Category Archives: Articles

Indecision

The Agony of Indecision – 2013

Few things distress the soul like the quiet agony of indecision.  Sat alone in the darkness, willing yourself to sally forth into a direction of crystalised clarity; a venture that will shower you with phantasmagorical rewards of enthrallment and gratification.  But where is that elusive shadow of a direction?  Why does it lurk just beyond the periphery of discovery?  Gently mocking your blundering attempts to utilise cerebral power and deep contemplation in hopes of reaching that moment of light, that ephemeral glimpse of redemption.

The desperation becomes more pronounced Indecisionwith every overtly erroneous decision.  Despite the perception of one’s own time as a valuable commodity, our brief forays into an ultimately unsatisfying distraction serve only to highlight how misguided that notion is.  Time presses inexorably forward, lethargy eventually forcing us to abandon our day’s endeavour, leaving our embittered minds to justify their own pitiful existence, in perpetual half-hearted denial of yet another squandered evening.

Quite remarkable is the boundless optimism with which one approaches every subsequent attempt.  The flickering excitement of potential, the zeal of a fresh day, the invigorating balm of hope.  What fresh treasures could be finally located this time?  Then follows the familiar purgatory of inability to commit to a choice.  Then the inevitable sinking of expectation, and the interminable descent into the deep, hellish pit.  The searing anguish of uncertainty, and utter shredding agony of indecision lacerating your hopes into a stinging reminder of the power of the fearful, never-ending cycle.

Thus runs a standard evening at home, staring at my enormous, glittering games collection, waiting for inspiration to strike as to which title I should pick.  What will blow me away?  What will make my evening?  Then inevitably I will leave them to gather literal or virtual dust as I disregard them all, and opt for an old familiar instead, like CS:Source, or Battlefield.  Like a holey old jumper, they are just too comfortable.  I despise myself…

noob

Simpleton Gaming – 2007

News just out!  Game developers have collaborated to bring us a whole new range of games.  These are actually remakes of existing titles, but are aimed at a specific audience.  They are targeted directly at the not-so-bright ones among us.  Games for the simpletons who have trouble tying their shoelaces, let alone solving a typical Metal Gear Solid dilemma.  This range has an all-star cast of famous titles including the following:

Colin McRae Rally SE (Simpleton edition)

Since the normal version required a good deal of driving noobskill to master, certain driving aids have been introduced to help out the ‘less-gifted’.  The first change is invisible cushions along all the tracks that stop your car from leaving the track but actively pull opponents off.  As well as auto-braking at corners, there is an additional option for auto-turning where the car steers itself round the corners.  Also the AI cars don’t exceed 30 mph, and they regularly explode and get flat tires without obvious cause.  As an added measure, to ensure that players don’t get distracted and worried too easily, the original plan to model the driver as a true likeness of Colin has been canned.

FIFA SE

You start the game with just one available team to avoid the confusion of navigating through all those hundreds of clubs.  Within this one team you only get to control one player, thus saving the immense skill of actually changing player every time you wish to kick the ball.  Pressing directional buttons will suggest to your player which way you want to go, and he will decide whether to obey you or not depending on whether you are asking him to do something sensible.  When your player actually has the ball, control is simplified so that he will control himself until he is no longer in possession of it.  Free kicks and penalties are also made easier as you just have to press a button and your player will take a decent kick wherever he likes, but still leaving ultimate power to you as you get to choose when he kicks it.  Also included are post-match interviews with Beckham to make dim players feel intelligent.

Unreal Tournament SE

In a bold move, UT developers have made the shock decision to allow the player to control ALL directional movements.  This is swiftly countered by the changeover to become a 2D platformer, and the auto-aim facility, which will automatically aim your crosshair at the nearest enemy player, be he in sight or not.  The weapons have also been simplified, so you’ll now be able to wield the likes of a rolling pin, knife and fork, cucumber, and nuclear bomb.

Final Fantasy SE

The main character who you control is Fred; the original names are too hard to read and pronounce and so have been cut in favour of smaller and simpler names.  To obviate the obvious need to solve the hard puzzles throughout the game, you actually watch a pre-rendered video sequence of the game’s characters completing the missions.  To make players really think they are having an input into the game, lights flash and the controller vibrates.

These games should exploit a previously untapped niche in the market, and cater for the gaming needs of all the total idiots around today.  They’re still too advanced for the techno-illiterate oldies of yesteryear, but just perfect for Joe Bloggs next door who still uses tip-ex on his computer monitor.

The future’s bright.  The future’s simpleton.

Unreal Tournament

The Game That Started It All – 2006

The game that started it all for Mr Brew  –  Unreal Tournament

The year was 2000.  Since my recent acquisition of a PC and PlayStation, I had been toying around with a few games here and there, but nothing that etched strong memories of pleasure into my brain.  Then one glorious day someone gave me a PC game called Unreal Tournament, and suddenly a whole new gaming universe was opened up to me.  You get your strategic thinking games, your mindless shooty games, and your agile adventure games, and then you get Unreal Tournament which manages to combine all three of those styles into a heady mix of gaming bliss.

To a new player Unreal Tournament wasUnreal Tournament astoundingly enjoyable, but the true, overwhelming satisfaction came from mastering the weapons and gameplay modes it offered.  The ecstasy of an exquisite plasma shockwave, the unsurpassed satisfaction of anticipating your enemy’s movements with a devastating hail of rockets, and the shiver of unbridled glee at the timeless roar of “M-M-M-M-M-Monster Kill!!!!”

To become a master of Unreal Tournament required unerring aim, dextrous leaping and hopping around the map to dodge your opponents’ firepower, and some shrewd tactical thinking to outwit them.  You could start to navigate the maps blind-folded, flip backwards over death defying jumps with ease, and anticipate the Shield Belt respawn to within a fraction of a second.

Unreal Tournament remained my favourite game for many many years, and even seven years later, it still retains a heavenly balance and purity that no other game has managed to fully replicate.  Sure, I played Unreal Tournament 2003 and 2004, and they were great games.  But the memories that I hold dearest in all my gaming career are those glory days of the original Unreal Tournament, and even now it brings a tear to my eye as I recall the complete and utter bliss of playing such an extraordinarily enjoyable game.  Unreal Tournament started my gaming career, and it will live on in my heart forever.

Screenshot

Realisation – 2006

It was just another day on one of my favourite Counterstrike: Source servers.  My objective was to attain that elusive No.1 slot on the server ranking system, so I had been storming around like a sex-crazed bull for the past few hours, sharing my lovingly flung bullets with all who crossed my path.  ‘Twas on this fateful day that my gaming perceptions were wrenched askew.  And for the first time ever, CSS forced me to make a decision that had moral implications.  It all happened on de_chateau.

The map started well, with myself on the Terrorist force, and the teams balanced at 4 apiece.  The skill level on the server was quite high overall, with the CT putting up a strong resistance to our varied forays into the bombsites.  But as the match progressed, it was apparent that we had a n00b in our presence.  By half-time, a CT by the name of Matty had a kill/death ratio of 0/16.

Since allspeak was enabled, I could hear his teammates’ scathing observations on his performance, demanding to know precisely why Matty felt the need to grace them with his presence.  After a long pause, the hesitant voice of a nervous 12 year old whispered through the public channel, his apprehension evident.  He apologised to his team, and offered to join another server if they wanted.  His contrite reparation was completely ignored by his entire team, and they continued their discussion without so much as acknowledging his apology.

I suddenly felt something I had not experienced before; a twinge of sympathy for this poor lad who was trying hard to play a new game, but was being given such short shrift by callous CSS veterans.  This intensified as I watched my teammates gleefully claim easy kills at his expense, and as I myself punctured his cerebellum whilst his spray of bullets spattered harmlessly into the brickwork behind me.  Kudos to Matty, he persevered, despite no doubt feeling utterly worthless.  He even tried joining in conversation with the rest of them, but they paid little heed to his attempts at communication, just using him as the butt of their jokes.

By the final round, T and CT were tied for score, so this would be the decider.  My teammates faked a rush on A, and I went alone to B with the bomb.  After a distant gunfight at A, my entire team were mown down by a stoic CT defence.  As they swarmed back to B, I cut them all down at the business end of my AK, until only one was left – Matty.

There was no sign of the poor, maligned Screenshotn00b, but the fate of his entire team lay in his hands.  I planted the bomb and crept upstairs to guard it from above.  Sure enough he furtively shuffled into sight sporting a cheap gun and nervously glanced round trying to see me.  He then made a beeline for the bomb, and started defusing.  I let my crosshairs linger idly over his head for a second, as I contemplated the sad fact that this would seal his fate as a hopelessly incapable novice.

With a sudden flash of pity, I swung my aim up a few inches and loosed off a couple of shots just above his head.  He stopped defusing and started firing blindly in my direction.  I sprayed back my fire, making sure to hit him once or twice on the legs and arms, but eventually ensuring that he finally got the better of me.  Matty unleashed an elated cry of sheer delight into the speech channel, and carried on defusing the bomb.

I sat back with a feeling of detachment as the map ended in favour of CT.  They had finally accepted Matty, and were blessedly praising him in light of his accomplishment.  Simultaneously, my team were jibing my own inadequacy, and laughing at my apparent incompetence.  I didn’t care.  Everyone on the server was happy or laughing, and Matty was in heaven, as his stuttering cries of excitement made evident.  It brought a deep feeling of satisfaction to know how much pleasure I had granted him.

The server closed to the sound of excitement and laughter.  The realisation struck that, all things told, that is what online gaming should be about.  Our goal should be to have fun, not necessarily to win; that is just a bonus.  It has changed the way I look at games, and makes playing them a lot more fun, not just for myself, but for others too.  The memory of Matty will live on.

Mr Brew

Hyperspace Invader

Alaware Shooters – 2005

Ok, so we’ve come a long way since Asteroids and Space Wars, but we cannot forget these classics of old, as companies like Alawar are eternally remaking them.  They take all your favourite arcade games from times past, and give them a modern look and feel.  We shall be taking a look at some of these restored gaming gems, starting with these four shooters.

 

Hyperspace Invader

As the only 3D title amongst the four, Hyperspace Invader certainly seems to have an instant head-start.  There are a number of alterable views from which you can watch your little ship fight its way through the heaving alien invasion.  The 3D engine is well used to add significant depth to the levels, with vast alien spaceports and defensive buildings flashing by beneath your wingtips, as well as formations of enemy fighters in the distance.  Enemies also ascend and descend into the fighting zone, further adding to the illusion of a 3D battlefield.

This ostensible freedom is somewhat limited byHyperspace Invader the sideways movement restriction, which does not permit your ship to access the outer sides of the screen.  This is particularly frustrating when an extra life power-up goes sailing by beyond your straining wingtips.  However, you are not limited to sideways movement, as you can also boost forwards and backwards up and down the screen.  This can be very handy to avoid the incessant hail of enemies at times.

Progression is marked by selections of missions, each of which can be unlocked individually, saving you the bother of having to complete the entire game in one sitting as arcade tradition dictates.  There are plenty of bigger and better ships and missions to unlock as well, so the lifespan is quite considerable.  There is no option for mouse control, which is unfortunate, and indeed odd considering the modernisation of all other game aspects.  But still this is a fine game, and will certainly entertain.

Score – 8/10

 

Alien Outbreak 2 – Invasion

As the most vital tool of any PC gamer’s arsenal, it is nice to see the option to be able to use the mouse in this game.  Yes, it may be breaking away from the arcade roots a little, but it offers a far more fulfilling style of gameplay.   Especially when playing such titles as this one, because the sky is constantly ablaze with laser shots, missiles, and other insalubrious alien emissions that are determined to break apart your poor little spaceship.

Alien Outbreak 2 is broken up into sections of ten missions apiece.  You start each section with the most basic firepower, and half a shield, that will only take a few knocks before its shell will crumble.  As you slaughter the massed waves of enemies, shield power-ups will emit from some of the carcasses, and these gradually build up your shield to the next level.  The clever bit is, once your shield upgrades a level, so does your firepower, meaning a perpetual upwards climb for bigger and better things.

Forward and backward movement is allowed, but for some reason you can only climb halfway up the screen.  Gameplay is a bit of a chore at times, as the enemies have a lot of health, and takes time to whittle them all down.  Also the difficulty is a bit unbalanced, with some missions too easy, and some way too hard.  There are even certain-death situations that cannot be escaped, no matter how dexterous you are.  These make the game difficult to predict, but excessively so.

The overall experience is positive, but it isn’t the best of the shooters.

Score – 6/10

 

Xeno Assault

Xeno Assault is also mouse controllable, but in this game your craft is firmly glued to the bottom of the screen, restricting you to 2D movements.  The innovation this game sports is a kind of dual laser beam that emits from your spaceship about every five seconds.  This is an invaluable aid to defeating the enemy, and although on paper sounds a little odd, it becomes second nature to time your laser blasts to glean maximum destructive havoc.

Firepower can be upgraded, but this has to be used wisely, as it degenerates over time, so you will be using the most basic firing mode frequently.  There are secondary weapons as well though, such as rockets, lightning bolts, and excellently, deployable turrets that shoot at the nearest enemy.  Gameplay is also varied slightly by the inclusion of meteor storms, necessitating nimble yet delicate manoeuvres to avoid being ground into fine space powder.

Xeno Assault gives a strong aroma of quality, with pleasing graphics and animation, and visually delightful backdrops.  But its slight lack in variety, as well as the restrictive movements deny it from excellence.

Score – 8/10

 

Pulsarius

Of all four games, Pulsarius probably sports the most gameplay variety.  But it is also the shortest.  You can again use the mouse to guide your ship, and you have free roam of the entire screen to dispatch laser death upon your foes.  There are three weapon modes, each with individual characteristics, and these can be built up by gathering the power-ups that are strewn around the levels.  You also have a secondary fire mode, which allows you to fire limitless rockets along with your laser fire.  These can also be upgraded to more powerful versions, as well as auto-aiming ones.

Gameplay alters with each of the 12 levels, and the baddies you fight change as the game progresses.  There are actually obstacles you can hit, such as large rocks, meteors, alien gun turrets, and others, all of which will annihilate your ship upon contact.  Extra details include laser fields that you need to quickly disable by shooting switches, and intermittent laser beams that you have to time your passage past carefully.  The focus is on large amounts of easily killable enemies, rather than fewer, but armoured enemies.  So expect to take down some truly enormous waves of alien scum.

The only big problem with Pulsarius is that it is far too easy to complete.  There is only one difficulty level, and 12 missions to blast through.  Add to this the fact that each mission grants you three lives and armour that can be added, and each mission autosaves after completion, allowing a quick return should you fail, and things are clearly not gong to last very long.  The frequent extra life power-ups do not help the cause.  And the final boss ship is arguably easier than any previous bosses, and I managed to defeat him without so much as a scratch.

With a little more effort and a little more difficulty balancing, Pulsarius would have been a fantastic game.  At the moment, it merely suffices for a fleeting distraction, albeit a thoroughly enjoyable one.

Score – 7/10

FEAR

E3 PC Preview – 2005

It’s an exciting time as E3 opens its gates to the heaving masses and Gameworld representatives dash round the stalls like kids at a fairground, breathless with excitement and eyes shining.  Aladdin’s cave pales in comparison to the rich treasures that can be unearthed within the voluminous confines of E3.

Just to keep the excitement flowing whilst our diligent reporters frantically scribble down their flustered news stories and astounding breakthroughs, we have compiled a small list of the elite PC titles that will be unveiled at this year’s event.  Tuck in, and try not to dribble.

F.E.A.R.

Fear!  There are different types of fear.  FEARThere is the Doom III kind of fear; an in-your-face explosive brand of dread, culminating from the expectation of what hideous monstrosity is going to try and suck out your eyeballs next.  Then you have the F.E.A.R. kind of fear…

This is a far more psychologically disturbing horror, developing an intense terror through drama and story as well as the baddies, generating a sick feeling of trepidation in the pit of your stomach.  With a fancy slo-mo effect as well as chunkily satisfying weapons with which to rip your way through the unspeakable hordes, F.E.A.R. is exciting, but disturbing prospect!

Quake IV

Using the same engine used to make Doom III, id have recently been releasing snippets of info on this highly anticipated title.  The game plays through the human invasion of Stroggos, attempting to quell this dangerous alien threat.  You are Matthew Kane, a grunt in the army who is left for dead when his dropship crashed.

In a vast, involving campaign, you battle the evil Stroggs whilst attempting to help out your fellow soldiers.  Unlike Doom III, Quake IV is not a solitary experience in a confined environment.  It is a gigantic great war of which you are just one tiny little part.

Enemy AI looks to be genuinely impressive, with Stroggs reacting according their surroundings and their accomplices.  If there are several Stroggs fighting you at one time they will intelligently team up with devastating effectiveness against you.  With a dark, moody atmosphere, plenty of alien-fragging action, and lots to be scared about, Quake IV is near the top of our most wanted lists.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

Several years ago I spotted this unheralded little title displaying its wares.  I was instantly interested.  Since then, the game has risen in fame and popularity to almost cult status despite its perpetually retreating release date.

The game is set in the titular city of Chernobyl, where you perform dangerous missions within the danger zone of the radiation-wracked remains.  But a whole new world of malformed monsters, and hideous creatures has evolved since the radiation outbreak.

Survival is a key factor in this fully autonomous self-sustaining virtual environ, and there are thousands of small details that generate one of the most immersive atmospheres we have ever seen.  Acute AI, grittily realistic graphics, interactible miasmic environments, wet-your-pants horror, and sheer panic are just the beginning of what this game has to offer.

Unreal Tournament III

Well it decided to wait a few years before rearing its head again, but we reckon that can only be a good thing for the Unreal Tournament series.  Apparently, everything has undergone another significant alteration, retaining the core gameplay ethic, but transforming and streamlining every other part of the game into something even more addictive and satisfying to play.

Expect masses of new vehicles, a distinction between two individual races to play as, and jaw-dropping visuals brought to us by the phenomenal Unreal 3.0 engine.  UT III is not going to score any originality points, but its still bound to win our hearts all over again.

These titles and many more are on display at E3 for the next few days.  We’ll bring you more news as we lay our fevered hands on it.  Until then just dream about the gaming nutrition awaiting us in the near future.  Stroggs…Mmmm!

Warblade

Shareware Showdown: Warblade – 2005

Scouring the net for hidden gaming treasures can be a rewarding experience.  Tucked into dark little corners and humbly residing within faraway realms lie some digital masterpieces of gaming brilliance, undisturbed by the trampling hordes of mass consumerism.  Over the next few months PCGameworld is going to be taking a closer look at the glut of freeware and shareware games that litter the globe, and we’re going to select and feature the ones that stand out from the rest.  The works of art that deserve recognition from the crowd through sheer quality and playability.

First up is Warblade.  The brainchild of coding Warbladegenius Edgar Vigdal, this is a top-down shooter that belongs to the Space Invaders bloodline, but transcends its numerous forebears with ease.  Fast-paced action is the theme here, with ever-increasing swarms of progressively tough enemies ceaselessly assaulting your fragile little spaceship, leaving you short of breath and with aching fingers as you dextrously manoeuvre through the barrages of laser death being hurled in your direction.

The sheer number of enemies on-screen at any one time makes this a relentless and unforgiving experience.  But that is precisely what will keep drawing you back again and again; the ridiculously addictive joy of ripping through serried ranks of alien scum with your dinky little craft, fully aware that the mere slip of a finger could be liable for your instant transformation into a burning wreck.

You start the game with a little peashooter to blow the enemies away, but this can gradually be upgraded to firepower that can only be described as ‘weapons of mass destruction’.  The beefiest of these super-weapons is a gigantic plasma cannon that can annihilate hundreds of ships per second, and even more with the right upgrades.

To add flavour to the formula, there are a whole host of power-ups to be scavenged from the carcasses of your fallen opponents, with wildly varying effects.  Some change your firepower, some give you money, and some increase your ship’s stats, such as speed.  My favourite power-up is Scoop, which allocates two enemies to fight by your side, effectively tripling your firepower.

Possibly the most endearing aspect of Warblade is its complete unpredictability.  Playing the game one time might grant you a few decent weapons early on, and plenty of cash to aid your progress.  But the next time you could scrape narrowly through the levels with little assistance, relying solely on razor sharp wits and observation to ensure your survival.

Further variety is added by two little sub-games that surface at fairly regular intervals.  The first is Meteorstorm, a nerve-wracking test of raw impulsive reflexes, throwing speeding meteors at you with little respite.  Inordinately satisfying to complete, and applying more speed gives you an even bigger bonus at the end.

The other little sub-game is Memorystation, which is just a giant game of pairs.  Finding two icons of the same type will grant you various rewards, and finding all the pairs will give you an extra bonus.  Nothing special, but a pleasant breather from the non-stop action outside.

From the title screen right up to the end credits, Warblade simply reeks of quality.  Great graphics, sublime sound, perfect playability and addictive action.  A hefty accomplishment for a shareware title that was crafted entirely by an individual and his small team of devoted helpers.

Warblade is a perfect reason to give more attention to the delights that a shareware game can offer.  An undiluted slice of arcade action that offers an experience purer than virgin snow.  A worthy masterpiece, and something that’ll keep you coming back for more.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Download the trial now and experience its unique appeal for yourself.

Written for PCGameworld in 2005.

Gaming Goodness

Gaming Goodness – 2005

Gaming Goodness
Your flavoursome digital diet!

Just think, it’s been over a quarter of a century since the era of Space Invaders and its joyously retro arcade contemporaries.  Although it can be enjoyable to indulge our nostalgic desires for such long-lost gaming classics, it is infinitely more thrilling to see what gaming delights are being proffered to us by the diligent code monkeys of today, who are labouring away to enrich our already engorged gaming lives even further.

The problem is that few of us have enough time to play through the cornucopia of appetising offerings that we are inundated with in an unremitting deluge.  The trick is to identify the wheat from the weeds; to harvest only the finest gaming gems from the veritable ocean of glittering goodness.

This guide will help you to find the elite few that transcend the rest, the rare masterpieces that boast not only stunning graphics, but also sublime gameplay and overall high quality production values.  The kind of game that makes rival game developers weep forlornly into their keyboards.

Here are the titles that you need to own no matter what.  Do whatever you have to, hold your neighbour’s cat to ransom, sell your parents into slavery, or just pawn your grandmother’s false teeth.  Whatever it takes, find the cash and get these games.  You won’t be disappointed!

 

PC

Half Life 2

Half Life 2 is the zenith of gaming bliss, Gaming Goodnesscondensing the last decade of FPS gaming evolution into a mixture so divine that you cannot help but boggle at its brilliance.  Take up the crowbar of Gordon Freeman once again as you battle to save mankind from a terrifying alien threat.  All the traditional gaming elements have been surpassed, and combined with heaps of new features and an astonishingly freeform world that responds to almost limitless playing styles.

The storyline is nothing short of superb, an emotional tale that grips you tensely from beginning to end.  But that’s not all.  The game also comes with a vastly updated version of the world’s most popular online game – Counterstrike.  This includes remakes of famous maps as well as plenty of fresh content.  Half Life 2 is an unmissable title.  Put it at the very top of your shopping list

Rome: Total War

Ancient battles were so much more interesting than the swift, decisive firefights of today.  Rome: TW takes you back to the time of the staggering Roman expansion, where military campaigns were the order of the day.  You take control of a Roman faction and basically do whatever you want.  You can acquiesce to the demands of the Senate and wage their wars for them, or you could just attack Rome itself and grasp total power for yourself.  There are countless options open to you.

The meat of the game is in the battle scenarios where you pitch your select ranks of trained soldiers against the enemy army.  Mayhem and carnage of gargantuan proportions ensues.  The vast array of options allow armchair generals to use their own tactical prowess and cunning to defeat the rival general.  Castle sieges in particular are stirring, and add a whole new strategic element to the game.  Put simply, Rome: TW is the title of choice for all strategy aficionados.

Football Manager 2005

Due to some unfortunate legal wrangling, the Championship Manager series has had to change its name to Football Manager.  What makes things slightly confusing is that the old name has been claimed by another company who want to cash in on the previous games’ success.  But never mind, Football Manager is still the same frighteningly addictive game you have always played, but now with plenty of nips and tucks to make things even better.

The premise is as simple as ever, to take control of any professional football club and through careful management and tactical expertise make them the best team in the world.  New additions include the ability to play mind games with opposing managers and use media manipulation to affect morale.  Plus of course all the updated stats to make the game tally with real life football.  Time to put the girlfriend into hibernation and kiss goodbye to your social existence; FM 2005 will suck your life away mercilessly.

 

Playstation 2

GTA: San Andreas

Your name is Carl Johnson.  You live in San Andreas.  You can do anything you want.  The scope of this game is unparalleled in its ambitious enormity, as it throws the rulebooks out the window and instead hands you the most freeform world seen to date.  Go wherever you want, race tractors, steal cars, eat, play videogames, play pool, play basketball, run businesses, kit out your vehicles with cool mods, or just run around like a raving lunatic and blow stuff up.

All this is done within a huge and incredibly realistic gaming environment that includes both rural and metropolitan terrain, and is replete with oodles of cars vans, lorries, bikes, trains, aircraft and boats for your motoring delectation.  There is a central storyline that can be followed, or you can just freewheel around on your own.  This is the single most exciting PS2 release of 2004.  Your life will never be the same again.

Jak 3

Bigger, better, bolder, brillianter!  (One of those may not be a real word…)  That seems to be the motto behind this latest adventure of intrepid heroes Jak and Daxter.  Battle the infamous metalheads yet again in a host of brand new environments designed to test the duo to the max.  A grand and stirring story links together a game that brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘variety’.

There are mountains of different challenges and mini-games that have you performing stunts of unrivalled insanity right the way through the game.  The action never stops, and more importantly, never palls.  The whole game is a blistering frenzy of spectacular action and fresh gaming ideas that sear an irresistible magnetism into your consciousness.

Need For Speed: Underground 2

The Fast And The Furious and its high-octane sequel publicised the thrilling underground sport of high-speed street racing.  The awe and respect it garnered from all demanded a translation into videogame, and NFS:U2 squarely plugs that gap.  You are a street racer who must build your reputation as well as your cash by proving your racing prowess.

Freely roam a large city and enter into any number of races and challenges of varying gameplay styles that demand nerve and initiative to successfully master.  What singles this out from other street racing wannabes is the visual spectacularity that recreates so perfectly the underground feel of the sport.  Not least the fact that you can stick glowing neons under your car.  Wahoo!

 

Xbox

Halo 2

Halo was touted as the game that sold the Xbox.  A superb launching title that ensured multitudes of devoted fans from the very beginning.  Halo 2 takes everything that made Halo so popular, throws it into a big blender, trebles the ingredients and then bakes to perfection.  The result is the best FPS on the Xbox by quite a margin.

Graphics are of a quality to make the eyes water, the tasty selection of drivable vehicles weakens the knees, and the overall gameplay quality is to blame for many a skipped heartbeat.  As well as the inspired single-player experience, there are also multiplayer modes, both splitscreen and online, that ensure this game will never be gathering dust.

Burnout 3: Takedown

Normally, cold, quivering hands, sweat-beaded brows, and taut, pallid complexions would be attributed to illnesses of some sort.  Not necessarily.  Burnout 3 can produce identical symptoms in anyone who pushes this game to its limits.  Fast-paced driving, and spectacular action are the remit of this classy title.

Very rarely does adrenaline pump like when speeding through the virtual environs of this game.  Tragic disaster is never more than a hair’s breadth or the slip of a finger away, and such suspense keeps the action flowing beautifully.  Entertaining game modes and a tangible sense of speed and danger make Burnout 3 a game that will appeal to pretty much anyone, not just the racing community.

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

Sam Fisher eh?  It just goes to show that anyone can be an elite super-agent, not just those with fancy names like El Macho, Count von Necrophyll, or Zaphod Beeblebrox.  But Sam is no ordinary gent, as a foray into this ridiculously good game will make quite clear.  He is one of the men who never exist.  A man who operates alone, always hidden, never seen; a highly dangerous extension to the shadows.

This latest iteration of the fantastic Splinter Cell series is not revolutionary.  Not even close.  But rather, it takes every element that makes a great game and polishes them all to an absurd degree, emerging as one of the most eminently playable games of our time.  Whether playing through the gripping storyline or just battling online, Splinter Cell is unceasingly gratifying.  Just don’t take it too literally and start secreting yourself in cupboards in real life.

 

So there you have it, the best of the best.  An eclectic ensemble of gaming nirvana from the greatest gaming platforms.  That lot will keep your fingers raw for the next year easily, and we can look forward to even more gaming goodness in coming months.  The age-old axiom states that we should work first and play later.  To steal a famous advertising quote this can be interpreted in more positive way as: ‘Work hard, play harder!’  Gaming is getting exciting.  Get with it!

This article was written for and published in Hi! magazine in 2005.