Crysis 2 Review

The first Crysis had, and still has, a bit of a reputation associated with it. When it was released in 2007, it brought most modern computers to their respective knees with its high level of graphical fidelity, still impressive by today’s standards. To boot, it also boasted first-person shooting that was not only fun and satisfying, but surprisingly complex. Running around a tropical island in your body-augmenting nanosuit using speed, strength, armor and camouflage and take out enemies as you saw fit. Crysis the first, was a blast to play and a dream to look at with its only blemishes showing in a underwhelming story and a lackluster endgame.

Crysis 2 takes all of those aspects and tries to improve upon them. And the results are almost unanimously positive.

Taking place some three years after the events of the first game, Crysis finds you in the shoes, visor, and nanosuit of Alcatraz, a Marine Special Forces operative who unwittingly ended up in the suit due to the intervention of Prophet, the only surviving character from the first game. New York City is under attack from a lovely combination of a flesh-melting virus, a Private Military Organization known as CELL, and the Ceph squid-like aliens with jellyfish insides wrapped inside of metallic casings. The story is paced well with a couple of twists and turns. It’s standard sci-fi fare, but it’s enjoyable none the less.
 The nanosuit from the first game returns with some major tweaks. Most notably is the condensing of suit abilities. Where there were several different modes in the first game, here there are only two toggle able modes: Cloak and Armor. While this may seem like the sequel is gutting the suit from the first, nothing could be further from the truth. Tapping E on my keyboard sends me into invisible stalker mode, ala Predator, while Q turns me into a walking juggernaut, shrugging off bullets as long as my rapidly depleting energy meter is going. Cars can be kicked by holding the melee button next to them. High jumps can be used by holding the jump button for an extra moment. Same with a devastating melee attack in the form of a mean power-punch. Running, jumping, sliding, cloaking. Not only are these options well implemented, they’re fun to use.

Combat for the most part is a joy. When presented with wide open spaces and tons of nooks and crannies to duck into, the game is at its peak. Popping into stealth, taking out a Ceph solider with a well placed headshot, going back into cloak, and running for cover to recharge, all the while watching the other patrols trying to find you, is cackle-worthy. One of my favorites of these moments occurs fairly early on and involved me snuffing out a search team, solider by solider as they attempted to track me down in the middle of a dust cloud from a recently collapsed bridge. Ducking behind freeway dividers, popping off a couple of shots with my silenced SMG, cloaking, flanking, and finally finishing off the last grunt with a stealthy 180 degree neck-snap. And that’s just one way I could have gone about that bit as well. The game is absolutely jam-packed with tactical options that range from sneaking to sniping to guns blazing. Crysis 2 gives you the tools to make you feel like an absolute badass, most of the time. Other instances have you running down corridors ala Call of Duty, leaving your tactical options severely limited. It seems like something that Crysis would try to avoid given all of toys you get to mess around with, but it does manage to break up the pacing a bit. Aside from the standard run-and-gun bits, there are a couple of driving sections that put you in an APC and send you cruising down a shattered expressway but these parts never last long enough to overstay their welcome.

Speaking of toys, another new feature added is the upgrade system. Killing Ceph gives you “Nano Catalyst” which acts as a sort of currency you can use to purchase upgrades that fit in one of four slots. It adds a bit of depth, and all of the abilities have a good impact on your combat. One of my favorites painted a trail of green arrows behind enemy patrols allowing me to sneak by them more easily or plan out a good sniping spot.

Now, the first Crysis was a game that set the standard for what modern PC games should look like, so it’s no surprise when I say Crysis 2 is pretty. Ok, here I go: Crysis 2 is so incredibly pretty. Screenshots don’t do this game an ounce of justice. The city of New York is rendered in an almost scary amount of detail. The cracks in the road to the sparks off of a power line, to the Ceph grunts and friendly Helicopters. Everything about Crysis 2‘s graphical presentation is spot on. Explosions practically erupt off the screen, the dust dancing through your laser sight. Crysis 2 is a game that needs to be seen in motion. The game runs at a pretty good clip as well, even on my budget-conscious machine. (I haven’t had a chance to try the console version of the game yet, but I’ve heard there are some slight graphical differences and some noticeable FPS dips.) This does come at a cost however, as the PC version is missing previously promised DirectX 11 support and has graphics options that have been lobotomized to three different presets: High, Very High, and Extreme. There has been word a DirectX 11 patch is in the works and the game is still oh-so-very pretty, but it’s still a rather glaring omission.

Another slight disappointment was the multiplayer component. Opting to join the Modern Warfare bandwagon, Crysis 2‘s multiplayer is a rank and unlock based system, where kills and tasks are assigned XP which gives more and more abilities, nanosuit upgrades, weapons, and dog tags . It’s a widely used model and while the nanosuit abilities do add some uniqueness, it comes off feeling a bit stale. That, and the PC version has some rather serious issues with configuration file tampering that has guilty players running around with thermal vision and permanent spring like some sort of Predator on crystal meth. It’s perfectly serviceable, but I’m not sure it’s going to have any staying power.

Overall, Crysis 2 is a hell of a lot fun to play. Shooting is fun. New York is beautiful. And kicking cars at people seldom gets old. With its singleplayer lasting a good thirteen hours with a New Game + mode, and the multiplayer okay for a quick diversion, Crysis 2 is a fine FPS and is a couple steps ahead, while not breaking any new ground, except in looking damn good, Crysis 2 is well worth your attention if not your money. Crysis 2 well earns my Seal of Approval.

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Discless: Hydrophobia

 Hello everyone, and welcome to the first (of hopefully many) reviews titled Discless. These reviews will cover digital-download only games, such as those of the Xbox Live Arcade (XBL for short), PlayStation Network (PSN), and more.

Time to grab your swimsuit, jump in, and make a splash, because today, we’re looking at Hydrophobia, a game by Dark Energy Digital. Hydrophobia is a short, third-person adventure game that takes place in the mid-21 century, aboard a giant city-ship known as The Queen of the World. You play as Kate Wilson, an engineer aboard the ship. Without revealing too much of the plot, her peaceful lifestyle is interrupted when explosions and hull breaches begin to occur on the ship, and Kate finds herself thrust into a situation in which the fate of the ship is resting on her shoulders. As Kate uncovers the mystery behind the strange occurrences, she will meet many allies, make many enemies, and discover that the world is much less peaceful than predicted. One more note about the story: It is incomplete. Hydrophobia has been said to be a three-part trilogy, so the first game ends in a cliff hangar. I was disappointed, but it certainly left me wanting more.

Gameplay revolves around water physics (big surprise there, I’m sure), which are phenomenal, as the water is free flowing and drastically affects the world around it. In other games, when a player enters the water, there may be a splash and some ripples and they start swimming. In Hydrophobia, water currents will push the player around, rushing water can slam the player into walls and floors (I died a few times in such a manner), and it can even carry around floating fuel fires from destroyed fuel barrels, forcing the player underwater. The amount of water in each area the player enters can be altered by different actions. For example, one player may choose to destroy fuel barrels in order to blow a breach in the wall and allow more water in, whereas another player may search for a pump control system that can decrease the amount of water in the area.

Hydrophobia‘s gameplay also features a sort of Assassin’s Creed\Tomb Raider hybrid climbing system. Kate can scale walls, balance on beams, hoist herself onto ledges, jump from platform to platform, shimmy across pipes and ledges, and much more. It makes getting around the ship a lot more enjoyable than running down corridors and swimming everywhere. There are all sorts of nooks and crannies you can maneuver Kate into, and bonus goodies you can find in some of the most obscure locations. 

 The third-person shooter combat style is also affected by water. The game features two combat styles: Land and water. The two are identical except for two changes: In water combat, you have a free range of motion, up, down, left, right, forward, back, you name it, you can do it. In addition to the free range of movement, the player must monitor their oxygen level and periodically surface to replenish their air. The player’s weapon is designed such that the first shot knocks an enemy unconscious, which it can later recover from. The second shot will be a kill shot, but you must shoot the opponent while they are unconscious from the first shot. On land, the opponents can recover from the first shot. Underwater, if the enemy winds up unconscious in an area where they cannot drift to the surface, they will usually drown (some recovered while I was fighting them). There are certain enemies that have dive masks that nullify that effect, but the one-two punch of your weapon can quickly dispatch them.

Hydrophobia is probably one of the most fun XBL Arcade games I’ve ever owned. The water physics blow me away, the story is incredibly intriguing, and the gameplay is fantastic. If you like games like Tomb Raider, Uncharted, or Assassin’s Creed, then this game is right up your alley. If you dislike short stories or cliff hanger endings, you might be out of luck with Hydrophobia. So if you’re looking for a great game at an inexpensive price from the XBL Arcade, download a copy of Hydrophobia for only $15.

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PAX East 2011: The Old Republic Preview

 The line to demo Star Wars: The Old Republic at PAX East reached six hours plus. I heard nightmare stories about eager gamers waiting in line all day, completely passing up any opportunity to play other demos. Lucky for me, I only waited for thirty minutes before I got the chance to test out the most anticipated new MMO of the year. Bioware gave those fortunate enough to reach the end of the line a good thirty minutes to test the game. There were two demos featured: a run through a newbie zone or a group play event. Although I did see others play the group experience, I tookthe chance to check out the newbie zone.

Most opted to play the Empire, so I decided to play the role of a young Jedi of the Republic. Also to note, I wasn’t allowed to create my own character but instead had to play a premade newbie. Despite the lack of creation I still enjoyed the upward, yellow scrolling text explaining my situation. So when I showed up for my training, of course things were going wrong, and I was chosen to fix the problems.

One of my first tasks was to go save captured Padawan trainees. Even though I was still a trainee myself, I still liked feeling like I was higher ranking and, well, better trained than the other Jedis. It made me feel, as an MMO should, that I was important to this world. During these quests I was grouped with another PAX attendee and was happy to know that whenever he did something for a quest, I also got credit. Although I should mention (and yes I know, the game is still in construction) when I opened empty cages I somehow managed to get credit for saving Padawans. And yet, other times, I wasn’t even allowed to open cages with Padawans in them; still a little glitchy.

I also noticed that several of the Bioware staff were eagerly watching gamers play, absorbing constant feedback. At one point I had to have one of them point out my communicator interface in order to pick up a quest, commenting that, “Lots of people seem to be missing that. Don’t worry.” It’s good to know the people making the game are not shy about their errors and learning how players experience the game.

But the Bioware dialogue tree is everywhere and not glitchy. Even though I do love Bioware dialogue trees (complete with the nice answer, the jackass answer, and the joker answer), I’m torn whether or not such conversations will get annoying when all I want to do is accept a quest and go. From what I understand, even during group missions there will be dialogue trees. The player will get light and dark side points depending on their answer, and the group as a whole will get light and dark side options. So, the Jedi player can be nice while still playing with a bunch of smuggler jerks.

As for the combat, I did love ‘force leap’. Whoosh-whoosh went the light saber and zoom I went flying over to a monster. It was pretty awesome. However, when I was attacking it felt weird not to have an auto attack. It hurt the experience of combat; one moment, my Jedi would swing wildly at the creature and then, moments later, I was standing stupidly still getting attacked while waiting for cooldowns.

I would like to comment on the audio, but even with headphones, it was difficult to hear anything over the roar of PAX. Overall though, The Old Republic was fun to test out. It’s hard to judge an MMO with only thirty minutes of playing with no sound. It reminds me of WoW but with Jedi Knights, which isn’t a grievance by any means. Considering there is no release date, I have high hopes that Bioware is trying to make Star Wars: The Old Republic an excellent MMO.

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PAX East 2011: The Darkness II Hands-on

 2007’s The Darkness was a textbook example of an overlooked gem. With a dark, violent story, slick graphics, tight shooting controls, and a inky-black personification of evil (voiced by Mike Patton of ’90s band, Faith No More), the first Darkness just didn’t seem to breakthrough. Now, with a new graphic novel-inspired art style and new developer, Digital Extremes, The Darkness 2 seems poised and ready to finally make its mark on the video game world.

Set two years after the happenings of the first game, we find the protagonist Jackie Estacado, mob don and wielder of The Darkness, in a pretty bad position. Crucified-to-a-wall bad. Waking up during the middle of his own torture, a crippled man demands that Jackie give him the Darkness. Jackie, of course, refuses. From there, we’re brought into a flashback of Jackie being lead into a rather upscale Italian restaurant, part of the special treatment he gets as the new Don of the Franzchetti Crime Family. Here the new art style is shown in full force. The game has been given a total graphical face lift, moving from the dark, realistic style of the first game, to a high-contrast, graphic novel look, fitting more in line with the game’s comic book roots. And even in this early stage, the game looks great. Everything has an almost hand-painted look.

Jackie is lead through the aisles by his man, Vinny. He makes small talk at the other restaurant guests while leading Jackie to his table where he’s greeted by two rather attractive ladies. This rather calm scene is rudely interrupted with a combination of a gunshot through the eye of one of the ladies at his table, and a van crashing through the window onto Jackie. It’s at this point that the demo really started.

With his legs crippled and burned from the van explosion, Jackie is given a pistol and pulled along by Vinny through the now burning war zone of the restaurant. In rail-shooter fashion, Jackie is pulled through the wreckage of the once-posh restaurant dispatching foes, is eventually given a second pistol, and is dragged to the kitchen. Fortune decides once again not to smile on Jackie Estacado as a gas leak is ignited, and he is once again engulfed in flames. He awakes to an all too familiar voice.

The Darkness once again beckons to Jackie. The growls and otherworldly performance of Mike Patton gives chills as two of the Darkness’ arms sprout from Jackie’s shoulders and dispatch some of the armed goons that are quickly closing in on Jackie. Back on his feet once again, Jackie and the Darkness make their way through alley ways on out onto the city streets.

Along the way, I was introduced to the concept of “Quad Wielding” using both of my guns and both of my Demon Arms, I was able to slash at my attackers with my right arm, pick-up and toss saw blades and using car doors as shields with my left, and blast away with both my guns. It’s a great concept and, despite being a little hard to pickup at first, I found myself maiming bad guys and eating hearts in no time flat.

One combat move in particular really caught my eye. The developers called it “The Wishbone.” I used my slashing arm combined with the right analog stick to split a gun wielding thug completely in half. Lengthwise. He fell apart like a piece of string-cheese. It was grotesque, satisfying, and completely hilarious.

After another explosion I found myself once again helpless as one particularly cocky thug started to get read to execute me. It was then that a Darkling (a small gremlin creature returning from the first game) with a lovely cockney accent, a union-jack shirt and a coonskin cap came to my rescue by snapping the thug’s neck. After leading me to a subway and amidst a small crowd of fleeing civilians, I found more goons who I quickly took care of. Flashing back to the interrogation room, the crippled man once again asked me for the Darkness. If I didn’t give him what he wanted, he threatened to kill my Aunt Sarah. I responded to this by ripping my hands off the stakes and killing one of his guards.

The demo seemed over all too quickly and while a bad thing at the time, it made me realize how much I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. The new art style has to been seen in motion to be appreciated and the combat has never felt better. I can’t wait to give it a full play-through when it comes out for the PS3, PC, and 360 this fall.

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PAX East 2011: Gunstringer Preview

 While I was at PAX East , I got to take a look at Twisted Pixel’s newest title, Gunstringer for the Kinect, which has a lot of unique gameplay mechanics. I interviewed Jay Stuckwisch, one of producers showcasing the game.

Jay Stuckwisch (JS): So, we’ve got Gunstringer here.


Tyler Thomas (TT): And that’s a Kinect title, correct?

JS: That’s right.  

TT: So, what’s the backstory behind this marionette here?

JS: So, you control an undead marionette cowboy–you’re actually the puppeteer controlling him–in a play. We set up the beginning to show you everybody coming to see you. We actually added a lot of live-action sequences–people responding to how you do as you play the game. You run around the game–it’s a shooter-on-rails, and basically you paint over the enemies with your right hand, and with a recoil gesture over your solider, you hit all of the targets. With your left hand you control his left-to-right movement and move your hand up to jump. It takes a bit of coordination but…you pick it up really quick. 

TT: So, is the humor in this game similar to Splosion Man/Ms. Splosion Man?

JS: Yeah, it’s kinda Twisted Pixel’s thing; we like to bring a lot of humor into each of our games. While this game looks a bit more serious, there’s still a lot of humor in this game.

TT: Like the human hands and feet that I just saw?

JS: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah, we’re always trying to break that fourth wall; it’s the developers, they’re in there . They can help you or hinder you–you can’t really tell; you have to feel it out. But yeah, we have a lot of fun with all of that full-motion stuff.


TT: I’ve gotta say, this is very cool. I love the marionette character.

JS: Yeah, we designed him after a real marionette we made for modeling when we shot our live action stuff that we had help from Jim Henson’s [Studio].

TT: Oh, wow! So you’ve got a Muppet, basically, who’s shooting bad guys.

JS: Yeah, they’re dolls and puppets; the whole game is set to have that homemade look: cardboard trees, backdrops, characters made out of straw, out of yarn, and some Henson-looking faces, even. It’s got a unique look and feel to it.

TT: Now, I just saw this ‘Texas Fisherman’ pop-up. What’s that all about?

JS: Well, when an enemy like that appears, there’s a slo-mo pan that shows a little blurb about them, about who you’re shooting at.

TT: And now I see that taco there.

JS: Yeah, that’s one of the power-ups you can get. the taco fires him up and makes him run faster and doubles your points as long as you keep hitting targets.

TT: When is this game coming out?


JS: It’s still a work in progress yet, but we’re going to have a release date this spring.

I then got to play a round. Like Jay said, it was tricky to start playing, but I got used to the controls quickly. Another part I liked was that there was a narrator that actually announced your actions–painting six (the maximum) targets would make the narrator say something like, “He lined up all six of his targets,” in an old, Western style of talking. It was a good touch of humor and personality; I’m really excited for this game, and I hope to play it again soon!

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GDC Overview

It’s been a busy two weeks at GameZombie with GDC and PAX East back to back. Both conventions had some great content. I’ll go over what I saw at GDC here, and leave PAX for later in the week.

NeuroSky

The first booth I visited was NeuroSky, who were debuting their new Mindwave device. While the device doesn’t yet replace a conventional controller, it is a cheap alternative for research into how people play games. They had a few demos on the exhibit floor, and the Mindwave looks like an interesting direction for gaming. At only $100, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some interesting uses of the Mindwave soon.

Octodad

Octodad is a weird indie game developed at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. I was a bit intrigued by the bizarre-looking controls and quirky music in trailers. It’s a silly idea mixed with an interactive environment. The challenge comes not in the puzzles but in controlling this land octopus. It’s available free on the site for anyone to check out.

Minecraft

I was lucky enough to watch the GDC award show and got to see Notch go up and accept five awards for Minecraft. We’ve plugged this game before, but if you still haven’t played then you need to give it a try.

Tera

Tera had a playable demo I was lucky enough to get my hands on. They’ve made several efforts to improve on ‘classic’ MMO gameplay. Another journalist and I played with two of the developers in one of the dungeons. While it’s always a bit overwhelming to jump into the middle of an MMO like this, the UI was understandable, and there was a system that suggests combos for your character as you attack to make combat easier. The AI seemed to react well to attacks, rather than standing around weathering attacks. The boss battle the encounter ended in was a fairly epic affair, which required some quick attention on all our parts. The boss was over four stories tall, and the developers said there will be tons of giant monsters like that. Something they focused on was that enemies would telegraph big attacks so attentive players can avoid them. There will also be a dynamic encounter system, allowing for more re-playability for veteran players. Overall it looks like a cool MMO; I look forward to seeing the game when it releases.

GDC was a great conference. One of the main draws were the talks and round table discussions. I was lucky enough to attend the Better Writing in Games Workshop as well as one of the writing round tables. Almost a third of the exhibit floor was career booths where attendees could talk with recruiters. Especially impressive was the Blizzard career booth, and it had people lining up the entire convention. If you are a student, it’s a great idea to try and muster up the money for GDC just for the career-building aspect. I wished I had more time to explore the convention floor, but before I knew it I was on the plane back to Wisconsin. Before I could really relax, it was already time to leave for PAX East. We took several writers, so you’ll be seeing multiple articles this next week detailing our experience there.

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Outside the Box: Spring Broke

 In times past I have heaped praise upon the Warhammer 40,000 world and minis game. The world is just a whole lot of fun to play in and interact with, the models for the game are by and large great little models, and I really enjoy painting them when I’m not playing WoW, or other video games, or other board games, or working. However, I am, at heart, a poor college grad and as such I find myself unable and unwilling to fork over 150-200 dollars for a field able army. I also find myself without the time required to paint the many dozens of models such an army would encompass. To further simplify the issue I have been handed a dictate from one of my many employers to return to the first miniatures game I ever played: Warmachine. So while I don’t plan to give up 40k, my budget and my boss demand that I take my war gaming elsewhere for the time being.

You might have heard of Warmachine, a steam-punk techo-arcana-inspired miniature war game, since some friends of the gaming community have recently gotten into it. Either way, I started dabbling in it a few years after its emergence in 2005. At its core, Warmachine is a very different game from Warhammer, so it is really hard to compare the two. I won’t even attempt any sort of argument as to which one of the two is “better,” but, I will at least give you some idea as to the pros and cons of Warmachine, its system, its models, and its world. So join me as I re-explore my first love, so to speak.

The System

40k tries its best to be as realistic as it can be under most circumstances. Warmachine, on the other hand, knows it’s a game, and as such has very gamey mechanics. This is neither good nor, bad in my opinion; it is simply the way it is. Playing Warmachine is a lot like playing Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea. 40k is run in phases; players basically have a movement phase, a ranged combat phase, and a melee combat phase. Warmachine, however, is run in a series of activations, like many tactics. Players “turn on” a unit or model, move it, attack with it, and continue until they have activated all their models and end their turn.

Another big difference between 40k and Warmachine is how units work within the game rules themselves. In 40k, players field units of troops that work together for the most part. Not so in Warmachine. Troops within a unit in Warmachine mostly act individually rather than cohesively. Also, whereas 40k troops have a vast range of weapons and armor they can be equipped with; troops in Warmachine are pretty much set in stone. A 40k Space Marine may have a rocket launcher, a bolter, a heavy bolter, or a flamer, but a Khador Man-o-War Shocktrooper always has a Shield Cannon and an Annihilator Blade.

So, in short, 40k strives for a more realistic system with high customization, while Warmachine has a more gamey system with more stability. What this translates into is that Warmachine tends to feel a little more accessible, while 40k can more hardcore and intimidating. Both systems are great for what they aim to do, and as always it just depends on what you want out of a game.

The Models

The models in 40k and Warmachine follow the same break-down really. 40k models are almost all made out of a resin these days, and while this did little to drop their price, they have great detail and the plastic models allow for a great deal more customization. Warmachine still follows the old way, though. Most of their models are still made of metal, for better or worse. This makes them feel more substantial and beefier, which really suits a game based around giant techno-arcane mechs smashing each other.

The major area of difference between the models is in the sheer number of them. In 40k you need a lot of models. A LOT of models. But in Warmachine you need relatively few. Sure, to have a sizable army in either game you’ll be dumping 150-250 bucks but in Warmachine you can actually start playing with one $50 kit. Granted, while in Warmachine $50 is only about four models whereas in 40k that can be upwards of twenty, you can’t really play 40k with twenty models.

In general you get more models with 40k and they are more customizable. Not only in terms of gear, but color as well. Players are encouraged to make their own chapter of Space Marines with their own colors and standard, while in Warmachine your colors are basically locked by faction. This isn’t to say you can’t give your Cygnar mechs camo, but it would be a little odd. However, if you have a time constraint, it is way easier to paint the five models it takes to start playing Warmachine than it does to make your army list, put on the correct weapons, and paint the numerous models it takes to start playing 40k on any scale.

My last word on the difference between the two games models: the Warmachine bases are WAY better. They just are.

Immoren, the world of Warmachine.


The World

In my opinion, 40k’s world is better. It’s just a deeper setting and far more developed, but 40k has been around for almost 25 years and Warmachine for only about six. And from what little history I know of the 40k setting, it was pretty slipshod in the beginning. However, Warmachine does have steam-punk going for it, magical steam-punk no less, and who doesn’t love that?

It’s really hard to compare both settings when it comes to their story and world design. This is partly due to one having been around a lot longer and partly because I don’t know a whole lot about Warmachine’s lore. What I have read of Warmachine’s lore is very interesting, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s up to the same level. Think about trying to compare Rift’s lore and story to World of Warcaft’s. What I know of Rift’s lore is cool and interesting, but it’s only just come out, while Warcraft’s lore has been around for twentysome years.

Conclusion

Really there isn’t much of a conclusion. Both games are great, and should you find yourself sitting on wads of cash both are worth playing. 40k and Warmachine are solid games and great hobbies. It comes down to a matter of scale, time, and rules preference. Do you like large scale battles with highly customizable models with a more realistic rules system? Or, would you rather play a smaller game that works more like FF: Tactics with predictable models? And while this article barely scratches the surface of the two games, it should help you familiarize yourself with the two biggest miniatures games out there right now.

While I plan to finish painting my Agrothraxx Space Marines, the purchase of the rest of my army will be going on the back burner for a while. In the meantime, I hope you’re ready to hear of my exploits with various mage hunting elves, religious zealots, and lightening wielding blue Warjacks.

-J.C.

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PAX East: Day Two

Seven in the morning comes awfully early when you’re up past midnight writing blog entries, but today of all days we couldn’t be late. Saturday is the day the press gets onto the exhibition floor early, and the crew was even going to let me tag along on an early interview with Tim Schafer. It was time to caffeine up, strap on my pants and take it like a man, and hey! Things were looking up! The rain had finally broken and the weather was actually quite temperate, at least for this denizen of the frozen wastes. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and Tycho’s signature was hung around my neck like a magic talisman. Today was going to be a-okay.

Sadly, the Tim Schafer interview was not to be. Apparently, he had consumed a waffle in the shape of a skull and crossbones for breakfast, and the resulting intestinal fury had felled the mighty giant. Alas and alack, and curse all poison breakfast foods! Our fated meeting with the main man of myth and mystery was simply not to be. Disappointment, heartbreak, my world an ocean of salty tears.

Tears that could only be quelled by sweet, sweet games. I was able to get some time with the demo for Child of Eden, the new game for Kinect from Rez–creator Tetsuya Mizaguchi. The game is a trippy swirl of water and flowers and psychedelic trance music, the perfect way to slow my caffeine-maddened heart beat. Afterwards, I dove into the long, incredible demo for Guild Wars 2. I’m going to leave that one in the capable hands of Jessica Richards, but suffice to say I was deeply impressed.

We stopped back at the Doublefine booth in hopes of getting some time on Trenched, only to be greeted by the sight of our prodigal curly-haired legend. Tim Schafer had returned! I dashed up the escalators to try and procure some Sharpie markers before we lost sight of him, but curse my legs! I was too slow, and when I returned he was gone again like morning dreams. The evasive Schafer had eluded me yet again! I fell to my knees in supplication. “Why?” I sobbed. “Why?!” Except when I said it there were a lot more ys at the end. I vowed that, by the end of the day, his signature would be mine.

LA Noire followed, a guided demonstration by the developers in their press theater. After a day and a half of madly dashing everywhere, the time off my feet was nearly as welcome as the game footage. Why haven’t we evolved to have padded-leather benches permanently attached to our butts? It would be so much more useful. Well, unless we had to walk through doors or something, but who does that?

LA Noire deserves some special mention. The facial animation in this game is really something to behold, and it’s literally everywhere in the world. The developers told us they had scanned in four-hundred separate actors just to provide faces for the random pedestrians. This bit of digital wizardry actually ends up being integral to the gameplay: the interrogation sequences actually require you to read the emotions of the digital actor you’re currently grilling. This title oozes charm, a slow, smoky, methodical mood-piece that starts in bits and slowly falls together to reveal a surprising whole. The devs didn’t want to spoil the whole case, but even with what we saw there was the sense of a big twist coming together. I’m really looking forward to this game; it looks like it’s going to provide the sort of hardcore, procedural crime investigation that I felt was lacking from Heavy Rain.

One more trip back to the Trenched booth, and this time success! Tim Schafer was there, I was there, my Sharpies were there, and together, the three of us could combine to make an incredible team. I just…wait, whose voice was that? Did I just talk to Tim Schafer? Oh no no no no, no I am not ready. What is he going to sign! Uh, there’s nothing in my bags but ads for other games. My netbook? No, he wouldn’t. Would he? Would I be a giant douchebag if I asked? I mean…he wouldn’t. Right?
Oh my god. Oh my god.

He would.

Ladies and gentleman, Tim Schafer has signed my netbook. I feel like all my life has been leading up to this moment. “Handmade by Tim Schafer.” Brilliant! And of course, his own sarcastic quip: “Sometimes even I’m amazed at the things I make.” Time needed to be made for ecstatic dancing.

After that I moved back up to the North Lobby. I was hanging around the Bioshock Infinitebooth, waiting to meet a group of Bostonian friends for lunch, when I saw Robert Khoo, the man with the grand plan that expresses itself in the form and poetry of PAX. He was standing amidst the smoking, sold-out ruins of the convention’s upstairs mini-store. I stood and stared forlornly. The previous day, I had been stuck behind him on an escalator, and I had leaned forward to say something minor and congratulatory, “Hey man great con” or something stupid like that. He turned on me a gaze, a presence so laser-focused that I withered on the spot. This time, though, his assistant was there to mediate. He asked me what I was looking for, and I made some lame excuse about looking at prices and sizes and maybe 

“Robert loves to sign autographs!” his assistant cried with glee. Robert’s anguished response: “I hate your face!” But the man has grace, he has poise, and he has class, so his fingers signed the check his assistant’s mouth had so carelessly cut. By check, of course, I mean my badge, so now my glowing yellow passage to another world is host to the signature of both Tycho and Robert Khoo! Freaking yes.

He pulled me over to the corner of the mini-store and arranged a couple of the standing advertisements to shield him as he signed, but it was too late. For Robert all was lost as a giant group of fans descended upon him with slavering maws and eager pens. “Oh god no they found meeeeeeee!” he cried as he was subsumed beneath a grasping pile of covetous geek hands. I tried to apologize, but it was too late. The damage was done. Robert Khoo was lost to us–or at least irreversibly delayed from his important tasks.
But hey! Now I have two illustrious Penny Arcade signatures on my badge. I hope that tomorrow I can track down Mike Krahulik. After all, gotta catch ‘em all, am I right?

Gotta catch ‘em all.

-Lucas Lichte

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Pokémon Black and White Review

Well, everyone, the five-month wait between the Japanese release of Pokémon Black and White is finally over. There’s a lot of stuff to cover for this new generation, from new Pokémon to new features.

What’s Good:

1. New Pokémon
Arguably Black and White’s most appealing feature, with 156 brand-new ‘Mons to collect and catch. I’m a big fan of Reuniclus, one of the newer Psychic-Type Pokémon, which is by far the cutest Pokémon I’ve ever encountered. Other Pokémon include the Dark/Dragon-typed Hydreigon, the Hearing Pokémon Audino (who looks like a mix between Chansey and Clefable), the sand-dwelling crocodile Sandile, and the mummy Ghost-type Pokémon Cofagrigus. And those are only a few of them! While most are obvious replacements for earlier generations (Conkeldurr for Machamp, Throh and Sawk for Hitmonlee/Hitmonchan, etc) each of these new Pokémon are unique in their own way, and surpass many older ones. Conkeldurr, for example, does really well with additional defensive bulk and access to moves that Machamp doesn’t, such as Mach Punch. Again, this is probably the best part of the new games.

2. Animated Sprites and Cameras
While not as big of an impact as all of the new Pokémon, this is its greatest aesthetic change since the jump to full color in Gold and Silver. Having animated sprites gives battles much more depth. All of the animations are unique for each Pokémon, and are very detailed. The animated cameras zoom in on your Pokémon and your enemy, making for a lot more action during battle.

3. More 3D
No, not 3D like the 3DS. The overworld has a lot more 3D models, such as buildings and trees. It looks a lot nicer as a result. Even the battle screen has a 3D plane that looks really cool. This is a very nice touch

4. Random Wi-Fi Matches
Much rejoicing was heard when it was discovered that you can arrange for random Wi-Fi matches. No longer are players restricted my Nintendo’s Friend Codes. Granted, they’re still there, but you don’t need them to actually battle online.

5. Seasons
This is a great addition to the wildly popular day/night cycle already in place. Depending on weather, you can access different places in the same areas. It’s a nice addtional detail that looks gorgeous. Right now in my game, it’s Autumn, but the seasons change every three weeks or so.

What’s Bad:

1. Lack of Rematches
There is no VS Seeker, or ability to re-battle the Gym Leaders. Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy about this. It’ll be a bit harder to grind without this crucial training tool.

2. Lack of Post-Game Content
Aside from the Battle Subway and the Poké Transfer Minigame, there isn’t much else to do after you beat the Elite Four. The Unity Tower only contains 130 floors of NPC characters from all of the people you interacted with online on a global scale, and not much else.

3. Game Sync Not Ready at Release
I didn’t get a chance to try this yet, as the Global Link site is currently down until March 30th. The Japanese release had massive bottlenecking problems due to limited servers, and was also closed down temporarily for half a month as a result. You’d think that the US/EU releases would have prepared for that contingency well in advance; sadly, this is not the case.

So, if you’re rarin’ to go battle in the Unova Region, go for it; there’s a lot of stuff to do in the main storyline, and you can access random Wi-Fi matches early on in the game. Sadly, there’s a lack of post-game content, other than filling out that Pokédex of yours, so keep busy with the Battle Subway and more online matches. Don’t forget to get on the Pokémon Global Link website when the servers go back up on the 30th, so you can access more Pokémon with new abilities. I highly recommend this game to any Pokémon fan, or to someone wanting to try this out for the first time.

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Gaming, “In the Clouds”

For the most part, the gaming community expects new hardware from three companies: Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft (duh). If you really take an objective step back, you’ll come to realize that Microsoft really only got their foot in the console-gaming door within the past decade. Not to be personally nostalgic, but I can remember being deeply divulged in my Playstation 2 when one of my friends bought one of the clunky, all-too mysterious XBOX’s. I didn’t know what to think of the machine- “does it play Crash Bandicoot? Why are the buttons not labeled with shapes?!” My point being that new machines and hardware are hard to accept, hard to integrate into gamer’s lives. We’re conditionally trained to be fans of the tried and true, the old and the bold, the-okay, I’ll stop. Plainly said, it’s difficult to pull the average consumer away from their loyalties. That being said, I was thoroughly surprised when OnLive, a potential console competitor, arrived on the scene.

OnLive hopped onto the gamer’s radar just a couple of years ago, introduced first in the pages of subscription magazines and internet threads. I considered the new hardware to be something akin to Back to the Future’s theory that hoverboards would be abundant in the new millennium- it simply just wasn’t going to happen. However, in the year 2011 (just in case you didn’t know) I find that OnLive is very aLive topic. The company released their hardware this year and have even been dabbling in ‘app’ services for various mobile devices. Their business model seems to be, for lack of a better word, a bit of a clusterfuck, though. For the past couple months, they’ve been spouting promises of “$10 a month ‘service packs’” and free hardware deals with any purchase of such and so many games. They’ve also revealed that their hardware is to be built into new Vizio TV’s and Blu-ray players. Here’s my question: what the fuck are they trying to sell?! In some deals, they’ve given away free games; in others, they’ve given away free hardware. To my knowledge, the company hasn’t gone under yet (as they are acquiring more titles and continue to promote), but I don’t see how they’ve made any cash flow as of yet.

The clusterfuck doesn’t stop at the company’s style of business, though. Their gaming library, and the organization within, leaves something to be desired (I know, I know, they are just starting up). Thus far, OnLive has 38 confirmed titles, the highlights being F.E.A.R. 2, Bioshock, LEGO Batman, and on the arcade/indy side,World of Goo. Therein lies a couple concerns: 1.) In what manner were these games decided upon? 2.) Bioshock and F.E.A.R. 2 seem to cater to a niche audience- I think it’s a little bold entice consumers with games which were generally well received by only a few gamers, and 3.) Just LEGO Batman- was the shittiest installment selected on purpose, or was it given away to test OnLive’s waters? 

The other thing OnLive should consider: history’s a reference- use it. Other than Microsoft (which was well-established even before the XBOX), few companies have been able to pull our new, successful hardware while introducing their name at the same time. Neo Geo, Atari’s attempt at self-resurrection (the Jaguar), and TurboGrafx all failed miserably when trying to enter the console market. Their prices were unaffordable or ill-understood, their libraries left everything to be desired, and their names had nothing to do with Sega or Nintendo. Sound familiar?

I respect what OnLive is setting out for, really I do. They’ve set up a market (or are trying/have tried/still figuring things out…) where gamers can play high-resolution ports of popular games for a fair price (when they figure out exactly what that is). The other advantage they’ve pitched is their ability to store your games “in the clouds.” Gamers would essentially have whole libraries of games which required no physical memory card on which to store the game itself or the saves made within the game. I suppose the overall “edge” this gives them is the lack of necessity for physical hardware (besides for the console itself)? On the whole, I don’t see this as a turning point for most consumers. Both the 360 and the PS3 offer this as well and none of my friends, at least, seem to take hearty advantage of it. With OnLive, however, my supposition is that one would have infinite amounts of storage available, unless they could figure out a business model in which gamers paid for the memory space in a subscriber-based, incremental fashion.

As always, only time will tell whether OnLive really takes off or not. In ten years, we could all be thinking fondly of the console that was, selling its exclusive titles (assuming OnLive gains any) on what we would contemporarily consider to be our WiiWare-just as we do for many Turbografx games and others who’ve been lost over the course of time. On the other hand, we could also be, futuristically speaking, gamers considering which of the four game consoles to invest in come Christmas 2021, assuming OnLive takes the reigns of fourth console champion. In an age where new gizmos are just around the corner on seven-sided buildings, we’ll just have to see.

Comment below if you or a friend has experienced OnLive, have some conflicting opinion I’d like to argue against, or just want to post funny emoticons.

 

-JP 

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