Version tested: PlayStation 2
They say that after a nuclear holocaust, only cockroaches will remain. Given the remarkable resilience of Sony's black obelisk I'm starting to suspect that, after the skies turn black with radioactive ash, the cockroaches will still face an unstoppable tide of new PS2 releases. At least that might give them something to do apart from skittering about being hideous and picking the charcoal flesh from our burning bodies.
Buzz! The Pop Quiz
- Developer: Relentless Software
- Publisher: SCEE
Having clocked up ten editions in just over two years (and that's not including the special version developed for schools) it's understandable that the Buzz series of quiz games is running out of new material. After standalone quiz discs based on sport, movies and general knowledge this latest variation finds the series coming full circle.
Originally launched in late 2005 as Buzz! The Music Quiz, it can be hard to discern quite what makes Buzz! The Pop Quiz all that different. Well, the game is strangely insistent that the pop period covered is from the 1990s onwards which may help narrow the thematic focus, but I can't help feeling that it also cuts off a significant portion of the casual gaming audience - this is a quiz where parents will be at a clear disadvantage against their kids.
Original music videos are now a prominent part of the game, with acts like Take That, Razorlight and - my goodness - Tatu, providing the moving pictures. Most of the rounds will be familiar to anyone who has played previous Buzz! games, though. Pass The Bomb returns, as does Point Stealer, while Pie Fight (the non-violent alternative to the Hitman round of old) also makes a comeback. Rounds like Name That Band and What's That Song may technically be new to this package, but their self-explanatory names make it clear that the only real variation is in how people buzz in, and how the timer is used.
It's business as usual, in other words, with the same strengths and weaknesses as the previous Buzz titles. If you enjoyed The Music Quiz then you could always consider this a rather pricey expansion with another 5,000 questions to work through. As the series gears up for the leap to PS3, however, it's easy to see this as a stopgap release.
SingStar Summer Party
- Developer: Sony
- Publisher: SCEE
Is this worth your money? Best way to find out is to point your web-beak over these words and see if the track listing makes you go OMG OMG I LOVE THAT ONE OMG.
It's certainly hard to argue with a SingStar package that includes such evergreen karaoke favourites as Diana Ross' I'm Coming Out, Elton John's I'm Still Standing and Bowie's Let's Dance. Given the summer theme, it's predictably heavy on cheese as well. Get a few bottles of Hock down your neck and the likes of Chesney Hawkes, Five Star, Mel & Kim and Yazz suddenly seem like the greatest songs ever written. Even the cod-reggae of Peter Andre seems like less of an affront to humanity in this context. Club Tropicana, naturally, is in here also.
But there are some less successful additions. Assuming the "summer party" suffix is a serving suggestion, the few token indie tracks rather stand out amid the camp silliness. I Predict A Riot isn't a song I've ever felt was particularly summery, while the inclusion of Pulp's catchy-but-melancholy Disco 2000 suggests that somebody hasn't been paying much attention to the lyrics. Perhaps most baffling is the decision to include classic sun-kissed indie moptops Dodgy, but then use Good Enough rather than their more obvious and popular Staying Out For The Summer.
Still, as with all SingStar discs, arguing about the relative worth of each track is about as subjective as things can get. Boil it down to a basic ratio of Great Summery Songs You'll Want To Sing At A Barbecue versus Songs That Don't Really Fit Together But Students Will Probably Like Them and this disc comes up as a clear winner.
Samurai Warriors 2 Xtreme Legends
- Developer: Koei
- Publisher: Koei
There comes a time in every reviewer's career when they have to bite the bullet and review one of Koei's infinite number of historical melee-fighting strategic battlefield mash-ups. It's a fairly thankless task, since you can pretty much guarantee that 98 percent of the people who have bothered to read past the title have no intention of playing the game in question - because it's all the same innit? Meanwhile, the final 2 percent is made up of a scarily devoted fanbase which has memorised every minor variation across the multiple interlocking and overlapping series and will scream bloody murder if you dare suggest that its all the same, innit?
For the first group, congratulations on reading this far. And you're wrong. Sort of. Like its numerous peers, this isn't a brainless button-masher. It just looks a lot like one and, to be fair, can easily play like one if you can't be arsed making the effort. For the second group, this is simply the latest in the rather dubious spin-off series, which takes existing Warriors games, jiggers about with them slightly and then pretends that the end result warrants the horribly dated use of the word "xtreme".
New characters is the main draw here, with such historical Japanese figures as 16th Century general Maeda Toshiie and Hosokawa Gracia, Japan's first Christian saint, joining the fray. Imagawa Yoshimoto is back from the previous Samurai Xtreme Legends effort, sporting a new look, while Shibata Katsuie and Sasaki Kojiro from Samurai Warriors 2 Empires are included, along with new weapons. There are also a couple of new historical battles included to go along with the updated character roster. A fifth tier of weaponry has been added, although the base attack stats are the same as fourth tier weapons, making them of little tactical value.
Finally, you also get Mercenary Mode in which you keep fighting to earn cash which keeps your health bar from running out. It's a survival mode, basically, and not much different from the Xtreme Mode seen in previous titles.
If you've already got Samurai Warriors 2, then I can't really see this slightly remixed version being worth the GBP 20 (EUR 25) asking price. You can use your saved game from the existing version, but the additional content is just about what you'd expect from a cheap DLC package on the 360 or PS3. With that in mind, it can't help but feel like PS2 owners are being penalised for being faithful to the last console generation.
ATV Off Road Fury 4
- Developer: Climax
- Publisher: SCEE
There's clearly something alluring about the whiny buzz of a quad bike, since they keep popping up in games despite what would seem to be enormous apathy from the vast majority of gamers. After all, once you've razzed around one set of muddy tracks, what else is there to do?
Well, woah there. Stow away your jump-to-conclusions mat. This latest in the didn't-even-know-it-was-a-franchise Off Road Fury series actually shows remarkable evolution for a genre that could quite happily burble along doing much the same thing as always. Most notably, it's no longer just about the quad bikes. Perhaps taking a none-too-subtle cue from MotorStorm, you can now also saddle up on motocross bikes, buggies and beefy trucks. Courses are split into light and heavy to cater for the strengths of each vehicle type but considering the focus of the game's past has been so narrow, this new array of vehicle options can only be a good thing. All vehicles can be tuned, tweaked and customised using an impressive upgrade system, while new rider outfits and decals can be unlocked as you advance through the leaderboards.
There are now point-to-point races across open terrain for a more realistic off-road experience, while the game works with ATV Offroad Fury Pro on the PSP to swap vehicles and circuits. There's also a story mode, but it's a bit naff and the cut-scenes are best skipped. Best of all, there's now a track editor. The options are fairly limited - it's a basic 2D "put the pieces on the grid" affair - but there's enough scope to ensure that you'll be able to keep yourself amused after you've grown tired of the existing courses.
And as with previous Off Road Fury games, the handling is fun and accessible while the competitive AI supplies a surprisingly tough challenge right from the start. Add in a decent online multiplayer mode, and you've got a commendable example of a last-gen game that's still willing to evolve and offer more for your money.
- Developer: Razorworks
- Publisher: Xplosiv
The flipside to the evolution of ATV Off Road Fury, of course, is this dreary, lifeless effort. Although the title has been changed, it's the latest in the inexplicably tenacious Ford Racing series and continues that product line's tradition of bland design, minimal excitement and technical under-achievement.
The Land Rover brand joins Ford this time, making for a roster of eighteen off-road vehicles. All of them look cheap and fake, with lazy modelling that looks like the basic chassis shape has simply been dipped in whatever vaguely shiny paint texture they had to hand. It's surprising that Land Rover and Ford signed off on the game at all. If their vehicles handled as sluggishly in reality as they do here, both companies would go out of business overnight.
Most damning of all, not only is there no deformation or damage, but these off-roaders can't even get dirty. Not a speck of muck adheres to their plasticky frames. If the lacklustre circuits don't turn you off, the sight of these rigs still looking showroom fresh after three laps round a muddy quarry should demonstrate just how basic this game really is.
The generic can't-be-arsed title says it all. It's the sort of thing you might consider buying for your Dad, should you spot it in the GBP 1.99 bin at the supermarket two days before his birthday, even though you know he doesn't really play games all that much.