Archive for the ‘PC’ Category

Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles should look somewhat familiar to you. It was released in 2008 on the Nintendo DS and in 2009 for iPhone. And now Gameloft has ported the adventure to Android.

If you were a fan of Ubisoft’s ambitious Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 production, you know the set-up. An assassin named Altair is scouring the Holy Land for the means to bring down the Templar knights, an organization with sinister designs on the world in this narrative. The iPhone game serves as a prequel to the console game. Altair is in search of a specific artifact called “The Chalice,” which possibly has the power to bring the ugly Crusades to an early, merciful end. But seeking this relic raises more questions than it answers, setting up the console game, which I consider to have one of the best fictions in videogames in quite some time despite its uneven game mechanics.

As Altair, you must use your stealth abilities to seek the Chalice. The rooftops, awning, and beams that stretch across the grand cities of the medieval Holy Land are your playground. Careful movement above the sandy streets will keep you out of harm’s way for the most part, although occasionally you must descend to the avenues below and draw blood. Altair has a sword that can be upgraded, but there are other devices and items he uses in his quest, such as a grappling hook and bombs. Altair’s signature weapon, though, is his hidden dagger that is used to silently execute enemies and not raise the alarm of dozens of guards and Templar reinforcements.

As you explore the Holy Land, you will pick up hundreds of blue orbs that can be traded in for upgrades, such as expanding Altair’s health bar or the aforementioned sword. Personally, I tended to lean on sword upgrades because I wanted to make sure I could overpower enemies in any combat situation. I would accidentally blow a stealth situation by walking through a crowd too fast or stumble off a rooftop and land on the street below, just within striking distance of a Templar.

Naturally, this raises the issue of control. I think the control stick here is a little looser which does prevent absolute precision and will cause occasional mishaps, but for the most part, I really don’t have any major problems with how the game handles. The combat buttons work great, although the shield button placement over by the control stick is awkward. While there are some automated actions, like scrambling up a wall, I do wish that some small jumps were also self-propelled. The jump button works without a problem, but an auto-jump would help casual gamers by taking one less button out of the mix.

One feature in Assassin’s Creed I do not care for, though, are the minigames. I think they are pointless holdovers from the DS version. They felt tacked-on back then, like Gameloft was trying to integrate the DS touchscreen some way… any way. They don’t fare much better here. They function, but add nothing to the overall game. They feel gimmicky in a game that needs no gimmicks.

As mentioned earlier in the review, Assassin’s Creed looks fantastic. Everything — from the textures on Altair’s robes to the crackling fire effects — is brighter, crisper, and more detailed in this edition of the game versus the DS. However, Assassin’s Creed is not necessarily the smoothest play on a Droid. There is some framerate chugging here and there that mars the experience. However, some users have mentioned that Creed runs better on newer handsets. (ign)

Published by: Gameloft
Developed by: Gameloft
Genre: Action
Release Date: US: September 13, 2010
Also Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC,Wireless, iPhone, Android
Also known as: Assassin’s Creed


Dragon Age: Origins Witch Hunt (PC)

Posted: September 11, 2010 in Arcade, PC, Playstation 3
Tags: , , ,

Those hoping for some sort of satisfying closure on the Morrigan storyline in Dragon Age: Origins unfortunately won’t find it here. If you know what that sentence means and find it to be disappointing, then you’re the target audience for this downloadable content. If you have no idea who Morrigan is and why you should care about her exploits, then bail out now. This content is meant for those who have either finished Origins or were too lazy to get through the whole thing and are beyond the point of caring about spoilers.

Combat and conversation should be familiar to any Dragon Age player at this point, and through the various short dungeons visited you’ll find a few mechanics at work to keep the conflict from becoming stale. In the basement of the Circle Tower, for example, you fight guardians that won’t die permanently unless you disperse rips in the Veil that periodically appear on the battlefield. Later on you’ll use a magical light-tracking system to uncover hidden Elven relics, and at one point have to run around the Circle Tower’s library tracking down the appropriate books by using index cards. Ok so that last part really wasn’t very exciting, but in general the combat works well, mostly because it’s the same as you’re used to. A boss battle has been included in final part of Witch Hunt, this time against a creature that resembles a cross between a bat, a spider, and a tree branch. It’s called a Strider, it’s fearsome, and you’ll be seeing more of it in the sequel so it’s cool to get a bit of a preview here. There are also dragons, which is appropriate.

Throughout the characterization is quite strong, as Ariane and Finn wind up talking to each other and your dog quite a bit. It injects humor into the adventure as Ariane makes fun of Finn’s name, or when Finn comments on why the dog decided to relieve itself on an object of interest in the Circle Tower’s basement. Expect a number of interactive conversations where you can select things to say, which helps make the tale seem more significant. There’s enough to kill in here to level up at least once, and you can also buy, sell and enchant at a vendor, in this case Sandal, who fans may be more annoyed than glad to see return.

Considering Dragon Age 2 is following along with a different main character, it’s difficult to say what how what happens in Witch Hunt connects with anything else in the future. As you’ll see at the ending, there’s a choice that needs to be made that potentially has serious consequences, though something tells me it’ll all be smoothed over should you ever encounter Morrigan again. (ign)

  • Published by: Electronic Arts
  • Developed by: BioWare
  • Genre: RPG
  • Release Date:US: September 7, 2010
  • MSRP: $7.00
  • M for Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content
  • Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, Arcade
  • Also known as: Dragon Age: Witch Hunt

It’s been just two weeks since Mafia II stormed stores across the nation, but it’s already time for its first batch of multiplatform downloadable content. Mafia II: Jimmy’s Vendetta picks up the story of — you guessed it — Jimmy, a wise guy who used to be a go-to guy but was double crossed and tossed into jail. If you played the PlayStation 3 exclusive “Betrayal of Jimmy,” this picks up where that left off. If you didn’t, you don’t have to sweat it as the missions you’re about to embark on aren’t really story-driven.

Whereas the game you know from the Mafia II disc follows the story of Vito and his best friend Joe, Jimmy’s Vendetta is a $9.99 download that packs 30 arcade-style missions for you to jump into from the game’s main menu. What’s an arcade mission in the Mafia world? Well, you’ll roll up to a floating icon, accept the mission, and a timer starts. You have to finish the job before the timer ends, and as you fly around Empire Bay blowing dudes away, you’ll bank points for headshots, kills, speeding, and more. Complete the quest, and all that action is boiled down into a score and letter ranking.

There’s a bit of story to this — an opening cutscene recaps the basics of who Jimmy is and each mission begins with a paragraph about why you’re about to do what you’re doing, but for the most part these tasks are bite-sized versions of the Mafia II gameplay. That’s all you need to know. Drive over there and kill a bunch of fur thieves, steal this certain car and get it to the docks, and blow up these marked gas trucks.

This focus on gameplay is a nice change of pace as the missions in Vito’s Mafia II story almost seemed like filler between cutscenes. When I was playing as Vito, I was trying to polish off a section of his life and get to the next bit of story. In Jimmy’s world, the missions are the sole focus and I found myself fooling around a bit more — I run from police rather than trying to play it straight, I fire my guns into crowds of people, and I crash rides just for the hell of it. This feels more sandboxy than the “real” Mafia II game because the missions are so short here you don’t have to worry about screwing something up late in the game and getting stuck with a terrible checkpoint.

I just play here.

That’s not to say Jimmy’s Vendetta is perfect. The majority of the issues I had with Mafia II are still here: it’s a run-of-the-mill third-person shooter. The animations are wooden, the fist fighting is way too simple, the aiming with weapons isn’t satisfying, and you only have one or two missions available on your map at anytime so it isn’t really a world where you can do whatever you want. Making matters worse is that I usually found the two available missions spread out on opposite sides of the map. I’d finish one and then have to drive across the whole of the map to get another. If you ask me, this is a cheap way to make the missions longer and make it seem like you’re getting more out of this download. It makes some of the quests boring or frustrating (there’s nothing worse than driving three-fourths of the way there and killing yourself in a car accident).

Get out.

Get out.

The missions themselves run the gamut from being an enjoyable breeze to being a complete bitch. It is cool to drive up, climb out, shotgun two guys, and complete the mission, but things can get tough. The difficulty spikes are rare, but I found myself shouting obscenities at the TV more than once as seven Irishmen would surround me out of the blue or my car would get flipped just as I saw the finish line in a mission. Then, there are the missions where the game’s own bonehead AI steps up. In one, I had to destroy a couple of gas stations. As I pulled up to both of these places, the enemies began firing from the other side of the gas pumps, blew the place up on their own, and I got the credit. (ign)

  • Published by: 2K Games

  • Developed by: 2K Czech

  • Genre: Action

  • Release Date: US: September 7, 2010

  • MSRP: $9.99

  • M for Mature: Blood, Intense Violence Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol

  • Also Available On: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3

Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker (PC)

Posted: September 11, 2010 in Arcade, PC
Tags: , ,
As a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, I have been somewhat disappointed with all of the downloadable content offerings. While the characters have been interesting and the stories well-told, it felt like what happened didn’t matter once it was all over. BioWare has changed that with its latest downloadable content – The Lair of the Shadow Broker. The first “bridging” DLC available, your actions do matter and will play a role in Mass Effect 3.

Later, sucker.

The Lair of the Shadow Broker begins like any other mission in Mass Effect 2: an email in your inbox. Somehow the Illusive Man has tracked down intel on the location of the Shadow Broker, the galaxy’s most mysterious and powerful information dealer. Since your good friend and former squad mate (also possible former lover) Liara T’Soni has been tracking him down for two years, Shepard rendezvous with her on Illium, and they embark on an adventure that’s the best downloadable content for the game to date.

If you’ve read the comic series Mass Effect: Redemption, you’ll already know all of the details surrounding this ordeal. But if you didn’t, the game adequately sets up the situation for you. Liara’s beef with the Shadow Broker stems from an incident shortly after the Normandy’s destruction. Shepard’s body had been retrieved from the icy planet on which it fell and the Shadow Broker possessed it, looking to make a decent sum of cash. To make things worse, the Broker’s buyer just happened to be the Collectors. Not content with this outcome, Cerberus enlisted the help of Liara and a Drell named Feron, a double agent for the Shadow Broker, to recover Shepard’s body so they could attempt the impossible: resurrecting the dead. Clearly they succeeded, but Feron was captured in the process and Liara has been plotting revenge ever since. Fast-forward to present day and it’s up to you and Liara to track down the Shadow Broker and end him.

Clocking in around three hours, Lair of the Shadow Broker unravels the engaging tale at a great pace. Despite the dark themes of murder and betrayal, the conversation can be quite humorous. There are some really great moments between Shepard and Liara, and the storytelling effectively communicates the strong bond between the two, even if they weren’t romantically involved in your game. Over the course of the story, it’s clear that Liara has evolved from the shy girl Shepard met on Therum into a hardened woman struggling with her feelings of loss and guilt. To keep everything balanced, BioWare tossed in some self-deprecating material, including jabs about the Mako’s wonky controls and using Omni-gel to open any door. Visually, Lair of the Shadow Broker boasts some really breathtaking environments. The cut-scenes are beautifully rendered and approaching the Shadow Broker’s ship is simply stunning as lightning storms envelope the massive vessel.

The Asari of the hour.

Of course, Mass Effect isn’t all about the conversation and story — it’s about kicking ass, too. Since the whole idea behind Lair of the Shadow Broker is to showcase Liara and Shepard’s relationship (romantic or not) the Asari joins your squad. While there are typical run-and-gun areas, what makes the combat satisfying here is the boss battles. Both bosses have unique traits that make them a formidable opponent. For example, the first person you’ll encounter shoots around like a bullet out of a gun making he or she extremely hard to target. Though it’s technically not a battle, there’s also a debut action sequence — a high-speed car chase through the skies of Illium. As someone who hates controlling vehicles in videogames, I have to say that the chase is actually a fun time. It’s short enough to not overstay its welcome, the car controls decently, there’s awesome music in the background, and some great banter between Shepard and Liara.

I have only one complaint about Lair of the Shadow Broker: it feels like this shouldn’t be DLC, or at the very least should have been included as part of the Cerberus Network for those who purchased a new copy of Mass Effect 2. It’s such a great story and could have such an impact on Mass Effect 3 that it’s a pity a lot of people will miss out on it. As someone who also romanced Ashley and Kaidan, those romance stories do seem left out in the cold and reuniting with Liara made that even more obvious. However, the fact that this DLC exists makes me hopeful for more content focused on the other relationships. (ign)

  • Published by: Electronic Arts
  • Developed by: BioWare
  • Genre: RPG
  • Release Date: US: Q3 2010
  • M for Mature: Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence
  • Also Available On: PC, Arcade

Call of Duty: Black Ops for PC will ship with dedicated server support this November, but there’s a catch.

Activision and Treyarch studios announced it has partnered with to offer exclusive dedicated server rentals when the game launches.

“We are extremely excited about this unprecedented relationship with Activision to offer dedicated servers exclusively for Black Ops”, said GameServers CEO David Aninowsky. “We are placing a great amount of pressure on ourselves to ensure that we exceed any and all expectations.”

According to GameServers’ pre-order page, ranked servers will cost $14.95 a month for an 18 max player limit. Discounts are offered for monthly prepays. Unranked servers will cost $0.99 a month per player up to maximum of 24. Teamspeak support will have an additional fee. Discounts will be offered for a 3, 6, and 12 month prepay.

Treyarch Community Manager Josh Olin said this partnership will provide high-quality servers at an affordable rate for the game.

“If players want to run a dedicated Ranked or Unranked server on the PC, they will have to rent one through GameServers,” Olin told IGN. “Treyarch will be providing a fleet of ‘Day-1 Servers’ (through GameServers) which will be up and operational on November 9th.

“Nobody will have to rent a dedicated server through GameServers in order to play the game,” says Olin. “But for anybody who wants to run their own server, it will be run from”

Olin added that this partnership adds the advantage of much more effective anti-cheating and hacking moderation.

“If you rent a server, you will still have the ability to Kick, Ban, and Configure it the way you see fit,” Olin added. “Of course Ranked servers will have some set configurations that can’t be messed with; but you will still have the power to administrate your servers as a customer of GameServers.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops ships for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on November 9. (ign)

  • Published by: Activision
  • Developed by: Treyarch
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Release Date: US: November 9, 2010  , Japan: TBA 2010
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • RP-T+ for Rating Pending
  • Also Available On: Nintendo DS, Wireless, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3,  Wii, PC

Shogun II: Total War Campaign (PC)

Posted: September 10, 2010 in PC
Tags: ,
The Total War franchise is known for its huge, beautiful battlefields, and our recent looks at Shogun II: Total War have shown that this game doesn’t buck this trend. What we hadn’t seen until now, though, was the other half of the experience – the just-as-important campaign mode. So much of being a leader in feudal Japan revolved around your family’s honor, how you maintained relationships with your fellow noblemen, and, inevitably, what you did to make sure you had a leg up on your opponents when conflict was unavoidable. This has not escaped the team at Creative Assembly, as Shogun II has an intricate political and familial system that looks to be as fun, if not more so, than the act of playing out the battles themselves.

For those who’ve somehow missed out on the Total War series over the years, allow me to give you a brief breakdown. The campaign of Shogun II takes place on a huge, detailed map of Japan, with players taking control of one of nine playable clans in an attempt to unite Japan under their rule. Players engage in both military and political warfare with clans, going into large, real-time battles when they come to blows. It’s essentially two games in one: an intense RTS, combined with a slower, turn-based game of political manipulation.

Real-time warfare is extremely important to Shogun II (and you can read more about that in our previous coverage ), but more discreet conflict is carried out in the campaign map via Agents. Agents are essentially actors you can send out into rival clans to hurt them in very specific ways. Outside of Generals, who I’ll delve into more detail about later, players can use Geishas, Ninjas, Metsuke, and Monks. Ninjas and Geishas are assassins, and players can use them to take out enemy generals.

The really cool part of attempting assassination in Shogun II is that it triggers a cut-scene that adapts itself based on the skill of the agent involved. For instance a crappy ninja might trip over a sleeping soldier, while a more skilled ninja might avoid this but might be too noisy and wake the general up. These sequences were also in the original game, but Shogun II is slated to have significantly more ways for it to work out, keeping players guessing until the scene’s conclusion.

If assassination is a little too bold for your clan, you can try and lure away enemy generals on the campaign map via Metsuke. These secret police will infiltrate an enemy army and attempt to lure away the general, with success yielding both the general and some of the army (depending on his men’s loyalty to him). To combat Metsuke, Clans can produce Monks, who meet Metsuke and chastise them for being too worldly in hopes of convincing them to give up their sinful ways. Agents give players powerful tools to battle against one another off the battlefield, making the turn-based parts of the game much more intense than they might otherwise be.

While Agents are important, Generals are the backbone of a clan. Generals aren’t simply a unit you produce who have generic traits, but a character that you can level up and build into a unique battlefield commander. Generals have talent trees with numerous branches that will give them better abilities in battle. Most importantly, choosing one path on a talent tree permanently locks out the other option, making specialization extremely important. Their loyalty to your clan affects the loyalty of the units they command, and a rogue General can become a thorn in your side if he decides he’s tired of being under your control.

Once a General goes rogue he’s basically lost to you, but to keep his forces your command there are a couple of preventative measures that can be taken. Generals can be married into your clan, giving them a familial bond that grants higher loyalty (marriage is also useful for inter-clan relations). If you have no relatives that are ripe for the picking, you can also ask your General to commit ritual suicide, otherwise known as seppuku. Seppuku is a double edge sword, however, because it could prevent a General from going rogue (and give you a bonus to your honor), but it might also backfire and make them go rogue on the spot.

You can only see the areas you've revealed on the campaign map.

Unexplored areas appear covered by fog.

Politics are super important, but battles are inevitable. To better represent how war was conducted in Japan, Creative Assembly has implemented a new feature: naval warfare. No, you won’t be using massive sail boats (and you certainly won’t be firing cannons at one another), but you will be rowing large boats full of troops at one another in order to defend or take a beach head. Naval battles are fought either via two ships meeting and troops fighting it out, or by archers shooting at incoming ships with things like flame arrows. This gives players a more realistic set of options when it comes to invasion, as naval battles were fairly common since Japan is, after all, an island.

The combat portions of the game are every bit as pretty as you’d expect from a company who has years of experience making intricate, large scale warfare on the PC, but the campaign development is also coming along well. Hopefully Shogun II’s turn-based campaign gets the limelight it deserves, as casual onlookers often only see the high-resolution pictures of battlefields and assume it’s simply a RTS. At least you, reader, now know better, and have some insight on just how awesome the political portions of the game are starting to look. (ign)

  • Published by: SEGA
  • Developed by: Creative Assembly
  • Genre: Strategy
  • Release Date: US: TBA 2011
  • RP for Rating Pending
  • Also known as: Shogun 2: Total War

As much as I enjoyed Mirror’s Edge on my Xbox 360, after feeling the breeze at my back with the iPad and now iPhone editions, I’m certain this game was made to be played in 2D. By stripping away any of the fussiness of lining up perfect jumps along three axes, Mirror’s Edge loses almost all of its original frustrations and becomes the best unintended rhythm games for the iPhone. Really, this game is about getting into a groove.

Mirror’s Edge is the story of Faith, a courier in a gleaming dystopia. Information is a precious resource, rarely flowing freely due to the iron grip of a totalitarian regime. You must slip through the police state’s defenses by blasting across rooftops and burrowing through underground passages. Fortunately, you have both the grace and grit of a lion, able to perform incredible acrobatics. With the swipe of your finger, you’re off and running. Timing upward and downward swipes helps Faith leap over or duck under obstacles. You can defy gravity with wall runs, slide down zip lines, and hop across exposed scaffolding with simple swipe sequences that feel natural. All you need to do is leave one finger anchored in a corner of the screen and make your small but distinct swipes, never obscuring a bit of the gorgeous thrills. This is simply one of the most intuitive action games I have played on any of the iOS devices.

Gravity is not Faith’s only enemy, though. She must take down armed thugs and guards, too. Swipes are your instruments of destruction. These are a bit trickier than the urban gymnastics, primarily because timing is so critical when coming up on a guard just as he is raising his weapon. Do you flick up and then to the side to perform a flying kick? Or maybe a roll that sends him crashing to the ground? How Faith comes out of these attacks often affects survival because you can plant your foot in the face of a guard and then be unprepared to deal with a low-hanging duct. Mirror’s Edge is thrown into slow-motion when you engage a guard, too, which can throw off timing until you get a firm grip on exactly when slo-mo starts and stops.

Some of Mirror’s Edge boils down to a little trial-and-error. If the stages were any longer or the checkpoints not as smartly placed, failure to negotiate some of the trickier elements like timed wall jumps up vertical shafts would be frustrating. But chances are good that you will only need to replay sequences once or twice to get your timing down.

Mirror’s Edge includes a new Speed Run mode which challenges you to race through stages and then post your best times on Facebook. It’s a nice addition to the main game, and definitely preferable to the collection mode from the iPad edition, which was all about picking up hidden messenger bags.

EA has done a marvelous job bringing Mirror’s Edge to the iPhone. If you have an iPhone 4 and new Touch, the Retina display mode is brilliantly crisp and pops off the screen. But no matter which device you use, the acrobatic animations are silken. You just look cool when you perfectly link up a series of jumps and rolls, flying across the gaps in rooftops as pigeons take flight out of sudden fright. The bright, primary- and secondary-only color scheme is taken from the console game, which remains a stunner to me. The use of bright reds to denote critical objects or paths is not only pleasing to the eye, but also makes Mirror’s Edge more fun to play. It’s nice to see aesthetic dovetail so well into gameplay. (ign)

R.U.S.E (Xbox 360)

Posted: September 8, 2010 in PC, Playstation 3, XBOX 360
Tags: , , ,

R.U.S.E. ScreenshotZoom all the way out from one of Ruse’s World War II battlefields and you’ll see the edge of the strategy table in the commanding Allied general’s war room. Desk officers work silently in the background; troops are colourful blue and red counters inching across a map of Europe, their movements delineated in bright, wide arrows.

Zoom all the way in, and you can hear the artillery fire, watch foot soldiers set up an ambush in a French village square and see a tank battalion inch along forest paths whilst a recon unit scouts ahead through the trees, on the lookout for hidden enemy soldiers. You can command the battle as if you’re on the ground, or from a strategist’s eagle-eyed viewpoint, and you’ll need to make use of both. Pivotal moments in battle play out in letterbox cinematics, showing you a squadron of incoming bombers or the moment of defeat on another front.

Ruse is nicely, clearly presented – and equally unusually for a console-centric RTS, you’re never frustrated by the limitations of your viewpoint or control. There’s no cursor to guide around with an impossibly imprecise analogue stick – you select a unit by pointing the camera in is direction and pressing a button, and move a little ghost version of it to the intended position to issue a command. Just a few buttons let you select all units of one type, or group nearby troops together for a command.

R.U.S.E. ArtworkRuse’s challenge comes from the nature of the missions rather than control difficulties. It’s a precise, ponderous game; it demands careful thought, forward-planning and preparation for all eventualities, not quick reactions. Overpowering the enemy by sheer force of numbers or speed of action is never a possibility. The game plays out significantly differently on each of its three difficulty settings – reinforcements that back you up at crucial moments simply don’t turn up on higher difficulties, and easy secondary missions turn into death-traps.

The story follows an American chap called Joe Sheridan on his journey from a Major in Tunisia to a General on the front line in the closing stages of the War, guided by a charming, moustachioed British ranking officer. Unfortunately, Joe is a tiresome dude, a big-headed twazzock who often seems more concerned about his rivalries within the American army or the attentions of his attractive assistant than with the war at hand. The plot focuses on tracking down a German intelligence source, Prometheus, but frankly it’s not a gripping war epic.

The opening mission gives you a tantalising glimpse of the scale and variety that you’ll be playing with later, teasing you with a German battlefield full of looping fighter planes and bombers and tanks on all fronts. After that, though, the game takes all of that away again. It flashes back to Tunisia in 1942 and takes quite some time to get going again. As the war goes on and Joe climbs the ranks, access to new units, base building and the titular Rusetechniques slowly opens up, but it’s hours before you’re really allowed to stretch your legs on the battlefield.

R.U.S.E. ScreenshotThose opening hours crawl by at the speed of one of the game’s heavy tanks – though none of Ruse’s units are exactly speedy. Battles are slow and steady, relying heavily on your ability to predict the next enemy movements and defuse their attacks with ambushes and strategic unit deployment rather than meet them head-on. Crucial to this approach are the RUSE intelligence techniques themselves, which allow you to decrypt enemy transmissions to determine their movements, send spies behind their lines to see exactly which units are hiding there, speed up your own deployment and movement speed and boost your chances in various other helpful ways.

Knowing which RUSE technique to use at which time is crucial to success. Ruse isn’t easy on strategic mistakes. You must remember to put your bombers under radio silence to protect them from fighter planes, or hide your infantry in towns or forests, or your vital, limited units will be wiped out. Make a mistake in the earlier missions and you’re almost guaranteeing yourself an instant restart – oddly enough, things get a little easier later on, when the game finally starts allowing you to build your own bases, establish your own supply lines and deploy and position your own units. Once Joe is a general, you can always manufacture some extra tanks to make up for your strategic mistakes.

The slow pacing never changes, though. Ruse isn’t a fast-paced RTS, but it’s not a dumbed-down one either. It has its own tension; watching masses of Axis troop counters creep slowly and inexorably towards your base whilst you deploy defences at the limited speed allowed you is just as tense as the frantic, unpredictable battles of other games in the genre, in its own way. (ign)

Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Eugen Systems
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Number of Players: 1-8
Release Date: US: September 7, 2010
MSRP: $59.99
T for Teen: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Use of Tobacco
Also Available On: PlayStation 3PC

H.A.W.X. 2 (Xbox 360)

Posted: September 8, 2010 in PC, Playstation 3, Wii, XBOX 360
Tags: , , , , ,
I pull back on the stick and slam my throttle forward, gaining as much altitude and distance as I can, but it’s not working. There are six MiGs on my ass, all with active locks and an endless supply of missiles that seem just a little more accurate than mine, and none appear to be running out of flares the way I did five minutes ago. As I pull hard turns at G-forces that in reality would tear my plane apart to avoid a never-ending stream of missiles, I look at my radar to see where my wingmen are, and as I see a swarm of yellow arrows around me, I see a pair of green arrows kilometers away, seemingly flying in circles.Welcome to H.A.W.X.2.

Just 18 months after Ubisoft’s uneven opening foray into modern air combat, the H.A.W.X. squadron is again taking to the skies, now with take-offs and landing sequences, mid-air refueling, and four-player co-operative play through the campaign. Unfortunately, inconsistent level design and underwhelming multiplayer hurt H.A.W.X. 2’s appeal.

H.A.W.X.2. actually makes a pretty strong initial impression. While the visuals are still a little iffy – the planes look pretty good, and so do the environments, but the in-engine cutscenes have some pretty awful-looking human characters and major framerate issues – the experience of turning on your engines and taxiing to a runway to begin takeoff procedures is immersive and engaging, especially using Namco’s Flight Stick peripheral from Ace Combat 6, which is fully supported here as it was in the last game. I’ll give H.A.W.X.2 this: it generally guides you through some daunting new mechanics quite well, and gives a number of options depending on how comfortable you become with the nuances of things like carrier landings.

Controls are a different story. Using the standard controller, H.A.W.X. 2 can be a difficult game to get a handle on. While it’s not a simulator by any means, the controls are still complicated. They are not intuitively mapped onto face buttons and bumpers and triggers. You can make it work, sure, but it often feels like you’re fighting control shortcomings as much as any MiG. However, with the aforementioned flight sticks, it’s almost like a different game.

I feel conflicted here as a reviewer. I’m not the type to demand the use of racing wheels for games like Forza 3 or the Gran Turismo series, for example; I think it’s important that a game work and be enjoyable with the most common standard control method available. But you really will get more out of H.A.W.X. 2 with a supported flight stick and throttle than you will with a controller, both in immersion and overall control of your aircraft.

Of course, you still get the same design problems whether you’re using a flight stick or standard controller. While Ubisoft has stressed the inclusion of co-op as a major feature in H.A.W.X. 2, it’s a pain in the exhaust port to play. You need to create an unranked lobby from the multiplayer menu and select the co-op mode from the menu, as well as a mission, to fly alongside your friends against the forces of… er, whatever political movement the Tom Clancy franchise has specified as evil this week, I guess. It’s 2010, and while this isn’t different than every other Tom Clancy title that’s preceded H.A.W.X. 2 this generation, it would have been nice to see a more elegant and user-friendly implementation of the co-op experience here.

You’ll want to learn to make co-op happen though, I assure you. H.A.W.X. 2 has been designed for co-op play, to the point where it feels like there wasn’t much play-testing done for solo pilots making their way through the campaign. This wouldn’t be an issue if the friendly AI wasn’t so idiotic and the enemy AI so aggressive and robotically precise. The situation I described in the introduction? Completely legit, and it happened repeatedly.

Other missions found me by myself, chased by a pair of preternaturally skilled MiGs in an aircraft without missiles across a night sky dominated by anti-aircraft fire and no assistance at all. This resulted in a dogfight that lasted upwards of half an hour. I’m all for tension and hairy combat situations, but after 10 minutes of attempting to line up supersonic aircraft in my sights while trying not to stall my plane, I wasn’t having fun. It was frustratingly tedious. At least in co-op, when you run out of missiles after shooting down 60 enemy aircraft, you can crash into the ground and respawn with a full weapon loadout. And yes, that really happened, too.

H.A.W.X. 2 feels excessively padded in single-player by situations like these, where you’ll find yourself pulling G’s that would make an astronaut wet himself as you fly in circles for upwards of an hour trying to shake, lock on, and shoot down dozens of enemy planes. While these are broken up every few missions by UAV or C130 sequences (which feature appearances by a Russian special operative who bears a striking resemblance to Kestrel from this year’s Splinter Cell: Conviction co-op mode). Co-op mode shortens some missions, but difficulty spikes remain, and you may find you have a hard time drafting willing wingmen to go the distance through one or two missions, much less the entire campaign.

Competitive multiplayer hasn’t changed much from the previous game, and it continues to underwhelm. While there are now de rigeur inclusions of leveling, perks, and plane unlocks, the underlying dogfighting mechanic fails to satisfy. More skilled players are likely to run rampant all over newer pilots, while players of similar skill levels will likely find themselves locked in protracted dogfights that feel more anticlimactic than triumphant. (ign)

Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Romania
Genre: Flight Action
Release Date: US: September 7, 2010
MSRP: $49.99
T for Teen: Language, Violence
Also Available On: WiiPlayStation 3PC

Puzzle Agent iPhone

Posted: September 8, 2010 in iPhone/iPad/iPod, PC, Wii
Tags: , , , , ,
The differences between homage, inspired by, and outright copycat narrow as you move down the sliding scale. Telltale Games‘ new Puzzle Agent is obviously born out of a collective admiration for Professor Layton’s awesome DS adventures. And though the desire to emulate a great game is perfectly understandable, Puzzle Agent adheres so close to the Layton formula of narrative-puzzle-narrative-puzzle that it’s distracting. Hell, you even search scenes for pieces of gum instead of coins to activate hints.However, to outright dismiss FBI Puzzle Research agent Nelson Tethers as Layton without a top hat is to partially miss the point. Once the similarities between Puzzle Agent and Professor Layton have been fully digested, you can begin to appreciate the best parts of Tethers’ adventure: the wonderful art style and the interesting story.

Tethers has been sent to the freezing Fargo-like burgh of Scoggins, Minnesota to reopen a shuttered eraser factory. To do so, he must talk to the locals, piece together an increasingly oddball plot, and, as expected, solve puzzles using a very basic – but also accessible – tap-and-click interface. There are over 30 puzzles in Puzzle Agent; the majority of them are required to sniff out the culprit behind the factory closure. They include math puzzles, logic exercises, and spatial thinking tricks.

Arrange the food, Agent Tethers.

To be sure, the weakest link in Tethers’ case is the puzzles themselves, which would have absolutely devastated Puzzle Agent if it didn’t have charms elsewhere. Looking over the list, I see that only half of them really entertained me. Far too often, Puzzle Agent relies on basic shape-arrangement exercises that are not really brain-teasers. And Telltale repeats some of these puzzles entirely too often, such as returning to a snowmobile pathing puzzle where you drop logs to create an escape route. Another offender is tile-rotating. Twist these worms. Spin those stovepipe pieces. Rotate these hiking routes. Enough already.

The logic puzzles are much better, such as an exercise where you must visualize a line of crows to deduce the minimum number of the birds on a wire. The trouble here, though, is that the difficulty of the logic puzzles is all over the map. And the placement of tough puzzles is also uneven. The final puzzle is a great stumper, but it’s preceded by two softballs: follow a cord through a tangle and arrange some objects into a specific shape. There is no danger of getting puzzles (and there are several object-placement exercises throughout the case) like these wrong, which robs Puzzle Agent of suspense. You just sit there and click around until you have the final shape. There’s truly no need to use hints on these types of puzzles, and they account for a lot of Tethers’ teasers. I don’t necessarily want to be beaten over the head, but Telltale leaves the safety net under Tethers for the whole game.

It’s too bad that the core puzzling isn’t as strong as Puzzle Agent’s excellent art direction. Telltale hired Graham Annable, creator of the spectacularly macabre Grickle strips and animations, to design Puzzle Agent’s look. It was Telltale’s most inspired decision in the creation of Puzzle Agent, as this game looks like no other. The simple line art is both evocative and creepy, especially when the storyline – which I enjoyed quite a bit – takes a dark turn.

Puzzle Agent is blurry and washed out.

Unfortunately, this brilliant art is under-served by the porting process from PC to iPhone. Puzzle Agent looks fuzzy and washed out whenever an element is in motion or part of a backdrop. The moment something stops at the center of attention, typically Tethers in a scene, he looks fine. But the saturation and blurriness around him is distracting. Game-killing? No, not at all. But it does a real disservice to Puzzle Agent’s strongest element. (ign)

Published by: Telltale Games
Developed by: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: US: September 2, 2010
RP for Rating Pending
Also Available On: PCMaciPadWii