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Review: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

May 22 // Maurice Tan
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Bucharest, Ubisoft Red StormPublisher: UbisoftReleased: May 22, 2012MSRP: $59.99 Much of the slow-paced careful planning and executing of tactical engagements in the original Ghost Recon was lost in the console versions of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, while the Rainbow Six: Vegas series cannibalized the franchise with its beloved co-op tactics. Future Soldier attempts to take the franchise back to its roots, but in a modern fashion. In more ways than one, it's also somewhat of a stylistic reboot in the way Conviction changed the way we look at, and play, Splinter Cell. The influence of Ubisofts last installment of the spy thriller series is evident through Future Soldier's bountiful visual aids -- such as overlaid text on top of the 3D scenery -- and the action in general is much more dynamic and in-your-face than before, largely helped by a competent camera system that appears to be handled by by a shaky hands cameraman directed by someone like Paul Greengrass. If Conviction was the Bourne Ultimatum of Splinter Cell, Future Soldier is The Hurt Locker of the Ghost Recon series. [embed]227603:43744[/embed] Perhaps the biggest change to the formula is the way the artificial intelligence now works with the player, instead of being delegated to a position where it constantly looks at the telephone every five minutes, desperately waiting for your call. Computer-controllerd squad-mates can no longer be assigned to move to specific locations, nor ordered to a specific placement to get ready to breach a room. Instead, the AI takes care of a lot of these aspects on its own, which works much better than a potential lack of freedom would suggest. AI direction still plays a major role when it comes to stealth squad tactics, however. Up to four enemy targets can be tagged with the press of a bumper button, leaving the player free to either aim at the fourth target yourself so your team-mates eliminate their assigned tangos on your shot, or you can simply command your three brothers in arms to execute their shots in sync by holding down the same bumper. Remaining undetected is often rewarded, but sometimes open engagement is inevitable. In that case, targets can no longer be quietly lined up and silenced, and the bumper becomes a "please kill this guy here please" button. Between running around from place to place and stealthily walking in a crouched position -- which enables an active camouflage system that renders you largely invisible -- various locations require the team to work in unison. Breaching a door is now simply a matter of getting to an appointed location, waiting for the team to get ready, and pressing a button, which leads to the breach and a slow-motion sequence of shooting down bad guys. Likewise, you'll need to move to a pre-determined spot to get the team ready in yoga-like positions before sliding open a panel door. Occasionally, you'll automatically form up in a diamond formation around a VIP, which leads to an "on rails" section where you take care of all the enemies in your field of view, as the team makes its way through a hostile environment as a single unit of capable of 360 degrees of devastation. Perhaps some fans of the traditional Ghost Recon experience may lament the more scripted approaches, but it never feels like player freedom is taken away in favor of added variety. In no small part, this is because the style of careful planning and tactics has made a big return, largely thanks to the toys of the future which provide you with the necessary situational awareness. Sensor grenades can be tossed in the field to highlight enemies, a magnetic view vision mode allows you to discriminate armed soldiers from civilians through walls and terrain, and the ever-popular quad-rotor UAV drone can be used to scout the terrain ahead from the skies. If running into the action isn't your thing, this drone allows you to tag enemies and let the rest of your team take care of them, provided you only select those targets that won't be spotted by patrols if they go down. In some of the twelve very lenghty missions in the campaign, you can rely on this drone and the resulting tactical disposal puzzles without firing a single shot yourself. Those in favor of getting down to business themselves can rely on their AI squad-mates to take smart positions, lay down effective fields of fire, and generally make you feel like you are part of a team consisting of equally qualified members. The same can't always be said for the enemy AI, which tends to run between the same positions or pops out of cover in predictable ways, and which seems designed to turn any engagement into either a scripted event or a balanced-yet-fluid standoff between your team and countless enemies. Having said that, the missions' linear nature and the ease with which you can be shot down by enemy fire means the lacking enemy AI never becomes a big detriment. If you prefer the human approach, all of the campaign missions can be played cooperatively with up to four players -- something that is all too evident when you are supposed to move into breach positions in solo mode. Each mission also includes specific weapon challenges (make 12 kills with one SMG clip), and tactical challenges (reach location X without alerting any enemies), that affect your final "Ghost" score for that mission. A few of these challenges make co-op partners a necessity, although these are few and far between, and many of the challenges won't likely be completed on your first run through the game, which adds a lot of replayability if you're not into multiplayer. For its part, multiplayer is an expansive affair. A Guerrilla "horde" mode pits you against up to 50 increasingly hard waves of enemies on five maps, alternating defensive action with a stealth wave whenever you switch to a new HQ location to defend. Surviving waves unlocks wavestreaks, such as becoming invisible, using a sentry turret, or calling in an airstrike, and surviving successive waves upgrades your wavestreaks' potency. While Guerrilla mode can be played with two players in split-screen, you'll want at least one extra player to join online since the waves become pretty damn hard around the midway point. Traditional multiplayer comes in the form of "Conflict" mode, and this mode can best be described as a mix between Gears of War and Call of Duty (or any other online military shooter) with the addition of gadgets and goals. Your gadgets allow you to do things like planting claymores, throwing sensor grenades, and placing fixed cameras, while each mode has certain goals on the map to create a dynamic between the two teams as a round progresses. Capture and hold an EMP location goal, for instance, and the enemy team loses its HUD to make it very hard to distinguish between friend and foe. It turns regular team deathmatch into a more tactical affair than running and gunning, although there's still plenty of that on offer if you tailor your character to that style of play. Other modes include "Decoy," in which a team has to locate the real target out of a potential of three without either team knowing which is the real one, "Saboteur" which is your typical place-the-bomb mode, and the hardcore "Siege" mode, which requires the attacking team to complete an objective without respawns. A big part of multiplayer is leveling up our character and unlocking and tailoring weapons. This "Gunsmith" system is more effective at changing your playstyle in multiplayer than it is during the campaign. A huge amount of weapons can be easily customized at the component level, meaning you can change barrel sizes, types of triggers, scopes, muzzles, ammunition, and parts of a weapon that most people won't even know had names. Each weapon component costs "attachment credits" in multiplayer, which are gained by leveling up, forcing you to focus on specific weapons in order to get the most out of them. On Xbox 360, the Gunsmith system can be used with Kinect if you want to, but while the Kinect integration isn't intrusive, there really is no point in doing so when it's faster to use a controller. While the different multiplayer modes are a lot of fun depending on how much you care about this aspect of any military shooter, they are unlikely to surprise anyone. It's a carefully crafted and polished component, but despite the added variety in terms of both classic game types and customization, it largely boils down to the tried-and-trusted methods of online play with the addition of a bunch of toys to spice things up. The campaign, though, is a completely different affair, surprisingly enough. Future Soldier's story sends our team of Ghosts to a hugely varied set of current hotspots of international tension. From the Niger delta, to Dagestan, and Pakistan's Peshawar, the slightly traditional Tom Clancy fair fits better into the current post-War on Terror era than any other ridiculous near-future military shooter. Strip away the advanced hardware at your disposal and the overarching storyline, and each mission could've taken place in a fictional version of today's world. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the campaign is how it shifts the flow of shooting people in the head to create variety, both inside and between missions, and keeps you continuously pressing onwards. One mission you are sneaking around, the next you are going in guns blazing, and suddenly you find yourself without your toys or playing as a lone ranger. An early mission, reminiscent of Call of Duty 4's excellent "Ghillies in the Mist" Chernobyl sniping level, is particularly noteworthy: you are sent into an African refugee camp to stealthily kill patrols and guards, while civilians go about their business and are often harassed by militia. There are times when Future Soldier's mechanics and pacing fall into place masterfully, and in the process creates some of the most enjoyable tactical shooting on offer at the moment. Just when you're starting to get tired of using the methods you've come up with, the game throws you a bone in the form of a mobile weapons platform with which to absolutely annihilate a winter landscape with infinite mortars. Outside of the advances in the streamlining of the mechanics and its approach to a total package of singleplayer, co-op, and multiplayer modes, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier displays a level of content maturation that has been evident in some of Ubisoft's big-budget action games, and which has served to set the publisher's games apart from the competition in recent years. From the biting social commentary of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's database info, to the gritty Bourne-esque and visually distinct Splinter Cell: Conviction, to even the concept of using homegrown terrorism in the upcoming Rainbow Six: Patriots, there is a prevalent sense that Ubisoft doesn't shy away from threading off the safe and beaten path. It is somewhat disappointing that Future Soldier doesn't fully evolve the series along this trend as much as it shows it's capable of doing. When one mission reduces your team from save-the-world heroes to government-sponsored assassins with the simple objective to commit sanctioned murder, you can hear a target's wife scream as you execute your orders and riddle the invisible family's rustic safehouse with bullets. You never know why the cries are silenced, and there's nothing else to do but carry on with the job. The masses of civilians you encounter are almost always at the receiving end of militia and soldiers who have rape and torture on their mind, and saving them from their plight is often optional and extremely satisfying. At other times, you find yourself in situations where it's very hard not to accidentally create collateral deaths while trying to stay alive, as hundreds of civilians panic and flee the sudden eruption of violence you bring to a town. The manner in which these moments offer a level of self-reflection, making you think about just how you're feeling about actively going through events you have little control over, due to both your orders and shifting circumstances, are great, and it's something we need to see more of in modern mainstream gaming. It's just too bad that such moments, while worthy of praise, are still sparse in Future Soldier when they are so effective. To offset the aspects that shine, attempts at humanizing the members of the Ghost squad are not very effective, and it's hard to care about the members of your squad when it's so hard to know who is who behind their masks. Being a Tom Clancy game, the actual story is of course a bit cliché and ends rather abruptly, yet it does a great job at placing the diverse scenarios at play in a wide enough context to care. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the type of title that might be easy to overlook if you're not partial to the franchise, or even if you are tired of warfare in post-modern times, but it's a great title nonetheless. Between the impressive campaign, the myriad of co-op options and the added replayability of the mission challenges, as well as the expansive multiplayer component, it's as solid a package as military shooters provide. 
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It's an interesting world we live in, where games with titles such as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 and the near-future Call of Duty: Black Ops II end up looking more "out there" when it comes to future warfare than...

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Tomb Raider delayed until Q1 2013


May 14
// Maurice Tan
Crystal Dynamics' next Tomb Raider title has been moved from its crowded Fall 2012 slot to "the first quarter of 2013," studio head Darrell Gallagher announced. The official reason behind the delay is the usual rationale of p...

Review: Battleship

May 07 // Maurice Tan
Battleship (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3)Developer: Double HelixPublisher: ActivisionReleased: April 20, 2012 (Europe); May 15, 2012 (North America)MSRP: $59.99 The first words you hear upon starting the game is "Master Chief!" as our protagonist, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer Mathis, wakes up from a Hawaiian nap, right next to a tent where he could've easily napped in greater comfort. Perhaps this is what makes him Chief Petty Officer, but such existential plights are never explored. Before long, a freedom-hating alien force invades the archipelago because this is the world of Battleship, and Mathis finds himself shooting at what look like the enemies from Haze for the glory of the United States Navy.  Alien baddies come in three varieties -- soldiers, melee brutes, and snipers -- while the armament with which to dispatch them consists of a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, and an alien gatling gun and sniper rifle. Sniper aliens are best shot with their own sniper rifle, brutes can be staggered with a shotgun while they'll destroy you if you forgot to pick one up before the last checkpoint, and that's the level of tactical complexity the shooting mechanics have to offer. Although Battleship doesn't let you play through the exact events of the movie -- it would involve a lot of sitting on a ship and shouting if it did -- it shares enough similarities to serve as a parallel storyline. Among these similarities are not only the Hawaiian locales, lots of water, and things that go boom, but the ability to command a small fleet of different ships through a system called "Battle Com." After pressing a button to load it up for what seems like a inordinate amount of time for what you get in return, a 2D grid-based map of the island area is displayed, with allied and enemy vessels occupying various locations. While shooting up the tsunami of aliens on the ground, Mathis can find Wildcards -- upgrade cards -- to use in Battle Com. This allows you to add more attack power, range, or survivability to your individual ships, which in turn can be assigned to move to and attack locations on the grid. One of these Wildcards allows you to take control of any vessel for 20 seconds, leading to a minigame of mashing triggers and shoulder buttons to offload as much ordnance as quickly you can; a maritime masturbation minigame if you will. The best part of this minigame is that even if one ship is on the complete opposite side of an island, it will be magically transported right next to the enemy vessel for this minigame, before being teleported back to its original position in Battle Com. To fully simulate the elegant dance of close quarters naval warfare, torpedoes can be shot sideways from a submarine at any angle. Video games. Certain squares on the grid double as support locations; move a ship onto one of these locations and you'll be able to call in various support strikes depending on the vessel you assigned to it. Artillery barrages, missile strikes, and stun decoy drones allow for a slightly more tactical approach on the ground, although you won't ever need them to survive even the hardest difficulty level. As nice as it is to continuously see the real-time naval activities take place in the background of the first-person action, offering a good sense of scale to the steel behemoths, it can lead to some oddities. When ships move to locations close to dry land, awkward situations arise when a battleship ends up next to a cliff or a beach in shallow water, and sometimes goes right through the island geometry because these vessels are simply so powerful that they have an innate desire to break the shackles of stupidly restrictive physics, and seek true freedom 30 feet inside a hill. Things like this could be excused if there wasn't a USO banner on the game's official website, or a United States Navy recruitment video in the Extras menu, or even descriptions of naval vessels and combat roles which spout family-friendly terms like "power projection" and "multiple-target response capability." When a video game almost feels like an advert for one country's naval forces, you can expect it to at least have ships that act like ships, and not the kind that just casually cruises up a beach in search of prime real estate. The seven levels of this singleplayer-only title aren't very expansive, turning missions into sessions that take up to 30 minutes to navigate depending on the difficulty setting. Try to unlock all of the achievements and trophies, and a frustrating final section on the hardest difficutly, as well as a bit of grinding for specific kills, might double that playtime. Surpringly enough, however, Battleship may not shine in terms of longevity or innovation, but it is in many regards the quintessential mediocre shooter; the kind you can use to completely forget about anything else for a few hours, with not a care in the world. The shooting mechanics work well enough for it to be mindlessly enjoyable, despite the idiotic enemy AI restricting it to only the most minor of flanking maneuvers and weird crouching animations when you land a few hits on the alien soldiers. Put aside the movie tie-in goggles, and the pacing and combat encounters reveal a dormant promise buried beneath it all. Meanwhile, the naval warfare aspect isn't great or deep, but it surpasses the bare minimum of fun you would expect from such a mode. It's a shame that the fluidity of swapping between the two modes suffers from a high viscosity, turning what could have been a form of dynamic action into an affair that is often disruptive to its flow. A look at the concept art included on the disc also provides some insight into levels that did not make it to the final game, showing a hint of Double Helix's intent to make the best of the what they were given. Sadly, it seems the studio was ultimately unable to deliver on what potential there was, or to go overboard with it. Settings such as an island resort and a deserted theme park, the landing of an alien invasion force, lava-filled and storm-drained islands, and high-octane action on the ocean itself are nowhere to be found in the actual game. Whether this was due to publisher pressure or simply a result of having reach the milestones required to ship it alongside the theatrical release, looking below the surface reveals a developer that may surprise us yet -- perhaps provided they won't have to go upstream to deliver under constraints the next time around. What does this game have to do with the original Battleship, then? For starters, hidden Pegs can be found on the tiny levels. That's right, the little pins you put on your board in the classic Battleship game. Some types of alien vessels launch batches of time-delayed grenades that are shaped like pegs, similar to the ones seen in the movie where they are used to sink human destroyers and cruisers. The grid of Battle Com has numbers and letters for the player to shout out locations without anyone hearing (hopefully), but that's where the comparison to the source material ends. What is left is a title that isn't truly good or bad, with aspects that can be fun at times yet which grow boring over the course of its 4 hour lifespan, and ultimately it falls just short of being anything more than decidedly average. Battleship is neither the kind of hit that would wow anyone at E3, nor is it the best gift for a D8, but even though it doesn't offer anything you haven't seen B4, there's little here to H8.
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Your name is Hasbro and you own the rights to a well-known board game, centered about guessing where the opponent's ships are. What do you do? Naturally, you let Universal turn it into a blockbuster marketed to look like Mich...


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Endless Space renews 4X on PC with community involvement


May 05
// Maurice Tan
Endless Space appeared as a pre-order item on Steam's front page the other day, and having "space" in the title means I immediately click on it. From the looks of it, it should appear familiar enough to fans of 4X space stra...

Review: Awesomenauts

May 04 // Maurice Tan
Awesomenauts (Xbox Live Arcade [Reviewed], PlayStation Network)Developer: Ronimo GamesPublisher: DTP EntertainmentReleased: May 2, 2012MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points, $9.99 For those new to MOBA, or "action real-time strategy," the concept in Awesomenauts is relatively simple. Two teams of three players start out on opposite sides of the map, while computer-controlled droid units (creeps) spawn at a regular interval and make their way to the other side through different paths (lanes). When left to their own devices, these similarly powered droids will meet the opposite team's droids somewhere in the middle of a level, maintaining a balance when players don't intervene. When players start killing droids, a team can push to the other side with the intent to destroy a "drillcore" which wins you the match. Along the way, turrets block the path to the drillcore, and enemy players will aim to kill both you and your droids. It leads to a tug-of-war style of play where every player death on one team is an opportunity to push forwards for the other. [embed]226947:43590[/embed] Awesomenauts offers six unique heroes to choose from. Each hero has a button dedicated to basic attack and jump actions, which vary in use between heroes. Some can float, other can double-jump, and a flying monkey can, well, fly. These basic attacks are supplemented by two special skills for each hero, which need to be unlocked with the money (Solar) you earn throughout the match. While having only two skills per hero may sound a bit limited for MOBA veterans, they work extremely well with the fast-paced action and the platforming controls required to survive encounters and to score kills. For example, Leon Chameleon, an assassin DPS hero, can perform a single-jump and a slash attack at the start, and unlock clone and tongue-attack abilities as he progresses through a match. Creating a clone cloaks you, leaving a clone dummy behind as a distraction for you to attack players from behind, or when they least expect it. Collecting more Solar lets you upgrade the clone to move, or even attack with actual damage per hit, and increase the damage you will inflict with your first attack upon decloaking. The tongue, on the other hand, pulls players towards you, and can be upgraded to have a longer range, lifesteal properties, deal more damage, etcetera. Choosing between the two skills and upgrading them to fit your style (in the case of Leon) allows you to either go for a moving clone very quickly, in order to score some early surprise kills, or to focus on upgrading health and basic damage potential to opt for an up-close-and-personal approach using his tongue pull. Or, once you know how and when each ability is best used, spread your Solar between the abilities to counter enemy tactics. The Solar you require for all skill and stat upgrades is generated automatically at a very slow pace, while respawning one-Solar and five-Solar "coins" dot the map. Destroying an enemy droid nets you five Solar, and last-hitting a droid (a MOBA convention) pulls the coin directly towards you. Killing an enemy player is rewarded with a big Solar bonus for you, and half as much for your co-players. So even if you play a support role and don't score as many kills, you'll still benefit from your team's performance. Should you be unfortunate enough to die at the hands of a droid or a turret, however, you'll lose a bit of Solar and the kill reward is dropped on the ground for anyone to pick up. As basic as the premise is -- run in one direction and kill everything -- Awesomenauts offers a vast amount of depth for those who are willing to look below the surface. In part this is due to the way you have to think about how you should spend Solar early in the game, and what kind of upgrades you want to end up with during mid-game. Becoming reasonably proficient with a single character takes a couple of rounds if you are familiar with this type of game, but mastery can still elude you after days of play. Another aspect which adds to replayability is the loadout system. As you play matches and collect experience points to level up, you'll not only unlock new heroes and maps to choose from, but different ability modifiers to assign to your loadout, which can then be purchased and upgraded during a match. Some of these unlockable abilities offer different ways to increase the damage output of your skills, others add different properties (support hero Voltar's heal ray can be turned into a damaging attack, for instance) and yet others offer more tactical offerings. Even if you master one hero with one loadout build, which will take quite a while, you'll always have different builds to try out and master. Better still, no one build is superior to any other, as player skill defines how effective they are. The same is true for the heroes themselves; the new heroes you unlock are in no way whatsoever better or worse than the two heroes you start out with, unless you are incapable of learning from your mistakes and blame a number of unfortunate deaths on the overpowered-ness of whoever killed you. The balancing is excellent, provided you can adapt to evolving situations and change your tactics -- a basic aspect of any MOBA. Although Awesomenauts is a multiplayer game at heart, it can be played in a solo mode with and against bots on each team. The online system in place is rather good, allowing you to start a match with up to three players in local split-screen, with the option to your local team online from the same lobby. Other players will take the place of any bots at any time during an online match, and jumping into a game already in progress gives you a variable amount of Solar to quickly catch up to the average level of heroes in the match, meaning you are never at a big disadvantage. All the individual components in Awesomenauts are lovingly well-crafted and fun variations on typical MOBA games, but while platforming and killing stuff is always fun, the separate parts alone wouldn't matter if the whole wasn't fun enough to play for an extended period of time. Thankfully, it is. In fact, it's ridiculously enjoyable. Whether you play against friends, with friends, or find yourself in a 1-on-1 online match with two bots on either side -- which have an AI that rivals the skill of the average player -- there's a sense of sheer joy as you clasp your controller during heated battles, or curse a team when they work together in an effective way to punish your mistake with a quick kill. The colorful clean artwork and the charm of the heroes, who each have their own theme song and who are inspired by '80s-era cartoons, make sure there is always a smile on your face while you are transfixed on the often frantic action. That's not to say there aren't a few problems that can be found in other MOBA titles as well. Health bars can become obscured when six players are duking it out in close range, the minimap only gives a rough indication of tower health, and sometimes a melee attack has a longer range than the animation would suggest. The AI is good, if predictable with its patterns for some heroes, but at times it is too good for a starting player. Having a few difficulty options for the bots would've helped to allow novice players to practice, although there's something to be said for learning the hard way. These are small issues that can occasionally be bothersome, but they are also mitigated as you become more experienced through the many matches required to hone your skill. Knowing your hero's health level quickly becomes a second nature after you die a lot in the first rounds you play, until you'll eventually know exactly how many hits you can incur before you have to move back. There have always been a few XBLA and PSN titles that come to mind instantly, whenever someone asks for a good game to play with friends. Castle Crashers was one, Dungeon Defenders was another, and Awesomenauts easily makes that list. Sometimes you might lose at the hands of a better team, but even if it makes you ragequit, you'll always come back for another round or two and you'll always learn some new tricks along the way. After playing it for a couple of days straight, I only reached a vague level of mastery over one hero with one specific build, and it will likely take me weeks before I can say I'm any good at all with any of them. The six heroes offer something for everyone, and some people will probably dislike a few heroes that others will love. With more heroes to follow as future content, some may worry that Awesomenauts may suffer the same fate as Dungeon Defenders did on XBLA. However, any new hero content will fall well under the size restrictions imposed by Microsoft, so there is no reason to hold off and wait for a potential PC version down the line unless you don't own either console. Perhaps the game would also benefit from a different mode down the line, such as a Domination/Dominion variant, but what is there in terms of content right now is well worth the price of admission alone. Awesomenauts is one of the first great party games of the year, and it may well end up becoming the best. Get some friends together, try out the 30-minute online demo if you're unconvinced, and you'll have a blast whether the term MOBA frightens you or not.
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Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) titles have seen an enormous surge in popularity in recent years, and for good reason, but to date they've been restricted to the PC. These highly skill-based, competitive games offer th...

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Kickstart this project unless you hate space combat games


May 02
// Maurice Tan
Yep, another Kickstarter. I know, we also got tired of them and that was well before Double Fine Adventure changed the game. As a result, I completely glossed over a few press releases for Starlight Inception, which may have...
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Don't worry! Awesomenauts still being released this week


Apr 30
// Maurice Tan
Despite publisher dtp entertainment filing for insolvency last Friday, Ronimo has announced that Awesomenauts will still be released this week, as planned. Hurray! The PlayStation Network version is free for PS Plus subscribe...

Review: Toy Soldiers: Cold War - Evil Empire & Napalm DLC

Apr 30 // Maurice Tan
Toy Soldiers: Cold War - Evil Empire (Xbox Live Arcade)Toy Soldiers: Cold War - Napalm (Xbox Live Arcade)Developer: Signal StudiosPublisher: Microsoft Game StudiosReleased: April 25, 2012MSRP: 400 Microsoft Points each Evil Empire First up is the "Evil Empire" DLC. Taking control of the USSR in single-player was omitted from the original Toy Soldiers: Cold War, so it's fun to finally get to use this faction outside of multiplayer. Three new campaign missions pit the People's forces of the Evil Empire against the capitalist forces of the United States in hotspots like Korea, Cuba, and Volvograd. The Soviets have access to a couple of different helicopters, tanks, and a jet fighter in the three missions of the mini-campaign, which are all enjoyable to use even if you'll run out of missiles a lot. A new chopper unit, the Super Hormone, has also been added. The campaign levels themselves play like most of the Toy Soldiers levels you are used to, including a new giant tank boss at the end of the last mission. While each level is different enough to offer variety and plenty of fun, they are pretty basic "protect the rear from the front" kind of defense maps. All in all, the new mini-campaign offers more of the same, when "the same" is pretty good stuff to start with. Like the regular missions in Toy Soldiers: Cold War, campaign missions can be played either in solitude or cooperatively on three difficulty levels, and on the Elite (turrets require manual control) and General (turrets and vehicles cannot be manually controlled) modes. An extra multiplayer map, Fervor, and a new Survival level, Ironfisted, are thrown into the mix as well as a turret-operated whack-a-mole minigame called Pop-a-Pig. This minigame won't hold your attention for very long, but it's no better or worse than any of the other Cold War minigames. Other additions affect each aspect of the rest of the game outside of DLC, and these are a bit more interesting for those looking to extend their time with Cold War. A new type of Barrage, the Orbital Laser, can be unlocked for play in any mission. It's exactly what you think; a top-down laser that you can move around the map to lay waste to whatever is unfortunate enough to be below you. Furthermore, a new Survival modifier, Trauma, leads to the cost of one of your toy box's hit points whenever you place a turret, and stresses the importance of careful placement and planning. "Evil Empire" is a small expansion that benefits largely from your desire to play as the Soviets, with their variations on level-three artillery and anti-air turrets, and the Trauma modifier for Survival maps. Score: 7.0 Napalm The "Napalm" DLC is pretty similar to "Evil Empire" with differences in the Survival modifier and the new vehicle. Its mini-campaign is centered on the Vietnam setting for the U.S., meaning you'll be fighting Charlie in every level. Compared to the Soviet level design in "Evil Empire," the levels found here are slightly less conservative in nature. One level sees you covering a distant toy box with artillery, while another features three toy boxes, which leads to separate mini-clusters of defenses to keep each opening safe from intrusion by foreign objects. It wouldn't be called "Napalm" if you wouldn't be able to bomb the crap out of tanks and infantry with a fighter jet, which is thankfully included in one of the levels. A new Napalm Barrage can be unlocked for use in other parts of the game as well, similar to how the Orbital Laser operates in "Evil Empire." Likewise, an extra Survival map and a Versus multiplayer map are part of the package, and a new vehicle -- the Laser Tank -- is a fun addition. The Survival modifier in this DLC is Commando. Yes, you can finally play each Survival map using just the Commando, although using this on the "Evil Empire" Survival map leads to a Rambo who spouts Russian one-liners. This modifier doesn't always work quite as well as you would hope for, however, since the Commando is not very good at destroying aircraft. Despite having infinite rockets that quickly reload, you can find yourself overwhelmed merely by being too slow with dispatching aerials targets, as ground waves follow suit in quick succession and you need to cover multiple paths simultaneously. Compared to the "Evil Empire" Pop-a-Pig minigame, the new one found in "Napalm" is offers much more entertainment. Hang Time is basically Choplifter for Toy Soldiers, making you land to rescue POWs while timing attacks to survive. It can be challenging, and will undoubtedly make you play it longer than Pop-a-Pig. Besides, you can shout "Get to da choppah" while you play it. Not like you need a reason to shout that, but any particular reason to do so  -- no matter how small -- should always be embraced. "Napalm" will likely offer a few more interesting levels to Toy Soldiers veterans, thanks to the varied designs, and the new minigame will keep you entertained for a fair bit. Score: 7.5 When it comes to deciding which one you want, "Napalm" seems like the logical choice for most players. That doesn't mean "Evil Empire" isn't good, however. Both DLC expansions are solid and fun to play, even if the missions themselves don't really offer anything drastically new. It's a matter of whether you want to play as the Soviets or not -- mostly an aesthetic change -- and what kind of Survival modifier you prefer. Trauma is somewhat more interesting than Commando, while the latter modifier is slightly more gratifying as long as you have ground targets to blow up. Overall, both of the small expansions offer good fun in their own right, and the more you are into playing Toy Soldiers: Cold War in different modes and on different difficulties, the more you'll get out of either of them. If you can spare the points, though, consider picking up both packs. Not only do you get more content in one big bite, but the new Barrages and Survival modifiers are complimentary to all of the content, meaning you're that much more likely to play Toy Soldiers: Cold War again for a solid number of hours. The new content won't blow your mind, but if you've been meaning to jump back into this miniature defense title, it's as good a reason as any.
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The excellent Toy Soldiers: Cold War recently received two pieces of downloadable content in the form of the Soviet-centered "Evil Empire" and the Vietnam-focused "Napalm" expansions. While Toy Soldiers fans will likely want ...

Review: Fable Heroes

Apr 30 // Maurice Tan
Fable Heroes (Xbox Live Arcade)Developer: Lionhead StudiosPublisher: Microsoft StudiosReleased: May 2, 2012MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points First things first: no, this is not that (non-)linear Kinect game where you shout at your horse. Fable Heroes is the result of Lionhead's yearly "Creative Day," during which employees can come up with creative new ideas (think Double Fine's Amnesia Fortnight). Although the four-player, hack-and-slash genre may not be the most innovative of gaming experiences on offer, Fable Heroes does sport some creative touches where you least expect them. Each player selects one of ten hero puppets that represent characters from the Fable series, then either goes online to fight through some of Albion's more memorable locations together or sticks with offline solo and local co-op play. It's your regular hack-and-slash fare, with normal and "flourish" attack moves serving as your quick and heavy attacks, while the right trigger is reserved for an area-of-effect attack that costs health every time you use it. [embed]226606:43533[/embed] You shouldn't really think too hard about why you are in control of puppets -- which can look creepy or cute depending on your point of view -- and neither should you think about why the menagerie of Fable enemies, such as Balverines, Hobbes, and Sand Furies, isn't in puppet form itself. In fact, Fable Heroes doesn't require much of your cognitive capabilities at all. Hacking and slashing your way through the six levels in Albion is as straightforward as it can be. You follow a path, collect coins which count towards your score and which act as currency for upgrading abilities, and kill enemies until a "Go" sign says you can progress. At some point before the end of a level, a choice of two paths is offered, one of which usually leads to a boss or a button-mashing mine cart or boat ride mini-game. As easy as all of that sounds, it's not as smooth an experience as it should be. For starters, the controls are sluggish. Especially when playing as Garth or Jack of Blades -- who float in mid-air -- it's very hard to have any sense of precision as to where you are in relation to the ground. This is slightly less of a problem with the melee characters, while ranged characters like Reaver also control a bit odd when switching from stationary ranged pistol attacks to running around to collect coins. The controls are not so much a problem when it comes to dispatching enemies, as you'll just aim in their general direction and mash the same button over and over again for what is usually the entire duration of a level. Where it does become an issue is when you try to pick up coins. As long as you don't get hit, your multiplier bar will increase with each enemy kill, and it will only slowly decrease when you don't kill anything for a while. The higher your multiplier, the more coins you'll collect when running over them. On the Normal and Challenging difficulty settings, it's these coins that define how well you did in a level. The player who has the highest coin score at a level's end will stand victorious on a podium, while the player who was least successful in their scramble for monetary gain is rewarded with a sad trombone. In what is a very creative visual solution to indicate how long coins remain on the playfield, large coins spin around and only flicker and disappear after falling flat on one side. However, all coins of any size and value disappear far too quickly, making it a scramble for coins to get on the victory podium for trash talking's sake. What's worse, the act of collecting coins is bothersome since it can be very hard to gauge where your character is on the 3D playing field, usually meaning you'll walk right past these coins instead of picking up them up. This results in chaos, with players often running and rolling in all directions except the piece of ground where the biggest coin is located, simply because the controls and the slightly tilted camera angle don't allow for the kind of precision movement required to pick up every coin on the ground. During solo play, the AI puppets also seem to randomly decide to steal your coins or wait for you to pick them up. The only time this shouldn't become an issue is on the Family difficulty, where players collect coins for a shared pool which is later distributed among each of the four puppets, but even then, it's a hassle to do such a basic thing as collecting all coins before they disappear. Another big problem with the use of coins as a primary competitive driver is that, any time a player dies, the hero puppet turns into a spectral form which can deal damage but can't pick up coins until you collect a heart item which provides health. Until puppets are "leveled up" a bit, death can come easily to melee characters. This means that, as a ranged character, you can risk a tiny bit of damage then steal any heart that appears so that other (melee-oriented) players will eventually die, steal all the coins, and laugh as your co-players rage. In solo play, the AI will take care of this job for you, stealing hearts away from the player even if they desperately need them. After a level, each of the four characters is awarded dice depending on how many coins they have collected. These are used in a board game of sorts, where a throw of the die moves your character to spots where you can upgrade specific abilities. Increased damage against certain types of enemies or against the highly repetitive bosses, increased speed, and new puppets to play with are among the range of upgrades you can purchase with the coins you've tried so hard to walk over. Over time, each puppet (even those that are AI-controlled in solo play) will become powerful enough to make an already easy game even easier. As uninspired as Fable Heroes is when it comes to its core design, it offers a surprisingly nice touch with its credits level. Here, you can destroy the developer team's names while some enemies wield letters as weapons. It's a fun way to do a credits sequence, and it ends up being a full-fledged level to boot. After playing through the six levels and the bonus credit level, you are awarded access to Dark Albion, where you can play through all these levels again. Dark Albion levels are (surprise, surprise) dark versions of Albion levels. They are slightly more challenging, but the level layouts are the same. This means that if you want to "complete" Fable Heroes, you can either choose to spend the hour or so to run through each Albion level once and leave it at that, or you can play through each level in both regular Albion and Dark Albion twice, to unlock each path for each level. Essentially, you'll have to play every less-than-exciting level four times for completion's sake. Even though the combat is a matter of mashing buttons, the controls make a chicken-kicking mini-game almost impossible to play, power-ups often work against you while they are considered to be positive by the game, and the biggest drive behind cooperative and competitive play -- collecting coins -- is poorly implemented due to a lack of precise control and the short lifespan of coins, none of these aspects are the title's biggest crime. Fable Heroes is merely boring beyond belief. No matter if you are playing in co-op or on your own, you'll have trouble paying attention to what is going on in the game. Due to the extremely simple combat and repetitive nature of the levels, it can be played on autopilot while you read about something slightly more exciting on a second screen, such as the family history of 16th century Dutch Stadtholders. If you are playing with a child, the kid will likely prefer to talk about his or her grades rather than focus on the messy action on-screen. It is by far the most boring gaming experience I've had in years, and I'm hard-pressed to imagine anything more coma-inducing than playing all of the levels on offer more than once, other than perhaps watching a Steven Soderbergh film without sound or subtitles or listening to Anvilania's national anthem for five hours straight. Having to play through each level four times just to complete the game can at best be considered a punishment. Fable Heroes is a mediocre game at best, largely due to imprecise controls that are exacerbated by its scoring mechanics. If it was even slightly exciting to play, all of its issues could be overlooked in favor of a capability to provide simple cooperative family entertainment. Unfortunately, it is not.
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One part hack, one part slash, and one part four-player cooperative Fable with puppet heroes. Fable Heroes would be the last thing you would expect Lionhead Studios to come up with if Fable: The Journey hadn't been announced already. In true Lionhead fashion, Fable Heroes is a game that made me feel emotions I hadn't felt in more than a year, but perhaps not the kind that it intended to elicit.

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dtp files for insolvency, may affect Awesomenauts release


Apr 30
// Maurice Tan
German publisher dtp entertainment AG, best known and outside of Germany for publishing Venetica, The Cursed Crusade, and Ronimo Games' upcoming Awesomenauts, has filed for insolvency, IGN reports. This comes as especially tr...

Review: The Pinball Arcade

Apr 25 // Maurice Tan
The Pinball Arcade (Xbox Live Arcade [Reviewed], PS Vita [Reviewed], PSN [Reviewed])Developer: FarSight StudiosPublisher: FarSight Studios, Crave EntertainmentReleased: April 4, 2012 (XBLA, PSN); April 10, 2012 (PS Vita)MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points, $9.99 The Pinball Arcade is both a collection of four classic pinball tables, emulated in great detail, and a platform for future downloadable tables à la Pinball FX 2 or Zen Pinball. While the Zen Studios games offer more modern digital incarnations of pinball, The Pinball Arcade is not just a love letter to classic tables, but a product that is overflowing with FarSight's dedication and passion for the favorite pastime of generations who grew up in the tail end of the previous century. The four tables included in the package, Black Hole (Gottlieb, 1981), Theater of Magic (Bally, 1995), Tales of Arabian Nights (Williams, 1996), and Ripley's Believe It or Not! (Stern, 2003), are a mix of classic tables which offer a good variety for fans of pinball both old and young. [embed]226451:43495:0[/embed] The most striking aspect of The Pinball Arcade is without a doubt the enormous attention to detail that the four tables sport. Compare the virtual versions to images of their real-life counterparts side by side, and it's evident how serious FarSight is about digitizing classic tables for posterity. In fact, FarSight's mission statement of their goal to create the best pinball simulation stares you in the face upon starting the game for the first time. Suffice it to say that these four tables are excellent. It's important to keep in mind that they come from different eras, and many casual pinball fanatics will likely prefer one table over the other, but each table offers a great deal of fun. From Black Hole with its six flippers and "inverted gravity" lower layer, to the excellent Ripley's Believe It or Not! table which was designed to cater to both beginners and veterans of pinball with its many easy goals, each table offers something unique. Even Theater of Magic's secret "hold right flipper" cheat code, which reveals Mortal Kombat 3 symbols after spelling THEATER, is included in FarSight's virtual emulation. As a pinball simulation, the level of detail and authenticity found in all the tables cannot be praised enough. A pinball simulation wouldn't be any fun to play if it didn't control well, and thankfully The Pinball Arcade succeeds in this regard. The ball physics feel right (compared to what I remember real-life pinball plays like), and the different tables lead to distinct experiences due to their expert design. Three camera modes offer slightly different tilted views of the table, and these can be locked for a more static view with the press of a button. While the different versions on the various platforms are mostly identical in content, there are minor differences. The console controller's triggers may not be the buttons of choice due to their analog nature and the relatively long time it takes to press them down. They work fine, but setting flipper control to the shoulder buttons on both the DualShock 3 and Xbox 360 controller allows for a faster and more direct connection between your hands and the flippers. For both console versions, it's worth pointing out that when displaying the game in 1080p, the playfield of the tables is vastly more detailed and clean than in 720p. While any game is generally playable enough in either display mode, in 720p The Pinball Arcade makes the playfield detail hard to read, and the classic playfields are filled to the brim with lights and art that you would rather see clearly. On the upside, the dot-matrix display -- which isn't rendered in dots anymore -- looks slightly more dot-ish in 720p compared to the smoother version in full HD. The 360 version is also slightly crisper than the PS3 version, although you'd be hard pressed to notice it, while the PS3/Vita version offers Facebook integration. The latter version also has a Challenge Mode and a Tournament feature, which will both be unlocked at a later date when more tables are available. Challenge Mode will let you increase your level by beating target highscores, while Tournaments will use rules based on authentic pinball tournaments "for prizes and bragging rights." Thanks to the cross-play compatibility on Sony hardware, buying the game on either a PS3 or Vita will unlock the game for play on both platforms. The Vita version is perhaps the most interesting choice, since tilting the handheld 90 degrees to the left lets you view the entire table at a glance in portrait mode. In horizontal landscape mode, The Pinball Arcade is still a lot of fun, but the smaller screenspace certainly has a noticeable effect on play when moving back and forth between a TV and the Vita's screen. If you stick with either version for an hour at a time, though, you won't notice much of a difference. Vertical Vita play also means that the front touchscreen is used for flipper control, while the rear touchpad is used for nudges. However, you can't disable the rear touchpad or change control settings for nudging, making it very awkward to hold the Vita in your hands without making a table go tilt by nudging it inadvertently. Either you need to grab the device and never move your fingers on the back of the handheld, or you have to try and hold the thing without touching the rear touchpad whatsoever. Good luck with that. It's also rather strange that you can only switch between portrait and landscape mode before starting a game on a table, just like it's odd that there aren't more options for control configuration in the Vita version. Hopefully, these options will be added in the near future as new tables become available. Despite being a game about classic tables, modern online leaderboards allow you to compete with weekly, monthly, and all-time high scores of both your friends and random strangers. Scores are only uploaded as long as you are signed in to either Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, which can be a minor obstacle if you forget to reconnect your Vita to PSN after it has gone in standby mode. High scores aren't as in your face as Pinball FX 2, but they work as advertised and are easily accessed from most menus. Because it's a title where simulation is the name of the game, the nature of the tables can be charming to one player and archaic to another. Likewise, the presentation of the package on the whole leaves a bit to be desired in terms of flashy design, and there are no kinds of operator controls or statistics for the tables which you might expect from a simulation approach to pinball. However, having access to a visual guide to each and every goal for these tables, as well as their original promotional flyers, more than makes up for these minor omissions. As a platform for classic tables alone, The Pinball Arcade will be a must-have for fans of classic pinball. FarSight aims to release as many tables as they can on a consistent basis, and the first new tables to hit the console and handheld versions in May will be Cirqus Voltaire and Funhouse. There are also iOS and Android versions for those who prefer their mobile gaming device to be pocket-sized. There aren't a whole lot of different pinball games out there, especially with Zen Studios dominating most of the downloadable market when it comes to this niche. With The Pinball Arcade, FarSight Studios doesn't necessarily offer a direct competitor to the popular Zen titles, but a complementary addition for pinball fanatics that is well worth their time.
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The ever-maturing downloadable space has allowed for some rather niche genres to find their audience. From The Legend of Grimrock to Lone Survivor, players can find new games for their favorite genres for a price that's hard to argue with. Enter The Pinball Arcade, the latest pinball simulation game by FarSight Studios, who are probably best known for their Pinball Hall of Fame titles.

Review: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Teeth of Naros

Apr 25 // Maurice Tan
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Teeth of Naros (PC, Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3)Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge GamesPublisher: 38 Studios, Electronic ArtsReleased: April 17, 2012MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points, $9.99 The "Teeth of Naros" story can be started relatively early on in one's journey through the world or Amalur. Whereas "The Legend of Dead Kel" made players reach the city of Rathir -- a mid-way point in Reckoning -- before being able to embark on their new quest, "Teeth of Naros" can be accessed from the area of Ettinmere, south of your starting location in the lands of Dalentarth. The Teeth of Naros (Naros is the name of a troll god) is a mountainous area, locked off from the rest of the world, where giants of all sorts reside. The Kollossae, a race of giant living Greek statues, had once split off from their other giant kin after surpassing them in cultural development, intelligence, and control over magic. Of course, not all is right in the Kollossae's refuge, and only the Fateless can help them out. Again. As stories in Reckoning go, the story of "Teeth of Naros" is better than most of what you're subjected to in the main game. A tale of faith, fate, and the corruption of religious fanaticism, it's an okay story even if almost all major events in Reckoning are more or less centered around the same themes. The Kollossae had once built a city -- Idylla -- to be worthy of their god Ethene's attention. Unfortunately, like the builders of the Tower of Babel, they tried to raise their city to the heavens before they were "ready," and disaster has struck. This incomplete floating city is a hub with a few areas where the Kollossae reside, yet it's strangely small for what is supposed to be a miraculous city made by giants. Idylla floats above the lands of the Teeth of Naros, which hosts enemies such as bandit Kollossae, giant dodos called Pteryx, Jottun, and trolls. Compared to the island of Gallows End from "Dead Kel," however, the Teeth of Naros is a bit of a boring area to explore on the surface. As a mostly circular area, you'll spend about an hour or more running around and doing a few mop-up quests before you get to Idylla itself, but it's your regular Reckoning fare of mowing through mobs. Slightly more interesting is the optional underground dungeon of Nerotelos, which offers some choice loot if you can make your way through its maze-like structure of stairs and jumps. While the quests and stories in "Teeth of Naros" offer a decent romp for Reckoning fans -- helped by a few small yet entertaining sidequests involving debates by force, and a general sense of complete and utter boredom that the Kollossae suffer from in their isolationist plight -- the main draw for most players will be the new loot. Within the first hour or two, you'll finally find better items than what you could've found in both Reckoning and "Dead Kel" -- the latter of which didn't offer great loot to start with. Whether your destiny of choice lies with the sorcery, might, or finesse trees, the weapons, armor, and accessories that drop in "Teeth of Naros" are great. They'll very likely offer an improvement over what you may have used before, although none of the new items or armor sets are going to beat a fully crafted set that gives you critical hits of three million damage. A new addition to loot in "Teeth of Naros" is the Primal damage attribute. When using a weapon that deals Primal damage, you have a chance to trigger a Primal damage buff which lowers all magical resistances of enemies for a few seconds. In theory, you could use these Primal weapons, as well as other items that give bonuses to Primal damage, to trigger the Primal damage buff, and then lay waste to enemies with weapons and spells that deal elemental damage. In practice, however, you'll already have much better weapons than any of the Primal damage-dealing ones you will find in "Teeth of Naros," and an Archmage's meteor spell will instantly kill almost any new enemy you'll find (on Normal difficulty) whether they have resistances or not. One major drawback of all the new loot is that there is no stash in the entire DLC area. You'll find plenty of new set items, weapons, and other gear that you may want to put away for a future respec of your character, but the result is that you are just overburdened all the time. While you can warp to one of the cities outside the Teeth of Naros area and stash your gear there, it's an annoying omission. A merchant will sell you a backpack to increase the inventory by 10, but the stash itself remains limited in size. It would have been nice if the stash was finally made to be infinite in size by this point, but alas you'll still be stuck with scrolling through hundreds of scrolls, books, various quest items, and equipment of all sorts. Just like in "The Legend of Dead Kel," you'll be able to continue questing after completing the main storyline in "Teeth of Naros" which is a nice touch of Reckoning's DLC, but these quests aren't as good this time around. The handful of small sidequests on offer mostly involve fetch quests or running around a lot, and while a few of them are slightly funny, they are nowhere near as entertaining as building your own keep in "Dead Kel." It's also a bit confusing what audience "Teeth of Naros" is targeted at. You can access the new content early on, but most of the loot at level 40 is better than what you find in the end-game with the same character level. I didn't have a save game from this early in the game to compare how much the loot scales with your level, but knowing that you can find some of the best items in this piece of DLC, I would never even think of entering it before I reached level 40 again in another playthrough. Then again, what would you use the items for if you've already finished both Reckoning and "Dead Kel"? All that said, if you haven't finished the main game yet, "Teeth of Naros" will give you a fun, focused distraction away from the primary conflict, and the Kollossae are a distinct race that still fits well in the world of Amalur. Although you'll spend nowhere near the promised "at least 20 hours" of time in "Teeth of Naros," it's not a bad adventure for Reckoning fans; just not a great one, either. The main storyline will take you around four to five hours if you take the scenic route and complete a few sidequests along the way, and after finishing the main story of the DLC, you're looking at perhaps an hour or two of sidequesting, tops. If there will ever be end-game DLC with more challenging areas for veterans players of Reckoning, perhaps the new loot in "Teeth of Naros" will make it worth picking up in preparation. Until then, this is a piece of DLC reserved for either the most die-hard of fans who just can't get enough, or for players who need the distraction and change of scenery before they finally finish the core game.
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The second piece of downloadable content in the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning saga has arrived to further pad your already ridiculous list of quests. The previous DLC, "The Legend of Dead Kel," was a varied and fun adventure ...

Guide: Choice and consequence in The Witcher 2

Apr 17 // Maurice Tan
Warning: there is a big decision at the end of Chapter 1 which impacts how the entirety of Chapter 2 and some aspects of Chapter 3 will play out. There isn't any good way to effectively get around mentioning the names that have been associated with these paths for a year now, so if you really don't want to know anything about these decisions whatsoever, only read this guide Chapter by Chapter as you complete the game. Images are for general illustrative purposes only, and are not necessarily indicative of the described parts of the guide. Prologue After you gain control of Geralt in a conversation, you can choose where to start recounting what happened. It doesn't really matter where you start and you won't miss out on anything whatever you choose, but for the sake of chronology just start with the top option and make your way down from there. Quest: Melitele's HeartContinues in: Chapter 1 When offered a choice at the very start of the game, start by going through the events of the morning, before the assault and the monastery. After exiting your tent, run straight down and talk to the group of soldiers on the right hand side. One of these groups will start a conversation, giving you the option to tell the soldiers what to do with a magical amulet. Agree to help them, then tell the soldiers it won't offer any protection and to give it to you. This will start a quest line that will take you a fair amount of time to complete in Chapter 1. The amulet also gives you -10% armor until you complete the quest, but it's probably not going to kill you. Not too often. If the quest seems complete at some point, don't worry since you can continue it regardless in Chapter 1. Quest: At the Fore! During the assault, you'll make your way up a tower to reason with a guy. You can choose to fight him and his men (hard), just fight him (not so hard), or talk him into surrendering. Depending on whether you kill him or not, you will either encounter a man or a half-naked woman in the dungeons at some point. It's up to you which you want to meet. Kill him for boobs. Quest: Woe to the Vanquished This quest can be easy to miss if you're rushing forward in the third event of the Prologue. Once you enter a town area, some civilians can be rescued from pillaging soldiers. You need to complete two instances of civ-saving, and one of these includes a conversation you can fail. Save before you start exploring the town and don't jump down the well until you've finished the quest, and you should have no problems. When given the choice to demand a reward for your services, you can refuse payment. This will lead to a delayed bonus reward in the form of an ok armor jacket in Chapter 1. Quest: The Dungeons of the La Valettes There are two paths you can take and two people you can meet, depending on whether you killed someone during "At the Fore!" or not. If you take the stealthy and direct approach, you can take a pretty straight path through the dungeons without killing any guards. Another option is to get to the point where a prisoner will call for a guard, dispatch the guard, go back the way you came and to look for a set of stairs you didn't climb yet. One of the guards upstairs will have a key on him, which unlocks a locked door downstairs that leads to a trapdoor. Progress from there and you'll get to see either a man or a woman being tortured. If you take the shorter route, you'll encounter either of these characters after their torture. Chapter 1 Chapter 1 is very long, and this is really the first test of your skills. Save often, experiment with your magic (remember that casting Quen will stop all Vigor regeneration), and run away from groups of enemies if you find yourself dying too often. Start out by doing a few quests that are mostly centered on town life if you need to earn some easy early XP. If you end up in a dangerous situation and you haven't saved in a while, you can always run circles around the enemies to slowly regenerate some health, cast Quen to protect yourself from accidental damage, jump in for a few quick strikes, and repeat the process. From Chapter 1 onwards, each town will have opportunities to play poker dice or arm wrestling mini-games. There are always dice and arm wrestling quests associated with these mini-games, so keep an eye out for opportunities to ask NPCs who you should play against. Quest: The Kayran There are different quests attached to this, and until you have completed the main "The Kayran" quest, there is no way to progress the story. The related sidequests are not necessary to slay the beast, but they will make the boss fight a lot easier. Ideally, you'll want to complete all of Chapter 1's sidequests you can complete before saying you are ready to start the fight. Quest: The Nekker Contract (Heads up: there is an achievement for destroying all monster nests in the game. Choosing a side at the end of Chapter 1 means you can miss out on the chance to destroy some nests in Chapter 2. Missing these nests from "the other side" in Chapter 2 will still give you the achievement as long as you finish all monster nest quests in one playthrough) Accept this quest as early as possible from the notice board outside the inn. You need to have at least 4 Grapeshot Bombs to destroy the nests. Either buy these bombs or buy the recipe from Cedric in Lobinden. Knowledge about Nekkers can be gained by buying a book from a dwarf (in the house opposite the dwarf blacksmith), or by simply killing Nekkers. You'll kill plenty of Nekkers in this chapter before you find all the nests which you need to destroy with the bombs, so the book is not a necessary expense.  If you get annoyed with trying to find the nests, focus on the area around the stream that leads to the waterfall, south of Flotsam's eastern entrance on the map. Quest: In the Claws of Madness You'll encounter wraiths in a haunted asylum during this quest, which can be troublesome until you've gotten the hang of combat. At the end of the quest, you'll be offered a choice. If you choose to just kill some civilians who were basically asking for it, one of the corpses will give you a crafting diagram for a Robust Witcher's Silver Sword. Since Chapter 1 makes you fight a lot of monsters, this will help you a lot in combat. Quest: Hung Over This quest is easily missed if you don't explore every building in Flotsam. Go to the Blue Stripes temporary headquarters, the building with the small set of stairs attached to it, to the left of the inn. The quest becomes inaccessible later in the Chapter, so just do it before you finish the Kayran quest. Quest: The Scent of Incense & Little Shop of Dreams The "Little Shop of Dreams" quest allows you to close down a shop. Before you do that, make sure you bought what you needed from the merchant. You can also make him give you a false recipe, which can be used in "The Scent of Incense." There are multiple paths in "The Scent of Incense" to experiment with, but playing along with the shady person you meet, and agreeing when it seems like an unwise choice, may result in the quest's rather unsatisfactory completion. Don't play along, and you'll end up with a fight at some point and some more information on what was going on. Quest: Malena You'll find this quest by approaching a group of arguing people in Lobinden (the group of crappy houses just outside Flotsam). It will take you through some tough combat encounters with groups of Nekkers, so don't jump into this quest unless you have leveled Geralt a bit. Being honest in conversations will net you a fair bit more XP than when you lie. Quest: Mystic River & Indecent ProposalContinues in: Chapter 2, Chapter 3 "Mystic River" leads to one of the best armors in the entire game, and it's very easy to miss a part of this quest if you're not careful. In Chapter 1, make sure to pick up everything in the shipwreck near where you are told to go find the Kayran's mucus sample. Go to your inventory and read all the documents. Take the documents to Louis Merse in Flotsam, who will have a mail box on a table right up the stairs in his home. If you can't find his home, it's the big building to the right of the eastern entrance to the forest, with a door somewhat hidden away behind two shop stalls in the central marketplace. If you drop a document in the mail box, then persuade Louis Merse to let you peek inside of it, a troublesome situation can occur. I dropped off the mail and took a peek inside the box, and only later read through the documents I had picked up. This made the Mystic River quest tell me to find a Royal Mail box again. The box on Merse's table can become inaccessible this way, meaning you have to find another Royal Mail box. If this happens, there is another Royal Mail box in Loredo's mansion. To this end, save the quest "Indecent Proposal" for later, which will put you inside Loredo's mansion where you can interact with his mailbox. The reason for this is that depending on your decision near the end of Chapter 1, you may not have access to Loredo's Royal Mail box ever again. If the quest description tells you that you should keep an eye out for other shipwrecks, the quest is completed for the time being. Quest: Melitele's Heart & Troll Trouble Continued from: Prologue Go to one of the northern huts in Lobinden. Talk to the herbalist woman there, and the rest of the quest should be straightforward. You can buy three of the four items you need from Cedric, but they are expensive. If you want to play as the good guy, get the Troll Tongue by doing the "Troll Trouble" quest and winning a game of poker dice against a craftsman in one of the houses in Lobinden. You should have found the other ingredients by the time you fight the Arachas. Make sure to save before the final event in the quest, as the fight is quite hard. If the quest bugs when you're done with the fight, return to the NPC you were with after some hours of meditation -- it will be back in its house regardless of the quest marker. For the "Troll Trouble" quest, it's worth knowing that there is an achievement for killing or sparing all trolls in the game. You can still complete "Troll Trouble" as a good guy and give the troll the head for an extra reward (note that you will always need to "defeat" the troll in combat after the first conversation). Once the quest is indicated as complete, go to the troll in question and kill him. Loot him for the tongue ingredient for good measure. Then go to Louis Merse to collect a reward for killing the troll. This will maximize your rewards without any penalty! You will be a bit of a dick for doing this, though. C'est la vie. Quest: At the Crossroads & The Assassins of KingsContinues in: the rest of the game After finishing the Kayran quest, you end up going with Zoltan to a place where you fight an Arachas -- a big spider. When given the choice to proceed or stay and join later, choose to stay and loot everything in the area. You'll find the useful Sword of Kaer Morhen among the loot. Also go back to Lobinden and use the Arachas eyes ingredients you looted to complete "Melitele's Heart." Once you decide to join up again and continue the quest, you have to start making decisions. Before you continue, make up your mind about whether you think humans or non-humans will be more fun to be around in the future. Decide accordingly until the Chapter is over, and you will end up on one of two possible sides of a conflict in Chapter 2. Warning: choosing "humans" will lead to a choice near the very end of the game, which unlocks an achievement and associated description. This achievement description significantly spoils the true nature behind something that you do not learn anything about unless you pick the "non-humans" path. Whichever path you choose, some events in the final chapter won't make a lot of sense when characters appear out of thin air as if you were supposed to know them. If you want to find out everything about the story for yourself, you may want to pick the "non-humans" path first so the achievement description won't spoil things for you. Or, you know, just don't look at the unlocked achievement description. You can also use a savegame before the "At the Crossroads" quest to continue on a different path in a second playthrough, without having to play through the first 10 hours again. Chapter 2 By now you have been warned, and you've chosen either Roche's Path or Iorveth's Path. Iorveth's Path Quest: With Flickering Heart Before you embark on this quest, make sure you buy Surgical Tools at the Vergen vendor in the main square, because you'll need them. There will be a choice between having sex and killing what you could have sex with. The kill option rewards you with some loot, but this is nothing you can't live without. Quest: Mystic RiverContinued from: Chapter 1Continues in: Chapter 3 You'll find a shipwreck next to a troll. It's impossible to miss but make sure you search it. Quest: Hunting Magic, The Harpy Contract & The Queen Harpy Contract Accept the "Harpy Contract" and "Queen Harpy Contract" quests from the notice board. You'll need to craft at least seven Harpy Traps, preferably a bit more (10 will do the trick). Harpy nests can be found in the quarry area, and placing a Harpy Trap will make a Harpy pick up the explosive and fly it over to their nest. Don't place multiple traps near a nest, because it will only be a waste of traps. Three of these nests are in a locked-off area that you will access during the "Hunting Magic" quest. The Queen Harpy is hard to miss once you get to a place with crystals. Use all of these crystals to unlock and progress quests. Quest: From A Bygone EraContinues in: Chapter 3At one point you'll have the chance to cross the mist for a quest. Once you reach the other side, you can explore some of the surrounding area you would normally only have access to if you sided with Roche at the end of Chapter 1. Go west, follow the stream from the camp, and enter the labyrinthine ravines. Find a beach with a hut on top of a small cliff. This area is part of the "Little Sisters" quest for Roche's path, but you can still access it this way. Go to the hut, find the makeshift graveyard behind the hut, and read the markers on Malget's grave. Write them down or commit them to memory. Go back to the hut, blow away the barrels with Aard, and enter the hidden trapdoor. Use the markers to solve the puzzle, and pick up the item you find.  [Note: On a Dark playthrough on Xbox 360, this trapdoor was locked for some reason. Not sure if it's a bug or a change in the Enhanced Edition] Now you can sell this item to a sorcerer but don't do that. Keep the item, and save it for Chapter 3 where it will lead you the hardest boss in the game, or an option to respec your entire skill tree. You can still take the item to a sorcerer to ask about what it is; the option to sell it appears after that conversation.Quest: Baltimore's Nightmare, The Walls Have Ears, Suspect: [CHARACTER] & Royal Blood There's a way to gain a maximum amount of XP by completing all these quests in the right order, since some quest resolutions will impact the other quests. The only effect is XP, so don't worry if you messed it up at some point. This will be convoluted without using spoilers, so bear with me. Progress the "Baltimore's Nightmare" quest until the point where you can open a locked door. You have to choose whether to spare or kill a character if you enter, so leave that decision for later. This will allow you to talk to that character during "Royal Blood." Before starting "Royal Blood" at the indicated area on the map, save your game in case you mess up. During this quest, talk to the peasants and a dwarf for the "The Walls Have Ears" subquest. Proceed with your investigation to receive the "Suspect: [CHARACTER]" quest (you'll know who this character in the quest name is by that point). Go back to "Baltimore's Nightmare" where you left off, enter the locked lair, kill this character when you encounter him, then make sure to loot his body. Now leave that quest again. Use the key you find to open the character's locked chest in his house, and you'll complete both "Suspect: [CHARACTER]" and "The Walls have Ears." Now complete "Baltimore's Nightmare" and finally go back to "Royal Blood" to wrap up that quest. Choosing between the mob or royal options at the very end will lead to a narrative change later in the game, but it's nothing that will impact Geralt's story or future quest lines in any dramatic fashion. Go with what feels right to you. Pfew! Quest: The Eternal Battle Before starting the last phase of this quest (you'll know when), make sure to save and wrap up anything you need to do in Vergen. You won't have a chance to go to shops after completing this quest. Roche's Path Quest: Little Sisters & From a Bygone Era Continues in: Chapter 3 One of the soldiers who gets picked on in the camp will give you the "Little Sisters" quest. This quest is pretty straightforward, but you can find an item in the process that will lead to further events in Chapter 3. Do not talk to Dethmold about the item you find until you complete the quest! It might bug the "Little Sisters" quest. I didn't try and see if this is still the case in the Enhanced Edition, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Follow "Little Sisters" until you reach the beach. Go to the makeshift graveyard behind hut first, and look at the graves. Malget's grave (to the side) has some markers on it you have to write down or remember. Go back to the hut and Aard on the barrels to the side of the hut to unveil a trapdoor. Go down, use the markers from the grave to solve the puzzle, and pick up the item. Talk to the NPC at the beach, and decide what you want to do. Either kill the NPC and end "Little Sisters" with a measly amount of XP, or play along and decide later. Going back to the soldier gives you more choices: either accuse him or believe him. Accusing him and going back to the beach will start a fight with a large monster, leading to a schematic for a decent sword. Believe him, go to the beach to meet him, and side with him again to gain a 300 XP reward but no schematic. If you have trouble completing this quest if you decide to help the soldier, go to the path that leads to the beach, meditate until 23:00, and meet the NPC along the path. The quest marker will point at the beach, but the NPC won't be on top of the quest marker so ignore it. If you can't find him, try to run back and forth a bit, meditate to 22:00 or 23:00 again, and see if that works. If it doesn't, fulfill another quest and try again. Now that you've completed "Little Sisters" you can talk to Dethmold about the item you found. He'll tell you about it and offer to buy it off you. Don't sell it. You can save it for Chapter 3 and a chance to fight the hardest boss in the game, or to respec Geralt's skills. Quest: In Cervisia Veritas, The Butcher of Cidaris & Conspiracy Theory The two quests "In Cervisia Veritas" and "The Butcher of Cidaris" both let you progress "Conspiracy Theory" regardless of which one you finish. Provided you don't talk to Dethmold after finishing either quest, you can do both of them before progressing "Conspiracy Theory" for more XP. I highly recommend you do "In Cervisia Veritas" because it's a funny quest. Find the drunkard Odrin outside the western exit of the camp and bribe the guard to let you in. Hilarity ensues. Quest: Ave Henselt! Another notice board quest. Enter the arena and don't lose a fight. Eventually you get to fight Ves, and you should completely obliterate her (Yrden does the trick). After the fight, talk to her in the Blue Stripes camp outside of the main camp, and you can choose to sex her. Objectively proven to be even better than virtual sex is the achievement you'll unlock for doing this. It is known. Having sex with Ves will not affect your relationship with Triss. In fact, you can pay whores to have sex with you before and after getting it on with Ves and it won't matter one bit. Sometimes, Geralt's life is fairly uncomplicated. Quest: The Spear of Destiny & A Sackful of Fluff "The Spear of Destiny" lets you cross the mist to enter Vergen for a bit. While you are on the other side, there are two things you can easily miss. Continue "The Spear of Destiny" until you receive the spear, then keep playing dice against a certain dwarf to win two special items. One of these, the Dun Banner Cloak, will help you in the "Death Symbolized" quest. Before you go back through the mist to the Kaedweni camp, find the Harpy infested quarry outside Vergen and enter the hut along the path. A rather odd fellow will give you the "A Sackful of Fluff" quest -- a DLC quest for The Witcher 2 that is hard to miss on Iorveth's Path -- which involves giving him a lot of feathers. Keep in mind that more harpies appear around midnight, and try not to die as they swarm you and drop delicious feathers. The end result of the quest is worth the effort. Quest: Death Symbolized There is a conversation which can lead to a peaceful solution and a fight, both of which give you the required quest item. If you talked to Zyvik in the Kaedweni camp about the Battle of Brenna, he'll give you a Beaver Cap. If you won the extra items in a game of dice against a dwarf in Vergen, you'll have the Dun Banner Cloak. The peaceful solution makes you answer a bunch of questions, which are hard to answer if you've been spreeing through the dialogue and haven't paid attention. The items you've collected allow you to give an incorrect answer before a fight ensues. If you can manage to complete the conversation without starting a fight, you'll receive a bonus sword for your trouble. Fighting the NPC means you won't get the sword. Quest: The Path to Vision Another quest that is hard to miss, but make sure you start it so you don't miss out. First, talk to the relic peddler in the big food tent close to the armorers of the Kaedweni camp. Follow the quest, play along with the Visionary and agree with his spiritual demands, and you'll get a fun scene with a ridiculous journal entry. Quest: Mystic River Continued from: Chapter 1Continues in: Chapter 3 You'll find a shipwreck next to a troll very late in the Chapter. It's nearly impossible to miss, but make sure you search it. Roche's path will mean you won't gain access to this area until later, but you will inevitably reach it. Chapter 3 This is the last chapter of The Witcher 2, and many choices can affect the outcome in different ways. While these big choices pop up at various times, their effects are narrative in nature. You do not unlock new quests depending on the choices in the main quest lines (although you may have to choose between quests), nor do you receive any special loot that will severely affect your performance. However, there's a pretty good chance that your choices will affect the world of The Witcher 3, so make a lot of saves if you have room for them. A few quests are worth pursuing before diving head-first into the finale. Quest: From a Bygone Era & Mystic RiverContinued from: Chapter 2, Chapter 1 Take the magical item you found under the hut near the beach in Chapter 2 to Bras of Ban Ard, located opposite the inn with the notice board. He looks a bit like Dandelion. He will translate the item for you and tell you what to do. The sewer entrance you are looking for is not the one down the path in the marketplace, where a guard and a locked gate will obstruct your process. Instead, go to the big arm wrestling guy -- the Mighty Numa -- and enter a house through a nearby door. Before you enter the sewers, craft a whole bunch of traps -- specifically Freeze Traps. Follow the sewers, solve the puzzles (good luck!) and after the brazier puzzle save the game before you head down. The Operator awaits, and he will break you. Going down and talking to the Operator can allow you to respec Geralt's skills. (If you care about the skill tree achievements, choose the "how does it work" option and tell the Operator to go ahead. Respec to unlock the second-to-last skill in any tree, back out of the menu, and run around a bit if the achievement doesn't pop instantly. Load the game and repeat the process if you want. If you never used Riposte but want the associated achievement, you can also respec to purchase the skill, attack guards in town, and use Riposte 3 times in a row.) Ask what the machine does and then refuse the Operator, and you will be kicked out with no way to get back. Don't do that. A bigger challenge is to either say you are not the Chosen One, or to ask about the machine and then tell the Operator you can handle it yourself. A fight ensues, and it will very likely kick your ass over and over again. If you have trouble with the fight, a good thing to keep in mind is that the Operator only summons gargoyles after you damage him a bit. If you can survive and kill the gargoyles he summons, just run around to regenerate your health and Vigor while dodging fireballs. If you went for a magic tree build, you can cast Quen and let yourself be hit by the fireballs in order to build up adrenaline, then cast your Heliotrope sign the next time gargoyles appear to slow everyone down. This can be a very tough fight if you are ill-prepared for it. If you win, you receive the Operator's staff and some other loot. The staff can randomly set enemies on fire or freeze them, and it's fun to use for a bit. However, it's not the best regular weapon in the game so if you are having a really hard time beating him, you can survive without the loot. If you can beat him, however, it is very satisfying. Quest: An Encrypted Manuscript  During the "The Gargoyle Contract" quest, you'll find an encrypted manuscript. Take it to Bras of Ban Ard (located opposite the inn with the noticeboard) and fulfill his requirements. He will give you a diagram for an epic steel sword, which you will want. Roche & Iorveth's paths and the Enhanced Edition quests Many story-related choices await in both Iorveth and Roche's paths. Without spoiling events, let's say you will get the choice to go after an important figure or save an important character. This choice affects who joins you later on, but if you are on your first playthrough, you may want to ignore playing the hero in favor of dealing with problems of a grander nature. Some aspects of the story may make less sense if you don't fight for the greater cause, and you can always go back and do things differently. For that matter, make sure you create a dedicated save after you enter the fortress for the first time in Chapter 3. Depending on who you sided with in Chapter 1, you'll also get to play one of the two new Enhanced Edition quest lines here. These should be relatively straight-forward. Roche's Path has a rather nasty puzzle involving a scribe which may give you a headache, but listen to the scribe and he will provide you with hints to solve the puzzle. In case you don't know what the poison is, try burnt lime. You should be able to figure it out from there. During this quest line, you can also choose to accuse two different people. Make sure you do all related sidequests before you make your choice in order to get to the "best" quest ending. On Iorveth's Path, accept the proposal in the Enhanced Edition quest line to proceed. Declining will lead to a fight and failing the quest. Later on when the quest is nearly over, you can decide to leave, fight both people you met, or try to get a woman to let you try out an artifact. The latter option is more interesting, but also leads to a fight. Make sure to grab all loot and documents in the lab before you leave, read them, and find that woman again in the city square or at the inn. Play your cards right, and it's business time. Poor Triss and Yennefer... The end-game Before embarking on what is pretty clearly indicated as the final part of the Chapter, make another save. There's another opportunity for achievement hunters to unlock a total of four secret achievements in this finale, two each for the two choices you'll be able to make. After that, you should know what to do by the time you reach that point in the game. Provided you killed enough enemies and completed all the quests that you could've missed, you should also be level 35 for that achievement. Good luck with getting that 1000/1000!
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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings releases to a new audience this week, and Xbox 360 owners have a lot to look forward to. It's a role-playing game full of decisions that can impact the story's development throughout the game...

How enhanced is the Xbox 360 edition of The Witcher 2?

Apr 15 // Maurice Tan
Enhancing the White Wolf A few changes and content additions aside, at face value the Enhanced Edition is largely identical to the original version, provided you include a year's worth of the kind of updates you would expect from a well-supported Western PC role-playing title. While some of these changes are more obvious than others, they all serve to make The Witcher 2 a better game. The main draw of the Enhanced Edition for existing fans is the new content; extra quest lines in the third, and final chapter. Depending on your decisions earlier in the game, you gain access to two different and unique sidequests. One of these quest lines focuses on characters and events that had previously only been slightly touched upon, and while it's not the most amazing or original series of quests, it offers a fun and varied bunch of small adventures that easily can last you up to two hours. Without getting into spoiler territory, the best thing about this specific quest line is that it expands the story and background of aspects that could really use expanding. The other quest line focuses on a dungeon crawl of sorts. Since the big decision that defines which of these new quests you can start has to be made around 10 hours prior to when you can embark on them, I did not play through this alternate quest. Gauging from the way the handy game guide -- included in the retail edition -- describes regular quests, this alternate quest will probably give you an extra hour or so of dungeon crawling, puzzling, and fighting. Another new addition to the Enhanced Edition is the revamped tutorial and hint system, intended to make The Witcher 2 somewhat easier to get into for new players. A new and separate tutorial level, set in the Arena environment that was added to the core game late last year, explains most of what you need to know in order to equip Geralt with gear and make him slay his enemies. It's not the greatest tutorial ever made and it doesn't explain some of the more advanced features, but it is a serviceable addition to get you started with the basics, without completely having to redesign the existing Prologue chapter in order to steadily guide players through all combat features. Combat and general controls After playing The Witcher 2 with a mouse and keyboard on PC, playing it with an Xbox 360 controller feels surprisingly adequate. In fact, combat is perhaps even better when playing it with a controller. The button layout gives you access to any combat and inventory options you require, with a few obvious downsides for those who are used to using a mouse to simply point and click at menus and objects. Targeting an enemy is now somewhat easier than it used to be on PC. Holding down the left trigger lets you lock onto an enemy, leaving the right stick as a way to move between targets. This new targeting system is heralded as a way to make it easier for casual players to get into what is undeniably a challenging game at times, and even though it works as advertised and allows you to leave direct camera control out of the equation, there is little reason to use it in many cases. A problem that can arise is that while locking on is that you can lose battlefield awareness. Since it's pretty easy for Geralt to die in group fights if you are not careful, meaning you have to dodge-roll out of the way and block incoming blows if necessary, a preferable mode of play is to simply aim in the direction of the target you want to hit with the left analog stick, and use the other analog stick for full camera control. Having said that, one of the three main skill trees allows you to purchase a skill which lets you counter incoming attacks with a riposte, and to perform this counter move effectively you really need to use the lock-on system. When playing on Dark difficulty, you'll also want to use the new lock-on system to dodge around some of the more powerful enemies more efficiently. Whichever method of camera control you prefer, having the option to choose what works best for you at any time is only a good thing. A bit more annoying is the way Geralt tends to run instead of walk when you slightly nudge him forward. Some areas are littered with traps you can spot with keen eyes, or by using a magical medallion to highlight important objects, and nothing is more frustrating than trying to slowly inch close enough to disarm and collect such a trap and ending up running right into it. As an added bonus, the button for re-arming these traps is the same as the button for disarming them, leading to the fun act of accidentally triggering a trap, then accidentally re-arming it as you were already pressing the disarm button in anticipation. Since you need to disarm a trap before you can collect it for future use, you can end up fighting the controls until you just stop caring about collecting traps altogether. On the upside, these traps are relatively worthless and often only deal a small amount of damage, so you can easily just run straight through them. Just like in last year's PC version, some objects can still be hard or even impossible to target. These problems range from running into a door and having to take a few steps back, just to receive the prompt that allows you to open that door, to the inability to target out-of-reach crates that are highlighted as loot containers if you use your Witcher medallion, yet which cannot be looted no matter how hard you try. However, the ability to swing the camera over a general direction and mash the A button to loot all nearby items within seconds is incredibly useful. The downside is that you cannot loot individual items, which can lead to some micro-managing headaches when you are nearing the weight capacity for your inventory, and end up grabbing three extra items you never wanted to pick up. Geralt cannot run or roll when he is overburdened, but he can still walk, making it an option to carry loot well over your weight capacity and simply stroll over to a nearby vendor. When you are miles away from the nearest vendor, though, this is only optional for profoundly patient players. Thankfully, Geralt's personal stash from update 1.3 lets you store all crafting items which would ordinarily take up the majority of your weight limit. Console menus all around The different pages for the inventory, character sheet, quest journal, and map have been grouped together in an easily accessible menu to fit a controller. Of these four menus, the inventory -- the one you will access the most -- can be a bit awkward to navigate at times. You can't simply click on one of the seventeen categories your inventory contains, leading to a lot of bumper presses to navigate between them, but the inability to hover the mouse over an item to see its specifics is more jarring. The extra button presses required to Inspect or Compare an item in your inventory quickly become second nature, but enhancing a piece of equipment with various runes, oils, and armor enhancements is implemented in a rather odd way. There are two ways to upgrade a piece of equipment: select the enhancement and apply it to a weapon or piece of armor, or select the weapon or armor and then select an enhancement to upgrade it with. In the latter case, the inventory menu gives you no option to see the specifics of the enhancements; it will only display the percentage of increased damage output it provides, alongside the enhancement's weight and sell value. Because many of these enhancements carry very specific bonuses to stats and damage output to certain types of enemies, and some enhancements cannot be "unsocketed" after applying them, it renders this specific method of enhancing equipment rather useless. For some obscure reason, there is also a split-second but very noticeable black screen between menu pages. This makes going from your inventory to your quest journal a bit of a pain in the ass, since it's all just simple text and static images which one wouldn't expect to require much loading. Over time, you start to notice it less and less, and then occasionally you'll start noticing it again. Compare it to the PC version, however, and you'll notice that the inventory page doesn't exactly pop up instantly in that version either. The skill tree menu, which features skill nodes in four separate areas of expertise -- basic training, swordsmanship, magic, and alchemy -- could have benefited from a slight redesign to make it easier to navigate to nodes that need to be accessed by moving diagonally. There are two of these nodes in the swordsmanship tree that are very hard to reach, as only a very specific diagonal movement will let you highlight them. If you don't choose this skill tree, though, you'll never run into any selection problems. Graphics The big question for the visual fetishists might be: "How does it look compared to amazing-looking PC version?" With the Xbox 360's hardware in mind, it looks fantastic. The engine runs smoothly, even during intense and spell-heavy combat encounters involving many characters, and the lands of Temeria and Aedirn look beautiful and atmospheric with striking effectiveness. Pay too close attention, though, and the differences with the graphical prowess displayed on the higher settings of the PC version are certainly noticeable. This should come as no surprise since the 360's hardware specs would never allow the game to run in a 1920x1200 resolution with all the bells and whistles turned on (save for the Ubersampling setting), and the fact that it requires scrutiny at close range to spot the differences is worthy of praise. Of course, you can forget about motion blur and in-game depth-of-field wizardry, but play either version at a normal range from your display and only some slightly lower resolution textures will betray the hardware it's running on. Trained eyes may also spot the subtle differences in lighting and shadowing, especially if they have spent 25 hours with the PC version before, but even these will have a hard time distinguishing the graphics between the two platforms when Geralt is running around in daytime under a clear and sunny sky. During in-game cutscenes and dialogue, the RED Engine truly shines and outperforms engines like Unreal Engine 3 and CryEngine 3. It's clear that CD Projekt RED has tried to make The Witcher 2 look as good as they could on a console, and they have done so admirably without letting the framerate suffer. Installing the two discs (there is only one disc swap throughout the entire playthrough) is highly recommended, and one could even go as far as to say it's absolutely necessary. Not only does it decrease load times -- which are very manageable even when playing it from the disc -- but the amount of in-game texture loading is shockingly awful when not installing The Witcher 2. After installing, there is still the occasional and noticeable texture loading for character models, but playing it from the discs is like having a déjà vu of the first Mass Effect's approach to texture pop-in. Not installing it to your hard drive even impacts how fast you can skip through a conversation, so if you are the type that prefers to read the subtitles rather than listen to dialogue, you'll be forced to wait seconds at a time for each sequence of dialogue as the textures for character models slowly load. For those among you who like to look at videogame tits, rest assured; the breast and nipple textures are of a quality resolution on Xbox 360. And that's really all I have to say about that. Glitches and bugs Like the original The Witcher 2, a glitch or bug will pop up here and there, but nothing encountered in the Xbox 360 edition broke the game or completely obstructed progression. At worst, these instances are mildly annoying or plain mind-boggling. For instance, one quest in Chapter 1 can make you deliver some mail to a Royal Mail box twice, but if you had already used that mail box before, it's no longer something you can interact with. There is another mail box in a nearby location, which might only become accessible one more time depending on your choices and progression through the chapter. This demands a lot from the player when it involves a quest spanning all three chapters of the game, finally resulting in access to one of the best pieces of armor you can craft. A few times throughout the game, a quest marker just gives you the plain wrong location to start the next segment of a quest, but persistence and revisiting a location after completing a few other quests should allow you to progress regardless. Sometimes an enemy will no longer receive damage when you push and corner it into a wall. At other times an enemy will just stand in place, motionless and invincible. One time I died trying to save a peasant from monsters, and because the peasant NPC killed off the last enemy to progress the quest to the next phase, I ended up with a close-up of the peasant's foot going right through Geralt's dead body. This also made the game glitch and unable to register button presses to continue after death, leading to a forced move back to the dashboard. These issues are few and far between in a game that can easily take you over 25 hours to complete once, and often offer comedic value to counter any grumbling. If you keep CD Projekt RED's history of PC Witcher titles in mind, it's nothing short of a miracle that the Enhanced Edition is as bug-free as it is. My kingdom for a dedicated quick save button! Alas, there is none. The Witcher 2 only autosaves at certain key events and quest progression triggers, often in a way that makes it very hard to anticipate when it will do so, and it features many open areas to traverse in search of quest completion. Suffice it to say that something PC players had already learned the hard way has become more of a hassle on the console. Inevitably, you'll forget to save after becoming engrossed in a quest, find yourself fulfilling a few quest requirements on your way to a bigger story revelation, and die at an unfortunate encounter. Then you find out the last save was 30 minutes ago. To CD Projekt RED's credit, most locations outside of towns and fortresses are seamlessly and progressively loaded on Xbox 360 like they were on PC, meaning autosaves at location changes would not have been a very good solution to the problem. Still, a few more checkpoints along the main routes of the open environments, or inside some of the more linear and constricted sidequest areas, would have been very welcome. Alternatively, mapping the quick save feature to the Back button -- which provides access to your inventory, map, character sheet and journal -- would have been an even better solution. You never use the Start button for anything but saving and loading, and you only do that because there is no quick save feature. Every menu option under both the Back and Start buttons could've easily been sorted inside one menu system under one button, similar to the way other console RPGs like Mass Effect 2 and 3 approached their menus, making the omission that much more glaring anno 2012. Of course, you could also try not to be a fool and simply remember to save regularly. Just keep in mind that there are only 12 save slots, barely enough to save before every big decision which could impact how the story progresses later on. The true enhancements of the Enhanced Edition The fact of the matter is that while there are some minor issues that unmistakably exist, and you deserve to know about them, they do not make The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360 any less fun to play. The Enhanced Edition's real strength lies not in the content additions, but in the subtle changes to make Geralt feel less underpowered early in the game. Originally, enemy encounters were severely punishing to the point where it felt like you were only getting to a "regular Witcher" version of Geralt after 10 hours or more. Enemies can still punish you if you aren't careful, particularly in group encounters, but instances of unfair deaths on Normal difficulty are far less common than before, and character progression feels better paced. At the core of the combat mechanics, not that much has changed. The shield spell Quen which protects you from a hit is still invaluable, and during tough encounters you'll still run circles around enemies to slowly recover health and Vigor -- units of mana -- followed by casting Quen again. When meditating to skip hours in a day, brew potions, or drink potions, Geralt no longer goes through an animation to sit down, and neither does he go through an animation when he drinks potions. It speeds up things and encourages less patient players to use this option more often, although it always looked kind of cool to see him sit down and gulp down toxic potions like a trooper. The addition of new pre-rendered cutscenes also helps to give you a general idea of just what the hell is going on in the world of The Witcher 2. Narrated by Geralt's old friend Dandelion in a rather unfittingly cheery and comedic fashion, these added scenes between chapters help you connect to the world you are supposed to care about. This was always a bit hard to do before, since Geralt's neutral role as a Witcher is dissimilar to your typical RPG protagonist, and the focus was always on Geralt's personal story rather than the intricate schemes and politics of the world he inhabits. The White Wolf revisited Playing through it a second time and choosing a different path leads to a completely new setting and a full day worth of questing in the second chapter. Doing exactly that also showed me how much I had missed in my first playthrough a year ago. If you only play through it once, you are simply doing yourself a disservice. Not only is it easy to miss out on a lot of story exposition regardless of the path you choose halfway through the game, but the two paths complement each other to tell one focused and complete story. In the process, it leads to a much higher level of engagement to the world of The Witcher 2, and important characters that normally appear out of the blue in one playthrough can reveal layers of depth in another playthrough. The Witcher 2 was one of the more engrossing RPGs of recent years, one that had that distinct quality that keeps you playing for hours without breaks, and it remains a quality title on Xbox 360. Let's face it: if you have a beast of a PC and you like Western RPGs, odds are you've already played it. If you are PC-handicapped, this long-awaited console version will give you an updated and slightly expanded edition which is similar enough to its PC brother to be an almost identical twin. Connoisseurs may spot the 360 version to be the slightly more clumsy and less good-looking of the twins, but in the end they share a similar aptitude for badassery and that's what matters. It's still not a perfect version of The Witcher 2 and sometimes it requires a bit of patience. Yet whenever any small issue is encountered, you can't help but look at it like a parent whose child has just been caught with its hand in the cookie jar; at the same time unapologetically naughty and impossible to get mad at. Whenever it does something wrong, it's minor in nature and easily forgiven in the face of overwhelming quality. The biggest crime CD Projekt RED commits by releasing the Enhanced Edition for Xbox 360 is that it means we have that much longer to wait for the next multiplatform chapter of Geralt's story -- one that cannot come fast enough for PC and console owners alike.
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It's been almost a year now since The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was released on PC. Built upon an engine with multiplatform support in mind, a console version was inevitable. Outsourcing a port for the first The Witcher d...

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Star Command reroutes a trailer to secondary power relays


Apr 11
// Maurice Tan
Warballoon's Star Command seems to be shaping up rather nicely. As one of those games that got Kickstarted before it was cool, it missed its initial planned release of late last year, but it is currently planned for a Summer...

Review: Tropico 4: Modern Times

Apr 07 // Maurice Tan
Tropico 4: Modern Times (PC [Reviewed], Xbox Live Arcade)Developer: Haemimont GamesPublisher: Kalypso MediaReleased: March 29, 2012 (PC); April 4, 2012 (XBLA)MSRP: $19.99 (PC), 1200 Microsoft Points (XBLA) El Presidente has taken a well-deserved vacation after all the work done in Tropico 4, leaving Penultimo in charge of things. As expected, he has made a huge mess and what's worse, a new shadow organization called The Conclave is intent on heating up the Cold War for their evil plans. Modern Times is a full-fledged expansion with 12 new campaign missions and a whole bunch of new edicts and buildings, all reflecting a more modern era of Tropican development. While some of the new buildings are simply bigger and better versions of their old incarnations, quite a few new additions make Tropico 4 a far more enjoyable game -- even forcing you to rethink your core strategies. Among the most important additions is the new Metro Station, which only takes up a small area of space and which lets Tropicans move almost instantly between Metro Stations anywhere on the map. You still need to place a few garages for teamsters and the like, but the underground transit system finally allows you to get rid of the gridlocks that used to pester you as you built up your island. These Metro Stations become increasingly more expensive, but it's a small price to pay for finally being able to stamp a new zone of buildings out of the ground in a remote area, without having to account for transit time. The trusty apartment blocks are replaced by high-rise apartments with twice the housing capacity, at a higher cost of cash and electricity, essentially turning them into more expensive and better quality tenements. Although creating a reliable power supply used to be an expensive endeavor, not in the least because of the requirement of college graduates to maintain the already expensive power stations, it is far easier to manage this time around. Wind turbines do the trick in earlier missions, but as time progresses, a solar plant becomes available which doesn't require any workers, and which is easily upgraded for extra juice. The old farms are quickly replaced by bio farms; larger farms which produce a huge amount of crops inside their building area. These new farms can be set to produce corn, food crops (papaya, banana, etc.) or cash crops (tobacco, sugar, etc.), and if set on the latter two modes, they produce multiple crops at the same time. Likewise, ranches are replaced by organic variants that produce smoked beef and extra food, and mines soon become borehole mines which can produce minerals even if a deposit is depleted. Other than the modernized and slightly more efficient versions of existing buildings, some construction options are entirely new and work well in conjunction with your tried-and-tested economy. Business centers produce revenue based on housing or media buildings in the area, and a Telecom HQ can cover a huge aura to improve the quality of life through customer support. A few other expensive skyscraper projects provide work, housing, and hotel space to a large amount of people, even though by the time you can afford these buildings, the income they generate is completely unnecessary. Meanwhile, new edicts like the Internet Police, Healthcare Reform, and China Development Aid -- which gives you 100 extra immigrants -- poke fun at contemporary developments, while the Ban Social Networks edict increases productivity while disabling the ability to post Tweets or Facebook posts from within the game. The edicts are a bit of a luxury option rather than a core aspect of surviving through early years crises, but the total package of edicts and buildings adds enough to the Tropico formula to make it a fresh experience once more -- even if you've already spent well over a hundred hours on the past few titles. There are enough new toys at your disposal to experiment with novel city layouts, and even though some of the new buildings can produce a ridiculous amount of money, the new additions allow for that extra amount of freedom to create your perfect little island paradise. By the time you reach the 2000s, it can be enormously pleasing to look at an actual skyline as a testament to your labors. Another useful addition is the Timeline, which shows you when certain buildings will unlock, and when global events such as the Panama Canal Treaty will affect island life. The Modern Times campaign does an admirable job at introducing most of the new buildings and edicts, while the trademark humor is even more effective thanks to some nods to contemporary (Internet) culture. Among the mission highlights are a zombie outbreak (complete with zombie inquisition), becoming part of the War on Terror, and combating an evil plot to release a free game in Tropico by creating your own game -- Angry Toucans. Even if the mission structures are merely a set of goals you can achieve regardless of your favorite style of economic development, they add enough fun to turn the act of starting from scratch -- time and time again -- into an enjoyable and addictive pastime. It's easy to spend an hour or two completing a single mission on the fastest speed (which still isn't that fast), and quick-building a bunch of expensive and fancy looking buildings at the end of a mission can make you go mad with power. It is a bit disappointing to see certain new island maps recycled during the campaign, however. In the cases where it happens, you will at least have a different set of goals and a different starting position, but Tropico is a type of game where if you've found one good solution to the early economic build-up, doing the same thing again on the same map with largely the same resources is not quite as fun the second time around. Besides the 20+ hour campaign, which supports all the other Tropico 4 DLC, the goodies Modern Times brings to the table can be fully enjoyed in the sandbox mode. A simple checkmark allows you to turn the expansion's features on and off before you create a sandbox game, in case you feel nostalgic for those old apartment blocks. Since the release of Tropico 4 on PC, a lot of user-created maps have been uploaded to the servers as well, and these will provide some extra play time if you haven't looked at them for the past few months. Tropico 4: Modern Times gives the core game a much needed content injection, and turns Tropico 4 into a better game. Some additions have a larger impact on Tropican economic planning than others, but Modern Times is well worth checking out for any fan of Tropico. I'm still waiting for that sequel to Tropico 2: Pirate Cove, though.
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After Haemimont rejuvenated the Tropico series with Tropico 3 and its Absolute Power expansion, Tropico 4 ended up being another great city builder, if not a huge leap forward for the series. While the changes to gameplay and...

Review: Anomaly Warzone Earth (XBLA)

Apr 06 // Maurice Tan
Anomaly Warzone Earth (Xbox Live Arcade)Developer: 11 bit StudiosPublisher: 11 bit StudiosReleased: April 6, 2012MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points For the most part, Anomaly Warzone Earth is identical to the PC version we reviewed last year (it's also available for Macs). In a nutshell, you control a Commander who can use abilities to drop support auras (repair, decoy, smoke, bomb), and buy units to form a squad which you then carefully guide on a manually created path through a map dotted with towers. Along the way, money can be collected by destroying towers or shooting money caches, and spent on new units or unit upgrades. It was a fun mechanic at the time, and it still works well on the Xbox 360. Playing it with a controller was already possible in the PC version, and Anomaly was created with a controller in mind, so it's a no-brainer that it's functional enough this time around. It is a bit of a different way to play it, though. [embed]225336:43288[/embed] Directly controlling your Commander's movement is great. It allows you to become more attached to your Commander, rather than clicking him all over an area while you look elsewhere, and in the process it largely removes the need for direct camera control. The ability menu pops up when you press the A button, which pauses the game, and abilities are dropped where your Commander is standing. This method of using abilities might take some getting used to if you either played the PC version with mouse and keyboard, or are more of a micromanagement player of PC real-time strategy games. In Anomaly on PC, you could simply right-click on the exact area where you wanted to place, say, a repair aura. As your Commander walked over to perform the action, it gave you a short amount of time to think about where you wanted to go next. Likewise, clicking on item pickups with the mouse would let you scroll around the map to see what obstacles lie ahead, while your Commander did his thing. Using a controller, you are more or less inclined to stick close to your squad so you can use abilities as soon as possible. Instead of running the calculations to account for the time it takes to walk to an ideal ability drop from whatever ability item you were planning to pick up, you tend to go back and forth to your squad to keep a closer eye on things. On the PC, you also quickly learned to visualize the radius of various abilities in your mind's eye as you moved your mouse around for the perfect ability placement, and it can also take a few mission to fully adjust to the idea that you need to project this mental ability radius over your Commander when you are in direct control of his movements.  That is not to say that the console controls are inadequate, because they are perfectly functional. At worst, players of the original who tried to secure a spot at the top of the leaderboards of the special Steam winter map -- which was insanely hard -- may bemoan the extra button presses required to swap a unit's position in your squad, due to not being able to drag and drop units into position. This map in question is absent from the XBLA version, however, and on anything but the highest difficulty you don't really need to swap unit positions around to keep them alive for long enough to pass a mission. Beside the story mode and the three bonus Squad Assault levels, which make you plan routes to clear "waves" of enemy towers within a set time limit, a new mode featuring six Tactical Trials has been added. Set in a VR training environment, each Tactical Trial is unique and plays like a puzzle version of Anomaly Warzone Earth. These missions can be very challenging, even for Anomaly veterans, as they make you plan ahead and use abilities with even greater care than may be used to. The new mode also offers a lot of variety, ranging from a mission where you start with no abilities at all, to a map with one-way streets, or the inclusion of a VIP unit you have to protect from harm. It's a great addition to the typical style of play, and even though there are only six of them, the Tactical Trials will take you a fair amount of time to complete. Anomaly Warzone Earth is the same excellent game for same price on a new platform, with an extra mode to boot. If you've already played the PC or Mac version, the Tactical Trials alone are not necessarily worth repurchasing the game for -- although you can unlock a Commander Avatar outfit if you like those kinds of things. If you had missed out on it before, then the PC version with its higher resolutions and multiple control scheme options is arguably still the version of choice, although any difference in playstyle preference between the versions may depend on your affinity with PC strategy in general. In case you don't have a computer to play games on, this XBLA version of Anomaly Warzone Earth is just as good the original, and one less reason to avoid putting off playing this game.
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11 bit Studios' Anomaly Warzone Earth was a creative little "tower offense" title, and a big hit on PC and mobile last year. Now it has finally been released on Xbox Live Arcade. Mouse and keyboard controls are out, full game...

Review: Kinect Star Wars

Apr 05 // Maurice Tan
Kinect Star Wars (Xbox 360, Kinect required)Developer: Terminal Reality, Good Science, LucasArts, Microsoft StudiosPublisher: LucasArts, Microsoft StudiosReleased: April 3, 2012MSRP: $49.99 Even though it was once billed as a hardcore Kinect experience, Kinect Star Wars is nothing of the kind. It's meant for family entertainment pure and simple, primarily aimed at the audience that bought Kinect for games like Kinectimals or Kinect Sports. In other words, people with children or perhaps groups of friends who like to goof off with motion games in a social setting. That said, there are plenty of issues to be found that even younglings may have trouble overlooking. A lack of responsiveness is the most glaring problem that pervades many of the offerings in Kinect Star Wars, and the impact on gameplay is most evident in the game's most lengthy story mode, titled Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising. In this mode, you and a co-op partner star as Padawans as they fight through waves of battle droids and Trandoshans, trying to bring an end to some nonsensical nefarious plot set between Episode I and Episode II which doesn't impact the Clone Wars lore in any meaningful way. [embed]225271:43282[/embed] Your lightsaber swings are controlled by waving either your left or right hand around, depending on which you prefer, or with both hands at the hilt. The translation of movements to in-game actions is sadly far from perfect, making it hard to hit a target's head or slash an opponent on the ground. The motion controls can initially result in a form of Kinect waggle, since all you seemingly have to do is land any kind of hits on a target to incapacitate it -- no chopped-off limbs here. However, pace yourself with slow and articulated swings and the game will allow itself to be enjoyed a lot more than if you insist on wildly flailing your arm around. Nevertheless, lightsaber combat is mediocre at best, and not just because of a lack of feedback on your swings. Some types of enemies will use vibroblade knifes of electrostaffs to block your saber strikes, forcing you to jump over them and strike them from behind, block their attack if you can, or dodge to the side and time a counter-attack. Because dodging is practically never recognized correctly, these enemies lead to a lot of frustration as you try to find an opening to land a few hits. On the second and highest difficulty, this leads to a lot of unnecessary deaths as you are hit or kicked in the face without any way to block or evade properly. Fun, it is not. Despite most of Jedi Destiny being on rails, there is some limited movement available. A Force Dash move is at your disposal if you take one step forward with your arms aimed backwards, while your character of choice will walk automatically from scene to scene. As much as it highlights the on-rails aspect of the mode, it never becomes a big impediment on the action, since it's only a few seconds of walking at a time, at worst. Targeting enemies is far more problematic, since you'll be assigned targets you can dash or jump towards, and it can be annoying if you end up fighting multiple tougher types of enemies who will inevitably deal some damage. If you are unlucky, you'll target a Super Battle Droid three times in a row, who will always find a way to kick or punch you unless you keep vaulting over them. The dodge controls are broken enough to ignore it as a reliable evasive maneuver altogether, and the same is true for Force grabs. It's nearly impossible to target a crate or enemy, and only the weakest of enemies can be grabbed to toss around, rendering the move as useless as a pregnant Ewok in battle. On the other hand, whenever Jedi Destiny allows you to do something other than moving from ground target to ground target, it can actually be quite enjoyable. Speeder bike races through the forests of Kashyyyk and the flora of Felucia are entertaining, controlled by holding your arms forwards and banking left and right to move along a narrow path. Space battles, in which you only have to aim a target reticule, are a blast to play, and even feature some of the better set pieces in the prequel trilogy's history as depicted by its films and television shows. Whether you are blasting droid starfighters or capital ship turrets from the turret seat of a YT-2400 light freighter (e.g., Dash Rendar's Outrider), or from a Delta-6 Republic starfighter, it can be strangely empowering in a space battle nerdlust kind of way. Jedi Destiny also offers some occasional nods to the Original Trilogy for Star Wars fans, such as a protocol droid pointing out a faulty power coupling when Chewbacca can't get a ship's hyperdrive to work. Yet for every attempt at appeasing the fans, it has Obi-Wan reference a Sith Master in the time shortly after the events of The Phantom Menace, or throws two random Dathomirian Nightbrothers with Sith lightsabers into the mix. If LucasArts wanted to provide players with a recognizable enemy like Darth Maul, they should have just gone with Savage Opress instead. Even for the more casual of fans, it's a shame that the majority of Jedi Destiny makes you stand, swing, and jump through extended periods of lightsaber combat, as it's by far the weakest link in the entire package. Thankfully, Jedi Destiny is but one of the available modes in Kinect Star Wars. Podracing is an interesting distraction, even if it's once again undermined by excessive control features. Holding out your arms powers up the two engines, while pulling one hand back lets you steer in that direction. Nudge both hands to any side, and you can bash into nearby competitors for some damage. It works remarkably well for the racing aspect itself, but unfortunately that's not all you do in this mode. From time to time you need to pump one hand to the sky to activate a repair bot or laser drone, swing a hand to the side to smack a womprat off your podracer, or clean water from your visor if you hit a moisture vaporator. The problem is, you need those hands to actually steer the damn thing, and performing these distracting actions is a sure way to lose the lead in any race. Rancor Rampage is somewhat of a fleshed-out tech demo, more specifically the monster rampage concept demo seen in one of Kinect's earliest announcement trailers. There is some catharsis to be found here, smashing buildings and grabbing things to throw or munch on, but it can get old rather fast. While there are multiple levels to progress through by earning points in each map, it's more of a throwaway mode to let your child roar and act like a monster -- or annoy the downstairs neighbors -- than anything you'll play more than half an hour at a time. Jedi Duel expands on the occasional "boss" encounters from the Jedi Destiny mode, making you block and parry slow-motion moves in order to fill a bar and launch a counter attack with blows of your own. These duels aren't very fun, but the requirement to execute a nearly flawless series of parries and attacks to unlock more iconic opponents, such as Count Dooku and Darth Vader, is simply ridiculous. Very few players will have the patience to sit through repeated attempts just to get under the required time limit for a Duel, let alone impatient children. Which brings us to the Galactic Dance Off mode. The dancing mode is more or less a lite version of Dance Central, with some tweaks. On-screen prompts for moving a hand or limb in perfect conjunction with the dance moves are a nice addition to the formula, even if registration of badly placed body parts can be spotty from time to time and a training mode is strangely absent. Yes, the adaptation of popular song lyrics to the Star Wars universe can make you cringe when you watch a video of it, but playing it is actually rather fun. There's something silly about the parody approach which elicits scoffing smiles and chuckles rather than making you want to choke your Naboo wife with adolescent anger. Not every song features absolutely terrible lyrics, either, as "We No Speak Huttese" simply features Joh Yowza singing Huttese, and Daft Punk's Aerodynamic has no lyrics whatsoever. Of course, any functional dancing game can be a pleasurable experience, but a lot of the fun in Galactic Dance-off comes from moves and poses which reflect things from the Star Wars movies. Performing the "Bantha Rider" or "Jet Pack" moves is ridiculous enough that you can't help but laugh, and the "Han Shot First" and "New Hope Pose" moves are kind of awesome. If you don't like Just Dance or Dance Central, this mode isn't going to change your mind. For anyone who does like dancing, however, the frivolous nature of the dance moves more than makes up for the cringe factor of the lyrics. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this dance mode spawns an entire series of lyrically adjusted dance games. As an aside, the higher difficulties you unlock offer many different moves that are a lot more varied than what you would ordinarily be exposed to if you would only play each song only once. Alas, Kinect Star Wars as a package is a mixed, if varied bag of motion tricks. For everything that works well, something else ruins the experience. Kids might have fun with Rancor Rampage and with Jedi Destiny on the easiest setting, but any single adult has no reason to bother with it. Podracing would have been better without all the nonsense to distract you from racing, Duels are best ignored altogether, and dancing is such a universally human expression that you can't really go wrong with it. Despite its flaws, it's a mostly inoffensive title and one that you may find yourself hating far less than Anakin hates sand; you might even enjoy it. The franchise didn't die after the prequel trilogy was released, and if it had, we wouldn't have been able to watch Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars cartoon and the later seasons of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars CGI TV series, or play Republic Commando. Kinect Star Wars isn't going to kill the franchise, nor is it the worst videogame ever made; it's just not a very good one. In those areas where Kinect Star Wars does work, it can be a lot of fun to play, and this makes it so disappointing that it so often falters elsewhere. In the end, how much fun you will have with it is going to depend largely on whether or not you have kids to keep occupied while they play with their friends, or how desperately you need something other than Dance Central 2 to play with your own friends.
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Following a few ramshackle E3 presentations, expectations for Kinect Star Wars were tempered at best. After footage of the game's Galactic Dance Off mode, featuring a dancing Han Solo at the carbonite pit, hit YouTube, these ...

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New Reckoning DLC 'Teeth of Naros' releases April 17


Apr 04
// Maurice Tan
A set of new achievements already hinted at new downloadable content for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, set in the Teeth of Naros area. EA and 38 Studios have now officially annouced the DLC to be titled "Teeth of Naros," a l...

Review: Birds of Steel

Apr 02 // Maurice Tan
Birds of Steel (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3)Developer: Gaijin EntertainmentPublisher: KonamiReleased: March 13, 2012MSRP: $39.99 Set during World War II, Birds of Steel offers a huge array of aircraft to unlock and fly, each with their own specific feel, stats, and a high level of interior and exterior detail. That Gaijin really loves their aircraft comes as no surprise, and they truly deliver in this regard. Players who look to Birds of Steel for historical authenticity will feel rewarded to say the least. The dedication to such authenticity also impacts the controls and combat mechanics which, depending on what you are looking for in a console flight sim, may put you on either end of the fun spectrum. Difficulty is defined by the flight controls, and comes in three variations -- Simplified, Realistic, and Simulator -- while options for limited fuel and ammo are also at your disposal. Realistic mode is the go-to mode Birds of Steel feels best tailored to, even if it is undeniably hard. Planes will shake under the strain of speed and winds, making it hard to aim and lead your targets, while overzealously trying to make turns without regard for aerodynamics and airspeed will see you unceremoniously stall and spiral out of control. G-forces will blacken or redden your screen, which is a nice visual touch that is long overdue on consoles. [embed]224879:43232[/embed] Simulator mode cranks the physics up a notch, and removes HUD info to make it nearly impossible to tell your airspeed without looking down at your instruments in the cockpit view. On the other hand, Simplified mode is what anyone new to the genre will feel most at home with, removing stall issues and generally feeling more like your typical arcade World War II flight sim. The flight control systems that lie beneath the hood make for an impressive feel, turning the mere act of controlling your airplane into as much of a challenge as actually completing objectives. Flying feels dangerous, as if humankind wasn't meant to be inside a tin can with wings and guns attached to it, let alone using it to wage war in the skies over conflict zones. Try to make a dive-bomb run on Simulator, and you'll even need to extend the air-brakes to control your speed lest the stress of aerodynamic physics turns your plane into a heap of metal, crashing to the Earth below. The caveat of the distinction between the different control difficulties is that most players who are more casual fans of the genre will stick to the Simplified scheme, rendering most of the game a rather boring and unimpressive chore. Meanwhile, the Simulator option may offer exactly what the "hardcore" crowd is looking for, but feels made for flightstick and throttle controls rather than a gamepad. Even the slightest nudge to the side at the wrong time can lead to a complete loss of control and a seemingly inevitable drop towards death. There is always the option to switch to one of the other three planes in your wing, but crashing four times in a row when you are merely trying to make a turn is a less-than-welcome slap on the face if you are struck with a gamepad. This discrepancy between realism and arcade sadly permeates most of Birds of Steel's offerings. Combat in most single-player missions revolves around reaching a checkpoint, watching an in-engine cutscene of planes flying to their target, followed by shooting a number of enemy planes or destroying a number of sea and land targets. Then you return to your carrier or airstrip checkpoint, and the mission is over. Dogfights are meant to portray realism rather than arcade fun, so don't expect to singlehandedly wipe out entire squadrons of enemy planes on your own. Shooting down any enemy plane at an angle often feels more like the result of a lucky shot than that of complete mastery over the combat mechanics. With unlimited ammo, you can drop one to three bombs before you have to wait a minute to "reload," further reducing arcade fun if you are seeking it. Suffice it to say, arcade combat flight sim aficionados should look elsewhere when it comes down to the combat mechanics. It feels made for the harder control scheme options to maintain a fine balance between skill and challenge, and the Simplified controls just don't offer enough of a challenge for most of the game. On the upside, fighting your way through Birds of Steel's single-player components is a pretty lengthy endeavor, with a 1941-1942 Pacific campaign available for play from both the USA and Japanese viewpoints. Aside from the two campaigns, a wealth of single missions can be chosen for the Mediterranean theater, Pacific Ocean theater, and Western and Eastern European fronts. While the campaigns and missions are decent fun to play through, the mission design is disappointing. Each mission does make you feel like you are simply flying a sortie to do a single bombing run or Combat Air Patrol, but in some missions, flying back and forth almost takes more time than you'll spend actually seeing any action. Eventually, single-player may start to bore you as mission after mission begin to feel all too similar. However, there are multiplayer and co-op options abound in Birds of Steel, and it's only here that everything the game has to offer starts to unveil itself. In fact, the majority of the content is hidden away from solo-only players' eyes. Some Single Missions can be played online, while there is always the option to pick AI wingmen in a private match, or completely play offline. A Dynamic Campaign lets you rewrite history (cooperatively if you choose) during eight battles, such as the Battle of Midway or the attack on Pearl Harbor. Success or failure in missions at each "turn" of a dynamic campaign will affect how the battle as a whole will play out in successive missions, meaning you can easily lose yourself playing a dynamic campaign for an extended session of play. A mission editor with plenty of options allows you to further extend your playtime. Although the Missions are an appreciated bonus, competitive multiplayer might be the best aspect of Birds of Steel. As much as the realism detracts from having fun in single-player, multiplayer manages to take the best aspects of the realism Gaijin strove for and turns it into an exhilarating, enjoyable experience. Compared to shooting down AI planes on Simulator difficulty, which is already a challenge when your target reticule moves all over the place, killing a human player in multiplayer takes it to a whole other level. It's hard enough to land even a few hits, let alone enough to take out a player, and while you may not get double-digit kills in an online match, each kill is rewarding and feels like an achievement. Leaderboards, time-specific online events, and tournaments with certain requirements all increase the odds that the online playerbase will remain as active as it is at the time of writing; no mean feat, as the lobbies in console flight sims are often as empty as space itself, a week after a title's launch. Experience points, which can be gained in limited amounts in single-player, are far more easily accumulated in multiplayer, and a hangar filled with dozens of fighters and bombers for different countries in the war is at your disposal to unlock with the XP you collect. Birds of Steel's single-player offerings are rather dull compared to other games in the genre, including Gaijin's own Birds of Prey, but the online components are unrivaled. If you are new to console flight sims, this isn't going to be the best place to start. On the other hand, if you bought a flight stick for your console and have been continuously disappointed by titles in the past two years, this is exactly what you have been waiting for. It's a game meant for simulator fans who like to play hard and play together, and one that is only available on consoles. (Presumably because IL-2 exists on PC.) Those willing to commit to Birds of Steel will remain occupied for a long time. Don't let the option of a more arcade-style control scheme lure you in, however, as it will leave you largely unsatisfied if you are expecting something like Ace Combat. Birds of Steel doesn't quite manage to marry arcade and simulator crowds in a single console title, but it does pull off being the best online combat flight simulator on consoles, bar none.
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Combat flight simulators, like real-time strategy games, are a resilient breed which has always struggled to find its place on consoles. A mouse and keyboard control scheme is almost always preferred over a gamepad when it co...

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Imperium Galactica II invades iPads today


Mar 30
// Maurice Tan
Before working on games like SkyDrift, Sine Mora, and Black Knight Sword, Digital Reality was best known for their excellent 4X titles. Arguably the best of their space empire strategy games, Imperium Galactica II, is now av...
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Awesomenauts is set for liftoff on the first days of May


Mar 30
// Maurice Tan
Dutch indie studio Ronimo Games has unveiled the release date for the rather excellent-looking Awesomenauts. The 2D Multiplayer Online Battle Arena title will hit the PlayStation Store in North America on May 1, 2012. On May...
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Tactics Ogre is half price on the EU PlayStation Store


Mar 30
// Maurice Tan
One of the reasons why I picked up a PlayStation Vita, other than submitting to gadget lust, was the prospect of catching up on those games I had missed out on by never owning a PSP. Some great titles, like Patapon 2, Half Mi...
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The plot thickens in a new Game of Thrones RPG trailer


Mar 29
// Maurice Tan
Just in time for the start of Season 2 of Game of Thrones, Atlus and Focus Home Interactive unleashed a new "epic plot" trailer for Cyanide's upcoming role-playing game. After watching the trailer four times, I still have no...
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Achievements hint at Kollossael new Reckoning DLC


Mar 27
// Maurice Tan
A list of achievements for yet to be announced downloadable content for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has appeared on Xbox 360 Achievements. The five achievements look similar in nature to those found in the recently released...
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Canadian Videogame Awards finalists announced


Mar 27
// Maurice Tan
Why yes, there is such a thing as the Canadian Video Game Awards! The 3rd annual edition of the awards show will take place in Vancouver on April 21st, and coincides with Fan Expo Vancouver (limited seating available to Fan E...

Preview: One more turn into the Fray

Mar 26 // Maurice Tan
Fray (PC [previewed], Mac)Developer: Brain CandyPublisher: Brain CandyRelease: May, 2012 As Brain Candy admits, when you think "simultaneous turn-based strategy," it's hard to get around the Frozen Synapse comparison nowadays. Since they weren't aware of another game in the genre being developed, the team's development of their core ideas was never influenced by last year's surprise strategy hit. Not that there is any ill will between Brain Candy and Mode 7. Far from it -- they maintain a friendly relationship of cooperation as only indie studios with somewhat competing titles can. Fray's focus is on taking the turn-based format and making it into a multiplayer game which marries the online playstyle you traditionally expect from first-person shooters. That means respawns and action points, deathmatch modes with simul-turn resolution, and class-based teams coupled with character customization. It sounds too crazy to actually work, but surprisingly enough, it does. Fray is a top-down game in 3D, meaning you can zoom in a little and rotate the camera, but you'll stick with a zoomed out view for battlefield clarity. While the game doesn't show it, it is made up of hexagons to indicate how far you can move each turn. For the purpose of this preview, a round of deathmatch was played using an alpha build of the game. After selecting four out of six available classes (Tank, Medic, Sniper, Support, Shadow, and Assault), each player's team of unique units is randomly placed on a spawn point somewhere on the map. Each turn, a player has a limited amount of time to plan his actions. Each unit has a set amount of action points, indicated by a bar at the bottom of the screen, with which it can move, perform a special action, or shoot. You can move a certain amount of hexes, shoot targets within range of your weapon, etc. At the end of a turn, both players watch as their planned actions play out simultaneously in real time. So far, that might sound very familiar to anyone who has played a simul-turn game before, but Fray adds enough to make it feel fresh. For starters, units can run out of ammo. As long as a unit is within a Support class's area of effect, indicated by a circle if you hover over the unit, it will receive fresh ammo. A Tank is tough unit to get rid of in a combat situation, but it doesn't just depend on health and armor alone. Any unit who is within a Tank's area of effect will have some of the damage it receives diverted to the Tank. Medics heal with a medic gun (think Team Fortress 2) and can drop a healing turret on the battlefield, but only if that class is configured to have a healing turret as equipment. By configuring your classes, you can tailor your units to carry different weapons and equipment to fit your tactics. Using a piece of equipment, such as placing a turret, may cost you a few action points, but it's always nice to have a turret dominating a section of the map. Cover works by breaking line of sight, making it very hard for an enemy to hit you; the line of attack indicated by clicking on a target simply stops when it hits cover protecting an enemy. Different stances don't serve as simple stand, crouch, and prone positions, but instead give you different bonuses depending on your class. Some classes might use a stance to move faster, while others can use an "attack move" stance to shoot at any target they encounter, without having to plan attacks in advance. Maps even offer bonuses you can pick up by moving over them, giving a unit a temporary stat increase, health, ammo, and the like -- bonuses you will need if you opt not to include a class that provides healing and ammunition to your team. As you can probably guess, it leads to a game of tactical movements and actions where you want to lure or push your opponent to move into pre-positioned lanes of fire, block off his escape, circle around to flank his support units, or play around with established military strategies. If a unit dies, you can choose to respawn it at certain spawn points on the map, which in turn means that any unit you kill in a deathmatch mode might end up harassing your rear a few turns later. To protect the pacing in a multiplayer turn-based game, each turn has a default 90-second timer (this timer can be adjusted to shorter and longer settings) which makes planning turns fast-paced without feeling too rushed. There's certainly a bit of a learning curve in the first few turns, as you experiment with your various classes, weapons, stances, and equipment, but anyone familiar with the genre should have no problem easing into it. Once you do, it can become a game of perfecting how you use your classes, and how to mess with your opponent's head. The relatively fast pace and the way combat is resolved makes it feel like your are the commander of a squad playing a round of team-based multiplayer in a shooter. It's nothing like Natural Selection 2, but the type of play and tactics seen in both online shooters and top-down turn-based strategy games has certainly made a good transition to the format Fray is experimenting with. If you hadn't guess by now, Fray is a pure multiplayer game. Brain Candy would love to create a full single-player campaign, but the amount of options at your units' disposal makes creating a proper AI very problematic and time-consuming for the small team. If you're wondering how this is different than Frozen Synapse, it is because units' action in that game revolves around only a few basic actions: walk, aim, crouch or stand, and fire -- a small enough amount of permutations to be able to cope with when programming AI. Add in different weapon choices, equipment, and different stances per class, and you can get a picture of what you would have to deal with when creating a working AI for Fray. Besides deathmatch and team deathmatch, various other modes will be available in the full game when it launches. Players can choose a corporation to play as, which can yield XP bonuses depending on your corporation's performance over a period of time (e.g., weekly bonuses for the top corporation). Leveling up units will also unlock new weapons and equipment, and different tactical bonuses can be gained by ending a turn quickly or by using a stance, for instance allowing you to move a little bit faster in the next turn. One thing that struck me was how mod-able the maps are to suit different styles of play. Even on a map with an open environment and a few bits of cover, the difference between deathmatch, team deathmatch, and King of the Hill modes will easily affect how you play the game, and the potential for many modes and fans coming up with crazy ideas seems limitless. Currently, maps are spread across three "environments"; Paris, the typical cityscape with streets and urban trash to hide behind, a laboratory setting with corridors and gardens for more claustrophobic combat, and a Virtual Reality environment. Being a big fan of Frozen Synapse, it looks like Fray will have little trouble co-existing alongside it with its multiplayer focus and completely different styles of play. Fray is in the last weeks of alpha at the moment, where early fans who pre-ordered the game have been helping out with development and bug tracking. A beta phase is planned to start in a few weeks, and players who end up buying the game after playing it in beta will keep their XP and stats. Like Mode 7's darling, there will also be a "buy one, get one free" scheme to lure a friend into serving as XP fodder while you throw your head back and laugh maniacally. [If you want to know more about Fray's development, take a look at Brain Candy's posts on the Community Blogs!]
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Like so many "older" gamers who grew up during the X-COM glory days of turn-based strategy almost 20 years ago, the folks at Parisian indie studio Brain Candy have been craving some good old TBS action. Not just any kind, bec...

Review: Amalur: Reckoning - The Legend of Dead Kel

Mar 26 // Maurice Tan
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - The Legend of Dead Kel (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PS3, PC)Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge GamesPublisher: 38 Studios, Electronic ArtsReleased: March 20, 2012MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points, $9.99 Dead Kel is somewhat of a notorious and undead scallywag, enough to deserve his own legend in Rathir. He has been raiding precious supply ships important to the war effort, so it's up to you to embark on what sounds like a suicide mission; travel to the island of Gallows End from which no ship returns, and hunt down Dead Kel. As if your prospects couldn't get any worse, you are accompanied by a new character, Captain Brattigan, who is as naive as she is a nymphomaniac who can't swim, with a reputation of wrecking her ships to boot. It comes as no surprise that you end up shipwrecked on the island of Gallows End, which isn't quite worth calling a continent, but comparable in size to the desert lands of Detyre. You are not the first to crawl ashore on Gallows End like a drowned rat, as other shipwrecked survivors from decades past have carved out a living on the island in the form of the small village of Cape Solace. All is not right, however, as the village is full of zealots who are mysteriously tied to a deity named Akara, who protects them from the rage of Dead Kel. [embed]224522:43167[/embed] The main quest of "The Legend of Dead Kel" is your standard Reckoning fare. You are sent to different locations on the island in your quest to find the dread pirate and a way home across the seas, and encounter a few of his boss henchmen in the process. Along the way, you learn more about the God Akara, the village's history and religious rites, and unweave a few strands of Fate wherever you go. If you enjoyed Reckoning, you'll simply find more of the same kind of combat and exploration in this DLC's main quest. However, it's the side-quests, additions to the Reckoning formula, and the small touches which provide the most, and more novel, forms of entertainment. The side-quests provide some of the more humorous conversations and thought-provoking quests in the entire game, with many a darker and adult theme permeating life on Gallows End, even if these themes are ultimately not explored to their full potential. Messages in bottles can be found across the idyllic shipwreck island, and pieces of treasure maps can be found in chests to lead you to dig spots for shiny new loot. While the search for collectibles keeps you occupied and eager to explore, much of the fun in "Dead Kel" comes from the completely optional renovation of Gravehal Keep; a ruined fortress of the Dverga, a race of Dwarven mariners who last ruled the island. The monster-infested Gravehal Keep looms over the Cape Solace, which can be claimed for your own. What is without a doubt the best addition to Reckoning is that you can upgrade and populate this ancient fortress to turn it into our own castle from which you can eventually rule like a king. With each upgrade, which costs materials you'll easily find while completing quests, a new wing or shop will open up and new NPCs will offer distractions. A scout can be sent off to collect various items and materials from unsalvaged wrecks, a combat trainer will present you with gold if you quickly kill creatures in a makeshift arena pen, and a bona fide animal trainer can provide you with pets if you supply him with meat, fish, and bugs. These pets offer bonuses to your stats depending on which one you choose. Feed them some more food, and these bonuses will increase. It's a silly bonus addition made sillier when you send the animal trainer to find and domesticate one of the new enemies in "Dead Kel," the Root Golem. This is basically a troll, but a kind that can tunnel underground to move towards you, or grab Boggarts from below the earth to throws at you. Yes, it's Maokai from League of Legends. Eventually, Gravehal Keep offers a host of characters, like a librarian who will translate ancients books you find on your travels on Gallows End, NPCs on the island you can direct to seek safety in your keep to serve as shopkeepers and armorers, and other characters who will offer rewards you wouldn't expect after having played through Reckoning. Some of it is fan service, while other elements such as being able to sit on the throne and listen to petitions make stabs at Fable III's end-game. The thing is, while the whole range of activities supplied by Gravehal Keep can feel a bit like doing fetch quests at times, much of it is supremely fulfilling to waste your time on, and a lot more entertaining than being the King ever was in Lionhead Studios' "innovative" title. More than anything, "The Legend of Dead Kel" offers no shortage of fun and silliness. Captain Brattigan is crafted to be annoying with a high-pitched voice, yet you can't help but come to like her. This is quite an achievement, since not many characters in Amalur are actually likable or even worth remembering the name of. (Go ahead, think of five memorable characters with actual clothes.) Gallows End becomes a home away from home in the world of Amalur, where the island's areas aren't just spaces to run through as you mop up quests in an efficient order, but instead become the locales where you found a hand inside a crab, or where you were asked to provide meat to feed chickens. It experiments with additions we might see in the Amalur franchise down the line, and a sense that the developers working on the DLC had a lot of freedom to come up with, and flesh out, as many crazy ideas as they could. Unless they were directed to do so, which is arguably just as good. On the downside, Dead Kel himself is remarkably boring. The story behind how his fate is tied to Gallows End is decent if unsurprising, but the resolution of the main quest leaves you unfulfilled and wondering if there couldn't have been better ways to decide how Fate is inevitably disrupted by your hand. It's hard to turn an undead pirate captain into the blandest part of an island adventure, but somehow they've managed to do so. The new loot is a mixed bag, depending on how much you've already played Reckoning. Weapons are not as good as you may have already crafted or found, although some of the new items feature some cool new designs. For the loot-hunters, rings and amulets offer a safer better bet of finding improvements for your build of choice, as does the wealth of blacksmithing components you'll collect throughout your adventures on Gallows End. What could have easily been "just another bunch of quests on a new location" has been crafted into a variety of enjoyable elements to occupy yourself with. It's quite long, too, easily taking you six hours or more to complete nearly everything there is to do on the new island. Moreover, it offers an excellent opportunity to try out a new build if you've been stocking up powerful equipment in your stash, but never bothered to commit to a full respec of your abilities before. The additions to the Reckoning formula and the distinct style of the island of Gallows End serve to turn "The Legend of Dead Kel" into the DLC equivalent of a tropical island vacation. It's a fun trip to a relaxing setting far away from the Crystal War, which lets you explore yet another piece of the Amalur's world at your leisure.
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One might wonder if a game like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning really needs a downloadable content expansion along the lines of "The Legend of Dead Kel," given the enormous amount of quests and content already available i...

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BioShock movie on hold as director may have left


Mar 26
// Maurice Tan
The ill-fated BioShock movie has seemingly been Halo'd. Gore Verbinski had already stepped down to become the project's producer, leaving Juan Carlor Fresnadillo to fill the director seat. Speaking to Indiewire, Fresnadillo s...

Preview: Sieging dungeon gates in Confrontation

Mar 24 // Maurice Tan
Confrontation (PC)Developer: CyanidePublisher: Focus Home InteractiveRelease: April 5, 2012 Following a lengthy introduction cinematic featuring perhaps the most entertainingly serious narrator of the past decade, you find yourself in the ravaged world of Aarklash. There is a war going on (peacetime sucks for action games) and your noble Griffin forces are battling the evil Scorpions for one reason or another. Confrontation is somewhat of a bastard child of Baldur's Gate and Dungeon Siege, using the active pause role-playing combat system of the former and the pace of progression through levels of the latter. With four characters under your command, and a wealth of characters to choose from in the full game, you can customize your force to fit your play style as you wish. Many characters fall in the typical tank, priest, mage, rogue, and other class categories, which helps to give you a basic idea of what the hell you're doing. [embed]224477:43162[/embed] Similar to Baldur's Gate, simply selecting all units and right-clicking on one enemy in a group of enemies will quickly lead to at least one party member's death. In many cases, you need to pause the game (spacebar) and select your individual heroes, followed by utilizing their special abilities and spells to give you the necessary edge in battle. Abilities and spells cost energy, which comes in the form of SP, FP, and MP. MP (Mana) regenerates at a steady pace, while FP (Faith Points) regenerates faster when the hero is surrounded by allies. In practice, it means you can cast one or two spells at the start of a battle, with additional tactical options becoming available again depending on what classes you have in your squad, and how your squad is positioned. These games can be immensely fun and satisfying to fun to play, especially when it's a PC title that throws as many micromanagement options at you as you can handle. Confrontation does seem to be lacking in a few key areas that would've made this a surefire hit, however. Disregarding the slightly aged graphical prowess available on even the highest settings, Confrontation insists on offering you a wealth of tactical options and menus without providing you adequate means to use them. While the F1-F4 keys let you swap between characters, and the same hotkeys are bound to each character's individual abilities, it can be hard to distinguish between both your own characters and the abilities they have. Sometimes one ability has to be cast on an ally to provide a buff, and another ability that looks similar is in fact an offensive spell you need to cast on an enemy target. Likewise, you start out with a team that quickly gains access to quite a few area combat buffs, but what they actually do and how they affect how combat plays out isn't always very clearly communicated. This problem of a lack of clarity is found elsewhere in the UI, too. The character sheet and inventory menus seem thrown together without much thought for best practices in usability, and there are a lot of aspects to tailor for each character. Then again, for those who will end up dedicating themselves to Confrontation, the amount of customization available might be a boon. Each character has two weapon sets (melee and ranged, essentially) to fit their position in a squad. Sometimes the terrain doesn't allow for open battle, forcing you to think about which characters to swap to ranged weaponry in tight quarters. Chests can yield weapon and armor points, which let you upgrade one of your character's proficiencies. Do you want to focus on melee or ranged weaponry? Shields and defense or swords and offense? Physical damage reduction or magical armor? These decisions are made by choosing upgrade paths as you level up, offering a deep customization system for each hero. When leveling up a character, many of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons type of primary attributes can be increased. Wisdom and Intelligence are somewhat representative of the priest and mage attributes you might be familiar with, but they work slightly different in Confrontation. Both attributes provide bonuses to different types of colored magic -- schools of magic if you will. Depending on whether you are building a support character whose focus is on casting buffs, or an offensive mage focusing on offensive magic, choosing the right attributes to level will likely end up being one of the most important aspects for your builds. Of course, specific skills can also be upgraded as you level up to increase their power. Confrontation offers some interesting ideas by taking this approach to customization depth, providing a potential for a good amount of replayability and freedom to choose and create your ultimate squad of badasses, and seemingly offering hours worth of leveling and upgrading your heroes to perfection. It's just a bit of a shame that it doesn't quite look the part for this day and age, and that many of the UI and control systems prevent you from smoothly progressing through series of fights. Despite this sense that the foundation of gameplay systems is solid, you can't help but feel like the title could have used another year of polish to make it more accessible to play, and more enjoyable in the process. Like with Cyanide's A Game of Thrones: Genesis, there are some excellent ideas here while the execution is less worthy of praise. With the release date coming up in two weeks, there's a tiny chance that things may have been vastly improved over the build used for this preview, albeit not a very large one. Confrontation is worth keeping an eye on if you are a lover of the genre who is willing to overlook the game's faults in favor of some hardcore top-down RPG action, but it will probably have limited appeal outside of its niche audience.
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Based on the tabletop wargame, Cyanide's Confrontation brings the fantasy world of Aarklash to the virtual realm. The over-productive French studio which used to primarily work on the Cycling Manager series has diversified it...


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