Saturday, December 15, 2007

Company of Heroes

Tech Info:

Publisher: THQ
Developer: Relic
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: Sep 13, 2006

System requirements:

Windows XP or Vista
DirectX 9.0c
3.0 GHz Intel Pentium IV or equivalent
256 MB NVIDIA GeForce(tm) 6800 series or better
6.5 GB of uncompressed free hard drive space (We recommend having 1 gigabyte of free space after installation)

Graphics & Sound:
Company of Heroes for the Windows Company of Heroes is brought to us from Relic, makers of Homeworld and the stellar Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, and industry stalwart THQ. This game has garnered quite a lot of buzz from its showing at E3, and has come through with rave reviews upon its release.

Graphically, COH is stunning. Not only are there all the latest high-tech advances like dynamic lighting, shadows, real-time physics, shading and more, but you also have rag doll physics (Havok Engine) and fully destructible environments. Got a sniper bugging you across the way? Just throw a satchel charge into the nearest window and problem solved. The attention to detail is also just staggering. You can zoom right into the action, seeing the various gear and facial expressions of your men, as well as the battle scars on your vehicles, the craters, burning embers and lovely ricochets in the ensuing mayhem. Imagine Call of Duty realism in a RTS folks - it’s that good. I would literally set-up Skirmish mode (along with a handy cheat) to set-off some gargantuan explosions, ripping enemy soldiers limb from limb, cartwheeling into the air in pieces and landing all over the European countryside. Glorious.

Speaking of the terrain, the various locales your brave troops face off in are modeled on the real historical places your grandparents fought in. The impressive city environments offer a bevy of church towers, quaint cottages and industrial works. Some maps are wider open, such as the bucolic farmlands, dotted with barns and windmills, or the quagmire of hedgerows, making every advance a slow and treacherous endeavor.

In the sound department, this game has some very impressive features. The various weapon and explosive effects are 100% spot on. The 50.caliber machine gun has that famous staccato “thump-thump-thump”, while the deadly MG42 has the steady “brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpppp” effect because of the much higher rate of fire. The same can be said for the explosive rockets, small-arms fire and more. You even get a wide range of “colorful” (in the adult sense) responses from both sides, as they scream for help, or harangue your orders. Just another touch to bring this battlefield to new heights of vibrancy. Lastly, the orchestral war-themed tunes are matched well with missions and conditions, and hold up well amongst the other visual and auditory treats.

Company of Heroes for the Windows In Company of Heroes, most people will dive into the Campaign mode and be busy for a few days grinding through the 15 splendid and varied missions. Unlike most RTS's, you don’t have to send out gatherers (like wood cutters, etc.). You have a few men at the start, and maybe a pre-made base, but the manpower, fuel and ammo points come after capturing various strategic points, not unlike in Dawn of War. This constant tug-of-war between the important resource nodes provides a rather dynamic battlefield, as opposed to the classic “zerg” attack used by amassing a ton of troops at your base, and then finally launching out in a huge wave of destruction. In COH, you have to constantly micro-manage the building of defensive structures, forward bases, armor and more to keep the attack going. Some missions will take you from the infamous meat grinder of Omaha beach, to the port city of Cherbourg, and even an enemy V-2 rocket installation, where you must overtake it with only limited airborne troops. Before each level, you are treated to beautiful CG intro, as well as in-game graphics that link together the story of your brave men on the advance. In the middle of most missions, you will also be given tactical map instructions, complete with a host of arrows, markers and oral objectives to complete - really slick stuff! The missions scale up from very minute in scope, so that you get a handle on all aspects of gameplay, from basic troop management, to the complexities of resource control and utilizing one of three core strategies. The latter really offer an interesting wrinkle to the gameplay.

Each strategy employs a different arm of the military; the Airborne strategy uses airdropped infantry, guns, supplies and air power (recon, strafing and bombing runs from P-40 Thunderbolts). The Army or infantry doctrine is all about artillery, expert Rangers and so forth. Lastly, the Armor strategy focuses on the “kings of the battlefield” (aka tanks) and allows for a rocket tank, as well as the mighty Pershing to be called into the fray. Each of these actions costs valuable points, so knowing when to play these special cards is critical.

Units are pretty expansive and range from your typical infantry squads, to the impressive 105mm howitzers that can move whole mountainsides with destructive fury. Most units can receive upgrades such as anti-tank capabilities, flamethrowers, armor skirts, bigger guns and so on. Once again, these don’t come free; so keep on eye on those resources. The way units behave and react is also pretty amazing. The A.I. in this game is really remarkable. Soldiers under mortar fire will huddle into bomb craters or behind sandbags. Armor crews will cry out when they see indestructible German Tiger tanks prowling the field, and must work to the rear for any chance of survival. A single sniper can demoralize a whole unit, as it picks off soldiers one by one, while slipping back into the shadows. Not since Close Combat have I seen A.I. modeled so well.

There is also Skirmish mode versus both human and A.I. opponents. You can choose from a large amount of maps, for up to 2-8 players, and provide for an unlimited amount of replay value. Especially against another person, the tactics can vary wildly from defensive-minded opponents who will set up a bevy of bunkers, barb wire and static field guns, versus the assault-minded foes, who will crash fully laden half-tracks into your positions, filled to the brim with gun-toting grunts. You can play in Annihilation mode (all bases/enemies dead), or go for the faster Objective based, where you have to secure various victory points in order to win.

Company of Heroes for the Windows On the default mode, the A.I. is rather tough. Couple this with the micro-management and aggressive gameplay and many new to the RTS may be overwhelmed. Luckily, you have a couple easier difficulty options (as well as some suicidal ones for veterans) and with a really well thought out tutorial, I don’t see much of an issue here. If Relic could have offered more autonomous options for some units, it would cut down on the micro-management aspect, because often times, you may be on one side of the map trying to construct elaborate defense, with machine-gun bunkers, tank traps and mines, while on another front you are getting railed, because you didn’t set-up your anti-tank gun in exactly the right position. This became especially evident in the “defend the hill mission”, where you have to withstand some serious enemy armor and infantry advances.

Game Mechanics:
Company of Heroes for the Windows The camera system is smooth and can fully zoom into the thick of any action. At times though, if you swing up to view the skyline and oncoming enemy forces, there is quite a bit of slowdown with all the action taking place. Other than that, the controls are pretty basic from the heavy mouse click and hot key system of your typical RTS game, and Relic improves upon the formula nicely.

Company of Heroes is an amazing title, with jaw-dropping graphics, physics and sound, with intense gameplay and deep, never-ending multiplayer action. This might be in my top 10 PC games of all time list; it most definitely climbed to the top of my strategy list. If you are any kind of fan of war games, strategy or just have a pulse and a PC, you would be moronic not to get this title.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rome: Total War

Tech Info:

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Creative Assembly
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy - Real time battle
Release Date: Sep 22, 2004
ESRB Descriptors: Violence

System requirements:

English version of Microsoft® Windows® 98SE/ME/2000/XP
DirectX® 9.0b (included)
Processor: 2GHz Pentium IV or equivalent
RAM: 512MB
Video Memory: 128MB
Hard Drive Space: 3.4GB

The year is 270 B.C. The republic of Rome has reached a critical stage in its development as a new political and military power in the Mediterranean. To the north the Gauls and Germans assemble their barbaric warriors to prey on the republic's provinces, to the south west the wealthy Carthage is readying its war machine to expand even further, and to the south east the Greek states try to recover from their fall and achieve their former greatness. The Senate relies on the three great roman families, the Julii, the Brutii and the Scipii to protect the roman lands and bring law and order to the uncivilized world. The Roman law and order.

How difficult can it be to build an empire? How do you divide your army between conquering, defending and occupying a territory? Your coffers are limited and professional troops are expensive. How do you maintain alliances and trade rights when your purpose of expanding is all too clear? You certainly can't fight the whole world at once. How do you prevent unrest in newly conquered lands while imposing your culture and taxation to the people inhabiting them? How do you answer to the Senate's call for duty when your armies are divided on countless fronts and your supply lines are stretched to the breaking point? The Senate loves competent leaders, but the Senate's greatest fear is a too competent leader.

And how do you develop a computer game that can offer an insight in all that but also keep it simple and intuitive enough to make it fun, instead of frustrating? Well, it seems that Creative Assembly found a way to do just that. Of course, this is not their first try and the experience from the two previous Total War games obviously played an important role in achieving this goal. Rome: Total War turned out to be an almost perfect combination of historically correct turn based strategy with spectacular real time, epic scale tactical battles and role playing elements.

Like it's predecessors, Rome: Total War has two different types of gameplay. The first one is the turn based strategy which takes place on the world map, where you manage your cities, move your armies, establish diplomatic relationships, spy or assassinate your opponents, while the second one is represented by the real time tactical battles where the outcome often depends more on the decisions of the player than on the size of his army.

The single player campaign starts with a prologue that also serves as a tutorial, in which a computer advisor will familiarize you with the interface, the basics of army maneuvers, combat and empire management. The advisor is content sensitive, and can be summoned at any time to explain a certain screen or function of the game menus. Even if you haven't played Shogun or Medieval: Total War, the tutorial will get you up the learning curve in a very short period of time, considering the number and complexity of the actions that can be performed in the game.

After you have finished the tutorial you can start the main campaign as one of the roman factions. The Julii, Brutii and Scipii have the same technology tree (being all roman factions), and even though the units and buildings are the same, the gameplay styles are very different. The Julii must achieve land superiority over the barbarians in the north, relying on superior units and tactics rather than numbers, as their trading is weak and the fronts will be wide and very numerous. The Scipii must develop naval trade between Europe and Africa as Carthage is very wealthy and military advanced and has access to the most feared unit in the game: elephants. Probably the easiest task falls to the Brutii who must deal with the Greek Cities and the weak nations in the east. And while the Greeks are technological advanced and have a rather large fleet, their weakness lies in the fractioned territory and poor choice of cavalry and ranged units.

The fourth roman faction, the Roman Senate, or S.P.Q.R, is unplayable, and holds only one province: Latium, with its city, Rome, and while holding virtually no military or economic power, it is without a doubt the most powerful political faction on the world map. Basically the Senate will order around the three roman families, deciding which nation is a fried of foe of the roman people and further more which town or port must be conquered, respectively blockaded. If you carry out the Senate's missions with success, besides the material reward, your family members have and a higher chance to be elected for certain senate posts which in turn offer influence. You can choose not to engage in these missions, but if you fail to obey the Senate's orders too often they will offer threats instead of rewards to motivate you.

Family members are very important in Rome: Total War, as they, and only they, serve as generals and governors. A certain family member is practically described by four attributes: command, management, influence and age. Command is very important for a general, raising the morale of the troops he leads in combat and if you ever choose to resolve a battle automatically the outcome will largely depend on his command rating. Management is, obviously, the main attribute of a city governor, influencing the growth rate of the populace, as well as the city's income from trading, farming, resources, and taxation. Influence is the trade of the politician, having an impact on diplomatic relationships and city order, and the most influential family member is generally the faction leader. Age is always a concern, and while youth offers strength and quick advancement in skills, as your characters get old this will have a negative impact on their attributes, not to mention the fact that they will eventually die.

The character's attributes are influenced by traits, which can be good or bad, and which are given from birth and through life experiences. For example a general who runs away in battle will have a coward trait, and men fighting under his command will have a morale penalty. Opposed to this, a general who has won some battles against the odds will gain the trait of legendary commander. There are numerous traits, ranging from the passion for alcohol to bloodiness in combat or fear of city walls. Besides traits, family members have retinues composed of advisors, bodyguards, geographers, mathematicians, hunting pets and more. These retinues always have a benefic effect in certain situations, providing better military command, lessen the chance of an assassin to eliminate the character, enlarging the viewing range on the world map, giving bonuses to the taxation and so on. Unlike traits, you can exchange retinues between family members, so that when an older character dies, he won’t take everything he has accumulated in his life to the grave with him.

Making a long story short, you will always be short of good generals and governors and while you can still manually command your troops in combat without the presence of a general, the lack of morale bonus and the ability to rally routing units can be decisive in tight situations. You can't fully control your cities without a governor, as you can only change the policy of the automanager to military, population growth, cultural development, etc. Also, in the late game, when you must hold a lot of newly conquered provinces far from your capital, it will be almost impossible to stop them from rebelling without a good governor. If you want to skip all the micromanagement you can turn automanage on all provinces, but this will only be ok on the easy difficulty.

You only get new family members through birth, marriage and adoption. A male character will have more descendents if he takes a lot of trips on the world map, so a general will have more successors than a governor. This is very important as birth is the only way you can get 16 year old new family members, which will inherit some of his father's abilities. Unlike family members, you can recruit as many diplomats, spies and assassins you can afford. These types of units play a very important role in building your empire, depending on the path you choose to achieve your goals. Diplomats are a must for any style of gameplay, and you depend on their influence rating to forge alliances, trade rights, ask for regular tribute, etc. Spies and assassins depend on their subterfuge rating to carry out their missions, and if they should fail they get captured and killed. Spies in particularly are very useful for seeing exactly what units and how many there are in a certain army or enemy town, if they can infiltrate that city they will open the gates for you from the inside if you choose to attack, and they act as a secret militia in your own towns, maintaining the public order far better than a large garrison. But just like family members, diplomats, spies, and assassins grow old, losing their abilities and eventually dieing, so they're not a “place and forget” type of unit.

The single player campaign will get the player through all the stages of the Roman republic, from its struggle to survive to its undisputed supremacy and finally the transition to an empire. Unlike any other game, Rome: Total War will keep you in constant difficulty, even when you control more than half of the world map. The struggle to keep a huge empire from collapsing is even harder than surviving your larger neighbors in the early game. And if at the start of the game the other roman factions will be your best friends, the Senate will eventually start to fear your expansion policy and military power. When your public support will be high enough to take on Rome and become imperator, the Senate will declare you an enemy of the true roman ways, and the other two families will turn on you. This is the hardest part of the campaign, as you will no longer face technology challenged enemies, and you will get a taste of your own medicine in the form of disciplined roman troops and extremely wealthy opponents. After you complete the Roman campaign, you can start a new game with any of the playable factions, which include Britannia, Carthage, the Gauls, the Greeks, Egypt and so on.

A nice change from the previous Total War games is that the world map is now 3D, easier to read and more fun to watch. Trade is depicted by caravans who travel along roads between the cities and ships on the naval trade routes. For example, it’s now easy to notice that in the case of a siege or port blockade, the city's land respectively naval trade will cease, making it an effective tactic to weaken your opponents' financial power before you engage in combat, because war is more about money than anything else. The terrain features on the world map are not only decorative, since they serve precise strategy roles. For example, you can hide your armies in forests to ambush nearby passing troops, build forts at natural choke points such as bridges and mountain passes, etc. It is also important to attack an enemy position from a certain direction, as it is preferred to hold the upper ground, or to approach an army with a lot of ranged units from a forest. Also, if you are largely outnumbered you should consider a bridge or any other map that contains a choke point as your best aid in obtaining victory. Guerilla tactics are unfortunately not an option, since the battles are limited in time, and if the attacking faction doesn't destroy all the defenders in that period of time the outcome is considered defeat, and this will have a negative effect on your general's stats.

Units gain experience from battles and the bonuses are well worth the effort of trying not to send them to be butchered. You can retrain your troops in cities, and you can also refit them with new armor and weapons if you have built an upgrade to the armory. Be aware though, if too many unit members have fallen in combat and you replace them with new recruits this can have a negative effect on the unit’s experience level. The thing is that soldiers never age or die, so you can preserve the same conquering force through almost the whole length of the campaign, making it easy to prey on the enemy city garrisons who are mostly composed of "green" troops.

Now on to the other gameplay style: the new 3D real time battles. Here the transition from 2D sprites from the previous two Total War games to fully 3D units and map make the battles nothing short of spectacular. Thousands of units can battle it out on life and death, and while the engine can render you a birds eye view on the general situation, you can get close enough to see which way the balance will incline in a certain regions, and further more, see each individual unit hacking, slashing or thrusting its weapon at its enemies. The variety of animations is truly impressive if we consider the epic scale of the battles. It is pure visual treat to watch your cavalry charge the enemy lines, lifting clouds of dust into the air, knocking down the infantry, or falling from their saddle when they encounter compact Greek phalanx or roman testudo formations. The horse man will try to jump over the units that happen to be in their way to get to their targets. An onager projectile will smash several units, and throw them meters away from the point of impact. The archer's volley is impressive not only in looks, but also in terms of sound, as you can hear the bows' cords being released, the arrows in mid flight, and the sound of the impact on different materials. Also, the volleys of flaming arrows will sound differently from regular ones, but the effect of units dying engulfed in flames is somehow simple and unrealistic.

The sounds are very good and veridical and you can differentiate between weapons that are being used, the sound of cavalry or infantry marching and so on. The general will also hold a speech before combat, depending on his reputation, the balance of numbers, the standing of the nation you are attacking, etc, even making jokes about the barbarian's excessive hairiness, and the troops always respond after the speech with war cries and by clashing their weapons. The music both on the world map and in combat is very good and complements the visuals, making the game more immersive. Without a doubt the care for details is impressive, and the whole experience is no less than mind blowing. It is easy to understand why Rome's engine was chosen by the History Channel to depict some historical battles on their "Decisive Battles" program.

The new 3D engine also plays an important role in the gameplay style. You must place your archers with care, not to fire at your own troops, approximate the trajectory of missiles to get them over city walls and certain map features. Also, it's easy to recognize that charging downhill is more effective than ordering your troops to run up a steep slope. The compact wall of spears of the Greek phalanx will make you think twice before attacking it from the front, and the roman testudo will almost completely ignore missiles, while it will tire you infantry who have to hold up a heavy shield.

The sieges tend to be more fun and challenging that the open land battles where cavalry is mostly the only thing you’ll need. But in the case of a siege, the game turns becomes almost chess like, as the attacker searches for vulnerabilities in the city defenses. At the beggining range units fight for supremacy over the city walls, and if the attacker manages to create a breach, infantry will get through it much faster than cavalry, which is obviously not comfortable on narrow city streets, not to mention it can't get up on the walls or siege towers. However cavalry does have its role in city sieges, mainly using its superior speed to cut the retreat of the defeated to maximize its loses or getting fast around the city walls to get behind the attacker while he is trapped in the narrow entry points. It would be impossible for me to write here about all the different tactics and military maneuvers available to a skilled general on the battlefield, but most of them are very intuitive and the military advisor will brief you on the details if you choose that in the options menu of the game.

Rome: Total War is the most advanced, complete and realistic strategy game out there. No matter if you are looking for a great single player campaign which can fill weeks or even months with continuous challenges and new experiences, or you just want realistic cinematic multiplayer skirmishes of epic scale, this game delivers true value for money which isn't something too common these days.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Crusader Kings

Tech Info:

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Turn-based strategy
Release Date: Sep 28, 2004
ESRB Descriptors: Violence

System requirements:

• Windows 98SE / 2000 / XP
• Pentium III 450 MHz 128 Mb RAM
• 600 MB Free Hard Drive Space
• 4 Mb Video Card DirectX Compatible
• DirectX compatible Sound Card
• DirectX 9.0 or higher

Tired of Europa Universalis? Paradox Entertainment hopes that you're not, because the Swedish developer has just issued its seventh variation on the critically acclaimed real-time game of grand strategy. Crusader Kings may turn the clock back to the early medieval era, but the design focus is still solidly on historical accuracy. While casual gamers will feel like they've been plunged into a maelstrom of names and dates, anyone with a love of history will appreciate the rigorous attention to detail and epic scope.

Those who enjoy historical biographies are also in for a treat. Befitting its name, Crusader Kings places a great deal of emphasis on historical personages. So while you still play through three campaigns--the turbulent aftermath of William the Conqueror's victory in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Third Crusade of 1187, and the onset of the Hundred Years' War in 1337--filled with the usual economics, diplomatic machinations, and military campaigning, you do so as an individual.

So if you want to try your hand at keeping the Muslims out of Jerusalem in 1187, you might step into the stirrups of England's King Richard I, or don the robes of France's King Philippe II Capet, or take over the beleaguered court of Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem itself. There are thousands of authentic characters and virtually no limit on which king you can portray, as long as he is in feudal Christendom--Muslim states, the papacy, and Christian orders like the Knights Hospitallers are included, but they aren't playable.

Every person in the game features characteristics that wouldn't be out of place in an RPG. In addition to the four basic attributes of martial, diplomacy, intrigue, and stewardship, there are 26 character traits, plus another two-dozen education and special traits and over a dozen diseases.

Each of these quirks has positive and negative effects. King Malcolm III Dunkeld of Scotland, for instance, is vengeful and suspicious--nasty tendencies that make him appreciate naïve rivals who are forgiving and trusting. He was educated as a martial cleric, which means that he's skilled when it comes to diplomacy, intrigue, and the military. William I of Normandy is on the other side of the fence, with a laundry list of positive attributes that make him energetic, wise, merciful, and valorous. Of course, such features make him the natural enemy of those who are lazy, reckless, and cruel cowards. He's also a bastard, though, so other nobles naturally dislike him and his prestige takes a hit. And then there's Constantine X Ducas of Byzantium, an indulgent but knowledgeable ruler who is unfortunately afflicted with a clubfoot that reduces his chances of marriage.

All of these factors come into play in every aspect of the game. If your vassals are at the other end of the personality spectrum, betrayal and revolt in your provinces is a constant threat. Conflicts are also accentuated when rival kings have different interests. Don't expect to be arranging too many marriages, or successfully suing for peace during times of war, if this is the case.

Traits aren't set in stone, however. As in previous games based on the Europa Universalis engine, you are regularly confronted with situations that require you to make some choices. Many of these incidents personally involve your character, and you are asked to react to events such as a pretty wench catching your eye or your son riding horses hard through the woods. No matter what you do in these situations, you win and lose. Give in to your passion with the wench and you wind up with a bastard and the lustful trait. Hold back and you might never father an heir at all. Encourage your son's physical activity and his health and fertility scores go up, but so do his chances of illness and developing the reckless personality trait. There are so many events and potential choices to make that you really get the sense of molding a character, much like in a role-playing game.

Each individual's place in history is further cemented with a massive web of familial relationships. In addition to its role as a strategy game, Crusader Kings also functions as a de facto encyclopedia of European feudal dynasties in the Middle Ages. You can open up your king's main screen and then explore all of his formal connections by clicking on icons representing his parents, wife, sons and daughters, vassals, potential successors, and even court hangers-on. These relationships are so broad that you often begin clicking at one end of Europe and soon end up at the other.

Start clicking and it's hard to stop, too, since you are creating your own dynasty as you go. It is absolutely captivating to follow the progress of bastards born from lustful assignations that you permitted as well as the careers of heirs once they assume the throne, and the success of arranged marriages, and so forth. There is more of an earthy tone here than in any of the preceding Europa Universalis-styled games, and as a result gameplay is much more grounded. It reduces the overly formal epic sweep of those earlier titles to a more manageable center that adds a needed touch of soap opera humanity to some of the most momentous events in history.

Still, some problems have been held over. Although this style of epic strategic gaming has never been more approachable, Paradox repeats many old mistakes. A tutorial has once again been ignored and the manual is woefully inadequate at helping newbies get into their first campaign. There are no solo campaign objectives aside from simply surviving long enough to build prestige and a strong family dynasty. Unlike Europa Universalis II, there are no immediate, stated goals on which you can focus while getting comfortable with the immense depth of play, the number of historical personages with which to deal, the daunting main map screen with over a thousand provinces, and so on. It's nice that Paradox encourages an open-ended, almost sandbox style of play, but this philosophy is too extreme, leaving newcomers adrift in an intimidating sea of kings, counts, and courtiers.

Also, multiplayer still isn't what it should be, largely because of the subpar Valkyrienet matching system. Considering the significant number of people out there playing these games against the computer, Paradox should be doing more to develop an online community to play them with other human beings.

The Europa Universalis engine is also starting to look and feel old. Backward compatibility is nice--especially here, since you can port saved games into Europa Universalis II for a full 800 years of historical gaming goodness--but we've been looking at essentially the same map since the start of 2001. And while it is a clean and attractive map, it would be nice to see the engine finally move into 3D territory. Sound quality remains impressive. The musical score is overly bombastic and somewhat out of place for this era, although at least these martial tunes sound great. Atmospheric audio effects are better than ever. Open up the character screen to get information on the king and his vassals and you're greeted by the sounds of hushed whispers as the courtiers gossip. Have trouble with the plague or malaria and voices calling "Bring out your dead!" swell up ominously.

Nevertheless, Crusader Kings is an impressive addition to the Europa Universalis family. The addition of playable characters adds a welcome human touch that both broadens the historical scope of the game and makes it friendlier to newcomers to the series who want to attach faces and personalities to the names and numbers.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Time Shift (movie review)

You want to be the one who can control time ? Let play Time Shift ...
Released : October 30, 2007

For download
Blog Page

Be careful with your Time !!!

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Friday, November 30, 2007

World in Conflict

Tech Info

Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Massive Ent
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: Sep 18, 2007

System requirements:

OS: Microsoft Windows XP/Vista.
CPU: 2.0GHz Or Higher, 2.2GHz For Vista, if dual-core: Any Intel or AMD
RAM: 512MB, 1GB for Vista.
Disc drive: DVD-drive
Hard drive: 8GB or more.
Video: 128MB video RAM Direct X 9.0c Compatible. Note: ATI Radeon 8500, 9200 & Nvidia GeForce 4 MX Not Supported.
Sound: Direct X 9.0c Compatible.
Multiplayer: Cable, DSL or Better.

Tom Clancy wouldn't approve. In 1989 there would be no way the Soviets could launch an invasion of the United States of America. After all, Soviet Communism was a bankrupt political philosophy, meaning that nothing it created could succeed. Its architecture of aggression – tanks, aircraft and so on were no match to the true blue white heat of technology created by the free peoples of North America. And Soviet troops, in full knowledge of their satanic political pact were not as motivated or as well trained as the forces of Uncle Sam.

Which makes seeing tanks roll onto the streets of Seattle seem all the more shocking really. Here is a tale told as well as any in gaming today – for crying out loud they hired a Baldwin, the top one, the one that can act, to provide the narration to this historic conflict.

Close Air Support

While the story may be grand, you're not one of the minds that is controlling a nations strategic nuclear stockpile. World in Conflict places you right on the firing line. It's a corporal's life for you my son, defending town squares, fighting street to street and for each hill.

That's what makes World in Conflict such a glorious treat in these days of grand strategy titles like Supreme Commander. The action here is down and dirty – where a well placed air strike provided by your close support aircraft can turn the tide of a skirmish.

You'll fight through an engaging campaign, with major objectives split into smaller ones as you advance to your final goals. Forget division sized engagements – your small platoon or company sized groups always be in your reach and always keep you on your toes.

Daisy Cutter

With the action coming thick and fast its just as well World in Conflict offers simple and intuitive controls. Moving the camera and units is simplicity itself as is placing troops inside buildings. Only very rarely will the interface get in the way of your enjoyment of the game.

Resource management is on the light side – you won't be tasked with collecting some baloney beans or some such nonsense. You'll earn reinforcement points and tactical aid points by success on the battlefield – killing the enemy or completing objectives.

Tactical aids are great fun and come in the form of rewarding slices of militaristic showing off. Learning how best to use these is one of the most fun aspects of the game. How best to clear infantry from a wooded area? Is it a napalm strike, how about a daisy cutter bomb? The choice is yours.

To get the best out of the game it's worth upping the difficulty level as the default is a little on the easy side. You'll be glad you did when facing enemies online.

It's the Only Way to be Sure

By the time you get your hands of the top tactical aid, a nuke, you'll be itching to deploy it on enemy forces. And it really doesn't disappoint. World in Conflict is a damn pretty game and the nuclear carnage you can unleash on of the highlights of its visual splendour.

Everything looks fantastic in World of Conflict. If you can see it, you can probable make a complete mess of it. Explosions are fantastic, smoke even more so. Units and maps are extremely detailed and more attractive than most other strategy games I've played.

I've not played the game on DX10 hardware, but via DX9 it looks splendid anyway and ran extremely well at high settings on my GeForce 7600 powered notebook.

Online War

Good as the single player campaign is, World in Conflict really comes into its own as a base for skirmish battles. Playing online is a real joy due to the ability to drop into battles already being played out.

At first I struggled when playing online, many of us who signed up for the beta took a while to get to grips with things. But by the time the final retail game came along we'd started to specialise. Playing with friends is a joy, teamwork is needed to get the best out of the game and World in Conflict then becomes one of the finest multiplayer strategy games around.


World in Conflict proves you don't have to reinvent the wheel to provide top quality entertainment. The tactical play on offer is certainly nothing new. But the combination of quality presentation, a focus on close action and really top notch multiplayer and skirmishes means that World in Conflict really is one of the best PC games released this year.

It might have seemed that the action packed nature of the game would make for a dumb experience but really this isn't so. Smart and thrill a minute really can go hand in hand and strategy fans used to more hardcore options should try World in Conflict out.

Right...I'm back to flinging nukes.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Tech info:

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: Nov 5, 2007
ESRB Descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

System requirements:

Microsoft Windows XP/Vista.
2.4 GHz dual core or better is recommended
1024MB RAM (2048MB for Vista)
3.0 Shader Support recommended.
Nvidia Geforce 7800 or better or ATI Radeon X1800 or better


It’s been two years since Infinity Ward dazzled us with their Xbox 360 launch title, Call of Duty 2. Last year Treyarch took over the franchise, at least from a historical WWII standpoint while Infinity Ward locked themselves away in some secluded military bunker and took their epic franchise into more modern times. The result of more than two years of intense game design and a next-gen vision of how online games should really be played has finally arrived. Welcome to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

With a story ripped straight from today’s headlines, gamers can finally get a small taste of what our boys over in Iraq are likely going through. This is the stuff they won’t be showing you on CNN and Fox News, but you know it’s happening. The single-player story takes place across multiple countries and follows the Marines as well as the British S.A.S. in parallel events that ultimately converge in a joint operation to save the United States from nuclear devastation.


It would be easy to compare Modern Warfare to other similar games like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, and while those franchises share a few common threads, Call of Duty 4 is more of an action oriented title, so rather than focusing on squad tactics and issuing orders, you are merely part of a team, a virtually indestructible team, which means you are only required to kill as many enemies as you can and stay alive.

I was surprised at how little focus was put on the interpersonal story. I really didn’t come to care for my teammates. They were merely distractions to draw enemy fire so I could advance to the next checkpoint. There is even a quote during one of the load screens that says something like, “It’s good to be part of a team. It gives the enemy somebody else to shoot at”, which was exactly how I felt about my squad. Call me heartless, but knowing that they couldn’t die and that 2-4 well placed shots would have me restarting from the last checkpoint tends to negate any feelings of loyalty.

The game kicks off with the traditional training scenario where you learn how to target, fire, and even assassinate some fresh fruit. Then you get to run a short training simulation, a wooden mock-up of a cargo ship you will be invading shortly. This is a timed event where you rush to five waypoints and shoot pop-up targets, flash bang rooms, and sprint to the finish. Your performance on this simulation will result in the game "suggesting" a suitable difficulty level for the rest of the campaign mode. My advice, especially if you are a veteran of the previous Call of Duty games is to ignore their recommendation and play on Hardened. This will offer a challenge worthy of your skills without the frustration of dying every 20-30 seconds in Veteran mode.

The scene shifts to you, aboard a chopper as you fly in low and rappel down to the deck of a giant cargo vessel during a terrible storm. You and your team will move through the ship, taking down anyone and everyone, even a staggering drunk and crewmen asleep in their bunks. You’ll make
your way along the length of the swaying ship, trying to spot enemy lookouts through the blinding rain, taking cover in empty containers, and advancing to the rear section of the ship and down into the cargo hold. After a few enemy encounters in the cargo area your team will uncover a hidden nuclear warhead, but before you can do anything two bogies have been spotted headed to your location.

You grab the clipboard with some valuable intel and start to retreat back to the chopper when the ship is rocked with a fiery blast and you are knocked to the deck. The next 30 seconds is perhaps some of the most exciting cinematic moments of actual gameplay you’ve experience this year, as you rush along catwalks, through collapsing passages, and scramble across the slippery deck of the tilting ship, making a final daring leap to your chopper. Fade to black and roll credits. Yep, that all happens before the game even really starts - how James Bond is that?

The opening credit sequence is quite brilliant. You are put into the body of the deposed president, tossed in a car and driven to your execution. Along the way you have full control of looking around, and watching the citizens and militia running around shooting and looting is pretty awesome. It might take you several car rides to see everything that is going on during this lengthy sequence.

The single-player campaign in Call of Duty 4 could be considered short by some, but I found it to be the perfect length and offered an excellent progression of difficulty. Spread across three acts and 16 chapters, you’ll get to experience some extremely intense and exciting combat as both a Marine and S.A.S. operative. The battles really heat up when you get into the urban combat arenas where enemies are lurking on every rooftop and balcony, and sniping from the smallest hole in the wall.

While Call of Duty 4 reinvents itself from a presentation and timeline standpoint it fails to truly bring anything new to the table in terms of gameplay. Vehicles, which were always a fun diversion in previous titles whether you were riding a jeep or moving from numerous gun stations on a bomber, are all but missing. There is one insane car chase at the very end of the game, one chopper flyover where you get to shoot at rooftop targets (a unabashed knockoff from GRAW), and an amazing ride in a Spectre AC-130 gunship, but that's it.

In the mission, Death from Above, you play the TV operator onboard an AC-130 in charge of targeting and issuing fire orders at ground targets. You get to pick from three powerful weapons, each with their own zoom level and range of devastation. The 150mm cannon is capable of taking out entire city blocks with a single blast, while the 40mm cannon is powerful enough to take out
cars and small buildings without too much collateral damage. The 25mm gatling gun zooms in close and lets you take out individual targets with extreme precision. The entire level is played in black and white, or you can invoke thermal vision and play in white and black (yes, there is a difference). This is easily my second favorite level in the game.

Which obviously leads to my first favorite level, All Ghillied Up, a flashback episode that takes you back 15 years allowing you to tag along with Captain MacMillan as you both head deep into enemy territory to assassinate Imran Zakhaev. The mission takes place in Pripyat, just outside of Chernobyl, and just after the nuclear accident that happened around that time. Expect a lot of abandoned cities and pockets of radiation you’ll need to avoid, so listen to your Geiger counter.

This mission is all about stealth and either avoiding enemy contact or taking out enemies in such a way that nobody is alerted. You are virtually undetectable in your ghillie suit, a full-body outfit that eliminates all straight and curved lines of your profile as you sneak through the underbrush. There is one butt-clinching moment where you and MacMillan are laying in a field of tall grass as tanks and soldiers march toward you and right past (if you are lucky). Perhaps even more tense than that is a makeshift enemy camp inside a maze of cargo containers. You must sneak in and avoid four soldiers clustered around a barrel with a laptop to get some enemy intel. One soldier is asleep, tipped back in a chair, one is on patrol, and two others are nearby enjoying a smoke.

Old staples like looking down the barrel for improved accuracy as well as tossing grenades back at the enemy have returned as well as a few new elements. Dogs join the cast of enemies, but they only appear 3-4 times in the game and they aren’t that hard to kill. If one does knock you down you simply have to push the melee attack to snap its neck before it rips your throat out. I think the dogs would have been better implemented as warnings rather than soldiers. It would have been extremely cool to have dogs in the All Ghillied Up mission and then have to worry about staying downwind of them.

The other major new feature that significantly “impacts” the gameplay is realistic ballistics. Bullets have now been granted their right to travel through wood, brick, and even thin metal, effectively reducing your ability to hide behind anything for too long. This feature alone keeps the game, as well as yourself, moving quickly through the levels, but it also gives you the advantage to take down enemies hiding behind a door or a wooden crate.

Weapons have been modernized, but other than the models and shapes changing, the way you play the game remains unchanged. You still have your shotgun for up-close spread damage, long-range weapons, flash, frag, and smoke (far fewer smoke grenades in this game), and the occasional mounted turret, the best of which is inside a crashed chopper. You actually have to
spin-up this weapon with the left trigger before you can fire with the right. The Javelin is by far the coolest weapon in the game, launching a tank-busting missile high into the sky before it streaks down to decimate its target.

Before I end up recounting the entire game and spoiling all the good parts lets move on to Arcade mode and multiplayer. Once you finish the campaign you’ll unlock Arcade mode, which allows you to play the game as an arcade experience with a fixed number of lives and scores for enemy kills. But multiplayer is where Call of Duty 4 really shines and ultimately destroys Halo 3 and any other multiplayer combat game currently out there.

The multiplayer experience is so massive that Infinity Ward had to lock most of it down and then trickle it back out as incremental rewards for ranking up through online play. Modern Warfare is a class-based experience. At first you’ll have to choose from the few pre-configured classes, but when you have ranked up enough you’ll be able to use the Create-a-Class to customize any of five unique classes, each with your own weapons, attachments, and perks. You can have a class for urban levels, one for outdoor woodsy levels, a Rambo class, a stealth/sniper class, or anything you want. You can select your class before a match and change classes during a match. This change will take effect when you respawn.

Perks are special abilities you will earn and you can assign up to three per class. These range
from anything from bonus weapons (RPG, C4, Claymore) to personal enhancements (increased health, faster reloads, invisible to radar), and combat enhancements (improved accuracy, steady aim, deep bullet penetration). There are some really fun perks like Last Stand where you get 15 seconds after being shot to use your knife or pistol to take down anyone nearby, or Martyrdom where you drop a live grenade when you die.

Perhaps the coolest perk is Eavesdrop that allows you to hear enemy conversations. Normally, during online play you only hear your own teammates, which allows you to coordinate and strategize. With Eavesdrop activated you are now privy to enemy tactics and can relay that info to your own guys. Of course this only works if you are playing with others sophisticated enough to be using team tactics in the first place.

One of the more innovative concepts in multiplayer are the Kill Streak bonuses awarded for consecutive kills. If you can kill 3 enemies you can call in a UAV for a radar sweep that will reveal enemy locations (for anyone not using the UAV Jammer perk). Killing 5 enemies will bring in an airstrike allowing you to pick the target on an overhead map of the level and obliterate it. And killing 7 enemies summons the attack chopper that will swoop in and send enemies running for cover and their rocket launchers.

There are 55 levels you can rank-up through and then you have the option to enter Prestige mode, which basically restarts you back at the first level with a clean slate and a special icon to indicate just how badass you really are. There are 10 levels of prestige, effectively giving you 550 levels of ranking. When the guys at Infinity Ward told me there was more than 300 hours of multiplayer gameplay in Call of Duty 4 I was skeptical, but now I think that estimate may be too low.

To keep you motivated during those 300+ hours of gameplay are numerous weapons and skill challenges – ten sets in all. There are only a few at first but as you acquire more weapons and rank up, more will unlock. For instance, the Assault Rifle challenge is broken down into all four assault rifle classes with six challenges per weapons. Now mirror that for SMG, LMG, Shotgun, and Sniper then tack on Boot Camp, Operations, Killer, and Humiliation challenges and you have hundreds of objectives that will take you months to complete.

There are numerous multiplayer modes, but even these are limited until you earn a high enough rank. Newcomers will head for Team DM or standard Deathmatch games, but there is great fun to be had in Domination, Ground War, Sabotage, Headquarters, Search and Destroy, Team Objective, Team Hardcore, Old School, and Oldcore. The “core” games eliminate the HUD and activate friendly fire, while the “old” games remove the classes and put everyone on the same level.

Regardless of the type of game you are playing, Call of Duty 4 is a fantastic experience with support for up to 18 soldiers over the PlayStation Network and your broadband connection. The game does a good job of matching you with similarly skilled players. Stages are pre-selected and rotated but you can always vote to skip a level you don’t like – majority rules.

To wrap up this section, I’m compelled to complain about the weak 7-page manual (or should I say “insert”) that came with the game. Obviously, somebody is trying to force you to buy the strategy guide, and you should, if you want to have any type of competitive edge in the online arena, not to mention any chance in hell of finding the hidden intel in the solo campaign.

I must also complain about the Mature rating. Personally, I don’t care because I’m old enough, but I think I speak for a few million pre-17 gamers out there with strict parents who won’t be allowed to play this game when I say, “why is this game rated M”? There is virtually no blood (or gore) to speak of, and the death and carnage is no worse than any of the WWII Call of Duty games that have come before this. And with the exception of a few “shits, hells” and “wankers” there is no bad language to speak of. I can only assume that the ESRB is more forgiving when it comes to historical war shooters than those set in modern times. It’s a sad commentary considering a lot of those pre-17 gamers will likely be enlisting in a year or two to do this for real.

The PC is virtually identical to the 360 and PS3 versions of the game. The obvious exception
would be the arguably improved controls, but after playing this game on console I found the mouse and keyboard were almost "too precise" and made the game too easy a lot of the time. Multiplayer offers the added support for up to 32 players creating the opportunity for much larger battles than the 18-player cap on console.


Call of Duty has always impressed me with its amazing visuals but nothing could really prepare me for the absolute photo-realism of what I was seeing while playing Modern Warfare. Sure, there are moments where the game sinks into videogame land, but for the most part you’d be hard pressed to tell you aren’t watching footage from some CNN guy embedded with the troops.

The animations and character modeling are ultra-realistic, and you’ll see your team executing coordinated CQB moves right from the military handbook. They breach doors, cover corners, and provide cover fire for advancement and even reloads. The details on the models goes right down to individual gear; grenades on the belt, extra ammo, and some of the best weapon models you’re likely to see without enlisting.

There are day and night missions, providing ample opportunity to break out the night vision goggles. These not only turn the view into monochromatic green, but also reveals the laser targeting sights of any weapons in view. It also amplifies the negative effects of an enemy flash bang grenade - gotta love that retina burn.

The urban levels were easily the highlights of the game with multi-tiered structures, narrow alleys, balconies, rooftops, basements, and all sorts of places to take cover. There is one mission where you are escorting a tank down a street lined with enemies on both sides on multiple levels. This level really showcases the visuals and the level design. There is fantastic use of lighting, real-time shadows (even from the light of a TV), weather effects, smoke, fire, and particles for dust and debris. The graphics are quite literally, explosive.

The one thing I didn’t like was my inability to tell friend from foe, but then I realized, that’s probably the way it is in real life which makes me wonder why there isn’t a lot more friendly fire. Not everyone who is an enemy is wearing a turban or a bandana or has a “shoot me” sign on their back. Sometimes the differences are very subtle and really require your utmost attention and reflexes to identify and shoot the proper person. There are a few hints like names and ranks over friendlies and red crosshairs on enemies when firing from the hip.

As far as visual differences between PC and console, they are too few and minimal to even
mention and what few variances there are could be considered subjective and easily tweaked with your monitor or in-game brightness and contrast settings. Texture for texture and model for model, the PC and console versions are identical if your PC supports the recommended hardware requirements. You can probably squeak some higher resolutions out of your PC but why risk potential framerate issues when the game looks and performs great 1280x960.


When you combine the gorgeous visuals with the epic original score by Stephen Barton and the main theme and music production provided by award-winning composer Harry Gregson-Williams you have something that is not only emotionally immersive, but also incredibly cinematic. While major parts of the game are played in musical silence, there are key parts where music plays a pivotal role in fueling your adrenaline for the battle at hand.

The voice acting goes above and beyond anything we’ve heard in a Call of Duty game. Battle Chatter is back and far more effective than it was before. Your team will call out enemy locations as well as letting you know when they are reloading or advancing to a new area. You’ll also get continual radio updates on where to go and what to do.

The sound effects are what really sell the war experience. Each and every weapon was digitally sampled and sounds just like its real-life counterpart. They even got the sound of heavy guns and tanks recorded as well as engine noises and explosions and all sorts of environmental sounds like weather, rain, wind, and the sounds of footsteps on a wide variety of surfaces.

The 3D surround mix not only immerses you in the world but also offers its own tactical returns by allowing you to hear enemies sneaking up on your position. This is huge in multiplayer where there is far more sneaking than the solo game. And while the visuals between console and PC are virtually identical, I have to give the nod to the consoles for slightly superior sound. I have an Audigy and a THX 7.1 surround system on my PC, but it can't compete with the Onkyo surround system in the big game room.


If you are in this for the solo game you’ll likely feel a bit cheated. On Normal mode you can blast your way through the single-player game in 8-10 hours. Hardened bumps that to 12-16 hours and Veteran will likely hit the 18-20 hour mark with a lot of death and checkpoint restarts.

Multiplayer is the obvious focus for this fourth installment of Call of Duty, and to fully exploit every last challenge and rank you can expect to spend anywhere from 200-300 hours, or more. Much like you, the game only gets better the more you play it.


Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat is easily the best game in the history of the franchise, at least from a technical standpoint. I didn’t find it nearly as immersive or personally rewarding as I did the previous WWII games where I actually came away having learned something, but that is the risk you take when you abandon history and delve into fiction. Perhaps, someday, when the current events in Iraq are declassified, Infinity Ward can do something a bit more relevant with the genre.

Even so, Modern Combat is just about as perfect a game as you can get. It falls short of total perfection only because it really doesn’t evolve the FPS genre in any significant way – not that I know what that might be, but I’d know it if I saw it. It’s a must-own, must-play game for anyone (screw the ESRB) who owns a next-gen console or high-end PC.

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