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Jo Whiley

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  • Jo Whiley
  • 24 Jul 09, 05:12 PM

We hope you've enjoyed the blog.  We won't be writing any more Jo Blogs entries, but the rest of the blog will still be here for posterity.  Thanks for reading!

recent entries

  1. Jo Whiley

    Video Games...

    • Jo Whiley
    • 14 Oct 08, 11:20 AM

    FIFA 09 (multi - out now)
    Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (PS3, 360, PC - out Oct 17th; PS2 - out Oct 31st; PSP - out Nov 7th)

    Having been a long time PES fanatic, I backed FIFA over Konami's title last year for the first time ever. PES suffered two poor seasons and EA really got their act together with the superb FIFA 08.

    For FIFA 09 they've retained and built upon a winning formula. Cool new stuff include Live Season, which lets you download up-to-date stats on players that change teams in-game; an impressively flexible tactics system that really lets you dictate your teams playing style; and action is more physical, as players aggressively jostle for the ball. Presentation is ultra-slick, as you'd expect, with all the right team names, kits and players.

    PES has finally pulled up its socks for the new season. Gone are the silly technical issues that dogged last year's version, and it looks and plays slicker. PES has always suffered through a lack of licences: alas, we still have to put up with the likes of London FC (Chelsea) and North London (Arsenal), but a fantastic addition is the Champions League, which feels just like the TV coverage; and Man Utd fans will be pleased to know their team is officially represented (though, sadly, Berbatov didn't make it).

    It's now no longer a case of one game being better than the other: they both offer a markedly different style of footy. FIFA is now unquestionably the most realistic take on the beautiful game: the pace is considered, games are often poised on a knife edge, and you really have to grind out every result. PES, on the other hand, is faster-paced and more 'arcadey' - less realistic, but it leads to some genuinely thrilling passages of play.

    This year, the great FIFA vs PES showdown goes into extra time. These are both excellent kickabouts, and it comes down to how you prefer to get your kicks.

    LittleBigPlanet (PS3 - out October 24th)

    What a great British success story this is - a tiny studio in Guildford has created arguably the most important PlayStation 3 game so far. LittleBigPlanet is utterly unique. The tagline is 'Play, Create, Share'. For play, think a traditional platform game, albeit a stupidly beautiful one, with levels bursting with imagination and good ideas - and it's all narrated superbly by Stephen Fry. But Create is where the game excels - an incredibly detailed set of tools allows you to customise the game in all sorts of ways and even build your own levels and designs, then share them with the rest of the world over PlayStation Network.

    The possibilities are dizzying, and what people have come up with already on the beta version bodes very well for the future of this game. Bear in mind that, as fun as it is in single-player, you're only getting half the experience if you don't go online.

    It's not perfect: the basic controls of your character are a little fuzzy, and the creation tools will probably prove too complicated and time-consuming for casual users. But since you can play everyone else's crazy designs, that's not a real problem.

    This is a landmark title, and probably the most persuasive reason so far to invest in a PlayStation 3.

    If you want a glimpse of the game in action, check out the following trailer:

    Lego Batman (multi - out now)

    The millions of fans of the brilliant Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones games know the drill by now. This time, Gotham gets the plastic bricks treatment as Batman, Robin and assorted heroes and villains are transformed in the series' trademark charming style.

    It's not tied into any films this time, as they're considered too 'adult' for kids, but most of these characters will be instantly recognisable to many. It's every bit as slick as you'd imagine, is great fun for kids and adults alike, and is a safe bet if you've enjoyed previous Lego titles.

    Saints Row 2 (PS3, 360 - out Oct 17th; PC - out Nov 7th)

    I think this is going to take a lot of people by surprise. The original Saints Row was a shameless Grand Theft Auto rip-off for Xbox 360, while everyone was still waiting for GTAIV. In the year of the latter's release, few expected a Saints Row sequel to make much impact. But it has and it's sticking two-fingers up to Rockstar's blockbuster in the process.

    If GTA is serious satire, Saints Row is stupid, silly fun. The basic game style if emphatically GTA-like. But where Saints Row 2 succeeds is in the sheer variety of stuff you can do. There are endless side-missions, distractions, mini-games, things to explore and see. Characters are customisable to an impressive degree so if you want to be a fat man with moobs, wearing a dress and clown make-up, you can!

    And one thing this offers that GTAIV never has is full online co-op play - messing around with another player is just stacks of fun. It might lack the production values and epic scope of Rockstar's masterpiece, but it's simply bags of fun and well worth it if you're ready to move on from Liberty City.

    Korg DS-10 (DS - out now)
    This is a great little piece of software that turns your DS into a fully functioning digital music studio. By tweaking with beats, melodies, rhythms, effects and frequencies you can create highly impressive compositions - people have already released an album online created exclusively on a DS.

    It makes a big difference if you already have experience of fiddling with similar programmes, but for dance music aficionados on the move this is a tempting little beat box.

    Hell's Kitchen (DS - out now)
    What's Cooking? with Jamie Oliver (DS - out Oct 24th)

    The TV super-chefs go head to head on DS, with wildly different releases. Hell's Kitchen seeks to capture the tension of the show. You're a lowly kitchen hand tasked with seating and serving customers while juggling cooking in the kitchen, while a CGI Gordon glowers and swears at you from the top screen.

    It's a very simple game, but surprisingly tense and fun in short bursts, plus it comes complete with a bunch of Ramsay recipes. My mum loved it.

    What's Cooking is less a game, more an interactive cookbook. You're given access to a kitchen area with fully stocked pantry, and cooking, chopping and serving areas. You literally prepare dishes by collecting ingredients, mixing and cooking them, then serving up, while Jamie lets you know how you're doing.

    You can work your way through stacks of Jamie's recipes, or create your own which are then stored in ingredient lists for later reference. While it's a neat idea, I struggle to see the point of much of it, and the 'cooking' part is all novelty, without actually teaching you any real skills.

    PSP 3000 (£149 - out Oct 15th)

    The latest addition to the PSP family. This isn't as major an update as the Slim & Lite, but still boasts a few notable improvements over that model. Most significantly, the screen is noticeably sharper and brighter, and colours are more vivid. This really shows when you go back to older models.

    There's also a built in microphone, which can be used for games (as with the DS), and also for software like Skype. The directional pad has also been redesigned slightly for the better and it comes with a far less clunky power adaptor.

    It's not worth the upgrade if you have a Slim & Late, but is perhaps food for thought for owners of the original, lumpier model. If you don't have one, though, there's never been a better time.


    London Games Festival

    There's a series of events for the public running in London at the end of the month, where you can try out the biggest Christmas games, find out how to get a job in the industry and even listen to an orchestra perform classic videogames music. Events include:

    The Eurogamer Expo - (Oct 28-29th at the Old Truman Brewery near Liverpool Street station in Central London.) - Hands-on with major Xmas titles, including Prince of Persia, Street Fighter IV and Tomb Raider: Underworld

    GamesIndustry Career Fair - (Oct 28-29th at the Old Truman Brewery) - If you're a graduate or school-leaver and fancy a job in the gaming, this is the place to be. Experts from all areas of the business (including myself) will be there to answer your questions.

    Videogames Live - (Oct 24th at the Royal Festival Hall, London) - Themes from Sonic, Mario, Final Fantasy and more, all performed by a top orchestra.

    More info on locations, times and ticketing can be found here:

    Xbox 360 Price cut

    Microsoft recently slashed the price of 360, making the lowest-spec version the cheapest current-generation home console on the market. The new prices are:

    Arcade (no hard drive) - £129
    Premium (60Gb hard drive) - £169
    Elite (120Gb hard drive) - £229

    This compares with £179 for Wii, and £299 for PlayStation 3. Both Nintendo and Sony have said they are not planning any further price cuts before Christmas.
    Wii - £179
    PS3 - £300

  • Jo Whiley

    Student Gadgets...

    • Jo Whiley
    • 16 Sep 08, 10:39 AM

    If you're heading off to Uni soon and you've got a bit of spare cash check out the top gadgets that Tom reccomends for you by clicking here

    Lily Allen liked one of the gadgets that Tom reviewed so much that she went out and bought The Flip straight away... check out the video she made with it....

  • Jo Whiley

    Magical Merlin

    • Jo Whiley
    • 11 Sep 08, 03:06 PM

    Check out the trailer for the new BBC Saturday night show Merlin... we're so excited...

  • Jo Whiley

    Video Games Review

    • Jo Whiley
    • 9 Sep 08, 11:32 AM

    Johnny Minkley was in today to tell us about the latest Video Games....

    Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PS3/Xbox 360) - Out September 19th

    The big draw of The Force Unleashed is that it fills in the gap between Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader and the rise of the Rebel Alliance against the Death Star in the original Star Wars movie. This is the final chapter of the gospel according to George Lucas.

    The presentation is simply stunning and the story doesn't disappoint: the brilliant twist at the end will even change your understanding the original trilogy!

    The game, perhaps inevitably, fails to live up to the huge expectations. Technically, it's amazing: it's all about "kicking ass with The Force", and, as Darth Vader's secret apprentice, that's precisely what you can do. You can hurl massive objects around with ease; fling enemies hundreds of yards; shoot lightning from your fingertips; even bring down enormous spacecraft from the sky!

    Sadly, although there are countless moves to earn and learn, Force power to upgrade and creative ways to use your surroundings to destroy enemies, in many cases you simply don't need to use any of this - a couple of moves will suffice.

    And uninspired level design means that in some areas you can just leg-it through to the end unscathed and without being followed by identikit waves of enemies. The game's also a bit on the short side - you can easily finish it in a couple of evenings - although there's extra stuff to unlock.

    Despite the occasional moment of magic (the final stage is thrilling), it's not the great game it could have been, but the plot revelations alone may well be enough to sway Star Wars nuts.

    Spore (PC/Mac) - Out Now

    This is the long-awaited new project from Will Wright, the genius behind the most successful PC series of all time, The Sims. Spore is the most ambitious game ever created: split into five phases - Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilisation and Space - it tracks the evolution of life from single-celled organism to galaxy-conquering mega-race!

    Everyone's journey will be unique: you design your organism, creature, species, village, town, city and spacecraft every step of the way, and the Spore universe is randomly populated by other species created by players from around the world.

    Individually, the first four stages lack the depth of hardcore strategy titles, but that misses the point. Spore is an videogame you can play however you want, whether it's creating bizarre lifeforms to share with the world, or exploring the far-flung reaches of the galaxy. A remarkable achievement that's charming, inspiring and loads of fun.

    Samba De Amigo (Wii) - Out September 25th

    Here's the latest wacky party experience for your Wii. This maracas-shaking game originally released in arcades in 1999 and turned up a year later on Sega's doomed-but-brilliant Dreamcast console.

    In short, you hold the Wii remote and nunchuk like a pair of maracas, and shake them along to silly samba-flavoured tracks and cheesy pop covers, striking poses and waving your arms like a loon along the way.

    It's stupid fun in the best sense, although I did experience problems with the Wii registering my moves, which can be very frustrating. There is an option to use two Wii remotes instead of the nunchuk, as the latter doesn't seem to work quite as well.

    In the age of SingStar and Guitar Hero, the tracklist looks weak. But the emphasis is firmly on cheese: more Macarena than Madonna. It's also the first Wii game that will have downloadable content - new track packs will be released every month via Nintendo's online service, though storage on the hard drive-free Wii is a problem.

    Nine years since the original, it's nowhere near as slick as rivals like Guitar Hero, and it's definitely not worth getting if you're a solo-player. But if you fancy dancing like an idiot with friends and family, and have enough controllers to go around, there are plenty of laughs to be had once you get into Samba's groove!

    PlayTV (PS3) - Out September 19th, £69.99

    This is a great little addition to PlayStation 3 that takes advantage of its non-gaming features. It's basically a Freeview box that also turns your console into a PvR (personal video recorder).

    This means you can use PS3 to do record shows straight onto the hard drive to watch later, pause and rewind live TV, watch one channel while recording another and so on. It'll also keep recording TV while you're playing a game, and switch itself on to record if you're out and have left it on standby.

    The menu system is incredibly slick and clear - more user-friendly than Sky +, for example - and the whole package takes just a few minutes to set up. Best of all, if you own a PSP, you can use the Remote Play feature to watch recorded programmes on the handheld over the Internet as long as you have a wireless connection set-up.

    If you don't already own a PvR, this an impressive piece of kit that's certainly cheaper than dedicated products and a neat extra string in PS3's multimedia bow.

    You can see how it all works in the following video:

    PlayTV Guide:

    Braid (Xbox 360) - Out Now, 1200 Points (Roughly £10)

    Wow. This beautiful game from indie game designer Jonathan Blow came out of nowhere, and is one of the best games I've played in a long while.

    Braid is a platform puzzle game in which you control Tim, a young man in search of his princess, who we are told, in a smart nod to Super Mario Bros., is always "in another castle". In each of the game's worlds you have to collect a series of jigsaw pieces scattered around. Tim can run and jump like every platforming hero: the clever bit is the game's manipulation of time.

    You can rewind the action at any point - this is essential to solve the many puzzles. And variations are added as you progress: in one world a shadow copy of you appears repeating previous actions; in another, moving right plays the action forwards, while walking left rewinds.

    Trust me, you will need to use parts of your brain you had forgotten were there! But the sense of satisfaction when you finally solve a puzzle is immense. And the real beauty of the game is that the solution to every single puzzle is always right in front of you: there are no items to collect or skills to learn. You just need to figure it out.

    Braid is the best downloadable Xbox 360 game by a mile, and already a surprise candidate for game of the year. Yes, it's relatively short, but you'll have such fun playing through that it's the best £10 you'll spend.

  • Jo Whiley

    Students Save Money

    • Jo Whiley
    • 2 Sep 08, 12:35 PM

    Martin Lewis our money saving superhero was in today to give you advice if you're off to Uni... for all his advice click here

  • Jo Whiley

    The Wombats live backstage at Reading

    • Jo Whiley
    • 22 Aug 08, 06:43 PM

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