Video game reviews
Wonderbook: Book of Spells. PS3 (reviewed). Publisher: Sony. Rating: 10/10
When Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling described Wonderbook: Book of Spells as being the closest 'muggles' will ever get to a real spell book there were many raised eyebrows and many doubters. But the proof is in the potion and Book of Spells delivers a remarkable experience which combines fascinating new and exclusive Potter material from Rowling with an interactive adventure unlike any other.
You need a PS Move controller and a PS Eye camera to play, and also the Wonderbook itself – a new peripheral which will initially come packaged up with Book of Spells.
With the camera plugged in, a nifty little 'how to' gets you set up within a couple of minutes and you're soon sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of your TV with the Wonderbook – a hefty tome with symbol-inscribed cardboard pages – closed before you. On screen, the modernistic looking book becomes a dusty old tome and you get to pick which sort of wand you'd like your Move controller to become.
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Opening the book, ostensibly a spell manual from the restricted section of the Hogwarts library written 200 years ago by Miranda Goshawk, the David Tenant sound-alike narrator guides you through the process of learning basic spells such as levitation, illumination, water creation and unlocking. These are cast by waving your 'wand' in a particular pattern, such as an 'S' shape, and uttering the magic word correctly.
But you'll also find graffiti written by an unknown former owner of the book which unlocks weird and wonderful new aspects of the spells you're studying, plus little pop-up theatres where the back story of a particular incantation is explained – who first came up with it, how they used it and the suitably grisly end they often came to as a result. During the telling of the story, you can interact with the theatre's little cardboard cut-out characters amusingly through tabs you can pull with your wand. These brilliant stories are the clearest evidence Rowling's involvement and they're so good they alone are worth the price of admission.
There are mini games involving the spells – such as finding objects in a darkened room with your wand's newly illuminated tip – and at other times you'll be able to brush debris off the book with your hand, tip it up to drain water off it or even peer down a hole in one of its pages.
Interacting with the PS3 through a book-like peripheral makes the whole thing seem much more real somehow. You turn the pages, and if you spin the book round, the graphics sprouting from it on screen spin too. If you pick it up, the on-screen one moves the same way.
Sceptical adult Potter fans who to find this in their stocking on Christmas morning will soon be won over once they start playing it – and for Harry's under-12 fanbase it's surely a dream come true.
Assassin's Creed III. PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC. Publisher: Ubisoft. Rating: 8/10
Desmond Miles can access and relive the memories of his ancestors, which are stored in his DNA, through a machine known as the Animus. Most of them were assassins, fighting a centuries-long battle against their mortal enemies, the Templars. Desmond also has the Apple of Eden, an arcane object which enables him to unlock vaults and strange technologies left behind by the precursors, a species who existed before people. And now he's got to use the Animus and his experiences within it to prevent a catastrophe which will annihilate the planet. That's the Assassin's Creed story so far, but it doesn't really matter because the joy of the game is exploring colonial-era America as young British/native American assassin Connor Kenway.
You have all the freerunning skills of Desmond's previous assassin incarnations – you can run up walls, leap onto tiny platforms extremely high up and so on – but this time the game is set in an age of muskets, British soldiers, street urchins and Brits behaving terribly abroad. The graphics and period detail are staggering. The main storyline is there to be completed but there's so much else in the massive landscape to explore and do that you'll be kept busy for months. It's a glorious monster of a game.
WWE '13. PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii. Publisher: THQ. Rating: 7/10
The late 1990s was a period of renaissance for what was then known as WWF – the World Wrestling Federation. It was winning the war for TV ratings against rival wrestling organisation the WCW and creating new lead characters in the process such as Bret Hart, Triple H, Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. All of this matters to WWE '13 because in addition to the current line-up of wrestlers and events, it also has an Attitude mode which takes you back in time to play through that late 90s period with 35 wrestlers such as Mankind and that era's The Rock.
A quick history lesson sets the scene for how WCW had made its comeback and now the WWF was fighting for survival against many of its own former stars such as Hulk Hogan. Then you play through matches and complete objectives to boost the TV ratings and help WWF regain its crown as the number one wrestling show.
The gameplay is very similar to that of WWE '12, with animations playing out as the wrestlers complete their moves before you have the opportunity to jump in and reverse your opponent's attack, launch one of your own or manoeuvre around. There are more than 40 different types of match to choose from including hell in a cell, battle royal and King of the Ring, offering every conceivable form of multiple tag team or one-on-one match. Creation mode offers thousands and different clothing combinations and then there's the online play too.
It's not big on innovation but it gives you more of everything that's good about WWE.
Little Big Planet Karting. PS3 (reviewed). Publisher: Sony. Rating: 7/10
Little Big Planet and its moons and satellites are under threat yet again – this time from the Hoard.
They're baddies who want to consume everything without creating anything in return and it's up to Sackboy, or Sackgirl to stop them. You begin by stealing one of their buggies and before you know it you're playing a Little Big Planet-based Mario Kart game.
You race around colourfully designed tracks, you pick up weapons and blast your opponents, you battle bosses and you complete challenges. You also have access to the LBP series' legendary creative possibilities. As you race you pick up objects which allow you to customise your car and your Sackperson to an incredible degree – and naturally you can create your own levels too.
Anyone who's played ModNation Racers will be familiar with the game's style but the karts of LBPK handle in a much more satisfactory manner and the customisation and sharing potential of LBP sets this latest instalment in the series apart from similar karting experiences. No moulds are broken here but it's a decent racer game.
Euro Truck Simulator 2. PC (reviewed). Publisher: Excalibur. Rating: 6/10
Operating your own haulage company or freelancing for an existing one, Euro Truck Simulator 2 gives you the opportunity to drive a selection of fully customisable trucks across the UK and on the Continent. The game includes Scania, MAN, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, DAF, Iveco and Volvo models, and they're all beautifully detailed right down to the cab interiors.
Whether you're paid a salary or you're working on your own, the best part of the game is taking to the open road and enjoying the relaxing drive to your next destination. The scenery is lovely, particularly once you're abroad and although the computer controlled drivers around you can sometimes behave in an unpredictable if not downright bizarre fashion, this isn't too far from the real world situations you might encounter on motorways if you use them often enough.
Once you get where you're going, you can opt to complete the job there and then or park the truck – which takes a considerable degree of driving skills – earning more experience points. You can even customise your trucks with additional lights, fancy paintwork and more. Euro Truck Simulator 2 will appeal primarily to truck fans but it's no less enjoyable for that.