Author - Ripper71

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.

Atmosphere:
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.

Multiplayer:
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.

Controls:
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.

Graphics/Audio:
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!

Playtime/Cost:
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.



Atmosphere:

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:

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.

Graphics/Audio:
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.

Playtime/Cost:
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?



Atmosphere:

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.



Platforms:

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:

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/Audio:
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/Cost:
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.

Atmosphere:
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.



Controls:

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.

Graphics/Audio:
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.



Multiplayer:

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.

Playtime/Cost:
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.

Atmosphere:
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:
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/Audio:
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.

Playtime/Cost:
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.


Atmosphere:
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.

Controls:
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.

Graphics/Audio:
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/Cost:
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
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Gamerkraft Announces Free To Play Actioner – FreeJack

Game Bridger Entertainment unveiled the latest game to arrive on their GamerKraft free games platform, FreeJack. Developed by Korean developer WiseOn, FreeJack is a racing game with cartoon-style graphics and gameplay mechanics based on the underground sport of free running, parkour. In the game players race head-to-head across New Jack City as one of four characters, bustin’ flips and tricks to increase their speed and gain access to hidden pathways and shortcuts.

‘We are proud to announce FreeJack as the second title on the GamerKraft platform,’ said Matthew Denomme, marketing manager for Game Bridger Entertainment, ‘it’s a game with a hip graphical style and unique gameplay mechanics unlike any other title currently in the free-to-play market. GamerKraft is gearing up for FreeJack to launch in North America and Europe in July 2010.’

FreeJack supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. To register for a free account, visit GamerKraft’s website.

(ed. note: THIS is the only true FreeJack, IMHO!)

Natsume Announces E3 2010 Lineup

Natsume Inc., a worldwide developer and publisher of family-oriented video games, announced their lineup for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. ‘We can’t wait to show off some of the key titles in our 2010 lineup at this year’s E3,’ said Hiro Maekawa, President and CEO at Natsume. ‘We have eagerly-anticipated new entries in the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series, a fun-filled new rhythm adventure game, and the triumphant return of the Lufia series!’

Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar (DS)
The bazaar is now open! Zephyr Town’s bazaar was once the grandest in the world, drawing customers and peddlers from all four corners of the Earth. These days, though, the bazaar has more tumbleweeds than customers. Maybe you can turn its fortunes around! Raise animals, harvest crops, craft rare delicacies, and then sell your wares at your very own shop! Can you bring prosperity back to Zephyr Town?

Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (DS)
The Sinistrals have returned! The Sinistrals, the four legendary harbingers of doom, are out to resurrect the ultimate evil and bring the world to its knees. It’s up to the fiery monster hunter Maxim and his eclectic band of adventurers to put a stop to them once and for all. Their adventures will take them across an expansive world packed with dangerous enemies, powerful items, and diabolical puzzles! (cont.)

See the rest of Natsume’s E3 lineup, After the Break!
(cont.) Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon (DS)
It’s an adventure that will transform you! The people of Sharance and their horned Univir neighbors are embroiled in a bitter conflict. An age-old hatred between humans and monsters divides them. You are an adventurer with an unusual secret: you’re half human and half monster. Are you the one who can unite the humans and the Univir? And will you be in time to stop the growing evil force that threatens to destroy them both?

Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove (DS)
Gabrielle’s having a bad day. She sneezed her soul right out of her body! She’ll have to travel to Monster Town, the home of all things that go bump in the night, to get help. Only by busting out the ghostliest dance moves and thrilling and chilling people will she be able to scare up the power she needs to get herself back into her body! It’s a spooktacular rhythm adventure!

Alien Breed: Impact Review (PC)

Arcade shooters have been around pretty much as long as arcades themselves, but Alien Breed has worked well at advancing genre. The Alien Breed I.P. has been around since 1991, when Team17 first made it for the Commodore Amiga, and then in 1993 it was translated to MS-DOS by Microleague. You feel like a a left behind marine from the Alien movies, which were very popular when the game first appeared. Over the years the storyline has progressed, graphics have improved, and the atmosphere has been refined so that it draws you in and makes you feel even more like you are running through a movie – fighting for your life.

ATMOSPHERE
To help infuse the atmosphere, music only comes in when you are getting overrun by aliens or in a menu. That way most of the time you just hear your breathing, explosions and most importantly the calls of different aliens. Part of your weapon choice is supposed to be based on what alien is on its way and each alien has its own call to let you prepare the right weapon, though sometimes the aliens popping out of spider holes don’t give much of a warning. You hear a crash, a screech and you start spraying bullets. Don’t forget to dodge the flaming wreckage and collapsing sections while you are at it.

GAMEPLAY
In Alien Breed: Impact you play Chief Engineer Conrad, who has just been notified that the ship has collided with a much larger ship. You are thrown right into the middle of the storyline but, eventually, you will clearly get an idea of what is going on, though there are multiple allusions to something in the story that needs to be resolved without giving any real clue as to what it is. This may be due to a story arc that is supposed to cover three games. The between-level cut scenes are done in an excellent comic book storyboard style with great artwork but in the end you wind up getting a bit annoyed by the mystery and just get down to the killing and problem solving.

The problem solving is nice and clues to solutions are given in tips throughout the game so you don’t find yourself lost for too long. Expect that every time you start up a console there won’t be enough power and you need to get a turbine or two going before heading back to the console, however the game will point the way. Fresh aliens and new obstacles may change your path, but the limited exploration you can do when paths change is how you find the secret rooms, so keep an eye out. A great deal of the items you need to solve given problems are picked up from corpses, lockers, and sometimes just lying around on the ground. Some of the items are credits which you can then use at the company vending machine to upgrade weapons, buy more ammo and get extra health kits or various grenades. This is one of the things which could add to replay value because you can try going through the levels using a different combinations of weapons.

There are three levels of difficulty so if you just want to see how fast you can finish you can try Rookie and run run run. If you want to immerse yourself and really challenge your skills, play through slowly and find the secret room on each level or play on a hard mode, which will challenge your ammo to kill ratio. The vending machines also double as save points and there are plenty of them which means you won’t find yourself re-exploring too much territory if you get a little too overwhelmed by screeching aliens.

CONTROLLER/KEYBOARD
I am a fan of both consoles and PCs, and have at least a couple of both (ok, a LOT of consoles). I like them both but keep them separated. If I am playing a console game, I am gripping a controller with both hands and locked on the screen across the room. When it is time to play a PC I slide my fingers onto the WASD and the mouse, lean forward to a few inches from the screen and play whatever MMO, FPS, or any other variety of game that has gripped my attention. But, I have always played with the controllers the game was designed for. I started off AB:I and the controls were a little awkward, the run is in an odd spot but the aiming system was spot on.

This was why I was very confused when I found a section I couldn’t beat. My fingers were flying over the keys and sliding the mouse like crazy – yet, time and time again, I died. The problem was in a section of forced perspective that required constant running while the forced perspective shifts and changes your required key arrangement. So, you are hitting the shift to run and the ‘s’ to head in a certain direction and suddenly you find yourself needing to hit ‘d’ for a moment then hit ‘w’, all while you keep pressing the shift key down and getting ready to adjust your view when it unlocks with the mouse. I thought it was meant as a challenge and after a lot of effort, worked past it. Then there was another almost exact situation right after that which results in the same issues, multiplied, and getting me killed and sent all the way back to the beginning. After a long night of trying to beat it I went out the next day and bought a console controller for my computer. And, subsequently, I beat the section in under 3 minutes.

I think there were strides taken to make the gameplay different between console and PC versions. The mouse aiming is better with the computer, so kill shots take less ammo and because of the awkward location of the run button, the game lasted longer, helping me feel more immersed in the atmosphere and I enjoyed finding the secret locations. Once I got the controller the gameplay was insanely smooth, I was able to constantly run and I blew through levels and ended the second half of the game before I knew it. My aim rate dropped, the damage I took shot up and I was done with the game in no time trying to figure out how I felt about it.

To truly get the most from AB:I I would recommend using the keyboard until you get to the above stuck moment. Get by the moment with a controller, then go right back to the WASD until you get stuck again. It will greatly increase your play time, help you immerse in the game, and I think improve your experience overall. I do suggest that if you don’t have a console controller for your PC, make the investment.

GRAPHICS/AUDIO
Since 1991, the graphics have improved every time a new episode of the game has come out. Even since Alien Breed: Evolution came out on Christmas, the graphics have improved and the variety of monsters have increased. Team17 has committed itself to improving each time to the point that some fans of the franchise have made videos and posted them on YouTube.com showing the change since 1991. The graphics are solid with realistic flames, well-rendered alien species, and never a choppy moment or graphic error on my rig. There could have been more species of alien enemies, but they are probably saving it for the next episode. I loved how the shattering glass was rendered too, starting off with spidering lines then falling to the ground in a tinkling mess. They paid heavy attention to those sounds which is most likely why the score you hear when overwhelmed or in a menu is used so sparsely. Team17 wants you to hear the different alien screeches beyond the line of your sight. They want you to hear the ‘skitting’ noise of the legs of the ‘facehuggers’ as they scurry across the ground, shriek in triumph and they leap at you as well as the sound of them exploding as your accurate sounding machine gun fire tears into them. In the end you find yourself hearing a certain cry and knowing you have very little time to cycle to the right weapon for a big job. My favorite audio was a section where you are in a space suit, explosions going off everywhere, and the only sound you hear is your respirator feeding you an ever dwindling supply of oxygen.

PLAYTIME/COST
Just over an hour a level if you are running, if you are just moving along taking it in, who knows? But at a cost of $14.99 most people will probably feel they got their money’s worth. There is also a very short demo that can be played both solo and co-op to get a little taste of the game and a look at some of the aliens they could have screeching at them for hours.

MULTIPLAYER
Co-op is still a work in progress. There are three new levels and combing the various forums, I found some people to play it. But I had the results most people seem to be having, game crash after game crash, once with eerie voices speaking in strange tongues over a never ending working screen. However I am really looking foward to giving the co-op a try.

LAST CALL
It was a fun ride for a great price. Another chapter in a series of alien-filled episodes dating back almost two decades. I am definitely looking forward to the next episode and I have my controller ready.

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

Lux Touch For The iPhone: A Low Risk Game

We often find ourselves waiting. Waiting in line to get into a convention (to stand in more lines), waiting in queues for a group, maybe the infamous ‘Wait At The DMV.’ While you are waiting with little to do a nice time-killer is Lux Touch by Sillysoft Games for the iPhone.

Lux Touch is based off the classic board game Risk, which is the godfather of such games as Command & Conquer and Starcraft, and has a very simple concept: world domination. Risk has been copied and complicated many times before, often for the worse. Sillysoft Games kept it straight forward and very true to the original game and designed decent, though not brilliant, opponents to play against. It is simple to learn and completely free.

The biggest drawback of the game is if you exit out of the program it doesn’t save your progress. So you may have been one turn from conquering Europe when a call comes in and it’s game over, start again. This could work out great though if you just killed a half hour wait in a line and the enemy had you pinned down in Australia.