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Grand Ages: Medieval brings open-world strategic gameplay to PS4

Aug 05 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]297244:59819:0[/embed] Grand Ages: Medieval (PC, PS4 [previewed])Developer: Gaming MindsPublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease Date: PC September 25, 2015 / PS4 September 29 Much like its predecessor, Grand Ages: Rome, Medieval allows for total freedom in how you build your empire and expand your reach. Though Rome itself was a major player during its heyday, the empire's time has passed, and now the kingdoms throughout Europe, the British Isles, Northern Africa, and the Middle East aim to leave their mark on the world. With both a narrative campaign and free mode to tackle, players can build their kingdom in any way they see fit. Dubbed as an "open world grand strategy economy' game by the developers, they were very adamant about this title being something more than a traditional RTS game. With the freedom in how you engage with allies, tackle challenges, initiate trade and wartime agreements, and eliminate the opposition all up to your own playstyle, you're given an enormous amount of leeway in how you stake your claim throughout the land. In the campaign mode, players take on the role of Leon Versselios, a young ruler in central Europe who must take over his kingdom after the death of his father. Essentially, this campaign serves as the tutorial and teaches players how to establish towns, trade with neighboring cities, gather resources, scout nearby lands to expand reach, negotiate alliances, and prepare for war against foes when negotiation fails. As you build your nation, Leon will encounter many allies that seek alliances with him and his kingdom, but over time, many events could sour relations and turn neighboring kingdoms to seek out what is yours. As you expand, you're treated to animated cutscenes showing recent relations with allies and the morale of family members and citizens of the kingdom. While there is freedom to be had, you are guided along to an extent in the campaign. According to the developers, the narrative mode can take upwards to 10-15 hours to complete, and features many twists and turns that will keep you guessing. However, once you've reached a certain point in the campaign, which concludes Leon's core story, you're allowed to continue his rise to power at your leisure and continue with your expansion. This also serves as a great segue into where the true game begins. In the open world mode, you can choose a custom character and starting location, and begin your expansion as you see fit. This mode is where most players will spend their time in Grand Ages, as it allows for your to create your story and show the neighboring civilizations how your empire will shape the known world. During my session, I was dropped into a 20+ hour save file. I was initially a bit overwhelmed by how much data there was to keep track of. With many different kingdoms, many of which were allies, and some neutral or hostile, you'll have to keep a close eye on which ones need assistance or require swift action against. But it's not just people you'll have to worry about -- the kingdoms will have to contend with mother nature as well. Earthquakes, thunderstorms, volcanoes, famine, and even the bubonic plague are major threats that will call for immediate action. While these sorts of games are home on PC, the PS4 was able to hand everything quite well. The user interface has been slightly modified to accommodate the controller setup, but overall it's largely the same game as its PC counterpart. While it's very menu intensive, I found it easy to get into once I went through the motions and learned all the tricks needed to engage. There's truly no other game like this on PS4, and it'll definitely please the more hardcore-minded strategy gamers looking for a new title on console.
Grand Ages: Medieval photo
Don't call it an RTS
Last year, I went hands-on with Grand Ages: Medieval, a civilization builder set during the Medieval era. Coming from the developers of Port Royale 3 and Rise of Venice, they've moved onto a bigger stage of Europe. During a t...

Review: Tropico 5

May 05 // Robert Summa
Tropico 5 (Mac, PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox 360) Developer: Kalypso MediaPublisher: Kalypso MediaReleased: April 28, 2015 (PS4)MSRP: $59.99 Tropico 5 is a learning experience. How you choose to learn is completely up to you. There is a mission and campaign mode that will certainly steer you in the right direction, but that didn't appeal to me and I suspect most will want to do more than that as well. As a Civ junkie, I don't like to be limited with my creations -- in that, when a specific mission ends, so does your island. For me, sandbox mode is where I spent most of my time and where I would imagine most players will. Sandbox is the true meat and substance within Tropico 5. Not only can you set your win conditions, but you can choose between multiple economic and political difficulty levels, starting era, the money initially available (unlimited is also an option) and the number of citizens that start on your island. But probably even more critical to your island's success is the land itself. While you will have plenty of pre-made islands to choose from, there is also a map generator that offers endless combinations of whatever creation you want -- for example, you can choose between different sized-islands and the amount of resources available. Even if you skip much of the campaign, you will still be able to learn as you go. Within the game itself is a sort of quest function where specific tasks will need to be completed. Whether it be to build a library or extra military buildings, the game does an excellent job of teaching while doing. For someone like me who hates to read directions or endless strategy guides (preferring to figure stuff out on my own), this is a perfect implementation. But it's not just the quests that will guide you. The detailed faction and happiness statistics will help you be the leader you want to be. There are various factions all vying for greatness and it's your job as leader to finely balance what you want for your island and what your people actually want and need. To help you lead, there is a dynasty system where you can name and set specific management roles to created characters that will give bonuses to buildings based on their specific abilities -- there are generic managers, but you can't level those up like you can dynasty members. For example, you can have a celebrity manager that is best suited for hotels or you can have a magnate who works well with oil and mining buildings. These dynasty members are part of El Presidente's extended family and can benefit you greatly within the game. Ignoring them or their abilities will only make your leadership that much more challenging. Of course, it's not just your island you have to worry about. Tropico 5 is also a nation builder. Within it, you'll have to juggle the trade of exports and imports and appeasing the Russians while at the same time not pissing off the Americans. As time moves on from the Colonial Era to the Modern Era, you will have even more nations and scenarios to deal with. There are many situations in your virtual island experience that feel like they mirror how a real nation and leader needs to function. Tropico 5 is a constant balancing act and a game filled with trial and error. You should be warned, if you find yourself to be a Civ addict, then you will quickly find that Tropico 5 offers the same kind of grab. Hours melt away. As you complete one task, something else comes up that you feel drastically needs your attention. The amount of management, while it can seem overwhelming, is really the draw and appeal of the game. There is a multiplayer component, but really, unless you want to build an island with a friend or desperately want to compete against others, you probably aren't going to bother. It works, so that's all most players can really ask for when it comes to multiplayer within nation builders. The game is not without its minor faults or seemingly-impossible challenges. While I do keep the pace of time in its most forward position, it never felt like I could appease or completely stop rebel attacks or uprisings. These occur when citizens are unhappy or you have specific constitution options active, but no matter what, I found myself dealing with this constant nuisance. Also, there were occasional save issues. In fairness, I played the majority of my time with Spotify running in the background, so whether or not that sometimes caused games not to be saved, I don't know. It doesn't happen often, but it can be devastating if you're not paying attention and haven't saved in a while. Even though there were no real issues with the controls themselves, perfectly placing roads can take some getting used to, but it doesn't strongly detract from the game. While Tropico 5 isn't the game-of-the-year masterpiece of a generation, it's a more-than serviceable sim and strategy title that can satisfy a grossly under-served genre within the console community. If you love SimCity and Civilization and are dying for something similar on your PS4, then there really is no reason not to have and enjoy this game to its fullest extent. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tropico 5 review photo
It's good to be the king
City and civilization games on consoles are a rare thing. I'm not exactly sure why that is, but my guess would be that traditionally, these games only enjoy their moderate success on PC. Whether it be the limitations of conso...

Tropico 5 photo
Tropico 5

Tropico 5 is like crack for your PS4

Multiplayer impressions coming soon
Apr 27
// Robert Summa
I'm a sucker for city-building and Civ-like games. Since the very early days of SimCity and SimTower, I've poured countless hours into building my virtual communities and empires. With Tropico 5 now ported over to the PlaySta...

Dungeons II takes a humorous approach to being the bad guy

Nov 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Dungeons II (PC [Previewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: RealmForgePublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease Date: Q1 2015 Set in a Medieval-fantasy world full of humans and orcs on the brink of war, you play as the Dungeon Lord. Due to a magical spell, you are bound to your throne in a cave, and must rely on your minions to do your bidding. With the humans drawing closer to your realm, you must break the spell by expanding your resources and your army in order to fortify your dungeon, while retaking territory from the humans on the surface. While this may sound as generic as it gets, and it certainly does at first glance, Dungeons II takes great pride in defying expectations and subverting them. During my first hour, I found that Dungeons II felt very much like a parody of generic fantasy/adventure games. Many of the tropes and cliches are mocked and made light of, despite adhering to them in humorous fashion. Moreover, Kevan Brighting, the Narrator from The Stanley Parable, offers his talents here by breaking the fourth-wall to mock player's slow progress, and even going after the video games ratings system. I was always entertained throughout, and a lot of that had to do with the game's comedic tone.[embed]283823:56328:0[/embed]As the sequel to the original Dungeons, you're tasked with expanding the scope and scale of your dungeon, while keeping your minions happy. As you send your lesser underlings to create rooms for resources, and digging for gold, you have to monitor their happiness levels or else they'll revolt. By building breweries, you can keep them drunk and content, while paying for their services as well. As you build your base of operations, you'll eventually be visited by humans from the surface, looking to see what all the commotion is about. From here, you'll have to set traps and send out stronger minions to confront them and protect the Dungeon Lord.But here is where things get a little different. Once you've built the necessary resources and have a sizable force, you can send your minions up to the surface to retake territory. Switching over from Dungeon Keeper gameplay to RTS style mechanics similar to WarCraft or Dawn of War, the pacing changes up considerably. From here, you can battle your foes and sack their villages, turning the whimsical and lush environment, to barren and scorched wastelands.I was very impressed with how seamlessly Dungeons II transitions between the two different styles of gameplay. You can switch between the two on the fly with no loading whatsoever, which makes alternating between battles on the surface and making sure your minions in the dungeon are collecting resources very simple. Though be sure not to divide your forces so readily. If your send all your offensive minions outside, you can potentially leave yourself open to attack, as the lesser minions in the dungeon cannot defend themselves or the Dungeon Lord.Eventually, the Dungeon Lord and his forces will grow in power and come into conflict with other foes of the fantasy world, such as Dwarves and Elves, and they'll utilizes skills and tactics that will put abilities as the lord of evil to the test. During my session, I came into contact with a tribe of goblins hiding out from the Humans. Realizing that their resources would be put to better use elsewhere, the  Lord recruited them and used their tinkering skills to build devices to defend the dungeon.Even though my time with the game wasn't as long as I would've hoped, I came away pretty pleased with what I experienced. Though I'm generally not a fan of RTS titles, I did enjoy my time with Dungeons II. I was very much impressed with the sense of humor on display. It's always great to play a medieval-fantasy game that doesn't take itself seriously, and even makes some light-hearted jabs at the genre.With much more of the game in store, and including four-player online mode, Dungeons II looks to be a very solid and unique take on the classic Dungeon Keeper gameplay. If you're eager for a game where you play as the bad guy, then you'll want to keep this one on your radar.
Dungeons II photo
Make way for the villain
Being the bad guy has its perks. With an entire force of orcs, goblins, and other nasty creatures at your bidding, more gold you can count, and a near infinite supply of dark magic at your disposal -- it seems like you've got...

Crookz brings 1970s style and swagger to heist gameplay

Nov 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Crookz (PC [Previewed], Mac, SteamOS)Developer: SkillTree StudiosPublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease Date: Q2 2015 Set in the 1970s, Crookz places you in charge of a group of thieves, grifters, burglars, and other sneaky individuals in order to break into secure locations that house loot and other treasures. As the trailer suggests, the people you're robbing are sleazy and shady folk that certainly have whats coming to them, and it's your job to ensure the cash moves from their pockets to yours. With each successful score, you expand your arsenal of gadgets and crew members, while taking on increasingly more difficult jobs that will test your skills as a pro robber. While most games follows the more action oriented approach to heists, Crookz takes a very different stab at it by turning it into a quasi puzzle-strategy experience. Instead of getting into massive shootouts and high-speed chances, seeking to emulate the infamous bank heist scene from Heat, you'll have to plan each move step-by-step and utilize your crew's strengths and weaknesses to covertly break into secure locations and procure valuable items and intel. [embed]283824:56325:0[/embed] Similar to a real-time-strategy experience, you can move your characters to specific points on the map, while using their abilities on the fly as you evade guards and avoid alarms. During our demo, we were taking part in a score at a private mansion, and it was loaded with guards and other traps. While it looked daunting at first, it was readily apparent what was required for the score. For every heist, you'll need the right people for the job. Before each mission, you can outfit them with various gadgets and augment their skills to facilitate the needs of the heist. With several characters classes, such as Runner, Tough Guy, Locksmith, Hacker, and of course Robot -- you'll have to learn the lay of the land and get a read on things to succeed. For the mansion job, the runner, tough guy, and locksmith were able to break into the site with ease and take out guards while making it to the loot. If you're unsure of what you need to do, you can take your time and go through each step to figure out the best course of action. But if you're an especially clever planner, than you can meticulously analysis the layout of the environment, guard routes, and security systems to plan out your heist step by step. If done right, you can watch as your crew methodically and expertly tackles the score as if you were witnessing a Rube Goldberg Machine at work with the style and grace of Ocean's Eleven. I found the style and presentation to Crookz to be very refreshing for the heist genre. The music and atmosphere evokes the hip and energetic style of caper films from the 1970s. The music in particular is very much exciting and smooth, the themes throughout the heists pull from influential period films such as Shaft or Deep Throat. In any event, it works well. It has style and swagger in spades, and it feels exciting to play through a heist game that manages to not take itself too seriously, while still looking cool as you pull off the score. Set for release Q2 2015, Crookz is very interesting blend of puzzle and strategy elements sent across the backdrop of 1970s heist thrillers. I'm quite the fan of the era, and the style it evokes is very refreshing to see. With over 20 different mission and some online challenges to tackle, it's very rare to see heist game like this, and I'm very much looking forward to checking more.
Crookz photo
Cleopatra Jones and the Funky Bunch
What happened to the style and cleverness that came from heist thrillers? I remember watching films like Ocean's Eleven and Thief, that had little to no action or shooting. But now, these high-pressure and tense moments just ...

Crookz puts a '70s heist movie spin on tactical gaming

Aug 17 // Dale North
[embed]279728:55320:0[/embed] Crookz is a single-player tactical game has players guiding the movement of a crew of thieves through their missions as they infiltrate buildings, sneak around guards, and work through obstacles to lift their heist target. These thieves all have unique skill sets that forces players to think about how they'll work together achieve goals. For example, a technician might have to cut the security cameras off so that the specialist can enter a room to pick a lock.  The game is presented in an isometric view, with the ceiling removed from a missions buildings and obstacles, letting players guide crew members through. Each member is directed by clicking on interaction points, like doors or locks, where context-sensitive options will pop up. Some of these situations have timing attached. For example, the runner would want to wait until an armed guard passed by before sneaking down a hallway. Otherwise, the game's action stays paused, leaving the player to issue commands and develop strategies. Crookz's missions play out like a large, multi branched puzzles. While applying different crew members' specialities to is at the heart of the gameplay, there is some freedom for creativity with the game's single-use items and found treasures. With the right item, the runner could temporarily take on the role of a technician to hack surveillance gear, for example. I watched a mission where a crew of three had to break into a protected building, work their way through laser traps, pick locks, sneak past guards, find keys, hack junction boxes, and more, to make their way to a room where an erotic gold statue protected a huge diamond. It sounds complicated, but you don't take all of these challenges on at once. With the way the player is able to move about the map and thoughtfully apply skills and item use, Crookz has a pretty laid-back pace. The music I heard during this showing was quite good. We were told that they hired a band to track the funky soundtrack, which comes complete with wah-wah guitars and drums.  There are a lot of games with thieves in them, but not many where they sport afros and leisure suits. I dig how the heist vibe somehow really fits with its tactical gameplay. With its 20 missions to work through, Crookz looks like a game that could be really groovy to really dig into. Crookz is coming to PC, Mac, and Linux in 2015. 
First look at gamescom
A tactical game with a '70s heist movie theme? Finding something like that at gamescom is about as unlikely as finding a videogame trailer with porn star Ron Jeremy in it. But here we are with both. 

Tropico photo

Tropico 5 can't be released in Thailand, deemed inappropriate

Distributor New Era isn't going to appeal the decision
Aug 04
// Jordan Devore
The last two installments of the humorous Tropico simulation series made it to Thailand but this year's game, Tropico 5, will not see release in the country -- it's been banned. Following a coup in May, Thailand's government ...
Tropico photo

Destroy cities and friendships in Tropico 5's multiplayer

You aren't ready for this music
May 09
// Jordan Devore
One of the bigger selling points of Tropico 5 is its multiplayer and while I'm sure your imaginations are perfectly capable of visualizing what that might look like, here's a trailer all the same. There's support for up to f...
Tropico photo

Tropico 5 hits PC in May with other versions to follow

Say my name
Apr 02
// Jordan Devore
Kalypso Media has nailed down a May 23, 2014 release date for the PC launch of its latest city-builder, Tropico 5, and launched a new website. Go on, El Presidente. Take a look. Next up, it's the Mac and Xbox 360 versions whi...
Tropico photo

Tropico 5 is also coming to PlayStation 4 this year

Though I'll probably stick with PC, thanks
Jan 30
// Jordan Devore
Joining the previously-announced Windows, Mac, Linux, and Xbox 360 releases of Haemimont Studios' Tropico 5 is a PlayStation 4 version of the simulation game. Kalypso still won't give us a release date, but the publisher did ...
Tropico 5 photo
Tropico 5

Tropico 5 is aiming for world domination in 2014

Kalypso announces the newest iteration in the Tropico franchise
Aug 15
// Chris Carter
Kalypso Media has just announced the existence of Tropico 5, a follow-up to the insanely successful simulation series. Penultimo the Presidente will return, as he embarks upon yet another authoritarian term on the island of ...

DARK trailer showcases confusion and blood drinkies

Vampire stealth nonsense for your amusement
May 16
// Jim Sterling
Here's a new trailer for DARK, a vampiric stealth game that you may or may not have heard about. Protagonist Eric Bane can sneak about and use his magic powers to confuse or brutalize his enemies. You can see him doing just ...
In the dark photo
In the dark

GDC trailer for vampire stealth game Dark has a dull bite

Looks like something a handful of people won't forget about maybe
Mar 29
// Steven Hansen
Talk about getting on the vampire hype train too late. I forgot Dark even existed, but it's coming out this summer. I think this trailer has enough oomph to keep the game in my mind for at least the duration of this post (hop...
Omerta 360 demo photo
Omerta 360 demo

Omerta: City of Gangsters 360 demo now live

Go whack people for free
Mar 01
// Chris Carter
If you're curious about Omerta: City of Gangsters on the Xbox 360, a demo is now live. The game itself is basically a bare-bones simulation similar to the Tropico series mixed with portions of gameplay similar to XCOM. There'...

Mix Deus Ex, Hitman with vampires and you get Dark

Good. Bad. It will still SUCK, errr, get it?
Feb 14
// Allistair Pinsof
We may not get a sequel to cult-classic Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, but upcoming PC/Xbox 360 title Dark may fill that niche. Dark is a third-person stealth-action game in which the player takes on the role of...
Omerta video photo
Omerta video

Be your own Don in Omerta - City of Gangsters

New strategy title from Kalypso
Jan 29
// Alasdair Duncan
Organised crime sim Omerta - City of Gangsters is giving you the chance to be the Don of Atlantic City, complete with your own crew of gangsters and on-the-nose nicknames. I like the look of this character creator, specifica...
Omerta demo photo
Omerta demo

An offer you can't refuse: Omerta: City of Gangsters demo

Single-player crime boss action in Atlantic City
Jan 25
// Jason Cabral
What a better way to start the weekend with than with some good old-fashioned 1920's gangster thumb-breaking! Only a week away from its release, Kalypso has decided to share a slice of its version of Atlantic City with a PC d...

New distribution deal for Atlus and Kalypso Media

Oct 08
// Dale North
Atlus and Kalypso Media have announced a distribution deal that will have Tropico 4 Gold, Port Royale 3: Pirates & Merchants, Omerta - City of Gangsters and DARK coming to consoles and Windows PC ...

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.

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: Jagged Alliance: Back in Action

Mar 16 // Josh Tolentino
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action (PC)Developer: Coreplay GmbH/BitcomposerPublisher: Kalypso MediaReleased: February 9, 2012MSRP: $39.99Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i7 920 @ 2.66Ghz, GeForce GTX 560 Ti GPU, 6GB RAM Specifically, Back in Action is a remake/reimagining of Jagged Alliance 2, which puts players in the battle-hardened shoes of a mercenary commander tasked with infiltrating the fictional country of Arulco and toppling the despotic Queen Deidranna. To do the deed you'll need to employ a bunch of hired guns from a disturbingly convenient mercenary-recruitment website, then proceed to dismantle Deidranna’s dictatorship, town by town, grid location by grid location.Many players, myself included, will find that Back in Action’s evocation of Jagged Alliance 2’s spirit and tone is more than a little bit successful. The very first mission drops your initial hires right outside the fence of the unforgettable (to Jagged Alliance vets, anyway) Drassen Airport, ready to conquer their way to Deidranna’s doorstep. Familiar faces and names all populate the game’s roster of available mercs, with character profiles lifted almost verbatim from Jagged Alliance 2, and accompanied by the original bad voice acting (or approximations thereof). The layout of the map is the same, with most of the towns and geographical features in the same places. Even the user interface for the game’s larger strategic layer looks like that of an outdated laptop, just as Jagged Alliance 2’s looked a decade ago. Unfortunately, it's at that strategic layer that the veneer of familiarity begins to peel away, revealing significant -- and potentially upsetting -- differences from the original. Put simply, many of Jagged Alliance 2's larger, "strategic" features have been pared down, simplified, or eliminated entirely. The main map screen itself is of little use beyond facilitating travel between zones. Recruiting and upgrading local militia to defend locations in your squads' absence is now done on-location. Healing has been simplified and permanent injuries no longer require significant downtime to heal. Skills progression is handled by a simpler leveling and point-distribution system. Mercenaries are now hired for the duration, eliminating the need to renew their contracts every few days. Perhaps the most disappointing omission for veterans is the inability to create your own custom mercenary via gaming's most entertaining, inscrutable personality test. New players won't know what they're missing, but hey, Back in Action is aiming at oldsters, validating the criticism. As a result, the mercenaries feel more like bundles of statistics and less like "real" people. That said, they still do ooze more character and personality than the interchangeable automatons of X-COM or Syndicate, or even the bland Tier One-types of many modern shooters. The sixty-odd mercs available (though the budget recruits of M.E.R.C. are gone) all come with their own unique traits and hangups, which oftentimes affect their morale and performance in the field. "Team Players" work better when in a fully-staffed squad, while loners roll best solo. Short-sighted mercs feel more secure with their glasses on, and macho mercs get more gung-ho when there are ladies around to impress. And the nudists? Well, you can imagine what would make them happy.  Merc uniqueness extends past personality quirks as well. Many of the folks you hire have their own, preexisting relationships with the other mercs on offer, to the point that they might be unhappy if forced to work with someone they dislike. Some might even refuse forming a contract outright if you, say, hired their ex-lovers. As time goes on and you hire more mercs you'll start to build squads made up of fighters who get along together, forming complementary "circles of love" that net massive boosts to morale and combat performance. Speaking of combat, it is therein which Back in Action's most striking -- and controversial -- changes lie. Fighting is no longer a matter of action points, initiative, and alternating turns, but has moved into the realm of real-time, with a system they call "Plan-and-Go." But before you cranky elders start spitting bile and bullets, it's worth knowing that the real-time action can be paused at any time, with a host of available conditions that initiate pauses automatically. Back in Action is no Starcraft-like click-fest, and treating it as such will result in a lot of dead mercenaries, which may affect your reputation, and thus your prospects for hiring more expensive, discerning agents in the future. "Plan-and-Go" is at its core a fancy name for the ability to issue orders while paused, but in practice it can go much deeper. In addition to simply allowing breathing room to issue complex commands, Plan-and-Go enables players to well, plan out their actions in ways that, in practice, can be more engaging and intelligent than in Jagged Alliance 2 or X-COM.A sample scenario: My man Grunty and his best friend Igor are about to clear a sweatshop full of armed men. Unfortunately, said men know we're coming and are sitting in the perfect position to shoot anyone who comes in. Using Plan-and-Go, I can pause the game, and send Grunty creeping down the hall to the opposite door, ready to open it, and lay down some fire. Then I can issue an order for Igor to kick down his door and do the same, setting up a deadly crossfire. But to do each action one after the other would be suicidal, for Grunty and Igor would be gunned down piecemeal. However, Plan-and-Go allows me to "link" their chains of action, so that they open their respective doors simultaneously, executing the enemy from both sides while leaving no room for retaliation. When such plans come together one can feel like some kind of omniscient god, whispering divine inspiration into his warfighters' ears as they traipse around Arulco as liberators. And when such plans don't come together...well, the game auto-saves as combat begins, so there's always a reload at hand ... if you're feeling wimpy. Real commanders swallow their losses and write them into the budget. Couple this new system with the fact that all enemies on a given map are visible at all times -- that's not as bad as it sounds -- and you have an approach to encounters that's almost completely different from Jagged Alliance 2's. In Back in Action, much of the emphasis is weighted on what happens before the shooting starts, and then adapting to conditions after things invariably go wrong. You may know that the sweatshop up ahead has three men crouched in the north, south, and east corners of the room, but the challenge lies in getting Grunty and Igor inside the building and to the doors without said men noticing their approach. Planning, setting up, and executing ambushes, assaults and crossfires takes precedence over the slow belly-crawling and shot-by-shot sniping that characterized the previous games. In Jagged Alliance: Back in Action's firefights, timing takes the place of action-point conservation, and every second counts -- literally. Almost every combat action a merc performs displays the number of seconds and milliseconds it would take to execute. While firing shotguns from the hip in a standing position would be much less accurate than carefully drawing a bead through a sniper rifle's scope from prone position, doing the former takes only a fraction of the time needed to do the latter, an interval which can mean the difference between your mercs' clearing a crowded room without taking a scratch and them getting hacked to death by shirtless, machete-wielding peasants. This is all well and good in theory, but in practice Back in Action takes a while -- perhaps too long a while -- to reveal its nuances and substance. Part of this is due to the game's unforgivably passive AI. Most enemies are barely aware of activities beyond their immediate vicinity, with a cone of perception as limited as that of a guard from Metal Gear Solid. Now, that wasn't a huge problem in Jagged Alliance 2, because the fog of war hid the enemy's (lack of) activity until your mercs were practically crawling up their pants. But now that the fog is gone, one can see that unless under attack, the enemy are little more than zombies. As a result, tactical encounters in the early game usually boil down to posting your mercs in a firing line, setting them in "guard" mode (in which they fire at any target in range), letting off a single shot to catch their attention, and watching the peasants run at your guns.Things get more complicated (and far deadlier) as you encounter armored troops that can just shrug off the damage from lower-caliber guns, and can return fire from range. At that point Plan-and-Go becomes essential for queuing up headshots and conserving ammo. And all the while you're trying to manage your funds on the strategic level, balancing the need to fill out your squad with skilled (and expensive) mercs and keeping them armed and supplied, while managing your inventories, using "mule" recruits traveling back and forth to pick up new weapons and equipment, and training up militia to defend your conquered zones. Combined with the need to defend captured territory from roaming squads of enemies (militia aren't exactly quality fighters), the result is a tense, dynamic sense of tug-of-war. With guns. Back in Action's strategic gameplay may have been diminished, but just enough of it remains to evoke its forebear's hybrid appeal. While all this sounds well and good, Back in Action suffers from a number of significant flaws, ones that stem from some truly baffling design decisions and interface issues that were "solved" in the decade between the original game and this release. It's almost inconceivable that such improvements were not thought through during development. Back in Action should be faithful to the spirit of Jagged Alliance 2, not its problems. For one, squad inventory management is a nightmare. Why do I need to press a separate "trade" button every time I want to transfer items from one person to another? And why can't I handle it on the main strategic map or even just the local inventory menu? Why must I manually re-equip every first aid bag or repair kit when I perform the actions, even if those items are already in my inventory, ready for use? Oversights like that become especially infuriating as squads grow, increasing their need for a constant supply of weapons, armor, ammo and other necessities. At one point I spent almost an hour resupplying two squads of six mercs, reduced to dropping items onto the ground in makeshift supply caches, moving and selecting each merc one by one to claim their gear. Chores like this are necessary in a game of this depth, but they needn't be this tedious. Worse still, recruiting militia is almost as hellish. While the process is simpler than before, it's been made even more annoying. Now mercs need to travel to every zone that potential recruits spawn into and manually place a gun from their inventory into the recruit's hand, with the same clunky trading interface. And since your mercs can only hold four weapons a piece, my "mules" were constantly trudging back and forth from the airport (where ordered guns and equipment is delivered to) to individual zones, manually loading into them and rushing back and forth across the map handing out weapons, then running all the way back to the airport to get more. It's ludicrous. Pathfinding is similarly atrocious. As often as not your men will bunch up in doorways and clog halls, spinning around like armored dervishes, getting caught on corners or simply stopping in place. The graphics, too, aren't exactly state of the art. They're certainly much better than the original's generic sprites and limited animation, but in terms of complexity they're more 2007 than 2012. If nothing else, all equipment is now visible on models, and I was often able to tell what gear the enemy on sight alone. The engine isn't particularly well-optimized either. My rig can run Battlefield 3 at a consistent 50+ frames-per-second, but Back in Action often slowed into the 20s or less in the more crowded cities and military bases. Environmental interaction has been limited as well. Mercs can't vault over low obstacles anymore, and can't destroy walls except at predetermined points. They can't climb without a ladder, and while the camera angle can be changed, it can't be lowered to ground level or used to look inside buildings -- a curious choice, since you can already see every enemy on the map. All things said and done, though, these flaws are superficial. Irritating and baffling, sure, but ultimately irrelevant to the core of the game and its ability to capture the soul of Jagged Alliance, that intoxicating blend of in-depth tactical play and big strategic decision-making, infused with a charming, colorful cast of heavily-armed characters facing the monolithic challenge of liberating a whole country under your command. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action may ultimately be inferior to its legendary predecessor, but it has just enough of that spark in it to be a compelling, substantial impostor.

Ask any old-school PC gamer about his favorite tactical games, and more often than not you'll find a Jagged Alliance title near the top of the list. It's a name held in nearly as high regard as X-COM or Syndicate, and fo...


Tropico 4 expansion blasts off on Xbox 360 & PC in March

Jan 13
// Maurice Tan
Ola El Presidente! There is more Tropico 4 goodness on the way, as Kalypso has announced an expansion to the popular banana republic sim: Modern Times. The new expansion will focus on taking your economy to the 21st century ...

Live show: Mash Tactics dictates in Tropico 4

Jan 11
// Bill Zoeker
Today, Mash Tactics is taking up the reigns of government in Tropico 4. This society simulator tasks the player with managing the resources and infrastructure of an entire nation. Do Carnage and Wesley have what it takes to c...

Review: Tropico 4

Sep 05 // Maurice Tan
Tropico 4 (PC [Reviewed], Xbox 360)Developer: Haemimont GamesPublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease date: August 26th, 2011 (PC); September 20th (Xbox 360)MSRP: $39.95 The Tropico series has carved itself a nice little niche in the city building genre dominated by different iterations of The Settlers and Anno games in recent years. Whereas the latter series focused on creating intricate economies riddled with multiple processing buildings, Tropico has always been more about managing a "light" economy and the socio-political factors required to keep everything running. Tropico 3 refined the first game's core and took it to the current age, even adding an Xbox 360 version that actually controlled remarkably well. The PC-only expansion Absolute Power added a bunch of buildings, and now Tropico 4 takes all of that and puts it in the wrapper of a brand new game. As a result, veterans may feel it plays like yet another expansion with key changes here and there. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. For those new to Tropico, you star as a Caribbean dictator who can choose to create his own banana republic, a lavish tourist resort, or a vast industrial empire on different island maps -- or all of the above provided the map is large enough. Mines have to be built on top of resource locations, farms belong in areas where different crops benefit from natural conditions, and tourist buildings need to be in beautiful locations to yield the highest profit. Aside from a few natural restrictions, how you actually build and lay out your island city-state is entirely up to you. Your Tropicans will need to stay happy enough to keep them from starting an uprising or a military coup, however, so building up your economy is often secondary to creating a proper functional society. The inhabitants' needs are grouped by the factions they belong to, who now give you more feedback on what they actually want than in the previous title. Quality housing, farms, and healthcare keeps the Communists happy, while Capitalists want a good industry and large class differences. Failing to provide enough churches and cathedrals will annoy the religious faction, having an open immigration policy to boost your workforce annoys the Nationalists, and so on. In Tropico 4, each faction representative now has its own caricature face to help you better identify with them and it's a bit easier to see what each faction wants or what is causing them to be discontented, due to a rearranged almanac that displays all necessary information. Tsunamis, oil spills, and volcano eruptions have been added to the disaster roster, and damage from natural disasters can now be mitigated by building and upgrading a weather station. Plenty of campaign missions will make you deal with these disasters and they make for a nice challenge and a change of pace. Despite being set in the Cold War era, you'll even get some missions that joke about contemporary events such as a volcano eruption's ash cloud disrupting air traffic. At its core, the Tropico brand of humor and charm is still ever-present in Tropico 4. Other changes are more minute. Hotels now have an entrance to fit onto a road, so you can't bundle them all together anymore. All tourism buildings now works slightly different, in fact. More attractions and luxury attractions like a luxury liner or a rollercoaster will keep the tourists entertained, but income from hotels -- and especially beach villas -- is now a lot less reliable than in Tropico 3. You can no longer just build 20 beach villas and never worry about money ever again. A new building, the Ministry, requires you to hire or appoint members to a cabinet. This doesn't actually do much other than adding more prerequisites for your presidential edicts, although your ministers will sometimes screw up and cause a negative effect if you don't fire them immediately, or they might provide you with unsuspected bonuses. If Juanito, the infamous and annoying radio DJ from Tropico 3, was causing you minor strokes you'll be glad to hear he is entirely absent here. There is an achievement for killing any Tropican named Juanito, so feel free to kill all of them and claim your sweet revenge. Because most new buildings simply serve as a slightly different or slightly more powerful version of existing buildings, veterans of Tropico 3 will find that very little has been changed in the core formula. If your old strategy for an early game economy worked in the past, it will most likely work in Tropico 4 as well. You'll still stick with tenements, farms and mines at first, and gradually work your way to a high school for churches and industry. Once your economy is built up, you'll have little trouble winning any scenario just like in the previous game. The new 20-mission campaign does have a lot more to offer than before. Instead of semi-randomly going through a bunch of unrelated missions, there is now a somewhat consistent storyline that takes you from the '50s to the end of the Cold War. The U.S. and USSR still play a large role in managing foreign relations and staving off invasion, but the EU, Middle East, and China now play minor roles as well. Each foreign faction will be influenced by the type of goods you export, and they offer plentiful optional objectives to improve relations and earn some more cash in the short or long run -- occasionally forcing you to choose between antagonizing one of them for a benefit. The trademark humor and tongue-in-cheek missions are back in force, and they are better than ever. Whether you have to prototype the USSR's version of Perestroika by building a stock exchange or need to appease a group of killer mimes until they can fly to Las Vegas for a tour, each mission offers enough variety to keep you from remembering you are basically only adding minor variations to your perfected planning system from island to island. Sidequests can pop up on the map to keep yourself occupied, which helps a great deal in keeping the repetition at bay. Whether you have to increase exports of a specific good for a specific foreign power, or are asked to institute same-sex marriage to improve relations with the intellectuals -- at the cost of your relationship with the religious faction -- there are very little instances where you have nothing to do. On the PC version at least, you'll have access to as many user created challenges as people are willing to make. When creating your own challenge you still need to start with one of ten pre-created maps, but you can edit them in terms of landscape or resources to your heart's content. It's a shame these maps still don't tell you anything about their layout when you select them, though. Another annoyance is that you have to alt-tab out of the game to actually enter a mission description -- probably the main reason why practically none of the user-created challenges have any description whatsoever. Creating your perfect custom template to build the island of your dreams will probably take you upwards of an hour (if not more), but the sandbox and challenge offerings extend the gameplay well beyond the campaign's missions -- which will easily take you more than 20 hours to start with. Tropico is and remains the type of game that is infinitely replayable as long as you are willing to play it. Those players who focus on the most efficient economy may stick with their working strategies from games past, never even touching a third of the buildings you can build or the mechanics on offer. But whatever kind of island nation you want to build in your image, Tropico 4 offers enough tools to do so in great detail. Tropico 4 is without a doubt a better game than Tropico 3 -- which was easily one of my favorite games of 2009. Having said that, Haemimont has taken a conservative approach with this full-fledged sequel. While some parts like the expanded foreign relations, sidequest system, and slight UI overhaul are worthy of a sequel, the core gameplay feels practically identical to Tropico 3; if you never build shanties or mansions before, you're not going to build them now. Whether this sequel is worth your money comes down to a few simple questions. Did you like Tropico 3? Then you'll like Tropico 4 just as much and you'll appreciate the small changes, as long as you don't expect a revolution in design compared to the previous game. If you are not in a hurry, it's a no-brainer to pick up during a Steam sale. Have you never played a Tropico game before? Then Tropico 4 is the one to get, and once you understand what you're supposed to do you'll likely have a blast with it. Regardless of whether or not you desire innovation in Tropico 4, it remains one of the most enjoyable and charming city building games of current times. Best of all, it's one of the few games that you can just as easily play lazily from your couch with a controller as you can play it hunched over your keyboard. It would've been nice if there had been more to Tropico 4 than just "more of the same," but criticisms of little actual change aside it's still one of the most relaxing of its kind you're likely to play all year. I only hope Haemimont will eventually overhaul the now aging core gameplay to make it worth using all of the options at hand, rather than letting players stick with what worked before. Most of all, we really need a revamp of Tropico 2: Pirate Cove, because everything is better with pirates.

Hola El Presidente! I see you have returned to rule Tropico once more, after having done so in Tropico 3 and maybe even after extending your rule in Tropico 3: Absolute Power. Because life as El Presidente is hard enough, you will be happy to know that the island nation will take more or less the exact same skills to govern as it did before. Or perhaps the similarity will disappoint you.


The Dark Eye: Demonicon is all dark n' stuff

Aug 12
// Jim Sterling
Kalypso has released the very first screenshots for its upcoming horror game The Dark Eye: Demonicon. The company is known best for publisher bright n' breezy games such as Tropico, but as you can see, this particular offerin...

Disciples III: Resurrection officially announced

Jul 25
// Joshua Derocher
We have already seen a trailer for this a few months ago, but Kalypso has now officially announced the newest expansion for Disciples III, which is due out on PC in January 2012. The company has also released 12 new screensh...

Your first arty glimpse of The Dark Eye - Demonicon

May 27
// Jim Sterling
Kalypso is mostly known for publishing bright and sunny Tropico series, but the studio has turned to something a little more grisly with upcoming RPG The Dark Eye - Demonicon. With a name like that, it's not going to be ...

Live Show: Supremacy MMA today at 4PM PST

Apr 05
// Pico Mause
We have last minute special guests from 505 Games stopping by to show us their new release Supremacy MMA! Get a first hand preview of this title with the expected release date of June 7th, 2011 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 36...

Tropico 4 headed for Xbox 360 after all

Feb 01
// Maurice Tan
Great news for El Presidentes on the couch! While all the news released about Tropico 4 has centered on the PC version so far, Kalypso today announced that Tropico 4 is also coming to the Xbox 360 in Q2 2011. The main differe...

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