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Review: SingStar Guitar

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

I know what you’re thinking. When SingStar Guitar arrived, I was thinking the same thing. We have Guitar Hero and Rock Band in a billion incarnations, is there really any need for this? How can SingStar Guitar possibly compete with an existing line-up of thousands of songs, full instrument sets and the impending release of what will likely be the all-conquering music game of all-time with 17 fret guitars and MIDI keyboards that is Rock Band 3.

SingStar Guitar

SingStar Guitar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer is, SingStar Guitar is aimed at a different market, and I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the game is really rather fun.

The gameplay is the familiar highway that you would expect, with the chaff stripped out: there is no star power, no multiplier and only three difficulty levels (using 3, 4 and 5 of the buttons respectively). The presentation is very clean and SingStar-like and I actually prefer it to Rock Band’s highway. Obviously, the emphasis is more on pop music.

Regarding the logistics, SingStar Guitar is basically like any other SingStar disk: you get 30 songs you can sing, but this time you can play them on the guitar as well. Wisely, London Studio have implemented support for all existing Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitars so you won’t need to gunk your house up with even more plastic junk peripherals. The SingStore has been enhanced to allow selected songs you already own to be upgraded for guitar playability for a small fee. These upgrades are being released fortnightly along with the regular SingStore song releases. If you already own SingStar, your game will be patched to version 5.0 next time you play, which will allow you to use your guitar, so there is technically no need for the disk. The only difference between SingStar Guitar and other SingStar disks after patching is that the Guitar disk includes 30 guitar-compatible songs out of the box.

Now that’s out of the way, why should you bother to buy this, or upgrade your existing songs?

  1. Roles: any combination of one or two players can be assigned to any combination of instruments, ie. One player can both sing and play the guitar at the same time, or two players can sing, or play the guitar, or both. The single player singing and playing guitar simultaneously mode makes for some very tough challenges and is a lot quicker and less hassle to set up than in Guitar Hero or Rock Band which requires you to fudge it by creating two players. Also it’s not possible to have two people singing at the same time except in the latest Guitar Hero and Rock Band releases supporting 3-part harmonies.
  2. Load times are instant – load times in Guitar Hero and Rock Band are considerable.
  3. You get the music video. Which turns out to make quite a difference.
  4. Every song is scored out of 10,000. This means your scores are comparable across songs – something you can’t do in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, which may be important to you if you are competitive like me.
  5. You can’t fail. The song won’t stop if you play poorly, which is much better for social players and parties.
  6. No need to change disk during parties.
  7. If you prefer pop music, SingStar is clearly going to be a better choice for you, musically, than the other games.

Of course, there is no career mode, no character customization, no bass play or drums, no challenges. And right now, there are only the 30 songs on the disk plus another 8 or so released on Wednesday 20th October on the SingStore which you can actually play – however this will change pretty quickly in the coming months. Your desire to play therefore will have to come from self-motivation to beat your own scores and those of your friends.

There isn’t much more to say. As usual it’s another solid SingStar disk release, more of the same, but with added plastic. I didn’t think the guitar element would be much good, but in fact it was, and made me inclined to upgrade some of my other songs for guitar play.

You can find the full track list here: http://www.totalmusicgaming.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=1158

7/10

Review: WRC: FIA World Rally Championship 2010

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. Test Drive Unlimited 2. F1 2010. Ferrari Race Challenge. Man Furismo Jive. We are currently in the process of being rained upon by driving games, so you could be forgiven for wondering if it was even necessary to release WRC FIA World Rally Championship at all. The good news is, this is Black Bean’s best driving game to date. The bad news is, that’s not exactly a groundbreaking achievement.

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship (2010 video ...

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship (2010 video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WRC is of course nothing like any of the other games I mentioned, it’s also nothing like DiRT 2 so if you’re expecting that kind of adrenaline rush, look elsewhere. What we have here is a serious, slow-paced take on pure rally driving. There are no crazy race modes: this is rally, after rally, after rally. Therefore, if you like rally driving, you will probably love this game. If you like Split/Second, you’ll hate it.

Let’s start with the positives. This game is crammed with things to do. There is a very long campaign – The Road To WRC – as well as a separate campaign-ish mode where you play all the special stages and championship rounds of the real 2010 WRC according to the official calendar, which is also incredibly long. Two to four players can also sit down and set times in turn-based play with no restrictions on stage, rally or championship setup. Finally, the online mode is excellent, and although everyone – up to 16 of you – drives in their own instance trying to set the best time, you can see the ghosts of the other players which makes it feel much more like a race and much less lonely. There are a decent variety of online modes with the obligatory ranking tables and XP/levelling, I had no problem finding a game and there was no lag during play.

The Road To WRC career mode is broken down into ten levels, each of which has six events. You have some leeway in the order you complete the events within a given level, with subsequent levels being unlocked by reaching a certain completion percentage.

Like Need For Speed Shift, there is a well-paced reward system with constant livery, colour, car, sponsor and event unlocks as you complete each event. The trophies are also very well-designed and paced, and will encourage you to play plenty of different game modes.

Let’s talk difficulty. This is a two-pronged affair: you can set the various driving assists, and you can change the AI difficulty independently via a slider, giving you many difficulty levels to choose from. There are three default combinations of settings when you start the game but you can tweak as you see fit, and there is no punishment for playing on an easier setting. This is a good thing, because playing with any combination of assists other than everything turned on will immediately thrust you into F1 2010 Expert mode levels of toughness. With all assists on, you rarely need to brake although getting round the stage without crashing once is still a moderate challenge unless you drive carefully. Cut down on the traction control and brake assist and you are going to need every ounce of concentration to keep the car under control – so this should appeal to arcade and simulation fans alike. Similarly, with the AI on the easiest setting, it is ridiculously easy to win, even if you crash constantly, but on the hardest setting they are ruthless. Black Bean should be commended for this range of settings because it vastly broadens the appeal of the game.

I will say that driving ‘alone’ constantly is quite a lonely experience, so you should bear in mind that you will only see other cars on the track during online play. In offline play, you simply see the current times of the AI cars. This is though, naturally, par for the course with rally games.

True to form, between each special stage you can customise your car settings (downforce, suspension, all the usual suspects) and spend your allotted repair time choosing which bits of your car to repair, with each repair type costing a certain amount of time. Use too much and you receive a time penalty.

The driving physics themselves are.. a little strange, I would say. You get to drive over tarmac, gravel, dirt, ice and so on, with the car behaving differently on each surface, and differently from car to car as well of course. I’ve never driven a rally car, but it did seem awfully hard to do long drifts at speed, similarly the handbrake does not quite function as it does in other games. I’m not going to level this as a criticism because the controls are perfectly fine and I don’t know what it’s really like to drift in a rally car, so note this as an observation only. If anyone here remembers the awful driving mechanics of V-Rally 3 on PS2, fear not, the controls in WRC are solid.

I played the game using a Logitech Driving Force GT Pro wheel – wheels of course being a must have for any serious driving game fan – and the control was excellent, however there was quite a large steering deadzone with the default settings. Fortunately there are many sliders you can use to tweak the wheel to your liking. The force feedback worked flawlessly.

As always, there are some problems. For one thing, the presentation is awful. Just awful. While the menu music is unobtrusive enough, the menus themselves are dull and bland, using black, white and green for the most part. The backgrounds are low res and not animated. It makes the whole thing feel completely soulless. Worse still is that the in-game graphics are pretty shoddy. The cars are low on polygon count, the pop-in is moderate-to-severe in places with bushes appearing randomly for example, and the overall scenery is barely above PS2 graphical standards. Normally I don’t care about graphics in a game. Lately I could pick RUSE and Sports Champions as examples of games with mediocre graphics that are great fun to play, but in WRC’s case, the poor graphics actually hurt your enjoyment. We have come to expect so much more than this, graphically, even in run-of-the-mill titles. In WRC’s defence, there are absolutely tons of special stages and what scenery there is is very varied, so you won’t be seeing the same thing over and over.

There are two interior views which is a very nice touch that can enhance gameplay, but the interiors are not representative of the actual cars themselves. The cars get nice and dirty but damage modeling is minimal to non-existent.

Another major gripe is that nothing is explained. This is fine if you’ve watched a bit of rally on TV, but if you don’t know the difference between N4 and S2000 cars, or what the green and red lines mean on the left side of the screen while driving, the game isn’t going to tell you. It also amazed me what counted as a clean section: you can crash three times and still be told you did a clean section.

A couple of nice touches: you can choose whether your co-driver has a male or female voice. You can have three career profiles at once. If you quit out of a long event half-way through, your progress is saved.

Pros:

  • Long campaigns, lots of stages, tons to do
  • Online modes work great

Cons:

  • Significantly marred by terrible graphics and presentation
  • Offline multi-player is turn-based only

At first, playing WRC was a slog. In truth, the more I played it, the more I liked it – once you get used to its quirks and nuances. There are a lot of nice touches and thoughtful features, spoiled by the presentation. Ultimately though, while I couldn’t recommend WRC to just anyone, it is a solid but slightly soulless game and has the official WRC license, which if you have at least a passing interest in rally games makes this the only realistic choice. Just don’t expected to become a rally fan if you aren’t already.

7/10

The Gaming Rant 14

October 1, 2010 Leave a comment

This is an unedited, uncensored version of a previously unpublished article originally written for another site, included here so that fans can read the uncensored versions.

WARNING! This article is intended as a piece of satirical diatribe. Some readers may find the language and themes within extremely offensive.

Weekly Rants are banned. Like an angry pit bull terrier, I have been muzzled and chained, my freedom to viciously attack whoever I want repealed (Bob and I actually play golf together now; his Bugatti Veyron is awesome too). I hate my job. My boss is made of evuls. WHERE ARE MY BISCUITS?

So how do we do a weekly rant in a journalisticly acceptable way when my keyboard has the freedom of speech potency equivalent to a Blackberry in Dubai? First, we have to rant about things rather than people. Luckily, Killzone 2 Psychologist Cocaine Guy can probably be classified as a thing due to his sub-human observational capacity. Then we throw in a comment like, “but otherwise, he’s a top bloke and we love him to bits”. Future Publishing taught me everything I know (this is a lie; we love Future Publishing to bits).

The second thing we’re going to do is change the title from ‘Weekly’ to ‘Whenever’. This is because my TV-watching requirements are vastly more important than my desire to entertain you with cutting-edge prose.

Finally, we are not going to actually rant anymore. Instead, we are going to muse. This is the same as ranting, but with some anti-depressants thrown in, plus it sounds politically correct.

Let’s get serious for just a moment, though. The facts are that TSA is maturing, the industry is watching us more closely, so we have to try and be a bit professional. We haven’t set our sights too high though: our editorial policy is now to compare each article against the day’s headline story in the Daily Mail, and if our article contains less inaccuracies, prejudice and misleading statements, it’s good to go. Unfortunately, in an ironic double-lie, the Daily Mail also taught me everything I know, so maintaining journalistic integrity can be trying at times.

A word of thanks: I had an unbelievable amount of PSN mails from strangers and colleagues alike asking me where the Weekly Rant had gone and when it was coming back. I was going to come up with a triple lie (after all, the Conservative Party taught me everything I know), but the truth of the matter is I have actually been rather sick. In my head, not my body. I’m not proud of it, but Peter was kind enough to give me some time off. Changing ‘Weekly’ to ‘Whenever’ is really a contingency in case I get sick again. I shall soldier on and do my best. I really appreciate all the kind messages you all sent and it inspired me to continue, and I do mean that: thank you all very much. I’m also glad you all realise that when I slag you off, what I really mean is you’re top blokes and lasses and I love you to bits.

Now, moving onto business, I trust you all thought of me when Germany plastered England that weekend. Oh how I laughed. It was, of course, as predictable as a 2011 Call of Duty subscription, but there we go. It was a well-deserved defeat naturally. How much money did I make betting on Germany all those matches instead of England? Enough to get a rather tasty HTC Desire, which, if you are for some strange reason considering an iPhone 4, I can strongly recommend as a proper phone.

Move It

You can’t spell muse without Move. I reckon. You may remember I spent some months bashing everyone’s favourite vibrating wand earlier in the year. I declared many times I was totally uninterested in it and would likely never buy one. So it was a certain amount of looking suspiciously over my shoulder that I went to collect my pre-order when it arrived. “Too big” for the postbox said the note from the postman. Okay – is it too big to fit through my front door? No, it isn’t. Don’t make me walk for 7 minutes when you could make me walk for 0. There’s a reason gamers use motion controllers rather than actual motion.

So did it perform ‘the desired function’? It’s a toss up (see what I did there?) between the Move and the HTC. Dildroid certainly has comedy value, but it is somewhat reminiscent of the Apollo 13 mission: how do you fit a square plug into a round hole? Kids, I’m talking about USB-to-mini adapters *looks around* (pretty sure they had those in the 60s)

But I digress. I wrote 20 pages of stuff about the Move just now, but for those of you with real lives to attend to, I can sum it up in one sentence. It’s as I expected: a couple of decent games in a whole lot of dross. Who’s with me?

I should imagine anyone who isn’t interested in Move or EyeToy, sorry, Kinect, must be absolutely sick and tired of all the coverage by now. I know I am. What I want is for the press to inform me when there are some good Move games actually out with high scoring reviews, and in the meantime just please, PLEASE be quiet.

Scenes From Around The Web

1. PlayStation Hacking: Breaking News

Good news everybody. The PSJailbreak has now been officially ported to a ham and cheese sandwich, and here is a in-no-way fake video to prove it:

2. Gold PlayStation 3

For just a snip at £587.44 plus presumably an extortionate amount of shipping and insurance, you can now snag your very own gold PS3, phat, 40GB – so hopefully it comes with something lower than firmware 3.41, eh, eh? 😛

http://www.goldgenie.com/gold-playstaion-p-79.html

Check it out. For an even lower bargain price, you can get your existing PS3 or 360 gold-plated. Oh how the people who pre-ordered Gran Turismo 5 Signature Edition are going to regret that when they see what they could have had for only slightly less money instead.

3. Failure

I did a Google search on “PlayStation Move A&E admissions” but sadly nothing yet. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you guys on this one. Thank God Sony didn’t put a hamster in the orb.

The Summer Drought

You knew I had to mention this. Anyone here remember when a drought used to refer to a water shortage? This year the studios have been paranoically obsessed with preventing us from playing any games whatsoever in the months of July and August. My goodness, we live on a rotating, erm, orb, which is tilted just enough to produce seasons, big deal – but it is exactly this irritating 22.5 degree tilt that I hold directly responsible for manipulating the behaviour of the studios.

Obviously, we need to come up with a plan. I get all my ideas from video games so I reckon I have some sensible solutions at hand already. We could move everyone underwater, or destroy the Sun. Covering the sky with an opaque black dome could work – no wait, we’ll use a massive projection of some kids pretending to be dogs, Kinect does need all the help it can get after all.

OR… we could actually vote with our wallets, buy more games in the summer and less in the winter to make a point. That is pretty tricky I realise when all you’ve got to choose from is a flight simulator, an inferior 50s clone of GTA IV and a shooter which looks like it’s streaming on YouTube (can you figure out all three?!), but I think we really need to do something about this. What did I have to play over the summer? Green Day Rock Band. And there is really only so much inane spouting of random political messages I can take in my video games. Just kidding – we love Green Day to bits.

Medal of Honor Tali-banned

First let me re-assure everyone that I strung colossalblue up with nipple tongs in a public dungeon and paraded him until he promised never to write a gag line like that again (he has no chest hair, it was really humiliating for both of us).

Now. Call of Duty yada yada same old same old. We’re on the same page right? Good. So, what was the one thing I was looking forward to in Spack Ops?

The ability to play the Taliban. Be the bad guy. Why? Am I a secret terrorist extremist with an IED in my cleavage? No, it’s because, and Daily Mail readers do take careful note here: It lets me do something I would never do in real life.

Jesus Christ. In Killzone 2 I killed thousands of Helghast. How do we know they weren’t the good guys and that we were victims of anti-Helghast propaganda? In EndWar I played the Russians, and let’s note that over half of the Europeans online also chose the Russians (amusingly, nearly all US players choose to play the US, so pathetically patriotic – can you tell they’ve been brainwashed by the media much?). And in SingStar, I played Devil’s advocate. Hell, I can call my EyePet Pope Benedict if I want, and God only knows what kind of game he’d be in (I’m thinking a blend of Dante’s Inferno and Milo). No, just kidding, we love Pope Benedict to bits. Sometimes he loves Milo to bits as well. And yet, I can’t play the Taliban in a war game set in Afghanistan? If that happened in a film, everyone would turn round and say, hang on a minute, aren’t we sort of missing one of the core elements of the war in Afghanistan here? Dismal EA, dismal.

1 million free TSA points and a smooth banhammer to the person who writes “FIRST!” before anyone else. Have a good weekend 🙂

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