Thursday, April 30, 2009

Empire Total War

Like diving into a murky lake from the rocky cliffs looming above, plunging into Empire: Total War is an intimidating prospect but an exhilarating experience. As with previous games in this strategy franchise, there's an overwhelming amount of content to unearth, though now the clock has been spun forward hundreds of years. Technological advances have made bows and arrows weapons obsolete, the British colonies strive for independence, and major empires approach their inevitable collapse. These historical waters are deep, but also a bit turbulent. Empire is the biggest and broadest Total War yet, and like an aging historical parchment, it's brilliantly ambitious in scope but somewhat tattered at the edges. Nevertheless, the game's historical breadth, turn-based tugs-of-war, and enjoyable real-time battles (both on land and at sea) will transfix series fans and newcomers a like.

The grand campaign is the meat of Empire: Total War, and it's there where you're likely to spend the most amount of time. The game stretches across the 18th century and lets you choose from a number of world powers, from Great Britain and Russia to fallen domains such as the Maratha Confederacy and the Ottoman Empire. Once you choose an empire, you can select from a few different campaign types that determine victory conditions and campaign length. Whichever you decide, be prepared: Even a short, 50-year campaign can take a good amount of time to complete, given that each turn requires strategic thinking on multiple fronts. Battles usually determine how regions are won and lost, but diplomatic relations, economic strangleholds, assassinations,

Friday, April 24, 2009

Monopoly 2008

An Updated Classic Returns: MONOPOLY Purists Rejoice! It's the World's Most Popular Board Game brought to life! Acquire wealth by buying and developing the Monopoly properties you know and love. It's all about money - and making more of it than your opponents. Features Include: -Cleverly Animated Tokens, Bright 3D Graphics, New Music -Enhanced Faster Moving Gameplay -Multiplayer Mode with up to 4 Friends OR Play against up to 3 Computer Opponents with an advanced A.I. -3 Opponent Difficulty Levels: First Time Buyer, Entrepreneur and Tycoon -Limitless Replayability -Fun and Addictive Action for Everyone!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Call of Duty 5 - World at War

Call of Duty - World at War is a lot like its predecessor, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. In most respects, this is a good thing. The guns are tightly tuned, the tone is gritty and mature, and the action is exciting and fast-paced. It boasts the same addictive multiplayer system as Modern Warfare, and even expands the multiplayer possibilities by allowing four players to play through the campaign cooperatively. Like every game in the series before Modern Warfare, this Call of Duty takes place during World War II. World at War does an admirable job of spicing things up, but between the well-worn source material and déjà vu game mechanics, there is a pervasive familiarity to the game. Still, though World at War lacks the freshness that made Modern Warfare such a hit, it nevertheless provides a hearty, filling meal--one that shooter fans are sure to savor.

The most salient difference between World at War and Modern Warfare is the WWII setting. In the campaign, you split time between two soldiers in two offensive theaters: the Russian push out of their homeland and into the heart of Germany, and the American struggle to wrest Pacific islands from the Japanese. Though you'll alternate

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dynasty Warriors 6 Reloaded

Dynasty Warriors 6 is the first game in Koei's long-running hack-and-slash series to be built specifically for current-generation consoles, and as such it benefits in one major area: It looks pretty. Other than that, this is Dynasty Warriors as it has been since its inception: a huge, sprawling, button-mashing affair set in ancient China, complete with the series' requisite cheesy cutscenes, dozens of playable characters, bad dialogue, and mostly incomprehensible storyline. Of course, there are new gameplay additions in Dynasty Warriors 6, but they're tweaks rather than overhauls and will be more exciting to long-term fans than casual players of the series.

If you are a newcomer, then suffice it to say that the Dynasty Warriors franchise has represented some of the best button-grinding fun to be had on consoles, although the series has been widely criticized for being just that: unashamed, action-focused, and strategy-light games that become almost hypnotic in their repetitiveness. The gameplay in Dynasty Warriors generally consists of your chosen character taking on hundreds of opposing soldiers single-handedly, which is usually accomplished by pressing one or two buttons ad nauseam. Like previous entries in the series, Dynasty Warriors 6 is set in the Three Kingdoms

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Call of Duty 4 - Modern Warfare

It took awhile, but Infinity Ward finally got the message that World War II is played out. With modern times and international affairs becoming more and more, shall we say, interesting in recent years, the 1940s just don't carry as much weight as they used to. Perhaps that's why Call of Duty 4 has a new subtitle, Modern Warfare. By bringing things into a fictionalized story that still seems fairly plausible, the developer has made a much heavier game. But COD 4 is more than just an updated setting. It's also an amazing multiplayer first-person shooter and a great but brief single-player campaign with the visual chops to make it a standout shooter in an era filled with seemingly dozens of standout shooters.

The only real catch is that the single-player is almost shockingly short. If you've been keeping up with this style of game, you'll probably shoot your way to the credits in under five hours. While you can raise the difficulty to give yourself more of a challenge, the main thing this does is make the enemies frustratingly deadly, which sort of detracts from the fun.

While it may have a lack of single-player quantity, it makes up for most of it with its quality. The game tells its story from multiple perspectives, and you'll play as a new British SAS operative as well as a US Marine. The campaign takes you from a rainy night out at sea on a boat that's in the process of sinking to a missile

Monday, April 20, 2009

Men Of War

In the already crowded field of World War II real-time strategy games, new contenders have to provide something special to distinguish themselves. In order to achieve this, game developers must experiment and push beyond the ordinary, creating games that give us new reasons to revisit WWII again and again. Men of War succeeds at carving a niche within the genre by delivering an epic campaign full of historical detail, plus the ability to jump into your units with a third-person "direct control" mode. Furthermore, Men of War forgoes base building so that you can focus on tactics. These elements combine to produce an experience steeped in history and rich in detail that will reward anyone looking for a challenging new twist on the genre.

Men of War is a complex and difficult game, and as such it can be tough to get into. The first mission, which is the closest thing the game has to a tutorial, only teaches you a few basic commands. After that, you'll get some help from the interface, such as the ghostly outlines that show where your troops can take cover and the occasional tool tip that flashes by, but that's about it. This can be problematic when a mission asks you, for example, to booby-trap enemy vehicles or hide dead bodies but gives you no clue as how you do so. Unorthodox controls are common in Men of War, so even

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Need For Speed Pro Street

November 13, 2007 - EA's Need for Speed series has long been an ever-evolving franchise, one that changes up its focus, mechanics and style every couple of years. Though the game sells incredibly well, the developer/publisher doesn't like to sit still. This obviously means that the series has had its ups and downs, and unfortunately Need for Speed ProStreet isn't one of the ups.

ProStreet is a game that doesn't really seem to know what it's trying to be. It's been years since we've seen a Need for Speed title that focused solely on track racing, with the franchise branching out into open world settings with a story, cop chases and all sorts of other things to make it stand out. ProStreet, however, goes back to the track-based racing, putting the player into race after race on closed circuits, and then sending them back to a menu after each race is over.

This setup is perfectly fine and, in this case, does work well to some extent, but there's not really a whole lot of extra "stuff" outside of the races that makes it seem like Black Box had a good idea of exactly what it was trying to accomplish. Yes, the fundamentals are there and the setup does work well, but the bulk of the presentation doesn't feel all that robust, especially when compared to what we've seen in recent years.

The Godfather II

If The Godfather II had been a mediocre, mindless action flick, the game of the same name could at least be considered faithful to its source material. As it is, though, Coppola's Mafia-themed masterpiece has been reduced to an uninspired, repetitive open-world action game with out-of-context movie quotes and a handful of recognizable characters sprinkled throughout its forgettable story. To make matters worse, The Godfather II has clearly been released in an unfinished state and is riddled with performance issues and bugs like they've been fired from a Tommy gun.

You play as Dominic, an important member of the Corleone family who somehow managed to make it through the epic movie trilogy without ever wandering into camera shot despite apparently being involved in a number of key scenes. As one of Michael Corleone's most trusted men, you've been groomed to head up your own family, and after a brief introductory sequence set in Cuba, the game proper gets under way in a diminutive New York where you're instructed to set about making a name for yourself. From this point on, much of your time is spent seizing and attempting to retain control of businesses run by rival families in order to make money and, ultimately, force said families to retreat into their compounds where you can eliminate them entirely. Unfortunately, killing rival mafiosi and intimidating business owners gets repetitive quickly and isn't much fun to begin with.

Monday, April 13, 2009

World of Warcraft - Wrath of the Lich King

Four years and well beyond 10 million subscriptions after the release of World of Warcraft, Blizzard's phenomenally successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game is barely recognizable as the same game that sold almost a quarter of a million copies in its first 24 hours. The game has been in a near-constant state of evolution since 2004, and up until last month, the steady flow of new features and improvements had all been patched in for free, with only one exception: the Burning Crusade expansion pack that's required to play Wrath of the Lich King. The recently released second expansion pack doesn't boast as many back-of-the-box bullet points as its predecessor, and it doesn't offer anything for new players, but if you're still playing WOW or you're looking for an excuse to get back into it, this thrilling new adventure is not to be missed.

All of the new content in Wrath of the Lich King comes with a character-level requirement. You can't play the new death knight hero class until one of your existing characters reaches level 55, and you can't attempt any quests in the new Northrend continent until you're at level 68. The most significant exception to this rule would have been the new inscription-crafting profession, but that ended up being patched in shortly before the expansion's release alongside new talents for every character class in the game, an Xbox Live-style

Red Alert 3 - Command & Conquer

Uprising, the first expansion to last year's excellent RTS Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, is a curious beast. It's a download only, standalone, entirely single-player experience. That's right, we said entirely single-player experience.

Which is a strange choice from developer EA Los Angeles. The best thing about Red Alert 3 was the co-operative campaign - well, that's we we thought anyway. Perhaps the decision to provide four new single-player mini-campaigns and a vast single-player Challenge mode is an indication that we were wrong. RTS expansions exist to give fans more of what they liked from the games they're expanding upon. That there is no multiplayer in Uprising suggests that most people who bought Red Alert 3 played it on their own.

True or false, what we have here, for £15 from the EA Store, is an expansion that at times impresses by making you feel like an RTS god, then disappoints because it falls short of the high-quality spectacle that was the original, and feels, well, just a bit lonely.

Uprising picks up where RA3 finished. At first only the Soviet mini-campaign and the bonus dungeon crawl mini-campaign are available. The Soviet campaign begins with a trademark tongue-in-cheek live action clip (Uprising brings half-an-hour's worth of new footage). The Allies, having dealt with the Soviets and the

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.K

The first time we heard of Tom Clancy’s HAWX we thought it was a professional spitting game, one that’d probably have some sort of pseudo-realistic combat angle mug-fistedly forced in there. Judging by the name it was either that or a game about the robotic harem of an acclaimed military fiction author.

Turns out that we were wrong; it’s an arcade flight simulation game. The titular HAWX isn’t an onomatopoeic device about gobbing loogies; it stands for High Altitude Warfare eXperimental, which is the most spurious and unnecessary use of the letter X in an acronym that we’ve seen since BMX XXX.

The setting for HAWX is the usual Tom Clancy schtick then, set in the not-too-distant future and centralised around a string of possible combat technologies that could theoretically change the face of warfare as we know it. It’s the same basic formula which both Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon were built around, to name a few.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Need for Speed Undercover

For the most part, the reaction to the last few Need for Speed games was the same: "Why aren't they more like Need for Speed Most Wanted?" "Where are the cheesy cutscenes and the over-the-top cop chases?" It seems as if EA heard those cries, because for better or for worse, Need for Speed Undercover feels like Most Wanted.

In Undercover you play the role of...wait for undercover officer. Along with agent Chase Linh, played by the attractive Maggie Q, your job is to take down a group of street racers that have somehow become involved in an international smuggling ring. The story is told via campy cutscenes that fail to capture the charm of Most Wanted thanks to uninteresting characters and a predictable plot. Having a story provides incentive to make it through race after race, but the whole "this is cheesy so it's cool" thing feels kind of forced this time around.

Dawn of War II

Build your base, order your troops, and command them in the field of battle. It's been the standard operating procedure of the real-time strategy genre since Dune II cemented the foundation. Now with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, Relic has smashed apart a major pillar of the RTS formula by eliminating base building. In its place have been fused elements of role-playing games, whereby the squads you control in each of the campaign carry over mission to mission, grow, and evolve according to what gear you decide to equip and what skills you decide to improve. The notions of persistence introduced in the expansions to the original Dawn of War have been expanded, the cover system and destructible environments from Company of Heroes imported, and the capture point mechanic for resource acquisition built in and simplified for the skirmish mode. It's a game that, like Massive Entertainment's World in Conflict, slices the strings that bind genre entries to tradition, and in the process emerges as something as strange as it is familiar, that sometimes stumbles in its newness but still manages to find its footing.

The game is divided into a campaign mode and skirmish mode, all of which feature multiplayer. In the campaign, Relic gives you the option to play cooperatively, with those participating working together to vanquish the enemy, though it's only the host who reaps the persistent rewards. In the skirmish mode, you