Tangledeep (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer/Publisher: Impact Gameworks || Outlook: Positive

Tangledeep is the 16-bit roguelike that should be on your radar.  A beautifully artistic, colorful, and lore-based game that will seemingly have much to offer and iterate on when it finally releases later this year, currently planned for December 2017.  Tangledeep pulls deep from the SNES Final Fantasy games in terms of overall aesthetic with music, sound effects, and art but makes it its own with unique gameplay features and iteration.

I can’t praise the games presentation and production value enough.  This is a swell game to immerse yourself in and right down to the text boxes you’ll be hitting that nostalgia bong over and over (nostalgia bong legal for only 30+).  The music is beautifully composed and really sells you into the exploration dynamic of the game’s story.  The lore of Tangledeep is also mysterious and fanciful — it really piques the interest in discovering more about the forest of Tangledeep and figuring out what secrets it holds.  Since Tangledeep is but a snapshot of the rest of the world, you don’t know what visitors you may come upon in the base camp as it seems “guest” vendors are randomized and will sell things that aren’t usually available if you have the money for it.

Obviously, since Tangledeep is a roguelike, there are many roguelike features, and multiple ways to experience the game itself.  The overall progression comes from your town development, although it is a bit sparse in terms of actual benefits to be gained.  You have six plots where you can plant magical seeds that provide food to you at certain increments.  You can also tame beasts using a special item and drag them back to town for later use as a companion.  Many of your first attempts at getting deep into the forest will probably be fruitless as you discover the mechanics and how things work, as well as fiddling around with the different classes (called jobs) available for play and figuring out what works for you.

Gameplay-wise, you’ve got an expansive list of jobs to play with — currently nine.  Each job is unique and actually has a bit of an interesting spin on some of the usual class types, from a lore angle.  “Personal” stories of each of the individual jobs don’t seem to really get in the way of the greater narrative, but the customization and skill-based special actions go a long way in changing up the experience from one run to the next.

Though the game is turn-based, it’s played in real time.  It’s more like a turn-counter with particular actions taking a certain amount of turns to cast or recharge.  There is also an opportunity to pause during hectic moments of combat to plan out what you strategically want to do in case you get in a bind.  You can also progress time without moving, so you don’t need to get out of position.  Levels are procedurally generated, with some side rooms changing up the tileset dramatically, so the game doesn’t get stale at all.  Trying out the different jobs is also part of the fun and each class can be built to focus on different sets of skills depending on you preference, so the iteration just goes that much deeper.

The meta game is always important for a roguelike.  There is an “intended” way to play Tangledeep where you will encounter permadeath at the end of your run, only allowing for any progress in town to stand.  Being called “Heroic Mode,” this gives you the opportunity to switch your job and try out a new spec for the penalty of starting from scratch.  Adventure Mode is another option where instead of encountering permadeath, you will be sent back to town with penalties, losing your unspent Job Points/Money and half of your XP progress.  The penalties are hefty, but much less impactful than a full reset.  “Hardcore Mode” is the same as Heroic Mode, except all progress made with the character is wiped.  Each individual Save Slot is party to as many characters as you think necessary to play with, and you can only “Continue” progress with an Adventure Mode character.

Unfortunately, Tangledeep isn’t exactly the mode user-intuitive when it comes to its menu system.  Menu-hunting is a bit of a pain, and can be confusing at times as to what commands you are telling the menu to do.  Arrow keys don’t work at all, only being able to use the WASD to control a menu (this just feels weird) and using a controller instead also feels clumsy.  When opening the menu, you are not going to the menu you were last in, so if you need to make any tweaks to what you had previously done, its more than one click away when it shouldn’t be any clicks away.  Equipment is also hard to figure out sometimes, since it is hard to compare equipment efficiently and whether or not you are actually equipping an upgrade can be questionable at times.  You have four different weapon slots for changing up your strategy on the fly (ranged vs. melee, for example) — but the inactive ones don’t give you additional stats.  It feels like that there should be more information about equipment in general and how things affect your gameplay but as is it feels too underdeveloped to be satisfying.  You also don’t encounter enough variance or quantity of loot to really have to make interesting decisions as you get by with just equipping whatever has a better rarity quality.  There are also other lesser issues with the logic and layout of the menu that just don’t feel right and needs to be smoothed out before release to make it a more useful tool than it currently is.

Tangledeep has got a lot going for it, and I’m excited to see if more story lives up to my expectations.  I’d really like to see more progression mechanics that allow for strengthening your new characters further as you keep playing.  Refinements to the menu system to be a less frustrating experience is the number one goal in my mind, so hopefully that is on the radar of the developers.  A little more focus on the loot/reward system would also be in order.  Tangledeep is being updated constantly by its developers while in Early Access, so it’ll be an interesting title to watch.

 

Infestation World (PC) Early Beta Preview

Developer/Publisher: Electronics Extreme

Infest_World_Logo

Following in the footsteps of DayZ and other zombie survival MMOs, the developers at Electronics Extreme are looking to infect your computer with their latest iteration, Infestation World. Like any good zombie movie, the only goal in their sand-box is survival in a world overrun by the undead leaving the player to ultimately decide their fate. Though, invoking another zombie movie trope, it is not the zombies you should be afraid of, it’s the players. Player killing is not only legal but it seems to be somewhat encouraged as a way to grab free loot. More often than not, I’d be greeted by a bullet instead of a friendly hello, resulting in the player looting my body once everything was said and done. The type of world Infestation World takes place in isn’t a friendly one.

Infestation_BattleMode_SS (3)This is how social interaction works in Infestation World.

The gameplay in Infestation World is slow and relies on a more methodogical approach to survive. Running out with guns blazing is the quickest way to attract the attention of a few dozen zombies or the sniper bullet of an opportunistic player looking to score some loot. It pays to approach each situation with careful analysis to properly judge your chances of survival. This is doubly so when approaching other players. Getting a drop on them is almost essential to surviving the encounter.

 

While slow, steady and deadly wins the race in the open world portion of the game, the multiplayer battle modes are more of a mixed bag. Coming in two varieties, a standard Team Deathmatch that rewards the last ones standing, or the Time Attack option that focuses on racking up a kill count; these modes rely more on quick decisions and a twitchy trigger finger to get the job done. Caution is still rewarded, but being overly so can make you a sitting duck on the battlefield. These are the gameplay types to focus on if you are looking for a more standard shooter.

 

With all that being said, the game is in an early beta and could use some tweaks. Throughout my short adventure in the world, I found a few problems. Along with the general clipping and framerate issues, there were a few problems where I couldn’t seem to find a solution. Namely, the backpack didn’t seem to correctly judge the weight of each item. Even if my backpack could carry 50 lbs of supplies, it would seem to cap out at about 5 lbs when I attempted to equip my character on the menu screen. Furthermore, the lack of stats on the weapons and armor made it hard to decide which would be more effective than the other. Lastly, and probably the worse, the melee combat needs an upgrade. While grossly underpowered, they are also underwhelming to use on a zombie. The lifeless undead turned into a simple meat piñata for punishment whenever in melee combat. They hardly react, they don’t counterattack; they just stand there until you beat the infection right out of them for five or more hits. The whole process is wholly unsatisfying.

Infestation_BattleMode_SS (2)“Oh no! He talked about the games faults. Get him!”

If the idea of entering the deadly world of a zombie apocalypse interest you, the closed beta for Infestation World starts March 28th and the open beta begins April 6th. Till then, I hope I see you before you see me.

When not traversing a zombie infested wasteland as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Super Mutant Alien Assault (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Cybernate | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

Super Crate Box /soo-per kreyt boks/
          (Proper Noun)

  1. a retro style indie game known for it’s three major gameplay aspects: the item
    crates that appear throughout the level, one-room-per-stage level design and
    wave after wave of enemies are set upon the player.

          (Adjective)

  1. based on “Super Crate Box” and often sharing many similar designs.

There you go! I took that made up and somewhat redundant combination of words and defined it so you didn’t have too. You can thank me later.

Developed by Cybernate, published by Surprise Attack Games and in the very early part of its early access career, Super Mutant Alien Assault is a retro-style action game that sets to re-polish your 2D trigger finger and reacquaint you with your old jump-to-dodge tactics from days of video games past. Considering itself the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones (this is about the point where you should be thanking me), it shares many similar designs with the old 2010 game, as well as, it’s own little spin on the little known sub-genre.

Playing the part of security droids burdened with protecting cryogenically frozen humans that have escaped a dying earth, you must defend against herds of aliens while wielding a varied and random assortment of weapons, explosives and special abilities. Along the way to extraterrestrial genocide, there is a simple but sometimes difficult objective that must be cleared. Whether it is transporting something from point A to point B, stopping a series of explosives set around the stage, or simple eradication of the alien menace, it usually requires a careful balance between killing and completing the objective. To add to your troubles, the radiation your ship is apparently leaking (which I’m sure passed the high standards of whatever safety commission was involved in designing these ships) makes the Aliens evolve into bigger and stronger versions of themselves every few seconds. So if you somehow complete the objective without destroying a single alien, you’d find yourself with a screen’s worth of aggressive and powerful aliens that must be destroyed before moving onto the next stage.

If put into one word, I’d say this game is hardbutfair. Though there is a spot of chance involved with the abilities, guns and explosives you have at any particular moment due to their random nature, I never thought the game treated me unfairly. The randomness, in fact, was part of the fun. Responding and adapting to my ever-changing assortment of explosives and guns forced me to think on my feet and change my strategy at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, the game had plenty of options even in this early version. From the standard to the bizarre, one moment you’ll find yourself gunning down the alien herd with a machine gun and double jump combination, and the next  having to use your explosive Pogo stick to “Mario” your way to victory by jumping on top of the aliens. Local multiplayer is also available and strikes the same strategy-changing beats, though it is a bit easier since you are allowed to revive a fallen comrade. Overall, even at an early stage, the game has the potential to be a challenging but fun game.

While fun, that’s not to say the game doesn’t have its hiccups. The game is still very early in its Early Access cycle and it shows. In particular, the game has a few bugs to iron out. Though, not always, if the game is left paused for a few moments it will freeze and then close itself. Another bug makes the game’s frame rate drop by half whenever a countdown is taking place. Super Mutant Alien Assault is also very short, packing only 9 regular stages, three boss stages and a few unlockables in this early build; it has very little content. Of course, this is all likely to change in the coming months and upon full release.

Much like the security droids in the game, the developers of Super Mutant Alien Assault have some bugs to work out before its full release, sometime later this year or early next year. Though if they do manage to eradicate the alien menace that makes the game buggy and add more content to it in the process, the game might keep its promise in being the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones… whatever that means.

When not writing previews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Dungeon League (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Achebit | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games

Ever think of taking a cooperative game like Gauntlet and turning it on its head to make a competitive party game out of it? Taking fantasy classics like the warrior, cleric, wizard and… um… unicorn and putting them against the dungeon and each other? Then having them compete in various game modes that support fast and furious gameplay for the sole purpose of bragging rights? Nah… neither did I, but the guys at Surprise Attack Games and Achebit thought it would be a good idea so here I am to talk about it.

Dungeon League is a competitive party game that uses fantasy tropes to paint onto a foundation of competitive gameplay tropes to come out with a game that is shiny and new. Reminiscent of classic dungeon crawlers like Gauntlet, it takes those basic 8-bit designs and turns them into a party game where you’ll face the dungeon and each other in an assortment of competitive game modes. Add to that an assortment of varied classes, quick leveling and gameplay that supports it, you come out with basic building blocks that this game is built upon.

Still in a very early build and only about an hour’s worth of content to play through, I did enjoy the bit of multiplayer madness that the game delivered. Featuring matches that only last a couple minutes at a time, the game thrusts the players into one familiar competitive objective after the next with only a bit of downtime in between. Throwing you into a randomized assortment of objective-based gameplay like deathmatch, king of the hill, capture the flag and many more, the game seems to thrive on a fast and frantic play-style meant to push the players to complete the objectives as quickly as possible. After each round, the players are then tasked with using the bit of downtime to level up their character by way of an experience and gold system that allows them to upgrade special moves and buy items to create a beefier and stronger character for their next objective. All of this comes together into a quirky party game that could be enjoyable with friends.

The problem with friends, though, is that they have to be there to enjoy them (or they don’t exist to begin with but let’s not digress into my own personal problems) and, unfortunately, that’s not always the easiest to have around. The currently-available Tournament mode, and one of the future game types requires at least two players and with no online option to speak of, it means you’d have to gather a real life party to be able to properly enjoy half of the games types for some local play. While not too much of a major issue, it still presents a problem for those that prefer to play with friends online and for those that have no real friends (cries). On another note, while the game has some personality when dealing with the in-game vendor and trainer, that same personality seems missing in the monsters you encounter in matches. It is mostly a mix of generic monsters you’d find in most media based on a fantasy setting.

While not spectacular, Dungeon League has some potential. With a helping of two cooperative game modes and another competitive game mode on the way, the game plans to add variety to your dungeon crawling fun. Gauntlet (I see what you did there) mode provides a cooperative experience where up to 4 players will traverse a monster infested dungeon on a quest to defeat the Dungeon Master. In other cooperative fare, Survival modes pits the player and others against an endless stream of monsters all for the purpose of seeing how long they’ll last against the countless waves. Lastly, Dungeon Ball seems to be the last competitive offering to round out the game, where two teams are tasked with destroying each other, upgrading their minions and ultimately getting their ball to the end zone.

With a promise of other game types and an already fun early build, Dungeon League might warrant a look upon full release in 2016.  In the end, it might just be a game worth gathering friends around.

Dungeon League is available now on Steam Early Access.

When not writing previews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.

 

Hacknet (PC) Hands-On Preview

Developer: Team Fractal Alligator | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Outlook: Good

Writing previews for games are a bit of a challenge.  Previews serve as a way to give the readers an introduction to a game they may anticipate, and hopeful readers look for positive impressions before they have access themselves.  I tend to typically give preview builds the benefit of the doubt and stay hopeful that the final product will potentially deliver.  In this case, Hacknet definitely holds an interesting and unique potential.

Hacknet simulates a hacking environment, not unlike something you may see in exaggerated form on a TV show.  Through a number of commands you’ll solve what is essentially multi-layered puzzles that will force you to master a routine while solving the unique mission at hand.  The preview build provided to me allowed for approximately 40 minutes of gameplay, which included a Tutorial, a “test mission,” and an actual mission.

The gameplay serves as a backdrop and a storytelling device to a mystery involving the death of a hacker named Bit.  The preview build didn’t delve too deeply into the actual meat of the story, but mostly just alludes to some of the characters you are potentially going to have more interaction with later.  The simulated hacking environment uses real UNIX commands, so if you have experience with command line actions you’ll be able to pick up on most of what is happening pretty quickly.  The forced memorization of commands has the potential to be daunting if you aren’t comfortable with that sort of interaction with a computer, however.  One of the highlights of the game is its lack of hand-holding, so it appears that you’ll need a notepad or a good memory to execute the time-based puzzles correctly.  Ideally, you’ll be learning most of the commands as you go along, so the puzzles will probably become more advanced and require greater care to execute perfectly.  Hacknet aligns itself with “Papers, Please,” challenging different parts of your brain than what you may normally be accustomed to for games.

What got me really digging the puzzles was the sleek/futuristic user interface coupled with the music.  The music was contextually designed and matched the mood of what was going on appropriately.  The music really played a key part in turning up the tension when the first hacking challenge took place.  They didn’t want to give too much away so the game abruptly turns off once you hit a certain point in the puzzle/mission.  As an aside, they included a functional clicker mini-game, which implies there are possibly other mini-games that might be added to create variety.

The preview build left me with a generally positive impression, and I’m looking forward to what the complete game will offer.  Hacknet will be $10 when it releases in August.

Information from the press release is as follows:

Hacknet is an immersive, terminal-based hacking simulator for PC. Dive down a rabbit hoIe as you follow the instructions of a recently deceased hacker, whose death may not have been the accident the media reports. Using old school command prompts and real hacking processes, you’ll solve the mystery with minimal hand-holding and a rich world full of secrets to explore.

Bit, a hacker responsible for creating the most invasive security system on the planet, is dead. When he fails to reconnect to his system for 14 days, his failsafe kicks in, sending instructions in automated emails to a lone user.  As that user, it’s up to you to unravel the mystery and ensure that Hacknet-OS doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Exploring the volatile nature of personal privacy, the prevalence of corporate greed, and the hidden powers of hackers on the internet, Hacknet delivers a true hacking simulation, while offering a support system that allows total beginners get a grasp of the real-world applications and commands found throughout the game.

Hacknet will launch on PC via Steam and the Humble Store on August 12, 2015.

 

Reveal Trailer:

 

A preview build of Hacknet was provided to Squackle.

 

Fran Bow (PC) Demo Preview

Currently in a crowdfunding campaign at IndieGoGo.com.

Developer: Killmonday

Overview:

Children. Strange happenings. Dirty walls. Psychotic medications. These are just some of the things I can’t get grandma to shut up about. These elements are also present in this great preview for an upcoming horror-themed point and click adventure. Fran Bow shares its name with the lead protagonist (Fran Bow, if you’re paying attention).

Story:

Fran Bow is a ten year old, saucer-eyed girl in the Bow family that seems to have trouble making friends. She receives a black cat from her parents and dubs it “Mr. Midnight.” She remarks that the cat is her only friend, although she quite likes her aunt Grace as well.

We all know that in any good story, if one good thing happens, five bad things have to occur right after. Fran Bow finds this out as she comes across her murdered parents one tragic night. This understandably sends her running into the night in a panic. She finds solace only in Mr. Midnight, and eventually blacks out from the traumatic event.

An untold amount of time passes, and we find poor Fran in a psychiatric evaluation center, surrounded by adults that either don’t believe her story, or don’t care. She is given a new medication that sends her into a bizarro world where there is nothing but death and misery every time she takes it.

She knows that her aunt Grace would take good care of her, but no one will let her leave. Can she find a way out? Will she find Mr. Midnight and aunt Grace? Does she need prescription eye drops to see properly?

Graphics:

The characters and setting are very stylized and detailed. Animations are on the basic side but I believe this was done for artistic purposes. Nothing looks out of place, and the game maintains a great visual theme throughout the demo. Little touches like the grainy filter covering the screen help to immerse the player further into the story. The characters are appropriately disturbed looking and mesh well with the creepy atmosphere.

Sound:

All music and sound effects are appropriate for the situation, which is really all I ask for in a game. Still, it would’ve been nice to have a few more sounds, such as a little jingle when you played with a toy.

Gameplay:

Standard point and click adventure mechanics, which you’d expect any game in this genre to have. You click on items to examine or take them, and use things you find to try to escape the asylum. Fran’s a very clever girl, so she can combine different objects together through her inventory menu and use them to reach her goals.

Fran also has a bit of a troubled mind. She carries around a jar of the psychotropic pills that the doctor didn’t want her to have anymore. If you decide to pop one, the room you’re in is transformed into some horrible alternate reality filled with dead bodies, evil spirits, and bloody messages on walls that sometimes hint at what you should do next.

There are several fun, just-challenging-enough puzzles to satisfy anyone looking to use their brain. These can vary from finding a key, to combing the right items together to progress the story.

Crappiest Part:

The fact that this is only a demo and the full version isn’t funded yet! That’s a not-very-subtle way of me telling you to go pledge on their campaign!

Overall:

Aside from a few grammar and spelling mistakes here and there due to the company not speaking English as their first language, Fran Bow oozes professionalism (and lots of other stuff if you take your pills). The demo is a good length, being just long enough to make you want the full game. I suggest anyone interested in well-done adventure games, or just games with a good story, to head over to their IndieGoGo page and throw down what you can to help make this great game happen.

Fran Bow IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign

 

Resistance 2 (PS3) E3 2008 Preview

Developer: Insomniac Games | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

At E3 2008, I had the opportunity to extensively play the multiplayer mode in Resistance 2. The demo was a 60-man multiplayer game, full of Sony and Insomniac Games employees. The single player demo was only available in a limited-access Sony meeting room.

The map we played on was pretty large and looked like a destroyed mountain town. There were cars strewn about, large holes and vastly different areas to see. There was a lumberyard as well as cabin houses surrounded by lots of trees and water.

The gameplay itself is largely intact from the original Resistance. There are a few things however that felt downgraded – at least from what the demo gives the impression of so far. The Chimera themselves seem to play more like the Human characters now. The Human side basically has the same benefits as the Chimera. All characters are able to use one of several special Chimera abilities called “Berserk.” Berserk powers are different depending on which side you’re on, but you are able to choose your weapon load-out and powers from the get-go. Berserk powers include things like invisibility (while not firing), increased health recovery, more ammo dropped and the like. A Chimera player starts out with one hedgehog grenade this time as well. While this evens the playing field, it feels like it sort of goes against what the first Resistance tried to accomplish.

Some weapons are a little different as well. A few of them got a face-lift, like the Auger and Bullseye. The M5A2 and Rossmore look the same, though. There are also one or two new weapons that are new, namely the Marksman, and the HE Magnum. The Wraith is also allowed for use in multiplayer, which was only available after you completed your primary run-through of Resistance: Fall of Man.

Oddly, I didn’t notice any rocket launchers. It could have just been the game mode, but it seems logical that the Wraith is replacing it. Or perhaps you just don’t start out with a rocket launcher and must find it on the map before you can use it. The Auger makes a bubble shield now instead of a door-shield, which seems weird, but it makes it easier for shooting through at different angles. The handgun is hard to aim precisely with, though adjusting the sensitivity might fix that. The new shotgun feels worthless; even if you’re at point blank range, you’ll have a hard time trying to kill someone.

Something I find very disappointing in contrast to the original Resistance is that you can only hold on to two weapons at a time, meaning you have to switch weapons lying on the floor for the one you’re currently holding. I enjoyed being able to use any weapon I found on the ground, as it was different than what most popular shooters nowadays like to do.

The game seems to emphasize strategy less than the original in this build. I’m hoping that element of the multiplayer isn’t lost when all is said and done. The map we played was just a big open map with a few interesting elements, but in the end it felt like a run-of-the-mill FPS map to me, which is also sort of disappointing considering the first game’s maps all had something unique about them.

Resistance 2 looks good for a third-generation PS3 title. The most obvious comparison I could make was against Killzone 2, which was right around the corner, though the games have vastly differing art styles. Here’s hoping that the single-player mode has some nice things in store as far as level design and character design.

During my play time, I had an unusual seven-kill spree. I was quite an avid Resistance player when I first purchased my PS3, and I’m definitely looking forward to playing Resistance 2’s multiplayer. However, Resistance 2’s single player will be the most compelling aspect when it comes to retail.

The demo didn’t let me customize controls, but one of the exhibitors said they’re still going to add more stuff to the options menu. Pressing R3 for melee was less comfortable than pressing X. You can also now shake the controller to perform a melee attack, which is a fine use for the Sixaxis motion control.

People who liked the first Resistance will probably like Resistance 2. It might appeal to more people because it aligned itself closer to the elements of today’s popular shooters. Since the single-player mode aims to continue the story-line, we can expect to at least learn a little bit more about the world that is created in the Resistance games.

 

Spectrobes (DS) Preview

Developer: Jupiter Corporation | Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios

Spectrobes is a new action RPG from Disney for the Nintendo DS. Developed by the Jupiter Corporation in Kyoto, Japan, players assume the role of Rallen, a young officer in the Planetary Patrol. The Planetary Patrol keeps people in the galaxy safe from harm. Along with your fellow officer Jeena, you go from planet to planet keeping everything safe. When Rallen and Jeena find a capsule that encases an old soldier by the name of Aldus, that’s when they find there is more to the galaxy than it may seem.

World-eating creatures named the Kraul are coming towards Rallen and Jeena’s solar system, and the only way they can be defeated are by using the powers of dormant creatures named Spectrobes that are buried as fossils beneath planet surfaces. When used, the fossils create Spectrobes that can be raised into powerful allies. Rallen must go to each planet and excavate minerals to give them more power. To find fossils and minerals, Rallen uses a baby Spectrobe that is able to detect them. Moving around on the gameplay screen consists of using the D-pad, and when a Spectrobe finds something to dig out of the ground (you have to tell it to find something) you tap the screen where a sparkly little dot is and enter the digging mode. You use the stylus to “dig” by rubbing the touch screen. There are different tools for Rallen to use while digging for fossils and minerals, and using the right ones will end in a successful excavation.

Once you acquire a Spectrobe fossil, you’ll have to wake it up by using the microphone in the DS. The way you’ll wake it up is by singing or humming a tune at a sustained volume that is denoted on the screen. Once a Spectrobe is awakened, you put it in an incubator and feed it minerals until it becomes an adult. Once it becomes an adult, you can add it to your party as a battle Spectrobe. You can carry up to six at the same time, but only two can be used actively in battle with the remaining four supporting the two that are in battle. Eventually, Spectrobes will evolve into a more powerful form to further help in your battle against the Kraul. During battle, you can command the Spectrobes that are on either side of Rallen with the L and R shoulder buttons. You’ll have to use the Spectrobes in the correct order to get through battles, and as time goes on, the combos get more complicated.

While looking at the screenshots, the graphics aren’t anything to get too excited about. The art direction is very akin to Japanese RPGs, so if you like that kind of art style, the game should be up your alley. Controlling the menu screens were a little annoying to me since it was a combination of using the controls on the DS and the touch screen. An interesting aspect of the game is that you can acquire (buy?) physical cards that you can put on top of the DS’ touch screen and poke at the holes that are punched in the card to unlock a new Spectrobe. Kind of an interesting implementation of the touch screen, but I’m not sure if it’d be worth it if you have to buy these cards separately or whatever you have to do with them. Recently I had seen a GameStop advertisement about the game and it seems like they will give a card out for free, while supplies last, with a purchase of Spectrobes, but it also implied that there would be more cards to buy separately.

Spectrobes is due to be released this week in North America.

 

Defcon (PC) Hands-On Preview

Developer/Publisher: Introversion Software ||

Defcon is the newest game from UK developer Introversion Software. Introversion has already established a great reputation with Darwinia making Defcon a game to look forward to. Defcon is nuclear war on a global scale – you pick your country and your alliance with the intent of defeating those who aren’t aligned with you.

Defcon takes place on the world stage. While the game is real-time, it looks like it also integrates some aspects of traditional turn-based games to give the game a different flavor. The thing that instantaneously sets this game apart from other strategy games is the unique graphical style. Anyone who has played Darwinia, will instantly see the relation between the two games’ visual styles – which look like enhanced “retro” graphics.

The game itself takes place in a time where the world’s super powers are entrenched in all-out thermonuclear war. For those who have seen the movie WarGames with Matthew Broderick, this game is basically based off of the idea in the movie in which Broderick’s character hacks into a military computer and initiates a “war game” simulation. When I saw that movie for the first time, I thought the prospect of being able to actually play a game that looks like what happened in WarGames would be an exciting experience – an experience that has become a reality with Defcon. Multiplayer gaming is pretty much the key to the game, though you can play the game against bots. A tutorial mode is included as well. The game promises to be easy to learn yet hard to win.

One of the main aspects of the game is that it is very minimal by nature. Your units, countries, missile silos and all other components of the game are represented by simple shapes. There are barely any real sound effects except for slight rumblings when nuclear bombs go off, all taking place while ambient music plays. The game feels like its quiet when it actually isn’t.

Defcon is currently scheduled to release in September 2006.

 

Warhawk (PS3) E3 2006 Preview

Developer: Incognito Entertainment/SCE Santa Monica | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Warhawk has created a tremendous buzz at this E3, especially since it was the only game on the floor to use Sony’s newest feature in the PS3 controller — the motion sensitivity. Regardless of what preconceptions you might have about Warhawk and the motion sensing, it ends up being a mixed bag when it comes to its actual execution.

The game itself looks pretty spectacular. I was impressed with the visuals at their current stage, especially seeing it on a full 1080p HDTV. There weren’t very many “jaggies” at all. Basically the whole demo encompassed you destroying tons of planes and a couple of cruisers allowing you to see how the game basically worked.

Of course, the biggest focus in this game at the show was how well it utilized the motion sensing. There were rumblings online about how the developers at Incognito only had about two weeks to integrate the motion sensing use and only used two of the axis’ – even so the motion sensing was very intuitive. Some people say there was a lag between your hand moving and the plane, but I felt like it was pretty much how it should have been. You can’t expect a huge metal plane to maneuver as fast as two hands with a plastic controller – there should be some sort of realism, right?

The demo offered either Hover Mode or Flight Mode and used the motion sensing to fly around and target enemies – pressing Square to shoot at them. The targeting was alright, but it was the weak point of the demo. Hopefully it will be improved by the final version, but it was definitely playable as it was. To do a barrel roll, you would press one of the shoulder buttons and tip the controller all the way to that direction. Otherwise you’ll just make a very sharp turn if you don’t press the button.

I had fun with the Warhawk demo, and it was definitely a great way to show off the motion controlling even though it wasn’t perfect and needed to be tweaked a little bit more. This resurrected franchise from the PSOne days should definitely come to be an excellent revival.

 

 

Motorstorm (PS3) E3 2006 Preview

Developer: Evolution Studios | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

To my surprise, Motorstorm was on the show floor at Sony’s booth. The problem was it was sort of hidden, which is a shame because it was awesome. Can’t-possibly-be-legal dirt battle racing doesn’t get much better than Motorstorm. Racing to the finish is the obvious goal of the game, but how you get there is different from anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. As you race through the course, you leave tracks in the dirt, degrading its quality and making it that much slippier – more than it may already be. Coupled with some amazing A.I., Motorstorm is quite literally a blast.

Each vehicle has its own strengths when it comes to the kind of track and what route you decide to take. In the demo, I played as the buggy and its strength was leaned towards dry land racing as opposed to wet terrain or mud. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know that until after and ended up losing pretty badly. The opponent A.I. is very impressive as well, as they will try everything in their power to exploit your weakness — nothing short of ramming into you or making you slam into a wall or a huge rock. As you make your way through the track, your car becomes dirtier and dirtier, and you even see the mud fly out from beneath the wheels. Attention to detail like this made Motorstorm look really cool. As for the motion blur, it’s integrated nicely, even though it might be happening at speeds that shouldn’t really have it. The blur increases as you go faster. When you crash, your vehicle might break apart, allowing you to watch the parts fly off in slow motion. These effects add to the immersion and make the game more fun; especially on the huge HDTV they had it hooked up on.

I had the opportunity to ask the producer how he thought they might be able to use the recently added motion sensing capabilities in the PS3 controller to the game, and he said they might make it so if you flick the controller in a certain direction, your driver would lash out at a vehicle next to you, which sounds pretty cool, but as of E3 it wasn’t in the game. I am personally excited for Motorstorm. I think it’ll turn out to be a great game when all is said and done.

 

Full Auto 2: Battlelines (PS3) E3 2006 Preview

Developer: Pseudo Interactive | Publisher: SEGA ||

Virtua Fighter 5 isn’t the only Sega game to get excited about for the PS3. Full Auto 2 is coming exclusively to the PS3. Strap on your excitement helmet and get ready for some good old fashioned cars-retrofitted-with-machine-guns-and-rockets action! With potentially fantastic elements, Full Auto 2 look like it’ll end up being quite fun. The game has interactive environments and super glossy (not to mention expensive) civilian-type cars with weaponry, so it’s up to you to be Mr. Full Auto and kill everyone and everything you can.

The E3 demo was just the multiplayer battle mode, so after you died, you respawned, and proceeded to rack up as many points as you can by blowing up your opponents. It was pretty fun; I ended up playing a few games in about half an hour, completely oblivious to the Virtua Fighter 5 action going on in the same booth. I had the opportunity to ask one of the level designers about what they might use the motion control for. He said he wasn’t sure about it being used for steering (since people would lay down while playing sometimes) but rather for aiming with the weaponry. As it was right now, the aiming requires you to move the car because the crosshairs are right in the middle of the screen.

Regardless, Full Auto 2 is a pretty fun multiplayer game as it stands now, and should be better by the time the game is ready to ship.

 

SingStar (PS2) E3 2006 Preview

Developer: SCE London Studio | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

While at E3 this year, I was able to try out Sony’s Singstar for the PS2. At first I was a little hesitant to pick up the surprisingly well-made microphone, and just stood by watching other people sing. But when nobody was playing anymore, I decided to give it a try. While I played, one of the representatives from Sony that was demonstrating the game played with me the whole time. SingStar has been a very popular game in Europe, so its surprising that it took so long for the game to come over – it was instantly apparent to me why it’s so popular as soon as I started playing.

The most impressive thing about the game is the user interface. It’s very clean and very intuitive, and I actually like shuffling through album covers while looking for songs to sing. There is a very generous mix of rock and pop music, and it was interesting to see Nirvana, The Darkness, and Franz Ferdinand (to name a few) in the song list. Just as Guitar Hero helps you better appreciate what a guitarist can do, SingStar will make you appreciate how well someone can sing or perform certain lyrics. The “do do do” and “lucky lucky” interludes Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To” come to mind as being very tricky to get the words right. The high notes in “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” by the Darkness also come to mind as being incredibly challenging.

The game shows you the music video while you sing. This gives players something to watch during solos and other non-singing parts, so you’re not completely bored. When you are supposed to sing, the lyrics show up at the bottom of the screen with the word you’re singing highlighted. Depending on how close you are to getting the correct note/pitch, you get points. Playing alone probably won’t be as fun as it would be playing with someone else, just because it’s fun being able to compete and see who sings better. Lines show up on the screen corresponding to how the actual song is sung. As you sing into the microphone, another line will appear, graphically depicting if you are higher or lower than the note you should be at. The closer you are to the song’s own line, the more points you get. If you hit notes correctly at certain points of a song’s line that are sparkling, you’ll get a “Golden Note” which counts for bonus points. It’s a very simple game – one that can teach you how to sing your favorite songs.

I had fun playing SingStar on PS2. A version is coming to the PS3 that will allow players to download songs, but the multiple PS2 versions will be pre-chosen packages. Even though the PS3 version was on the floor, I wasn’t able to try that one out because there were a lot more people packed into the PS3 section cracking jokes about “600 dollars” than I would have cared to show off my singing abilities to.

 

 

Guitar Hero II (PS2) E3 2006 Preview

Developer: Harmonix Music Studios | Publisher: RedOctane

Guitar Hero II, you say? New songs, you say? Sold! Guitar Hero II is basically Guitar Hero with different songs. So far the game seems better, but how? Well, the multiplayer mode has become more worthwhile – much more worthwhile. The single player mode’s highlights are basically being able to play the new songs, so multiplayer is a different kind of special.

As opposed to the first Guitar Hero, songs in the sequel are recorded with two “tracks” – one for the lead guitar and one for rhythm guitar. If there is only one guitar, bass will be used for the second track. Needless to say this an improvement over the first game since it made you share the same track. However, that doesn’t mean they removed the previous mode — both the new and the old style of play are here. There is nothing gameplay-wise that was in the first game that isn’t in Guitar Hero II.

I played the game at E3, and was able to experience a new song first hand. For some reason I wasn’t doing all that good, maybe because I was really close to the screen or maybe because my timing was off that day. There looked to be new venues and new characters, which is good if only just to show more of a change between the two Guitar Hero games, but the main addition will be new songs that are going to be included.

As it is, Guitar Hero is a great game and getting a new set of songs to play is exciting to wait for. There’s nothing new about the guitar for Guitar Hero II, so you’ll be able to use your guitar controller already. Fifty songs or so are said to be in the new Guitar Hero, so it’ll be exciting to see more of the songs revealed as the game comes closer to shipping.

The list of songs that have been revealed so far is as follows:

Drist – Arterial Black (original track)
Primus – John The Fisherman (original track)
The Reverend Horton Heat – Psychobilly Freakout
KISS – Strutter
Black Sabbath – War Pigs
The Butthole Surfers – Who Was in My Room Last Night
The Kinks, as performed by Van Halen – You Really Got Me
Rush – YYZ

 

PlayStation 3 Controller Preview

The Playstation 3 controller has changed quite a bit from its Dual Shock and Dual Shock 2 relatives. Whether or not its going to be called Dual Shockless (because of the lack of rumble) or end up being called the Dual Shock 3 (if by some miracle Sony puts rumble back into it), its got a few other changes to point out that are relatively for the better.

The form factor is quite literally the same as the Dual Shock 2, maybe changed a little to fit the palms easier, but all in all the same. It’s lighter, but still feels durable – maybe not as much as the Dual Shock 2, but that’s because of the weight that has been dropped between the two controllers. But this loss of rumble motor weight should help while using the motion sensing and battery life. Speaking of battery life, its supposed to last for about 24 hours on a single charge. The battery will be integrated into the controller, so that it won’t compromise the shape of the Dual Shock, though it probably would be a good idea to make it user replaceable.

All the controllers at E3 were wired, so they obviously were not the final controllers since very controller is to be wireless by Bluetooth. There are four lights on the top part of the controller to indicate which controller is which. As of now, seven controllers are still supposed to be used, but the lack of three extra lights on the controller might be worrisome to a few people. It’s possible to show controllers over four by displaying two lights at the same time, for a total of seven combinations of lights up to two lights on at the same time. There is also a USB port on the top of the controller for the final version which will allow for charging, and who knows, maybe even attachments.
The analog sticks became more sensitive, increasing from 8 bit to 10 bit in resolution. The game that really showed off the enhancement to me was Mobile Suit Gundam, during the aiming of its machine gun. The analog sticks seem like they will be more apologetic towards FPS games than any other PlayStation controller before it, so some people will be happy about that. A “Home” or “Guide” button has been added to the middle with the PS logo on it. The “Analog” button is gone now, so you can always assume that analog is on. Though it was nice to know your controller was working by having that light, the new indicator lights will replace that use, I’m sure.

As far as I could tell, pressure sensitivity is still there in the buttons, as well as the L3 and R3 (clicking sticks) buttons. The only buttons that have really changed are the L2 and R2 buttons. They’re more like true analog triggers, while still keeping their traditional button feel. Some people say they feel a little “spongey,” but I didn’t get that feeling at all. It’ll just take a little getting used to how they work as opposed to the L2/R2 buttons on a Dual Shock 2.

Motion sensing is obviously the biggest new feature in the PS3 controller, and is supposedly responsible for the removal of the rumble feature. The only game to use the motion sensing was Warhawk, and it definitely seems that the motion sensing will be a worthwhile function. It will not get as huge of a focus as the Wii’s motion sensing will get (most likely), but the way I look at it, it shouldn’t be. It will probably only be used for small improvements/functionality not otherwise possible before. The motion sensing itself in Warhawk at E3 felt like a fully spherical analog stick – instead of just using the top part of the sphere that regular analog sticks sit on top of. The motion sensing will probably see its biggest functionality be that of a substitute or third analog stick than anything else. Small flicks and the like might be all that’d happen otherwise, but developers should be able to surprise us down the line.

Though no one had a chance to use the “boomerang” PS3 controller, going with the Dual Shock design again is a good and bad thing. It’s good because we know how it works and how it feels, but it’s also bad because it doesn’t really try to improve too much of the ergonomics of how it feels. Maybe the PS4 will see another design.