Serious Sam II (PC) Review

Developer: Croteam / Publisher: 2K Games || Overall: 7.8/10

Serious Sam II is the latest from Serious Sam development company Croteam. Serious Sam II has a bit to live up to as the previous games in the series have earned it reputation in the genre they are a part of – the first person shooter (FPS). In a market saturated with FPSs, there are stand-out names that you’ll recognize as a “canon” FPS game; unfortunately Serious Sam just might never be as recognizable of a name as Half-Life, Quake, and Doom because of the unfortunate fact that it does little to really distinguish itself and lacks the quality of the top-rung FPSs out today. Serious Sam II is a step in the right direction for the Serious Sam series, but it’s just not enough to be considered anything more than second-tier.

Serious Sam II starts its single-player mode with Sam being summoned to destroy an ultimately evil guy named Mental, who is the commander of the evil forces that “came from nowhere” in the first Serious Sam. Basically, the goal is to blast your way through all of his minions that come your way on five different planets while in search of a piece of an artifact. When joined, the five pieces hold the key to destroying the seemingly invincible Mental. It’s not a very compelling story to say the least, but there is a sporadic amount of silly humor that can get a few laughs to break up the large amounts of action involved through the game.

So, what separates Serious Sam II from all the other first person shooter games out right now? Not much. The formula of Serious Sam II rides on the droves of cartoon-like enemies (characterized in the Hell motif) that are to be killed. Enemies will constantly appear in large groups and seemingly never-ending amounts. There are solid graphics with pretty scenery, interesting-looking enemies, and aside from the guns the game is full of weird sound effects. As said before, you’ll go through five different planets which will basically just be different in terms of particular enemies you’ll see and possibly guns you’ll pick up. It should be noted that every part of the game is fairly visually pleasing, and as a consequence very demanding on your hardware.

There are plenty of weapons available for use throughout the game. The standard issue radial chainsaw, plasma gun, and dual magnums have unlimited ammo, and at the beginning of each new planet you’ll be reset to the basics. Guns you’ll pick up along the way in each level include the single-shot shotgun, double barrel shotgun, plasma rifle, rocket launcher, and dual Uzis, among others. In first person mode, the guns look very nice, but in third person mode, they won’t be as flashy since you’re looking down from a few feet behind Sam. One thing about the weapons is that you don’t technically reload; you just have to keep your guns fed with ammo to keep them working.

If there’s one thing to say about Serious Sam II, it’s that it’s hard. Really hard. Really really hard. If you play the game on normal or more, you’ll be wasting gobs of time retrying certain parts of levels over and over. I had originally played the game on Normal; about two hours into the game I couldn’t pass a part where an armada of enemies just kept coming and I would keep dying. I got so frustrated that I restarted the game at a lower difficulty and within twenty minutes I was stuck at the same place. If you’re looking for a challenge when it comes to testing your FPS skills, you’ll find it in Serious Sam II.

There is also the possibility of playing multiplayer. There’s not much to it, since you’ll just be playing cooperatively through the whole single player mode with unlimited ammo for all weapons. You can turn friendly fire on or off, but you can’t play a makeshift deathmatch-mode in this way since everyone’s lives feed off the same pile. Believe it or not, that’s all there is to multiplayer — Co-op.

There are parts about Serious Sam II that take a toll on the overall game. First, the frame rate will take a dive when you’re in the middle of huge battles with lots of enemies. What’s even worse is that when you’re NOT in huge battles and there actually are no enemies at all, you’ll still be suffering from a low frame rate. Thankfully, the frame rate isn’t so low that the game is absolutely unplayable, but it does get annoying. The reason behind it is probably because the whole level you’re on is loaded before you play since there are only load screens at the end of the huge stages. Another annoying thing is the sound in pre-rendered cutscenes — it hiccups or cuts out every couple seconds which is also very annoying to say the least. Thankfully, however, there aren’t that many pre-rendered scenes and the real-time cutscenes don’t have sound problems at all.

The level designs also don’t allow for much strategy in how you undertake certain areas such as hiding behind walls or the like. More often than not you’ll be in a somewhat open area fighting the onslaught of enemies rather than fighting a small amount of strategically placed foes. What the game basically comes down to is how good you are at surviving rather than relying on strategy with weaponry, and that gets pretty repetitive. At least there are a lot of levels to play through, however. At times, you’ll have to move items by “picking it up” and if you use certain things to your advantage you can get to certain areas you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Not to mention there is a bit of clunky platforming integrated into the game.

What’s presented here might be all that’s really expected from a Serious Sam game, but with weak multiplayer modes, a very lacking story, and difficulty levels that would put escaping from a natural disaster to shame, Serious Sam II ends up not being much more than a first person shooter with tons of enemies to kill amidst massive amounts of frustration. With all that aside, if the culmination of performance problems weren’t present, and it included some more multiplayer options, Serious Sam II could have been a very fun game.

 

Darwinia (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Introversion Studios || Overall: 9.2/10

It’s not too often that I play an innovative game on the PC. Especially since all the once-innovative games on PC have become old news. This has all changed with Introversion Software’s Darwinia. There isn’t one recently released game that I could name that has achieved the heights of innovation Darwinia has bestowed upon me and others who were fortunate enough to have played it already. In a presentation style that will remind everyone of a “retro” gaming look, you are immersed in a world of polygons and purposefully pixilated sprites, creating the feeling that you’re in a computer-generated world with a large amount of colors to bring it all to life; it’s a completely different approach to the recent trend of being as realistic as possible. Darwinia is made to look like a game. It’s truly a refreshing experience, not to mention it’s also fun.

Currently only released in the UK, Darwinia takes place in a world created by Dr. Sepulveda in which little green inhabitants called Darwinians live in communities, passing down their information into later generations. Dr. Sepulveda has managed to create tens of thousands of generations of Darwinians, allowing them to, in effect, evolve. But all is not well in Darwinia when a virus infects Darwinia, severely decreasing the population of Darwinians to drastic lows. The virus, in the form of bugs, must be exterminated to ensure the survival of Darwinia and its inhabitants. That’s where you come in. Not exactly sure why you’re there in the first place, Dr. Sepulveda asks you to help him as long as you’re there. Since the world of Darwinia is a computer, you’re given many computer-related techniques and weaponry to stop the virus and repopulate the Darwinians from utter extinction. Though the story is sparse, it works well enough to keep you going through the game.

While it is technically classified as a real-time strategy (RTS) game, Darwinia is far from the traditional RTS games you’ll encounter. First of all there is no resource gathering to build troops. You build all of your units (called “programs”) by going into a “task manager” and drawing “gestures.” There is no limit to how many you can make in the long run, but you can only have a limited amount of these programs running at the same time. Two of these important programs include the Squad and the Engineer, which will be used throughout the game. The Squad is your basic unit which allows you to clear out the viruses from Darwinia. Once the individual virus bugs are destroyed, you send in Engineers to gather up “souls” to bring back to an Incubator to give birth to Darwinians out of the information acquired. Engineers also allow you to take control of buildings you previously did not have control of before. As you progress through the game, all of your abilities will get better as Dr. Sepulveda researches/codes better things to do into the already existing programs. Later on your Squads can call in air-strikes, launch rockets and grenades, and your Engineers can gather more souls at the same time to bring back to the Incubator. The technology upgrading aspect is not new to RTS games, but you do not need to pool resources into making certain things better on account that there are no resources. You basically choose which technology to upgrade and play the waiting game. To utilize the different weaponry affinities your Squad can have, you must first have a squad selected on the map, and according to how to draw which kind of weaponry you want them to have, you can give them one of the more advanced abilities to use instead of the default grenades by drawing a gesture in the task manager.

Not only is what you see a throwback into what seems like 1980s-quality graphics in 3D, but you also get to enjoy an electronic-oriented soundtrack with an 8-bit-era flare to it. That’s when the music plays, though, because most of the time you’ll just be listening to the sound effects during the game. The main reason why they did this was probably because you’d be playing levels for a couple hours, and you’d listen to the same track over and over again.

What is unfortunate about the game is that the frame rate takes a dive once you begin going into huge levels with a massive amount of things happening at the same time. My computer well exceeded the recommended requirements to play the game, but I was still getting frame rates of less than ten or if I was lucky nearer to fifteen or twenty for a few seconds at a time. The latest patch available at the time (v1.21) didn’t help to remedy the problem either. This leaves to speculation whether or not the huge levels in the game should have been broken down into smaller stages or certain areas on the map were loaded at any given time rather than the whole map being displayed in real time. Even after putting all the graphics and sound options on their bare minimum and increasing the priority of the task in the Windows Task Manager to “Realtime” I still couldn’t hit the 30+ fps that was achieved in the very early stages of the game. The loss of frame rate impairs the way the game is played, making everything’s difficulty (even a simple click) ten times harder to do.

Just as a side note, if you have the Windows PowerToy that replaces your Alt+Tab switcher (like I do) to one that has a little screenshot of the program you want to switch to, you’ll have to disable it if you want to play Darwinia correctly, since it makes use of the Alt+Tab combination within the game and the PowerToy just messes it up. If you want to disable the PowerToy, you have to run “msconfig” from the “Run” dialog and uncheck the program called “taskswitch.exe.” This will disable the Alt+Tab PowerToy, and you can go back into it at a later time and re-enable it if you so desire. While using the keyboard combination in the first place is questionable to me, to say the least, there’s no way to change it, so you’ll have to adapt to it.

In the end, Darwinia really just is Lemmings on a grander scale. You have to use the Darwinians (which are more or less in a limited supply depending on how many souls you can get to incubate before they fly away after a certain amount of time) to complete certain objectives, and while you can use the programs at your disposal to complete the game, it really comes down to the managing of the Darwinians. If the Nintendo DS were powerful enough, Darwinia would be an almost-perfect game to make use of its touch screen.

I can’t stress this enough: Darwinia is an awesome game not only for the presentation alone, but also how unique the game is on its own. Hopefully developers/publishers will take Darwinia as an example and create games that go in a completely different direction from what is popular now and still make it an excellent game.

 

Dope Game, The (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: 89 Games || Overall: 7.0/10

It’s not too often that an RTS (real-time strategy) game can make a positive impact on the genre, and 89 Games’ Dope Game unfortunately lives up to that expectation. It’s not a game that is good to the innovation of the genre, especially when it brings a skimpy and boring “business management” aspect with it. In Dope Game, you are on a secluded piece of land on another planet. As the lone drug farmer, it is your responsibility to fend off policemen who feel that your entrepreneurial endeavors are ill-intentioned. With laser gun in hand, you’ll show the police that you’re just trying to make an honest living exporting marijuana, opium, hash, morphine, and heroin. Rather than being a theme that is interesting, it’s a theme that is meant to strike controversy rather than genuine interest. Given, there aren’t a lot of games based on drugs, but what you do in the game really doesn’t make it worth playing.

Almost too simplistic for its own good, Dope Game is technically an RTS/Action hybrid game. Unlike traditional RTS games, in which you amass units and send them at your enemies, Dope Game just uses a fairly simple amount of buildings and guard towers to build up a “base,” and when police attack you with laser guns and mechs, its up to (mainly) your defenses to thwart the threat, but until you can really afford to set up defenses, you’ll have to do the dirty work yourself (and later on, help your defenses out).

As soon as a police raid starts, the drug dealer will come out of the Headquarters and it’s up to you and how fast you can click your mouse to ward off the police. So what the game comes down to in the end is: build a base and shoot stuff. Sure there’s a little bit of strategy involved since you’ll have to increase your crops of marijuana and opium to fund your hash, morphine, and heroin production (and there isn’t too much space to actually build on for that matter), but the real challenge comes with how much money you can make in the time allotted to record the score on a high score list.

To really be rolling in the dough, you will have to play it smart, and as any RTS gamer can tell you, how you begin a new game is crucial, and Dope Game is no exception. To ramp up your cash flow, you’ll have to export as many drugs as you can so you can make enough money to make the more expensive drugs like hash, morphine, and especially heroin. All in all, it’s not too hard to get to the point, but the police raids can throw a kink in the system if you’re killed, your Headquarters is blown up, or a very important crop is destroyed in the process. Out of all the drugs available, heroin is the biggest pay off, and once you get two or three heroin production facilities up and supplied with enough opium, the rest will be simple. You can set up as many laser guard towers and missile guard towers to fend off those pesky police, more spaceships for exporting your goods, or even other heroin buildings with more opium plants to achieve money at even greater heights. The more guard towers you place, however, the more “expense” it will be to keep them running, and they will take a bite out of your profits. Of course there’s a simple solution to that, as you can just make more drugs to export each time along with more spaceships.

The goal of the whole game is to achieve the most amount of money you can in the in-game days that are given while minimizing police damage to attain that goal.

So what’s bad about the game? Not much, it’s just not anything more than a mediocre game. It runs well; the fps doesn’t have any noticeable decrease even if you have a ton of missile towers shooting at the same time. The music and sound effects aren’t horrible either, though there are only two songs, and the sound effects sound futuristic enough to believe them to be what they are. Graphics-wise, the game will not push your hardware at all, as long as you have a computer that isn’t horribly outdated.

Dope Game is OK. It’s not something that is going to make you say “wow” by any means, but if you’re in for a bit of what can be called a new experience, then it might be worth to give Dope Game a try. Though the game’s basis is all about drugs and futuristic shooting, I’d go as far as to say a kid might enjoy the shooting sequences, but it’s really nothing to get excited about.

 

Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport (PC) Hands-On Preview

Developer: Kylotonn Entertainment | Publisher: Digital Jesters ||

For those of you who have yearned for a game that resembled The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger, wait no longer, as the futuristic FPS of your dreams is on its way to PC. Unlike The Running Man, however, instead of criminals fighting to the death there are famous mercenaries aiming to achieve victory for their respective corporation out to kill each other in planned matches. I think it’s safe to assume that in the future, war won’t be fought for political gains, but rather for ratings, making money, and all around entertainment for the family to enjoy. In the world of Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport, people make bets on whether or not a favored soldier can defeat another B.O.S. (Bet On Soldier) in a certain amount of time. Mercenaries hired for either side are as loyal to their employers as soldiers of the past had been to governments, and once they insert themselves into the B.O.S. TV show, they are paired off against other famous and experienced mercenaries which are reveled similarly to wrestlers. The winner will earn a sum of money according to who they defeat as well as being compensated for every other mercenary to die by their hands, not including bonuses for giving a more exciting experience by getting a head shot.

The ongoing war has no reason behind it, and is funded solely by the corporations that make money by exploiting the opportunities that arise from war. It may seem like a crappy existence for the world to be in, but it makes a heck of a situation to play a game in. Though the whole world is engrossed in this war, the game will end up taking place only in four places: Alaska, Europe, Nevada, and Cuba. It’s not so much of a loss, since it’s understandable that America and Europe would be the more “interesting” places to fight (lots of buildings and what have you). The preview copy that I played only had three missions available, and as the main character, Nolan Davenport, you proceed to kick the asses of the other Bet On Soldiers in your way. Before each mission, you are allotted with a certain amount of money to spend on equipping Nolan; a nice amount of choices are allowed for each armament. You can choose how thick your armor is, if you have a shield, type of grenades and up to four guns from different classes to carry along, all managing it within your budget (similar to CounterStrike). Instead of picking up the weapons of your enemies that are dropped to reload your stockpile, however, you have to find a reloading terminal that you can buy more ammo and repair your armor at.

Besides having to jump through hoops to get the preview to work on my computer (I had to find a missing DLL online for one), I did enjoy the game in its current state. The build that I was given had sound problems that would result in either the game crashing or the frame rate being severely impaired, and other minor problems with game play. Fortunately for me though, the game worked for the most part, even with the sound rendering on (they had a special way to turn off the sound rendering to prevent the game from crashing), which was supposedly where the problems were coming from. While the game play itself is pretty solid, it definitely needed some polishing to make it as good as the standard FPS, but the potential is definitely there. But what really impressed the heck out of me were the graphics, especially in such an early build. I judge that the graphics will definitely push the limits of your video card at its highest settings. I also predict the game will look even better by the time it’s finalized. Even as is, I’d give it a 9.9/10 for graphics — they’re that impressive. What is also very impressive is the use of lighting, and it all seems very natural. The lighting on your hands and guns will change as you change direction from the light source; “very realistic” is what can be summed up about it. Character models and attention to detail really push the game’s presentation into its amazing look. Faces look fairly real, given that they don’t really have any changing facial features or emotions to really notice, and pieces of armor fly off as they’re damaged.

Containing twenty different campaign missions (with the added bonus of what’s to be a strong story), forty different types of weapons, and forty different B.O.S. champions to challenge, the single player mode of the game should definitely satisfy an FPS fan. A multiplayer mode is also going to be included in the game which will boast for the allowance of up to 32 player games. The Betting system that is used in the single player campaign is definitely going to come into play in the multiplayer mode, as it can provide for a new multiplayer FPS experience. There will also be multiplayer-specific levels, and a lot of choices as to which weaponry to use and type of mercenary soldier you are.

In a market that has been seemingly flooded with FPS games as of late, Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport stands to emerge from the crowd with its more-or-less unique Betting system, solid game play, an interesting story, amazing graphics, and a multiplayer mode to boot. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the end product.

Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport is scheduled to be released in September 2005.

 

Battleground Europe: World War II Online (PC) Hands-On Preview

Developer: Cornered Rat Software Studios | Publisher: Matrix Games

Where else is there to go with the first person shooter? EA’s Battlefield series touched upon the Massively Multiplayer Online direction that first person shooters could go in; cooperative teamwork is a major part of winning. World War II Online takes the idea of the MMOFPS further by introducing a world where a constant war wages on – at all times of the day. Everyday you can check the home page of the World War II Online website, and a new article will be displayed about the progress of the Allies or Axis, and other somewhat historical events that happened in the game world.

Although it’s still in beta, Battleground Europe boasts hordes of different vehicles and occupations to take on and help the cause of your team. With so many different objects, cities, and towns, plus the ability to travel pretty much anywhere you want around the world (which spans over 354,000 square miles), Battleground Europe seems like it could be the best MMOFPS ever created. Though right now it certainly seems that it could achieve that title, the game is still in beta, and is far from complete.

While the game seems to be coming along according to plan, the graphics are very skimpy; textures barely represent what they’re really supposed to look like. There are also aspects of the gameplay that sorely need to be improved by the time the final product comes out. First of all, the swaying action of the arms and guns really need to be toned down. Subtle motions, even if they’re unrealistic, are generally better and less distracting to the eye. Currently it seems exaggerated rather than realistic.

When it comes to vehicles, it’s hard to understand how to really even use them. You can’t just push forward; you have to switch gears or something along those lines. I couldn’t figure it out, however, because there are no help files or instructions that I could find. I see it as needlessly complicated. You also can’t get out of the vehicle you are assigned to without despawning and respawning as whatever you want; you basically are who you spawn as and nothing more.

You have to rely on others to commandeer vehicles and weaponry on the vehicles to go to the different parts of the battle, otherwise you’ll be running for quite some time without seeing any action. I also couldn’t figure out how to look at the vehicle in third person, which would make driving a lot easier.

What Battleground Europe aims to accomplish is quite possibly its strong point. If the end product ends up being as good as it seems like it could be, Battleground Europe could quite possibly be the best FPS (based in World War II at least) to come out for quite some time, moving the genre into new regions. The game could definitely appeal to those that can’t get enough of FPS games, and have an interest in how MMOGs work.

 

Absolute Blue (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Intermedia Ware || Overall: 5.5/10

Absolute Blue, seemingly a part of a recent movement by independent developers to bring back the side-scrolling space shooters, is just that: a side-scrolling space shooter made by an independent developer. Even though the game looks pretty, that doesn’t save it from the deplorable aspects of game play and absent improvements on the genre itself. While not touting the title of being a horrible game, Absolute Blue is just plain not good. Especially when there are superior space shooter-type games, like Jets’n’Guns, which is also made by an independent developer, Absolute Blue pales in comparison to the feats accomplished by such games.

For being an independent game, Absolute Blue looks excellent. However, while the screenshots for the game may give a false first impression about how good the game’s “fun factor” might be, what makes the game ultimately very frustrating and very tedious (and ultimately not very fun) is the game play and the basic controls. Maybe I was spoiled by the amazing game play and almost-flawless controls of Jets’n’Guns, but Absolute Blue really is a snore-fest to me. For the most part, there is nothing imaginative or “innovative” about the game to even consider it being anything more than an average game. The game is ridiculously linear, and in the fashion of the older games of this type from the 80s, once you die you start all over. While there is a save game function, you’re only allowed to save once you clear a full area (which contains separate levels within it), if you even get that far. Needless to say, if you have a hard time getting past the first area, you’re going to become very frustrated, as you will most likely die many-a-time, and then be forced to replay through the areas you had just gone through so that you can get to the point you had just died at before to try it again. Hopefully you won’t forget what you were supposed to do or die again, being forced to start the whole area yet again. When it gets really frustrating is if you keep dying in the first area; it seems like no progress has been done at all, as you basically restart the whole game constantly.

There’s no story. The game plops you in the middle of space, and off you go. There isn’t even any acknowledgement about what you’re supposed to do, collect, kill, or save. But, as always, it’s probably something to do with saving the universe from an evil alien race and you being the last hope. Why is it always up to us to save the universe? That’s a heavy burden to undertake if you think about it. And there are never any other aliens to help out, now that I think about it. I guess the goal of the whole game is to obtain enough parts of crystals to add up to three crystals, all done by visiting all these areas and blowing stuff up in the process (but its ridiculously easy to just not shoot everything and still get pretty far in a level). And then you use the crystals to save the universe. Maybe.

There are four areas to the game, each with their own set of levels. While you’re not able to select any of the levels to play that each area has (or even see how many there are), you must complete the levels in a linear fashion to get to the progressively harder levels, ultimately beating an area to go to another area. Only one area is available at the start, which is not necessarily bad, but it’s not good either. The selection of levels come in the form of a deep space/asteroid place, a weird black log (what I can only assume to be a spaceship), a brown planet, and one white planet. That sure is a scenic tour, considering the aliens who are attacking are attacking the whole universe. Of course, you can see the reason behind the aliens’ interest in each of the areas you fight them in, especially the deep space void that has a bunch of random spiked walls and floors randomly floating around or a big black log in the middle of space. Yes, I know it’s not supposed to be realistic, but I can’t help not thinking about it.

As I said before, the graphics are nice. However, the enemies you encounter aren’t very imaginative or interesting. The enemy’s projectiles, most being small red balls, can also be too hard to see since they are usually very small and blend in with the background too much. Even your enemies are hard to see because they blend in too well with the background.

The Dearth of Good Things

So, what else besides the graphics are actually good about this game? Well, they do get some things right when it comes to the game.

There are the usual things, such as a health bar, lives, and the purpose of the game being to obtain points. While you get points for just destroying an enemy, more often than not, they will release a floating orb with a number on it that, when collected, gives you extra points. There are obstacles in the game that utilize timing and the scrolling of the screen, or what I like to call “screen crunchers.” As levels progress, the scrolling speeds up, forcing you to think fast, or slows down, allowing you to deal with an obstacle/problem.

On the ship enhancement side of things, there are your standard power ups and speed ups. There are also power down and speed downs, so there are certain decisions you have to make (whether or not it’s worth it) to try and get a power up or if you should sacrifice one of your power levels to get through an area easier. There are also satellites that have different kinds of firing characteristics that can be found through levels so that you can kick ass easier. When holding down the firing command for the satellites, you can’t use your ship’s regular weaponry because they’re only used once for every fire key press. Unless you press the fire key a lot, you’re basically using one or the other, depending on the type of satellite, however.

The soundtrack is also a good part of the game, as it is very electronica-oriented, and goes well with the space setting, as well as the levels you’re in. Though there are crappy-sounding voices used in the game at random times, they sort of fit with the songs, almost sounding as if they are part of the song that is playing since they have a little bit of a European accent to them.

A nice part about the game is that it gives you the freedom of using a keyboard, a mouse, a joystick, or even a joystick with force feedback. But these good control preference choices quickly turn into bad things.

The Abundance of Bad Things

Let’s start at the beginning. When you boot up the game, there’s a long start-up time. You’ll be sitting there for a while watching the load bar slowly fill up. There’s a lot of “decrunching,” whatever that means. Besides that, once you start up the game you’re not able to adjust volume while you’re in the game or it will crash. If your speakers have a volume adjustment, you can do it from there with no problem, but if you’re doing it from your keyboard and not in the options for the game, then it will most certainly crash. But, it could just be a problem that arises from the kind of computer I have and not necessarily so for others. The fact of the matter is that it happens, and that’s not good. Another slight annoyance is that there isn’t a quick exit from the game. The only way to exit is if you go to the title screen and select exit game. It can take up to around a minute to get to depending on what screen you’re at in the game. They also disabled the use of Alt-F4 for the sake of forcing you to go to the title screen to exit. How convenient is that? You can always go to the Ctrl-Alt-Delete box and end the program if it really comes down to it, I suppose. Aside from all of those issues, is the fact that the frame rate drops when a lot of explosions or actions happen on the screen.

First and foremost, however, the control issues drag this game down from being as good as it could (and should) be. Even on easy mode, the game can be challenging, mostly due to the control issues, not because of the difficulty of the game. Though you are given a wide array of options to chose to control your ship with, those of us without a joystick are left with either the keyboard or mouse control options. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The keyboard is harder to use than the mouse for shooting because of the simple fact that each time you push down the fire key, one shot comes out. That means you’ll be hitting your space bar or ctrl key a lot. However, switching the control preference over to your mouse brings up another problem, as it becomes very hard to move your ship fast enough and far enough to really warrant its use. This mostly happens because there is no mouse sensitivity gauge in the options. Unfortunately, there are no keyboard/mouse hybrid controls either, so you’re either stuck with one or the other, which will most likely be the keyboard because moving is a very important part of the game. This also leaves another problem, because even the keyboard isn’t perfect when it comes to controlling your ship, as one millisecond longer of holding the key could mean certain death for your ship. Even if you have full health, if you accidentally miscalculate and graze the floor or a spiked wall, your ship will blow up instantly, only adding to the frustration of the game, since there are many times where they have “screen cruncher” obstacles that will result in your instant death.

I also found it interesting that as you progressively got higher levels of weaponry, your back fire weapons seem to have more power than the front ones. The front weaponry itself isn’t very strong (unless you have a satellite with you, but that’s not very often) because the lasers shoot in almost all the directions you can think of except for what’s most useful: forward. Most of your shots will hit a wall rather than an enemy, making power ups not really as valuable as how fast you can hit the fire key. It leaves to the imagination why someone would make a ship that fired stronger, more concentrated blasts behind instead of through the front. It also left to the imagination why the programmers thought that was a good enough idea to put in the game.

Absolute Blue has no real redeeming qualities to it, and with a similarly priced game, which outclasses it in every way already out there (namely Jets’n’Guns), you shouldn’t waste your time with Absolute Blue, unless you’re really up for a frustrating challenge.

 

Close Combat: First to Fight (PC) Review

Developer: Destineer / Publisher: 2K Games || Overall: 6.8/10

With the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there has recently been quite an upsurge of FPS’s that take place in the Middle East. Close Combat: First to Fight takes its place among the many recent FPS titles that allow you to shoot at radical Arabs. In this striving-to-be-realistic shooter, you take on the role of a Marine lance corporal (put simply, the leader) in a four person squad of America’s few and proud. The game is based on imagined “occurrences” taking place in Lebanon, in the distant year of 2006. You will play an important part in resolving the problems between Lebanese radicals and the Syrians who help them.

First to Fight will take you through building after building and street after street, gunning down these stereotypically radical Arabs with turbans and beards, who shoot at you with AK-47 bootlegs called AK-74s, all while yelling in Arabic, or rather what they try to pass off as Arabic; it’s mostly just incoherent yelling. With the help of forty U.S. Marines fresh out of battle from Iraq, First to Fight claims to be so realistic that the Marines use it as a training tool. Given this logic, however, one could say that Pac-Man could also be used as a training tool for the Marines. Fact of the matter is, I doubt very seriously that First to Fight is actually used for training; while it tries to be realistic, it’s really not. It even says on the box it’s not approved, endorsed or authorized by the Marine Corps or any other component of the Department of Defense, which isn’t surprising, because First to Fight is not realistic enough that it could be used as a “training tool,” despite it’s claims.

The main goal of First to Fight was to be a realistic representation of how real-life U.S. Marines operate in battle. With a few squad-based commands, you’ll go around shooting your 3-shot-burst rifle, raiding rooms, killing enemies using truck-mounted machine guns (realistically, with no recoil), all while being jealous at the fact the other member in your squad gets the cool gun. This is hardly a realistic representation. While the settings they put you in look fairly “realistic,” they also look like they could be the slums of a poor European city, especially after a few buildings were bombed out. If the Arabs were replaced with Nazis, it wouldn’t be too hard to believe this were a World War II game.

As mentioned before, First to Fight utilizes squad-based tactics as you make your way through the urban landscape. While it’s not purely command-based in the way you can utilize your squad SOCOM, in how you can send your team members to location points and all sorts of different advanced commands to complete the mission, you can give your Marines a few commands mainly consisting of Suppress, Cover, Take Down, and Frag Take Down. Suppress is usually used when you want to travel across a hot zone full of gunfire. When you enable this command, your Saw gunner (the guy with the really good gun) will start shooting in no particular direction, clearing the way for you to move across to another part of the area in conflict to get a better shot at the radicals. Cover is another tactic used to help you reposition yourself, but instead of firing in random directions, all of your squad members will stay in the place they are and make sure you make it across safely. Take Down and Frag Take Downs are used when you’re in a building, and is used very often when you want to clear a room you’re about to go in. In a regular Take Down, your marines will storm in and shoot everything they can. In a Frag Take Down, they’ll toss a grenade into the room, letting it explode and then charge in with guns-a-blazing. Using these four commands will be the only times you really have to control your marines. The rest of the time, the marvelous AI will take control of your marines, helping you shoot down those crazy radicals, most of the time taking more of the kills than you do. In the end, First to Fight tries to give off the impression that it is more complex than normal FPS games by having seemingly complicated explanations as to how your units work, but you learn within your first hour of playing that it doesn’t really matter you have a squad with you.

Starting a new campaign game will take you through “training levels” of sort in which tutorial videos are played to teach you about a particular aspect of the game. While there’s only a couple of these, the first one is fairly long, clocking in at about five minutes. The intro-tutorial video teaches you all about how the Marine squad operates, naming all the positions of the different people in the squad, and how they are automatically programmed to do things like Marines do (such as go down the sides of streets instead of down the middle). The tutorial video also makes it clear that your squad members are smarter than you when it comes to playing the game, so you really don’t have to help them every step of the way through your mission. While your squad-members do help out a lot, you tend to feel like a babysitter, healing your members when they need it, and always making sure they’re near you so you don’t risk losing two and failing the mission.

There is the option to request help from other Marine forces in the area, as you’re given a limited amount of times in which you can call in for an air strike or a sniper to help you out with a situation (as if they’ll only give you the favor a limited amount of times, not because they want you to finish the mission or anything).

The story is delivered through “news broadcasts” by the International News Network (which seems to be run by the British). This gives the feeling that you are playing the game on a “global” level rather than an individual level, while keeping up with the developments of what happens in the fictitious divergence. Consequently, you don’t actually have a story with the marines you impersonate. There is no drastic turn of plot events like the Marines disobeying orders and going into a dangerous part of town that hasn’t been secured yet in a valiant effort to be proclaimed as heroes, or anything that may have made an interesting story. Basically, all you do in the game is receive orders to go somewhere. After you get there, you shoot some guys to “secure” the area, then rinse and repeat. If you get a kick out of shooting people who pop out of doorways or from behind objects like a jack-in-the-box screaming fake Arabic, then get ready to have the time of your life, because that’s all this game is.

Even the most basic game play mechanics aren’t flawless. Too often when I walk around I feel like I’m tripping over something. The regular movement is very slow consequently, and if you decide to “sprint” there is an over-exaggerated swaying of the camera from left to right, making it difficult to really see where you’re going. You’re usually stuck with hobbling around with a floating gun. Although it is nice that they added it, melee attacks have no use at all. Using a melee attack grants no particularly advantage to its use, as you have plenty of ammo already to give out to the needy, and there are plenty of AK-74s lying around to pick up and use for yourself. There are also too many different commands on the keyboard for you to remember, probably more than what should have been necessary.

Keeping true to the games “realistic” approach, it doesn’t take too many hits for you to be killed. Also keeping true to this aspect, your enemies will randomly disappear! I wouldn’t have mentioned the enemies disappearing had it not happened more than four times (that I noticed) while I was shooting in their general direction, only to find that I had somehow vaporized them with my rifle bullets. I didn’t think the American military was THAT advanced. But the AI itself isn’t all that great to begin with. While the AI provides a fair challenge, (mostly due to the fact they look exactly like they’re surroundings) and because it doesn’t take much to kill you to begin with, you may run into some situations where you become careless, die and restart at the last checkpoint you passed. Quite often, the AI will stare at you for nearly a minute before deciding to do anything, making them very easy targets.

Despite all that I’ve said already, the presentation of the game isn’t bad. I found the music to be well-composed, lending a good feeling to the “modern-combat.” Even though this is a Middle Eastern-themed game, there is no Middle Eastern-sounding music in the background. Instead, it focuses on the triumphant “we’re-going-to-kill-you” feeling you should get from a FPS. The graphics also aren’t half-bad. While they definitely aren’t the greatest I’ve seen, they’re above average for a PC game. When you crank up the settings to their most advanced, you will have some nice visuals to look at. The settings show quite a bit of detail, and really make you feel as if you’re in a war-forlorn area. A downside to this; the minimum requirements to run First to Fight are quite demanding. With the requirements of a 1.3Ghz Pentium III, 256 mb RAM, 32 mb video card, broadband for multiplayer and 2.8 gb of hard drive space, your computer will have to be nearly top of the line to play without any slowdown with all the settings cranked up. On a side note, loading takes about an average amount of time, but most of the time it’s fairly quick.

I’m not sure how big of an importance multiplayer takes with First to Fight (even though it is an important aspect of all FPSes). Being squad-based, it doesn’t seem to me like it’d be realistic for people to follow all the rules your AI squad-members would adhere to. With two multiplayer modes, Four Man Co-Op and Head-to-Head, Four Man Co-Op seems to provide the only good mode to play this game online. If you like the single player missions included in the game, you’ll get through them about four times faster since there’ll be four guys running around the game shooting all the crazy Arabs they can find. If you wanted to play Head-to-Head, the urban settings found in the game could provide for some fun.

Oddly, I found the shooting of endless hordes of zombies in Deadhunt much more fun than playing this game. While First to Fight has a few good points about it, it does not live up to what it claims it is, and is “realistically” only a less than average FPS. Possibly the greatest fault of the game is the price tag it totes: an MSRP of $39.99. If the game were priced for a budget release, maybe half of what it is currently, this game could be worth a look to the FPS enthusiast.

 

Hellgate: London (PC) E3 2005 Preview

Developer: Flagship Studios | Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment

I had the pleasure of being invited to an appointment to check out Namco’s new PC games today at E3. The games I had seen were Mage Knight Apocalypse, and Warhammer, and Hellgate: London. Namco’s goal in their expansion to the PC market is to create new franchises that aren’t featured on consoles, to give the made-for-PC attitude in their upcoming PC games. Mage Knight Apocalypse was available in a playable form, but Warhammer was just shown as a trailer. The only game I had actually gotten hands on with was Hellgate: London.

The version of Hellgate: London that is on the E3 floor was still in development, but it had a lot of elements already added in the game for playing. The actual story for Hellgate: London is fairly simple. Being set 20 years in the future, demons come from Hell and you have to stop them as part of the last surviving humans on the Earth. Similar to adventure games with RPG elements, Hellgate: London stresses character development and increasing the abilities of your character and his weaponry. In this respect, the game becomes very unique when it integrates its weaponry choices. There are many different kinds of guns and melee weapons, that you can create different combinations of in both of your hands. The only melee weapons currently in the game are swords, but a representative of the development team said that they will be including different kinds of weapons, such as a cricket bat, so that you can kill things in a style that you want. From what I’ve seen, there are rifles and pistols that have futuristic kinds of ammo/uses, some in an almost magical way. The rifle that I saw (almost similar to how a shotgun works) unleashes white balls of light that spread out among the area and create a lot of damage, though not very accurate. The rifle works really well when there’s a large group of zombies, demonic creatures, or other enemies. The pistols aren’t anything too out of the ordinary from what I saw, but the kinds of ammo they have are unique. You can upgrade your weaponry as you collect more weapons, and also equip more items to your body, changing your character’s appearance.

Hellgate: London is not a pure first person shooter; rather it uses a combination of first and third person views. It is useful in some cases to use the first person view, and also switch out of it to the third person view to get a look more at what’s around you. The first person view can only be used when you have only guns (meaning no combination of a gun in one hand a melee weapon in the other), because using melee weapons in first person is hard to use, and wasn’t included. I had asked the member of the developer team (who was the art director) whether or not that would be included. He said it might not be, because it was undecided whether or not they would put that in. Through my experience with playing a game called Thief, which used first person melee attacks, it was hard to function. In this regard, the ability to switch between perspectives is a very much welcomed aspect. He also mentioned that Shops would take a big part in the game, though they haven’t been included yet. Shops would be used to sell the items you gather and save your game when you visit. Some sort of a quest-structure is to also be included in the game, so that the game can move along when playing single player. The RPG elements, the concept of modding weaponry, and the beat-em-and-shoot-em-up feeling you get from the game can appeal to a broad audience of PC gamers, as it reaches a middle-ground between FPS and a game like Everquest.

While the game takes place in London, there are two parts to the game: above ground and underground. All the maps are generated randomly, so you’ll never go into the same area again, as the main purpose of the game is just to develop your character in classic RPG style. Upon the question of whether or not there would be multiplayer included in the game, the art director said they haven’t included it in the game, but they do want to put it in. If there are the standard types of competitive online game modes we’ve seen with most first person shooters and having some sort of a quest mode be played co-operatively.

The actual version that I had played was quite impressive. For being Flagship Studios’ first game and a part of Namco’s first wave of PC titles, I was very impressed by how good the graphics looked; the game was very fluid for being in an early stage of development. The development team did an amazing job in creating the settings and areas. The ruined look of a city ravaged by demons, gave the actual feeling that if a demon invasion happened in the real world, it would look just like they had portrayed it. The art director told me that as you progress through the game, enemies get tougher, weapons get better and more improvements are available for your character.

I have no doubt that Hellgate: London will not disappoint. I came out of E3 today looking forward to being able to play more of the game and to see how it turns out more than any other game I had looked at while I was there, mostly because of how well the development was going in such an early stage. The release date for Hellgate: London is to be determined, so whether or not it will be released this year or next year is left to question.

 

Stronghold 2 (PC) Review

Developer: Firefly Studios / Publisher: 2K Games || Overall: 6.0/10

Nowadays, it’s debatably hard to find a real time strategy (RTS) game that can compare to the classics. Games like StarCraft, Age of Empires II, the Command & Conquer series, and the Krush Kill n’ Destroy series (one of my personal favorites) really set the standard for me to judge other games in the genre against. Firefly Studios’ Stronghold 2 pales in comparison to the aforementioned, outright. While Stronghold 2 does have some interesting aspects to it, they are not executed as greatly as they could have been. While it can create a minute interest for the long-time RTS PC gamer, Stronghold 2 falls devastatingly short of being what it strives to be: a good RTS game.

The biggest thing about any RTS game is the actual strategy you use to thwart your enemies. There are two ways to play, either militaristically or economically. If you chose the military route, your castle will concentrate more on creating units to fight against your enemies. While you still have to keep your economy up, the main point of it is to fight. If you chose the economical route, you’re in for a more or less long game. You’ll focus on making your castle a bustling center of economic activity, creating enough food to feed your people with, as well as gathering resources to build up an army to attack or defend against invaders.

The kind of style you pick will affect the kind of game you play, whether it is in Campaign or Free Build. Campaign will take you through objectified missions where you will complete a mission given to you by your superior. How you get to that point is up to you, but the purpose of it is to get to that point. Unlike most RTS games, once you complete a mission, the next mission you undertake will use the same map and base you had just built, still being able to use what was created. During campaigns, you will always be able to see the whole map screen, being able to keep an eye on neighboring estates and castles. In the Free Build mode, you’re able to just create your castle and watch it bloom. Or you can undertake the task of going head-to-head with a computer player. There is also a Multiplayer mode and the ability to play user-created maps made by the in-game map editor.

Castle towns in Stronghold 2 revolve around three important buildings: the Stockpile, the Granary, and the Lord’s Kitchen. The Stockpile holds all the materials your peasants gather from the surrounding environment, and bring it into the storehouse until it is used. There are many types of resources that can be gathered, such as wood, pitch, stone, iron, etc. The most vital resources you will use (mainly to build buildings and castle parts) will be wood and stone. Other resources are used to create weaponry or other different objects. The Granary stores all the food that your peasants will harvest, including apples, meat, dairy, and wheat. Your granary can hold an infinite amount of food, and will also control how much food you distribute to your people. The Lord’s Kitchen is the storage house for the finer foods of back in the day, such as pigs, eel, geese, wine/grapes, and vegetables. Using the Lord’s Kitchen, you can hold feasts in your name, thus increasing your honor. To gather all the different types of resources, you have to build different buildings to which your peasants will automatically go work in as soon as you build them. Whenever you run out of jobless peasants, you can build more housing space (called a Hovel) for more people to live in and wait for new jobs to be undertaken.

How well your town does depends on the two important factors of Popularity and Honor. Popularity is basically how much your peasants like you, and if there are any displeasing or pleasing things happening in the way you’re keeping your town going, it will be shown. To achieve more popularity, you can do things like increase rations or not tax. The maximum amount of popularity you can have is 100, so if you’re at 100 and there’s no loss of popularity, it’d be to your benefit to reduce rations to normal, so that a larger stockpile can be gathered in your Granary. Things that can damage your popularity, making people leave in eventuality, would be if you taxed them (more tax will have more popularity loss) or left piles of “gong” around without having someone clean them up. Another aspect is “honor” in which you gain a certain amount of to use mostly for military needs, and to “buy” more plots of land from your king to use for yourself and expand your ventures. A very good way to increase your honor is to hold feasts, using the food held in the Lord’s Kitchen. There are a few other ways to increase your honor, such as attending church, getting married (to a woman, if you’re wondering), holding a jousting tournament and holding medieval dances to name most of them. The “industries” that create particular types of resources may be turned off fairly easily, should the need ever arise, but there is no option to stop just one building from doing what it is doing, resorting to having to destroy the building to stop it.

Laying down this framework, just like every other RTS game, you build a mass of soldiers and spend a good deal of time trying to take over the whole map.

Experienced RTS gamers may find a few very annoying parts to the game, to say the least. Probably the most apparent thing is that you can’t control your peasants at all. They are controlled by the computer at all times, and even if they were being attacked by a wolf, you can’t tell them to run away. There’s also a non-traditional way of seeing how many resources you have. Other than the ever-present information about your Gold, Honor and Popularity, you have to click on your Stockpile to see how much of each resource you have. If that wasn’t enough already, the most important part of an RTS game, combat, is slow. Half of the problem would have been remedied if your units didn’t move equally as slow as well. So if you’ve got a wolf problem or an invading army already attacking a building of yours, chances are a few bad things are going to happen before you have a chance to do anything about them. Also, it will take some memorizing (and frequent reference to the instruction manual) to use all the buildings, as there are a lot of buildings whose names don’t clearly reference to what they actually do. It may be hard to figure out that the Fletcher’s Workshop is for making bows and arrows or the Hop Farm is used to make ale. Unless you just happened by this information in your ventures through education beforehand, it might be kind of hard for you to remember which building does what.

The graphics utilized in the game are not very pleasing overall. While I did enjoy how the environment looked like (mostly because of the trees), I came to the realization that the graphics were not that great, especially when I zoomed in closer to objects I was looking at. In the game there are buildings, humans, and animals, all of which look lackluster unless you zoom in. Though, there are many different views to look at your castle and land in full 3D. The sound is about average quality. The best part about the sound would be the music and sound effects. The voice-overs included in the game are some of the most horrible stuff I’ve ever heard. Everyone in the game sounds like an idiot, to be frank. I hate to hear the stereotypically dumb peasants who like to say “liege” when referring to you, and hear about how “the rations are not good, but they’re not bad and that’s about all there is to say about that.” But, you can learn to live with it if you try to restrain in ever clicking on your peasants to see their status.

The two big complaints I have about this game stop it from attaining a decent score. First is when you start up the game; it takes forever to load. You’ll be sitting there for what seems like ten minutes, wondering why it takes so long to load a menu screen, only to see that it’s been loading a five minute movie, which you have to press escape to not see and go to the menu screen. The other comes with the atrociously low frame rate your game will inevitably have as you build more buildings and create more living space for peasants. The low frame rate makes the game very unpleasing to play, nor is it avoidable, even if you have a computer that far outweighs the minimum (and recommended) requirements of a 2.0Ghz processor, 512mb RAM, and 64mb graphics card. The computer I use actually is the minimum and recommended settings combined, and I still had problems with the long loading and slow frame rates. Though there is an update that increases the version number to v1.1 (currently), these vital issues are not fixed.

I really wanted to like Stronghold 2, but the unfortunate result is a lackluster RTS that will be easily forgotten. If the developer is able to fix the game’s major flaws and tweak the game play (it wouldn’t hurt if the graphics were made just a little bit better) in a possible second sequel, then it would be worth another look, but in its current state, Stronghold 2 is a game any self-respecting RTS gamer should stay away from.

 

Deadhunt (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: REL Games || Overall: 8.6/10

Usually when you play a first person shooter (FPS), you play through elaborate levels full of enemies trying to complete a particular objective. However, Deadhunt takes a completely different approach to the FPS genre, in this crazy and all-around hectic game with an arcade flavor. Some may see similarities between Deadhunt and Serious Sam, but what makes Deadhunt great is the fact it challenges your FPS skills with each progressing level in their campaign mode. However, Deadhunt has nothing in it that can be claimed as innovative. For this reason, I see the game as more of a “training platform” for other FPS games, and little more than that, as Deadhunt is a fairly simple FPS, that goes back to the basics, while executing it very well. In Deadhunt, you kill zombies 90% of the time. The hordes of zombies you will encounter carry varying types of weapons and armor, at times making them more difficult to kill, and more dangerous. Other enemies you’ll encounter consist of skeletons and various types of spiders (ranging from big to small), but what you’ll mainly come upon in the game are zombies.

Deadhunt offers a number of game play modes that will keep players entertained for a lengthy amount of time. Tutorial isn’t hard at all, and if you’re completely new to the genre, it’d be a good idea to go through here and learn how to play, as Deadhunt plays exactly like every other FPS you’ve come across except for a few particular things (but we’ll get to that later.). Greed, just like the name implies, will put you into the game shooting zombies to get as many points as you can before you die, but before you die, you have to kill one particular zombie. Survival mode, even though you get to pick what weapons and power-ups you get, is very hard, and you just try to kill as many zombies as you can before you die. Survival is sort of like Greed, except Greed has a little bit of strategy in it. Campaign is the best part of Deadhunt, hands down. With three difficulty levels, Campaign will eat up most of the time you play Deadhunt.

Deadhunt is quite different from most other first-person shooters. Every time you start a new game, you’re assigned one weapon that they chose, and that’s basically it. There’s no changing weapons (except for when you get a “power-up” that changes your weapon for a limited amount of shots) at all. There are also no melee attacks, so if you’re in the middle of reloading and there’s a zombie about to hit you, you’re not going to be able to hit him with the butt of your rifle. However, what “covers the bases” when it comes to these facts is that you have an unlimited amount of ammo to use. Some may say “well that makes it easier,” but Deadhunt is hard enough that even with unlimited ammo, you’ll be having a tough time regardless. There are a wide-array of guns to be assigned with, such as a Desert-Eagle powered Pistol, an Uzi, an Assault Rifle, a Shotgun, an Auto Shotgun, a huge Machine Gun, and a Gauss Rifle (which is pretty much a sniper, but there’s no zooming in), so it does make it interesting when you play through with particular weapons, because (based on the weapon) it will tell you how many monsters will come at you and how hard they will be. You’ll also have to be good at running while shooting, because that’s what you’ll be doing — a lot. Most of the time you’ll be shooting the horde of zombies behind you, so you have to run backwards and shoot, while trying not to get hit by zombies running at you from the front. Once you eliminate all the zombies that spawn throughout the level, you basically win that level.

During Campaign mode, there are a few interesting challenges given as you play. While the ultimate objective is to kill all the zombies that spawn throughout the level, depending on the level (usually you can guess the challenge by the name of level after you played through it or if they explain it in-game, but sometimes they don’t), there will be different challenges along the way for particular levels. A few examples would be: the more you kill zombies the slower you run, rate of fire is down, every zombie you kill hurts you, and different kinds of challenges that will make the particular level

harder for you. Once you complete a level, you’re allowed to go on to a new level, which may or may not have a new challenge for you. Once in a while you’ll come across a level that doesn’t have any challenge to it other than killing all the zombies that spawn.

While Deadhunt can get pretty addicting, there are only two maps to play on, and they’re big, wide, open areas for the most part. One map is a green area with a Stonehenge-like structure in the middle of the map, and dead bushes and trees to get in the way of you’re backwards running. The other is a dark valley area in the middle of mountain with a big altar on one of the sides of the map. While these maps are good, they become very worn out, because these are the only maps you will see in the entire game. If there were more than two arenas in the game to play on, Deadhunt would have been a lot more interesting to play.

Deadhunt requires a good computer to be played on without crashing/slowing down, especially because of the graphics and sheer amount of zombies at one time they put into the game. The graphics, considering the game’s price of roughly $20, are actually fairly good. You can change the settings for how detailed they are in the options, so you can avoid some problems by doing so. While the graphics aren’t the absolute best ever seen (the gun animations are sweet, though), they will need a considerable amount of computing power, and a good video card. Not that it’s a problem, but when you’re up close to a zombie and you shoot them with your gun, instead of making a “bullet hole,” a big dark spot appears at the place where they got shot, making it somewhat obvious that you shot them in that spot, but also unrealistic (as much as the game is to start out with, it shouldn’t be a surprise). The music in the game is also pretty good, but I can recall only about one song for the menu, and one for each of the different maps. You won’t be paying too much attention to the music because you’ll be blasting away at the zombies with your guns almost nonstop. Speaking of sound effects, they couldn’t have been much better. Each gun sounds exactly as it should, and even have a little bit of an echo (to make it more believable that you’re firing away in a large open area).

Deadhunt is well-worth the investment of $20. If you’ve never been good at FPS games, Deadhunt will help you with your reflexes as well as aiming. Deadhunt is an addicting, arcade-like game, and if you just want to kill hordes and hordes of un-dead creatures, this is the game for you.

 

Hearts of Iron II (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 8.2/10

Hearts of Iron II, like all World War II games, aim to be realistic and mirror some aspect of the time period. While Battlefield 1942 places you physically on the battlefield and Axis and Allies focuses you on particular battles, Hearts of Iron II aims to represent the war as a whole, on a worldwide-scale grander than either of the aforementioned games could accomplish. Hearts of Iron II places you in the dictator’s seat, looking down at the whole world as more than 2,700 land and sea provinces ready for you to conquer with imperialistic greed, or to stop those who aim to do so.

When you first start the game there are three modes to chose from, Tutorial, Single Player, and Multiplayer. Simple enough. That is, until you actually start to play. If you hadn’t played the first Hearts of Iron, and not really knowing what to expect when playing the game, like I had been, you will be overwhelmed within your first thirty seconds of play. There is so much information given to you right off the bat, that when they just toss you into the scenario, you won’t be able to keep up with what’s happening in the game at all. The sheer magnitude of what hits you is daunting. Until you actually build up enough courage to brave the overwhelming feeling that Hearts of Iron II gives you right off the bat, will you find a very fun and very realistic representation of World War II that you don’t see pulled off too often.

The main view looks like one of the tactical maps that you see in a war documentary, showing an army’s movements in general, without the specifics. Depending on which country you chose to play as, you will basically declare war on countries and take them over. What happened in history has no real bearing on what you can do in the game, such as actually being able to successfully invade the Soviet Union with German troops or take over the United States with the Japanese armed forces. However, when you’re on your imperialistic rampage, you have to constantly look out for all of your borders, as you may not have enough troops to occupy each province you annex into your country. Because of this, you have to deal with constant annoyance of having occupied territories taken over by your enemies and having to retake them over. The process repeats itself over and over, and you can’t get ahead too easily when it comes down to it. To make things somewhat harder, time progresses in an accelerated real-time (which can be slowed down or sped up according to your preferences), so not only do ten things happen at the same time, but you have to decide what to do with a relatively quick fashion, definitely keeping you on your toes. However, if the game gets too far ahead of you, you’re able to pause the game and deal with what had just happened. With a ton of provinces to take over, you’ll definitely be busy trying to advance your troops, conduct trade agreements, protect your borders, fend off pesky airplanes, produce more units, advance your technology, keep an eye on your supplies to make sure you don’t run out, tell your provinces what to build, and keep up with the ever-changing situations that arise, that you’ll constantly be checking on certain things while forgetting about others. It really takes a lot of initial practice to understand how the game works basically, before you can really understand how to play the game efficiently. For those who have a hard time getting into the game, the developers graciously put in a Tutorial mode. For those who try to jump into the game and see how it works, but just come out of the experience confused and on the brink of depression, the Tutorial is definitely for you. The Tutorial is broken up into smaller chunks, and if you want to concentrate on warfare (which IS the main aspect of a war game, after all), you can, and come back to find out about the other parts of the game later. Using the Tutorial to learn the basic mechanics of the game will definitely help you understand.

Being purely a strategy game, you do not really see your units actually fighting with your enemies. There are animations for your armies to show that they’re currently in a battle, but for the most part you just have to know that you are attacking. An annoyance that happens with the game when you’re controlling your units is that not all your units are actually displayed on the screen at all times. When units like airplanes or naval craft are in their respective ports, you have to click on the port itself to even be able to take control of them, instead of just dragging your mouse over it like you would with other units. This becomes annoying because it becomes hard to actually know how many units you have on the map. The map also has different views to it as well, allowing you to see different characteristics such as terrain, wealth, political boundaries and much more. I tend to use political boundaries the most, because it’s the most direct as to who owns what and what you have to take over.

Being able to take the head of nearly any country in the world and rule it how you see fit during this time allows for some very interesting information you otherwise probably wouldn’t have known about. I personally never thought about what Afghanistan, India or some other pretty much insignificant country was doing during this time. The only countries you really even hear about fighting in World War II were Germany, Italy, France, UK, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the USA, though they were the major players. This gives the chance for you to read up on the very in-depth information about the world and the different countries. Each country has their own technologies to develop, and loads of information down to the finest detail. Very historically accurate events do occur during the game, but can be changed drastically by how you control the game.

When it comes to the artistic points of the game, the game delivers a satisfying experience. There’s an excellent musical score that goes well with the game and what is happening (a world war), so it seems fit that there’s orchestrated music playing that feels, for the most part, empowering. The graphics, however, are not that great. The provinces throughout the world are nothing special, as they’re usual just solid colors, and don’t actually show any “real” terrain on it. Everything is color-coded, thus making it fairly simple to look at. There are also many black and white pictures from history of authentic tanks, people, technologies, and the like, which adds some more educational value to the game, seeing as you may not have known what a particular model of a tank looked like back then. When it comes to how units look on the map however, it gets very bland as the unit animations are nothing special, to say the least. You don’t see any action, per say, except you see the units looping their animation over and over to just show that they’re under attack or attacking something. It can get fairly boring, but like I had said before, you’re preoccupied with so many different things, like planning ANOTHER attack on a different front that you will kind of not even care that you don’t see any explosions.

Another part about the game is that things may not happen for a while, because in actual history, things took days or even weeks to happen. This is reflected by the gaps of nothing happening during your play time that can occur if you’re not constantly attacking someone, or waiting for a certain unit to be built, in which it’ll take a month or so for it to actually be built. Regardless of the accelerated time, a month is a long time to wait, so you definitely have to plan ahead whether or not you’re going to need a bunch of infantry troops all of a sudden, or if you’re going to need a particular technology researched in enough time to help you out. On a side note, from what I’ve seen, you’re not able to commit genocides or stick a whole race in a concentration camp (like the Germans did to the Jewish and the Americans did to the Japanese). I guess you just kind of have to assume its happening, as the main aspect of the game really relies on military and political difficulties.

Being a PC game, the game’s recommended requirements say that you should ideally have 512+ mb of RAM, a Pentium III, and an 8 MB video card or better. So if the only computer you have is the old hand-me-down you got from your great-aunt whom just passed away, you’re probably going to have to invest in a little better of a computer to play Hearts of Iron II. With the sheer vastness, complexity, and consistent evolution of certain events that occur during the game, it makes sense. The minimum requirements are less demanding, but in all honesty, you probably won’t have as good of a gaming experience when it comes to Hearts of Iron II, or many of the more demanding games being released.

Boasting the capability for 32 people to link up in multiplayer, one can only imagine the crazy games that can unfold. Hearts of Iron II itself reminds me of the User-made World War II scenario maps for StarCraft multiplayer games. If you’ve ever played the World War II map for StarCraft, the basic fundamentals of this game can be seen. However, those multiplayer maps could never accomplish the complexity (or even display historically accurate units) that Hearts of Iron II has done. During multiplayer, when you deal with another country diplomatically you’re going to have to take into account you’re playing with a human, and the chances that they know what they’re doing better than you know what you’re doing is probably going to be higher, unless you become a seasoned veteran through many many sleepless nights.

If you’re looking for the most historically accurate representation of World War II, Hearts of Iron II is your game. Hearts of Iron II is a history lesson in itself, and you can really learn a lot of the abstract, mostly unimportant facts you don’t come across too often without really looking for it. World War II history buffs and the like will absolutely love the game for the sheer amount of historical value included in the game. Being able to go through World War II from day one to the last day of the war is an arduous task that only a fanatic would probably want to undertake.

 

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.

 

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.