Hitman: Sniper Challenge

For the last four hours I have been playing this pre-order “bonus” and let me tell you it was time well spent. To start with everything you unlock in game transfers into Hitman: Absolution when you get that on November 20th. Items unlocked are clip upgrades, reload upgrades, rapid fire and hold breath. Yes, these are all sniper related, otherwise it would just be called "The Hitman Challenge"! 



The “bonus” is available across all platforms that the game will be coming out for, so that means the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and, of course, one of our favourites Steam. I personally chose the 360 version as my current desktop sounds like it is trying to take-off back to its home planet. Any more than half an hour and your head splits apart like mars attacks! Enough of my problems and more of those virtual “bodyguards” problems (if you could even call them that). 

The 'so called' bodyguards are really just sentries sent around to block your next stealth kill and just all round annoy. They follow set paths for the most part and that means they are relatively easy to assassinate. There are moments when frustration hits as the target stops to pick up an imaginary penny and then continues along like there was no bullet whizzing past his head. The physics engine runs a beauty as you are able to shoot the power box of the elevator which opens its doors and as the guard turns to see what happened and why, the bullet that is burrowing in the back of his skull has sent him over the edge and down the shaft.

The bonus consists of 1 map with 14 guards, 50 or so Ai civilians and 1 High Value Target (HVT for short). Your mission is to assassinate the HVT and his “bodyguards” without anyone detecting your presence. This sounds like the average sniper level that any game has these days but that is where the similarities end. There is no bullet drift or drop so you hit where you aim. The crosshairs move constantly until you slow your breathing, but the real joy I have found from this one seemingly small mission is with the tons of hidden Easter eggs!

In true Hitman style you're recommended to pick off the guys around the edges and work your way in, but not me! No sir! I’ve played this mission so many times (it seems to be approaching 100 times today) so I’ve done it all! I went on the outskirts, I went straight for the HVT and I even set an ambush with the proximity mines all from my perched view on a distant building.

The in game challenges range from shooting 3 rubber ducks to "shoot the ninja" and each challenge completed grants a new score modifier so you must do challenges in order to beat the high scores of not only your friends but your Nation and the rest of the world.

Overall Rating: 8/10

- James Monaghan

Mass Effect 3

This review comes to you somewhat incomplete. I'm about 15 hours in. I've almost cried twice already. I don't mind admitting that. Not naming any names, there is a scene some way in that is one of the most well crafted cut sequences I've ever seen in a video game, and one of the most deftly handled character send offs I've seen in any medium, period. It's that good. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that a character will die. You're at war. The galaxy is at war. Billions are lost every hour you play. The Reapers continue their seemingly unstoppable onslaught while you, valiant Commander Shepard, desperately fly doing everything you can to stop them. But no matter what you do, you can't save them all.

This is what makes the losses of Mass Effect all the more poignant. As you look up from the surface of a moon and see a planet bathed in the continent-sized firestorms of a giant death-machine invasion, you can't help but feel the nagging doubt that not everyone is going to make it home. Your fears are later confirmed. It is in this tangible sense of loss that Bioware's scifi epic reaches its true maturity. All the strand established over three massive games all intertwine. These are the characters you know and love, the ones you NEED by your side. If you're not fighting for the countless organics across known space, you can be damn sure you're fighting for them. The war creates a sense of tangible urgency in a manner that I don't think was present in the other games of the series. In one stand out scene, one character remarks to the other how he cannot understand the lightness the Citadel residents are taking day to day life. Ever knowing, Shepard remarks that it's all a front to disguise their terror at what is really happening out there. Sure, it's a neat little narrative trick that allows Bioware to employ the usual RPG side quest tropes, but at the same time it also explores peoples reaction to a total war on this scale. It's just another facet that demonstrates the developer's singular storytelling and worldbuilding strengths. And the killer aspect: it's almost a throwaway line that many will simply miss. This is why I'm a only halfway through. I feel the need to take my time and savour every single moment I can. To live in this world, if one can indeed live with a 3D rendering of something that is not strictly speaking there.

On the gameplay front, Mass Effect follows the cover-based shooting action formula that was so well-refined between parts 2 and 3. While it generally plays second fiddle to the story, the action is meaty and fulfilling, mostly thanks to the redesigned sounds of the weapons. These now sound suitably futuristic and satisfying violent. Interspersed between the usual galleries of chest-high walls are some truly epic set pieces, including one that will no doubt stick in the minds of all who play it. Let's just say it involves a Reaper and something equally big and much angrier. The side quests, such as they are, are tied to the main story in every possible way, allowing players to flesh out the game as much as they wish. The mining mechanic has been replaced by something equally topical, which sees the Normandy recovering potential assets for the war effort as opposed to 2000 unites of palladium. Yet again, Bioware have taken one of their mechanics and have made it seemingly crucial to the conclusion of the tale they are telling.

And Mass Effect 3 is a conclusion. Like it or not, it's the end of the story as we know it. The game is the purest form of the series we know and love. It never feels like there is a moment wasted because they very rarely is. Whether it's a quiet chat where you break an asari's heart, or whether you're running for your life from a gigantic alien doom ray, Mass Effect 3 never fails to pull you into its world. If you haven't played the series up until this point, for the love of God buy the first two Mass Effects now and play all the way through. If you don't, you're missing out on one the finest if not THE finest science fiction epic of recent years.

- Jack Whelan


It's kind of hard to pinpoint the exact moment I realised I loved SSX. It may have been the first time I had to race down the pristine yet geometrically impossible slopes of the Rockies to the relentlessly feel good tunes of The Naked and Famous. It could have been the first time I totally smashed the record on a Trick It event. Or it could have been when I found out how much fun it is to carve out your own little niche in the global online competitions. Whatever the timing of it, I realised prior to writing this that I love SSX to an almost inappropriate extent. 

I may be slightly bias. The original PS2 SSX was the very first game I properly owned, as opposed to scabbing the odd afternoon or lunch break off my friends. I followed the franchise with gusto right up until SSX On Tour. The lack of a true current gen SSX has been a huge disappointment for me over the years, but luckily, patience prevailed. SSX is a delight to play, and a true successor to the pedigree it comes from.

The game can essentially be split into three self explanatory modes: Race It, Trick It and Survive It. The former play much as they always have. The latter is a new addition to the franchise that adds a very different dynamic to the game. Racing downhill at breakneck speed while attempting to avoid the myriad perils that assail you, whether they be rocks, trees or gravity itself, is exhilarating and not a little difficult. Survival Mode has drawn the most flak due to this aspect, but I find it refreshing that a mode can prove so trying in this current gaming epoch, where often you have to play on the hardest difficulty just to get a modicum of a challenge (I'm looking at you, Space Marine). It can be occasionally frustrating to pour 30 minutes into a single course, but it makes the victory so much sweeter. The soundtrack to the game has maybe a little too much offensively shite dubstep but is otherwise a perfect boarding collection. If you REALLY can't handle you're Skrillex, SSX allows you to make your own mix. In tandem with the survival mode, SSX has an avalanche (eh? eh?) of new toys. Wingsuits, armour, and headlamps are all required for certain matches, adding new mechanics to established modes. At times this can seem a bit gimmicky, but thankfully the game never gets buried in these

add ons. And besides, wingsuits are fucking cool. The multiplayer is perhaps where this game makes the biggest of its changes. Instead of traditional, lobby based races, the game allows you to set your times or scores on a level and then challenges your friends to beat them. At first, it gave me pause. The original SSX was a killer couch game that you and your buddies could sink hours into, as with any racing game. It was immediate, and it was fun. How could this new system be better. While it might not truly replace the on-the-spotness of the previous titles, it does drag SSX into the online era, and does it exceptionally well. It allows you to remain competitive with your friends while not actually being online. Logging on to find your buddy has smashed your score is all the incentive you need to drop an hour or two trying to claw it back. I speak from experience. The global aspect of the multiplayer has managed to craft a distinctive, and more importantly fun online community. Events can be bought into, or you can engage in free events too, although if you do you'll find yourself up against a Trick It score of 130,000,000, or a frankly inhuman downhill race time. This, combined with the ability to create and manage your own custom events means you can become a little or as involved with the community as you desire. EA have as usual drawn fire for their online pass scheme, with stores all the points you make online in a sort of digital vault until you're ready to pay up. With an online pass included in every new game however, this shouldn't prove too daunting unless you're dead set on getting it second-hand.

Despite all these changes, at it's heart this is still the SSX we know and love. It's still chock full of awesome moments. Tricking off a helicopter at the last minute in order to bump your score from silver to gold comes to mind. Its courses are a bit less wacky (anyone who's ever raced Tokyo Megaplex will understand) but no less thrilling and complex. Races are still frantic and tense, Trick Its are still gravity and physics defying in their awesomeness. It has been 9 years since the last properly good entry into the franchise, 2003's SSX 3. It finally feels like we're back on course, and it's never been sweeter. SSX is a truly delightful experience that reminds you how much pure fun you can have while gaming.

- Jack Whelan