Feature | Beyond the Cube (November 2011)

By Calum Peak 14.11.2011 5

Beyond the Cube: The World Outside Nintendo

Welcome one, welcome all to Beyond the Cube, Cubed3's foray into the world outside Nintendo. Last month we reported the events of Eurogamer in a slew of in-depth previews covering Battlefield 3, Skyrim, LittleBigPlanet Vita and Awesomenauts. This month the releases have been coming thick and fast, killing my thumbs and, in turn, destroying productivity. Whilst October focused on previews, this month will focus heavily on reviews of the hottest games to hit stores - and trust me, there are a lot of them. From Batman: Arkham City and Modern Warfare 3 to Uncharted 3 and Dungeon Defenders, we have it all this month. So grab a cup of warm cocoa and follow me once again, Beyond the Cube...

Reviews

Batman: Arkham City

(Warner Bros. Interactive :: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC)

I have a love/hate relationship with superhero games. I thoroughly enjoyed was Spiderman 2, which nailed the combat and the free-flow spiralling city to swing around, but the only title since then that has proved that good superhero games aren't dead was Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was filled with mystery, a host of intriguing characters and, now that I think about it, a combat system not too dissimilar to the aforementioned spider, but it was still missing something. Now along comes Arkham City with its slick blood-stained monochrome casing and a promise of building on its predecessor. Is it bigger and better? Or should it glide away into the darkness? Let's see what Wayne has for us this time...

It's certainly bigger, that's for sure. After the events on Arkham Island, Dr Hugo Strange has persuaded the top brass in Gotham to corner off part of the city to hold all of the criminal scum that seems to multiply in the environment; a recipe for disaster. Enter our dark knight, who finds himself wrapped up in the event, trapped in the sectioned off Arkham City with all of the criminal master minds - and when I say all, I mean all. Mark Hamill makes a stellar return voicing The Joker and his quirky mannerisms in a way so endearingly threatening, it's comical. We also see the likes of Harley Quinn and Ivy return, and of course, The Riddler. There are new characters introduced - particularly if you install the Catwoman DLC - and you'll come face to face with Harvey Two-Face, and in the main event, Penguin. Villains are stacked further on top of this, but without giving any more away, Batman fans are in for a treat. However, the big baddies do feel a little imposed on the story. It feels as though the fellas over at Rocksteady threw some of them in for good measure to please fans without really fleshing them out; some turn up in the oddest places.

In a way the title Arkham City is a tad misleading, giving connotations of the huge sprawling metropolises of Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown. It's not like that. Batman's coverable area is fairly small; it's possible to travel from one side to the other in a little under two minutes. What the dense city lacks in size, however, it more than makes up for in content. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to wander around, and four hundred Riddler trophies - yes, you did just read that correctly - scattered about to collect. It isn't so much about finding them, but figuring out the secret that will unlock them.

Within the story you will visit a myriad of locations, from courthouses and sewers, to museums and 'fun' factories. As ever, Batman is equipped well for all these locations with even more gadgets than the preceding title. These make getting around the city a joy to behold; firing your grappling hook, gliding, diving and gaining altitude all flow together. Combat has also been tweaked, and you can now use most of your gadgets within combos. Whether you are stalking from the rafters or pulling the bad guy in with a quick-fire grapple for a clothesline finish, it all works.

Batman: Arkham City is a return to form for superhero games. It mixes the right amount of all-out action, tense boss fights (though they are slightly on the easy side), relatable characters, and a brilliant story that will leave many a fan with a tear in their eye. Once all is said and done on the story front you can tackle the host of challenges which focus around combat and stealth, attempting to beat your previous high scores. As well as obtaining those four hundred Riddler trophies. If you are masochistic however, new game plus may be for you, which starts you off on hard difficulty with no combat prompts and considerably tougher enemies... 9/10

[a name=cod]

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

(Activision :: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC / Wii)

Hearing the name 'Call of Duty' makes a lot of people groan, but it makes a lot more people happy. It's a title that has been running for so long that it has become a staple of industry, a huge money maker for Activision, and a name almost everyone has heard of. Enter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the eighth entry into the series. Whilst developers Infinity Ward ran into issues a few years ago, how does their new partnership with Sledgehammer impact on their headlining title? Let's pick up our SCARs, release the safety, and once again answer the call of duty...

Modern Warfare 3 is a package of three parts: the main campaign, Spec Ops, and multiplayer. As expected, the campaign is an adrenaline junkie-fuelled experience - you can't go more than a few minutes without something exploding, a chase scene, or other impressive set pieces. Modern Warfare 3 feels like the first in the series to hit the nail on the head in terms of pacing. Whereas previous iterations saw you taking on different 'styles' of levels, this time they are a much more varied affair. You'll start off by stealthily creeping behind enemy lines before blasting out all guns blazing. It gives the player a chance to catch up on the direction the story is taking as they can focus more on the surrounding environments and conversations between their crew.

Sadly, enemy AI hasn't improved a good deal. There are times when several bad guys will decide to rush you with a complete disregard for their safety, and on harder difficulties, they just become stupidly accurate instead of playing more intuitively. On top of this, the campaign is incredibly short; a first play through on veteran (the hardest difficulty) lasted a little over six and a half hours, and that time will shrink considerably on easier difficulties. That said, the story is still ultimately fun, and has a gratifying finish which wraps up the trilogy.

When all is said and done, players can tackle the Spec Ops mode which comprises of 16 original missions and a host of survival challenges (essentially a Call of Duty version of Gears of Wars' Horde Mode). Each of the 16 missions holds three stars to earn, each representing varying difficulties. Whilst you may want to tackle these alone, it's much more fun and slightly less unforgiving if you get a mate in on the action either online or in local split screen. Active communication is key in the missions if you want to make it through alive, and if one of you should fall, your buddy can help you get back up - effectively by just wiping the bullets off your body.

Survival mode is a nod towards Treyarch's zombie mode, though infinitely more satisfying. You can take the challenge on any of the multiplayer maps as you are pitched against waves of enemies each harder than the last. One round may see you fighting enemies that rush you with C4 strapped on, or three bullet-absorbing juggernaughts. You start the first round off with the pistol and have to survive by grabbing enemy weapons, and as you level up more weapons become available for you to purchase, as well as a host of explosives, both offensive and defensive. You can also call in support in the form of predator missiles or a task force. It feels very well fleshed out and gives the player a reason to keep coming back to it as they level themselves up and gives them certain objectives to play through and competing against their mates on the leaderboards.

Ultimately however, most people play Call of Duty for its multiplayer, and rightly so; Infinity Ward have managed to craft a well balanced experience. Gone are the annoying perks of commando, stopping power and last stand, explosives have been nerfed, and overall weapon damage has been buffed significantly. The result: a faster and more fluid multiplayer experience that cuts out most problems that have hindered its predecessors. Players have sixteen maps to chose from and the host of usual multiplayer modes such as free-for-all, team deathmatch and search and destroy. A first for the series is 'Kill Confirmed', which adds a new element to regular deathmatch. Every time you get a kill the enemy drops a set of dog tags which you have to run over to collect to score points of your team. Similarly, when you die you also drop a set which a teammate can collect to deny the kill. It both speeds up gun-on-gun gameplay, but also adds a nice tactical element, forcing you to think about when to run out and grab points for your team. However - and this is a big however - the majority of the maps don't flow quite right and feel, inverse to the gun play, unbalanced. They're very busy with few clear lines of sight, as well as plenty of head high walls that lead to infuriating deaths.

Overall, Modern Warfare 3 is as good a package as we have come to expect year on year. The story is a fun, action-packed affair that visits a wide range of locations. Spec Ops extends the campaign missions allowing you to take them on with a mate, and collecting all 48 stars will pose a good challenge to veteran players. As always, multiplayer will have people coming back for more with its quick-fire nature, whether it's for ten minutes or several hours, and with the promise of map packs in the future it's sure to see them through to the next title. Infinity Ward, despite their earlier struggles, have managed to surpass themselves with Modern Warfare 3, creating their most streamlined shooter ever. Though it may not be for some, and there is little in the way of 'new' innovations that would warrant a purchase from apprehensive buyers, there is still enough content here to keep gamers on their toes. 8/10

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

(Sony :: PlayStation 3)
Review by Aaron Elias

Over 200 Game of the Year awards, perfect review scores, quoted as "one of the best games of all time" and "a masterpiece." Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was definitely worthy of all of these accolades; Naughty Dog provided a gaming experience unlike any other. With that in mind, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has a lot to live up to. As one of the most anticipated games of the year, does Nathan Drake strike gold once more?

In many ways, Uncharted 3 is even better than its predecessor. It is a technical phenomenon, with some of the most beautiful, realistic graphics you are likely to see this generation. The level of voice acting is remarkable; the characters interact with each other both in and out of cut scenes in a believable and humorous manner, making you fall in love with old and new faces all over again. The set pieces are even crazier than ever, with some of the events you play out leaving you with a feeling of sheer amazement; sometimes sitting in awe, admiring the incredible scenes, never before deeming anything like it possible in a video game. Scaling the giant wreckages of a ship graveyard as the camera pans out to show you the incredible view is simply jaw dropping.

Yet whilst it is clearly such an impressive achievement that Naughty Dog has seemingly topped Uncharted 2 in creating an 'interactive movie', if you like, fans might still end up coming away slightly disappointed. The plot revolves around Nate's search for the truth behind his ancestor Francis Drake's secret mission to Arabia, with a stereotypical evil English woman, Marlowe, at the centre of it all. Fans will love the focus on Nate and Sully's history and close bond throughout the story, although there is the feeling that something bigger is always waiting to happen, but never comes. Certain plot points either aren't fully explained or delved into enough, and some characters needed fleshing out more.

There is a bigger focus on hand to hand combat, with button prompts popping up when you can dodge or break out of a hold, but they look and execute brilliantly. Stealth killing an area of enemies seems a lot harder to do, further frustrated by the fact that if you die after being spotted, the checkpoint will restart you as being noticed again every time. Gunfights can be unforgiving sometimes, with enemies surrounding you almost immediately, and forcing many deaths. That is not to say it isn't fun in any way, though - the gunplay and action sequences are as enjoyable and smooth as ever, with the lack of framerate drops being testament to Naughty Dog's ability.

The single player is over fairly quickly however, taking under 10 hours to beat, but the search for the standard 100 treasures and gaining trophies ups the replayability, not forgetting the online multiplayer mode, which has been developed even further. Now with the ability to customise your characters and weapons, plus co-op adventure levels and many other match modes, multiplayer adds an incredible amount of fun and value to the overall game.

Uncharted 3 is one of the games of the generation for sure, but it just doesn't have quite the same impact as playing Uncharted 2 for the first time, although that speaks volumes for the series as a whole; they are all games to be experienced. Uncharted 3 is no exception. 9/10

[a name=dd]

Dungeon Defenders

(Trendy Entertainment :: PC / Xbox Live Arcade [tested] / PlayStation Network / iOS / Android)

Tower defence games are a mixed bag. Some get repetitive really early on, whilst others will have you wrapped up so entirely that you can easily lose half a day. To say that Dungeon Defenders is pure tower defence title is wrong, though, as developers Trendy Entertainment have instead melded both tower defence and an action RPG together to form something that is strikingly different from the norm. Does Dungeon Defenders deserve your attention this holiday season? Read on find out...

Let's be clear on this: Dungeon Defenders is not a title to be played by yourself. If you decide to do so, heed my words, you will not get far. There are four character classes: the squire (knight), the apprentice (mage), the huntress and the monk, all of whom manage to set evil upon the world by accident. Henceforth, they set out to protect the Eternia Crystals from getting destroyed and push the darkness back from where it came from. There are a number of locales, but the premise remains fundamentally the same; hold back waves of enemies to win the round.

Dungeon Defenders' stages are split into two phases, build and combat. The former allows you to plan out your defence undisturbed, while all manner of chaos breaks out as soon as you enter the battle section. Tower set up is the most crucial part; each character has different offensive and defensive abilities and must be well placed to survive the wave. For example, having the monk put a slow spell on route to the crystal helps to ensure that everyone can keep up with the combat, which can get very hectic with a lot of character models on screen at once. However, building defences costs mana, which you generate by killing baddies or collect from chests, but you can only hold a certain amount until you level up. It quickly becomes a choice between putting up more defences or deciding to buff your armour and weapons; which is more effective is entirely up to the player.

In between levels players can attend the tavern, which acts as a hub that allows you to purchase all the necessary gear you might need for the upcoming quest. On top of this you can assign your skill points (if you haven't already) to your character and see the effect of different weapons against dummies. Plus, if you've got the dough, you can purchase a familiar to ride at your side when you go into battle, which can be upgraded in the same way as your weapons and benefit you in numerous ways such as assaulting nearby enemies. All of this is presented in clean graphics with a cartoon feel that is still very detailed with spells firing all over the place, traps activating, and sheer havoc being wreaked on screen. If there is one gripe with Dungeon Defenders it is that the menus feel a little cluttered on Xbox 360, leading to difficult navigation and comparison of stats; it was definitely designed with PC in mind.

Dungeon Defenders offers so much for a low price point. Whether it is by yourself, split screen or online, it is one of the best tower defence titles-come-RPG games I have played. All four roles in the game feel substantial and different enough to warrant levelling them all up, and the tricky difficulty level will keep players tackling hordes of enemies until they finally surpass them. When all is finished, there are other game modes to tackle, such as 'Pure Strategy' which only allows you to build defences and repair defences before each round leading to much more strategy. There are also challenges that make the player fulfil specific objectives before they can progress. If you are looking for something cheap to play with plenty of longevity this holiday season, you shouldn't need to look much further than Dungeon Defenders. 9/10

It's been a busy month for games - above is just a sample what has been released over the last few weeks. Next month expect a very hearty review of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which missed out on this month's edition due to a combination of its release date and the promise of 300+ hours of gameplay. We should also have some coverage on Saints Row: The Third and Assassin's Creed: Revelations time permitting; it's good to be getting out of FPS territory! I hope you enjoyed this month's look Beyond the Cube - see you next month!

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Comments

Stu (guest) 14.11.2011#1

Great article. I'm happy to see a Nintendo site considering non-tendo gaming. Throughly refreshing and a stark contrast to the fanboy ridden drivel out there!

This month and the last have been fantastic for video gaming as a whole. There's now a huge hole in my pocket and as such I'll be working overtime and can't even play the games! It's all about CoD. I get more CoD than Bernard Matthews!

Luna (guest) 15.11.2011#2

Batman GOTY easily

Skyrim is GOTY, for me!

Martin_ said:
Skyrim is GOTY, for me!

This. I think next months is just going to be an uber review of Skyrim, and possibly Ass creed.

Angela7F (guest) 18.11.2011#5

Stu (guest) said:
Great article. I'm happy to see a Nintendo site considering non-tendo gaming. Throughly refreshing and a stark contrast to the fanboy ridden drivel out there!

This month and the last have been fantastic for video gaming as a whole. There's now a huge hole in my pocket and as such I'll be working overtime and can't even play the games! It's all about CoD. I get more CoD than Bernard Matthews!

Agreed!

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