Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami || Overall: 7.6/10

The scene opens up with a tavern. A man with a patch over his eye and a pony tail walks into the noisy building from the cold night with a shorter companion by his side. The companion, shrouded in a cloak and with her face hidden simply follows the man. Across the way from the entrance of the tavern, a red-haired adventurer, named Adol, is sitting down with a friend of his. The man with the patch over his eye goes over to Adol, and asks him to accompany him on an exploration around the world. Just then, two soldiers come in, looking for the “red-haired Adol” wanting to arrest him! I don’t want to give away the crappiness of the introduction of the story to Ys: Ark of the Napishtim, so I’ll fast forward to my summary of the opening part of the story; the beginning of the story of Ys: Ark of the Napishtim is trash.

It’s not often that I exclaim obscenities when trying to understand what is trying to be conveyed, but it seems like the beginning of the story was tossed together as an afterthought. The beginning movie is pretty much the only movie the game has for the most part, and it’s badly voice acted. Though there were some very nice graphics exhibited, I counted about three instances of fan service, in which the underwear of the annoying-peppy-blonde-girl character that has some sort of crush (I’m guessing) on Adol is shown. They really know how to pack that kind of thing in. Had I rented the game, the beginning movie alone would make me seriously contemplate whether or not I should return it sooner than I had intended. However, what really saves this game from getting a horrible score is the game-play, and the story later on in the game actually helps it, as well (but after being in the gutter from the beginning, there’s nowhere to go but up, and the bad taste of a poorly set up story always lingers).

I would have to say what the main point of the game would be that it tries to pull off an “old-school” approach to gaming. Ys: The Ark of Napishtim seeks to accomplish this by having relatively simple controls, as well as old-style (but not completely crappy-looking) graphics, a silent main character, and the story itself just being set in a fantasy world (more specifically, the world of Ys, where all the games in the series has taken place). However, because of this “old-school” approach encased in the game, there are many enhancements over the games from back in the day. In Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, every single word displayed as dialogue from a character has a voice-over and rightly so. Every character, even the unimportant characters in a town you find in a back alley will have a voiced dialogue. The voice acting isn’t half bad, and everyone talks except for Adol himself. You’re just supposed to assume what he says by the one-sided conversations people have with him. However, there are a few instances (I think about ten times) where it says Adol “explains to (character) everything that has happened so far.” So, you’ll just have to assume that Adol tells them every single little part of the journey you had just been on, down to how many slime creatures you killed on the way over to see them. The only downfall with the voice acting is that there are a couple of very annoying characters (such as Professor Raba who talks in an over-exaggeratingly old-man’s voice), and that you can tell that there were only a few voice actors doing the voices for all the different characters.

At various times throughout the story you will meet characters (like Professor Raba) whom have met Adol in the past or have known him through his “legend” or whatever it is. I don’t even know what it is, because it made no sense to me when they talked about “when we were at the Tower of Whatshisface” or “you may not recognize me now since I’ve grown into a beautiful woman” and many other instances of back-story that are never actually explained. It was only until I researched the game a little bit online that I found out that this is the sixth game in the series. So it makes some sense as to why it came up repeatedly about people, places and events that seem to be completely random after knowing this fact. Even though it isn’t very important to the story of THIS game, it would have been nice to actually understand what they were talking about.

Story faults aside, the actual game that is inside Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is interesting to say the least. The main feature of the battle system is that there are three different elemental swords (wind, fire, and electricity). It’s up to you to use the swords to your liking, constantly “upgrading” them by collecting enough stones called “Emelas” (or Emel) so that you can use each sword’s special ability more often, or acquire the unique skill attached to the sword. Even though having three elemental swords implies (to me, at least) that there would be enemies that are immune to one sword but not another (forcing you to use the right sword to kill them), you will find this to not be the case for the most part. For how much the game relies on these three swords, it comes out to being which sword you fancy using the most. There are times where you can notice an increase in damage from one sword over another for a particular enemy, but all-in-all the swords were not used to create much of a type of strategy for playing the game. If it weren’t for the story actually requiring there be three swords, it would have been better to just have one sword with a bunch of different abilities. Other kinds of items in the backend system add to the game-play as well.

Unlike most RPGs, there aren’t hundreds of things to collect, rather just a few accessories, pieces of armor, items, event tools, and other such things that are somewhat rare. It gets to the point that it almost influences you to really look for as many items as you can and buy all the items you can. There are a lot of unique accessories to collect throughout the game that will make a big impact on the game itself, such as an accessory that will increase your HP by 50% or another that will increase your attack and defense a little bit. There are also EXP, Emel, and money enhancers so that you can milk out the highest amount of things from every enemy you beat. While you only start out with one accessory holder, you can find more throughout the dungeons, up to a total of five slots for accessories.

Like I said earlier, the whole game itself is very simple and the learning curve isn’t that long at all, and you’ll be able to master the fighting aspect of the game in no time, since the only button you really press is “Square.” Sometimes you press the “Circle” button to use a magic attack associated with the sword you’re using, but this is basically all that you do to fight. The “Square” button is also used to talk to townspeople and investigate treasure chests.

Although the game is pretty easy to learn and get into (playing-wise), there are a couple of annoyances here and there. A minor annoyance is that when you’re in the field or a dungeon, there is no on-screen map to help you find where you are in reference to the place you actually are at currently. So if you’re in a dark cave that is pretty much a maze, you might end up going in a circle or not remember how to get back to a particular part of the dungeon you had been to before but died in. However, the most annoying thing about the game is the bosses.

In all my years of playing video games, I have never seen such cheap, stupid bosses that literally make me throw my hands into the air and say “how do I beat this stupid freakin’ boss?” I understand that boss battles are an important part of any game, but these bosses are, for the most part, so out of place and so over the top in terms of what they can do to kill you that it’s practically amazing that I even beat some of them. Just to tell you what kinds of bosses you have to deal with, you fight a wall. You fight a wall with big, long, skinny, rock arms and a face that can launch flowers that blow up and shoot a large energy beam from its mouth, while swinging around the arms and slamming them on the ground so that rocks can fall from the sky to fall on top of you. If that’s not crazy enough for you, how about a big frog that can roll up into a bowling ball, crap out slime that makes you slide around, as well as use its tongue as a spiked-ball mace? Oh wait, I forgot to tell you that the frog has STEALTH CAMOUFLAGE – it can seemingly disappear! Even if you have the greatest skills in the world at playing this game, you will not beat any boss if you’re not at the right level. A general rule about boss battles is if you haven’t beat a boss after fifteen tries, level up at least five or ten levels, and you’ll see that the boss is all of a sudden a lot easier than they had been before. However, regardless of whether you’re even at the right level, it may take a couple of deaths to get a hang of what the boss actually does. You really can’t expect the things they pull out of the air when it comes to the boss’s abilities. Just when you think you figure out a boss, it surprises you with a new ability it hadn’t used the first time you faced it.

Regardless of all that has been said about the game, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is a game that really grows on you. One may be displeased by the out-of-the-ordinary old-style graphics incorporated in the game or even the weird set-up for an underwhelming story full of references to past games in the series, but for those who suck it up and go on to actually try and complete the game, you’ll find the game to actually be fun, and actually get caught up in the story a bit. Being a title that is priced less than a “premium” title definitely may influence some people to pick up the game, especially if they are fans of the series (whom haven’t had a Ys game brought to North America since the Super Nintendo days). Even though the game doesn’t take very long to finish, you may end up spending around 20-25 hours on the game as a whole. For those that actually venture far enough as to beat the game, there are a few extras included in the game, which affect game play, audio, visuals, and other things that can be activated by entering the cheat code before playing a new game. In the end, however, Ys: The Ark of Napishtim may only appeal to fans of the series.

 

Star Ocean: Till The End of Time (PS2) Review

Developer: Tri-Ace / Publisher: Square Enix || Overall: 8.8/10

As a trend, there only seems to be one Star Ocean game made every generation. The first Star Ocean was released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and the second Star Ocean was released on the original PlayStation (PSOne). Through its unique battle system, interesting storyline, and immense item system, the Star Ocean series has gained quite a following. Originally an Enix-published game, the Star Ocean series’ third installment shows nothing but improvement after the merging of Squaresoft and Enix, largely due to the fact that Tri-Ace develops the game. The series has been revamped and improved to above and beyond what its predecessors had even dreamed to accomplish.

What really sets the Star Ocean games apart from all of its competitors are, instead of the turn-based system, real-time battles in a 3-D setting while mixing in traditional RPG elements. What also sets the Star Ocean series apart from others is that its storyline is science-fiction, one you rarely see in the RPG genre. No game in the Star Ocean series pulls off what Star Ocean is known for better than Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Amazingly fun real-time battles, an overwhelming yet very fascinating story, and unique characters makes Star Ocean: Till the End of Time an amazing game and an unforgettable experience all at the same time.

Taking place in space itself, and on many different planets, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time creates a grandiose experience as you delve into the story visiting vastly different places that could only be experienced in a science fiction story. For at least half of the game, however, you will spend all of your time on one particular “primitive” planet that is in a state of war. Even though this major detour from the overall story may seem as something that the game could have done without, certain elements of the game are progressively introduced while on the planet, allowing the player to also get used to the battle system, learn a little bit more about the overall story and actually build an interest in whether or not the main characters of the story will make a difference in the escalating war. The “sub-story” on the planet ends up taking an important place in the overall story, so it doesn’t seem like it’s a total waste of time.

Included within the game is extra information that allows the player to further involve themselves in the universe of the Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, in a dictionary that adds words automatically whenever you run across information. The dictionary adds a lot of depth to the game and you begin to create an overall picture of the kind of universe Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is like. To fully understand the dictionary though, you may have to take a course in Physics, as many scientific terms are used, and even though they are explained in the game itself, you would still have a better understanding if you took a class. Something you can really appreciate with the game is that much of the information is actually believable as to how things work, and you can tell that the game developers did their homework when it came to the specifics of Astronomy and Physics in their dictionary terms, and in-game references to the topics. The extra effort of Tri-Ace adds to the believability and possibility for the events in the game as they unfold.

The actual story starts out when a teenage boy named Fayt is vacationing with his parents and a childhood friend named Sophia. While on the planet, the current state of the universe that is known about is explained, as well as just starting to learn how to use the battle system. You also learn of Fayt’s personal life a little bit and who he knows and holds dear to his heart, most namely his father, mother, and Sophia. This is all fine and dandy to begin with, because no conflict is actually introduced except for the fact that the Earth-founded Pangalactic Federation (which is more or less an alliance of many planets with many species) is in a seemingly everlasting war against another superpower named the Aldian Empire. When the planet Fayt is on is attacked by a third party, named the Vendeeni, this is where the true conflict in the game really begins. For a long time you will be kept in the dark about why the Vendeeni came to attack the planet Fayt was vacationing on, but when you’re finally told why they did it, the story begins to get even more interesting. As the story progresses, it gets better and better.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has a fun and involving real-time battle system, and this is where the game really shines. The real-time battle system is one of the most fun battle-systems ever created. Instead of a strict turn-based game, you take full control of your character, and, along with your other allies, beat the crap out of your enemies as fast and as hard as you can without taking too much of a toll on your characters.

Your character’s stats in battle rely on three different types of gauges: HP (Hit Points), MP (Mental Points), and Fury (a percentage that dictates how many moves you’re able to conduct before recharging. Some attacks take up more Fury than others). To succeed in the battles of the game, it would be wise to keep your HP and MP as high as you can, and conserve Fury enough so that you’re able to use your attacks effectively. Unlike most games, when your MP gauge is completely depleted, the character becomes knocked out. This adds to the strategy of your moves and being able to use the time you have to keep yourself and your allies from knocking out.

As your characters level up you can learn new abilities that will have to be used if you even want to have a chance at defeating some of the later enemies in the game, and learn how to use them effectively. When you use special abilities (depending on the kind of ability) it will take away HP, MP, or both. The amount use is usually not very significant, but when used without moderation, it can create difficulties for future battles. During battle, every attack used takes away a percentage from the Fury gauge, dictating how many times you’re able to conduct attacks in a string or other moves without recharging for a bit. The consideration of conserving Fury when you can during fast-paced battles becomes a part of the game’s challenge. Simply being able to mash the buttons on your controller won’t get you too far, as you will really have to know what you’re doing to progress in the game. The real-time battling also creates the challenge of keeping an eye on your allies, as well as trying to defeat the enemies you’re facing. How you actually play becomes paramount to winning battles, rather than just simply leveling up.

The faults of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time comes in how the story is formulated in certain aspects as well as how it’s delivered. Too often do you see unneeded parts of story that just seem like its fluff and not really even that interesting or important to the overall story. Most of the “fluff” stems off from playing as a character that comes off as fairly flat and not very well characterized. The “fluff” seems more like a failed attempt to truly characterize the main character. The same sort of feeling rubs off on some other characters, but the main character Fayt suffers the most from this sort of characterization flaw. There are other very unique characters in the game however, most notably being Cliff, Nel, Albel and even the little kid Roger (who seems to just be a comic relief character). There are other recurring characters that are not playable, and still take an important impact on the game’s storyline that are somewhat more interesting than Fayt. Adding to the “flatness” of Fayt’s character is really the voice acting for the character. It seemed to me, at least, that the voice actor had something to be desired in the acting, and really the dialogue in certain cases across different parts of the game needed some improvement. However, for the most part, the voice acting is a very good part about the game. At times, the music or sound effects in the background shrouds the dialogue being spoken, or take away from the concentration of listening to what characters are saying. On a side note, fans of the sci-fi RPG Xenosaga Episode I will also notice familiar voices in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time that were in Xenosaga Episode I. Quite a few of the voice actors who were in Xenosaga Episode I also worked as voice actors in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. This may or may not be a good thing, but I don’t feel it matters to the overall quality of the game at all. Another fault of how the story was formulated is that through the first disc of the game there wasn’t enough space-oriented things, and you spent the vast majority of the time on a primitive planet fighting with swords and dealing with dragons and things that had to do with the planet you were on, and didn’t really have a whole lot to do with the main overall story other than the fact that Fayt is there and things happen there because he was.

On how the game actually looks and sounds like, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is not the absolute best you’re going to find nowadays, but all the graphics are definitely smooth, and during the movies, very polished and very nice. There are a lot of space ship battle scenes that are shown throughout the game as well, and if you’re interested in the whole sci-fi scene you’ll appreciate the kinds of ships and action sequences concerning them. Music takes a weird place in the game, because even though a lot of music actually goes with the mood of the game, there are instances where there’s all of a sudden a rock song that doesn’t mix in with anything about the game. I have to say that this is the first RPG where I have seen flat out rock music with guitars and drums playing during the “exploring” parts of the game (though its not too bad in itself). It seems so out of place to me, considering that the battle music, background music during dialogue and all the other kinds of music used do not have the same kind of genre of music at all. It also depends on what planet you’re on, as the music arrangement changes for the most part, and there is different music being played during “exploring” parts later on in the game.

Another part about the game is the Invention System. This is more overly an optional part of the game you don’t have to participate in, but you are given the ability to create items to be sold in shops by patenting them. Items created by you or items created by other inventors will help you out on your quest by being able to buy better weapons and items that are better than the ones you usually used beforehand. Just the sheer amount of items that can be created is astounding, and actually fairly overwhelming. The part some people may like about it though is that because there are so many items to create, you’ll always be trying to create a new item that hasn’t been patented yet, if you so dared to actually care enough about it. Creating your own inventions is entirely optional, and you really don’t even have to make any inventions at all, but it is an extra part of the game that utilizes the massive amount of items that have always been included in the Star Ocean games.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time displays a very good mix of all the elements an RPG should have, and taking a different approach at the whole genre by its use of real-time battles as its battle system. The amazingly fast-paced and challenging battles are something to be reveled, especially when it comes to how much the game has improved upon its predecessor. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is definitely an excellent game to have, if you enjoy RPGs or enjoy Action games, as it is a unique experience all-around.

 

Civilization III Complete (PC) Review

Developer: Firaxis Games / Publisher: Atari Inc. || Overall: 9/10

Sid Meier’s Civilization III: Complete is the latest installment of the Civilization franchise. Cvilization III: Complete is the complete set of Civilization III and its two expansions, Play the World and Conquests. Civilization III: Complete places you in a randomized world (after selecting which race of people you’d like to be) with up to seven other races to trade, negotiate and have wars with. The game includes ancient civilizations such as the Rome, Egypt, and Babylon, as well as those in the modern world, such as Americans, Russians, and the British. The ultimate goal of Civ3 is to progress your race of people and complete at least one of pre-set winning objectives that are set before the game starts. A unique characteristic of Civ3 is that each time you play the game from the start, you’ll encounter a scenario that is completely different from the last time. Events in the game never occur in the same order, and some seen previously may not be encountered at all a second time through. Every new game you start will be a new experience, with events happening in different orders or not even at all. You play a whole new game every time you start one.

Major enhancements to Civ3 from Civ2 are everywhere. Almost every part of the game has been revamped and updated from Civ2, from upgrading the graphics to adding more game play options that make Civ3 have more realism and variety than Civ2. Civ3 has more types of governments, units, unique resources, improvements, difficulty levels and much more that make this the best Civilization game in the series, still holding true to what the series has come to be known as. At first glance, the game is exactly the same as the other Civilization games, which is good, but once you start playing the game more, you begin to notice all the enhancements and improvements that really make for a better all-around experience when playing than any of the other Civilization games.

When you want to start a new game, you get many options to customize the kind of game you want to play. You can choose if the world you live in has small or huge oceans, a Pangaea, how many races (players) are in the game, winning conditions, difficulty and other slight adjustments that make for a wide variety of unique games and styles. You can tune the game to your own abilities, if you’re just starting out, to make the game play at its easiest level, and choose a lesser amount of races to be in the world. If you don’t want to mess around with all the options of making a new game, however, there is a “quick start” option on the menu screen that puts you right into a new world, randomizing everything and playing in a world that is randomly selected/created by your computer.

The vast customization allows for even the newest player to slowly get into the game and learn all of its inner workings through immense trial and error. Throughout the whole game, you can always refer to the “Civilopedia,” so if you don’t understand what a particular thing does; you can read a tutorial-like in-game supplement that helps you learn about whatever you may have questions for. The “Civilopedia” included in the game is very useful, as the learning curve on this game is huge, if you’re just starting out with the series. You will be spending a lot of time trying to figure out everything that makes the game work.

Civ3, being a turn-based game, allows for you to move all your units and take as much time as you like to plan out your moves. The downfall of this, however, is that later in the game when you have many units and cities on the map that you have to command/watch move, the relatively short turns that are seen in the beginning are virtually non-existent. You could sit at your computer for five whole minutes watching units move and not even be able to do anything. So, you could go grab a snack, or have tea with your neighbors while you’re waiting for the excruciatingly long times for your turns to take place. Another thing is, is that you can’t press escape or do anything AT ALL while you’re waiting for your turn to go by. So, it may be hard to remember that you have to fix a city’s problem, or if you need to save and quit the game because you have to go somewhere, as you’re going to have to wait until a unit is waiting for you to tell it what to do or if the turn ends. All in all, this is the most annoying part of the game, and literally will plague all games inevitably (especially in longer games), unless you go into the preferences and change it so you don’t see the full length of all your turns, but then you won’t be able to keep track of what all your units are doing and you may not want a unit to still be doing something. Even though I’m glad that they have a preference allowing you to change the length of time you have to wait for your turn to be over, you are then at the disadvantage of not knowing what things had actually taken place.

When you are first placed into a new world, you’re usually given three “advancements” for your society based on what race you picked. Each race has pre-determined characteristics that have been dictated by the developer’s who look at each race independently and see what profiles fit them best. A race could be scientific, commercial, militaristic, etc. There are usually two or three characteristics for each race, and different advancements are usually given to races depending on actual historical records/observations. Every race is given the abilities of agriculture and road building, so that the society can develop. Because there are so many little parts to the game, it would take an absorbent amount of space to actually describe all the technical things that you do, but you should just keep in mind that what you do is basically further your particular civilization by creating more and more cities and building improvements within and around those cities.

You also have to protect your cities with armed units against barbarians or other computer players that have been placed on the map. As you research more and more, you are able to build more things within each city, including buildings and units, and advance your society through different “ages,” them being Acient Times, Industrial Ages and Modern Ages. To achieve a new societal “upgrade,” as it were, you need to research all the particular things needed to research before going on to the next “age.” This is a huge premise of the game, as vital things that have impacted the growth of our own societies also take place in the game. Throughout the game, you will be negotiating with your foes, acquiring and securing resources, and getting as much land and population as you can so that you can win in the end, while using the important societal upgrades to your advantage.

Single games can take a very long time, depending on how many races and maximum turns there are, which makes the actual length of a game vary. It can get boring however, doing the same basic thing over and over. But, thanks to the inclusion of many different types of play, Civ3 will keep any world history enthusiast (or Civilization-enthusiast) busy for long hours, such as “situational” maps (like the Rise of Rome, or fighting World War II, as well as being on any side you want) and online multiplayer, there is really an
endless amount of playing to be had. A problem that I have seen with the “situational” maps is that they try to play like an RTS (Real Time Strategy) game, when it is a turn-based game, with a large amount of units needing to be moved in the same general direction, and having to tell each of them where to move/attack independently (for the most part). This tends to make it a lot more boring than it actually should be, even though it’s historically accurate.

Civilization III: Complete is a game that’s definitely not for everyone, however. Civ3 is not the most exciting game, nor is it a really fun game, but what makes it so good is how it is a very high-quality and interesting representation of how real life civilizations began and progress today. Not to say you won’t have fun playing this kind of game (depending on what genres you prefer), but Civ3 is really for those who understand enough about history and take an interest in workings of society and ancient/modern civilization.

 

Supernova: Galactic Wars (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Winter Wolves || Overall: 4.5/10

Space. Never mind how we got there, but do mind that there are two warring factions: the Blood Legion and the Blue Army. Now I don’t exactly know whose army the Blue Army is, but I’m sure they could’ve made up a better name than the Blue Army for their army.

SuperNova: Galactic Wars is a mediocre representation of a form of “galactic chess” which tries to toss in some sort of strategy, and “arcade fun” with real-time battles. However, the end package ends up becoming something not worth too much of your time, nor will it even take up that much on the other hand either.

Graphics: What is that? Oh, It’s a spaceship…I think…
In terms of graphics, the game’s menu screens have more detail than the amount of detail in-game ships have. Graphics are not that good at all, but still manage to get the job done without having any bad memories of it. Everything is smooth for the most part, but there isn’t any animation to really speak of except for lasers going in a straight line and a picture of a missile moving around, or a ship glowing with a shield. The game boasts no lag time, however.

Music: This is a one song soundtrack
When it comes to sound, it is not noticeable at all except during the menu screen. The music is pretty boring, and doesn’t exactly fulfill much more than being a fill-in for the sake of something actually being there. I’m pretty sure that the same song is used repeatedly through the whole game in all the different situations you go through.

Galactic Chess, a wonderful premise! Not really…
The whole premise of the game is that there’s a blue team and a red team, and they’re fighting. Each side has unique ships, in different classifications, such as scout, cruiser, battleship, and interceptor. Each side has their own repertoire of ships to boast, each with somewhat cool names and somewhat cool designs. You will notice by playing the game that each side have ships mostly named after a classification of certain things that have some sort of relation with another. A few of the Blue Army’s ship names are Tornado, Shark, Dolphin, Stinger, Scarab, Eagle, and Arrow, while the Blood Legion’s ships are named Spinner, Ogre, Crab, Panthera, Turtle and Lightning.

It is pretty obvious what each ship’s counterparts are, by the kind of weaponry they use. This is simply because of balance issues, and either side really doesn’t have much more to offer over the other side, other than just a variety in the style of ships and what each weapon may be paired with. There are a few unique weapons to particular ships, but these will have counterparts as well. The best part about this game is the pure variety of the ships that have been included in the game for each side.

While not totally boring, SuperNova does deliver a somewhat amusing experience with the real-time battles that can only be accurately described as an Asteroids-type of game, except there is another ship that you duel with. However, the whole game isn’t exactly like this. You play a form of Chess on a map with a bunch of hexagonal spaces that are occupied by your ships and your opponent’s ships. You are usually on one side while your opponents are on the other.

The game is based around turns when it comes to how the game is structured. You are allowed to make only one action during your turn before you give your opponent a chance to do something. Every turn you get to move, repair, or buy a new ship. Different challenges are given that make you have to use your turns wisely, or else you’ll fail the mission.

While you’re in Chess board mode, you can spend “credits” to repair ships that have been dealt damage during the real-time battles, or buy new ships. New ships can only be bought when one of your ships are occupying a planet, with the most basic ship costing ten credits (each ship above it costing ten more). When you have a ship occupying a “Gaia” you acquire credits depending on the planets wealth. You also acquire credits during real-time battles, as they’re just pieces of different colored (and valued) gook flying around on the game screen.

To enter a real-time battle from the Chess board mode, a ship must land on top of a square that has another ship from the opposing army on it. As I said before, this mode is most closely described as an Asteroids-type of game where you duel with an enemy instead. Though you may not actually get much frustration out of it unless you adjust the computer’s difficulty really high, it is not a very involving feature of the game, nor is anything else about the game once you think about it. In the real-time battle screen, you’re presented a map of the area you’re allowed to fight in (I say allow because there’s a wall surrounding it), randomly flying around asteroids and rocks, and gook credit things. You fly around shooting things and that’s basically it. You can acquire power ups by destroying the asteroids and fight your opponent. Fighting your opponent becomes very annoying and long because it is not too much fun at all. Its so much easier if you are able to just ram into your opponent, and destroy it like that instead of using your guns. Unless of course your opponent has more hit points left, then you would use more than one of your ships to kill it.

In terms of actually playing the game, that is all that the game has to offer.

Story? What story?
Unfortunately, there is a very boring story mode in which you have no actual reason for fighting the other side other than the fact that you’re trying to do something and they’re not allowing you to do it. The “story” is delivered through text, and you only see one person representing the other side. The graphics used to make the people are actually nice, but that’s probably because the rest of the game is pretty much crap.

There are about ten missions you have to go through, each forcing you to exhibit some sort of strategy (or make you retry the level over and over until you get lucky), which ends up being not very hard to figure out at all. Once you actually beat the game you get nothing more than a “congratulations, you helped us out” sort of thing, and that’s about it. No extras, no real incentive for ever playing the game again after beating it for each side. Sure there’s the “quick battle” option but its just the same boring game again.

Though there are two campaigns you can go on, one for each side (each with different stories), it will not take you that long to complete either campaign. It took me a little under an hour to complete the Blue Army’s campaign, and half of the Blood Legion’s.

Overall Thoughts
SuperNova: Galactic Wars should not mislead you into thinking there is more than one war. There is only one war, and it’s extremely sad, intensely boring, and not worth your time at all. One would think that the game’s price tag of $19.95 (online) would be comparable to paying a hundred dollars for a new pair of underwear. Once you play this game, you won’t go back to it, as it has nothing more to offer you other than a semi-hot-looking Queen of the Blood Legion that gives you orders to kill the blue guys on the map.

 

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2) Review

Developer: Rockstar North / Publisher: Rockstar Games || Overall: 9.6/10

It’s arguable that no gaming series in recent history has had an effect on the gaming world as much as Grand Theft Auto. By giving players the option to do a number of different things outside of the linearity of the game’s story, there’s just an incredible sense of freedom found in GTA. This carries over to the newest game in the series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, maybe more so than any previous game. It expands on things to do and the realism of it all by an incredible amount.

The story of the game itself starts when the main character CJ comes back into San Andreas from Liberty City because his mother died. He gets in a taxi to go home, but is pulled over by Officer Tenpenney (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and his team of corrupt cops the moment he gets back into Los Santos. When he finally gets back to his home neighborhood, CJ (voiced by rapper Young Maylay) finds out the streets his gang once ruled have been lost, and the gang itself in shambles. His crew shows distrust towards him since he went to Liberty City instead of staying in Los Santos. Once part of the gang, he is viewed as an outsider since he doesn’t fully understand what happened before his return.

Jacking Cars and Living Life as a Criminal Has Never Been So Fun
San Andreas introduces an amazing amount of new terrains to a huge world containing three massive cities. In the game, you’ll see country sides, dirt tracks, woodlands/forests, and deserts. However, these are just among the many additions the game includes. Gameplay features such as gang wars, pimping, burglary, physical conditioning, and having abilities improve in a (more or less) traditional RPG style are just some of the many things that have improved and expanded in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The enhancements and additions seem to make a list a mile long. It is truly amazing to experience how many new things have been added.

The main cities in the game all mimic actual places in real life and how they look. Los Santos is the equivalent of Los Angeles, San Fierro is the equivalent of San Francisco, and Las Venturas is the equivalent of Las Vegas (complete with casinos of all types). Being from California, I’ve been to all three real cities and live near Los Angeles. First hand, I can say that everything is closely replicated to the styles of housing and how things actually look. There are even some noticeable structures that may not be important to someone who doesn’t live in the area, but is easily recognizable to someone who does. The same holds true for the other GTA games, as people who live in or around the city(s) copied will notice those minute details.

Through the first part of the game, most of the missions you do will exhibit one new improvement or addition Rockstar has made to GTA: San Andreas. Some missions teach you basic skills that have already been introduced in the series, like when they show you how to drive a car while doing a drive-by. More often than not, however you will learn something new that has been added to the game. A difference that is immediately noticed is as you travel around town, rival gang members will all of a sudden start shooting you. This forces you to find a different way around to your destination, since you’re trying to avoid them, thus adding to the difficulty of the game. If you’re in a car, they could possibly pop one of your tires during the attack.

Though everyone knows who CJ is already, if you want to attract even more attention from your rival gangs you can wear your gang’s colors. This increases the respect you have among your gang as well, though it’s a trade off. In the long run, respect is a lot more important among your gang than worrying about heat from other gangs.

The game play itself has been tweaked just enough to make it better than its forerunners. Using some of the ideas from Rockstar’s Manhunt, the targeting system has been improved. Also, some techniques that have never been used in this series before, like stealth, are used throughout the game.

Instead of just being thrown into the game with a basic set abilities and no way to improve them (like previous game’s in the series), San Andreas features an “RPG-like” level up trait increases your stats as you gain more experience from actually performing many of the game’s actions.. For example, the more you drive, the higher your skill gets, and your lung capacity skill will increase as you dive underwater more. The same method applies for muscle, weapon skills, respect, cycling skill, motorcycle skill, stamina, and a few others. It isn’t very expansive, but it is a nice addition to the game, and you will begin to notice slight changes in how well you handle your car or beat someone’s ass using your bare fists with fewer strikes than before.

To build up your muscle, stamina, and learn some new abilities to use in melee fighting, there is a gym in each city that you can use. As you advance to new cities, you are able to train at the more advanced facilities in each progressing city. Eventually, when you kick the “master” of the gym’s ass, they will teach you their fighting style, thus learning newer advanced fighting styles that you can use when you’re locked onto someone in addition to another style of melee attacks. This is a new addition to the series, as before, you only had one set of melee moves. Of the possible fighting styles you can train to learn, there is boxing, karate, and “dirty.” You don’t switch between the styles on the fly, but you are able to use the fighting ability of the master you had last won against, so you’re able to keep your favorite style.

Some Improvements Become Problems

There are only a few nuisances that I’ve noticed throughout the game, but they’ve appeared in the other GTA games as well. There are only one or two new problems I have noticed that are unique to San Andreas. It’s hard to see how much ammo you have left for the particular gun you have equipped, because the font for the counter is so small. You can estimate how much ammo you may have by counting how many digits you have in your reserve, in regards to whether there are two, three, or four digits for your reserve count. If you have four, you probably don’t have to worry about the count. When this actually affects the game play, is when you’re down to your last few shots, and you don’t know how much you have to conserve.

The load times experienced in other GTA games had as you traveled to different cities have been totally done away with. The game will continuously load any new area you go to as you are going there. The only problem with this however, is that you may notice that the details of particular buildings will not load that fast, especially if you’re going into a new area. This makes it seem less realistic. Sometimes if you look off into the distance, you will see nothing, and then a building pop in out of nowhere. This can also affect the game play at times, like when you’re trying to follow someone that is far away. They’ll disappear and you can’t see where they go. There’s also the annoyance of having the game pause for a few seconds to load a new area you’re going into if you get there too fast (like if you’re driving really fast in a car). There are other times where there is slowdown, but not very often. For the most part, the game loads well, and shows improvement over the other GTA games. The only “real” load times are before missions.

Gangsta’s Paradise (Not the Coolio Song.)
The music featured in the game is made up of 90’s music, as well as a few classic tunes from before that period. Most genres are covered, including alternative rock, classic rock, 90’s rap/hip-hop, classic hip-hop/rap, house, funk, country, dub/reggae, soul, and the ever-popular talk radio. The music makes the game feel as if you’re really in the 90’s.

The game’s voice acting has a quality comparable to Vice City’s, though by no means is this bad. The dialogue stays true to the atmosphere of the game, so players should be sure to expect a load of swearing. It’s safe to say that this game isn’t for those offended by language, as San Andreas uses swearing a lot more freely than any of the other Grand Theft Auto games. Also, the cast of celebrities providing the voiceovers is the series’ most prolific to date, including the already mentioned Samuel L. Jackson and Young Maylay, as well as others like comedian David Cross, Ice T, James Woods, amongst a few others. The auditory in San Andreas is exactly what should be expected from the series, a game with an awesome soundtrack and high profile celebrity voice acting.

More of the Same, Visually
Visually, San Andreas doesn’t look that much different than Vice City, but a few things do look noticeably better. The most obvious enhancement visually is the improvement of how the cars look. The cars can now be modded to fit your likes, from nitrous to hydraulics to having a different style hood. Nothing is better than driving a pink taxi with a spoiler, nitrous boost and hydraulics that is taking people to their destination in the Taxi Mission game.

There are other visual effect changes that have been made in San Andreas, as well. For instance, the rain that had once been very visible in Vice City is now more like a light drizzle. Granted, it doesn’t rain nearly as heavy in San Andreas as it does in Vice City, but it can be hard to tell if it’s even raining. Having the effect of rain splattering against the screen in Vice City has been dropped in San Andreas, since it actually impaired your vision while playing. There is now fog/smog depending on what city you’re in. This adds to the realism of GTA: San Andreas, as real weather conditions are replicated more accurately. Similar to arcade racing games, when you’re driving very fast, the area around you becomes blurred, adding to the feeling that you’re going fast.

Final Thoughts
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is without a doubt the best GTA to date. New challenges are exhibited in nearly every mission, and with a huge quantity of new improvements, additions, and challenges involving all the skills they provide you, this is one hell of a game. There is also a very involving story that keeps the game moving along, as it keeps you wondering how things will turn out and why things are happening. While the other Grand Theft Auto games still hold their own by being set in different cities and having distinctively different atmospheres (from being a mercenary in GTA3, to a part of the mob in Vice City), GTA: San Andreas manages to be unique, having the whole aura of the main character being completely different, making itself a definite must-have.

 

Jets’n’Guns (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rake In Grass || Overall: 9.0/10

Jets’n’Guns is a side-scrolling shooter, very similar to games like R-Type. Everything in the game, including its gameplay, graphics, music and nifty little innovations, make Jets’n’Guns one of the best space shooters I’ve ever played.

If you took World War II planes, equipped them with homing rockets, megaton bombs, and lots of other flashy weaponry and put them in outer space, you have Jets’n’Guns. This game is all about saving a professor named von Hamburger, and killing a huge force of Pirates (called the Xoxx), and occasional bug-type aliens (for about two levels), to save him.

Von Hamburger is more than just a scientist that makes a mean Teriyaki Hamburger. He helped the Xoxx’ Pirate leader/captain guy to create a huge cannon that has the potential to destroy the universe. Of course, it’s up to you to save the professor, kill the pirates, and kill the Pirate leader.

When you start out the game, you have a dinky little ship that has one gun on it. You don’t start out with much money to fool around with, as this is one ridiculously hard game. After losing about ten times on the normal difficulty setting, I set it down to the “easy” setting. Even though it was easier, it was still pretty damn hard.

Every level you progress to presents new challenges, different enemies, different areas, more weapons, and much more and as you advance, things get more frantic, forcing you to invest your money wisely. Luckily for the player, when we buy and then sell weapons back, we lose no money. This allows the player to experiment with weaponry and whether or not it’s better to buy a new weapon or upgrade an existing one. Once you get the better ship in the second level, you’re able to have three “front” weapons, one “bomb” weapon, one “missile” weapon, and one “rear” weapon. Jets’n’Guns is all about playing your cards right, and if you do so well enough, you’ll get through the game in good enough time and relative ease (unless you increase the difficulty).

When you actually play the game, you’re able to use your mouse or keyboard to control your jet. Until you upgrade your engine and wings, it will be much wiser to use the keyboard, as it will respond to your commands much better. The primary shooting button is the space bar, and will shoot all of your weapons except the bombs. Pressing the B key will unleash the weapon you have in your bombs slot to wreak havoc on those bastard pirates. The only thing that is confusing about these basic controls is that there is no tutorial of any kind to help you out with actually figuring out the basic controls. Later on, other keys are used (such as Shift, Z, and X) to utilize your other abilities.

Innovations that can be seen in this game come in a few ways.These are mostly put in affect when you buy special abilities. Purchasing an item called the “Rotary Cage” allows players to change the angle of your front weapons to shoot in about five different angles. This is very useful when enemies are at an angle and you otherwise can’t shoot at them. Another innovation comes with something called “RemCon.” During the game you can take control of special objects (like gates and trucks) and work them to your advantage. Most of the time, they’re done automatically, and you don’t have to do anything physically yourself except for being able to send your signal long enough to the particular object so you can hack into it and take control of it.

Graphics are nothing short of a spectacular light show you can enjoyably indulge yourself in. This game features some very polished off 3D animations, diverse weaponry, and hundreds of explosions every minute of play-time. Nothing in the game graphic-wise needs to be polished any more than it already is, as it shows that a lot of effort and creativity went into the process of making it. Especially for an independent company with a small budget, the graphics really impressed me. Even though they aren’t the absolute best in PC gaming nowadays, by any means, the graphics and enemy designs (which the game boasts to have more than 200 enemies) make this for one hell of an experience.

As if great gameplay, great graphics, and new innovations weren’t enough, a heavy metal band named Machinae Supremacy conducted the whole soundtrack. This makes for some really entertaining killing music as you mercilessly destroy hundreds of thousands of Pirates flying out of their spaceships after you blow it up, only to shoot them with your huge guns and have their blood and guts spray out across the screen. Each of the 21 levels have their own song, making for absolutely no redundancy in music choice, except when it came to the title screen, setup screen, and the game over screen. One mission that you invade a Pirate concert to kick some ass for no better reason other than because they were Pirates, the background music had vocals in it. It made it seem like you were at an actual concert.

The few faults this game actually has come with its story. The story itself is unimportant, as you could skip through it without any repercussions. Even though it was fleetingly interesting, it could have been better. Before each mission, you got a new set of “contacts” from which could be the annoying daughter of Von Hamburger, a six-eyed alien, or your general that seems to like to send you on solo missions all the time. If you ask me, there is no “force” of any type that the general has command over. You also get “bulletins” about convicts that can be turned in for a bounty. Another problem with the story came with the actual wording. Too often did I see simple words misspelled or grammar errors that could have been picked out by a fifth grader. However, where it loses ground in story definitely makes up for in random humor. I don’t know how they did it, but they made this game have at least one ridiculous joke per level, and weapon pictures as if they were advertisements in a magazine. You can get “25% off” on bombs or get a “free popular game” when you bought a plasma weapon. Through one of the levels I even saw a disk floating in the middle of ceiling, and next to it says “Universe Boot Up Disk – Use If Universe Needs to Be Rebooted” and integrated in the description, there was a Microsoft joke. It’s not that hard to find the random jokes, but they are easy to overlook. Even though the game is supposed to have at least some sort of seriousness to it, the random jokes don’t detract from this, as you will still feel inclined to kill as many stupid Pirates as you can. When you beat the game, you float through an asteroid field, similar to the ending of “The Neverending Story.” It’s hilarious, because you see the Crystal Palace floating in the background, and then you see the dog creature guy (his name escapes me at this moment) flying across the bottom of the screen with Bastian on his back.

Even though Jets’n’Guns is another game in a seemingly worn-out genre, it definitely breathes new life into side-scrolling-space-ship-shooting-an-endless-amount-of-oncoming-enemies type of games. The game becomes fairly addicting, as I have spent the past few days playing this until two o’clock in the morning because it’s that fun. When it comes to price I was actually surprised that it was only $19.95 (for download only) or $24.95 if you bought the CD to get shipped to your house (including download). I can think of equally priced games that are nowhere near as amazing as Jets’n’Guns, which is truly an enthralling experience.

 

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (PC) Review

Developer: BioWare Corp. / Publisher: LucasArts || Overall: 9.3/10

In recent years, Bioware has come to be a very well known company throughout the gaming industry, producing such great games as the Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, as well as MDK2. With the release of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox, Bioware had achieved even more fame, through its refreshingly new RPG taking place in the Star Wars universe well before the first episode in the Star Wars movie saga. When Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic finally was released on the PC, people without an Xbox (and even some with) got to experience the game in a whole new way.

From a gaming standpoint, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic offered more than just the expansive interaction in an older version of the Star Wars universe, but also gave the freedom of choosing whether or not you became good, evil, a woman, a man, a soldier, a scoundrel, and how many of these attributes you choose in building your character as. Not much unlike The Sims, you can also choose your character’s face, which have all different kinds of skin colors. Through the course of the game, what your characters have equipped will also reflect on their characters, adding another layer of customization to your character.

The graphics in the game are nothing very special in the broad spectrum of gaming nowadays; however, the excellent portrayal of how the different races in the Star Wars universe, the planets you travel to, and the immense amount of action happening at the same time, without lag, definitely makes an impact on the senses. When playing the game, you feel as if you are actually living in the Star Wars universe, and for some people, nothing could ever be better than just that. From Tusken Raiders to the Rancor, to evil smugglers always looking out for that extra Credit, your time spent in the time of the Old Republic will be a fantastic one, full of mystery, wonder, and enough things to do to make you stay for a very long time.

When you start a new game, you are able to chose one of three different kinds of initial profiles for your character, whether it be the male or female version. Throughout the whole game, you are able to customize your characters (skills-and-abilities-wise), or go along with what the game thinks you should devote all your enhancement points for. If you take your character’s skills and abilities growth into full control, you can pick from a wide spectrum of many abilities, and allocate the points to about eight different areas.

When you start out the game, you start out alone in your barracks, sleeping, when all of a sudden the ship you’re on gets attacked by the Sith. At this time, your shift-mate Trask, comes in and tells you the ship is being attacked. With a few background hints to the story, and directions on how to function in the game, you’re off and ready to battle. The whole first mission you’re on is basically a pre-training mission. Your actual training begins when you escape from the ship, and land on one of the most important planets in the galaxy, Taris. The whole time you’re on Taris, you’re looking for Bastila (the Jedi who was the commanding officer on the mission you were on), and trying to figure out a way to get off the socially horrible planet of Taris.

So, you may be asking “when do you actually BECOME a Jedi?” Well, after you get off of Taris, you’ll become a Jedi after the famous “Jedi training.” It’s a piece of cake on your part, as long as you have a piece of paper and something to write with, but it sure does look like your character uses a lot of his/her own energy to succeed at becoming a Jedi.

As you play more of the game, the story delivers its vast complexity very slowly, allowing you to immerse into one detail at a time. The main story behind the game, is that two former Jedi, Malak and Revan (Malak being the master, and Revan being the student), turn to the dark side when they find an artifact, disappear for many years, then come back with a huge amount of ships and an army bigger than the loosely-nit Republic army. The Jedi Order helps the Republic by trying to capture Malak and Revan, and that’s where Bastila defines her importance in the story. Bastila was the one that actually had Malak in a tight position and was about to defeat him, when Revan backstabbed Malak and killed him, to gain control of the entire Sith fleet and army. Through the whole game, you will do everything in your power to help Bastila defeat Revan and the evil Sith, or the exact opposite, depending on how you chose the events through the game.

“Enough about the story; how’s the game play?” As some of you may or may not know, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was first released on the Xbox. The transition from controller to keyboard/mouse control has been a very smooth one, as Knights of the Old Republic plays just like it was made for the PC, which it is. Amongst a few of the improvements over the Xbox version, many of the bugs had been kinked out, as well as a different interface for basic controls (such as getting items). When it comes to actual battles, the basics are still the same. When enemies are encountered, you’re able to plan out your characters’ actions, so they can take those actions in real-time fighting. Even though you’re not actively engaged in the battles (like an action/adventure), you’re still very much apart of the battle, directing what your characters should do, may it be a life or death decision. This is where Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic veers off from the normal turn-based RPG. This non-turn based engagement system eliminates the need for random battles, as groups of enemies wait in rooms or travel around the map waiting for you.

If item-collecting is your thing, rest-assured, there are many items to be collected in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. There are tons of different things to equip your characters with for each part of their body (including inside their skull), as well as many different types of medical items, weapons, and items to advance the story. The sheer wealth of things you can collect will make you cry when trying to find a certain item you want, or when you’re curious to know what you lost or gained (which happens quite frequently without knowing what is exchanged).

Unlike most games before the release of Knights of the Old Republic, the choices you make at every turn will directly or indirectly influence the development of the story of your character. Whether you chose to go the dark route or stay on the side of light is the ultimate test in this game. If you can make the right decisions and follow the Jedi code, it will be generally easy to stay on the light side. If you chose to be a complete ass, just to see what the reactions of everyone has been programmed with will be when you stab them in the backs. It may be tricky to act like you’re on their side when you’re really not.

As with any RPG, you get an assortment of colorful characters to become your allies in this crazy game. From Jedis to droids to mercenaries, the story will yet again be influenced by whom you keep yourself in the company with. They may make an “on-the-edge” situation into peace or an all-out-battle. If you keep a Jedi in your party, sometimes they will step in and “persuade” a character you’re talking to, into doing what you want them to do. It may seem to you that you would like to have everybody you’ve acquired to travel around with you at all times, but you’re only allowed to have two other allies with you, so depending on the situation you are about to face, you will have to take the allies that will be of more use to you.

And if this wasn’t enough, there are several mini-games and mini-quests that break up the straightforwardness of the main story. An additional “trading” world had been added in the PC version from the Xbox version. Here, you’re able to buy and trade for items that are very rare. If you’re able to take advantage of these items, they will help you immensely in the challenges you face ahead.

The amazingly immersive adventure you are taken through is one that will make you look at the Star Wars videogame series in a new light. If you think of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as the history behind the Star Wars movies, you will be able to make many connections and think up many possible theories about the story as a whole. And as if this wasn’t enough, there is a history to the history of the Star Wars series. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is simply the best Star Wars game to ever be made, and even after all I have told you, there is still so much to find and discover for yourself.

 

Halo: Combat Evolved (PC) Review

Developer: Bungie Games / Publisher: Microsoft Games Studio || Overall: 9.1/10

As an exclusive to the Xbox for about two years, Halo has found its way to the PC, and boy does it absolutely rule. Everything has made the transition from the Xbox title seamlessly, if not, better. With the PC version, there came the much wanted, needed, and not included in Halo for the Xbox…online multiplayer.

The online multiplayer Halo (PC) offers all the modes of regular multiplayer with the exception of the “Co-operative” mode for the campaign. If that’s what you love about Halo, then keep playing it on the XBOX, because, in all honesty, Co-Operative mode kind of sucks if you’re not in the same room with the person you’re playing with. There wouldn’t even be that much Co-Operativeness with someone you’re playing with online anyhow.

However, if you’ve never played Halo for the Xbox, and are very interested in buying it for the PC, you’ll probably not even understand too much of what I was talking about. Halo is a first person shooter. Within this game, you play the role of the character only referred to as the Master Chief. The Master Chief is the super elite commando guy that they keep in some freezer when they don’t need him. He’s probably best described as a cyborg. And he’s green.

So what do you do in Halo? Well, other than dying a million times by sniper shots from other people in multiplayer and trying to shoot back before you die, you kill aliens. So, what’s the big deal, you may ask? You can do that with pretty much any other science fiction first person shooting game can’t you? Well, the features that set Halo far apart from any of its counterparts are: advanced artificial intelligence, vehicles, and levels that usually have big mazes ending with equally-sized battles. Everything rolled into one makes for a very challenging, and fun, game.

The story in the single player campaign revolves mainly around the war between humans, the Covenant, a big object floating in space (aptly named Halo, where most of the game takes place), and a mysterious species called the Flood. Insanity and many many dead aliens ensue in this all-around amazing experience.

Graphics:
The graphics in Halo are going to push your computer’s hardware to the limit. Even if you put everything on the worst settings, you’d be lucky (unless you have a computer good enough for Halo to run well, by all means go crazy…) if it doesn’t lag during the really high action parts. The graphics in Halo look so good, it makes me want to cry. From the Xbox version, they’ve been touched up and smoothed out. However, since Halo is fairly aged, it does not look as good as Doom 3, and will have almost no comparison to its successor, Halo 2, in terms of graphics.

All the environments from single-player maps to multiplayer maps are beautiful. The designs of all the different locations you visit on Halo are very elaborate, and look very realistic (had those places actually existed). The weapons and explosions also look spectacular. The way they’re designed and animated makes it enjoyable to fill an alien full of lead or knock one out with the butt of your assault rifle.

Sound:
Everything sounds the same as the Xbox version. The dialogue scenes have been improved a little, because in the Xbox version, there were parts of the dialogue that was hard to hear, not being able to understand what they were saying. For the most part, this has been fixed. There are a lot of different sounds that help create the atmosphere of Halo. From machine guns and plasma guns to marines shouting in pain as they fly into the air, you’re going to feel almost overwhelmed trying to keep up with what’s going on.

Gameplay:
The game actually plays just like a normal first-person shooter game. There’s little that is actually different in terms of control. However, there are grenades, which add extra depth to the strategy you may use in the game. Two types of grenades are available for use – the normal “fragmentation” grenades, and the notoriously shiny blue “sticky” plasma grenades. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and can help during some very tight situations.

The single-player game takes a lot of different skills to get through successfully. During the first part of the game, you don’t usually come in and start blasting everything you see. You have to take thought in your actions, and remember where you’ve been, as well as try to figure out puzzles that are presented to you throughout the game. This changes around the half-way point of the game, however. When that comes around, there’s more action and fighting rather than trying to figure out puzzles along the way from Point A to Point B. The single player mode is very story driven, and as major events happen, it adds more to the “mystery” that is the structure called Halo.

The huge maps in the single player mode also provide for some very long levels, so you’re going to have to conserve your ammo, and try to get the least amount of hits as you can, as you don’t know when the next time you’ll be able to get more ammo or health packs to recover health. You’ll experience many varying terrains, such as mountains, islands, huge underground complexes, and snowed-in valleys. Every one of the different kinds of terrains is very detailed, such as the mountain levels, which are full of trees, rivers, and large boulders. Sometimes a level may start out as a mountain level, but feed into a large underground complex full of tunnels and caverns underneath the ground.

Other than Halo’s massive single player campaign, a very important part of the game is its multiplayer, more specifically, online multiplayer. There are many different types of multiplayer games you can play. Among the many game modes are:

Slayer – Normal multiplayer, in which you kill other players in a free-for-all.
Capture the Flag – Team based; you try to get the other teams flag and bring it back to your own base.
Race – Race around the multiplayer map…hooray…

An addition to Halo for the PC from the Xbox version is the Warthog with a Rocket Launcher on it. In the original, there was only a machine gun-mounted Warthog. Other vehicles making their comeback are the Scorpion Tank, the Ghost, and the now-playable Banshee.

Overall:
If you’ve played Halo for the Xbox, or any other FPS game, you’ll feel right at home with the PC Halo. Halo is an all around great game, and it’s all that Halo for the Xbox is and more, save the co-op mode. But if you’re one of those people who are going to complain about it, stay with your Xbox version; I don’t want to hear your complaining during a Slayer game. Otherwise, the online multiplayer/the fact that you don’t have an Xbox is really what you’re going to go for when you get Halo for the PC.

 

Void War (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rampant Games || Overall: 3.0/10

Nothing short of unoriginal, Void War is a space shooter in which you command a ship to go around and shoot things, and marvel at how hard it is to control a ship in a gravity barrier. This game sucks, unconditionally. How about we start with the basics?

Controlling your ship seems to be easy enough. You control your ship in one of three ways: keyboard, mouse, or joystick. Since I don’t have a joystick, I had to use the mouse controls. Now, the way you control your ship isn’t bad, it’s just how it is executed. When you click the left mouse button, you shoot some lasers, and when you right-click, you use your boosters to go fast. When you let those bad boys go, there’s a stream of flame behind you, and you go super fast through space!!!! This is all fine and dandy until you try and get one of those great power ups like the “hardened defense” or the “stealth generator” or the “missiles.” It is literally impossible to not get frustrated trying to get to a certain spot to get one of these power-ups. Even though you can generally get to the place you want to go with the controls, the accuracy in which you’d like to have to get one of these power-ups (which are really small, and the game should actually give them to you if you were in the general area of the power-up) is abysmal. The power-ups aren’t very important, but it’ll make the game a lot easier, especially with the missiles, because I suck at using the lasers to kill the other ships.

When you get one of these power-ups, like a missile, you’re able to use them right away. Its usually better to get one of the missiles, because then you’re able to shoot them at a ship that you’re trying to kill. And, of course, this isn’t too easy either. First of all the AI can control their ships better than you can, without a doubt. So they’re dodging and flying around asteroids and flying around a huge space station that just appears out of nowhere, so you can barely even shoot them with your lasers even if you had a clear shot. That’s why I use missiles and blow them away, but the missiles suck because they don’t even damage them past their shields, so then you’re outta luck again. And what’s even better is that your enemies are also going for the power-ups, so they can become even more annoying.

When you use your boosters or use your lasers, you also use energy for that particular ability. For example, when you use your lasers, you can only shoot so many before it gets down to zero and you can’t shoot anymore. The energy recovers fairly quickly, but when you’re in a dogfight, or have the enemy’s ship flying around in a somersault around you, it’s not fast enough. The same general thing happens to your shield, and as you get hit, your shields deplete, but then recover when you don’t use any lasers or rockets.

The developer tries to toss in a little bit of strategy by being able to “order” your energies in a fashion that whatever is the first one is the one that is most supplied with energy, making it either stronger, recover faster, or something like that. I’m not too sure what it ACTUALLY does, as it really doesn’t make too much of a difference that I can see, except that whatever is in the first position will (or implies that it will) have better improvements than the others. At random times your boosters or lasers may stop recovering altogether, so you have to put either one of them in the first spot to start recovering again. I also see that at random times the energy stops depleting from lasers/boosters even though you’re using them. This may or may not be a glitch in the game; I just don’t know.

Nothing about this game makes me more disappointed than the pathetic excuse for an unmotivated story they use for their campaign/single player mode. This is the story in a nutshell for the first four levels:

Level 1:
Lance: Look at me, I’m just out in the middle of space, near some planet in some galaxy somewhere in the universe. Hey what happened to my girlfriend? I better get some missiles, knowing the kind of trouble SHE gets in!!! (laughter from the peanut gallery) There’re always missiles cached near asteroids, so I’m going to go look for them. I better watch out for the gravity barriers though!!!!

Level 2:
(a drone ship comes out of freakin nowhere)

Lance: Oh look at that, there’s a drone ship that they used during the big nameless war we had a few years ago. They used to be used as decoys, and they did a pretty good job of it. I think I’ll shoot it down, ‘cause I need some target practice, even though I was supposed to use my missiles to save my girlfriend.

Level 3:
Lance: I’ve got enough missiles hooray, now I’m going to go find my girlfriend. Hey buddy, have you seen my girlfriend, her name is Bimbo Whatserface.

Pirate Guy: Bimbo Whatserface? You mean the FAMOUS space heroine? You know her?

Lance: Yeah, you could say that.

Pirate Guy: No I haven’t seen her. I’ve just been doing random acts of piracy over here!

Lance: Oh…uh…good luck with that…

Pirate Guy: You think you’re gonna get off that easy? I’m not stupid! YOU’RE MY NEXT VICTIM!!!

Lance: I was kind of hoping that you were…!

Level 4:
No story scene, you just all of a sudden start fighting another ship that comes outta nowhere, and a big space station suddenly appears.

And then later on in the story, you find some guy that is working for a corporation spread out among galaxies. The guy tells you stupid crap about the corporation you don’t need to know, says an area is off-limits, but the main character says “screw this, I’m breaking through.”

Now you may find this story kind of farfetched, but this isn’t far from the truth. I was exaggerating in some places, but the basic premise really is in the game. There is NO character development, NO reason why people just all of a sudden attack you, except for the fact that they’re retarded. There is also some crappy artwork for still images to go with your character text displays.

Even though this game sucks horribly, there are some okay aspects to it. First of all, is the music. The music is cool, because it sounds like metal opera or metal ballad songs. There are only a couple of songs though, so they get played over and over and over. Then there’s the graphics. The graphics are alright, but they don’t look terrible either. It’s just that this game is not very good. They just drop you in the middle of space, and hope you have fun killing random AI-driven enemies while rocking out to metal opera. There is a multiplayer mode, but in all seriousness WHO are you going to find to play with? Not me, that’s for sure.

And just in case you didn’t know what game you were playing, the developers graciously put a big “Void War” logo at the top right of your screen so you can look at it at all times.

 

Grand Theft Auto Advance (GBA) Preview

Developer: Backbone Entertainment/Digital Eclipse Software | Publisher: Rockstar Games

Ever since Grand Theft Auto 3 came out, I know everyone has been pining relentlessly for a new, top-down Grand Theft Auto game. Well, everyone’s wishes have been granted, with the upcoming Grand Theft Auto game for the Game Boy Advance, Grand Theft Auto Advance.

GTA Advance takes place in Liberty City, during the same time period as GTA3. You play as Mike, a member of the mob, who is about to leave the crime world behind. However, his friend Vinnie had a few more jobs for him to do before they could get enough cash to leave for good. That’s when Vinnie dies in a car explosion (with all the cash), and Mike is suspected for Vinnie’s murder. It’s up to Mike to figure out who killed Vinnie, while all the cops in the city are after him. As more missions are completed, more of the storyline is opened up. Story scenes are also drawn in the GTA-style of art that was introduced with GTA3.

Even though GTA Advance goes back to GTA’s roots as a top-down game, GTA Advance keeps the improvements that have been done to the series, to make it seem almost like you’re playing one of the 3D games, of which are:

• Explore and exploit a sprawling, handheld Liberty City that’s over twice as large as Grand Theft Auto 3.
• Dozens of vehicles to find and drive – compacts, sports cars, delivery trucks, taxis, SWAT vans, tanks, and more.
• Take time off from the task at hand with hundreds of side missions: taxi driver, paramedic, fire fighter, street racing, vigilante, and rampages.
• The freedom and open-ended game play that is synonymous with the Grand Theft Auto franchise provides countless hours of portable entertainment.

If you liked the classic GTA games, then this should be a definite addition to your game arsenal.

GTA Advance is set for a simultaneous release with the upcoming GTA: San Andreas in October 2004.

 

Dark Cloud 2 (PS2) Review

Developer: Level 5 / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.3/10

The original Dark Cloud is known as one of the best adventure RPGs for the PlayStation 2. Thus, players clamored for a sequel, and with listening ears Sony has brought us Dark Cloud 2. If you’re a Dark Cloud fan, you will be thoroughly impressed with the effort by Sony to make this sequel truly all that it should be and more. Everything in Dark Cloud (including the translation) has been greatly improved.

Dark Cloud 2 is about a young boy, named Maximillian (or Max for short), and a young princess from the future, Monica. The story starts when Monica goes to the past from the future to stop an evil guy, only known as Griffin, from destroying the past, therefore destroying the future. Don’t ask why this makes sense, because if Griffin was going to destroy the past, how would the future be able to know he was going to if they were destroyed? Just take it for what it is, and you’ll have a fun time playing this game.

The Georama system that made the first Dark Cloud so original, (which is the aspect of the game in which you can build your own towns for people to live in) has been revamped and loaded with new features that make your towns more customizable. Not only did the Georama system get a major improvement, but the battle system, storyline, interactivity, and user interface had all been greatly improved. Dark Cloud 2 is everything Dark Cloud was, should have been, and so much more.

The similarities between Dark Cloud and Dark Cloud 2 are the same as the similarities between any of the Final Fantasy games. All that is in common between the two Dark Cloud games is the concept of using Georama to rebuild the world, and go through a merciless amount of dungeons to do so. And let me tell you right now, the best part of the game is going through the dungeons (and that’s a good thing).

Somewhat of a new aspect to the game is the ability to freely travel to and fro from the future to the past.

Graphics:
The only improvement that some may see as a turn-away from this game is that instead of the generic computer-graphic-look, the game is cel-shaded. Let me say this again, the game is cel-shaded. Even though some may see this as a bad thing, I see it as a good thing. The game looks amazing, and I believe that the cel-shading makes the game what it is.
Compared to games using the conventional computer-graphic look, every aspect of this game, visually, is amazing. The cel-shading mixed with a right amount of regular computer graphics make for a very pleasant experience. Just because it may look cartoony, doesn’t mean it doesn’t look good.

Sound:
The sound in this game is great. Every part of the game has good music. After 90+ hours of playing this game, I still have not gotten sick of any of the songs. The music makes you feel like you’re in the area you’re in, whether it be a volcano, a tower, or the future.
When the story is advancing, there is voice acting. However, the voice acting makes the game seem more kid-like, because there are a few weird voices that seem to have been made to entertain younger children, even if the game is not really made for them.

Game Play:
There are two main aspects of the game. There is the battle system and the town interaction/Georama system, as well as a few extras tossed into the gaming mix.

The battle system has improved so much since the last Dark Cloud, that it makes it easier for you to be efficient with your battle tactics. Instead of having six playable characters with different abilities (as in the first one), you have only two characters, whom each have two weapons (close and long ranged weapons) at their disposal in addition to an “alternative” mode of fighting. Max is equipped with huge wrench-like weapons (because he’s an inventor), and a gun. Max also has a huge robot named Steve. You may remember “Steve” as the talking slingshot from Dark Cloud. Well, now he’s a powerful robot that can be fairly annoying if you choose to equip him with a voice box. Steve is almost a character by himself, as he has his own hit points, weapons, and uses. Steve becomes especially useful farther along in the game, when the enemies become extremely hard. Monica is equipped with the conventional sword, and a bracelet that can shoot magic. That’s not the interesting part about her though. She’s able to transform into particular enemies you encounter throughout the game. This is fairly useful, as each of the different monsters have skills that are needed to complete tasks in the game.

The main part of the game is the dungeon-exploring. Going through dungeon after dungeon was the whole purpose of Dark Cloud, and the same goes for Dark Cloud 2. The main point is that you go to a part of a dungeon, find the key to go to the next level, and go to the next part of the dungeon. As you venture through the seemingly endless amount of dungeons, you improve your characters mainly by improving the weapons they carry. You do this by “synthesizing” or basically adding a particular item’s ability-gaining-potential to the weapon.

Synthesizing has been tweaked a bit from the first Dark Cloud. At every “level” the weapon gains from use (and depending on how advanced the weapon is), it will gain a certain amount of “synthesize points” instead of just putting a bunch of different things in slots and having them join with the weapon. The battle system is very deep, and to explain it here would take too long.

The other part of the game that you’ll be spending time with is the town interaction/Georama system. Town interaction plays a big part in the beginning, but declines as you make the towns through the Georama system. The first town, which is made by the developer, is obviously more grandiose and interesting than any of the ones you make. An interesting part of town interaction is the camera. The camera is used to document certain types of items, which is used for other purposes. However, this provides for some pretty fun photo shoots. When you first get the camera, you’ll be taking pictures of everything you see, trying to get every single item (which there are a few hundred of).

Like I said before, the Georama system had been greatly improved, and makes for some very nice customization of the towns you have to rebuild. Instead of having the actual items being provided for you to right away place on the map, you must actually CREATE them with the building materials you acquire. This makes for a less far-fetched reason for being able to make a town by yourself, out of nothing. In Dark Cloud you didn’t have to meet the conditions of the original town, except to get prizes for doing so. In Dark Cloud 2, however, you have to do 100% of what the town is supposed to have in it. An example would be “Place trees around the Elven house.” This would complete a certain condition you had to do to restore the future, because in the future’s past, the Elven house had trees around it. Also, you must have a certain amount of “culture points” which almost forces you decorate the town with certain things, to make it seem like a more believable town.

Some extra aspects to the game are the invention system, Spheda, and fish raising/racing.

The invention system comes in play when you take pictures of certain items. These pictures supply Max with ideas to be able to make a certain invention, for instance a bomb or a weapon. The way it works, is if you put three ideas together, you may or may not be able to create a “complete” idea that will allow you to create a particular object.

Spheda in this game is basically an advanced form of golf. The explanation behind Spheda is that there are space/time distortion thing, in which a blue or red sphere falls out of a blue or red distortion. The goal of Spheda is simply to put the sphere of glowing space/time back into the portal. You may ask now “why don’t the just pick it up and put it back in.” You idiot! Don’t you know if you pick up a piece of space/time you’re going to possibly change the future (as if hitting it with a golf club makes it any better…)!?! Anyhow, to win at a particular game of Spheda, you must defeat all the enemies in a dungeon, after which, the distortion and the sphere will appear at random places on the map. The dungeons are all randomly generated, so it makes for some very frustrating times. Basically, you have to get the sphere an opposite color of the distortion to make it go in (Red sphere -> blue distortion, blue sphere -> red distortion). This adds for some difficulty, as you may be able to hit the sphere into the distortion, but it doesn’t go in because it is the same color as the distortion (which is bad). Have fun with this one. Even though it isn’t a required part of the game, its still very useful getting the item out of the treasure box that falls out of the distortion after it is repaired.

Fishing. Fish raising. Fish racing. This all seems kind of boring, and let me tell you it pretty much is. But if you play your cards right, you’ll be able to get some very good items and weapons. I think its sort of self-explanatory as to what you do with the fish.

Overall:
Well, after all that we’ve been through with each other, I’m afraid it won’t even come close to how long you will play this game. I haven’t said one bad thing about this game, but there is a factor of the game becoming rather boring at times, as well as getting an “oh yay you finished an area, now go to the next one and do the same thing you did before” feeling about midway through the game. Nothing really happens during the middle part of the game, as it is really just gets you prepared for the unloading of the story, and mess of difficult enemies and bosses near the end of the game.

There are about seven different areas, all corresponding with a particular element. Such as, fire, water, wind, earth, air, and a couple of extra areas. The reason it becomes so boring, is that when you go through the dungeons, there usually isn’t any story sequences at each part. The only reason they become boring is if you’re trying to play all the way through a bunch of the dungeons at the same time. If you give it a little break in between every few dungeons, it’d be less of a bore. But to break up the monotony of the dungeons, the developers have tossed in many, many extra mini games and side quests to have fun with.

 

Xenosaga Episode I (PS2) Review

Developer: Monolith Games / Publisher: Namco || Overall: 8.5/10


Overview:
What do you get when you mix an incredible space adventure full of drama, action, explosions, and robots with hot chicks? You get Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. Xenosaga Part I is the first of eight games, and they’re all a part of the Xenogears story in one way or another (prequels and sequels, and I’m assuming a possible remake of Xenogears). Xenogears was made by Squaresoft, and Xenosaga is being made by Namco (which has a team of developers who left Squaresoft).

Boasting an immense and involving story, Xenosaga Part I takes place in the future, where humans only live in space, co-existing with cyborg counterparts, called the Realians. Though the story doesn’t revolve totally around the Realians, the events happen all because of a war that had been fought between humans and Realians. There is a whole history that the game presents for you, and trying to remember all this information to understand the rest of the game will actually revolve around the events that happened before you start playing the game. The real conflict in the game is the war between humans and aliens no one knows anything about, and a mysterious object called the Zohar.

Even though this game is an RPG, when it starts out, there isn’t much of a game to actually be played because there are so many cinematic movies. There’s more actual playing time as you get farther in the story, but this might lose some gamers early on in the game. It was like watching a really long porn movie, except there was no sex. Or there was some sex but it cut off before anyone was actually naked. (Sex in this reference would be equal to playing the game.)

Graphics:
The graphics in this game are nothing short of amazing. Everything is very polished, and looks about as real as computer graphics can look in this generation. However, there are some annoyances involving hands, and them not having moving fingers. Still, the cinematic movies are ones to really be amazed by. During action scenes, you may actually say “wow” because they are pretty intense at times.

Later on in the game, there is an integration of CG movies in actual battles.

Sound:
The sound category as a whole is definitely below average at best. Now don’t get me wrong, the voice acting in this game is top notch, and the musical score is really good, but there is an EXTREME lack of music during regular game play, more specifically map movement. There is nothing that will help you get into the mood when you’re traveling from Point A to Point B, fighting monsters along the way. And if you’ve played RPGs, this is what happens ALL the time. The lack of music here is really a sad thing, as it makes the game feel empty and less involving when the actual events of the story so far have gotten you to that point.

I don’t know if anyone else cares this much about music, but I honestly do think that music is a very important part of any RPG, to always feel like you’re involved in the game, and not just hearing footsteps on different surfaces.

Game Play:
The game is similar to most RPGs, except in battles; there are a number of different attacks you can string together to make each turn at least seem like it’s more realistic (because in other RPGs, when you say “attack” the character always attacks the same way every time). You can also make the decisions of what to actually hit your enemy with, whether it be a physical attack, or Ether (magic) type of attack. The same sort of “choosing your attack” feature is used when you’re in mechs called A.G.W.S (pronounced ay-ggs). So any Xenogears fan who doesn’t have Xenosaga will be wondering what the hell an A.G.W.S is and what happened to the Gear which was in XenoGEARS. Well, supposedly A.G.W.S are the smaller type of Gear used in the time before Xenogears (since Xenosaga Part I is a prequel). Instead of the gigantic Gear from Xenogears, the A.G.W.S. in Xenosaga are about four times bigger than humans, and can have a range of weapon types, including Melee, Guns, and Rockets/Grenades.

Now, you’re probably wondering how the backend system is. I’ll tell you right now that it is one of the most complicated ones I’ve ever seen, except it can help you out in making your character very strong, and skills-and-abilities-filled. There are several types of points you gain at the end of a battle, and you use three of the types of points to gain more Ether attacks (magic attacks), Skills (skills are extracted from actual items that can be equipped), and Techs (which are points you use to upgrade the skills you use in regular battle).

The stand-out point of this game is with no doubt its storyline. There are barely any games that will even come close to having such an elaborate storyline as Xenosaga (when all eight parts come out) will have. I’m no psychic, but if each game will be as packed with events and as much story development as the first, this gaming series will be any serious RPG-player’s dream. Or at least mine.

Another important part of the game is the Internet-like feature you can use, called the U.M.N. The U.M.N. is basically the Internet for the whole universe, and contains all the useful information you’ve been told through the game, as well as emails that contain weapons you can download as an attachment occasionally. Don’t ask me why that should make sense, it’s the future, they can do that. You can also visit areas you’ve been to before, even if they’re destroyed, or inside someone’s head. Instead of allowing you to physically travel to these places again, the areas are “saved” in the main character’s computer that is hooked up to the U.M.N. and is somehow inside of her or something.

Even though I’m saying such great things about the gameplay, there is the factor of the battles becoming very boring. Even though you can mix it up by using different attacks, the enemies you fight usually require a sort of “formula” of attacks to best defeat them. Not only this, but it usually takes a long time to defeat your enemies. Too often are there three enemies who have high HP AND can heal themselves (not that I’m saying it’s too hard – this just drags out the battles), and sometimes you have five of the same enemy to kill, and they usually take two characters attacking them before they die. Every time you go into another random battle, it becomes more laborious than actually having fun killing some stupid aliens no one knows about.

Overall:
Though it is a very good game, I am actually really disappointed in the lack of music during regular regular map movement and the use of the A.G.W.S. (compared to their use in Xenogears). Though the mechs are a major root point of the original game itself, they don’t play such a huge role in Xenosaga Part I from what I’ve seen. Perhaps their use will be more important than just retreating into them when you’re fighting a hard boss in the next game.

 

Front Mission 4 (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix || Overall: 9.1/10

Overview:

Recently, I’ve been disappointed with Square-Enix and their soul-stealing Final Fantasy XI (give me back my friends, damn it!), but Front Mission 4 is a nice surprise. Like the previous Front Mission games, the game is turn-based and you battle in Wanzers, which is pronounced, “Vanzers”. I guess Germans make all the awesome mechanical toys still. So, what do you get with you throw in: giant robots, a sexy French voice actor, and guns? Probably confusion, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Story:

Ah, one of the shining points. As the game beings, Elsa, the woman with the sexy French voice, is training with members of Durandal. Zead and Hermes instruct you on movement and combat against Arrow 2 and Arrow 4. Elsa was a former member of the French Army for some time, but apparently, was never in any actual combat in the French Army. Sucker punch to the French by Square. Next thing you know, there will be an in-game browser that links to here in Front Mission Online, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Elsa and the members of Durandal are sent to investigate the attacks on German bases, no one knows why they attacked or who they were. After arriving at the German Base Sachsen-Anhaltm, the search is slow. With the trouble from Wagner, the commander of Sachsen-Anhalt, and Elsa and Zead suggest investigating to the north. Finding the remains of a landing point in Jutland, Denmark, your team is attacked. Finding a chip as evidence, your bring it back, only to be attacked as you get back to Sachsen-Anhalt by the unknown Wanzers. As the battle ends, you bring your physical evidence (A microchip for leg part stabilizers), and are told to go back to the Durandal H.Q. in the United Kingom. Yes, this part of the story involves lots of conspiracy, and that’s what makes it so engaging. Luckily, there’s an even better side to the story:

Darril, Renges and Chaeffer are members of the U.S.N. who are stationed in Venezuela who have horrible records and never really follow orders. Venezuela is currently becoming independent again with the help of the U.S.N. Wanzers. Patrolling one day, Darril and Renges stop to enjoy a view, as Chaeffer is trying to catch up. After much bickering about turning down a radio to relax, Chaeffer gets a distress call from a transport plane. The plane crashes and the trio checks it out to find no one survived, and the cargo was about three tons of gold. Darril and Renges aren’t too fond of the Army anymore, and decide to take the gold, forcing Chaeffer to join in, too. The gold was the governor’s private little stash, and it wasn’t supposed to exist, so Darril explains that it should be smooth sailing to get it out. Much lying and reckless behavior follows. This half of the story is very entertaining, to say the least.

Graphics:

The graphics are superb. The Wanzers look cool (depending on your parts, of course) and are animated nicely; as Wanzer combat is still relatively new during this time period, it gives added feel that the Wanzers are still sluggish in general response-wise. It’s hard to explain it without seeing it in action. The environments are nice, with lots of little bits of things lying around like barrels, pipes and junk. Not very interactive for the most part, but it’s not really a focus in the game with all the things you need to keep in mind during battle. Weapon effects and camera angles look great in general, yet sometimes it leads to the problem of not being able to see if you’ve hit a few times with a rapid fire weapon, but that’s not a huge or common problem. Much like the previous games, you can customize your Wanzers not only in what heat they’re packing, but their general shape and color. I’m disappointed with the limited ability to change the color of a Wanzer, as more options open up for the “camouflage” as the game progresses. The movies are very entertaining as well, done in the Hollywood way of “Tons o’ ‘splosions”. I like that way. The only gripe I have is that you can’t zoom in close enough during the battle! Things look tiny until you get to the battle.

Sound:

Music is consistently good, fitting the mood, which is generally a, “I’s gonna blow up s’more stuff,” kind of mood. Although, some of the easy listening music while customizing Wanzers can get a little boring. Like being stuck in an elevator playing Risk with grandmother and Bob Saget, it can induce sleep if you’re tired enough. Sound effects are clean and appropriate. There are no small guns here that make loud booms as in other mech games I’ve played. The voice acting in this game is great, dorky people sound dorky, hard ass people sound hard ass. Let me emphasize how good Elsa’s voice is. Men will be able to appreciate it, obviously, because it’s a sexy French voice. Probably the same sort of enticement as Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft’s grunting noises as she climbed up stuff.

Well, maybe not exactly the same…

Gameplay:

Lots of stuff to do here. Combat is essentially a super supped up Front Mission. Wanzers have four basic body parts that can be damaged: both left and right arms, legs, and body. The loss of arms or legs will limit the function of the Wanzer until repaired, and the loss of the body will destroy all of the Wanzer, regardless of the conditions of the other parts. With many weapons and tactics to choose from, there’s no one way to go. The game sort of sets you up by having characters be more proficient with some weapons (Zead is good with missles, for example), but it doesn’t mean you can’t alter them slightly. As pilots battle more or train more in the battle simulator, they gain levels and EP. EP can be used to purchase special abilities that can add special effects. Some of the effects are passive, while others are randomly activated in battle, depending on the skill. Also, pilots can link in this new Front Mission game, meaning if they have the right links set up before a battle, they can help attack when a linked unit attacks, or defend them when attacked. This is very useful, as setting up partners within your squad becomes deadly. With the right links, your Wanzers can be all the more efficient with taking down enemies.

The maps in the game aren’t very difficult until further into the game, which is nice for any new player, or a returning series player who needs to be refreshed on how to play. While they are detailed, the maps aren’t very interactive, sadly. Most of the battles take place on maps which are much like arenas: large open areas with few, if any, obstructions. This isn’t entirely true for every single map, but many of them aren’t too different. Also, the map size stacked on to the unit health to damage ratio often makes for long battles, so be prepared. Just keep in mind that splitting up your forces is not such a good idea if you want a short battle.

Overall:

Front Mission 4 is a great title, especially with Square-Enix’s recent ventures that have been somewhat disappointing. The gameplay is very good, and there’s even an option for the ever-popular “New Game+”, so you can replay the game and get everything eventually. The graphics, story and voice acting are very tightly linked together, and it can be a very captivating experience depending on your tastes in games. Just don’t let it run your life like another Square-Enix game that rhymes with “Spinal Bantasy will-leven”.

 

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2) Review

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 8.3/10

Overview
With red-hot popularity in Japan, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is any turn-based RPG gamer’s dream. It plays much like the other turn-based “Tactics” titled games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, where you control individuals in a set area and take turns bludgeoning each other’s skulls with swords and axes, but there’s something else this game adds in to the mix to spice it up: there is virtually no level cap. You can level to your heart’s content. While there are other additions, this lack of level cap is insanity. Stack on random battle map generations and bosses with a million hit points, and you got yourself some replay value. How will it fare, when replay value is what most gamers nag about? Let’s find out:

Story
You are Prince Laharl, heir to the throne of the underworld. The game starts out as your subordinate, Etna, is thrashing your little body around in hopes to awaken you from your two-year slumber. As you awaken, you find that your father, King Krichevskoy, has died, and the residents of the underworld are in chaos fighting for the title of “Overlord”. As claiming the title of overlord, you go on to kill off any of the opposition to the throne with the help of Etna, your badass lil’ penguins called Prinnies, and anyone else you hire/pick up on the way.

The game has many funny sequences. Spoofs on Power Rangers, lots of screaming, Prinny humor (Dood!), plenty of irony, Flash Gordon spoofs, and lots of sexual and other crude humor. Not to mention a nod to President Bush’s accident with a pretzel (King Krichevskoy died that way, as far as you know). Laharl’s favorite taunt to his female companion’s is “flat chest-ed”. Guys and cooler girls will like this game. Cool girls as in: a girl who would be looking at a game site. Congratulations if you’re a chick!

Graphics
In the tradition of turn-based RPGs of the Playstation, Disgaea uses 2D characters on a 3D map. The sprites are very nice, and detailed enough for their size. Most characters are designed well (Majins are the definition of badass design) and have many animations that fit the part. Characters’ special moves have some 3D flair; lots of explosions and ultimately cool looking moves. Dragon Ball fans rejoice: brawlers do a Dragon Ball-ish move: “King of Beasts”. Spells and the lot are nice effects, but nothing special. Map detail is bland at best. There is nothing really engaging about the environment, especially when you get to the randomly generated maps. Eventually, you’ll feel like you’re playing the same maps constantly because of how boring the levels can be. The drawn art in the game which accompanies the “scenes” are adequate, but one animated sequence for something would have been nice. Side note: if you love large anime breasts, you are playing the right game. Tons of them, and lots of humor on it as previously stated.

Sound
The music is nice, and it fits the game. No gripes here; some of the music can even be catchy. The dubbing is very nice. All of the voices are professional (or at least sound that way) actors. You may even recognize Prince Laharl’s voice as Barbara Goodson of anime dub fame. Most units only have basic voices, like the male warrior’s pretty cool voice (Be gone!), etc. I actually find the English voices much better than the Japanese voices. The Japanese voices are so squeaky… ugh. Perhaps that’s sexy in Japan, but I couldn’t bear it and switched it back to English. Sound effects are decent, nothing really stands out. Just stay away from the Japanese voices. For the love of Pete.

Gameplay
Disgaea will be nothing new to fans of the genre, nothing really out of the comprehensible for veterans of Final Fantasy Tactics or the like. Movement is very nice in regards to the other games. All units move in the same phase, meaning, you can move all the units at once instead of waiting for each unit to get to its own turn. This is VERY handy when it’s the computer’s turn, as all their units will move in a big mass as opposed to 20 units taking turns. Attacking is much the same as other “Tactics” games, but one difference–you can combo if there are units one panel adjacent to you. Combos not only look cool, but often will do a lot more damage. If normal attacks aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of special moves with any of the seven weapon types, in addition to unique character skills (Such as Laharl’s “Blazing Knuckle) and monster skills. The moves can’t combo like normal attacks can, but most special moves affect an area, or hit more than once, perhaps even knocking the enemy to another panel as some do. You’ll also be pleased to know that classes can use and gain skill with any weapons they wish, but they are very proficient with some specific ones. In example, mage/skull classes are proficient with staves, which also enhance their spell range if they practice enough. Using a weapon will increase the skill with that weapon. When you reach a certain level with a weapon, new moves will become unlocked, and your proficiency with the weapon becomes even greater. There are no staff moves, but with increased skill comes enhanced spell range. Without staves, your range will barely go 3 tiles. While there are many skills, I found myself wishing there were more special moves for the weapons seeing as how there’s only 7 weapon types.

Combat is nothing difficult, and very easy to get used to once you gain a grasp of things like geo tiles, colored flashing panels with effects that match what geo crystal you put on them. For example, putting a geo crystal with the effect of “+100% EXP” on a blue tile will make all geo panels of the same color increase EXP by 100% if a unit is killed on that color. Geo panels can also be changed by way of breaking a different color geo crystal (The color of the geo crystal only effects what the color tile it’s on will change to when the crystal is broken) or with the “Change Geo” move of the Scout unit. Get used to lifting other units/geo crystals with your units, as it gets to be extremely useful. While some units will be indispensable, many like the Rouges, Scouts and Knights are just not useful in the slightest. Many other units can do what they do, and much better. If you really want a warrior that cast spells, overlook the Knight and instead give a warrior a mage pupil. When the warrior learns spells from the pupil (One tile away you’re able to share moves with a pupil) she/he will be much more effective than a Knight would ever be.

Also to note is that there’s a deep system for leveling. There is no level cap, and you’re able to reset your characters to level 1 with much enhanced stats. Not only that, but you can alter your weapons, which carry “residents” who enhance the power of the weapons they are on. By entering a weapon, you can raise its base stats with each level you descend in to the weapon, and by subduing residents from other items and putting them on the item of your choice. On top of this, add in many unlockable levels, classes, and items, and you’ve got yourself a couple hundred hours of game play if you are a perfectionist.

Overall
While it is fun, and a very good game, is not exactly all that deep. The story is nice, but short. There’s plenty of gameplay, but sadly, it’s just not deep enough for how much you may end up playing. If the story were longer, or if there were more special moves/things to look forward to as you level higher besides stats, my opinion would be much different. While it supports the capacity for high level characters, it doesn’t seem to do that in anything more than no level cap, and one supremely hard secret boss. I do very much enjoy this game, and I have purchased it, but I have hopes that a sequel will come along and add more depth to this game and its fun and quirky story.

 

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2) Preview

Developer: Rockstar North | Publisher: Rockstar Games

No game has more hype, controversy and rewarding pedestrian killing than the Grand Theft Auto series. With the success of the GTA3, the transition to full 3D game play was the best thing to happen to this game series. And if GTA3 couldn’t be any better, GTA: Vice City blew every other game in the series out of the water. One can only imagine how the 5th installment of the GTA series, GTA: San Andreas will completely rule over all its predecessors, this October 2004.

Five years before the game starts off, Carl Johnson, the main character in this GTA, escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas. The city was tearing itself apart with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. It was also a place where film stars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers. From the poor to the rich, Los Santos was not a very happy, or safe, place to live.

In the early 90s, Carl is forced to go back home, because his mother has been murdered. When he comes back to Los Santos, he finds that his family has fallen apart and his childhood friends are all heading towards disaster. However, on his return to the neighborhood, a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide. CJ is forced on a journey that takes him across the entire state of San Andreas, to save his family and to take control of the streets.

Some of the newest innovations in the GTA: San Andreas are in how you make and spend your money. There’s a lot to spend money on, and to get around a whole state, you’ll need plenty of cash. Like in previous GTAs, you will sometimes earn money by completing missions, but not always. That’s why side missions will take a new level of importance. One of the new ways you can get hold of cash, is by stealing other people’s stuff.

Burglary is another crime added to the repertoire of other crimes you’re able to commit in the GTA series freely. To begin the actual burglary side mission, you have to carjack a moving truck and then press the R3 button. There are dozens of places in San Andreas to burglarize, for example residential homes and businesses. Most can contain a variety of goods that you can make off with and sell.

If you don’t know how to burglarize well, you’re going to get caught. First of all, you can only rob places at night. You’re going to have to get something to hide your identity, like a ski mask or balaclava. You’re also going to have to bring a weapon or two, just in case someone is home, and they try to alert the police. But that’s only if you make enough noise to wake up the inhabitants, if any. People will be sleeping, because its night. If you’re able to slip in quietly, you may be able to make off with a VCR, TV, or the home stereo system. It’d do you well to check every room in the house, because making off with a 13 inch TV wouldn’t be better than making off with something with way more value.

Once you’re able to make off with your haul, you’re able to sell your goods, and make sure you get your money’s (and effort’s) worth out of it. The money you make can be put forward to buy items, food, clothes, guns, properties, and even businesses.

The way you spend your money influences the way you play the game. In San Andreas, the way you dress and take care of yourself tells a lot about who you are. As a result, your clothes and haircut affect the way others respect you. There are many barbershops throughout San Andreas, and with enough cash, CJ can get whatever cut he wants. The sharper CJ looks, the more respected he is. Rivals will take notice to him, and be more wary of him, as well as women noticing how good looking CJ is, and gaining more authority within his own gang, the Orange Grove Families. You can choose from many different cuts, including bald, afro, jheri curl, and cornrows.

Clothing affects the game as well. Through the game, if you dawn your gang’s colors, rival gangs and police will take notice to your allegiances easier, while gaining more respect in his own gang for doing so. Some missions will even require CJ wearing a particular outfit. Some of the places that you can choose clothing from are Binco, SubUrban, and ProLaps. Binco is a discount clothes store which sells cheap and utilitarian clothing. SubUrban has a bigger selection than Binco, and also targets a customer base that has a higher budget to spend on clothing, favoring brand-name apparel. ProLaps is an athletic gear outlet store, selling jerseys, shorts, hats and other sport related items. Prices at ProLaps are a bit more expensive, and CJ will have to earn a lot more money.

CJ will keep all the clothing he buys, so you won’t have to go back to the clothing store and buy clothes every time you want to change your look. All you have to do is walk into your safe house and look in the closet to see every piece of clothing CJ has earned/purchased at that point in the game. This adds a collecting mission to the game, and also a huge amount of customization for you character, for mixing and matching the clothing you have.

The game itself will be five times as big as GTA: Vice City, featuring three cities. Los Santos (the capital, and a mirror of Los Angeles), San Fierro (a mirror of San Francisco), and Las Venturas (a mirror of Las Vegas).

GTA: San Andreas will also feature a new type of transportation, the BMX bike. To me, nothing would seem more fun than riding a BMX bike to another city clear across the state. Now it just leaves to wonder if there’s going to be a paper route you can do (been hoping for that one since GTA 3). Among other improvements, there are also motorcycle cops, citizens who will not give up their cars so easily (when you’re carjacking), improved police AI and even more troublesome police.

If you’re wondering about the game’s musical score, Rockstar has not released too many details about what is actually going to be in the game, other than the fact that there will be music from many genres of the early 90’s. Since there are three different cities, there is a possibility that each city could have its own list of unique radio stations and music.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas hits the PlayStation 2 on October 18, 2004.