F1 2010 Review [Xbox360]

I’ll admit it, I’m a huge Formula 1 fan. When I first got an Xbox I searched high and low for a Formula 1 game for it, only to discover that the F1 franchise was only available for Playstation.

Last year the Codemasters took the F1 game reins and I was excited by the prospect of finally getting to enjoy my favourite sport on my, now, Xbox360. Sadly F1 2009 still wasn’t available for the Xbox360, but I did play it on Wii and iPhone.

This year, however, the moment has arrived. F1 2010 is out on a variety of formats, PC, PS3 and, yes, Xbox360! So what’s it like?

Is that computer generated?

I’m a very visual person – I like things to look good – so the first thing I notice about a game is the graphics. F1 2010 has that hyper-realism look that always tips me off that it’s computer generated, but it does look awesome. In fact, some people I’ve shown the game to have commented that it’s almost like watching the real thing. The weather effects, puddles on the track during rain, water streaming over your visor, spray from the wheels, all look amazing and make me wonder how the real drivers cope in the wet. But even during a normal race the track and other cars look wonderful.

One thing I really like doing is having a few laps of whatever track the real F1 is visiting next. So far that’s been Singapore and Suzuka, and the Korean track is looking like it’ll be fun. The level of detail in-game is so good that having those laps gives me a much better idea of what’s happening in the live race. I understand better how the track fits together and why the drivers are taking a particular line through a corner. Codemasters have done a great job at making the tracks as accurate as possible.

Have a look at the trailer to get an idea of how F1 2010 looks.

What’s it like to drive?

There are a load of driver aids you can switch on and off to customise the difficulty level, such as automatic braking, a visual racing line, ABS, traction control, and even how clever your opponents are. By tweaking those settings you should be able to find a level at which you can enjoy the game no matter what your skill. Driving with the controller is simple enough – I managed to stay on the track most of the time – but F1 2010 really comes to life when you use a steering wheel controller. The fine control available and the illusion of actually driving helps improve the gameplay immensely. Having said that, I occasionally play online against a friend who swears by his Xbox360 controller and usually beats me too. I wouldn’t rush out and buy a steering wheel just to play F1 2010 – try it with your current controller first and see if that suits you.

Am I living the life?

The official Formula 1 website talks about being the driver, living the life. If F1 2010 is designed to give you the whole experience of being an F1 driver, well, it just can’t. The press interviews after the race are necessarily scripted with you choosing from a few available responses. The other teams are very formulaic in how they respond to you, reacting to your press comments more than anything else while, in the real world, if you started winning races in a Lotus car you’d soon be approached by one of the other teams. But then, that’s not why I bought the game really: I bought it to race and the on-track action is just brilliant.

Any dislikes?

Sure, there are things that could be improved. I’ve picked up on discussions that the qualifying times for the other drivers are all generated rather than taken from actual lap times. It would be nice to see that, if I (accidentally) blocked a driver on the track his lap time suffered. There are times that my team tells me a driver is five seconds ahead of me when I’m actually right on his tail, and I’ve read (but never experienced to my knowledge) that if there’s a chance of rain some of the other drivers might not pit at all. These are all niggles, though, and haven’t really affected my enjoyment of the game.

What has affected my enjoyment of the game is the over-enthusiastic penalties handed out by the stewards. Fair enough, if I charge into another car I get a penalty for causing an avoidable collision. The weird thing is that if I’m in front and brake for a corner, and a car hits me, I still get the penalty! Fortunately there’s an action replay system that lets you go back in time a few seconds and have another go, but I’m starting to think this must have been what it felt like to be a McLaren driver a few years ago.

Conclusion

Overall I have to say F1 2010 is a fantastic game. I’ve been playing it every day since I got it and while there are issues and annoyances, the joy of driving round familiar tracks in-game, pretending to do what I’ve seen on the TV so many times, is intoxicating. I’m loving it, and I can see F1 2010 being played in my house for a long time to come.

Pick up your copy of F1 2010 today – available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Halo Reach – Campaign Review

Bungie‘s Halo franchise is, arguably, the series that made the Xbox and it’s back again with the latest game: Halo Reach. Covering the events that started the whole Halo story off,  Reach casts you in the role of Noble 6, the newest member of the Noble Team of Spartan warriors. You investigate what is believed to be an incursion by human rebels, but soon discover it’s actually mankind’s alien nemesis: The Covenant are on Reach.

From that initial discovery to final setpiece, you’ll be taken on a rollercoaster journey that sees you and the rest of Noble Team taking down Covenant bases, commandeering top secret UNSC spacecraft and blasting Phantoms from the sky. I don’t think there’s a single dull moment in the game.

If you’ve played the Halo franchise much you’ll know pretty much what to expect – Reach looks at home in the Halo universe and plays much like the other games. This is by no means a criticism; why change what already works? There have been some tweaks to the campaign to bring in new features, like recruiting marines to your fire team, but Bungie have sensibly left most of the mechanics well alone.

One addition I really like is the new armour abilities. These allow you to use special abilities for short periods of time, some of which are recognisable as reworked versions of the pickups (like active camouflage) or the equipment from Halo 3 (like the drop shield). They aren’t revolutionary, but I like how they now stick with you until you swap your current ability for another one, and how they recharge for multiple uses. My favourite? Got to be  the jet pack… I just like dropping a grenade on a group of Covenant before landing on them to mop up.

Having talked about how the mechanics of gameplay are much the same, Halo Reach does feel quite different from what’s come before. Why? Teamwork. When playing as the Master Chief there’s a definite feeling that you’re a lone wolf. You’re the last active Spartan and your fellow combatants are really just there to be cannon fodder. In Reach, though, you’re part of a team. You can’t give orders to your team like you can in, say, Ghost Recon, but they do play an important role in the game. In this respect Reach is more like ODST as you work closely with your squadmates.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the storyline, but it cracks along at a fast pace and there are some great moments that have the capacity to pull you up short. The ending is particularly poignant and you can definitely tell that Bungie intends this to be the last Halo FPS. Don’t switch your Xbox 360 off at the credits, though, as there’s still something to come afterwards.

Pimp my armour

As you play through the campaign you’ll pick up commendations for completing certain tasks. These commendations contribute to your overall rank and credit count, which allows you to buy items from the armoury.

The armoury, oddly enough, is where you can buy new pieces of armour, as well as customising your colour scheme and insignia. That’s great for creating a unique look in multiplayer, but the choices you make here are carried over into the campaign this time too. What that tells you is that the cutscenes, which are nothing short of cinematic, by the way, must be rendered on the fly as Noble 6 appears wearing the armour you’ve chosen. It also helps to create more of a bond between you and your character.

So far the armoury only customises your look… buying a new helmet, for instance, won’t make you more able to survive a headshot, but it’s still a cool feature to see included.

Conclusion

Halo Reach is a fitting end to the story. Well, beginning to the story, I guess, but a fitting end to Bungie’s contribution to the franchise. It plays brilliantly, being familiar and new at the same time. I’m left with that slightly lost feeling I get when I’ve just finished a really good book, but I have every intention of going back and trying the campaign again on a harder setting. And, of course there’s multiplayer, but that’s for another day, and another review.

Halo Reach is out on Xbox 360 and is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Get your copy today!

Xbox 360 fans to decide Clayton Carmine’s fate

If you’re a fan of the Gears of War franchise on Xbox 360, you’ll probably know about the Carmine brothers. We’ve met one in each of the games so far and, well, they don’t last long. If this were the original Star Trek they’d have red shirts on and wouldn’t even be listed in the episode credits. Poor Anthony and Ben.

Well, we’re going to meet Clayton Carmine in Gears of War 3 and things might be a bit different this time. For a start, you get to decide whether he meets a similar fate to his brothers or survives.

How can I make a difference?

You can help decide what happens to the last Carmine brother by casting your vote as to whether he should die or be saved. The way to do it is to buy a t-shirt for your Xbox LIVE avatar… either “Carmine must die” or “Save Carmine”. Depending on which t-shirt sells more, the game will follow the relevant storyline.

Now, I’m a cynic, and I would look at this and think, “Yeh right – that’s just a way to make money dressed up as a vote”. You’d be right; getting the t-shirts will cost you Microsoft Points which, in turn, cost you money. But Microsoft are donating the proceeds of this vote to the charity Child’s Play, a community-based games industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children around the world. Child’s Play currently work with over sixty hospitals worldwide and raise millions of dollars each year to donate games, consoles and toys to sick children.

So you can have a say in how the last Carmine brother fares, influence the outcome of an epic trilogy of games, and donate to charity all at the same time. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? So what are you waiting for? Fire up your Xbox LIVE account and make your choice!

Gears of War 3 will release on April 5, 2011, only on Xbox 360. It can be pre-ordered from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

My poor wallet

Every now and again there’s a little flurry of new tech releases. Some of that’s because it’s E3 season, I guess, but whatever the reason it usually results in me wishing my wallet was a little more full than it actually is.

Here are three pieces of tech I’m excited about, that have been unveiled or updated in the last few days.

Aluminium Unibody Mac Mini

Mac Mini - 2010 update

The Mac Mini gets an update

The Mac Mini was my choice when I joined the Cult of Mac – mostly because I already had a perfectly good monitor, mouse, and keyboard… and partly because the Mini is cheaper than the iMac.

The Mini has been updated several times since I got mine, and the latest incarnation looks gorgeous. It’s built using the same Aluminium unibody technique used in building the MacBook Pro, but the thing I really like is that the bottom features a removable hatch. This makes is much easier to get at the Mini’s internals and add memory – previously a much more difficult proposition.

The Mini now also features an SD card reader, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort to beef up the connectivity options.

One more welcome addition is the removal of the power brick… the transformer that would sit under your desk and never quite fit where you wanted to put it. That’s all been internalized to the Mini, so there’s just a plain power cable to worry about now.

The Mini’s 3D graphics, lower (than other Macs) cost, and small footprint make this a great machine. When the time comes to upgrade there’s every chance I’ll be going for a Mini again.

Mac Mini on Apple (and the UK version)

Slimline Xbox 360

Slimline Xbox 360 Elite - 250Gb

Slimmer, more capacity, quieter... nice

Yes, I’m excited about a Microsoft product – settle down. Microsoft have unveiled a new incarnation of the Xbox 360: sleeker, with built in wi-fi, quiet fans, and a massive 250Gb hard drive. I know the hard drive isn’t that big compared to those in actual computers, but that’s a heck of a lot better than the 20Gb one I’ve got at the minute!

My complaints about the existing Xbox 360 (I have a launch-day Xbox 360 Premium) have been fan noise, having to trail a cable to my broadband router (or buy a wi-fi addon), and that I can only install one game at a time or the hard drive fills up. The slimline Xbox 360 looks like it’ll alleviate those frustrations and, at £199 in the UK, it’s not stupidly expensive either. The only thing I don’t know yet is whether the slimline will actually run cooler than my Premium… I can almost heat the living room with it.

You can preorder the slimline Xbox 360 on:

Microsoft Kinect

Kinect - control without the controller

Kinect - control without the controller

We’ve known about Microsoft’s Project Natal for a long time, but it’s just been rebranded as Kinect and gone on pre-order with many online retailers. The idea is that you control games by gesture, rather than a controller. It reminds me a bit of Sony’s EyeToy but early indications are that it will be a much more sophisticated experience.

Other than the rename, the release of a few game titles, and companies like Game taking preorders, there’s not a lot to tell… but I am so looking forward to having a proper shot of this.

You can get more information (but not preorder yet) on:

Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.

Halo: Reach beta now available

Morning all – I hope you had a good Bank Holiday yesterday (if you’re in the UK). As well as a day off, yesterday saw the release of the multiplayer beta for the last Halo game on Xbox 360 – Halo: Reach. If you have a copy of Halo 3: ODST and an Xbox LIVE Gold membership you’ll be able to download the beta and get a preview of what’s coming this autumn.

What I’ve seen of Halo: Reach so far is pretty impressive. The graphics look gorgeous and the new game modes are plenty of fun. I say, “what I’ve seen so far” because it looks like the servers were a bit overloaded with everyone trying the game out. I wasn’t able to get a connection for a couple of hours, but I guess that’s to be expected since this the beta test.

The in-game additions I’m most keen on are much more customisable armour, and the jet-pack Spartans! It’s immense fun to swoop down on your enemies from above, although you do seem to be quite easy to shoot down. The SWAT game mode is also fantastic fun, where you team up against an opposing group armed with combat rifles. I have no idea how some of the guys I’m up against get headshots so often!

What’s really handy, though, is the new matchmaking system. You can tell it whether you want to prioritise playing with people who have a fast connection, who speak the same language as you, or who have a similar skill level to you. You can also tell it whether you want to play against people who use the communicator a lot, or who hardly speak at all, team players or lone wolves, and “polite” or “rowdy” players. Oh it’s all so civilised until you start blowing each other to smithereens.

Halo: Reach is a free download, so long as you have Halo 3: ODST and Xbox LIVE Gold. You’ll need around 1.5Gb of space on your Xbox 360. If you meet the requirements, download it, and we might just meet in battle.

Ghostbusters [xbox360 review]

I’ve been enjoying a bit of a Ghostbuster renaissance lately, all started off by playing the demo of the Ghostbusters game on Xbox Live. I ended up downloading the movie from iTunes* and loved re-watching it. It was the first film I ever saw. Well, most of it. My mum would cover my eyes at the scary bits so I missed a fair bit of the storyline!

In true geek style, I also decided to see whether you can get replica Proton Packs. You can, but they cost around £1000!

But anyway, this is supposed to be a review of the Ghostbusters game on xbox360, so let’s get on with it.


Watch on YouTube

Ghostbusters sees you, as a new recruit, being shown the ropes of busting when a huge paranormal event takes place and pretty much throws you in at the deep end. Your induction takes a back seat and you’re straight out doing what the Ghostbusters do best! It’s a great start to the game. When I play something new I need to be shown how to play (does anyone ever read the game manual?) but also want to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible. Ghostbusters manages to do both very well, moving quickly from introduction to on-the-job training.

The game mechanics are pretty simple. Some ghosts can simply be destroyed by shooting them. Some are susceptible to the different types of beam your proton pack can produce, and you’ll find out their particular weakness by scanning them with your PKE meter. By far the most fun, though, are the ghosts you must trap in the “traditional” way… weakening them by any means possible, then getting a capture stream on them. Stun your target by slamming them into walls, floor or ceiling and then get them into the ghost trap. I absolutely loved this and was a wee bit disappointed by the number of ghosts that you could defeat without trapping them.

There are some brilliant set-piece moments throughout the game, like battling the Marshmallow Man, and quite a few jumpy moments too. I’ll admit that I’m not good with scary games but the horror in Ghostbusters fits with the film’s comedy genre… it’s jumpy but ultimately not going to give you nightmares.

Ghostbusters is fun to play whether you’re a fan of the films or not, but I have to say that if you are a fan it adds an extra nostalgic angle that makes it brilliant. I kept firing the proton stream just to hear the sound and it was great to be able to play at being a Ghostbuster, even just for a little while.

My recommendation? This one’s a buy it!

Ghostbusters is available from Amazon.com* and Amazon.co.uk*

*affiliate link

How to stream media from a Mac to xbox360

I was an early adopter with the xbox360, which means I’ve been through the whole Red Ring Of Death thing, sending my console back several times. I now seem to have a stable machine, thankfully. It also means I got the original 20Gb hard disc drive, which seems pitifully small now that you can install games to the HDD and download movies.

Microsoft are pushing the xbox360 as a home entertainment hub, which is a bit of a problem for me because of the aforementioned drive capacity. I do, however, have a load of media on my external hard drive attached to my Mac. The xbox is designed to talk to Windows Media Edition rather than Mac OS X, but there’s a handy little application that will help link the two rivals together.

Connect360 is a Mac tool that installs into the preferences pane. If your Mac and xbox360 are on the same network, wired or wireless, you can set your Mac to detect it and stream music to it. On the xbox360, just play media as normal but select your Mac as the source instead of a CD, Hard Drive or Windows Computer.

It works fairly well but, despite claims that Connect360 will convert media on the fly, not all my movies were playable on the xbox. I also found that some videos didn’t match up to their listing… that is, I’d try to play Aliens and end up with Ghostbusters for some reason. However, by quitting out of the media player and going back in seemed to fix that particular problem.

Connect360 isn’t perfect, at least not in my tests, but it does the job and is a heck of a lot cheaper than an Apple TV! If you’ve been looking for a way to get your media from Mac to living room xbox360, give it a shot.

Connect360 costs $20 (US). This is not an affiliate link.

Win Dark Void on xbox360 and the complete Battlestar Galactica with SciFi channel

SciFi channel, the UK version of SyFy, are giving away a copy of Dark Void on the xbox360 courtesy of Capcom, and the complete series of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica on DVD. All you have to do to win is play games!

There are five games on the SciFi site that count towards the competition, and the aim is for you to rank on the leaderboard for all five games. You’ll need to have a SciFi account so that your scores can be tracked. You’ll receive a certain number of points depending on where you rank for each game… position 1 being worth 10 points, and position 10 being worth 1. Your total across all five games is used to determine the overall winner of the competition.

I haven’t come across Dark Void before, but the blurb on the competition page says, “Dark Void’s unique combination of jetpack-booster aerial dog fighting and third-person combat creates a thrilling new gameplay dynamic to the third-person shooter experience. Release date for this game is January 22, 2010.”

As for Battlestar Galactica, I thought this was one of the best series I’ve seen in years and it’s worth entering the contest for the BSG box set alone!

The games are all easy enough to get into, but you’ll have to put some effort in to beat those high scores. Give it a go, and if you get a score you’re particularly proud of feel free to boast in the comments! Closing date is the 11th of January 2010.

If you don’t think you’re going to win the contest you can pre-order Dark Void* or buy the BSG box set from Amazon.co.uk.

* Affiliate links

How to share a dial-up connection in Vista

My broadband is offline at the minute, but I wanted to try out the new Xbox360 social media updates. I do have a 3G mobile Internet modem, so I wondered if I can somehow use that to get the Xbox online. The answer is yes… and if you want to do something similar here’s how to do it.

Network ConnectionsThis is the process I used in Vista, but it should be pretty similar in other versions of Windows. First you want to be able to see all the network connections in your computer (Start Menu > Network > Network and Sharing Center > Manage Network Connections). You’ll see a load of connections including a dial-up one (if you’re using a modem) and wired LAN connection. You’ll be plugging your device (in my case the Xbox) into the wired connection and allowing it to use the dial-up connection to get online.

Right-click on your dial-up connection and navigate to the “Sharing” tab where you’ll find the option to “Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection”. Tick the box and check that the “Home networking connection” box below contains the name of your wired network adapter and you’re nearly there. Just click on “OK” and you should be good to go.

Right, so a quick run-down:

  1. Open your network connections
  2. Plug your device into your laptop with an Ethernet cable
  3. Right-click on your dial-up connection and choose Properties > Sharing > Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection
  4. Double-check that the Home networking connection is set to the name of your wired network connection
  5. Click OK

You should now find that your Xbox thinks it has a direct connection to the Internet and, so long as your laptop is on and dialed-up you can get online. Just be careful now not to go over your data allowance on your modem!

Incidentally, I think it should be possible to share your Internet connection wirelessly by setting the Home networking connection to be your wireless one instead of wired… but I don’t have a wireless adapter for the Xbox. If you’ve done this and can confirm or dispel the idea of using wireless, please let us know in the comments!

Xbox360 NXE: Early Impressions

Xbox360: New Xbox Experience

I wanted to wait a few days before posting about the Xbox360 “New Xbox Experience”, partly so that I would have a proper chance to play with it. I downloaded it on Wednesday, like many others I guess, and was immediately unimpressed.

I should point out, though, that my lack of enthusiasm stemmed from what I think was a crash – the new dashboard downloaded, installed, and then my Xbox just sat there with a blank screen for a few minutes. After switching it off and on, though, it seemed to work OK so I’ll just put that down to a glitch.

When the system restarted I was guided through the initial setup – some introductions to the new features, and setting up my avatar. Whilst this gives you some scope to customise your appearance, it’s not going to give you an exact likeness. It’s not as customisable as, say, the Wii’s Mii or the faces on some MMORPGs. Still, it’s possible to get something that looks vaguely like yourself so that’s good enough.

The new layout takes a little getting used to. Rather than everything being in “blades”, they are now in vertically stacked menus which then expand with various options. Things have been rearranged and, in some cases, streamlined, but there are no major revelations here. You can still find your games library, and you can still see who’s on your friends list, but now you tell whether they are online by whether their avatar is awake or not. This isn’t as intuitive for me, though, as I prefer just to look at a list and have the online people highlighted.

Forgetting function for a moment, however, it has to be said that the new dashboard does look very good!

Right, straight back to function, because I want to talk about the one huge development that makes me think this update was actually a good idea: playing games from the hard drive. I don’t know if it’s just my machine, but I can guarantee that I’ll get at least one or two “unreadable disc” errors in a night of playing. They tend to happen when I’m just about to save the game, meaning that when it crashes I have to go back a fair way and replay what I’d already done. Most annoying. With the option to copy a game to the hard drive, though, the disc isn’t actually used. Sure you need to have it in the drive so that your Xbox knows you own it, but it just sits there while the game data is loaded off the HDD instead. No more unreadable disc errors. Or, at least, none so far. The only downside is that the games are pretty large (6.7gb for Gears of War 2), so unless you have one of the larger hard discs you will have to free up some space and possibly limit yourself to only loading one full-size game on there at a time.

So, NXE… in my (limited) view, just Microsoft playing around with things that didn’t really need played around with, but redeemed by one killer feature.

Have you tried NXE? If so, what do you think of it? Tell us in the comments.

PS – one final thing it’s very good to see is that community games are now available in the marketplace!