Taking a break from the many, many hours of healing stricken comrades and reviving their corpses in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 allowed me to get some hands-on time with a couple of recent preview builds. Namely a beta code for the Xbox 360 version of Blur, and the general release demo on PSN for Just Cause 2. Impressions for both are after the jump.

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After a week’s break between the end of the demo and the release of the full game, the addiction has set in again. The single player campaign has been completely ignored for the multi-faceted, frenetic warfare that comprises the online multiplayer, and the best part of twenty hours has passed in the blink of an eye. During that time, preferences have changed – I now find myself picking the Medic class, whatever the situation, with my favourite class in the demo, the Engineer, a distant second. And then there’s the inevitable comparisons with the monster that is Modern Warfare 2, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 will divide opinion as to which is the better game. For me, the answer is clear cut. This is a CoD-killer.

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BioShock 2 // PS3

February 17, 2010

There has been a trend over the last six months for sequels to take the promising first stab at a new franchise and improve upon it very successfully, whether that be Assassin’s Creed 2 taking an original premise mired in repetition and creating a wonderfully varied, long adventure out of it; or Uncharted 2 taking the very solid and slick Drake’s Fortune and turning the dial up to 11 for Among Thieves, improving upon it in every way. BioShock 2 then, was always going to have its work cut out – the original foray into Rapture was a stunning game, one lavished with universal acclaim, Game Of The Year awards and even a BAFTA. It was the shock of the new that elevated BioShock to it’s lofty critical perch; total immersion in a city like no other the player had ever experienced. Shorn of that surprise, would a return to Andrew Ryan’s ‘utopia’ deliver the same highs in Rapture’s dark depths as its predecessor?

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Although it was never quite going to match up to the Modern Warfare 2 juggernaut for sheer depth, Digital Extremes’ multiplayer component for BioShock 2 feels like a missed opportunity. It introduces some innovative features that really lend it its own personality, retaining the essence of Rapture and the BioShock universe, but poor balancing, ropey animation and lacklustre maps let the whole thing down.

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First Impressions: BioShock 2

February 11, 2010

Set in the submerged, dystopian city of Rapture and championing the power of the self over the collective, the original BioShock proved that game developers could take literature as its chief inspiration and still craft a fun but mature game based on its premise. The works of author Ayn Rand, particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, played a crucial part in forging the atmosphere and underlying ethos of Rapture, and was the primary reason why I stuck with BioShock through to the bitter end when the gameplay mechanics had grown a little repetitive. Two and a half years later, I was keen to find out whether the narrative of its successor, BioShock 2, was the game’s saving grace or one of many highlights.

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Five years before Rare took him out of his Arwing, gave him a staff and plonked him into an unlikely 3rd-person action adventure game, Fox McCloud landed on the Nintendo 64 in a remake of the original SNES classic Starwing, bundling the Rumble Pak in the box for good measure. Now available for Virtual Console in all its original glory, I took Star Fox for a spin against big baddie Andross to see if my fond memories of this space shooter held up after all these years.

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I got a staggering amount of games for Christmas. More games than I will reasonably get through for a number of months, particularly as the first quarter of this new year is absolutely packed with triple-AAA titles that I wont be able to resist picking up. But, am I playing those games? Playing through solo adventures to bring you my personal impressions, to rack up more Trophies; a pursuit that has become curiously addictive, and probably worth its own post?

No, I’m doing none of that. I’m currently obsessed with trying to master the multiplayer of Modern Warfare 2, and finding it a case of one step forward, two steps back.

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I received Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time in my free games allocation for being an employer of SCEE. Based on my perception of the series to date, I thought I’d inherited a children’s game,  despite having never played any of its numerous instalments. Bright, bulbous visuals apart, I was mistaken – although in some parts criminally easy, Ratchet & Clank also provides some rock solid platforming challenges requiring hand-eye coordination right out of the top drawer.

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The newly re-launched website for upcoming FPS Bioshock 2 is exactly the kind of digital experience that a videogame demands – dripping with atmosphere and steeped in the aesthetics of the game. The interactive Flash diorama,  loosely based around a doll’s house, blends seamlessly at certain points with actual gameplay teaser footage, and adds an air of grimy menace with eerie sound effects and unsettling dialogue (click on the doll in the bottom left segment of the house for a chilling example of this).

Everything combines to evoke memories of Rapture, the underwater dystopian city (based on the philosophies of personal favourite Ayn Rand) that comprised the setting for the original game, and returns for the second, albeit 10 years on. As the first title was one of my all-time favourite videogames, the sequel has a lot to live up to; and my expectations are tempered by the fact that the franchise has switched from the hands of developer 2K Boston to those of their colleagues’, 2K Marin. Regardless, if the website is an accurate indicator of the flavour of Bioshock 2, it would appear that all the atmosphere of one of gaming’s most memorable settings has been retained. Roll on February.

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The trouble with first impressions is that they can often be misleading. Gameplay mechanics can sometimes still be a little alien to players new to them. Pacing and action elements can be chaotic and confusing in such a tightly scripted environment. I desperately wanted my initial reactions to hold fast throughout the single player campaign for Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – I wanted to be the lone dissenter amidst the clamour of praise and admiration for Infinity Ward’s blockbuster. To be immune to the hype. But, credit where credit is due; as the final mission came to an astonishing end and the credits rolled, I sat there impressed and open-mouthed. Warning: contains spoilers.

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