HOLIDAY FROM HELL: DEAD ISLAND XBOX 360 REVIEW, BY DEPUTY DRINKS

You may or may not know, but our ECH is something of a Zombie connoisseur, but he’s currently enjoying a well-earned vacation in San Francisco with his girlfriend. So, he has kindly handed over the keyboard to me to note my thoughts on Dead Island on the Xbox.

Matt and I have been counting down the days for the release of Techlands Zombie slasher, ever since we caught the pre-release, slow motion, backwards teaser video that was as emotionally charged as any Hollywood movie.

However, the beautiful drama begins and ends there. Starting the game you realise this is a game about slashing and beating zombies, and not much more, which let me down slightly as there are already a plethora of games in this mould available.

A small choice of four protagonists is available for you to play as: Logan, a failed American football star, Xian Me, a hotel receptionist, Sam B, an alcohol and fame spoilt former rap star and Purna, a bodyguard to the rich and famous.

(Retrospectivley it seems to be an error to me to play as Purna as she specialises in guns, there being very, very few in the first act).

It might have been nice to have added a custom character choice here, which most sandbox games include.

Game play, at least to begin with, is thrilling and requires a good amount of awareness in order to survive the first few zombie attacks. Management of weapons and character upgrades requires attention too.

However, the action does become repetitive, slashing, stomping and even mowing down the undead is fun to begin with, but the re-spawn rate is high. You can clear an area, ten minutes later the zombies are all back, you end up having to sweep the area again, costing you valuable cash on repairing weapons.

The item hunts become tedious too, picking up endless hose pipes, batteries and scrap metal for no reason, from the same bags that magically restock if you leave the area.

The side quests are frighteningly similar, find this, fetch that, kill this and kill that.

In fairness, these would be necessary tasks in a zombie outbreak, but I cant help but feel that the quests in Skyrim (Bethesda’s upcoming RPG) will have a huge amount more variety.

The biggest let down are the technical problems this game suffers from, and there are many.

Pre-release rumors spread that it was riddled with more bugs than the insect house at Brazil’s national zoo. These rumours, sadly are true.

Items regularly disappear from your inventory, sprites are badly shaded and animated in a broken puppet kind of way and regularly get stuck in scenery and objects. One Zombie even locked mid frame, allowing me to dismantle it with comical ease.

Quests become impossible to start because you are unable to talk to the right person.

In the most frustrating case of sloppy game mechanics, I attempted to locate a special item, only to lose $10,000 and five rare diamonds because I did not have enough room in my inventory to pick it up. This happened twice. Limited inventory space is a common theme in these games, and is a welcome tactical element, but if this was designed to happen then the creators have clearly never played any RPGs.

This game, clearly was not ready for release, disappointing considering its elongated six year history and it’s easy to understand why game magazine reviews have been poor to medium. Edge magazine giving it a 3 out of ten might be harsh, but £40 for a game that clearly has been hugely over hyped because of it’s subject matter, not its gameplay is  probably fair.

Dead Island is comparable to that bad boyfriend/girlfriend you once had. Constantly abusing and letting you down after your hard efforts, but you keep going back for more punishment, until it dumps on you once too many times and you leave them, on the shelf, to gather dust.

See the Edge review HERE!

(N.B. Game shops have now increased the price of Dead Island to an astonishing £48. So, play it, and trade it in!)

HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY

I’m a fan of most of what you could call the arts, I love being witness to anything that came from a creative mind; anything that pushes the boundaries of originality. I’ve spoken here before of my belief that, in terms of originality and creativity, music is generally in a regressive state. But while the quality and integrity of music is slipping, other mediums are starting to push forward the boundaries to original, sometimes remarkable levels.

I didn’t really grow up playing videogames like my friends did. Other than the pant-wetting excitement of receiving a Game Boy to share with my sisters one Christmas, the first console I bought myself was a Playstation in about 1998. I played that for a few years, and thought it was good fun, but I never considered videogames to be one of the arts, or a serious form of entertainment.

That all changed in late 2001 when I went around to a good friends to see a new console he had just bought. He introduced me to the original XBOX, he had two controllers and a game called Halo: Combat Evolved.

After an evening spent playing Halo‘s campaign on two player co-operative, I had seen enough. The same friend even lent me half the money to go out the next day and buy myself an XBOX. This game changed my view on the seriousness with which videogames could compete with literature and film as a viable entertainment medium. It’s storytelling was sound, it’s visuals were worthy of being shown on a big screen, it’s atmospheres and level design were lush and above that of many films.

That game started what has been ten years of really enjoying games and seeing them as a storytelling device as valuable as the words of J.R.R. Tolkien or Alan Moore. Games had become art.

Amazingly, this November marks the ten year anniversary of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s release, and to mark the occasion Microsoft have remastered the original game. The game, and multiplayer element are being re-released in HD, with improved graphics. I was nearly sick withe excitement on hearing that news.

And that’s not all, Microsoft have also announced that the next game in the Halo series, Halo 4, is in production and will feature some Kinect elements to its core gameplay. While it will no longer be made by Bungie, it’s still worth getting excited about. Though there is a somewhat different vibe to the announcement trailor, it still maintains the epic values of the unforgettable Halo 3 announcement trailor, which gets me excited to this day.

FIVE KINECT TITLES TO FEAR THIS YEAR

If the current calibre of Xbox 360 Kinect titles is anything to go by, here is the sort of games we can look forward to over the next year.

Royal Wedding Day 3D: The ultimate experience ahead of this year’s Royal marriage of ‘Wills and Kate’, or as the game fondly calls them: ‘Kills’. You can play as either character and enjoy their special day in glorious detail. Choose to play as Will and you can stare at yourself in the mirror wondering if you only got an attractive wife because you’re a prince or, if you’re a thrill-seeker, take the action-packed role of Kate and wave at the crowds as you drive on an open-top parade around West London. It’s a guaranteed winner.

Enjoy unrivalled intimacy of this year's fart-about event, the Royal wedding. 'Not tonight, Wills. It's just be such a long day!'

BNP: Shore Protector: Playing as the game’s hero, Nick Griffin, you patrol the beaches of several southern counties as wave after wave of immigrants and refugees fly across the channel. Using Kinect’s full motion control you swipe the baddies away with exaggerated punches and sink their canoes with a virtual bow and arrow. Don’t hate the game, hate the player.

Keys and Gray: Interactive Perv: Take the field as former Sky Sports anchor-pervs Andy Gray and Richard Keys. You’re stood outside Wembley on the day of the Champions League final and have to make sexist and disgusting comments at females passing by. The seedier the better in this erection-a-minute experience. Also, slap the arses of the females who walk too close to you for a bonus round in which you try and seduce Steven Gerrard. “What’s that Andy, ‘Take a bow son!’?”

'Hang about the back' of this, Keys. You gorilla.

Formula 1 Dodger: Fully licensed by the FIA and including all tracks of the 2011 season, F1 Dodger puts you on the circuit with your heroes. Dropped on the middle of the fastest corner of every track, you have milliseconds to judge which way you will leap to avoid resembling a fly on a car in the summertime. Difficulty levels range from Easy (Kovaleinen) to Hard (Hamilton) to Hilarious Double Act (Webber and Vettel). Start your engines…

Tube Ryda: An online multiplayer game set on London’s underground network. Using full motion sensing and built-in microphone you can interact with up to 16 different players. You get more points the more you intimidate someone verbally and physically, but watch out, if you pick on the wrong person you automatically issue a challenge to fight to the death. Difficulties range from Easy (Piccadilly Circus) to Killa (Stockwell).

Gym Monkey Facebook: Gym Monkey Facebook is an innovative fitness game in which you pointlessly bulk yourself up in real life and onscreen. Thanks to Kinect’s advanced sensors, your onscreen avatar will look just like you, and the more you bulk-up the more the game encourages you to post pictures of your shirtless torso on Facebook. But be warned, not only will most women be repulsed: just like in real life you’ll start going saggy as you get older and the game will carry on posting pictures of you for everyone to laugh at. Now, where’s that creatine supplement…

ROYAL WEDDING 3D AND BNP: SHORE PATROL; XBOX KINECT’S KILLER APP?

Now that the hype surrounding the release of Kinect has died down, it’s becoming clear that Microsoft’s motion-sensing device is in need of a killer app.

So far it’s been a huge success shifting 10 million units worldwide – an incredible number considering its £130 price tag – but with the Christmas season well behind us now, Kinect needs the right software releases or risk waning popularity.

Released in 2001, it’s often said that the original Xbox console was only a success because of  its killer app: Halo: Combat Evolved. A game so good I still play my old copy on my Xbox 360 nearly ten years after its release. The continued success of the franchise has been key to Microsoft establishing themselves in the video game console market, so they’re well aware of the importance of releasing key software when it counts. And therein lies my concerns for Kinect’s long-lasting integrity.

I got a Kinect sensor just before Christmas that came bundled with Kinect Adventures and I also picked up the one launch title that looked decent, Kinect Sports. Both games are great fun to play with friends or family and are surprisingly enjoyable on your own but as the months pass with no new significant titles, the sensor is sadly staring at me like Wall*E ‘s evil cousin as I work my way through Halo Reach and Mass Effect 2.

This is especially worrying in the land of video games because hardware and software that gathers dust starts to creep into your mind as contraband with decent trade-in value.

There have been some exciting rumours regarding forthcoming Kinect titles. Microsoft has purchased the domain ‘halokinect.com’ which depending on how you look at it either sounds like the perfect candidate for a killer app, or a huge flop of a game that could drive Kinect into the realms of failure, to live out its life with most of its crap launch titles. Quite how Halo Kinect would work could keep us all guessing. An FPS with no controller? Surely a gun peripheral would be the minimum necessity, and that’ll only hack off the consumers who paid top-dollar for a controller-free games experience.

One game that is coming  is Star Wars Kinect. A teaser trailer has been around for some time and looks like it could be a very good instalment in the hit and miss world of Star Wars games. If it’s a success then it could all but guarantee the success of Microsoft’s casual gaming efforts; who the hell wouldn’t want to deflect Stormtroopers’ laser shots with a lightsaber?

But if the big names in movies and games don’t want get involved with Kinect – considering it too much of a risk to invest in – then here is what we have to fear in the coming year:

Royal Wedding Day 3D: The ultimate experience ahead of this year’s Royal marriage of ‘Wills and Kate’, or as the game fondly calls them: ‘Kills’. You can play as either character and enjoy their special day in glorious detail. Choose to play as Will and you can stare at yourself in the mirror wondering if you only got an attractive wife because you’re a prince or, if you’re a thrill-seeker, take the action-packed role of Kate and wave at the crowds as you drive on an open-top parade around West London. It’s a guaranteed winner.

Live their day in glorious interactive detail, even when the lights go out. 'Oh Wills, I'm just too tired...'

BNP: Shore Protector: Playing as the game’s hero, Nick Griffin, you patrol the beaches of several southern counties as wave after wave of immigrants and refugees fly across the channel. Using Kinect’s full motion control you swipe the baddies away with exaggerated punches and sink their canoes with a virtual bow and arrow. Don’t hate the game, hate the player.

Keys and Gray: Interactive Perv: Take the field as former Sky Sports anchor-pervs Andy Gray and Richard Keys. You’re stood outside Wembley on the day of the Champions League final and have to make sexist and disgusting comments at females passing by. The seedier the better in this erection-a-minute experience. Also, slap the arses of the females who walk too close to you for a bonus round in which you try and seduce Steven Gerrard. “What’s that Andy, ‘Take a bow son!’?”

Hang out the back of this, Keys

Formula 1 Dodger: Fully licensed by the FIA and including all tracks of the 2011 season, F1 Dodger puts you on the circuit with your heroes. Dropped on the middle of the fastest corner of every track, you have milliseconds to judge which way you will leap to avoid resembling a fly on a car in the summertime. Difficulty levels range from Easy (Kovaleinen) to Hard (Hamilton) to Hilarious Double Act (Webber and Vettel). Start your engines…

Tube Ryda: An online multiplayer game set on London’s underground network. Using full motion sensing and built-in microphone you can interact with up to 16 different players. You get more points the more you intimidate someone verbally and physically, but watch out, if you pick on the wrong person you automatically issue a challenge to fight to the death. Difficulties range from Easy (Piccadilly Circus) to Killa (Stockwell).

Gym Monkey Facebook: Gym Monkey Facebook is an innovative fitness game in which you pointlessly bulk yourself up in real life and onscreen. Thanks to Kinect’s advanced sensors, your onscreen avatar will look just like you, and the more you bulk-up the more the game encourages you to post pictures of your shirtless torso on Facebook. But be warned, not only will most women be repulsed: just like in real life you’ll start going saggy as you get older and the game will carry on posting pictures of you for everyone to laugh at. Now, where’s that creatine supplement…

VIRTUAL ACCUSATIONS

Addicted to Games? Panorama BBC, Monday 20.30

Are you kidding me? I shouldn’t be surprised, mind you. Some people believe that videogames are the source of all evil in today’s youth. I don’t know if this is true but I did once accidentally run over a badger near my house. It just ran out in front of me late one night. I was devastated; my therapist concluded that the whole episode was possibly a result of playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The effects of violent videogames are sadly seen everywhere, everyday.

This half-hour investigation takes a look at videogame addiction and manages to find a handful of examples of kids that have ‘lost it’ a bit when told their World of Warcraft session must come to an end. One ‘addict’ even smashed a vase. An Ikea vase.

There’s not much wrong with playing videogames as a hobbie. When I first lived in London I played a lot of Halo 3 online every evening. With not much cash and no girlfriend it was an excellent way to pass time. It was even sociable, with a lot of my mates playing online too and, with today’s gaming peripherals, that means online banter with your real-life friends, usually planning which pub you’ll go to on Friday after work.

So how is it that young men of my generation, who did grow up with games consoles, can pick up an Xbox controller for seven hours one evening and completely abandon it the next? What is so different about today’s youngsters that makes them unable to control their hobby?

Is it the games themselves? The gaming industry is bigger than ever before and the latest must-have titles have bigger opening weekends than big budget films. Their shelf life is vastly increased by online accessibility, meaning every ‘session’ is different. For sure this could be a cause – when I play online I’m always thinking ‘Just one more game’, but is this really the reason behind fully-fledged addiction?

In a word, no. Blaming videogames themselves for these addictive tendencies is like blaming horror films and games for spiraling teen crime. Is Grand Theft Auto really the reason that 14 year olds hang around car parks and offer some vocal abuse to passers by?

I have got to try this next time I'm in town...

The problem isn’t the games, movies or books: it’s the role models. Using myself and all my school friends as examples, we loved playing games but we were told when we could and couldn’t switch our consoles on. If we were hidden away in our bedroom all evening our parents actually gave a shit what we were up to, making sure we did our homework and got to bed at a decent hour. If we wanted to play a videogame they’d let us have an hour or so put by for the joyous act. Sure we’d be upset when the allocated time was over but if we put up a fuss we’d lose the right to have a go the next evening, or not be allowed any pudding. It was all part of learning how the world worked.

Games should not be held responsible for videogame addiction, nor should they be blamed for violence, but it’s easier for the powers that be to blame a game. Not to mention easier to try and solve than the real underlying issue.

I wasn’t addicted to videogames when I was 13, nor was I loitering on street corners trying to verbally intimidate an elderly man walking to buy his daily paper – because my parents ensured my upbringing was balanced and they set the right examples for me to follow. Just like watching a film in the cinema; adult or violent videogames come with an age certificate, yet I’ve played countless games against opposition who clearly don’t meet the age requirements. I’ll hazard a guess that they didn’t buy the game themselves. It’s could be as simple as that.

I’d back up my argument by quoting some ‘experts’ from the show itself, only I didn’t listen to it. I was busy playing Call of Duty: Black Ops and I will be until early tomorrow morning. Then I’ll probably go out and start a war.

REVIEW: FALLOUT 3

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Originally written November 2008.

The first hour of Fallout 3 was a disappointment. Having spent weeks reading about its vaults and relishing the opportunity to explore them, the sad truth was I couldn’t wait to get out of the reinforced tin can in which you start the game. A maze of laboratories, people you don’t know and an exam (yep, an exam!) only served to get in the way of what felt like an escape into the real game. As a start to the game it does make sense and retrospectively it works well, but it takes a lot of patience not to try and run for the door at first opportunity.

The second hour was incredible. It’s one hell of a moment and, after spending an hour desperate to get there, the steps as you approach the exit of the Vault will make a grown man giggle with anticipation. The moment you make it outside is as satisfying as anything you’ll experience in your gaming career, it’s the first time you’ve seen natural light and it’s only after your eyes adjust that you realise what awaits  you. Somehow you’ll eventually find your way to the nearest settlement, Megaton, where you’ll have to work hard to make friends, usually by way of one of the game’s quests.

The third hour was terrifying. In one of the first quests, a Megaton resident named Moira is creating a survival guide for the wastelands and she needs some help. She’s clearly foolish, I had only just been introduced to the wastes of Washington and I was willing to lie to her just to get the rewards. I walked off to find a nearby super market so I could let her know if it still contained any food or medicine, which it did. Unfortunately for me it also housed gangs of Raiders and I was genuinely scared as I heard creepy voices shouting obscenities from the dark corners of the room, before they charged at me.

The first threat in Fallout 3 is Raiders – a race of deranged, criminally insane humans who reside in the wasteland and throughout the game you’ll run in to them frequently. You’ll know when you’ve accidentally walked into a Raider camp; they like to hang up their victim’s mutilated bodies on meat hooks and don’t clean up the blood. They’ll also shoot you on sight. They’re a welcoming bunch.

It also won’t be long until you hear the roar of Super Mutants, an atrocious race of former humans mutated over the years, which will attack anyone then meet. They vary in rank, with the higher ranks being harder to kill and having better weapons. Typically, you’ll usually encounter them when you discover an exciting new location, and have to wipe them about before taking in the sights. Both the best and the worst moments of combat will come when you meet your first Super Mutant Behemoth, which will make your jaw drop. There’s only a handful in the game but they’re brilliant beasts and bigger than houses.

There are numerous other species roaming the wastelands that will gladly try and eat you, from Centaurs to Mirelurks, the latter resembling large crab men who are annoyingly hard to kill without the right guns.

If being compared directly to Bethesda’s Oblivion then the size of Fallout 3 is worth mentioning. The game’s map is considerably smaller and at first this could be a worry, but after a few hours wandering the wastes you’ll realise it’s plenty big enough. Being based on a real place, Washington DC, it also has it’s perks. Seeing the Capitol building for the first time is great fun, despite the army of Mutants parading outside, and even the fictional areas of the map are a joy to explore.

The leveling up system is very similar to Oblivion’s but you’re definitely more aware of how your choices and actions will shape your experience. In Fallout 3 it’s kill or be killed so you’ll give anything to be better at picking locks on ammo boxes or medical supplies. Being a hero or a villain will alter your karma levels and directly influences your interaction with other characters.

There’s enough to keep you going in Fallout 3, even if you ignore the main plotline. And that is one of the game’s flaws. When completing the main story arc of Oblivion you could then wander off and continue your life, where as in Fallout 3 completing the main quest means the credits roll and you’re loading up your old save games to continue exploring. The main quest is both engrossing and fun, but it’s too short. With DLC announced for the XBOX 360 and PC, completing the game will leave you feeling a bit put out until they’re released.

Fallout 3 is dark game that proves to be both terrifying and hilarious. But more importantly it will have you seriously considering your choices and being fully aware of the consequences. It will also send you to bed each night thankful that we haven’t sent our world into nuclear apocalypse. Yet.

Verdict: 9/10 So accomplished and addictive. Be prepared to turn up at work tired.

Hugely detailed open world to explore

Excellent character development

Can be genuinely scary

Massive amount of side quests to keep you busy

X Campaign too short