Tomb Raider Anniversary
There was once a time when many teens would have given anything to have Lara in the palms of their hands. If the PSP had been around 11 years ago it would have been hard to get most teenage boys (and some girls) out of the toilet, at least without having to book the porcelain into therapy.
Impressively little has been lost during Lara's transition from PS2 to PSP. Levels remain complete and there's still 12-15 hours of gameplay packed inside the tiny disc. Visually it's on a par with the PS2 version (although never pushing the PSP to its limits) and load times are very impressive. However, it's when you experience the camera that you'll realise just how important a second analogue stick is and wish you were playing it on the PS2 instead.
The camera often points in totally the wrong direction and, while the camera angle can be amended at any stage with the L and R buttons, it's so painfully slow to manoeuvre that you'll often get bored waiting and just take a blind jump instead. Controls are also affected by the camera, which can cause many frustrating deaths with the controls not corresponding to the onscreen action. And instead of sending you to the next ledge on your right, pressing right sends you plummeting backwards to your death. Which is the sort of memory of 11 years ago we didn't need.
Thankfully, when you die, which will be quite frequently, the loading times are kept mercifully short and don't add to the frustration like so many other PSP games. Did we mention the loading times are alright? They are. The PS2 Tomb Raider is still preferable due to improved camera control, but if you fancy exploring some tombs on the move it's unlikely to disappoint, as long as you're prepared to be patient and suffer the odd cheap death.
Following hot on the heels of the impressive next-gen offering is this handheld version of SEGA Rally, developed by BugBear (of FlatOut fame). Visually SEGA Rally is one of the most stunning PSP titles to date, complete with track deformation and impressive particle effects. Fifteen gorgeous tracks are available to tear up, ranging from Safari through to Arctic conditions, complete with a plethora of detailed cars to choose from and the option to race against the clock, in a championship or via multiplayer (although we never once encountered anybody playing it online). There's even a game-sharing option, although this is locked to two cars and three tracks. But all that matters not one bit when the cars handle like chimps on skates.
Despite the fact that I never once got the hang of the handling, I still managed to complete the game in around five hours, scraping my way along virtually every barrier in the process. The physics take the word 'arcade' to the extreme with the slightest of touches sending your opponents flying into the air, and the AI just doesn't put up enough of a fight resulting in most final laps being a desolate affair. Finally each race takes about 45 seconds to load which, when you consider most are over in around three minutes, is quite laborious.
That all said, SEGA Rally is still an enjoyable title, just not one that will last you very long or give you good value for money. And considering the PSP already has a number of racing games available, it's hard to recommend as anything other than a bargain bin purchase.
Dead Head Fred
Fred has a habit for heads. He certainly managed to turn a few earlier in the year when the game was previewed and showed a lot of promise of things to come. But like all good promises, Dead Head Fred turns out to be fairly broken.
The main game has you navigating the town of Hope Falls, swapping heads along the way in order to beat up your adversaries and to solve the many puzzles. Loading times are excessively high, with every area needing to be loaded independently. With a lot of areas needing less than a minute or two to navigate, the constant stop-start nature of the game makes Hope Falls feel much smaller than it actually is.
For a game that relies heavily on combat, Dead Head Fred suffers from a severe lack of combos and an awkward control system. During combat the jump button doubles up as a combat button, but the game often forgets this and instead makes you jump mid-combo or punch when you want to jump. The often claustrophobic areas also mean that enemies soon surround you, making progress much more arduous than it needs to be. The puzzles work relatively well and are by far the highlight of the game, but in most levels they disappointingly play second fiddle to the uneventful combat.
Voiced by John McGinley (Perry Cox from Scrubs), Fred's quips aren't exactly side-splittingly funny and the overused profanity just makes it feel like it's been designed by teenagers desperately trying to be edgy. If however you found Conker funny, this might just tickle you a little.
Weighing in at a hefty 20-25 hours in length, Dead Head Fred outstays its welcome and never really elevates above being a fun yet ultimately frustrating platform-cum-action adventure game. If only they'd have concentrated on the puzzles and exploration more than the combat, and tightened up the loose platforming controls, it could have been one of the surprise hits of the year.
Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror was one of the most impressive titles to hit the Sony handheld last year. Until then nobody had really managed to do the FPS genre justice on the PSP and few would have expected Dark Mirror to hit the heights of Syphon Filter's first foray on the PS1.
Much was therefore expected of Logan's Shadow and, for once, we've not been let down. Rather than just settling for re-releasing last years game with different scenery, Sony Bend has delivered a game that not only improves on last year's offering but does so with aplomb.
Graphically Syphon Filter is impressive and the musical score is utterly fantastic, though unfortunately the voice-over work features more racially stereotypical accents than your average mobile phone ring-tone advert.
An advanced melee combat system has been introduced providing new abilities, such as enabling Gabe to use enemies as human shields, and Gabe can now use blind-fire to force enemies to seek cover. Underwater combat sections now also play a large part in the game and aren't anywhere near as gimmicky as they sound. Interactive moments also make an appearance, but thankfully they're never really taxing and just there to provide some interactivity to the more mundane sequences, such as escaping wrist restraints.
The single-player challenge weighs in at a hefty 22 missions spread over six episodes, providing approx ten hours of gameplay. Multiplayer hasn't been overlooked either, with two new game modes and some new maps, as well as some updated maps from Dark Mirror. It's safe to say that you should get more than your money's worth out of Logan's Shadow.
It's not all a bed of roses though. The AI varies from incredibly dumb to possessing an almost Colin Powell-esque ability to spot things even if there's no physical evidence of them and the controls, whilst operational, are never really intuitive and can make lining up headshots incredibly difficult. Other than that though, Syphon Filter delivers in every other respect and even puts many PS2 shooters to shame.