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Mario Kart 8

Having grown up playing Mario Kart since its release on the SNES in 1992 and watching the series expand to finally having hi-definition graphics, there is also anti-gravity, ATVs, up to four local players in Grand Prix races, downloadable content, new items, slow motion replay and the ability to upload game-play onto YouTube and share screenshots and video clips through the Miiverse community.

Mario Kart runs the thin line between casual and hardcore. For casual fun go into Grand Prix mode and select 50cc, working your way up to 150cc and the ever challenging Mirror mode.

There is a large amount of choices with customisation from different vehicles, tires and gliders. The new items include the Piranha Plant, which attacks nearby players and obstacles, the Boomerang Flower, which can be thrown to attack racers, the Crazy Eight also originally from Mario Kart 7 on the Nintendo 3DS, which gives the player eight items, and my personal favourite; the Super Horn, which can strategically attack other racers within a certain radius and defend against items, most prominently; the Blue Shell.

A good amount is offered in the current first DLC release:

  • Characters: Link, Tanooki Mario, and Cat Peach
  • Egg Cup tracks: Yoshi Circuit, Excitebike Arena, Dragon Driftway, and Mute City
  • Triforce Cup tracks: Wario’s Gold Mine, Rainbow Road, Ice Ice Outpost, and Hyrule Circuit
  • Vehicles: Master Cycle, Blue Falcon, B Dasher, and Tanooki Kart
  • Vehicle parts: Hylian Kite glider and Triforce tires

As much as I enjoyed the cat costumes in Super Mario 3D World, I felt the extra game character slot for Cat Peach’s character was wasted as you’re technically racing as Princess Peach, not running up and down walls as Cat Peach. I felt her pink cat car should of at least had furry running legs; think like the Cat Bus in My Neighbour Totoro!

Link, on the other hand, was my personal, and I believe the majority of everyone’s favourite addition to the character rosta. He fits in well with the rest of the characters and environment and as a player who personally prefers heavy characters, the speed bodes well with the Triforce tires and Jet Bike combo.

Hyrule Circuit completes the Triforce Cup and it proves better than expected. While racing through Hyrule field, you can collect Rupees, not coins. Instead of Piranha Plants there is Deku Babas, and instead of Swoopers, there are Keese. Even the sound for the item pick-up fits The Legend of Zelda series. If you thought the attention to detail isn’t impeccable enough, the track continues into Hyrule Castle where racers can complete a mini puzzle to boost speed over the Master Sword.

And then there’s my other personal favourite with F-Zero’s Mute City. You literally don’t have to be an F-Zero fan to enjoy this fast-paced anti-gravity track, but this personally excited me as a unfortunate long forgotten series was brought back with at least one playable race track. It’s a shame though that the music for Mute City is not on the Super Smash Bros soundtrack and obviously even more so that they have not released a new instalment to the series for the Wii U when it holds so much potential. The taste of having F-Zero on hi-definition was enough for me wanting more, but alas that’s another story.

The rest of the DLC remains consistent to the game but is not as great as the above tracks and Link remains the best addition in my opinion.

In also a surprising turn of events, Nintendo teamed up with Mercedes-Benz which saw a live-action version of Mario in a Mercedes advert. And to top it all, on the 27th August 2014, three free add-ons were made available; the Mercedes-Benz GLA, plus the 1930s Silver Arrow and the 1950s 300 SL Roadster.

A favourite pass time of mine is noticing the extra details such as conveniently placed easter eggs, secrets and short cuts in games. In Mario Kart 8 there are quite a few worth looking out for:

  • In Cloudtop Cruise, there is a beanstalk you fly down onto with your glider, that embarks as a giant question block. The block technically looks like the Mario blocks from the side scrolling platform games.
  • In previous Mario Kart games, you usually see only Lakitu on top of the spotlight, and nothing else. However, some stages have different race startup animations. For example, Bowser’s Castle stage starts with the gates opening up as the lights blink. In Twisted Mansion, the door creaks open for you.
  • Mario Kart TV features continuously all throughout the tracks as faux advertising. As the game’s exclusive broadcaster, you can even see their trucks throughout the track to give live coverage. The cameramen will move to follow you, as you will notice if you stop racing to approach them. As a nice touch, even their trucks have the Lakitu cloud logo on their front bumpers.
  • In Royal Raceway, you can see the Toads flying in the hot air balloons as you fly past them. If you keep a good eye out, you can even catch them burning fuel for the balloons to fly up.
  • Yoshi Valley has become a Wild Yoshi Sanctuary. This is shown not only in the logos throughout the stage, but in all the various Yoshis and eggs you can find in the game. But that’s not all: the berries in the trees are the same ones Yoshi loves to eat up, way back in the side-scrolling Mario / Yoshi games.
  • In Toad’s Turnpike, you race at night in Toad City. There is a sign showing what is apparently a highway advisory radio station. The frequency is set to 64 MHz, referencing that this course started in Mario Kart 64.
  • Lastly, in Sunshine Airport, as you’re dropping down to the airport in mid-air at the far top right, there is an island in the distance with rocks shaped like Koopa Troopas. Their shells have even been filled in with grass to finish the look. Possibly a reference to the Koopa Troopa statues in Koopa Troopa beach track in Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart 7.

And if you’re ever bored of Mario Kart, please feel free to re-wind your race in slow-motion and look out for Luigi’s infamous “death stare”, which shows Luigi’s daunting stare upon passing him in a race which grew to popularity from a YouTube video which has now over time turned into a meme. I guess Year of Luigi was not enough for this Mario bro!

Overall, Mario Kart 8 has officially remained a staple choice of game for my circle of friends for gaming nights and Online tournaments. The hi-definition is breath taking, the easter eggs and secrets hilarious and nostalgic, the DLC paves the way towards Nintendo finally embracing modern gaming. Just add in the factor for winning strategically instead of always by poor luck from items, enable editing of videos to include slow motion (because boy does that look intense!), avoid lag and add more future DLC that isn’t the same recycled characters, and I believe we’re on the road to one heck of a ride!

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Alice Madness Returns

I’ve grown up to be mesmerised and hugely influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, everything from chasing the white rabbit to falling down the rabbit hole into a tunnel filled with floating chairs and clocks to playing croquet with pink flamingos in a maze full of card guards, striking a conversation with a door-knob and eating cake or drinking a substance to make me huge or small. I’ve always become easily ensnared into fantasy worlds, especially ones that have some form of realism to escape to, just like Alice. From being in the real world one minute, to diving into a intricately detailed and colourful land having tea with a rabbit, mouse and a mad hatter. It’s why I loved growing up reading Harry Potter books as I live in London, and the idea of catching the train from Kings Cross to a huge far off castle that is Hogwarts Witchcraft & Wizardry seemed within reach for me, as did frolicking in the Shire with hobbits and the dream of visiting Rivendale or Lothlorein with the alluring yet elegant elves. The reason Alice has stayed closest to heart is also the fact she’s female. Looking at the last selection of games I’ve played reels in macho men wielding huge weapons such as in Halo, Vanquish and Call of Duty. All great games, but missing that female factor. And the use of escapism, means I can leave my troubles and usual depressed state I was in at school to the enticing imaginative world of Wonderland, that at certain times is reminiscent of various dreams I’ve had.

Diving back into the rabbit hole ten years later following the story from the first game by American McGee, we meet Alice again, but it’s not an Alice and not a Wonderland we’re familiar with. There’s a darker edge to the storyline that slowly unravels as you gather memories during game-play. Even early on in the game, starting out in Victorian era London, you can already tell how the graphic style stands out with its use of dark, dank and crisp features to demonstrate the poverty stricken side of Victorian England that Alice has grown up in due to being an orphan from a fire that killed her family. So it isn’t long before we leave the asylum she’s being treated at to jumping back into Wonderland to  find out the truth and save her memories, and being met along the way with some guidance from a very malnourished Cheshire cat, far from how we remember him being a purple and pink tubby. Although his huge grin, fading act and riddles still remain. The first stage of the game sees Alice jumping on colourful mushrooms and running along plush vivid looking green grass, I had to double-check the age rating was in fact 15, but it wasn’t long before turning a few corners and facing various enemies such as the ‘Ruin’ creatures; Slithering, Insidious, Menacing, Drifting, and Colossal Ruin, that I start to see the dark side. Ruin is the filthy black ooze leaking out of the ‘Infernal Train’ , which plagues Wonderland, a large fiery steam train that looks like an old classical Victorian cathedral or even Houses of Parliament on wheels, which we find out later is run by the Dollmaker and is the main focus of the game. In addition to being acidic when touched, Ruin has the ability to form into large monstrous creatures with pieces of dolls. At various times large amounts of Ruin can block doorways, buttons or other important parts of the level, but defeating the enemies will cause it to become brittle, allowing alice to smash it with her Hobby Horse weapon or blast it open with her Teapot Cannon, but more about the weapons later. The largest of the Ruin enemies is Colossal Ruin, which unsurprisingly enough I found the most frustrating.  His attacks shift from flamethrowing lava balls to my most hated attack of chasing you with his porcelain doll hands to eat you which takes a considerable amount of life, to its annoying steam vent, both of the last attacks are very hard to defend from as he seems to move faster than Alice even with her swift dodge movements. The best tactic I found with this enemy was the teapot cannon, especially when upgraded for a more powerful effect and especially when he appears tired and lays slumped on the ground. Yet, the downside of the teapot cannon is it’s quite slow to heat up and you have to make sure you aim well as each attack sent counts. Unfortunately the game’s aiming isn’t the greatest aspect, I tend to leave the left trigger to auto-aim and just free-handedly aim enemies. Other enemies include; Card guards who appear like zombies as they revive unless you kill them off quick, Bitch Babies which are porcelain headed dolls with multiple spinning legs that spit acid and attack you with powerful headbutts, and the Executioner a monstrously large card guard that chases you throughout one level with a large sickle, reminscent of the executioner I last met in Resident Evil 5, yet this fellow had a humorous end.

As the game progresses you are given more access to various weapons all cleverly depicting everyday weapons we know; a Pepper Grinder (machine gun) which overheats but works perfectly for  swift, long ranged attacks, Vorpal Blade for close ranged quick attacks, Hobby Horse (similar to the Gravity Hammer from Halo) for whacking down ruin areas and slamming down on enemies with a devastating finish, and the final; the Teapot Cannon (Grenade Launcher) for slow but very effective tea pelting for close and far enemy encounters. Enemies you defeat and breakable boxes and pots leave behind teeth to collect for upgrades to weapons, each can be upgraded four times maximum. It’s up to you to decide what weapon best suits what enemy or situation, I personally find the Pepper Grinder and Hobby Horse my favourite. The other mini weapon, generally used to help solve puzzles and distract enemies, is the Clockwork Bomb which looks like the white rabbit (reminds me of the Monkey Bomb/Cymbal Monkey from Call of Duty) and the umbrella which reminds me of the Princess Peach game on the DS where Alice can deflect attacks. While the combat does play a significant part to the game, the main style of Alice Madness Returns is platformer, and if it wasn’t for having spent the bulk of my childhood performing difficult jumps in Mario games, I’d have major difficulty with certain jumps in the game, but even so you will spend a lot of the time just missing the next floating rock, invisible platform, floating domino piece, or playing card, etc even with Alice’s ability to jump, double jump and float, some jumps prove difficult, especially with the amount of jump glitches so expect to see a recurring amount of Alice’s death scene with butterflies scattering around, reminiscent of Bayonetta’s jump move. The only other aspect of the game I’d say I dislike is how like Grand Theft Auto, the auto saves suck! You have to be led a considerable length of the game back, but this improves as you go further into the game.

Edging closer to death on our last rose, Alice has the option to turn “Hysteria” on, whereupon her character screams and turns stark white with bleeding black eyes with matching black and white attire and sharp flowing hair. Her moves are more powerful and effective, and enemies within the short time she can activate hysteria can not harm her. This is an amazing feat to watch, yet upon aiming to complete the game with only using hysteria once, I did happen to click the left stick by accident on more than one occasion, yet I do plan to replay the game on easy mode for collectibles and will try this then. Although it was definitely worth it using hysteria, especially against Colossal Ruin and the final boss against the Doll Maker for a more effective, swift fight.

One of my favourite anticipations of each level apart from what lays ahead is Alice’s outfits. Funnily enough her outfit from the first chapter in the Hatter’s Domain was my favourite with her steam punk dress, always with her bow at the back with some form of skull or in the instance of the toy level; a porcelain head. My second favourite would be from the Japanese level where she wore a floral kimono. There are also extra dresses available on DLC which not only offer different designs but more powerful weapons and moves. Although, after completing the game you can replay it equipping yourself with your choice of outfit from the levels played but they now offer you features such as the Classic Dress providing health back if you shrink Alice.

The first chapter would have to be one of my favourites with the use of the dark mechanical scenery, Alice’s steam punk style outfit, and the hare and mouse who we first meet, originally from the Mad Hatter’s tea party; the hare donning a metallic drill arm, and springy metal legs with a matching eyeglass, and the dormouse rolling on metal wheels. My other favourite level would be the Japanese level with the use of giant fans as platforms, the powerful samurai wasps and the beautiful wall scroll level, which looks a lot like Okami with the use of a watercolour type theme, and is also available on other chapters. My least favourite level would be the toy level, only purely because of my childhood fear of porcelain dolls. Doll parts feature throughout the game, mainly within the ruin enemies, yet the doll parts and actual dolls are everywhere in this level. You have to battle giant walking evil porcelain dolls with an arm and a hook until their heart shows to blast them to pieces, Bitch Babies I mentioned earlier, and avoid obstacles such as decapitated spiky dolls swinging on swings to get from platform to platform, all the while walking around a deranged world that appears to be a dollhouse, obviously getting the more closer to the end and the truth behind the Doll Maker. The effort of thought put into every level is simply amazing, from the design of her dress, to the fast-paced and sometimes eerie music, weapon and other character designs, the replay value with collectibles and mini-games such as chess puzzles, and Radula Rooms to defeat multiple enemies to gain extra lives, as well as the selection of difficulty levels all make the game worthwhile in time and worth your money. My thought of the concept of the different variations of Alice in Wonderland is the idea of “escape”. The original was Alice trying to escape an argument with her family, Sucker Punch saw her trying to escape with her sister from a mistreating step father and to survive, and the Tim Burton remake saw Alice trying to escape an arranged marriage. The storyline is a sad one, especially the end when we realise the Doll Maker is in fact Alice’s doctor who has been feeding her lies about the fire and trying to wash out her memories when all the while he’s been abusing her and her sister. Alice has managed to get her memories back with the use of her ‘escape’ being Wonderland, and it sickens her that he continues to use children and brainwash them from the asylum. Thankfully after defeating him on the Infernal Train against his puppet hands and various floating enemies, Alice has her vengeance pushing him onto the train tracks to get what he deserves. It’s just sad to think that all the enemies, mainly ruin enemies with the doll parts could represent the children he’s brainwashed and how the Doll Maker has aimed them against Alice without knowledge of what they’re doing just like what they do with the doctor. The doctor is right with one thing he said, Alice remains mad, “his work is done”. Yet, even as we see her walk off into the real world again and Alice still envisions it as Wonderland, she now sees it as her old Wonderland, the colourful and sweet Wonderland, the happy Wonderland, where she can escape to.


Resident Evil 5

“You are dead”  these red bloody words seem to always drip down the screen when playing with Sheva Alomar’s AI on the most recent installment of the Resident Evil series. Playing as Chris Redfield from the first Resident Evil game you spend most of your time trying to save her, which thankfully gifts you with an achievement that you receive unsurprisingly quickly. If it isn’t for her AI not defending herself properly, it’s also her character wasting ammo when equipped with a handgun or just standing around watching while you get attacked or shoot enemies. And she seems to be on a suicide mission by inexplicably running into enemies and getting herself killed, so a lot of the time in the game you’ll be screaming, “Sheva!” Yet, luckily you’re playing as Chris Redfield whose fist is stronger than the use of a shotgun; he makes Robert Burns from Vanquish look like Pacman.

Capcom has used the Resident Evil series to really shape the world of action-adventure within gaming.  A game that would create an entirely new genre labelled, “survival horror”.  That was more than a decade ago, a few years after that every game that followed the series has tried to live up to the first instalment, until Resident Evil 4 was released in 2005 which really set it apart and knocked the socks off the previous titles as more of an action-based game.

Resident Evil 5 broadens the use of action and now supports cooperative gameplay, this feature allows players to leave or join the game at any point in the level. Yet this only proves annoying as your partner can’t join you until the next checkpoint, especially if there is loss of connection. As in Resident Evil 4, the number of type of weapons has increased compared to the previous titles; there are now several types of shotgun, handgun and submarine items. And instead of zombies, the game’s enemies consist of evil spirits called “Magini”, which in my opinion still resemble zombies. They resemble similar aspects to the “Ganados” of Resident Evil 4, as they run, dodge, speak and use weapons in the same style. A lot of speculation came about saying Resident Evil 5 was racist  as the enemies you’re shooting are black..hello we’re in Africa! And they’re evil possessed spirits, who wouldn’t shoot them? Resident Evil 4 had Spanish European zombies and previous Resident Evil games were set in America, therefore you were shooting white zombies, so what’s the big deal? People need to chill out and realise it’s a game. Nobody said anything when blasting up innocent black, spanish or white people in GTA out of boredom did they?  If anything, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 should burn more of a pothole for killing innocent civilians in the level of “No Russian”, but you have to admit as shocking as that was it was fun.

The game is set ten years after the destruction of Raccoon City, the former S.T.A.R.S. Alpha team member Chris Redfield is an agent of the B.S.A.A. When Chris gains knowledge of a weapons dealer making a huge deal in the African nation of Kjuju, he heads over there to put a stop to it and to investigate more into the mysterious project labelled as Uroboros. This is where Chris is joined by Sheva Alomar, another B.S.A.A. member, and together they fight countless infected villagers, lickers, meatheads, and even Albert Wesker.

The combat moves haven’t changed a lot from Resident Evil 4- the action still comes from an over-the-shoulder perspective, some fights or cutscenes are followed by short quick time events which always prove annoying in games as it always looks like an epic scene that you want to be able to manoeuvre yourself not by button bashing. Yet at least you have more mobility in the game thanks to the new ability to walk sideways. Although the game does seem to display slow movement when trying to run fast and it would be nice to be able to aim your weapon as you walk. You can move and aim in third person shooters like Dead Space and GTA nowadays, so why can’t Resident Evil?

Regardless of Sheva’s incompetence, you rely heavily on team work in the game to help open doors, solve puzzles, take down bosses and recieve help if your health is running low, so having Sheva  watch your back does sometimes help in vital situations. Additionally, there has been major changes to the inventory system, enemies no longer wait politely for you to go through your items as it doesn’t pause the game so you have to be swift. At any point in the game you can store up to nine items per character, four of the items being reachable by pressing the d-pad for ease of use, so these I usually armed with my main weapons and if spare, grenades. The new system proves difficult when trading ammo or finding your herbs or first aid spray to regain health for you and your partner as Sheva needs to be standing near you to inherit some health back and as said, going through your inventory does not pause the game. It’s often needed to trade items with Sheva, and keep in mind who has what items and choosing who picks it up as during boss levels sifting through items is near to impossible. Yet, sometimes you don’t have the upperhand with picking up items as Sheva generally seems to grab them all, so you need to request them off her through the inventory and combine items such as ammo in weapons and herbs for her as she seems too stupid to do anything for herself.  I ran through Resident Evil 4 not knowing you can enlarge your inventory space, but comparing the size of inventory between the fourth and fifth you can see nine slots is of little help and you spend a lot of the game discarding items or having to use Sheva as a mule. The fourth game covered space dependant on the largeness of the item, yet this was helpful compared to having only just nine slots when a fair part of the game you need more than one to be able to combine herbs and if you choose to buy a bulletproof vest this also takes up a slot! In my opinion, there should be an option to turn off Sheva as an AI and inherit the double amount of slots for your inventory as Chris.

Resident Evil 5 introduces Jill Valentine from as we formerly known her as brunette, to now being blonde from a result of experimentation on her body. Jill was brainwashed with an external device embedded into her chest by Wesker and Excella, which left a scar after being ripped from a chest with the help of Chris and your partner. I’ve always seen potential romance between the two characters as they always seem so close and protective over each other. Before Resident 5 Jill always seemed willing to sacrifice herself to save Chris when pursing Wesker and how both were loyal to each other in saving the other from prison shows they really care for each other, yet I guess when Sheva asks about Jill in Resident Evil 5, “Were you close?” and Chris replies with just “We were partners” it leaves a cryptic response. Is it that Capcom don’t want to pursue their relationship in the storyline and Chris literally meant partners, or he’d rather leave things unsaid as it always seems that Jill and Chris have something to say to each other, but it’s always kept quiet.

Resident Evil 5 is graphically stunning and the large environments that surround you are flawlessly detailed in every sense. The cutscenes make beautiful cinematics, and aren’t too long either, the dialogue within the cutscenes and the game itself bring great realism to the characters with their facial expressions, as does the soundtrack with the frantic, high-sped songs that follow large boss battles that add tension to gameplay. Playing through Resident Evil 5 for the first time, it lasts about twelve hours, which is a lot shorter than its previous titles which was disappointing, Yet, once you finish the game you unlock the return of Mercenaries as in Resident Evil 4, a mini-game  blasting waves of enemies within a time-limit with combo bonuses, but now with the option of co-op, which you can also play through to unlock more characters which includes “Warrior” Chris aka gay Chris, red riding hood Sheva and if you play Mercernaries Reunion; you can play as Excella and even meet old characters such as Rebecca and Barry from previous games.You can also replay chosen chapters of the main game to find hidden B.S.A.A. badges throughout, play on the other difficulty levels, save up on money to unlock and upgrade weapons, and collect in-game points to unlock trophies of several characters and additional costumes and graphic filters, and if you like you can always replay for achieving a better score with your partner minus the AI for the leaderboards. Resident 5 develops on the action side of Resident Evil’s gameplay and is built in every aspect to try and support co-operative gameplay with what you have to do in the game. Yet it cannot be labelled as a “survival horror” game any more, it keeps its tension within its missions and boss levels that creates fun if you’re playing with a friend, but creates a complete suicide mission when playing with the AI. Luckily, playing with another friend or playing through mercernaries, all the problems of the AI seem to go away. Aside from boss battles and using the mini gun with major enemies, this is my favourite aspect of Resident Evil 5. In my opinion, Resident Evil 5 is like its predecessors but with the lights turned on, there is no fear with the knowledge of having your partner covering your back, you have to go into the game not thinking of it as Resident Evil but a completely different entity.


Assassins Creed II

“Thief, thief! Dirty thief” Thank goodness you don’t hear these dreaded words in Assassins Creed II. The problem with the first game was too much repetition; everywhere you went as Altair you had to jump down to save a citizen from some soldiers trying to restrain and drag them away, fight the soldiers and wait for the note of approval from the victim who always took a long time to talk, which by the time they had finished 90% of the time other soldiers would have appeared and funnily enough all the citizens you save rotate the same looking characters. At least saving the citizens gained more access to your memory leading to unlocking more areas of the map to explore, but you have to admit this feature was really annoying. Being Al Mualim’s bitch trying to regain my status as an Assassin, even at one time without weapons running around doing assassination after assassination then riding a horse for a long length of time to another similar looking area wore off any fun for me, especially jumping in and out of the Animus at every given second to be shouted at by the doctor, but at least it gave me more insight to Lucy who later we find out is an Assassin. I was soon glad to finish the game and defeat Al Mualim with his Megaman type boss level.

Assassins Creed II is altogether a beautiful game. You play as Desmond Miles again;  breaking out of Abstergo with Lucy fighting off the guards, it was an interesting feeling finally being able to use Desmond to fight instead of just aimlessly walking around the animus talking to Lucy. The only thing I should mention since it’s early on in the game that puts me off it is the really unnecessary achievements at the beginning of the game such as getting achievements for breaking out of Abstergo and  being born again as Ezio, which only required me to control Ezio as a baby, moving his hands and legs via the interactive buttons -.-

You reach a new hideout and a new animus, and more of Lucy’s associates who will help Desmond along the journey as Ezio Auditore da firenze, a Florentine nobel born 1459 during the Italien Renaissance. After your two brothers and father get hung, there’s a lot more characters you associate with. My favourite being Leonardo da Vinci who helps Ezio fix his hidden blade and decipher codex pages you find around the map to learn new assassination techniques. Your sister and mother move to Monteriggioni with Ezio’s uncle, “It’s me Mario!” in his villa, which is also used to eventually unlock Altair’s armour with all the Assassin Seals you collect in the tombs, but more about that later. Feathers you collect in memory of your younger brother; Petruccio is placed in a chest in one of the room’s of the mansion which when collected eventually lead to unlocking a different cape, money collected from income of upgrading the city’s land with the architect such as; the well, the bank, and the doctor and blacksmith is placed in a chest, which also helps give you discounts. You can also collect mini statues scattered around the area, which when placed in the correct statues back at the villa, repays you in money. These aren’t too hard to find as Monteriggioni is fairly small.

Money is a new feature in the game; allowing you to purchase new types of weapons such as smoke bombs to upgrading armour (if you don’t already have the Altair armour which requires no upgrades), more ammo for your pistol and poison blade, to hiring in the new feature of factions who help Ezio; courtesans can either seduce guards Ezio selects or walk around Ezio to hide his character much like the scholars did in the first game. Both proved useful to gain Codex Pages which were guarded, without having to start a fight and to blend past guards in a restricted area, as blending normally requires more practice than previously finding scholars. The second and third factions Ezio can hire are thiefs and fighters, thiefs can steal and distract guards away from an area and fighters can literally start a brawl with them as another distraction. Using taunts is a new feature in the game which helps lure soldiers to fight if you find it annoying of them just standing there for ages before attacking, Wanted Posters appear especially when the Assassins logo in the top corner is fully red meaning soldiers are on high alert, the more red, the more soldiers will find and attack you so this along with bribing Heralds with money to keep quiet helps bring down your status. Stores are also now available in the game; Art Merchants allow Ezio to purchase old famous paintings such as Madonna and Child and the Baptism of Christ, which are displayed in a gallery back at the villa, purchasing medicine and healing yourself can be done through the Doctor located at random spots around the map wearing a bird mask in certain cities as doctors at that time wore it to protect themselves from disease, the Blacksmiths can be used to purchase weapons, ammo and armour which can also be fixed, and the Tailor is used to dye clothes different colours so you can finally bring Ezio away from the standard Assassin colour of white. As a final move, Ezio can also use his money to throw on the ground as another distraction as guards run over to break up the frantic crowd gathering up money. And if doing the storyline and the voluntary Assassin missions for Leonardo located around the map aren’t enough you can always get a whole heap of money from the treasure chest of the Templar Lairs located in each city. Gaining access to this treasure chest isn’t easy and proves a big puzzle, one of many amazing puzzle features of the game.

My other favourite puzzle in the game is working out the Assassin tombs; again located in each city, there are about six tombs in total each gaining you an Assassin Seal which unlocks Altair’s armour. I went for these tombs pretty much as soon as I could, not only as I enjoyed working them out so much but because the armour didn’t need repair and proved helpful against strong enemies such as the Brutes which are heavily armoured soldiers with strong axes and the fast running soldiers who can outrun Ezio and easily gain a sneaky stab. The tombs are located in well known monuments and require Ezio to pull a skull lever which in turn twists and opens to span around a guarded high restricted area. These places are huge and require using all your new moves of wall running and back flipping and working out how to jump certain areas, it’s helpful there are checkpoints if you do fall. The graphics are simply breathtaking and fighting off the soldiers and finally reaching that tomb hidden far up high in beautifully decorated white stone with extra treasure chests is always so rewarding. Yet the timed ones later proved a demon for me xD the high-points in the game are also more challenging, much better than the simple dash up and pull yourself up tactic of the first game. One of the high-points even requires you to do a storyline mission and learn a new move from one of the thief characters you meet to jump higher and grab to reach further up a building. “Subject 16″‘s video is another major puzzle which when finding glyphs hidden around famous monuments, unlocks an extra puzzle usually of finding an object in several famous paintings to gain a code which further unlocks “Subject 16″‘s video, which I eventually got bored of wondering what it could be and was disappointed by the video uploaded on youtube which only ended in another conundrum, yet the puzzle solving of the glyph was my favourite part. The final puzzle Ezio has to work out is when you collect all the codex pages written by Altair which are displayed in the villa and which you move around using Eagle Vision to unlock a map finding the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden.

The game overall is excellent and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to finally get to playing it as I was so put off by the first title. The only other feature I wish was kept in the game from the previous is being able to grab people, as the loot players following Ezio proved slightly annoying in the game especially when trying to run from soldiers. In the first game, Altair was a fairly annoying character with his American accent, Ezio is more likeable and there are certain points of the game where you laugh at his antics such as his way with women, yet it was fun to re-play as Altair in one of the storyline missions when Desmond Miles blacks out at the hideout after some training with Lucy. It was interesting to have an action-based flashback passing the same old music,  soldiers and templars chasing a character who then appears to be a woman and unlocking more into the assassin memories. Basing the game on non-fictional parts of Italy, with the exact layout and detail of monuments and famous characters following along with their biography and the history of each monument proved an interesting history lesson for me, and made me want to visit Italy even more and explore the monuments and areas I visited in the game, especially the beauty of Venice and pretending I’m riding the gondola as Ezio or watching the intricate costumes and dresses of the carnival people and jugglers and fire-breathers or stealth attacking targets from high points or flying over massive fires with Leonardo’s flying machine.


Red Dead Redemption

*Spoiler alert*

Red Dead Redemption was the last Xbox game I completed. I’ve always been a fan of Rockstar games having played Grand Theft Auto; Vice City, and San Andreas during the PS2 era and IV on 360, and also Bully. All excellent games and all following in the suit of managing to free roam and choosing when to do specific missions, side missions and obviously the best is Rockstar’s sense of humour. Who hasn’t gone cruising around the back alleys in GTA at night or hit a strip bar and got a lap dance or extra from one of the hookers..then of course running them over after the brief cut-scene and getting your money back ^_~

Bully, obviously toned it down since it was being aimed towards younger teens instead of 18+ like GTA, but had some surprising but hilarious content such as Jimmy, the protagonist being able to (and also obtaining a achievement) for kissing boys, but kudos to Rockstar for being open-minded.

Red Dead Redemption again being on 360 and especially on HD was represented with beautiful scenery and amazing attention to detail. Whether night or day, riding around Mexico or passing the Great Plains to kill that final buffalo or delving deep in the forest and mountains to skin a grizzly. Apart from the beginning with Bonnie and irritatingly learning how to break a horse, I began to enjoy the missions- yay shooting! ‘Dead Eye’ was a helpful input, much like Bayonetta’s ‘Witch Time’ slowing down time to get a good shot. Obviously I know learning the basics at the beginning with breaking a horse would help with side stranger missions, but I always found it frustrating as 80% of the time I wanted to shoot the horse for throwing me off then galloping off, it takes some getting used to.

‘Dead Eye’ is also featured in challenge duels, which sometimes appear on the map or in a side mission or two. I enjoyed this feature to the game as it’s one of many known aspects of what we know of western cowboys. Robbing trains, gattling guns, stage coach races, tracking down wanted criminals, shooting in gang hideouts, playing poker in saloons, down to even the detail of masking your identity with a handkerchief were a few details of the game that stayed true to western culture, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My only negative view of the game is mainly the use of betrayal in yet another game and the unfortunate ending. I’m all for tragedy at the end of a game, I mean at the end of the day it’s just a game right? Yet, at least GTA IV had alternate endings. I guess both alternate endings had different tragedies, but I wouldn’t of minded Jack being kidnapped by the Mexicans and the wife being killed in exchange for John Marston to survive and marry Bonnie, who I preferred so much more. And there was no denying Bonnie’s feelings for John during cutscenes of the game.

And call me perverted but I would of enjoyed having a go with the prostitutes in the game. Much to my dismay even as a legally aged Jack, free roaming at the end. He only subjected to saying, “my daddy warned me about dirty whores like you” BAH! Although, I can understand Rockstar’s attempt at morality and not having John cheat on his wife (somebody get a cheat to input Neko Bellic in the game! xP), it didn’t stop my fun hog-tying women and throwing them on the tracks (woo 5G!) or dragging them up the stairs and teabagging them in my room.

My last two negative points would be the lack of fighting against Indians in the game. You had a few later missions shooting them, but I expected Indians on horse back with bows and arrows attempting to scalp me, not updated versions with guns, but eh fighting was still good. Last point being the amount of glitches, which almost made me drop the game as it froze during levels and a few times left a character squatting midair.

Finishing on a good note, one of my favourite characters in the game aside from John was good old, Abraham Reyes. His dialogue and John’s sarky comments were always a joy. Who’s Luisa?! And hey, he displayed the only one sex scene in the game xD