Another huge virtual sack full of mail tumbled open and spilled its precious wares all over our virtual desks this week, so much so that once again we've been forced to hold some of your reviews over. We have caught up on all of last week's backlog though, as far as we're aware. However irrelevant.
What's this week's prize, you ask? We've got quite a few little bundles of rubbish set aside for Reader Reviews at the moment, but this week's winner walks away with what we're affectionately referring to in the office as a "Breed strap-on". Or, more accurately, one of those bags that you can Velcro-fasten round your chest with "Breed" written on the back. We're even throwing in a CDV pen. Yes.
[Exhales gently.] And since the poor bugger is a student, we'll pop a copy of NBA Street Vol.2 in the bag for him. There.
Star Review: Frequency (PS2)
by Stuart Chapman
If a game is measured by its defining moments, then Frequency is a revolution. I've introduced a lot of people to Frequency, and I've watched the humble beginnings a thousand times over. L1, R1, L1, R1. Keep the beat.
See, the beauty of Frequency is that it all starts so... easily. You travel down an octagonal tunnel, each side or 'track' comprising an element of the song, be it drums, bass, vocal and so on. Markers indicate the location of beats, and are mapped to L1, R1 or R2 depending upon their position within the track. Once a section of a song, say drums, has been completed, it is continued for you, and you are free to move on to the next element, say bass. Within a minute you'll have picked it up, and within a minute Frequency has caught you, and there's no going back.
Too many games require perseverance over improvement. This is not true of Frequency. I remember my first game, concentrating hard to maintain the simplest of beats. Frequency will ease you in, rest assured, but sooner or later, there'll be a moment of realisation. This magic moment comes when you become conscious of the fact that you're not actually thinking anymore. Your fingers are fast knocking out blistering combinations of beats, and you've barely broken into a sweat. The markers are coming thick and fast, you're flicking from track to track, your eyes scanning the dense mass of beats and interpreting them instantly, while your fingers exhibit feats of flexibility you would never have imagined possible back then. Back at L1, R1, L1, R1.
Therein lies the joy. There will be some days when you just can't do it, the beats are beyond you and it just seems impossible. But there will be others when you're there, and you're in 'the zone'. When everything just falls into place, the beat, the glorious tripped-out backgrounds, the pumping controller, and all of a sudden the music is an extension of you - and you just can't put a foot wrong.
For all this, when you reach the end, when 'normal' seems to be going in slow motion and you think nothing of warming up your fingers before tackling 'Komputer Kontroller', the game draws you back. Deep down, Frequency is an old-skool high score game, since moving on from track to track, say drums to bass, without losing the beat multiplies your score on the track you linked to. Do it again, and the multiplication increases. And so Frequency pushes you, harder and harder, higher and higher, for just a few more points.
It still makes me gasp in wonder at the acts of impossibility that it has taught me to perform, and for that I believe it is the finest game I've had the pleasure to experience, and an essential purchase for anyone that wants to see what computer games are capable of.
10 / 10
Desert Combat 0.38 for BF1942 (PC)
Let's face it, dress it up how you like, put it in politically-correct clothes if you will, but Desert Combat (for Battlefield 1942) is an all-out slugfest between the Iraqis and the Americans (subtly called Coalition and Opposition for the mod).
Desert Combat is a pretty hefty download, which changes BF1942 significantly and updates it to a more contemporary theatre of war. Gone are the creaky old planes, tanks and weapons, and in their place are some very welcome and brilliantly rendered modern additions. This mod is what EA could come up with if they had a genuine love of gaming and gamers, something which becomes painfully obvious when you compare this "free" download to the EA add-on, BF1942: The Road to Rome.
With the latest update (version 0.38) we're starting to see some proper home-grown maps put together by Trauma Studios, including the quite frankly excellent Dockside and Lost Village maps which seriously suit the mod a lot better than some of the tinier standard BF ones.
Vehicles are the core of BF1942 and in Desert Combat you have a whole slew of modern war-toting hardware to play with, from the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank to Apache Longbow choppers, and a great mix of jet fighters and bombers including my personal favourite, the Harrier. The "opposition" are also well catered for with a nice selection of MiGs as well as one of the cooler vehicles in the game, a BMP2 Amphibious Tank (very handy for hiding out at sea and bombarding land troops).
And how does it play? Well anyone instantly familiar with BF1942 will be at home here. My one gripe is that for beginners, the choppers and jets take a pretty steep learning curve to get used to but with a bit of practice you'll be laying down some serious suppressing firepower with the Longbow or Hind before long.
There are various mods available or upcoming for BF1942 but Desert Combat is definitely the benchmark to which they all need to be measured as it really is a very slick and well-realised mod with some seriously cool upgrades soon to be released (the thought of huge troop and vehicle-carrying hovercraft has me almost salivating in anticipation, not a pretty sight!). What's more, people on Desert Combat servers don't seem to be quite as moronic as those infesting standard BF1942 ones. Overall, worth the download - hell, if this cost £20 it'd still be worth it too.
No score supplied.
Project Zero (PS2)
What is it with kids in horror films? Have they never actually seen a horror film themselves? Teenagers troop single-file into that cellar with the mysteriously broken light like it's advertising free beer, despite the fact that none of their friends have returned. The same can be said of Miku, the lead character in Project Zero. Upon hearing that her brother has vanished while looking for his mentor in an old mansion, she decides that rather than filing a missing persons report with the proper authorities it would make more sense to go to the mansion instead. On her own. Without any weapons. Great idea!
The first thing that hits you upon arriving at the ruined mansion is that it's dark. Very dark. In fact, without Miku's torch to illuminate things it'd be pretty much pitch black. The next thing is that the place is jam-packed full of the spirits of the people who have died there. If you thought zombies were scary then prepare for a change of underpants - these guys are fast, almost invisible and they follow you wherever you run... even through walls! Miku isn't totally defenceless, however - she's armed with a sixth sense which allows her to detect spirit activity and an enchanted camera which she can use to trap the spirits. Using the camera switches from third to first person view as you wildly swing the camera around to try and bust shots off at whatever malevolent beastie is currently trying to tear your head off.
What follows is a mostly bog-standard but very stylish exercise in survival horror. Miku runs a lot, picks up keys and health potions, solves puzzles to unlock doors and despatches unhealthy amounts of the undead - improving the camera along the way by spending the points accumulated when you take particularly good photos. However, what sets this apart from games like Resident Evil is the atmosphere. Project Zero positively oozes class from every pore, from the crisp graphics and moody lighting down to the ambient sound that echoes through the empty mansion. It's also pretty damned scary, fairly gory and downright disturbing on occasions - definitely one to play late at night with the lights off and the sound up.
Complaints are few - the game is a little on the short side (I clocked it in about eight hours), but there are plenty of unlockables to entice you to play through again. And if anything, the third night (out of four) is just a little bit too difficult, making it not quite as much fun as the other nights. But if you're after a truly scary survival horror title then I'd suggest you give this one a whirl - especially now that it's available for about a tenner.
8 / 10
Third generation iPod
Apple's latest hard-disc mp3 player has been a soar away success since its launch in May this year. This reviewer got his grubby mitts on a 15-gigabyte model in mid-July. Here are some impressions after a week or so of use. [Errr, gaming site, otto? Gaming? -Ed]
It's small - smaller than I expected. It weighs a little less that your GBA SP, and it's about two-thirds the size (6x10x1.5cm). Not bad for a piece of kit that holds around 3000 songs (MP3s ripped at 128 kbps). That's - what - 200 or more CDs?
As you'd expect from a company that prides itself on the design of its products, the iPod looks and handles like sex on a stick. It's almost too pretty for something that will get heavy-duty use, but if you don't mind a few minor scratches you'll find it very robust. In use it's silent, and entirely solid-state except for the hold button (oh and the hard drive inside). The controls themselves are very intuitive - the touch sensitive scroll wheel is a great idea for quickly finding a given song. There is some noticeable lag sometimes, though, which will hopefully be cleared up in future updates to the iPod's firmware.
Let's turn to music quality. Your average music lover is going to be more than happy with the output, though he's going to want to get himself some other headphones. The ones that ship with the iPod sound flat and tinny - not to mention being white and highly visible. Might as well wear a t-shirt saying "mug me" [I've got one that says 'me, mugs' -Ed]. The iPod itself has a bewildering list of equalisation options, buried deep in the settings sub-menu, which I personally found less than helpful. A simple bass/treble control would have been far more useful.
There have also been grumblings from the user community about a volume cap on new model iPods sold in Europe. There are workarounds to this which you can find easily enough on sites such as the excellent ipodlounge.com, but frankly this reviewer can't see (or rather hear) the problem. It's more than loud enough as it is. I don't need a dial that goes to 11.
If you're connecting to a PC you'll need to go through a few hoops before you get things firing on all cylinders. If the sound of that puts you off, you might be better off waiting for one of the iPod's competitors due to come to the market in the near future, such as Philips' HDD100, designed first and foremost to work with Windows. But Windows users who like to tinker have an enthusiastic and knowledgeable community out there with plenty of excellent (and free) software solutions to get the most out of your 'WiPod'.
Games. Er, this being a gaming site and all, I suppose I'd better mention the iPod's three games, Parachute (basically Missile Command), Solitaire (Patience) and Brick (Breakout). They're a bit fiddly to control with the scroll wheel and, frankly, they're not going to drag you away from Snake on your Nokia, let alone Advance Wars on your GBA.
The 'pod is a great boy's toy for someone with a medium-sized music collection who likes the idea of carrying the whole lot around with him. If you fit that description, I can't recommend the iPod enough - it's a fantastic (albeit pricey) gadget. But if you're a bit short of the folding, there are cheaper solutions. And if you're a real hobbyist with a vast collection of carefully catalogued minidisks, the iPod might not deliver the all-in-one solution you need.
No score supplied.
That's all of you, folks
Reader Reviews should be submitted to email@example.com, and can be written about anything you like - hardware, games, peripherals - even if we've already written about it. In fact, that's kind of the point! Your word limit is 300 although we'll tolerate a bit of overflow if you can string words together nicely, and please try to keep it clean and legal. Just like we do for you! The best candidate each week, or rather, each time we decide to take the afternoon off and print your stuff instead, will receive a random bit of game-related tat (possibly even an actual game) as a prize. Lucky, lucky you. And of course, your work will be displayed for all to see.
Yes, that was the same thing we said last week. But this isn't! Oh yes it was. But now it isn't!
We'll stop doing that next week, promise.