Vic B’Stard’s (late) week in review: Elite, Rollercoasters, Disneyland, Halo and Assassin’s Creed

Vic B'Stard
Broke and tired!

My wallet exhausted, my gaming schedule full, it’s time once again to take a look at my week in review.

Too many games to play has meant a delay to my usual weekly editorial missive. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks been lost between the a return to the ringworld of Halo, the battlefields of Modern Warfare 3 and the icy tundra of Skyrim. Before I embark on my journey to Constantinople in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, here’s a few words.

British outfit Frontier Developments’ main man, David Braben was one half of the team, along with Alan Bell, that was responsible for the genre defining, nay creating, game called Elite. Without Elite there wouldn’t be any number of space trading games, including the massively popular Eve Online. For me, thirteen-years old at the time, it was my first introduction to the illusion of a living breathing virtual universe, and it was incredible.

elite undisputed classic game!

Braben tried to catch lightning in a bottle twice more with the ambitious Frontier: Elite II, which I quite liked, and the much derided Elite III. Neither sequels matched the original, and the space trading genre was left to the likes of Microsoft’s Freelancer and the previously mentioned Eve Online to be refined for modern audiences.

Braben’s Frontier Developments did go on to refine another genre, which in time they made their own. Chris Sawyer’s Rollercoaster Tycoon theme park strategy game series was already massively successful when Frontier took the third iteration into the realm of 3D. Frontier’s 2004 Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 and its add-on packs Soaked! and Wild!– adding water park and zoo attractions to the game – is still the definitive theme park construction and management sandbox game. I still return to it myself, once in a while.

Kinect's furry friends!

With Kinectimals, Braben’s team have embraced Microsoft’s motion-control technology bringing virtual animals to life and using the Xbox Kinect made them a fully interactive experience for children. Frontier Developments’ latest game, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, mixes their obvious love of theme parks with their experience programming in the Kinect.

A review copy of Frontier Developments’ latest, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, arrived in my mailbox at the same time as Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, which I’ll get to later, adding my already packed gaming schedule. Even though the draw of Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 was strong, I still found the time to take a trip to Microsoft’s virtual Disneyland. Even better, I got to go there with my two-year old son, who loved it!

disneyland adventures
The happiest place on you living room!

Whilst I wasn’t intending to to review my virtual Disney experience, whilst writing this editorial, I found myself doing just that. So expect to see a review up on the Game Console website later this week.

Frontier’s virtual Disneyland is a pretty fantastic recreation of Disney’s famous Magic Kingdom, right down to all the expensive, second-rate eateries that litter the parks. They have done a wonderful job of reimagining the various Disney attractions as interactive Kinect-powered mini-games. Whilst the Kinect control worked nicely in those mini-games, navigating the actual parks using by waving my arms about did make me feel like a tranny mincing around with a handbag.

As much as I enjoyed myself, the cynic in me still isn’t sure if Kinect Disneyland Adventures, with its anal recreation of any number of Magic Kingdoms around the world, is really a game and not a just crafty Disney marketing ploy. I can see unsuspecting parents having to change their holiday plans after the little cherubs get sucked into the delights afforded by a trip to the real Happiest Place on Earth™!

Enough of this cuddly stuff and on to the more serious gaming side of things. My recent gaming fun has been provided by a return visit to the recently repolished Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and also the now year old Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. All hope of finishing Uncharted 3, getting though the Modern Warfare 3 single player campaign or improving my Kill/Death ratio in Battlefield 3 is out the window. And as for Skyrim, well, forget it.

halo anniversary
Halo Anniversary- the same...but different!

The Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary review process didn’t go too well. Although I got a copy of the disc almost week before the retail release, the multiplayer component wasn’t unlocked, despite Microsoft NZ’s best endeavours to get us media types early access to it. As is often the case when reviewing multiplayer modes, it can be difficult to actually sample the an online game before release. This often leads to an “oh, yeah, there’s multiplayer as well” comment at the end of a detailed single player game review. With Halo, the multiplayer game has a rather dedicated following and I wasn’t too sure just how it would work in this 10th anniversary release, so rather than wing it, I just delayed the review.

The blurb says that the game comes with a selection of remastered Halo 2 multiplayer maps and some others inspired by Halo, or something like that. Anyway, the multiplayer game uses the Halo: Reach engine. Well actually it is a little more than that; Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary comes packaged with a cleverly disguised cut-down version of the Halo: Reach multiplayer game (check your gamercard, it’ll tell you that you’ve been playing Halo: Reach), with only the Anniversary playlists available. Retail punters (but sadly not us reviewers) are furnished with a code that allows the Anniversary maps to be accessed from within Halo: Reach to avoid buggering about with disc swapping. So what we actually have with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a half-decent bit of neo-retro single player campaign with a thinly veiled advert for the Halo: Reach multiplayer game.

Whilst I enjoyed Halo: Combat Evolved at the time, and consider the Halo plot to be some of the best sci-fi story ever told in a video game, it did go on a bit. With all it’s secrets previously revealed to me, it’s not a game that I’d necessarily put my hand up to play through again. As nice as it looks, the fancy new paint-job wasn’t really enough to freshen up the title for me. Also, in the last ten years the first person shooter genre has provided us with far better experiences than Bungie’s 2001 effort. Even Master Chief’s last outing, Halo: Reach only got a pass from me out of my respect for the franchise and not because it’s the best or most enjoyable example of a FPS.

You can read my Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary review on the Game Console pages of, here. I won’t be so lenient on next year’s Halo 4, also from franchise newcomers 343 Industries. I’m expecting them to reinvent the Halo game experience or that’ll be it for me.

assassins creed
Another year, another Assassin's Creed!

Why, with all these great games that have just come out, am I playing the arse out of last year’s Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood? Assassin’s Creed Revelations is why. You see, I have a confession to make. I never actually finished Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. I got close, and then the downloadable content came out. The purist in me just couldn’t finish the game and then return to do the DLC. I needed to do it in order. And then there was all the other side missions.

So for the last year I’ve been picking at Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, trying to get thought the vast amount of content available to players. Time has now run out. Not only did a review copy of the next game in the series, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, turn up; but I also got hold of the special Assassin’s Creed Revelations Animus Edition. So whilst I’m dying to fire up Revelations and take a look at the beautiful (and spoiler-filled) Assassin’s Creed Encyclopedia included with the Animus Edition, I can’t until I’ve finished Brotherhood.

Even though Halo and Assassin’s Creed has been dominating my time this week, I’ve still had a chance for a few hours on Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and The Elder Scroll V: Skyrim. Two more bloody good games.

My initial thoughts, after four hours of the single-player campaign a couple of hours multiplayer is that Modern Warfare 3 is more of the same and that, as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing. The campaign game is as engaging as it is fantastical, and it’s great. The gung-ho antics of Soap and Price are the sort of thing that lunatic-action movie-director Michael Bay dreams about.

Another year, another Modern Warfare!

The multiplayer game is as addictive as ever, when you can get a game. I’m not sure what the deal is, but I’m able to connect to a COD: Black Ops multiplayer game in a fraction of the time it takes to find MW3 players on Xbox Live. I’ve also signed up for the premium version of the Call of Duty: Elite thingy- more out of curiosity than anything else. I’m not really anal enough to care about most of the content Elite has on offer, but at least I don’t have to worry about finding the cash for the MW3 DLC when it comes out.

Skyrim is amazing. I’ve been playing it for just over fourteen hours. At first I wasn’t too impressed, it seemed graphically a bit too similar to the previous game, Oblivion, which is now a six-year-old game. In fact, it is and it isn’t. Skyrim still provides the feeling of being set loose in a huge living world, just like Oblivion, but everything about the game is so much more refined this time. I’m looking forward to enjoying that mooted 300 hours of gameplay over the next few years!

That’ll do for this now. Hopefully next week I’ll have some insight into Ezio’s final adventure in Assassin’s Creed Revelations and be able to share my thoughts having completed Uncharted 3!

Vic out.