Currently playing

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite

A few years back there was a distinct lack of offline co-operative games for home consoles, and lo and behold, with the release of Monster Hunter Freedom Unite PSP owners have access to the definitive version of the handheld sensation from Japan.

As a game premise it sounds quite dangerous in both senses – the life of a hunter killing ferocious beasts against the backdrop of an MMO-like grind and repeat scenario, but to summize it as such does the game a great disservice.

Trials and tribulations

  • The premise of Monster Hunter is relatively simple, rather than levelling up your character you improve your armour, weapons, and tactics for completing your next hunt, the sense of challenge and reward is palpable.
  • The cycle of challenge and reward are one of the main reasons to play, the eurphoric sense of accomplishment you get from taking down an enormous monster from your talent alone is one of the the most rewarding gaming experiences ever.
  • New players to the series will have to spend a long time getting used to how the game plays. This will mean many hours in tutorials to improve yourself. The steepest learning curve I have ever seen in a video game may be too much for most people.
  • The game has many barriers to entry, but just as your confidence may start to grow, one particular boss creature is likely to smash you down a peg or two (over and over) one potential hurdle is bad enough, but two?

Look and feel

  • The game world looks gorgeous, from the outdoor map areas especially. Capcom manages to balance the sense of scale perfectly; creating outdoor spaces that you can quickly grow accustomed to, as well as a perfect town, farm and home area that doesn’t confuse, yet adds extra value during battle downtime.
  • Weapon and armour creation games are two a penny, but the level of detail exhibited in Monster Hunter is unlike any other. You ARE in effect your equipment, and hours of work will go into creating and improving every piece of your set to enhance your chances out on the battlefield.
  • Memorising multiple weapon controls is tricky and may force you to make very important decisions about your favoured gameplay styles very quickly. The animations and time needed to manuovre, control and battle your enemies are extremely clunky at first and are at times of danger quite frustrating.
  • Repeating missions will become nessersary in order to gather materials and scope out areas, while this may suit some, the lack of story as well as having to revisit the same areas has the potential to become repetitive after time.

Solo and multiplayer

  • Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is an extremely rewarding multiplayer game as is clearly designed with this in mind. Parties of up to four people can team up to down monsters that are tricky to manage alone, with the games inventory system allowing you to share and recieve items from each other on the fly.
  • For those unable to play multiplayer the Felyne companions provide an adequate (if quite noisy) alternative to playing completely alone, training and improving your Felyne’s skills as well as your own is a welcome challenge.
  • The decision not to include online multiplayer is a puzzling one, as this would have been how the vast majority of gamers would have experienced it. Particulary puzzling as the game is marketed as a multiplayer game but then can only be played using local wireless. Leaving this important feature out is inexcuseable.
  • This is a much-harder and less satisfying game alone, multiplayer improves this challenging game no end, so it’s quite sad that many people will not be able to experience the game as intended.

In conclusion

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is one of the most rewarding handheld multiplayers of recent years; an improvement over the previous installments and a freshly prepared complete package for those who are new to the series.

If you can make it past the odd controls and occasionally obtuse inventory system, this is a wonderful game that will give you many hours of pleasure, it’s purely for those who like a gaming challenge – on their terms, and the PSP is a perfect format for it.

Currently playing

Rock Band Unplugged

This portable version of Rock Band for the PSP tries something a little different, challenging you to play all four tracks of the Rock Band soundtrack in a four lane track system Harmonix already explored in Amplitude and Frequency.

So rather than using a series of incresingly more complex perhipherials Rock Band Unplugged is a nod to the rhythm action games of old and a faithful descendant of Harmonix’s two earlier games.

A Portable Rock Band?

  • Harmonix have done a fantastic job at porting across the Rock Band look and sound onto the small screen of the PSP. That said it is a game that is best experienced with a set of headphones.
  • One of the best looking and best presented PSP games on the market. Even the normally quite prolonged PSP loading times don’t seem to be an issue on this game.
  • Although you can customize all of your bandmates, some of the finer details of doing so are not present in this version, such as the logo creator. Mind you this could be because you’ll have a hard time even watching what your characters are up to anyway.
  • Playing all four instruments may take some getting used to. You’ll either love the flexibility the game provides or hate the fact that you can’t focus on your favourite instrument.

The music

  • The World Tour mode is back, with the quickplay and tour mode matching the standard of it’s larger cousin. Everything plays as you’d expect and moving between the four instuments is easier to keep on top of compared to Frequency & Amplitude. This is a far more accessible game.
  • The four layers that build up the songs are best noticed in this game, you begin to become more aware of how certain songs are put together. Rock Band Encourages this by increasing the volume of the track you are currently playing.
  • Existing fans may be disappointed by the amount of songs they already own in Rock Band 1 & 2 repeated in Unplugged. Some more unique tracks would have been nice, but at least the amended gameplay makes every existing song that much more enjoyable.
  • Initially you’ll be playing the same songs over and over in quick succession if you follow the world tour mode religiously. Impatient people may want to use the unlock music code for quick play.

The controls

  • Mercifully it’s quite easy to keep on top of what you need to do next. Rock Band Unplugged screen space is squeezed full of helpful details, such as the indicators bouncing on the beat pointing what track to play next to continue your score multiplier.
  • Harmonix’s note charts ease you gently into each more progressively difficult song, as ever each difficulty is perfectly weighted and each combination of notes or chords make sense both musically and rhythmically.
  • This is quite a tricky game, especially on higher difficulties, certain instruments (drums) tend to be more difficult than the others and the PSP buttons can be quite unforgiving; letting you make easy mistakes that are hard to recover from.
  • The default controls are a little fiddly at first, particulary for the buttons required to play red and yellow (relegated to the d-pad), thankfully they can be changed if you’re beginning to struggle.

In conclusion

Rock Band Unplugged is a worthwhile contribution to anyone’s PSP collection, proving that a spinoff to a music series can indeed be worthwhile and not just an occasion to cash-in but an enhancement to the series. That said this game stands on it’s own perfectly, and it ideal for beginners and experts alike. A must buy.

Currently playing

Drumming with Rock Band

I’d like to ask a simple question. Can music games improve your ability to play a real instrument?

After drumming in Rock Band for almost a year I’ve decided to learn the drums properly again. While there is no definitive answer for you just yet, this is a subject I’d like to return to as as my real drumming improves.

But before we get to the lessons themselves; a little information on my musical history.

My musical history

The Drums

Now I have to be honest I have played the drums before, but I would describe myself as extremely amateur. Largely self taught. My practical drum experience was from about 11 years ago, and I’ve largely forgotten. I’ve picked up a lot of bad habits from RB2, so I’d like to start over.

Other Musical experiences

I played the violin when I was very young, and I also played in a percussion section (Xylophone, Glockenspiel mainly) so I used to have a fair understanding of musical theory. However I am sad to say this knowledge has completely drained from my head.

Rock Band 1 & 2

On July 15th 2008 I unboxed my Rock band instrument set for the first time. But who was I kidding, I bought Rock Band and it’s sequel so I could play the drums first, and second for the music and for the sheer joy of experiencing one of the best multiplayer games ever made.

After muddling through Easy and Medium difficulties, by November 2008 for the release of Rock Band 2 I was playing on Hard exclusively. And now less then a year after I bought the original game I play on Expert difficulty for the vast majority of songs.

My drumming aims

  • To learn the drums properly, with an emphasis on musical theory.
  • To ditch any bad habits I’ve picked up from teaching myself in the past.
  • To figure out whether playing RB for the last year has helped me to improve over what I could do before.

Week One – Re-learning the basics

It’s been years since I’ve sat in front of a drum kit this big, and I’m suddenly extremely nervous. First things first apparently the way I am holding the sticks is good, thankfully I have learnt some of the benefits of stick bounce from RB2, I’ve noticed I tire less when I let the recoil of the stick do most of the work.

We go over the basic drum names, and I hit problem one straight away – the high-hat sat on the far left of me, which forms the basis of the main beat in my starting drum grooves, we play it closed today but even so, I now have a second pedal to worry about when I am now more used to one. So not a problem for now, but perhaps a problem for later.

I have a total of nine drums to manage rather than five Rock Band ones, that’s the biggest hurdle.

Two Rock Band Kits show the difference in drum positions.

Problem two is that I have to return to playing cross-handed, that is right hand over left so I can play high-hat and snare. To deviate a little:

When playing RB2, your main drum beats are on the red and yellow drums. Snare is usually the red drum on the left in-game, and yellow the high-hat.

Except on a normal drum kit setup, it’s the opposite; your high-hat is on the left, and you play cross-handed (as a right handed person) to prepare your stronger hand for faster beats. I’m no expert on the subject, but I am guessing Harmonix changed this around to make the hardware more accessible to non-musicians.

We start building up a basic groove, my tutor seems pleased that I play all drums on all hands and feet very evenly, apparently this normally takes a while to get right in your head. (Thanks RB!)

I drum along to my first song (Californication, Red Hot Chilli Peppers) I am trying to relax but I’ve noticed how much I stare ahead at one fixed point like I am looking at a screen for guidance. Must try harder not to do this next week.

Week Two – Testing my memory

As I suspected the hardest thing to unlearn is the fact that I am no longer taking direction from a screen. I need to learn to relax and loosen up a bit. I manage to play the grooves from last week without too many problems, but taking on new stuff is hard. I am used to playing by ear and suddenly I have to remember to count and think again. So the majority of this lesson is just spent practicing what I can do over and over and over. This hits hard, although still fun – it’s a step back from the immediacy and accessibility of the game and a reminder that in the real world things need to be slowly perfected over time.

My hands do in fact need some tweaking to help prepare for faster beats, I need to move away from my RB method of parallels sticks so that they form more of triangle shape on the snare. This helps, but my left hand is weaker and frequently messes up it’s beats on my fills. I would like to improve this.

Co-incidentially I am practicing (outside of my lessons) on the Rock Band kit atm, less than ideal. Not enough drums for one, but at least I have some real sticks and something to hit! For this reason alone the drum training mode of RB2 is a genuine blessing, until I am ready to commit to something a little more permanent at least.

The drum trainer mode in RB.

One thing RB does not prepare you for is the space between the different drums, at least not sufficiently, extra time has to be factored in between the beats. Biggest problem for me is moving to the cymbals in proper time. I also forgot how incredibly noisy the crash cymbals could be. Teacher recommends some ear plugs, I might just.

Perhaps RB has not been as much of a help as I originally thought. I mean it’s helping me to juggle all the various new grooves that much more quickly, but I am still finding it hard to relax and bash the hell out of the real drums, but anyone that’s seen me drum on RB will know this will not last long.

Overall feeling? The real work has started now and I need more practice, so off I go. Stay tuned.

Currently playing

Left 4 Dead: Survival DLC

I like many others have been pulled back into the world of zombie killing following the recent downloadable content for Left 4 Dead. We wanted more zombies and we certainly got them.

While Valve hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel in this recent update, the new experience it provides it certainly worth dusting off Left 4 Dead for…

Getting started

  • A completely free download. Including the previously unavailable Dead Air and Blood Harvest campaigns for versus mode, and one completely new map for survival.
  • The sheer amount of enemies on the screen leads to frantic bursts of gameplay. Rounds are usually extremely short, and have more impact than even the most tense scenes from the campaign mode.
  • Beware of some potential download problems when downloading the DLC. Most of my friends list had problems getting past an endless “pending” message.
  • You’ll soon develop favourite maps, particularly the ones with easy routes to ammo and with the best tried and tested strategies for success. The lack of more new areas may start to grind.


  • You will need everyone to be working together like never before. Communication is key in every aspect of Left 4 Dead, although survival sets you up to fail discussing how to delay that outcome with other players never gets old.
  • As with versus mode, tactics are king. The game changes from a comparatively relaxed experience in the campaign mode to all out chaos, and that in itself is like playing a new game entirely.
  • The overwhelming nature of survival mode means it’s not completely suitable for people may be new to the game, it has a completely different pace and may be best saved until harder difficulties are attempted.
  • Sadly there’s no option to build your own maps in the 360 version of Left 4 Dead. I appreciate the limitations of the console copy, but that doesn’t stop me from being extremely jealous of the PC version.


  • Survival is even more of a group game, and the end of timer counter reflects this – by recording your best team survival time and your collective zombie kills by type as a group effect. Can take the pressure off the individual to rack the kill in.
  • Using the time before the clock starts to prepare a particular map for the zombie hordes is particularly satisfying. Some of the best times will be gained by utilizing the fuel cans, and ammo areas dotted around the maps.
  • It’s extremely challenging to have so many special enemies on the screen at once, while this isn’t a bad thing in itself it means one false move can lead to game over fairly quickly.
  • Other players are pretty much a requirement for playing as the NPCs can make survival an extremely frustrating experience.


773 common infected, 15 smokers, 11 boomers, 7 hunters and 12 tanks were harmed in the making of this weblog post.

Currently playing

Resident Evil 5

I’ve never been much of a fan of the Resident Evil series, but the reinvention in the shape of Resident Evil 4 shook me to my senses like many others, and left me hungry for more.

Has Resident Evil 5 managed to shake off the shadow of it’s mighty predecessor? Largely no (how could it?) – but here’s what I think works and what doesn’t.


  • Co-op gives a new feel to what in the past has been quite a lonely game.
  • Although you still can’t run and shoot, it is nice to have someone else to cover your back while you navigate a level.
  • Slight bias towards those who are able to play multiplayer. Those who will want to experience RE5 as a normal Resi game may feel frustrated at times.
  • The brightest AI in the world can’t compare to playing with a friend. Certain points of RE5 have obviously been created with two people in mind.


  • Your Inventory is persistent allowing you to keep your items and weapons for multiple playthroughs or to join a friends game.
  • The selection of weapons are good, placed often enough through the game to allow you balance your upgrades.
  • We’re back to the days of rationing ammo, which is challenging, meaning you have to be quite tactical with your fights, only this is more enjoyable with company.
  • Inventory isn’t upgradable from nine slots, you’ll often struggle for space.
  • Unable to swap weapons in multiplayer. Presumably this is to stop you giving upgraded weapons to a friend, but even being able to pass a basic version of a weapon back and forth would have been helpful.
  • No option to split ammo to help out your partner, would have been helpful if one stack of bullets could be split between two.


  • Capcom has added a cover system! Making the later, and more difficult chapters more manageable, and more like a proper firefight.
  • The cutscenes are involving and a genuine pleasure to watch, and thankfully skippable after you’ve watched them once.
  • It’s nice to return to the RE4 format. Despite the inclusion of new multiplayer elements it still has the right amount of Resident Evil tension.
  • That said it’s not up to the standard of other cover systems, it’s very cumbersome and will only work in a tiny percentage of areas.
  • This will help because the quick time events will kill you more than anything else in the game. They need to go.
  • But the menus may create some more. Capcom’s title screen menus are dated and unhelpful. Joining an online game, or continuing a saved games means scrolling through pages of jargon.


I suspect if you start RE5 expecting it to be better than RE4 you’re going to walk away disappointed. RE5 doesn’t improve upon the genre in the way it’s predecessor did but it will provide you with an enjoyable experience which will be improved by the fact that you can play with another.