Author - Ripper71

Twisted Lands: Shadow Town (PC) | Review

When I was a kid the only thing I looked forward to when going to the doctor’s office was the latest Highlights Magazine. I remember the drawings with the hidden objects in it were my favorite part, and I got so dissapointed when someone had already circled the objects and spoiled it for me. Well now I can play Twisted Lands: Shadow Town and not only get an interesting story with a twist, I will have plenty of hidden objects to find in item filled scenes. The concept is simple, the game requires an item to solve a puzzle and so you must collect a whole bunch of items to find what will work just right. So you have to pick a whole list of items from the scene but you will only use one and it will solve the puzzle and move you along. There are a couple of other kinds of puzzles thrown in that make it more difficult but most of these can be skipped if they prove too challenging. The game is designed to be family fun hidden object puzzling with a Halloween feel and that is what it delivers.


You are stranded on the beach outside a deserted town. The feeling of isolation and lonliness is accentuated by a constant thick fog and occasion ghosts who show up suddenly and leave almost as quickly. Your wife shipwrecked with you and is missing so you puzzle your way through a town left to ghosts and… something else, trying to find the love of your life. There is one scene where the game almost seems to go from creepy to horror, and some may be a bit creeped out by the ghosts, but they tend to just do things they did while living then disappear. After a while the atmosphere just adds to the story and gives a nice spooky background to the puzzling scenes.

Straight forward follow the story hidden object puzzling with the previously mentioned couple of harder puzzles. One of them was particularly difficult and not skippable but otherwise if you get too stuck on where to go or where an object is in the picture you can click on a ? in the lower corner and get a hint as to the item’s location or where the clue was supposed to lead. One of the only complaints would be the list of items you have to find in a scene can sometimes be vague, probably on purpose. The item may be ‘bat’ for instance and you are looking at the items for something with wings and it is actually a baseball bat. Another would be ‘rose’ and you look all through the picture and on the side of a watering pot is a painting of a rose or it is carved into a piece of wood. It adds an extra challenge and sometimes after staring at the picture for a long time it suddenly dawns on you… oh they mean that baseball bat or that label on the wine bottle with a sun on it.


Point and click all the way. You click on things to look at them, you click on arrows to move to the next scene. No need to get used to WASD to navigate, just get ready to click near the arrow in the direction you want to go.

Graphics are clean and nice, helping submerse the player. The sounds also tend to lend to the feel, the audio is clear with creepy music and sounds. The hidden object puzzles lose more and more color as you go so that in the end it is harder to see an item stand out. The graphics are good and pretty standard for this style of game.

If played by the casual player, maybe a bit younger or a bit older which I think this type of game mostly targets, it could last days and possibly be repeat play. Heavy gamers will burn through it in a night. At $19.95 it is not badly priced for a game, especially one your kid might play over and over, but it is a bit pricey compared to what this genre of games usually run. You can download a free one hour trial version of the game to see if it is right for you.

Last Call:
It’s a fun family friendly Halloween hidden object puzzle game. The storyline is interesting with a nice twist at the end but for the most part it is pretty standard for the genre. If you like this type of game this is a solid one.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Review of Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light [PC]

There has always been a certain intimacy with the Tomb Raider games. Being from the third person perspective, right behind her as she jumps, dodges, and shoots has always made me feel like I was more her sidekick than her controller. It always felt like you were just one step removed from the action, when she would drown or miss a jump and leap to her death you were right behind her when she did, following her over the cliff or listening to her gasping death. You saw what she saw, so if something came sneaking up from behind you knew when she did and swung around to face the enemy. With the new style you see the whole screen and you know where the enemies are hiding and where they will attack from. You anticipate their moves and go grab treasure that she never could have seen from her perspective. In this you gain the advantage of knowing where everything is and what will be your next obstacle or reward. This definitely makes for a fast playing, quick shooting game, but when she leaps to her death you think of her last save point and not so much that she just leapt to her death. It has lost it’s intimacy. That may be why this doesn’t carry the Tomb Raider brand, it is the same character in the same kind of setting but an entirely different experience. As long as you are fine with that this is an excellent arcade game.

Though not immersive like the Tomb Raider games, the levels are well designed and are well rendered jungles and ruins. The cut scenes vary between motion comic and animated and all add to the feeling that you could be in a local arcade plunking tokens in and fighting your way through. The storyline is told during the cutscenes for the most part leaving you to concentrate on the action when you have control.

I tried playing it with both the keyboard and the game pad and the game pad won hands down on both responsiveness and ease of control. The keyboard could be a little tricky and unresponsive when it came to diagonal jumps while the same sections are a breeze with the game pad. Shooting accuracy is better with the mouse but since that usually isn’t much of a concern the game pad seems by far the best choice. It is a standard Run/Jump/Shoot/Action setup with periodic items that give you bonuses and minuses on stats and weapon upgrades. Single player you get a spear at the beginning of the game which has unlimited throws so you will probably find yourself only changing to other weapons for mini-bosses and bosses or just for the fun of it.

Achievements are setup in three basic ways: speed, skill, and exploration. There are achievements for clearing levels or beating bosses in a certain amount of time, there are achievements for making certain jumps, shots, or puzzle completions a certain way and there are achievements for finding all of certain treasures or relics. Because all of these achievements can’t be completed at the same time it sets the game up for replayability at least a couple of times because while you can do the skill and exploration achievements at the same time, you can’t complete all the time ones if you do.

Multiplayer is a lot of fun because completing puzzles and getting to treasures require teamwork. Each player plays one of the two main characters (in single player you just play one while the other periodically interacts in cut scenes) and that character has certain strengths and weaknesses. I won’t go into too much detail because finding these out is part of the fun but I will say sometimes clearing an obstacle requires one player to use a primary talent so the other player can complete the task. Achievements are rewarded to both players and should be a consideration when looting. It is possible for one player to horde most of the loot, which can bring out the competitive nature in some folks leaving one person to fight off the enemy while the other collects the loot. This can actually have a benefit because some achievements are based off of how many points are reached so if one player does most of the kill blows and collects most of the treasure then both players will get the achievements. The fact that there is so much teamwork involved in the game really made multiplayer tons of fun and very replayable.

Replay/Play Time/Cost:
Replay is a no-brainer on this title because the achievements are set up for a miniumum of two plays and multiplayer is so much fun. How long it takes to play through really depends on what achievements you try for and which control setup you choose. If you play on the game pad and go for speed it is only a few hours of play. If you play for skill and exploration and stick with the keyboard and have some problems with the jump it could take you quite a bit longer. Longest play time on a once through would probably be about 10 hours. The game will run you $14.99 from Steam or 1200 points for the XBox 360 so it is pretty cheap for a new title with built-in replay, even if some of the play throughs may be a bit short time-wise.

Last Call:
The game was made as a departure from the Tomb Raider series so if you can get past that and enjoy an isometric arcade game that just happens to have the same character name and take place in a similar environment as the Tomb Raider games then Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a great play at a good price.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

20 Years Of Terrorizing The East Coast: HHN Orlando

The first night we arrived through the front gates on opening night and media night so there was definite excitement in the air as a spatter of monsters, from the petite weaving through the crowd to the stiltwalkers towering above, worked the crowd outside the park’s opening arch and a large screen broadcast images of some of the 20 years of icons we could expect to see inside. The fog machines were fired up, the soundtrack of screams were rolling and in the distance chainsaws revved. It was time for some Halloween Horror Nights.

Author’s Note: When doing this review the reviewers ran into a strict policy of no photography of the mazes and shows. As a result most pictures will be of the street scare zones or of maze signs.

*All images in this article courtesy of IsItOctoberYet?


Catacombs:Black Death Rising
In 1534 an outbreak of the Black Death spread through Paris and Marseilles and a small group of doctors quarantined the infected in catacombs where they turned and waited until the day they would be unsealed and released upon those who dared enter. Trying to be historically accurate while terrifying guests the Catacombs were beautiful in their richly and disturbingly accurate detail. From piled-up skulls to The Plague Doctors who were famous for their carrion beak masks (think Spy Vs. Spy, it was actually a primitive gas mask) this maze was a creepy, claustophobic journey underground with sporatic signs telling true facts of the catacombs and plague conditions. It was a little like climbing into woodcarvings and drawings of the time and it was not a pleasant time to be alive, or undead. Makeup and props put a lot of love and care into the details in this maze so that even those who didn’t scream were in awe of the sights.

Hades:The Gates Of Ruin

Based on creatures of mythology, this maze was alive with demons and detail. In one room you walk amongst pillars where statues stand in strange poses all about the room and if you are unlucky enough you may see their snake-haired creator. In another maze of corridors you turn down one path to find strobe effects disorienting you while your path is blocked by a tall figure with the head of a bull. On your journey through you may see a few characters you hadn’t heard of before but they will be memorable from then on.

Horror Nights:The Hallow’d Past

This maze is a real treat to repeat visitors and newcomers alike. Designed mostly as a prop warehouse with a few memorable scenes recreated, you walk past some of the best props from the last 20 years while above you hang the banners for each season. Seeing a ‘thing’ from The Thing maze and the dummies from Dead Silence particularly brought back memories and seeing some scenes recreated from years I missed were wonderful. There were a few scares set up in this maze but it is mostly about nostalgia and showing some of the wonders you have missed if you haven’t made it all of the last 20 years.

Havoc:Dogs of War

By far one of the best mazes of the year, it took a theme which has been toyed with and amped it up to full blast. The government hired Shadow Creek Enterprise to experiment with genetic enhancement of our nation’s fighting forces and they went a little too far with the rage factor. The project name is Havoc and the participants are simply known as Dogs of War. Having seen some of the scare actors outside the maze and video online I know that ‘the soldiers’ actually shaved their heads to work this maze, both the GI Joes and Janes, so that their barcodes would show clearly on their scalps. They scream and rampage, they scramble from bunks and crawlspaces, they pound of the doors and slam into reinforced glass walls. It didn’t matter what time of night we went through or how slow or busy the maze was, these Dogs were always ready to bark and bite.


One of the weaker houses, it was a good idea that just didn’t quite translate right. The concept seemed solid enough: it is Z-Day +6 months and the U.S. government has taken back most of the continental United States and Canada and have knocked down most infestations. They have now liscensed companies to capture ‘unlive’ subjects for target training and public learning. The project is called the Zombie Awareness Plan, Z.A.P. for short and if you have the money, you get the lessons. The only problem is the company you came to train at just learned their safe measures aren’t as effective as they thought. Once you got past all this it was a standard zombie maze with propaganda posters from the Zombie Wars scattered across the walls. The posters are funny but the soundtrack is way too loud causing all the scare actors to wear bright colored ear plugs and making it so that the spiel from one of your ‘trainers’ goes completely unheard. There is a few good scare spots and a decent couple of misdirections but I spent most of my time just reading and laughing at posters. At one point I noticed a zombie had jumped out at me and had for several moments been trying to get my attention but the soundtrack was too loud and I had been reading a poster so I missed the whole scare.

Legendary Truth:The Wyndot Estate

Favorite house by far. The idea of Legendary Truth as investigators isn’t a new one, the community used a group known as the Collective at 2008 HHN and has a fairly expansive website. This year one of their groups known as the Spirit Seekers are investigating a house that was the scene of a grisly murder suicide on October 30th, 1929. They are also testing out a machine designed to pull spirits to them. The house has been fully wired with cameras and the team is in place to try a live broadcast onsite. The real question is, how friendly will the spirits be when they had not gone quietly into the night? The house uses excellent effects to pull off unusual and realistic ghost tricks as well as just plain eerie ones. The talent is top-notch from the Spirit Seeker co-ordinator who meets you on the house steps and tells you to go in and meet up with the team to the last ghost to go bump on your way out. I don’t want to give away how the effects were done or what they were in case some readers are still planning on making it out there but it is definitely worth waiting in line for, more than once.

Psychoscareapy:Echoes of Shadybrook
This house was kind of middle of the road, not a bad housee but not particularly memorable. It was the fourth in Psychoscareapy and having done Psychoscareapy:Home For the Holidays a while back I had pretty high hopes for this maze. It starts pretty solid with a front desk nurse walking around with a syringe sticking out of her eye. From there, well it just becomes another asylum house. PS:Home For The Holidays did an excellent job of twisting the Christmas spirit into a Halloween nightmare giving it a strong and distinctive theme. It was refreshing seeing a real person instead of a dummy in the electric chair, though having an electric chair instead of an electric gurney seemed a bit out of character and almost made it feel more like a prison asylum rather than a long term house for the insane. I have seen the chair used in the past both as an electric chair and as a gas chamber chair, but always in a prison theme and never as a electric therapy chair. There were walkers and gurneys about to try to help the theming but is still came down to being another asylum maze and though the talent worked hard, it really didn’t stand out from other ones across the country.

The Orphanage:Ashes To Ashes

This was a nice strong house with a distinct feel and definite flair for the creepy. Though the story is shrouded in a bit of mystery apparently a lonely and misunderstood orphan named Cindy got tired of her playthings at the orphanage and started a fire. Now the lost children reach out from their ashes that still litter the burned building’s remains with one name on their lips: Cindy. The maze definitely gave you the feeling you were going through a charred building whose ghostly flames still burn hauntingly hot from time to time. The perished orphans are often dressed in old style animal costumes and carved animal masks and cry for help from locked cages, burnt timber or in one case, floating in mid-air. Cindy herself can be seen throughout the house giving you her mischeivous smile and gleeful laugh. The overall effect gives an excellent suspension of disbelief and it is easy to quickly forget you are in a theme park, probably one of the top three houses this year.

Zones & Attractions:

The Coven
This area tried to cover pretty much every witch conception out there. From the naughty sexy witch to the old hag who sees through an eyeball in her hand, if you had a witch preconception it was represented. There were some solid scare spots in the zone and excellent locations for misdirection and sneaking up on folks. It was flanked on both ends by Puritans burning on a pyre, who could at anytime walk up to the edge of their flaming heap and tell you how evil the sexy witch you are getting your picture taken with is. The scare actors held character well and made the zone not just fun to walk but fun to watch. The whole zone I believe was about 100 yards.

Zombie Gras

This seemed like a fun idea for a scare zone that just kinda failed. The idea is simple, zombies infected all but one person at Mardi Gras so that one person is hiding on a crashed float to stay alive. When the undead get too close he throws out beads toward the passing patrons so that the shiney things will distract the zombies long enough for him to find a new place to hide on the float. Having been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and loving zombies I was pretty excited to get to this zone. I got there and I laughed and watched, then stopped laughing, sat down and watched some more. Event attendees would stop and ask for beads and get them and move on. The zombies would interact a little with the guests, nothing too exciting, then back to chasing the guy around the float. Tied loosely to the Zombiegeddon maze, the events are supposed to depict the North American zombie infestation breaking out. It was a really small zone, not much bigger than a building front, and if you weren’t paying attention you missed it.

Saws N’ Steam

The earth’s crust has cracked and so the new power source is steam. Due to steam misting up all the water, water has become a very precious commodity so watch out, you may be rounded up by chainsaw wielding steampunks for your body’s most valuable fluid. Due to the social issues that all this has created, the inhabitants of New Yorkshire work at this single-mindedly and every body’s harvest is a show they hate to miss. It is like a steampunk street gang and you have wandered onto their turf which is a considerable size of two streets with a connecting alley.

Esqueleto Muerte

Revelling in the seductive taunts of Death you wind your way through a skeletal nightmare… though it really wasn’t so seductive and the skeletons were all black light so it wasn’t too nightmarish either unless the idea of velvet black light posters always gave you the willies. It felt more like a festive Day of The Dead zone, and was enjoyable but fairly short and uneventful.

HHN:20 Years Of Fear

This was a scare zone that at first appears to be a really long one but in reality overlaps with XX:Fear Revealed. You walk into an area that seems to be a prop storage zone. As you go through you see all kinds of characters and icons from the past popping in and out of props from houses and scare zones over the years. It was a true pleasure to see Mary Shaw in all her creepy glory as well as to bow to the Ice Queen and stare up at the Tree Monster. As you progressed out of the maze of props you find yourself passing sets as you enter the XX:Fear Revealed zone.

XX:Fear Revealed

A small zone at the end of the 20 Years of Fear zone this area is mainly meet and greet sets with such past HHN icons as The Storyteller in front of her rocker and reading room, Jack in front of a Circus tent, the Director and many others. The end of the zone consisted of a giant XX with flames shooting out of it and loud music and voice tracked speeches. Don’t get me wrong, Fear himself was huge, his minions that slithered into the crowds were creepy and the flame light could be seen from the other side of the park and it is not a small park! Plenty of people spent plenty of time standing and gaping at the spectacle that was their new icon, Fear himself!

Bill And Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure

This show is an iconic returning symbol of HHN on both coasts and is a playful, sometimes stinging parody of pop culture delivered by two symbols of 1980s pop culture. Though plenty of the fans packing the seats weren’t alive or at least old enough to have seen the Bill and Tedd movies in person, everyone enjoys the shots taken at celebrities and trends that are the top searches on Yahoo these days. Excellent as always I hope rumors of their show’s future demise are bogus.

Bryan Brushwood: Menace And Malice
We weren’t able to time working this show in so we cannot give a personal review of it. Locals, some die-hard east coast haunters, suggested that it was a show that could be missed.

Texting Adventures:
This is an interesting idea they tried out this year and though not original, it is the first time I have seen it used for passing time while waiting in a house line. USA Network has been doing this with both Burn Notice and Covert Ops and it is a fun way to pass time. When you get in line or if you check your park map you are given a number and a word to text to it on your mobile phone. Sending the word starts a kind of choose your own adventure game where you are given different choices to make with different outcomes each time. As an example, maybe at the Orphanage house you are told to send the word CINDY to a certain number. It will tell you that you are in a yard next to a tree, to go in the house send the word HOUSE, to investigate the tree send the word TREE. You may wind up getting crushed by a tree branch or discovering the secret of the Orphanage fire if you make the right or wrong choices. It was a fun little game to play while waiting somewhere and good for some laughs.

How About This Weather?

There were only a couple of issues with the whole celebration. One was the over 85% humidity which HHN could not have any control over and tried to help alleviate with misters and fans. When the humidity gets that high though it gets more difficult to enjoy the fact that it always feels like you put your clothes on fresh out of the washer without letting them dry first. The other was the size of the scare zones for the most part were kinda small, you could easily stand at one end and see the scares the whole length of them. Lots of strong fog machines helped a bit with this but you still generally ended a scare zone wanting more.

Last Call:

HHN Orlando is a Halloween mecca for the east coast and for good reason. For 20 years they have been building quality houses and scare zones and hiring excellent scareactors to fill them. This year was no different and it was a spooky pleasure to walk down 20 years of memory lane with them.

*DISCLOSURE: I went through five shirts over three days of humidity for the purpose of this review.

Final Fantasy XIV – A Preview (PC)

We got the chance to preview the upcoming MMO from Square Enix and Square Enix PDD3, Final Fantasy XIV. The game is due out for Windows PCs on September 30th and for the PlayStation 3 console in March of 2011.

Read our full preview of this new game, After the Break!
A Short History Lesson:
I’ll admit it, I have been console gaming since the Atari 2600 first came on the market. I was one of the first kids in my TOWN to get the game system and friends and friends of friends came from all around to try the cartridge-based game system. Over the years I have collected game systems: consoles, pc and handheld, and the games that came along with them. Among the games two of my favorites were Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy so I can say I literally have watched the FF franchise grow for over two decades and have played it on multiple systems. Also during this time I have played and built online Multi-User Dungeons, the precursor to the MMORPG (MMORPGs were orginally called graphical MUDs until ‘MMORPG’ was coined in 1997), so the idea of taking one of my favorite games and putting it into one of my favorite gaming styles seemed like a great match. It has worked for other franchises right? It worked for for the Ultima franchise, one of the founding fathers of the MMORPG, it worked for Dungeons & Dragons with a couple of titles, and we all know what a massive success World Of Warcraft is. All these started as offline RPGs that eventually evolved into online play to take the player from a solo role playing experience into the world of role playing with the world. So back in 2002-2004 Final Fantasy XI went online first in Japan then in the U.S. on various platforms. And just like the other mentioned games they put out expansion packs to try to keep the game fresh and keep the player base solid to this day. Eventually though the time comes to revamp from the bottom up to re-infuse a player base. NeverWinter Nights failed at this but all indications point WoW is already beginning to see results and they haven’t even implimented the full changes yet. So now the Final Fantasy series starts a new chapter Online with Final Fantasy XIV.

Character Building:

Strong characters with interesting attributes and histories has always been a defining part of Final Fantasy. Over the years the graphics have improved with the technology and the defining features both physical and personality of the characters have evolved with it. Final Fantasy lets you not only choose the eye and hair color of your character you also choose their suns and moons, their lineage and many more aspects that are designed to help sculpt your role play and give you a very rich character base to build off of. From the very beginning the game is trying to encourage strong roleplay rather than hack and slash.


The game sets the atmosphere with its now famously rich use of cutscenes. You are on a ship at sea in a massive storm and you are fighting, both figuratively and literally, to keep the ship from going down. There is a brief moment of action and then back into the cinematics for some more amazing cut-scenes. Then you arrive at your port, walk on to the dock and start your gaming experience in earnest. The only problem is there is no indicator of what you are supposed to do. You are just standing on a dock with a few NPCs standing around and a door in front of you. It looks great but you are now beginning one of the rougher parts of the game, getting started.

Game Play:
Trying to keep the roleplay aspect alive and the suspension of disbelief going, the game gives very few visual guides as to what you are supposed to do next. It gets a little better after a bit of play but for a game that is trying to appeal to the FF console player and fresh MMORPG players, getting the person started comfortably with the game would seem a high priority. The reality of it is you find yourself talking to every NPC you see, and in some rooms that is quite a few, and reading the manual or guides to try to figure out how things work. You know that certain people, like the ones behind the counter with a large number of players standing in a group around them, are important and someone you will have to deal with but you aren’t given an indication of who you should be talking to first or who can tell you what you need to do next. Some MMORPGs may arguably take this too far in the other direction, but as a player I have never complained about being pointed to where I have to go next too much or being told what I need to do. Exploring and talking to different NPCs is definitely a part of any MMORPG, especially Final Fantasy, but getting lost or taking on quests or NPC helpers without realizing the use or consequences are a whole different story.

I will give this hint to help start you off if you are new to the Final Fantasy Online franchise, at the first couple desks talk to all the NPCs behind them before you make any decisions and choose all of the possible questions but accept nothing until you talk to all of them. In traditional FF style they want you to explore the world and speak to the different people, some with good information, some with none. MMORPG players from other games may find this a bit frustrating since most MMORPGs point you where you need to go in one fashion or another. This game does not. It leaves you to your own means, whether it be joining a guild, figuring out what and where to buy things or finding your way out of town. The town I started in was multi-level with no clear indicators on how to get out of town to the first questing area. So you may run down a long section of hallways only to find you are at a dead end and needing to go back to the last hub and pick a different direction. These may be eventually things that get added to the maps and NPCs but I have my doubts.

If you get past the initial struggle or know most of this already from playing FFXI Online, it does get a bit better. When you take on quests and are in the questing area you can get indicators where to go to kill your next creature and when you get to the creature an indicator on your mini map and on above the creatures head let you know this is one of the beasts you are looking for. This is good because in the initial days of the game’s beginning you will be fighting other players for the kills so you need to beeline for them. As with any game’s starting area there is a finite number of creatures that spawn for a quest so everyone is after them. Also some people are trying to farm experience or materials for crafting or selling and the creatures are a good source for both so they may not be on the quest but they want that kill. One of the slightly unusual pains of the starting quests is creature spawn locations. In most starting areas the creatures are in a grouped location and in later quests you may have to hunt around a zone. This helps get the first few quests under a player’s belt before they can move on to a new area and free the area up for the next player. The spawn locations on the beginning quests are all over the map, you may be fighting something on one side of the starting camp then your indicator tells you new ones have spawned on the other side and as you truck across the area someone else kills them and then you have to wait for new spawns and race in that direction. All this will be less of an issue after the game has been out a while, but expect such headaches as you get started. It also doesn’t help that each race doesn’t get it’s own starting zone.

Trades And Abilities:

There are a wide variety of trades and abilities to choose from, most are based off of your race, class and the history you chose for yourself. It makes sense that if you chose your history to have been a fisher that you wouldn’t be as inclined to take a bodyguarding duty as a gladiator might. The variety is a nice mix but once again there is a bit of a learning curve on how to do the trades. Quests help and can point you in the right direction but gearing up requires going to the marketplace and looking at every item to make sure you get everything you need for your trade. Some trades require items equipped in both hands to source materials such as mining so if you go running out with only a pickaxe the game will tell you that you need something in your other hand but not what. If you go over all the items in the trade shop and read their descriptions you will know what you need to get the job done. Again it comes down to Final Fantasy wanting you to ask all the questions, look at all the items before making your choices. Similar to other games as you level you learn new abilities you have to slot them before you use them so make sure you check your abilities each time you level and assign them a slot. Players may not be used to having to do that and might just assume that when they get a new ability it will be there. The abilities are listed under the category they are associated with so that the miner ability of throwing a bone chip won’t be confused with your gladiator abilities for example. Abilities are nicely tailored to the classes and their names and actions match well.

Player Interaction/Roleplay:
Hopefully this will develop more over time. Gold spammers were running crazy even in the beta testing phase so I never saw a question answered or anyone role playing their character at all. Players did their quests, killed their kills and kept to themselves. Some joined guilds but even the players from the same guilds didn’t seem to interact much if at all. So the whole purpose of putting Final Fantasy into MMORPG format at this point is being missed, because instead of enriching the game’s storyline by having other players bring their ideas and enhancements to the game, it is just a whole bunch of people playing solo in the same world, which at that point you might as well be playing offline because all the benefits of MMORPG are lost and all the headaches are kept. The richness of the story will continue through advanced questing (killing wharf rats doesn’t really enrich your storyline) but it will be plagued by gold spammers and kill stealers. This could all change when the community actually becomes a community but right now it is every player for themselves. It has potiential, it has the right mix of solid MMORPG base to work off of and an existing Final Fantasy fan base, but it needs to develop if it is to become anything more than a hack and slash game.

Controls are pretty good and make sense, for the most part moving is standard keyboard style. There were some issues with mouse use and keyboard function with FFXI (and early versions of this game) but those seemed to have been worked out. Targeting with the mouse involves one click to pick the target and a second to choose to attack. Then is is just a matter of choosing what attack to use. Some creatures will break your target lock, for example a mole that goes under ground and comes back up, but it is just a matter of going through the above to start attacking all over again. Just like FFXI it is also game pad compatible which makes it even more user friendly for hopefully new console converts and colsole converts brought over by the previous game.


The graphics and beautiful and are a far step above any of the other Final Fantasy games. This game’s graphics actually advanced greatly between the Alpha and Beta stages so much that videos were released to show the difference. Sometimes customization of outfits are done at the expense of detail but the game is very rich and clothing customization will only get better (custom undies??). The graphics are so good that players who hadn’t felt a need to upgrade their systems while playing FFXI are in some cases needing to not just budget for the game but also for some new hardware. There are multiple threads on Final Fantasy forums about how to build a cheap new computer. The music score is excellent and I would not be surprised if the soundtrack alone proves popular. One endearing factor is that the sound effects that have always characterized these games are still there and just as enjoyable.

How do you calculate the cost of this? The game’s playtime might be measureable in years like FFXI or any of the other MMORPGs that have stood the test of time and whimsy. You start with an intitial cost of $49.99 to $74.99 for the game, $12.99 a month subscription for one character with one bank character, additional costs for more of either. And what if you need to build/buy a new computer?

Last Call:
It comes down to this: the game has potential, great potential. It has a chance to pull in fresh blood for the franchise from other MMORPGs and console gamers. What the game becomes is also up in the air, it could be the future of RPG in MMORPG or it can become a hack and slash. Everything is there for this to be a long life franchise piece, or it could plummet into obscurity like games I didn’t even mention. There are plenty of MMORPGs out there nowadays with WoW dominating the market so the question is, will freshen up the franchise by starting a new online chapter save or doom it?

Review of Worms: Reloaded (PC)

Just about anyone who was gaming in the 90’s heard of Worms even if they weren’t playing it. It is the Monty Python of gaming, allowing you to fire a full arsenal of weapons such as explosive sheep, the Holy Hand Grenade (Hallelujah!) and the good old fashion prod while also letting you fly jet packs and shoot the infamous Ninja Rope. The Ninja Rope has become a strong contention in gaming over the years, some people have become addicted to it while others shudder at the sight of it launching. No matter how you feel about the rope though, Worms: Reloaded is a fun game with silly hats.

The atmosphere is silly and fun, just as you would expect from a Worms game. There is a general background fitting the level’s theme such as a blurry bulldozer behind a construction site you are battling over. Silly hats are abundant and lots of customization between styles of voice and phrases all make sure you know that though this is a battle game it is not meant to be taken seriously.

Game Play:
This has always been what Worms is famous for. The great arsenal of wacky weapons at your disposal makes it so that even when you find yourself taking damage you are laughing along with the action and looking forward to the carnage you will unleash. New weapons, hats and forts have been added to the game to once again step up the fun from the previous Worms. Time flies by as you launch Super Sheep, deploy the Holy Hand Grenade and send a bull tearing through the levels destroying all in it’s path. There is also the ever popular (or ever dreaded) Ninja Rope. If you master it you find yourself swinging across levels left and right and shooting it at every surface it will stick to. If you find you don’t have a knack for it most levels have given you enough alternative utilities to still get the job done. One of the few issues I found was some NPC worms never seem to miss. When firing weapons you have to consider your place on the map, angle and power of your weapon, terrain level and wind direction. All this has to be done while a timer runs down. Some NPCs just angle and fire using the wind perfectly every time so that a weapon will go streaking across the map and the wind will stop it just right and it will drop down perfectly on you. My first thought was that it was just on the harder modes but I saw it on lower ones as well. So to get around this I just made those NPCs my first targets then the levels played out nicely.

Single player game play modes feature Campaign which is the standard leveling setup and earns you gold after each level completed that can be saved up and used to buy extra weapons and levels, Body Count in which each time you wipe out an enemy worm a new one appears and weapons get dropped throughout the game to keep the killing spree going as long as you can and if you just want to get into a game and do some massive worm carnage, Warzone gives you a whole bunch of weapons, a whole bunch of enemies and lets you destroy everything in sight. Since the game is played through Steam there is also achievements, leadership boards and an excellent and excited online community complete with forums.

There are two main types of multiplayer modes, local and online. The online is supported by Steam and has a standard game lobby and finder system for up to four players which has it’s own achievements as well. The more interesting multiplayer game play is the local version which is a throw back to the old days of multiplay back before everyone had a computer. Hotseat is a term used to describe turn based game play where one player would have his turn at the game then give up his seat to the next player so they could take their turn in the ‘hot seat.’ Worms: Reloaded has revisited this type of play so that up to four players can play on the same account on the same computer by trading chairs, passing the laptop or handing over the gamepad. This lends itself to party gaming as well so that different people at the party can sit down and play a turn then go back to the partying.

Worms: Reloaded can be played on the keyboard or the gamepad controller and either way keys can be customized to the player’s taste. Most of your game involves just a few keys such as directional, jumping, weapon choice and firing. All this makes getting used to the controls as easy as choosing your own style. The only control problem I noticed was the double jump doesn’t seem as responsive as one might hope. After trying to assign it different keys and testing it on both the gamepad and the keyboard I just tried to avoid using it too much. The NPC uses it constantly which can be a bit frustrating when most of the time your use of it near a fall or water will get you killed. Much like the Ninja Rope there is usually a utility that can help get around the problem.

The graphics are cartoony and fun, each version of the game gets better graphics while maintaining the whimsical feel. There is even a Blur option in case you miss the old fuzzy television graphics, though the graphics are now in High Definition for the first time. The hats, a great favorite of heavy fans of the game, are rendered cleanly and there are over 70 varieties to choose from! The game sounds are clean and many remind you of something you would hear on the old Saturday morning cartoons. The worms’ voices are pop culture based and can be changed as you go, so you may hear some excellent Jedi advice one moment and a British voice talking about smoking barrels the next. Level and character customization give you an ever changing experience so that you don’t have to keep listening and seeing the same graphics the whole game. You can even import your own landscapes and design your own levels!

Worms: Reloaded isn’t designed as a single play time experience. The Campaign can be played over and over with different weapons and extra levels being purchased each time. Warzone, Body Count and multiplayer will be different every time as well due to how you and your opponent fight. Include the personal level designing opportunities and this can be a game players go back to regularly. There is even plans to have Easter Eggs added to the game throughout the year. So with all that considered $19.99 is a great price ($17.99 pre-order includes extra hats, forts and 24 hour early access).

Last Call:
Worms: Reloaded is good old silly fun. It can be challenging and hilarious, a quick play or a long gaming session, a solo play or a party game. Worms: Reloaded lives up to it’s predecessors and takes it to the next level. So get out there and start exploding sheep!

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Hydro Thunder – A Review (XBLA)

I can remember when I was standing in a video arcade with my friends waiting for our turn to play Hydro Thunder. Two arcade cabinets were set side by side and we each climbed into our chairs and felt the rev of the engine as we waited for a high speed race through wild maps in our choice of vehicles. It wasn’t long before the game hit home and we were playing it on consoles, with the Nintendo 64 letting four friends get in on the action at a time instead of the usual two. A plan to make a sequel was made then fell through and the game was lost, relegated to arcade collections. Now XBox Live as part of it’s ‘Summer of Arcade’ has brought Hydro Thunder back in the form of Hydro Thunder Hurricane with brand new maps, great game play and a mixture of old school boats and new ones with unlockable skins and achievements. You can even race Rubber Ducks.


The maps are visually amazing and interactive with the racing vehicles, the sounds are crisp and the animations are so clean that it all pulls you into the game. When your boat lands after a jump, the screen gets splashed and water drips down it. The controller shakes with the rumble of the engines and stereo sound makes it so that you are sure you just heard a tropical bird squawk in the next room as you fly past lush jungles and ruins. The atmosphere pulls in people just passing by and soon they are sitting right next to the racers watching the game enthralled.

Game Play:
The game has 8 different maps with 4 styles of single player modes; Race, Ring Master, Gauntlet and Championship. Race is what you would expect from a racing game, taking on 15 opponents by drafting, rubbing and boosting your way around the tracks to beat the AI players. Ring Master pits you against pre-determined times as you race around the tracks trying to follow certain racing lines to pass through rings. Passing through rings enables you to use your boost, missing them takes it away and gives you time penalties. One of the best aspects of Ring Master is the rings take you through some of the hidden passages built into the 9 tracks. Not all of them, they still want the players to explore, but Ring Master will show you the long way around the course as well as a few shortcuts. Gauntlet is a fun mode to play and a great mode to watch. Barrels of explosives line curves and cliff jump landings, as well as just random locations players tend to hit the walls, waiting for a boat to drift into them and explode. Reflexes and nerves get challenged as players try at the last second to stop physics and keep their boats from becoming burning hulks. This mode is quick to bring jeers and cheers from spectators. Championship combines the different game modes with the different maps so that the player has to complete a certain number of game determined races and place 1st, 2nd or 3rd in overall standings against AIs. Race and Gauntlet both allow you to pick Novice, Pro, or Expert level to compete at, the game determines the skill level required for the races in Ring Master and Championship. To complete single player you have to place 1st, 2nd or 3rd in over 50 races (Championship mode has 10 overall race series that start at two tracks and work their way up) and that is where you kinda begin to really feel the lack of tracks. Once you have raced it in each mode in up to three difficulty levels you not just know the tracks well you almost feel a little burned out. Don’t get me wrong, the tracks are AMAZING but I look forward to some new maps hopefully in the not too distant future.

Multiplayer Play:

This was the best aspect of the old game, so it is a vital part of the new one. All maps are available but only one previous single player modes, Race. So up to four players can race locally and up to eight players can race via Xbox LIVE against each other and AI. The lack of single player options being translated to multiplayer options was a bit of a surprise because honestly I think one of the funniest modes would be Gauntlet which would let players rub each other into explosive kegs. There is a unique vehicle and player mode that helps make up for this a bit though called Rubber Ducky. In Rubber Ducky players are divided into red and blue teams and one player on each side is assigned to be the rubber ducky. Then both teams do everything they can in Race mode to help get their team’s rubber ducky across the finish line first. The rubber ducky vehicle is also available in multiplayer Race Mode.


Controls are pretty straight forward, triggers for gas and brake, A for boost, X for boost jump and the left thumb stick to steer. The ease of controller setup is nice because when you get into the Pro and Expert vehicles they can get a little squirally and the smallest adjustments mistimed with an incoming wave and you can literally find yourself steering your boat down a sidewalk. Warning: your friends and family will laugh at you for this.

The graphics have been greatly improved, without giving too much of the gamplay animations, there are moments where you just stare at what is happening around you with your fingers glued to the gas and boost. The sound rumbles in time to the vibrating controller and the music fits a racing game. There is a voice over in single player which seems to be your crew chief but all he says most of the time is ‘this is crazy!’ or ‘want to go back, I think there are a few walls you missed.’ I think I only heard him say one helpful thing but he adds to the fun of the game.

Single player will take you several hours if you have your racing game skills honed, probably a few days if you don’t. Multiplayer you can just start playing and have fun with, but with only eight maps you might want to have another game around if you plan to play the whole night with the buddies. I imagine there are new maps along the way and those would definitely kick the playtime up with friends by quite a bit. The game only costs 1200 Microsoft Points though so you definitely get your money’s worth, it is even cheaper if you buy it as part of a current game bundle.

Last Call:
They seem to put more effort into the single player aspects than the multiplayer, which is a bit of a surprise considering the multiplayer was the game’s big draw before. Still there is plenty of content for your buck, the game looks and plays great and being on XBox Live gives it room to grow.

A Pirate’s Life Online: PotCO Review (PC & Mobile)

When I began playing PotCO a couple years ago, Disney had been covering cable networks advertising the oportunity to fight for the pirates way of life against the Royal Army and undead pirates. I already played a game which had me fighting all kinds of creatures including undead so why should I try another game? Because it was free to try and you could have your own ship and crew. At the time I found that particularly fascinating; Sailing a ship and firing cannons. Who would have known two years later, when everyone was waiting for the new Pirates of the Caribbean game I would have a subscription and be recruiting others to fight the Jolly Roger?


Pirates of the Caribbean Online features some very immersive environment – there also the adventurous musical scores and well-detailed environments and characters. You talk to characters from the movie for quests and storylines but you also spend a lot of time conversing with other figures created just for the game or based off of old pirate stories. The Jolly Roger attacks cities and burns them to the ground, naval officers try to arrest you and throw you in the stockade every chance they get, voodoo and gunpowder blasts your foes. Oh and ships, you can earn gold to buy your own and sail it as captain or sign on as crew and man a cannon, mastering range and firepower to blast your enemies to Davy Jones’ locker. Unless of course he is the one you wind up fighting. And what could add more to an atmosphere than 3D? The developers implemented it into the game without telling anyone and after a bit of testing sent glasses to subscribers. So, by simply pushing a button in settings and putting on blue/red 3D glasses, the game takes on new dimension.

Game Play:
There are a wide variety of skills and even a profession to master to improve your combat and keep your ship seaworthy. Leveling each skill and completing quests also increases your level and usually either your health bar or voodoo bar. The main weapons are swords, guns, and voodoo dolls. However, things such as bombs and voodoo staves can also be learned and have their own distinct advantages. When sailing a ship you can steer it and fire broadsides, which will blast a cannon volley from your right or left side. Best case scenario is you bring other players on as your crew. The larger the crew the more experience and loot you get. The crew can also man cannons and fire them at targets to sink your enemy faster. Newer additions include onshore cannon defenses, PvP both at sea and on land and potions making that does everything from improve your marksmanship to increase your gassiness. To add to the experience things like potion-making and ship repair are done by playing mini-games. You can even take your ill-gotten gains and try them at a game of chance by playing poker or blackjack at some hidden away tables. It is an open world to play, you can do quests, not do any quests and spend weeks just sailing and sinking enemies, spend days at the poker table. The very best weapons and items are gotten off of bosses so you can fight your way to just about any boss and find a handful of people waiting for the boss to re-spawn so they can kill and kill again in hopes of getting a legendary weapon. They drop so seldom though, hence the legendary status, that some players will farm for months and never seen the most prestigious weapons.


PotCO itself can be played from a desktop browser on MAC or PC. Made as companions to the game are two mini games, Desktop Galleon and Cannons of the Deep. Desktop Galleon is just that, a Galleon you sail across you desktop, picking up bonuses and broadsiding enemy ships right across your desktop icons. Nice little distraction you can play offline and free, Desktop Galleons is definitely worth a try. Also in conjunction with PotCO is a mobile browser game called Cannons of the Deep. Another free to download game this one is a simple browse forward based system that allows you to intercept ships, fight battles, or parlay for passage. Graphics are pretty simple and not animated but it is oddly addictive and unlike Desktop Galleon, this game interacts directly with PotCO. You can get money in Cannons of the Deep and transfer 1,000 gold a day to your PotCO account as well as treasure items. You can also check your character’s stats and leader-board positions and even check out the shape of your ships. If you are saving up for the next bigger ship to sail or weapons to wield, earning a thousand gold on your game a day while running around can add up fast. Most people just think you’re texting!


Controls are standard for character and ship and are also standard for most MMORPG or FPS. WASD, 123, and the mouse get you moving around just fine. There are hotkeys for menus but they can also be accessed through point and click. A player’s guide is provided free on the webpage and there is also a dedicated Wiki site.

Graphics vary in detail, they can be a bit cartoony for some things then other things like the undead warships look detailed and a bit spooky. Audio is good, sounds fitting for weapons and creatures, voice acting is good, You can even find a minstrel who play special music for you. When you are at sea you can hear the wind in the sails and the firing of cannon shots. Include the aforementioned 3D to the graphics and the experience is pretty cool.

Holidays And Other Events:

Usually concentrating on national or international holidays, PotCO celebrates with events and in game items. For Mother’s Day, a wide variety of tattoos were available, for St. Patrick’s Day the sea turned green and a variety of items and enhancements were available. Some are GM run events, but most are simple quest lines that open up tattoos or clothing options, neither of which effect gameplay and both of which can be removed. Got crazy and put a shamrock on your cheek for St. Patrick’s day? Got a hat for Pirate’s Day that doesn’t match your jacket? Both can be removed by opening your inventory.

Playtime is fairly limitless. Leveling skills, saving gold, doing quests, or just sinking everything you see can keep you going. Before this might have been a little less true when the game first began so if you gave it a couple years ago, the game has increased in richness a lot since then. A particulary impressive feature is how expansive the free to try game system is. I have known people who have played for a long time, making new characters or just saving gold without ever getting a full account. When I first started I played for free, got my first ship, and waited until I earned enough money for my second ship and had capped out all my allowed skills and quests before getting the full account. I was able to fully experience the different dynamics of gameplay before deciding I needed a bigger boat. If you do decide to subscribe it is $4.95 the first month, $9.95 each month after that unless you get a six month for $49.95 or one year for $79.95. If a full subscription makes you nervous there is a national drug store listed on the website where you can buy one month membership cards. If life gets too busy or funds get too tight you can go back to your limited membership and play all the limited membership choices and your account will be saved with all your full membership items and skills. So when or if you decide to go back to full membership you get access to all of your items again.

Last Call:
With everyone talking about the new Pirates of the Caribbean game coming out, the one that has been around a couple of years has been growing and improving under the radar. Sign up for a free account. Battle some royal naval officers, kill some undead pirates, sail some ships and sink others. You might find a richer experience than you expected.

Waves of Puzzling Fun: Tidalis (PC)

Across the sea is a ‘shrouded continent’ known as Tidalis, because of the great waves that smash ships to bits upon it’s cliff covered shores. Only myth comes out about what Tidalis holds, always told as a friend of a friend story. It is your duty to find ‘some amalgamated culture, divergent from our own feudalism in the absence of hereditary lords’ that has developed in this strange land. What you find is an imp in a bubble named Pickles who has laid claim to the land and sets puzzle traps for ‘aliens’ such as yourself who arrive in his kingdom. He is aided by oddly shaped floating creatures of various description and varying intelligence. Without giving too much more away, this is the back story behind some very innovative puzzle designs.

There are nice backgrounds, some funny, that generally are simple in design to keep from distracting too much from the game but the gameplay which usually pulls you in enough that you don’t notice the backgrounds. The cut scenes are silly and ridiculous with simple graphics. They can be entertaining but really the game would have been fine without them. They are only in Adventure mode and are skippable so some may choose to.

Game Play:

The concept is fairly simple, line up blocks of the same color with arrows on the blocks pointing in the direction you wish the blocks to travel. When the blocks are activated they leave spaces after they clear and activate special blocks or nearby lines. Blocks drop down to fill the spaces and new block drop from above. The matching lines have to be a minimum of 3 blocks long and can jump 2 normal blocks under normal circumstances. The trick is that circumstances become abnormal quick as unique blocks are introduced and game physics are distorted. Sometimes you have both these challenges and possibly a timer as well. There are easily over 100 various combinations employed in the game and the initial game starting color block patterns are random meaning you can play the same level twice and have different results and scores. Though it sounds a little complicated the general idea is easy to pick up when played and it tutors you a bit. Also when you right click and hold on a certain color it dulls the other colored blocks so you can see patterns easier. ‘Handicap’ can be adjusted to make the game easier or more difficult depending on your skill and if a puzzle gets too difficult to beat there is a skip puzzle option so you don’t get stuck.


This game is all point and click, one mouse button to adjust the directions of the arrows and look for patterns, the other to start the blocks going. They basically destroy like a domino falling or a fuse burning so you just sit back and plan your next move while they destroy through your chosen path. Point and click is also how you get through the cutscenes, read the bit of dialogue then click on the screen for the next part, handy if someone is a slower reader.

You can change the design of the blocks but in the end the background and the graphics almost have a throw back feel to them. This would have been at home amongst the puzzle games of the old consoles graphics wise. It’s difference lies in the puzzle challenges. The music can be soothing when things are going well and it gets faster when the blocks get close to the top. When marathon playing I would recommend having some other music going, because it is always the same tune in the game when things are going well and the same one when things are going bad. It sounds a lot like other puzzle games and after a while can get a bit redundant.


There is a two player head to head mode very similar to other puzzle games but with this game’s twists. Online multiplayer is available but seems a bit limited in finding partners, probably better to get a buddy to play in a private hosted game or a networked one and then you can gloat on your victory in person.

This game is great for the casual player who wants to do a puzzle or two to kill some time or the hardcore puzzler who goes for hours on end playing. With so many different levels and with high replay value to try to beat your time or better your score, this game could last infinite hours and at a minimum if only played once at least a couple day’s play. It retails for $9.99 and can sometimes be found on sale for even cheaper, making it really worth it’s money for how much play is available. Even if you only play it once for a few hours that is cheaper than a movie.

Last Call:
Tidalis is a block-based puzzle game which can appeal to all levels of players with its varieties and combinations making for over 100 levels. The surface concept is simple but the level construction can quickly prove to be an addictive challenge. Combine all that with a great price and it is easy to overlook the lackluster and often ridiculous storyline.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Land of The Free, Home Of The Pay: A Review of Battlefield Heroes (PC)

I followed the development of Battlefield Heroes closely. I have always loved the Battlefield games, buying new titles, downloading all the mods, I honestly couldn’t get enough of it. I have five of their titles on my computer right now and have played two of them as recently as a few hours ago, Battlefield has a permanent place on my rig. So I had huge hopes for a BF game on the go, one I could log on just about anywhere I was and jump in. I had plans to level like a mad man, use years of skills to get all three of my different ‘heroes’ as high as I could. I knew I was coming late to the scene, BFH had fallen off the map a bit but I figured just like BF 1942 there would always be a core of loyal players to jump in with. Besides there might be some fresh blood with the one year anniversary happening on none other than July 4th weekend. What I found was a small pack of people who knew each other from there being so few active servers and they couldn’t let go of the game because they had invested so much money in it. Meanwhile when a noob to the game like myself would show up it would be a mass slaughter instead of a wacky fun match.

The load music is great, the voices are funny, even the sounds vehicles make, the clunking and chugging noises all add to the fun. Everything is rendered with a cartoon style very different from the other Battlefield games. There are taunting but funny animations that some heroes do when they kill you and the costume/uniform variety is amazing. Most people have either seen screen shots of the kilted team or the trailers featured some time ago and they obviously planned to make this game fun. And at first it was, the wackiness was great and the Battlefield physics kept it grounded a bit so though you might be fighting a guy with his face painted the colors of his favorite soccer team while he wore a beauty pageant sash and heart-covered boxers, you could still rely on the weapons’ physics to perform like they have all these years. Then something becomes…off.

Game Play:
The players from each team greet players from the other team as they log in like old friends. The ones talking to each other are also the ones with the most extravagent outfits. So though they do gun each other down on occasion, they tend to aim for the plainly dressed, obviously new level 1-6 characters. Those who weren’t dressed in the fancy outfits were the main ones dying. A lot of dying. I would be shooting a perfect head shot with my sniper rifle, and it would do a low damage.

At first I thought is was a server failure or concession and these were really, really high level players that had gotten thrown into our mix. Then I noticed we were the ones thrown into their midst. There were level 7 players with literally ship cannons firing from their shoulders or gatling guns on their hips. Some sprouted electric fields that would wipe you out, some fired bullets that caught you on fire. And it took several plain clothed players to take one of them down. Some of the fancy dressed took it personal if they got killed in a round. Even just once, and they considered it a really bad game if they died a few times. So I thought maybe there was some trick to getting the special items at a low level, some points trade-in I hadn’t learned about yet. There was, but I wasn’t going to be able to ‘daily rent’ any of weapons for weeks(that’s right the lower levels of purchasing are just renting and the weapons go away in a few days), and I would have to hit level 10 before I could gain the simplest things. Or I could buy the points to buy the wacky outfits and outrageous weapons, at prices for the ‘battlefunds’ ranging from $4.99 to $99.99. So those who could pay to play with the big guns were the winners. I asked on open channel how many had purchased their weapons and outfits and how much they had spent but of course there is a stigma, no one wants to admit to buying weapons on a free play game, though it is very obvious they had.

Controls are really similar to the other Battlefield games. The planes have slightly different controls which throws off a new player and though I think it is an improvement it can really cause a lot of crash landings, so only the long term players seem to use them. If you are in one of the tanks or planes and it blows up, no matter how many extra toys you have, you die. I have seen over-powered players running around destroying tanks as fast as another character but when in the vehicles all are equal. So controls are great, follow Battlefield’s physics and it is fairly easy to forget you are driving a cartoon tank instead of a beautifully detailed one.

Graphics are what they are supposed to be, cartoonish, wacky, fun and original. They don’t let you down on this account. There actually seems to be less ground solid issues than older Battlefield games and some people complain that older rigs that played the older games just fine can’t handle the graphics on this. Seems funny at first since there is less detail, but there is far more variety of dress, design and weapons. The customization probably causes quite a bit of the lag. The audio for the most part follows the game actions, gun shots, knife swipes, explosions. The taunts have sounds also though which could be another reason for lag. The graphics are fun and the sound is great.

This is a sticky subject. Technically it is free to play but since free to play translates to lots of deaths, that play can be a bit frustrating and slow unless you put some money into the game… which kind of defeats the free to play purpose a bit. But the folks killing me seem to be having a grand ol’ time. At up to $100 in investment at a time, I would hope so.

Last Call:
I will probably stick it out. I still like the idea of free play and I have a grinder’s patience and maybe if I get a better cash flow I MIGHT invest in a weapon set just to give it a try. Who knows, maybe eventually I will have my ‘Cheers’ moment and everyone will know my name when I log in. Or maybe I will pick up one of the newer FPS titles I have yet to try and save this game as an occasional travel distraction.

Reign: Conflict of Nations – A Review (PC)

It is the year 1350. The Black Death emerged killing through Istanbul, Italy, Germany, France and England, eventually turning East into the Baltic lands. Soon reaching the borders of Russia, it tore a path through Krakow to Moscow, where the plague vanished into the woods of Russia. Lost but not forgotten.

The story takes place in the lands of Poland, Russia, and the Great Lithuanian Princedom during the chaos and recovery from the plague and the domination of the Golden Horde and the Knight Orders that took place between 1350-1650. Players are allowed to follow a thoroughly thought-out and historically accurate system of building up cities and expanding territory through diplomacy, missions and by warring with 25 other factions over the 300 year period. Time is measured in cycles of the moon and realistic expansions in technology and territory. You can tell this was a labor of love, the Russian gaming company Lesta that made the game took great care to tell the story of the dark times of their land, as a matter of fact the original version of the game was entirely in Russian. If you follow the tutorial and quests you should find yourself retracing a very accurate time line of history of the region’s strife. You will find yourself told when to send an ambassador to what country, when to be prepared to war with another, when to build soldiers, even when to hire scientists or priests to help heal the victims of the Black Death when it creeps back out of the forest. And because three centuries of history is trying to be told in one game time can really fly and time lines for tutorials and quests can be a bit tight. Players who like their game play to be fast and furious and historically accurate can thrive on this, those who don’t can make adjustments to suit their taste as well.

The atmosphere is pretty standard real-time strategy, very nice clean graphics, nice renaissance style music. The music gets more dramatic on occasion but for the most part it has a mellow feel to it, allowing sound in the background while you move your units around the map, build buildings and check alerts that tell you either what to do next or what happened where during the time period. The graphics are artistically done and the load screens for the game look like stained glass cathedral windows.

Game Play:
The gameplay has a lot of diversity to it since you have 26 factions to choose from, three levels of difficulty, and three separate centuries to choose from to play. There are over 150 military units and dozens of famous personalities to command and contend with. Each of the units can learn up to six abilities from a menu of many choices during it’s ‘lifetime’. Death comes to all units eventually, some from battle, some from disease and some even from old age as realistically you can’t expect them to live hundreds of years. Different territories have different special units, so playing on one side of the map will have entirely different play than the other. There are three standard game speeds, regular, fast and paused. Many actions can be done or plotted while the game is paused if you prefer a more turn-based feel to the play or if you like the speed of real time play stay away from the pause button and try the regular speed or the fast mode. In the menu setting section there is even the opportunity to have a slower regular speed. In that same section of the menu you can toggle between being historically accurate through the tutorials, quests and announcements of historical events to saying, ‘I want to build an empire with big guns and artillery and I want it now!’ Players are used to having options in their games, strategy or not, and this game goes above and beyond. Is there a replay value? This game could be played dozens, if not possibly hundreds of times and not have the same play. If you follow the historical route you would have a minimum of 26 different plays because of the 26 different factions, and there is still wiggle room in each of those to change unit abilities. This game is one you could keep on your system and replay whenever you feel like it for years. A player is probably more likely to lose system compatibility in several years before running out of play options!

Glitch or Accuracy?:
Without going into too much detail, sometimes military or diplimatic actions will happen that can’t be won. I don’t know if it is due to historic accuracy (some battles were lost) or a glitch. Personally I hope it is a historic accuracy, because as many folks know, war is a series of wins and losses and some battles just shouldn’t be winnable. Some factions, due to religion or political nature, aren’t compatible. Religion does play a part in this game and can negatively or positively affect your faction as well.

The game is a point and click all the way. There are a lot of menus to click through, but a mouse will get you through it. Care should be taken not to put a unit behind the name banner above a city because you may find yourself spending a bit of time trying to find that little bit of the unit that can be clicked on under it. Also if the unit is standing outside the city, put them to the right or left of it or it might be hard to click on the city. This also brings up a small issue with the game, to fit more than one specialized non-soldier unit in the city you have to build a bigger city. Otherwise they stand outside the castle walls and wait their chance to enter.

Clean graphics, nice sound effects for the units as they run around. The maps are nicely rendered and excellent visual quality. The graphics screen for battles is kind of boring, very much like some old turn based games of the past. Little boxes with units in them on each side of the screen and as you click the fight button they randomly gray out the unit on one side or the other as they die. Also it could use a sound effect for when a unit dies outside of battle.

Playtime can completely vary due to all the different variations in play. Some can work around the A.I., play on fast speed and not follow the tutorial/quest route and probably go through it pretty quick. Those who follow the historic route or play it slower, this game could easily last days. But considering it is for sale now at GamersGate for $29.95 and has a high replay value, it sounds like a good price.

Last Call:
This game has multiple playing options, a nice look and a reasonable price. It has a lot of replay value and runs the whole gamet of style between turn-based stratedgy and real-time stratedgy. It has addictive game play and a much more interactive learning experience than the History Channel.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review