by 343 Guilty Spark thanks to a well-planned series of events that find you a companion who is in a position to give the same style of hints about this new enemy. Lesser games and even poor quality movies would just say that Cortana has hacked a console to find the information rather than providing 343 Guilty Spark to fulfil the role in “The Library”. The monitors betrayal and the revelation of Halo’s true purpose is the final twist that sets up the games conclusion as you fight your way through the Flood, Covenant and the installations drones to destroy the ring.

The main plot is engaging and has always been successful at drawing gamers in to the Halo universe but it is the cultures and history it alludes to that has allowed the franchise to build over the next decade. A mention of the destruction of Reach has grown into its own game and numerous books while the Forerunners are currently being explored in the latest additions to the Master Chiefs story. All of this is ultimately the result of the world presented to us in this original master piece.

Audio

Normally, I wouldn’t comment on the sound of a game as while it is perhaps the most important element that allows gamers to leave their living room and become engrossed in another world it is never usually that memorable. Again this is where Halo is unique like the James Bond theme or the opening to TV shows the score is cemented in our minds and can conjure memories of playing the game. I cannot think of another game with a similar effect and its testament to the strength of the composition to inspire a sense of wonder.

Since 2001 Halo has rightly been recognised as one of the greatest games ever made as it revolutionised the genre and gave fans such a rich world to explore. It is definitely responsible for the success of the original Xbox and Microsoft’s continued presence in the console business. Personally, what still sets Halo apart for me is the well-crafted and non-predictable storyline which is something absence from most shooters.

Gameplay 9/10

Storyline 10/10

Audio 9/10

Overall 9.5/10

Check back in a few days as I take a look at Halo 2,

Jono

Windows 10: A New Beginning (Part 1)

It was a busy day for tech enthusiasts as Microsoft gave us the next look at Windows 10 and even had a few surprises that they had manage to keep secret. After watching this morning’s keynote and checking my preferred news feeds here is the first part of my roundup of what we have to look forward to later this year.

A Universal Operating System

The familiar desktop with the new modern start menu

The familiar desktop with the new modern start menu

 

To start Terry Myerson VP of Operating Systems gave us the news we all wanted to hear that windows 10 will be a free for the first year for anyone upgrading from Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. This serves a practical purpose for Microsoft by trying to compensate for the ill will towards Windows 8 and also by addressing the fragmentation of the 1.5b Windows users which limit developer interest. In the fine print it also suggests that Microsoft may turn to a subscription service like Office 365 since it is only free for the first year, if priced well such a move would still benefit consumers as existing subscribers would have access to the regular updates that Microsoft has promised in this new world of Windows as a service.

It was left to Joe Belfore to do the heavy lifting and showcase the latest features of Windows 10 starting with a recap of what we already know, including continuum the way in which the OS detects and changes between touch and keyboard inputs making it great for a hybrid device. However, it was the introduction of Cortana which everyone was waiting for and it didn’t disappoint as it uses existing features like the notebook to personalise your Windows experience from searching your files and the web to dictating your emails. Cortana like the other apps that Belfore demonstrated including a touch friendly Office with near full functionality are all universal apps across phones, tablets and PC’s with synced settings in addition to a similar UI experience that is scaled to a specific device.

Finally the worst kept secret was on show with Project Spartan, Windows new browser. The streamlined design and new rendering engine won’t really draw much attention but are the key to making a better working experience. The real excitement comes from the note taking mode which allows you to annotate using a pen or keyboard web pages and share them with others. In addition the new reading mode maybe the answer to getting rid of annoying advertising when you’re browsing and combined with the reading list will help keep track of your interests online. Of course Cortana come imbedded and I really liked the idea that if you’re looking at a restaurant she will get you everything from directions to reviews and importantly this can easily be synced with your phone.

Written and typed web annotations.

Written and typed web annotations.

To finish software part of the presentation it was passed to the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, to showcase gaming on Windows 10. Starting with the Xbox app which brings all the social features we have become familiar with on Xbox One including the activity feed and friends lists. This means that we remain connected to our fellow gamers even when we are away from the console and using the new built-in Game DVR function ( Windows + G) we can share our PC gaming experience. However, for me it was all about the games and the promise of Direct X 12 to improve detail so it was Phil’s demonstration of playing Fable Legends on a Surface Pro with a Lauren from Lionheart using an Xbox One. This is something I have wanted for a long time (since Halo was released on PC 10 years ago) as I have never been great with a keyboard but still wanted to play alongside friends who don’t have an Xbox, finally my dreams have been answered. To complete my gaming paradise with Windows 10 we can stream any game from our Xbox One to our PC screen, perfect for when my fiancée wants to watch Sex in the City.

Xbox app complete with games, friends and activity feed.

Xbox app complete with games, friends and activity feed.

That’s it for part one, tune back in tomorrow for my take on the hardware surprises unveiled today.

Cheers

Jono