Nokia N9 not coming to Europe, due to Windows Phone announcement?

Even though the Nokia N9 is not expected to release until September, we already know where it is going to release. Nokia have released a list of countries that can be selected via their website if you want to be updated on availability with the UK, Germany and France being notable absentees. This seems like a bad move on Nokia’s part, until we consider their new Windows Phone 7 device that definitely did not make it into the “blogosphere” as Stephen Elop put it.

This will naturally be disappointing to those who wanted to get their hands on Meego, and perhaps have a fresh – and buttonless – experience from iOS and Android. Don’t worry though, because we have been promised that the “innovation” will definitely make it over to Windows Phone 7. Whenever that handset is announced, of course.

Post-Glastonbury… and I loved U2

After managing to catch up on the wealth of Glastonbury content that my Sky+ box was storing, I first and foremost loved Coldplay and U2. In-fact, I think Coldplay may have edged the show overall. However, I preferred U2.

Both do great, awe-inspiring anthemic songs. In this regard I think U2 edge (no pun intended) it, with tracks such as I Will Follow and With Or Without You resonating across generations. That’s not to say Coldplay don’t do the same, classic tracks such as Yellow definitely hit the sweet spot. However, and while some may view this as a negative aspect of the band, U2 use their signature sound and The Edge’s memorable guitar riffs to really connect with the audience. Of course Coldplay do the same, but in my opinion the sound of U2 really allows a connection between the audience that few bands around the world right now can compare to.

Of course, you’re also probably talking about what is the biggest band in the world right now. What with breaking the record for the fastest selling tour and everything.

Oh, and here’s a little sample of their performance.

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Is Classic Sonic back for good?

Tangent: is Classic Sonic back for good?

With the E3 hype dying down, it might be interesting to consider what Sega will take from Sonic Generations post release. Sega’s current strategy seems to be, especially when considering the improvements from 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog to Sonic Colours, which some regarding as a potential end to The Blue Blur, bringing the best aspect of each game and improving upon it. So what is Sega going to take from Sonic Generations? Purely gameplay elements, or will they consider altering their strategy? Either away, Classic Sonic’s role certainly carries weight now more than ever.

A little background: for years fans have wanted Classic Sonic to return. Since the Adventure series there have been outcries and finally, at last, those fans got it. Well, sort of. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 aimed to bring Sonic back to his 2D, platforming roots. The problem however was not only did his aesthetic design look akin to today’s Sonic, but the classic platforming skill-set had been changed heavily. Sonic’s physics were different, with the heavier jumps of Classic Sonic not featuring and instead he seemed to be lighter (much like in Sonic Colours). Further, the homing attack had been included: a core feature of the 3D Sonic games. This was a problem because it removed momentum-based gameplay, which is, coincidentally, being touted as a core feature of Generations, with Sonic skipping forward quickly to enemies when he was able to lock on to them. Speed was not a reward. The result, as we know, was harsh criticism from many corners. Sega had failed, and had ruined what they marketed as the sequel to Sonic 3/and Knuckles. Though just when some fans thought they would be stuck with Modern Sonic forever, Sega surprised us. They announced Sonic Generations, and Classic Sonic too.

Fast forward to today and we have now seen Classic Sonic remerge, with his chubby self being reincarnated in glorious High Definition. We’ve also seen Green Hill Zone and City Escape (and possibly some others), as well as a drastic change from the physics and gameplay that featured in Sonic the Hedgehog 4. The philosophy behind these changes has even been hinted at, with Aaron Webber saying during E3 that they wanted to “correct” the physics that were seen in Sonic 4. However, is this a one-time feature? Is Sega purely trying to bring ‘classic’ fans back on board, before they lock Classic Sonic away? Or are Sega recogising gameplay elements that have been missing from the franchise for all this time?

For starters we have to realise why Sega have done this, and that reason is to commemorate Sonic. Sega had to bring back Classic Sonic, otherwise they wouldn’t have been fully representing the franchise. A plausible argument, but with all the effort gone into replicating that experience would it make sense for Sega to put this version of Sonic away once the project is finished? Consider Sonic 4, and the answer could very likely be no. Sega have openly said that Episode 2 of Sonic 4 is underway, and they are taking the criticisms from fans and reviewers into account. With fans already cautious towards the next installment, an aesthetic change will be as good as (and, in some cases, perhaps better) than a gameplay change. The reason for this is simply that seeing Classic Sonic in a trailer or advertisement will resonate immediately, purely because what he as a gaming icon represents. Of course Episode 2 will not be a success without gameplay changes, or any other Sonic game that features ‘Classic Sonic’ for that matter, but nailing the design of the character is half the battle. Sega have demonstrated with Sonic Generations that they can replicate a Genesis-esque experience. The only remaining question is whether they would ditch a potential Episode 3 of Sonic 4, and instead lengthen Episode 2 and create a full retail release. This is a difficult question to answer until we see more of Episode 2; it’s lengthened development time, after previously being estimated at just three months after Episode 1, perhaps indicates Sega are making some big changes.

Though let’s consider outside of Sonic 4. As we saw with Sonic Colours it seems that Sonic Team are not afraid of taking development cues from others games, notably Super Mario Galaxy/Galaxy 2 (compare Wisps to the Mario’s hats). Therefore, much like Mario, what is to stop Sega coexisting Classic and Modern Sonic? Alternating their trajectory to have alternating games featuring each character alone hardly sounds too problematic. Of course, there may be a sequel to Sonic Colours (and rightly so) but the option is there. It’s known plenty of fans are looking forward to Generations because of what it is bringing to the franchise with Classic Sonic, not what it is bringing back with Modern Sonic. Even though Colours was a very big step forward, Sonic Team are only as good as their next game. Some fans have even stated they are going to try to skip the Modern Sonic stages (which I personally believe is a detriment to their experience) because of the negative associations. Though we don’t yet know how Modern Sonic is going to handle, whether Sonic Team are looking to combine platforming with Classic and Unleashed style gameplay with Modern Sonic or are creating different elements across both versions. If I had to guess, and this is strictly a guess, I would say that we won’t quite see the 70/30 majority we saw in Colours in favour of platforming but something closer to a 50/50 split. My thinking behind this is as aforementioned: Sega would like to create a distinction between the two styles, especially for old(er) fans who are coming back to the franchise.

Whatever happens, Sonic Generations and its aftermath are going to be significant for Sega and Sonic Team, and may provide a launchpad for their future strategy and their hopes of repairing damage that has done to the franchise over the years. Let’s hope in the future we’ll be going back in time more often but, for now, we will continue to speculate what may be on that elusive level list.

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Late-to-the-party preview: Trials HD

Yes, I do realise that I’m almost a year late.

Rarely do I pick up a game – and even more rarely, an Xbox Live Arcade game – and find myself having an incredible sense of fun straight away. That’s not to say I don’t find games fun, but rather it usually takes time to get into whatever I’m playing (consider games like Oblivion, which take a good hour or two present the premise). Therefore, when I downloaded Trials HD on a rainy Sunday afternoon I was blown away by the sheer fun factor.

For those of you who haven’t played Trials HD, go and download the demo (at least). For the rest of you, here’s the gist: Trials HD is a physics-based fun-ride which challenges you to navigate an anonymous biker over, under and through obstacles in the quickest time possible while maintaining the literal balancing act of not falling off or crashing. This means you’re going have to overcome everything from near-vertical drops, to loop the loops. The added challenge is that the game doesn’t ask you to simply ride over/through/around the course, but the exaggerated physics mean that the bike may flip out if you do not pay attention. As difficult as this may sound, it’s very easy to pick up.

Though you do have some help. You navigate the bike by using the left analog stick to accelerate or reverse, and the right analog stick to tilt the bike forwards or backwards. This means when you’re going up a steep incline you’ll probably want to lean forward, but do so for too long (or apply too much pressure) and you will be flailing around everywhere before you know it. If you also have the audacity, feel free to do a backward flip or two before you land. Want to compliment you’re best run-through ever with a fancy move? Go ahead, but please: remember to land. The incentive is there because at the top of the screen you’ll see a ticker, representing your friends(s), moving away from you as their ghost driver posts a faster time. Got a silver medal (out of bronze, silver and gold)? Go again. Got a gold medal? Improve your time, because someone will have beaten you.

The demo also presented two ‘skill modes’, which put you and the driver in totally-not-realistic situations. Driving around in a giant ball and trying not to fall off your bike while ti speeds up is crazy, as is blasting your biker out of his seat to launch him as far as possible with a pair of skis attached. Fortunately there are plenty of these types of modes, and they certainly don’t feel tacked on with the variation and the continue leaderboard support versus your friends and the rest of the world.

I have certainly not played Trials HD fully, but I certainly will. There are plenty of hooks here that encourage a competitive spirit, driving you (literally) to better your friends. The most remarkable aspect of the game, however, seems to be the sheer depth.

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Sonic Colours review

“This is the best Sonic game since Sonic 3 and Knuckles”

After the tragedy that was 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog, it would have been natural to think that The Blue Blur was finished (after all, it was terrible) especially when comparing him to the consistency of a certain evergreen plumper. Not only did Sega have different ideas, and decided to release the mediocre Sonic Unleashed, which perhaps did not sway the opinion of those doubters despite definite advances in Sonic’s core gameplay style, but Sonic Team decided to run with the Unleashed formula and release a Wii exclusive: Sonic Colours. Combining the breakneck speed of Sonic Unleashed and more traditional 2D Genesis-esque platforming, Sonic Colours is certainly a curious proposition. Perhaps it begs the question at this point how, or why, Eggman continues to bother tracking Sonic down (heck, the poor guy has even formed an alliance more than once and failed). Regardless, Eggman is back with a brand new plan: Eggman’s Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park – a giant theme park exclusively for Sonic and friends to enjoy. That means no playing as everyone else and Sonic, no guns and definitely no kissing. So with that in mind it’s up to Sonic, and Sonic alone, to save the day. Again.

The premise of Colours is simple: seven acts per world, seven worlds to play through. As I played Sonic Colours the direction of the game was obvious: for starters you are launched straight into playing it, no cutscenes or hub worlds beforehand to be found here (even the cutscenes are infrequent, and short, and enjoyable with a combination of witty dialogue and solid voice acting). The player is thrown into the game straight away, immediately realising arguably Colours greatest strength: the level design. Sonic Unleashed forced the player to move forward, creating tight spaces to encourage Sonic’s sense of speed with minimal platforming. In Sonic Colours we are presented with multiple routes in generally 2D environments, with the Genesis mantra of higher routes being the better choice generally holding true. However, this can vary, and this is where the stages of Colours really become apparent.

As is customary, and often a dread-filling moment, Sonic Team continued their idea of introducing additional elements to vary Sonic’s gameplay style. This time, we got Wisps: Mario Galaxy-esque powerups that turn Sonic into a drill accompanied by an announcer blaring ‘DRILL!’, a spike (‘SPIKE!’) or a cube (‘CUBE!’) among other power ups. These allow Sonic to interact with the environment, granting access to different routes – Spike allows you to cling to walls and get into tight spaces, or you can turn blue coins into solid blocks that you can move across (in the case of Cube). Unlike the Werehog these are not permanent, and last for brief periods of time, and while you have stages built around these powerups they are certainly not intrusive – you can avoid them completely in almost every stage and often have to at first. The benefit of this is that in later levels you have to act quickly, combining traditional platforming elements with quick reflexes or face restarting at a checkpoint. Fortunately this forms the majority of the game, and for the most part is done very well.

Though the Wisps alone don’t make the game, but rather the levels themselves as mentioned. Truly Sonic Colours provides some of the most memorable gaming experiences from any Sonic game I have ever played. From the awe-inspiring Carnival Zone (which will blow your mind) to the it’s-so-good-I-could-almost-eat-it Sweet Mountain Zone, Colours utilises the lack of realistic environments perfectly and creates a beautiful package despite the limitations of the Wii hardware. No more does Sonic have to run through a forest, or an empty city or a beach. Instead you’ll be flying towards a giant burger, a ship from seemingly another dimension or you’ll be riding on a rollercoaster that you are not quite sure will ever end in what is one of the most beautiful games to release on the Wii (and perhaps the most beautiful Sonic the Hedgehog game). All of this is combined with fantastic music, with remixes of the initial theme tunes being played throughout the additional levels. Though while the whole soundtrack isn’t memorable, most of the tracks are and you will be humming them in your head or playing the level again to hear it again and again. There may not be the next Hydrocity Zone, but that doesn’t mean Sonic Colours should be ashamed of itself. The music is fantastic, and the soundtrack will certainly be worth a purchase.

However Sonic Colours isn’t perfect. Sonic’s physics sometimes do not lend themselves to platforming, with the ‘lighter’ Modern Sonic (as opposed to the heavier, Classic Sonic) causing the player to over-jump or mistime jumping sections. This certainly isn’t a Sonic 4: Part Deux, but to me this was apparent in sections where the camera zoomed out and due to my attention being divided between focusing on the stage and focusing on a miniature version of Sonic I found myself dying without even realising. Admittedly this was rare, and came from when I was double jumping unnecessarily. The issue remains though, and was probably the biggest complaint about Colours I found throughout my whole experience and would be the number one required improvement in any potential sequel.

As said, Sonic Colours features seven stages per world. The seventh is, naturally, a boss. Here Sonic Colours is inventive, combining all three core elements of the gameplay: speed, platforming and the new power-ups. Whether you’re running towards a ship dodging left and right to avoid bullets flying at you, using giant cannonballs to navigate towards a switch you need to push while not getting hit, or trying to not drown while leading rockets towards a glass seal that you need to break, Sonic Colours certainly provides lots of variety (if being a little on the easy side at times). You will also have to fight the same boss twice, the twist being it will be harder and more dangerous than before. Some would say that at this point Sonic Colours is lazy for recycling the same palette of bosses, but the variety in level design that leads up to these points – and the increase in difficulty – means that you more than likely will neither realise nor care. Here it is up to you as the player to find out how to finish quickly, while getting as many rings as possible and trying to find that elusive Wisp power up that can give you the advantage (and usually a lot more power). The beauty of these boss fights is that even if you don’t use a Wisp power you can still win, but if you want that S-rank you might have to replay once or twice. This is where Colours offers its real depth.

Even though the main game of Sonic Colours is very short – perhaps too short, especially when combined with the generous difficulty level – the lure of S-ranking and the collectible red rings is worth coming back for. While the ranking system is now a familiarity, the red rings aren’t: five scattered per level that earn extra points and unlock additional multiplayer levels. These certainly do require Wisps to find and will require you to go underground, overground and everywhere in between if you want to get the maximum out the game. Often you will be required to use quick timing and precise platforming to get to a red ring before the time runs out, and chances are you will be an inch away from getting it before you fall to your death.

The multiplayer mode also unlocks new levels as you collect red rings, a co-op Super Mario Bros Wii style adventure – The Sonic Simulator – where you and a buddy can navigate a series of classic stages in a somewhat peculiar setting. Unfortunately this mode feels tacked on, despite the allure of Chaos Emeralds and the potential of one-upping your best friend by finishing first. Not only is there little incentive to play the game, but the ability to quickly get caught behind your friend if they run ahead (and the lack of ability to avoid dying) means the mode can quickly become frustrating. Combine that with a HUD that stops you from seeing what’s in front of you from time to time, and objects that you can interact with which will consistently cause you to lose rings despite your best efforts, and this multiplayer mode certainly feels tacked on. Much like a mode which allows the player to speed run the whole game from start to finish and post your score via a leaderboard, it seems that Sonic Colours was primarily design to be an individual experience.

Despite a few flaws, Sonic Colours provides a superb package that is not to be missed. Not only is a game of this quality remarkable considering Sonic’s recent dips in form, but the game – reputation aside – is an excellent product. Excellent music, superb level design and clever usage of the new Wisp mechanic provide a great deal of variety. Indeed there are some weak points, but these are almost trivial. Certainly, Sonic Colours is not an adventure to be missed.

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19/02 customization: Progress II

A combination of Classic 3, Mojo HD, Tenuis HD, Avant 2 HD, Abril and Pomme. A quick Google search will land you these.

Comments and feedback appreciated!

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Crysis 2 multiplayer beta impressions

Last week was the end of the Crysis 2 multiplayer beta and, suprisingly, it had been an intersting experience. I had not been around for the original and, with my PC being subtantially under-par at the time, was not able to play it. This time however I made sure to get in on the experience, which was especially interesting considering multiplayer was being introduced into the series for the first time. I had enjoyed the experience a lot, which was partly because I seemed to be really good (my K/D ratio was 1.88) and it seemed to combine elements of CoD and Halo. Here I will be writing a detailed overview of all aspects of the included map and gamemodes. There will be no ‘tl; dr’ version.

The ‘beta’ or demo – there seemed to be a lack of consistency over which it was, so I’ll call it a preview – provided players with a single map (Skyline) and initially a single gamemode: Team Deathmatch. This was your generic First Person Shooter slayer mode – a 4v4, first-to-50 affair. Like in established franchises players could also choose loadouts, however there was a slight twist: all were not unlocked. Their were two default options, and a custom class that could be tailored to your experience. These were the standard Assault / Scout classes which would either start you out with an assault rifle or shotgun as your primary weapon, and a pistol as the secondary weapon. Additional loadouts could be unlocked via weapon unlocks which were rewarded after each rank up (or every other rank up, as you progressed) and could also come along with an attachment, armour or dog tag unlocks. More on that soon.

The multiplayer of Crysis 2 also includes killstreaks, which (at least, in the preview) seemed to follow the format of getting 3 / 5 / 7 kills without dying. The rewards would be mostly unsurprising to anyone who has played Modern Warfare or beyond: 3 kills would result in in a UVA clone, 5 in a a single and unmovable electric beam firing down and 7 resulting in the fan-favourite chopper gunner. Whle the first and final killstreak in the trial were iterative at best, the ‘beam’ provided some interest. The idea was that you would choose a spot, tap A and it would fire in that spot. The downside was, as aforementioned, that it could not move. Therefore from my experience it was best to wait until a radar was used, which would allow you to see all of the targets in the game and where you could get double – or potentially triple – kills.

There was a second gamemode which was dubbed ‘Crash Site’. A simple yet effective take on King of the Hill, players has to defend pods that were dropped for a set amount of time. This would in turn earn points and the team who reached 200 points first would win. There is really nothing more to say. Regular loadouts were identical to those found in Team Deathmatch.

As briefly mentioned, Crysis 2 allowed players to gain armour unlocks. These tied in with the core feature of Crysis 2: Nanosuit 2.0. This is the next version of the suit which debuted in the original Crysis allowing players to jump higher (hold A), turn invisible (right bumber), sprint (hold in the left analog stick) or use the left bumper to activate the armour ability which made you more difficult to kill. However all of the abilities would drain the energy bar that players could see in their HUD, which was refilled by simply not using any of the abilities.

Armour unlocks tied into these core mechanics by providing additional abilities. The preview only provided a small sample, with example abilities allowing players to have a radar that increased in volume as enemies approaced allowing them to have an attachment to shoot out holograms. These worked really well, and providing a nice balance to the Nanosuit as well as a sense of freedom.

Skyline was the only map in the preview, so it was important that players got used to the key points. Ideally suited to 4 v 4 and objective gametypes, players spawned either side of what can best be described as a raised greenhouse. On the outer perimiter were standard walkways and raised platforms – some lower than others – which provided a continual route around the whole of the greenhouse. On the lowest level were some additional ‘houses, which players could shoot enemies through to score kills or use as cover from the gunship and snipers. These also provided a platform to get onto the top greenhouse, as it was easy for players to jump up on the rooftops and to get onto the uppermost level. This meant that it was difficult to camp, as players had to keep watch of all four corners of the greenhouse.

Continuing around the perimiter, players could walk up a small fight of steps to reach a set of sun panels. These were, like large parts of the environment, destructable. Shooting through meant that any player using them as cover would have to run, either back from whence they came (which was a large, open space) or forward. This would lead to plants, trees and bushes that players could use as cover. The environment here was ideally suited to close-range firefights, especially in the objective modes (in this area, players had to hold a point meaning that the otherwise open space resulted in a quick turnover of kills). As said before players could use the smaller platforms to climb up to the larger, raised greenhouse. At this point players can either choose to use and / or detach the turret (which seemed significantly overpowered even for that weapon class). Other options were to move inside to the greenhouse, or use one of the sniping spots. From my experience it was best to move around to the back of the greenhouse, enable camo and use the roofs to get the drop on players. In this area there was also a small, ‘hut’-esque building which had a shaft that players could drop down for a quick escape or use the side window to shoot opposing players. The door could not be closed, meaning this was not a long-term camping option.

If players had not chosen this route, however, then they could continue downwards from the smaller plants and to the other side of the previously-mentioned assortment of greenhouses. This would practically lead players full circle. Here there was another small platform that one could climb on top of, and use the wall as cover. This was another key point for holding an objective, but players were not totally obscured behind the wall and could easily be seen.

At the front of the smaller greenhouses was a door leading inside of the building, which was directly below the largest greenhouse. In here players could follow a right-angled, darkly-light pathway that would lead to: a platform that could be used to climb up into the greenhouse, or would face a a lower level with an indoor waterfall. This area was shattered and haphazard, with two staircases either side that led to the exit of this area (two platforms would lead players to the sun panels mentioned earlier). In regular Slayer this area was often neglected, though personally I climbed up to the side-platform to get inside the greenhouse a lot. If players ignored these two key features, then they could continue forwards and either turn left-or-right: turning right led outside and turning left revealed the final room inside of the building.

Resembling something similar to a cloak room was a small, sqaure room with rows of lockers and a half-destroyed desk. Above the room was a hole in the roof, allowing players to drop down through another shaft (the ‘other’ shaft led down into this room too). This meant that players could not camp – a welcome key theme within the mutiplayer – and was profound moreso in the objective modes. Walking up a flight of stairs would take players out of the room, and to a platform just below the sun panels.

It was a shame that Crytek has decided to only include this map – I had actually enjoyed this preview of Crysis 2 quite a log. Camping spots seemed to be sporadic at best, while the open nature of Skyline encouraged players to interact rather than to be afraid of interacting. Furthermore while the classes and perks available were iterative rather than inventive, they certainly worked well. One must bare in mind that large portions of the game have no been shown, so if Crytek continue in the vein that the preview showed then there could be a genuinly interesting multilplayer on offer.

However, my concerns do lie with one or two inclusions… especially the armour ability (which allows the user to be temporarily stronger). The downside of this is that some players have found themselves being overly cautious from those who beat down, this can be a one-hit kill without the armour applied. Speaking from personal experience, though, I hardly use the armour effect. I found that camo was much more to my playstyle, which is generally conservative, and honestly didn’t have enough deaths by pummle that caused me to throw my controller out of the window.

On a final side note, it was intersting that on the final day of the ‘preview’ this version of the multiplayer was labelled as ‘Phase 1′. Hopefully Crytek will launch a pre-release version with another map and game mode. I certainly hope so.

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