Author - Jerry Paxton

Cryostasis Website Live

The website for Cryostasis, an upcoming survival-horror/action game from 1C and Action Forms ltd, has gone live for your browsing enjoyment. Due out at the end of this year, Cryostasis puts you on an icebreaker in 1968, fighting the mutated bodies of your crewmates with the most basic of weapons.

Official Website

Official Release:
Leading Eastern and Central European publisher 1C Company today announces the launch of the official website for the upcoming survival/ horror FPS Cryostasis.
1968. Arctic North Circle. Alexander Nesterov is sent to investigate the North Wind, an old Russian nuclear ice-breaker shipwrecked in an icy grave with the crew all presumed dead. Fighting against the intense cold, Nesterov starts to uncover the shocking secrets buried within and relives the horrifying final hours of the crew.

The Cryostasis website – http://www.cryostasis-game.com – teases you with new information about Nesterov’s mental echo ability, the ship’s mysterious history and the crew’s bone-chilling final journey. Detailed updates on characters, weapons and key features can be found in the ship’s logs and there’s a wealth of new screenshots, videos and art to download.

King’s Bounty: The Legend Review

Gather ’round younglings and let me tell you a tale. You may be familiar with turn-based strategy RPG’s such as Heroes of Might and Magic and Disciples. You may have visions of glorious 3d graphics, orchestral scores, and other modern amenities. However, did you know that this genre of game, now taking a back seat (unfortunately) to RTS and FPS games, all started with a little title called King’s Bounty back in 1990? You see, table-top board game creators had started to bring that experience to the personal computer, which at that point was bristling with an Intel i486DX2 CPU and 8 to 12 MB of system RAM. If the phrase ‘vesa local bus’ means anything to you, well, I hope you skipped this part and moved on to the next paragraph.

So with the original King’s Bounty released in 1990, the game’s rich universe cooled its heels while franchises such as Heroes of Might and Magic and Disciples took its place. All of these popular games knew where they came from, and King’s Bounty is even listed as the genesis of the Heroes of Might and Magic series in its third installment! It is now 2008, eighteen years since the release of the original and Atari, 1C, and Katauri Interactive have brought the King’s Bounty universe back to life with King’s Bounty: The Legend.

King’s Bounty: The Legend, puts you in control of a hero general, which you will select from three character classes: Warrior, Paladin, and Mage. Each of these archetypes has benefits and drawbacks which effect the various troop types under your command. For instance, as a warrior, you get no learned spells whereas the more magic-oriented classes will allow you to have magic spells at your ready in the spell book as opposed to just having to use magic scrolls.

Combat is handled on a hexagonal board similar to the table-top board game and is presented in a lush, fully 3d manner. The camera is able to swivel almost about 180 degrees to help you get a better view of the battle at hand. Why they chose not to go with a full 360 degree camera, we are not sure. The troops on the battlefield all roll for initiative to determine the order of movement and the action begins. When one of your units is selected, you may move it, attack the enemy, or use one of its special abilities. These range in complexity from simple bonus attacks to full-on resurrections and are all presented with pleasing 3d effects. The combat is fully turn-based and brings a good deal of that old-school gameplay to the more modern aspects of the game which allow it to feel fun and not stale (often times in gaming, ‘retro’ means stale).

Unlike the Heroes of Might and Magic series, you are free to run your general and his armies about the world-map with relative impunity of action. There are no action points to be spent on moving in this mode (only in combat). Speaking of the world map, you move from zone to zone completing quests and gaining experience as well as items along the way. These items can range from sellable flotsam to unique armors and more. The world map mode is also in full 3d, with a very lush design. It is slightly reminiscent of World of Warcraft in terms of art direction. Along the way you will find different structure which you can not only find the aforementioned quests, but also stores to purchase new troops for your army. Your army is composed of five different unit types. The amount of each unit you can command is based on your Leadership rating. In some cases, you will be able to have more than you can handle in your ranks. These units, however, will act of their own free-will in combat, which is sometimes not a good thing.

One of the issues in the game worth mentioning is the auto-combat AI. Setting your troops to act on their own is a mixed bag. Sometimes you will see your grunts move in front of ranged units to protect them and other times you will see them run away even though they could have easily handled the oncoming enemy. My advice is to keep command of your troops at all costs.

**This issue has an update to it in the Live Updates section. Another issue which I found to be irritating is the game’s auto-save feature which does not save your status prior to a battle. I found this out the hard way when I bit off more than I could chew by attacking an undead castle. I was slaughtered and had to load a game that set me back quite a bit. Manual saving is easily done, however the game is so engrossing you will find that you forget to do it!

One of the best things about King’s Bounty is all the beautifully hand-drawn artwork you will find in it: menu interfaces, character portraits, and more. We have to give some large kudos to the 2d artists of this game.

Also youngsters, in this world where companies would rather have a narrator read text for you, in King’s Bounty, you yourself will need to have the ‘reading’ skill to enjoy the game to its fullest. Yes, there is a lot of voice acting in the game, but there is also an equal amount of text strewn about which is full of incite into the game’s detailed-world and the quests you undertake.

The orchestral score of the game is incredible and enhances gameplay by setting the ‘mood’ of your current situation. Enter a land taken over by the undead and you will be treated to an equally creepy musical selection. It really appears as though Katauri pulled our all the stops in developing the game.

All of these elements combine wonderfully in King’s Bounty: The Legend, which succeeds in bringing the fun of classic turn-based strategy games into the 21st century, improving on them with modern features when possible. It delivers approximately 40 hours of gameplay and you will probably play through the entire game as each of the character types, not to mention all of the different army makeups you could possible have. This kind of replayability makes King’s Bounty: The Legend one of the easiest game purchases you will ever make.

Official Site

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It has been brought to my attention that our reviewer had some issue with the auto-save feature. While it is true that the auto-save feature gets activated upon visiting major castles, the auto-save does not activate before combat as stated in this review.

That being said, there is a ‘quick-save’ feature that can be activated by pressing ‘F5’. The problem, according to our reviewer, is that the game gets so engrossing, you end up forgetting to do this. Having the game auto-save prior to combat would be a very nice feature.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review

Star Wars. The name conjures up images of epic space battles, mystical energies, the battle between good and evil, and even the conflicts that rage between children and their parents. A bit about me: I was less than pleased with the latest trilogy of movies and just displeased as possible with the CGI Clone Wars film. I did, however, love the animated Clone Wars series and, of course, the original trilogy (Han shoots first dammit).

So you can imagine my apprehension when sitting down to play Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Oh sure, the preview stuff had looked interesting and sometimes blew me away (the Emotion demo vids for instance) but you can’t always tell when it comes to a Star Wars these days. How are we to trust Lucasfilm, LucasArts, Lucas* when we, as fans, have received such a spotty track record of both awesomeness and lameness? Anyhow, so I start the game and the main theme kicks off with the Star Wars logo. It slowly moves into the cosmos and the title crawl begins. I am already hooked. Why is it that just this alone is enough to fire my geek engine like nothing else? So at this point I am very excited to get past the opening crawl but remember Master Yoda’s teachings and utilize some of this mystical mojo we call ‘patience’ to see it through.

And then LucasArts might as well have shot me with a dart of pure adrenaline because you start the game playing as ‘the man’, Darth Vader himself. And, it does not disappoint. Without spoiling it for you guys, the situation in which you find yourself in and what you must do during the first level are the things of geek legend. I kid you not.

Enter ‘Starkiller’, a young boy who Vader finds and takes as his own apprentice, we assume raising him (how much of an extent is not really seen) as well as Vader could given his busy schedule of slaughtering Jedi and being the errand boy for Emperor Palpatine. Now, it finally dawned on me where I had seen this character’s face before. I am sitting there and I blurt out, ‘Hey, Starkiller was on BSG!’, much to the funny looks from my two cohorts beside me. You see, Sam Witwer, who played ‘Crashdown’ on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series is Vader’s young apprentice. He not only voices the character but also lends his face to the game. They have modeled it extremely well and, unlike Kristen Bell in Assassin’s Creed, is very recognizable even without a lab ID card on his bosom. Not only that, but Witwer puts in a great performance and is a total credit to this game.

Vader is voiced by none other than Chad Vader’s Matt Sloan (who voices Vader in that series of shorts too). This guy is incredible, the BEST Vader in a video game or movie since James Earl Jones. I did not hear one line uttered from him that did not sound spot-on. If the guys at LucasFilm and LucasArts were smart, they would hire him from now own as Vader’s voice in any future film or video game. It is scary how good he is.

The aforementioned actors as well as the rest of the cast all put it incredible performances and I can’t think of anyone who came off as ‘wooden’ or unbelievable. The rendering of the cutscenes is equally incredible and makes me wish LucasFilm would have focused on turning this into a CGI film instead of the Clone Wars. And guess what? There is not a single fart joke in this entire beast, imagine that!

The gameplay in SW:TFU is done in the third-person ala God of War or Viking: Battle for Asgard, and is far more action-oriented than what you might have played in the demo. In the actual game, you will find yourself using your lightsabre a ton more as force grip requires you to stand perfectly still while controlling an object and, if you get hit, you lose that control. It is just not combat viable in hordes of enemies. Now, force lighting, THAT is an ability (especially when maxed out)! That’s right, as you progress through the game, you will gain points with which to customize your character – learning new force abilities and attack moves. The boss battles can be fun, however the game’s finishing system used to dispatch most is a bit awkward. Unlike God of War’s finishing system, this does not feel fluid or timed like you would expect, causing many missed attempts in the process.

Unfortunately, the camera can be down right awful at times, especially when in narrow passages or caverns. This is not only an issue in confined spaces, but the cinematic camera used when you fight Jedi is, again, awkward. They have tried to make it feel like you are watching a duel from one of the films, but it ends up just making everything difficult to see. The camera will zoom out from behind you and move to some angle to try and frame the entire room in which you are fighting. Problem is, that when zoomed out, it is easy to lose your character (or the enemy’s) when the objects really start getting knocked about. Additionally, targeting between anything becomes more difficult as your perspective is off from your character’s (on which targeting is based). Aside from the camera, levels seem to spottily move from easy to insane in terms of difficulty level. While an increasing scale of difficulty is to be expected in most games, these seemingly random patches of insanity definitely keep you on your toes.

Overall, I cannot recommend Star Wars: The Force Unleashed enough. The game provides a much needed does of quality Star Wars story and excitement. The gameplay is not perfect, as I have stated with regards to the camera and whatnot, but these imperfections are a small price to pay for the wealth of goodness that otherwise lies within the title. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed…Do it, you know you want to!

Confused about our review system? Click here.

Microsoft X5 Gaming Mouse Review

Part of the new Microsoft Sidewinder product line, which will pinnacle with the X8 wireless gaming mouse (with Blue Track), the Microsoft Sidewinder X5 gaming mouse is a more budget-minded version of the original Sidewinder Gaming Mouse, specifically: $20 dollars cheaper.

The X5 features a hard, black plastic design, save for the cap pieces which are rubberized, with a rubber scroll wheel and plastic vertical side buttons. The high-gloss, plastic center strip houses the scroll wheel, DPI, and Quick Turn buttons. Not a flashy gaming mouse, the X5 is only equipped with two rear-mounted undercarriage lights. Its minimalistic aesthetic gives an air of dignity to the mouse in a category where gamers often pay more for flash than function. Thankfully, the X5 makes up for its lack of lighting effects with a variable-DPI laser sensor.

Gamers can press one of the three DPI buttons underneath the scroll wheel and put the mouse into 400, 800, or 2000DPI modes. Personally, I felt that the standard three settings needed some tweaking, and after installing the Microsoft software, increased the second setting to 1200DPI as opposed to the stock 800. The X5 is extremely responsive and at the full 2000DPI, even the slightest hand tremor will effect your aim. This works fine for macro movements such as running but, for fine movements, the lower settings are a definite must.

The mouse also features the ‘Quick Turn’ button seen on the original Sidewinder. You need to install Microsoft’s Intellipoint software for this (and macro capabilities) but once you do, you will realize its worth it. This button will send make the cursor act as if you just rotated the mouse 180 degrees, very useful in an FPS where you need to turn about quickly. Crazy Ivan? Now, its ‘Crazy You’!

The scroll wheel has been reworked from the metal one on the original Sidewinder to a rubber model with unique tread pattern. Microsoft claims to have been inspired by Halo and the Master Chief in the design of the Sidewinder (and X5) and you can definitely see the Forerunner-influence in the wheel’s tread pattern. The wheel has pronounced detentes in usage which make scrolling very efficient and accurate while the rubber texture is actually better in terms of grip than the metal wheel.

On the thumb position (sorry lefties, the unit is not ambidextrous) you will find the two programmable vertical buttons. They are a smooth plastic here (originally metal on the Sidewinder) and, unfortunately, still prone to accidental clicks when picking the mouse up from the pad to re-adjust it.

Gone are the adjustable weights and interchangeable feet of the original Sidewinder, but they are not missed here in the least. The X5 shows that you do not need those frills in order to be effective in-game.

The $59.99 gaming mouse price point contains some pretty stiff competition in it these days and, while the Sidewinder X5 is not the best in this heap, it easily holds its own against most. The biggest problem facing this new gaming mouse is the reseller market putting the original Sidewinder on sale for markedly lower prices. At least you can rest well in the fact that should you not find an original Microsoft Sidewinder mouse for cheap, you will be in great hands with the Sidewinder X5.

Official Product Page
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Microsoft Sidewinder X6 Keyboard Review

Microsoft’s Sidewinder line of gaming peripherals has recently undergone a transformation. It initially started with the Sidewinder Mouse and has grown substantially with the release of their X5 and X6 products, not to mention the announcement of the X8.

The X6 gaming keyboard has an ominous, black plastic design with a red back lighting that has to be seen in person to get the full effect. It features two rotary knobs at the back right of the layout: one controls the brightness of the back lighting and the other controls the volume. These rotary knobs actually work a ton better than standard buttons to control lighting and volume as they feel responsive and accurate.

An aspect of this keyboard which I did not find to be at my level of expectation was the keys themselves. I have gotten spoiled by other keyboard on the market with rubberized keys and miss them here. The keys are a hard plastic that do not feel like they belong. Thankfully, their action is nice with a good spring-back. If I had to suggest another feature on the next version of this keyboard, it would be to add a USB and audio port pass-through, something that is featured on many other keyboards in this price range.

The numeric keypad can be placed on either the right or left side of the keyboard and is held in place by some curiously strong magnets. At first I did not think this would be a useful feature, me being a right-handed person. However, as I placed the keyboard on my desk I realized I could make my workspace more comfortable by having the alphabetic keys closer to my mouse (instead of the numeric pad). Hence, I swapped the numeric pad and have realized the joys of having such a feature. Its just not for ‘lefties’ anymore!

Aside from its style, the bread and butter of this keyboard are its macro controls. The X6 features a multitude of ways to record and assign macros. The first being the 30 macro keys which are all programmable. These include the six dual-function vertical keys to the left of the alphabetic keypad as well as the entire numeric keypad (yes it does double duty: number and macros). The next is the button which enables to record macros on-the-fly, even while inside a video game. You press this button, located along the top of the keyboard and then press the series of keys (up to four) you want it to remember. Finally, there is the keyboard’s ‘Cruise Control’ functionality, where you hold down the cruise control button and press a single key you wish to spam to your PC. Then release the cruise control button and it will go to work sending that key signal as if you were holding it down. Say you would like to auto-run in a shooter which does not feature such a key. Simply press the cruise control down, tap ‘w’ and release. Your character will continue running forward until you press any other key.

Overall, this is a great addition to the Microsoft Sidewinder line-up. While there are still has a few issues that need to be addressed, such as the lack of a USB pass-through, its macro-capabilities and stylish design make it a very viable contender in its weight class. The keyboard retails for $79.95 and is available now.

Official Product Page
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STALKER Clear Sky Pushed Back to September 15th

Announced just recently, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky is being pushed back to September 15th due to a manufacturing issue. That is all, for reckonry.

Official Release:
Deep Silver, the games label of Koch Media, a leading producer and distributor of digital entertainment products, today announced that due a problem in manufacturing, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky will hit retail stores in North America on September 15, 2008. The digital download release date has not yet been determined.

Combat Arms Hands-On Impressions


Recently, we received the opportunity to take a look at Combat Arms, a free-to-play first-person shooter, from Nexon. The game offers several different multiplayer modes from deathmatches to capture the flag over a multitude of maps and environments. Once you create an account, you are given the option of selecting one of the many servers (each geared towards a different skill level of player), customizing your character, and shopping for goodies.

The goodies in question are a huge number of weapons, items, and modifications all based on their real-world counterparts. You purchase these items with points garnered from successfully winning games and killing your enemies. Purchasing something from the shop, you are given a choice as to how long you wish to keep the item (it costs more for the longer duration selected). This system of transactions (which will eventually include real-world money transactions) is in the UTMOST state of beta at the moment and is highly subject to change. There is also a chance that Nexon will offer several subscription models as well, but file that in the ‘rumor’ folder for now. As told to me from a company representative, development is firmly set in the realm of making the game as good as possible before they worry about the monetary system.

All of the items you can purchase have their own stats, pros, and cons which differentiate them from one another. This opens up a great level of tactical possibilities in your games. In fact, one of the things that struck me the most from taking a look at Combat Arms was the ability for your side to function as a cohesive team instead of getting myred down by complex gameplay mechanics. The gameplay is actually fairly simplistic, much like Dynamix’ Tribes was (and people STILL play that one). However this simplistic design ends up allowing a huge amount of complexity in how squads/guilds/clans will organize themselves and their plans to dominate the multiplayer games. Of course, there are always players who just want to run-and-gun, and that is fine for them. You will get a lot more out of the Combat Arms experience from getting involved in one of these squads.

The first-person gameplay was smooth, without the clunky controls that often plague free-to-play products. While some players scattered for remote positions on the map from which to snipe, others charged towards the enemy’s flag. Overall, the gameplay is exciting and fun, with a high degree of realism. People
die in the game somewhat more quickly from getting shot than in your run-of-the-mill first-person shooter which also more accurately reflects the real-world. Currently, there is currently no vehicular combat, but that is something they could expand into sometime in the future once the game moves out of beta and is in play for a while.

The graphics in Combat Arms are pleasing, yet not too high-end. These graphics (and in fact the whole game) are made all the more impressive once you realize it is a relatively small client to download and free to play. Quality like this is usually found in retail boxes.

We have high hopes for Combat Arms and are excited to see what kind of monetary system Nexon decides on. The game is currently playable in a beta state at the official site. The game client is only 455mb and, as previously stated, is free to play! If you are a fan of realistic shooters I highly suggest you give Combat Arms a try. Personally, we can’t wait to fully review it once it gets out of beta.

Official Site

SteelSeries 5HV2 Professional Gaming Headset Review

SteelSeries is known for their high-end gaming peripherals. Their 5H V2 Professional Gaming Headset keeps this reputation going strong with its durable plastic construction, modular design, and sound quality.

Design: The 5H V2 features a tough plastic construction with modular ear units nacelles which detach from the headband for easy transportation. Its ear cups are gigantic, enveloping all but the largest ears with a soothing foam the likes of which makes your ears feel like angel babies wrapped in a cloud. The headband is rather rigid and if your head is too wide you could have comfort issues. With my large cranium I was just pushing the limits of where the discomfort would begin thankfully, so I could enjoy the headset pain free. The boom microphone extends and retracts from the left ear unit on a flexible chord. This can make retracting the microphone tricky sometimes as the chord would rather flex than retract. The 5HV2’s cable for the microphone and headset plugs is made of a rope-like nylon, which is so much better than the standard rubber-insulated wires found on most headsets. This rope-cable is stronger and does not get tangled up as easily. Included is a huge extension cable for the headset, but I would have rather seen the base cable length extended by a couple feet instead.

Installation: There is no software to install with this headset and installation is easy as plugging both cables into the appropriate jacks on your computer.

Gaming: Gaming with the 5HV2 is the unit’s bread and butter. SteelSeries claims to have designed the headset with a ‘custom-engineered soundscape for gaming’. This statement is a bit over my head in terms of what it actually means. What I do know, however, is that my ears were in gaming heaven while using the headset. Sounds like footsteps and gunfire are very clear, and are freakishly realistic. Call of Duty 4, which always has my adrenaline pumping, took on a new life – this one more claustrophobic and intense than before while using the 5HV2. Using a headset in those games can really immerse you in a way even the high-end desktop systems cannot. Headsets close you off from the rest of the world and make you focus entirely on the in-game audio. Crysis was another great test for the 5HV2, the sounds of the jungle closing in around me while I crept up on North Korean soldiers before unleashing hell.

Movies and Music: While you will enjoy this headset for your movie watching and music listening needs, you hardcore folk would probably be better served with a Dolby Digital-equiped multi-driver headset. For the general populace, I am happy to say music and movies both sound good and the comfort of the headset keeps on going through the entirety of the film or album and then some.

Overall: The SteelSeries 5HV2 Professional Gaming Headset is an excellent product with excellent gaming and respectable film&music performance. It retails for $99 dollars at the official SteelSeries site and is available now. SteelSeries also offers a model dubbed the ‘5HV2 USB’ which includes an external soundcard with 7.1 virtual surround sound. That model retails for an additional $20 dollars but is worth the added cash if your laptop does not have a good internal soundcard.

Official Product Page of the 5HV2