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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Monday, November 26, 2007

Rainbow Six Vegas 2

At the finale of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas, the titular antiterrorist team foiled the launch of a missile toward the titular desert metropolis before uncovering a traitor in their midst. As a reward, players were greeted with a black screen bearing the words "To Be Continued," which all but confirmed a sequel.

Today, Ubisoft made it official: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is indeed in development at Ubisoft Montreal for release sometime next year. For now, the Francophonic publisher says the game is being readied for "next-gen consoles and PCs." No specific platforms other than the PC were mentioned, but the original Rainbow Six Vegas was released for the PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Portable. (Proposed PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game were canceled.)

Ubisoft was similarly cagey about Rainbow Six Vegas 2's plot, saying only its "intense solo campaign...uses new tactical possibilities in various locations around Sin City." Gameplaywise, the title will offer a range of online multiplayer modes, including adversarial and co-op, which would tie in to the single-player campaign.

Rainbow Six Vegas 2's release will roughly coincide with the 10th anniversary of the author-inspired franchise, which has sold more than 16 million units worldwide.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Tech Info:

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Action-RPG Adventure
Release Date: Oct 1, 2007


Phantom Hourglass picks up where Wind Waker left off. After Link and Tetra - as princess Zelda - defeated Gannon, they and their pirate friends went off in search of adventure on the high seas.While exploring new waters, they come upon the Ghost Ship, said to steal the life of anything that goes onboard.Tetra, being the spunky gal she is, hops onboard the ship and starts exploring, undaunted by the haunting tales. Soon after boarding, however, she screams and Link, trying to save her, falls into the ocean. When Link wakes up, he finds himself on Mercay Island and quickly befriends the fairy, Ciela, and her grandfatherly caretaker, Oshus. Link tells the man of his lost friend and is directed to the Temple of the Ocean King, where he encounters a man named Linebeck, who is currently trapped in the temple. Link quickly frees the man, gets the sea chart for the region, and joins Linebeck to chase after the Ghost Ship. Adventure ensues.

Now, anyone can tell that this is not a particularly original story. Link is once again saving the princess from the forces of evil. Yet the telling of this tale is done very well. From the paper cutouts of the introduction to the funny faces and illustrative gestures made by Link and Linebeck, Phantom Hourglass delivers the same old same old with a fresh face, great humor, and excellent characterization. And say what you will of the cartoony style, it lends itself very well to storytelling through pantomime.


By far, this is Phantom Hourglass's greatest feature. It has been a while since I've played anything as creatively designed as Phantom Hourglass. From the start, you get the feeling that this is something different. I mean, you're so used to controlling Link with a d-pad, and now you're forced to rely completely on the stylus for almost everything. And yet, I found that the little snippets of stylus-dependent interactions in previous DS games had adequately prepared me for the maneuvers I had to perform to get Link to walk, run, toss items, roll, attack and fish. Control isn't perfect, but we'll get to that later. For those of you who haven't played Wind Waker, you take Link from island to island via a ship and fight enemies, open chests, and solve puzzles in real time.

There's not much new here, except for the Temple of the Ocean King, a multi-level dungeon with some interesting challenges. The first major challenge is the time limit. The Temple constantly drains your health unless you have the Phantom Hourglass, which you acquire early in the game. This bauble allows you to negate the effects of the temple for as long as the sand remains. Killing bosses and finding sunken chests nets you more sand, extending your time. Managing your time as you go down is important, and since you will be revisiting the labyrinth multiple times, you may find shortcuts as you gain new items.

The other challenge is the Phantoms, huge spectral warriors that roam the halls of the Temple. Phantoms cannot be killed until the end of the game, so you must avoid them at all costs. If spotted, you must flee to a safe zone which hides you from them and stops the timer. Both challenges combine to make the Temple a unique experience, and while it was at times aggrivating, overall it was tolerable.

As far as the rest of the game's play goes, much like the story, Phantom Hourglass takes the old and makes it fresh with innovative design. The two best examples would have to be the puzzles and the boss fights.

The puzzles in Phantom Hourglass aren't particularly hard, but they are creative, requiring you to use the DS in ways that you naturally wouldn't think of. Everything from the microphone to the suspend feature are required as solutions to the puzzles in this game. Being able to write on the map is a godsend, as well as an innovative way to keep track of clues and find the location of hidden treasure. And while the solutions the puzzles were usually apparent after a bit of thinking, they still remained challenging enough to keep me interested.

The other aspect of gameplay that really stood out was the boss fights. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Zelda series bosses would have different and creative weaknesses, but Phantom Hourglass' excellent use of the DS hardware added a whole new dimension. Frequent use of the dual screens and imaginative use of items is key to defeating bosses, some of which present a real conundrum until you finally reach an epiphany and then proceed to whoop arse.

There is also multi-player included via wi-fi, but I didn't get into it, so I cannot comment. Aside from that, though, Ninendo has done a great job in making a truly novel playing experience.


The DS is no slouch at pushing polygons, and Phantom Hourglass proves it. With graphics that approach what you'd expect from a late-era N64 or early-era PS2 game, you won't want for quality. All of the characters are rendered with enough polygons to move fluidly and not look blocky. A great attempt is made at shading too; both cel shading for the characters and lighting are done well, lending a cartoony feel that still manages to be high-quality. The only place that the visuals get dicey is during the cutscenes; whenever there is a close-up on an island or model, the detail on the textures breaks down and the presentation degrades a bit, but it's a minor point.

The best part about the graphics, though, are the character designs. For those of you who can recall the release of Wind Waker, it got harshly criticized for the characters' cartoony looks. I loved them, however, and after the ugliness that was Ocarina of Time's characters, it was nice to have a new, less hideously repulsive style. Phantom Hourglass delivers more of the same, and the result is characters who are expressive and funny. Kudos!


I don't care what people say, I've never been a big fan of Zelda music, and after Twilight Princess' awful midi score, I didn't exactly want to hear more. Fortunately, Phantom Hourglass has a decent soundtrack, and any sound quality issues can be blamed on the DS's tiny speakers rather than a lack of quality sequencing. From epic sailing themes to the ominous dungeon tunes, Phantom Hourglass's soundtrack will not offend, and may even delight, but at the very least you can expect to get fitting music all around.

That being said, sound effects in Phantom Hourglass are pretty well done. The echoes in caves and cavernous dungeons are a nice touch, as are Link's shouts and grunts, as they really give the lad personality despite him not actually delivering any lines.


With a game like Phantom Hourglass you'd think accurate, dead-on control is a MUST. Strangely, you'd be wrong. Phantom Hourglass, despite requiring all movement and all action be controlled by the stylus, does not do a perfect or even near-perfect job making the stylus respond the way you want it to. Rolling, in particular - but also sword swings and aiming - are more difficult than I had expected them to be and are definitely not precise. The good thing is that Nintendo likely realized this and made the game a lot more forgiving than it would be otherwise. While it is somewhat of a cop-out, toning down the difficulty level to accommodate less-than-perfect control was still acceptable, considering how fun the rest of the game was.


Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was a fun game. On top of that, it was creative and used the DS in ways that really showed off the potential of the system. While it may not be the best game you'll play this year, it certainly will make you appreciate the creativity that went into its design and the solid product that was the result. I wholeheartedly advise you to play this game, if for no other reason than see that a game can be fun while still managing to use a system hardware in creative ways.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007


Tech Info

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: Oct 9, 2007
ESRB Descriptors: Blood, Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes

Nearly ten years ago, players first got to experience the world of Ivalice through the exploits of a young man named Ramza Beoulve. The game was Final Fantasy Tactics, the vastly different successor to the recently-released Final Fantasy VII. Gone were the full motion videos throughout the game, the varied cast of unique characters, the exploration of dungeons, and even the overworld map itself. In their stead were planar battlefields that seemingly float in space, and player-created armies that clashed realistically in a hybrid of turn based and ATB combat. This extreme change in visuals and gameplay was a bit much for some. But for others, it was a treasure that could only be found in used game shops, if at all, and often cost more than when it originally sat sealed on store shelves until getting re-released as a Greatest Hits title. Though the game was scarce at one time, gamers are once again invited to the war-torn land of Ivalice via the PSP in Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, and this time, it comes with beautifully animated story sequences, a couple new characters, and a freshly translated script.

The plot follows the aforementioned Ramza, the youngest son of the noble house of Beoulve, and his best friend Delita throughout the titular War of the Lions. History records Delita as the one responsible for bringing an end to the bloody conflict, but the game's narrator thinks the true hero is actually Ramza. After a short tutorial battle that takes place in the middle of the plot, the game shifts back to when Ramza and Delita were still just cadets at the Akademy. From there, Ramza and a few novice soldiers begin a journey that eventually sees the end of entire armies and villains with supernatural powers.

Final Fantasy Tactics features a class system similar to that seen in some other games in the series. All jobs begin at the lowly squire or chemist class. Squires are the gateway to all things physical, including knights, monks, ninjas, and dragoons. Chemists eventually yield mages, summoners, and arithmeticians; magic users that use any acquired magic on targets determined by such things as the unit's level or location. Characters acquire Job Points in battle, which allow skills to be purchased in any order and even open up new classes. All in all, there are 22 different classes to master, and each character can also choose a sub-skill from any other attained class.

Like other tactical RPGs, the bulk of the game takes place on the battlefield. After placing up to five characters on set starting spaces, battle progresses with turns happening based on each unit's speed. Faster characters get more turns than slower ones, and play usually follows one side moving before the other, though this is not always the case. Units have a set range and can only select one location per turn. Should you get there and decide that probably wasn't the best choice, the unit is stuck in place until its next turn. Thus, all decisions to move are critical, and mistakes can be costly.

Once in place, characters can pick from any of their available actions. Simply attacking results in an immediate action, but most special abilities, particularly those of the magical variety, require some time to charge before being unleashed. The charge time can easily be checked to decide if it's worth doing that move, since a unit preparing an action is highly vulnerable to attacks of any kind.

Like most games in this genre, Final Fantasy Tactics has a twist on combat. Units felled in battle have a counter above their body. After three turns, that unit will either turn into treasure chest containing a piece of equipment, or a crystal, which can either restore the HP and MP of anyone that acquires it, or transfer all learned skills to the finder. Those who meet that fate are removed from the game forever, so care must be taken to revive fallen allies or finish the battle before their timer runs out.

Most battles are won by defeating all enemies, but some can be won by just defeating a single key enemy. These battles are generally what defines the game's variable challenge. Some are pretty easy, but others can be punishingly difficult. Without a proper strategy and suitable equipment, some battles are nigh impossible. To make matters worse, there are stages with multiple battles where the player is invited to save in between combat. Though the player is allowed to re-equip characters and choose different classes or skills, the party is not permitted to travel elsewhere to level up. Woe to the player that overwrites his only save file during such a battle; unless a successful strategy can be devised, your only recourse is to start again from the beginning.

When not in battle, the rest of the game takes place in menus. This even includes the towns that are scattered throughout Ivalice. Shops are nothing more than a menu with a backdrop. The same is true of taverns, which yield backstory and offer sidequests that give money and job points for completion. The rest of the time will be spent customizing your party one character at a time. This takes place in yet another menu and serves its purpose well.

Visually, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is almost indistinguishable from its original PS1 incarnation save for the flawless stretch to a 16:9 screen ratio. As such, the graphics are not exactly the most advanced seen on the PSP, yet for some reason, most special attacks bring battles to a crawl for their duration. While someone not familiar with the pace of the original game might mistake the slowdown for dramatic pause, experienced players will be bothered a bit by the constant drop in pace. Fortunately, it doesn't detract from the game very much, but it is the one major flaw in what is otherwise an excellent port. This is particularly strange since the PSP's hardware is vastly superior to its eldest console brother.Though it loses a point for the slow battles, the animated cut scenes more than make up for it. In a word, they are gorgeous, and fortunately, they frequently replace what were previously in-engine sequences for plot development. In all, there are probably around ten, and they are fully voiced. Not only that; the voice acting is quite good and is a welcome addition.

For those that enjoyed the original score by Hitoshi Sakimoto, rest easy; the soundtrack still sounds great, even through the PSP's tiny speakers. Sadly, there are no new songs. The sound effects sound slightly different this time around, but it neither adds nor detracts from the original game. Luckily, the music is great, but it can grow a bit stale by the end. You will hear a handful of tracks over and over by the game's conclusion.

For those that have already played the original Final Fantasy Tactics, most will agree the game's highly political story stays interesting to the finish with all its twists, turns, and backstabbings as Ramza and company unravel the plot surrounding the mysterious Zodiac Stones, around which the game centers. In what is arguably worth the price of admission alone, this time, there is a new translation. And this time it even makes sense. No longer will characters stupidly utter "I got a good feeling!" and then find a piece of treasure hidden in a rock. Now everything actually flows, but considering the script has been put in a dialect that is fitting for the time period and setting, it still might take some deciphering to understand. An interesting effect of this is the way it separates those born of high blood from commoners by the way they speak. This addition brings just a bit more depth to the plot and is a nice touch.

Completing the game can be done in as few as twenty-five hours, but most will find that it takes at least thirty. Those that want more can have their game extended quite a bit longer. The PSP incarnation adds two new classes to the mix. Dark Knights take considerable leveling to unlock, and the Onion Knights require even more to be useful. Considering the work required to use these classes, it is entirely possible to finish the game the same way it was played on the PS1. And those that find the main plot too easy can explore an optional dungeon filled with extremely powerful foes and a hidden boss. There is also the option for versus and co-op play, but this requires having a friend with another PSP and a second copy of the game. There are some things that can only be accessed by playing with a friend, but it's nothing one can't live without.

In conclusion, fans of the genre that missed Final Fantasy Tactics the first time around are highly recommended not to let it pass them by a second time. Those that fell in love with the game back in its PS1 days will probably find it worth another play. If tactical RPGs aren't your cup of tea, you won't like this one; as its title suggests, it is one. Otherwise, this game is perfect for on-the-go battling.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

8800GT Powerfull weapon


As far as we can tell, MSI is first out of the gates with a factory overclocked GeForce 8800 GT card, the NX8800GT-T2D512E OC. The NX8800GT-T2D512E OC relies entirely on the NVIDIA reference board design with the obvious addition being that it's overclocked out-of-the-box, running at 660MHz core, 1650MHz on the shaders, and 950MHz memory (1.9GHz effective). These speeds are 9% faster than the stock 8800 GT on the graphics core and shaders, and 5% faster memory.

In order to keep price down, MSI skips including a game bundle. As a result we've been told that the board has an MSRP of $249. If this price holds true at retail, this card is certainly priced to move. Strangely enough, the board only shipped with one DVI adapter (perhaps to further help keep price down?). MSI also includes a power adapter, S-Video cable, and component video output cable for hooking the card up to an HDTV.

XFX GeForce 8800 GT Alpha Dog Edition

Arriving right around the same time as the MSI NX8800GT-T2D512E OC was the XFX GeForce 8800 GT Alpha Dog Edition. The Alpha Dog Edition is XFX’s entry level GeForce 8800 GT 512MB SKU and relies on the standard 8800 GT reference board design and stock clock speeds.

Inside the card’s packaging were quite a few accessories beyond the graphics card. For starters XFX includes a copy of Company of Heroes on DVD-ROM. Also included with the copy of Company of Heroes is a CD containing the latest patch you’ll need to play the game with DirectX 10. While this is a very neat tie-in idea, Company of Heroes is a year old now. XFX also offers a newer DX10 game as a bundle, Lost Planet, but apparently this didn’t make it over to the Alpha Dog Edition. Funnily enough, XFX also includes a tag you can hang on your door that reads “I’m gaming, Do Not Disturb”.

Here’s a word of advice though, use the tag on your significant other at your own peril.

To finish the Alpha Dog package off, XFX also includes two DVI adapters, an S-Video cable, and a component video output block. The XFX GeForce 8600 GT Alpha Dog Edition carries a $249 MSRP.

If the stock speeds aren’t good enough and you want a little more performance, XFX will continue to provide their Extreme and XXX Edition SKUs. The XFX GeForce 8800 GT Extreme will run 40MHz faster than the Alpha Dog Edition at 640MHz. XFX’s product literature for the 8800 GT lists a “TBD” for the Extreme, but unless XFX has tinkered with the speeds in the board’s BIOS, the stream processors on the 8800 GT normally run 2.5 times faster than the graphics core, yielding a clock speed of 1600MHz (640MHz core x 2.5) for the stream processors. We did get a confirmed speed of 950MHz (1.9GHz effective) for the memory. Extreme boards will sell for an MSRP of $279.

At the top of the heap for XFX is the GeForce 8800 GT XXX Edition. The XXX board runs at even higher speeds, XFX’s specs list a 670MHz graphics core and 975MHz memory (1.95GHz effective). Again, XFX lists a TBD for the shader speed, but we’re going to assume that XFX is sticking to the 2.5 ratio and that the shaders will therefore run at 1675MHz. If these speeds pan out, this would make the XFX GeForce 8800 GT XXX one of the fastest 8800 GT boards on the market. Getting your hands on all this performance will set you back $299.

System Setup

Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800

EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard

2GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4

ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT
ATI Radeon X1950 Pro
ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 2900 GT 256MB
PowerColor Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB
Catalyst 7.10

NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT
ForceWare 169.01

300GB Western Digital Caviar SE

Windows Vista 64-bit


Company of Heroes 1.71 (running DX9)
F.E.A.R. 1.08
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Call of Duty 4 Demo
Half-Life 2 Episode Two
Lost Planet DX9
World in Conflict
Unreal Tournament 3 Demo
Crysis Demo

F.E.A.R. Performance

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Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition

Tech Info

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Jun 19, 2007
ESRB Descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language


The Chronicles of the Villainous Umbrella Corporation have been traced back to almost a decade and they are still covering their tracks. However, in Resident Evil 4, Umbrella makes only a cameo near the end. When I first heard this, I thought "Crap! now who is going to 'accidentally' produce thousands of mindless destructive eating machines? (aside from McDonalds)" But, yet again, Capcom has thought of another equally disturbing way to suck the player into a nightmarish adventure.

In 1996 Capcom released Resident Evil, which told a story of a deadly virus known only as the T-Virus, which transformed its unsuspecting host into a brain-eating undead. Of course it wasn't the usual "brains” they were munching, as it was any fleshy body part, fingers, eyes, intestines.... you get the point. Though our standard foes are "mindless" they aren't zombies (though they are somewhat more intelligent then some people, you know who what I'm talking about) 2005 would be the year that this new Horror was released, and then again in '07 for the next generation gaming system.

The radical new control system of the Wii involves both the remote and the nunchuk, which aids in making Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition more interactive, thus sucking the player into the fantasy world, making it at times, seem more like reality. This game is a third person action/adventure, with countless bad guys and not enough bullets. It is a standard single player action game with no chance they could make it two player. Shame, would be cool to kill zombies with a buddy. (No I don't mean, "Zombies ate my Neighbors!")

Gameplay :

"1998, that’s the year those grizzly murders occurred in the Arklay Mountains..." the player is greeted with an oddly familiar character, Leon, it is a warning of what is to come. When I picked up the controller and followed along with the intro movie, I thought "another exciting adventure of bloody undead science experiments gone wrong (sorry little Timmy, you only get the Red Ribbon for killing a city with your deadly T-virus, better luck next year)" Though the control was a little bit to be desired from what I was used to, you could say that little village at the beginning of the game acted as a good tutorial, complete with about 20 zombies and 1 very deranged man with a burlap sack on his head wielding a chainsaw...violently.

I would say that I am an experienced gamer, born into video games, it's in my blood. This village gave me the chills (and my control went flying across the room a few times as well.) Just like most new systems, the Wii has a few kinks; one of them is the control system. Hard to navigate and aim, it took a few deaths of which I was bitten, chomped on, hacked up with axes and pitchforks, and my personal favorite, having my head amputated (very skillfully I might add) with a chainsaw. However, I eventually got a hold of my controller and was able to continue as if it was second nature.

The great thing about what Capcom does with their Resident Evil Series is their constant upgrade with shock value. I mean they have really broken it down to a basic arithmetic: Twisted story line + Attractive Hero/Heroine + Lady speared through the head with a pitchfork or other deranged weapon = Resident Evil. There's always that person at the beginning of the games that looks like they died so painfully, it makes even the toughest of gamers cringe. This is and always will be one of Capcom’s greatest strengths.

As I mentioned above, the new system to Resident Evil 4 is very different to that of the original games. No longer can your character rotate 360 degrees with out picking up a foot. And the camera angles aren't askew as they were in the original games. The camera follows Leon around in a 3rd person action view, so that you are above and behind Leon's right shoulder, this provides for a more action-pact game, less "Survival Strategy" as its predecessors were. This new camera angling dropped the frustration that I had experienced with some of the other games of this chronicle. ( I know a few readers out there that know exactly what I am talking about.)

Another really interesting feature that came along with "awe" inspiring camera is the Reticule. The targeting in Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition came with a reticule so that it was easier to aim at your targets as they approached, (or sniped without their knowledge).

Though this system wasn't recently implemented, it was however upgraded. Players on the Resident Evil 4 PS2 edition had the wonderful task of pointing a gun and hoping that a little red dot from the gun's laser-pointer landed on his/her target and though this was a great step up from holding down R1 and firing in the direction the target was, (usually missing) this doesn't beat the Wii's reticule system by a long shot. I believe that it really proved to be a nice add-on to make the players experience more enjoyable, I mean come on, how hard is it to say "NO" to shooting a mass of zombies with a variety of guns, really...

Though it wasn't a "viral outbreak" it was however biological. As with all the Resident Evil games, there is a Logical explanation for what has happened in the story line. a virus, and alien abduction, a parasite, whatever the case may be, the hordes of monstrosities aren't dead people coming to life for no apparent reason. This is another thing that makes the overall story (and gameplay) a more entertaining experience. I have to be honest; parts of this game scared me, played at night, in the dark, alone...

However there is one down side to this game that I couldn't shake. Through all of this turmoil, the shooting, the running, and of course the zombies dying (again) as they were threatening me, in Spanish. What I failed to grasp was WHY. Why would they set the story in a rural village in Spain? Why would the zombies be yelling "Matalo!" instead of "Kill Him!"? This to me, though it didn't take away from the gameplay or story in itself, threw me for a loop.

There is one very apparent problem with the games plot. The huge plot hole is who or what exactly is the Las Plagas? Through the game your following a character known as Sadler, the mastermind behind the plan, but it doesn't go so far as to show who (besides Sadler) is behind this and what ties to the Umbrella Corporation he has. This part of the game struck me as having a huge plot hole and ultimately did detract from a otherwise perfect story. In the world of creativity, there could have been so much more to this, thanks Capcom.

And lastly, I would like to add that the writers and developers of this game got a little more in depth with their character development. Though I won't spoil anything more than reviewing this game, it is safe to say that the player should expect to see more familiar faces than just Leon's, along with some new ones. Also, characters are formulated with "wit" and "sass." It was interesting to see what Leon's personality was really like after all those years. And just because the Boss is dead and the credits start rolling, doesn't mean it's over...

Graphics :

I spent some time researching and studying the differences in the graphics between the Wii Edition and its forerunner, and as I did the only thing that I truly noticed is how smoothly the texturing ran together. It really does stand out further when compared to Resident Evil. And the videos/ cut scenes were really well developed (though some of the lighting made Leon look as if he was ill). But there have been serious improvements, all in the name of Graphics, in the past few years.

Needless to say, though the game was a hit on the PS2, I really think that The Wii Edition made it all the better. That’s what we should expect from next generation systems. Smoother texturing, better shadow rendering, and overall, a higher quality picture. This combination speaks miles to anyone who wants to go to the extreme with their gaming. Now we just have to wait and see what is next on the list for more media entertainment systems.

Sound :

If you take an old George Romero movie like Night of the Living Dead, or Dawn of the dead ( the remake) and mute it still scary? Does it still raise the hair on the back of your neck? I am going to guess the answer is "No." Just like any other work of art (Resident Evil 4) has to come together. A movie, a game, an opera for that matter, if it doesn't have a good sound track, there’s no way its going to be very good, and it is safe to say that Capcom did it again with an equally freaky sound track.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I am in fact a huge fan of zombie flicks, believe me that little girl in Dawn of the Dead (2005) scared me pretty bad. But I will tell you as a horror enthusiast, that sound is everything when tying the whole package together. But with every good comes a little evil, though the soundtrack and the play (Leon’s footsteps over twigs cracking them) helped draw me in, there was some predictability to it. When our hero was being chased, there is an eerie music playing in the background, but once all the foes have been dropped, the music stopped, giving it that "It's Quite, Too Quite." feel.

Though this is really cool for the first hour, it does get really boring toward the middle of the game because you can then use it as a technique against the hordes of mindless neck-chompers. In my opinion, Capcom should have kept the music playing and then slowly had it fade out after a while so that when you least expect it Bam, out of the closet pours "Ted" our token zombie; it would have kept me a little more on edge. Though it had that minor glitch, I think that Capcom's zombie saga will never really have problems with their soundtrack and audio systems; they have a pretty well put together package.

Value :

As yet another game in the set of the Resident Evil Chronicles, I have to say that the game did fairly well. I do know that some of other games produced as part of the same story have been flops (Code Veronica *cough**cough*) I was surprised to have this one play into my favor. The game was very successful in pulling the player into the story and making it a game that was very hard to put down. We all know that there aren't that many out for the Wii...Yet.

Overall it was a great game, one that I would play over and over, primarily due to the fact that once it is beat, just like the originals, you can unlock some of the cool costumes and new guns. You also have the unique ability to play Ada Wong's side of the story (previously a PS2 exclusive), though you only have a few "brush in's" with her in the normal story line.

Another wonderful thing about Capcom's Resident Evil series is the length; they are long! Something that I believe speaks miles about having a good plot. I believe it was about 20+ gameplay, for me to beat it. The best part of this game by far is its value at a retailer. At $29.99 in stores, it makes it hard to say a lot of really bad things about a game.

Final :

It's hard to beat a classic; it’s even harder when that classic is really good. But sometimes a sequel can make a difference and completely redeem some of its forerunners mistakes. It would be safe to say that good things should be coming our way from Capcom and its Umbrella Corporation, lets just see what their twisted minds with think up next...

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