Archive for August, 2006

Bad Day LA

August 16, 2006

What if all the media scaremongering about disasters and terrorism came true? This is the premise of Bad Day LA, the story of one man caught up in a string of natural and man-made disasters. A half-insane, homeless man at that. The protagonist of Bad Day LA has more character than a dozen generic videogame heroes, and the demo is slick and funny, mixing political humour with crazy characters and some gory slapstick. The demo is sadly short, just one level with some tutorial elements and a handful of mission objectives. In the demo level terrorists have crashed planes loaded with zombifying bioweapons into LA, causing chaos. Your tour through the wreckage includes healing injured people (most memorably by jumping up and down on the chest of a heart attack victim), putting out flaming pedestrians with your fire extinguisher, using the extinguisher to dezombify people by blowing away the clouds of toxic gas, shooting terrorists, zombies (if you don’t fancy saving them) and crazed dogs, and escorting a conveniently immortal sick little boy. Varied, well executed and fun (aside from the invisible walls), but ends much to soon.

Score: 1/3 – For fans only

Tech Details:

Size: 270MB

System Requirements: 1.6GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, 64MB DirectX9 video card (Radeon 8500/GF 5200 or higher), Windows 2000/XP, 1024×768 screen resolution

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In the pipeline

August 16, 2006
  • Demo review of Darkstar One
  • Demo review of Bad Day LA
  • About us page

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

August 11, 2006

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a first-person action RPG. Its defining features are the physics-heavy combat, slick swordplay system, impressive graphics and a skill tree which enables specialisation in either swordplay, archery, magic or stealth.

The demo is extremely brief, consisting of two short levels, a tutorial and the first half of a level from later in the game. The tutorial does a good job of introducing the interactions and combat, but aside from the final fight there’s nothing you’ll want to replay. The level is more interesting, you are granted more abilities at the start and have the option to play it as a mage, fight through as a warrior, or upgrade your stealth skills and sneak past. You’ll want to try all three, and probably more than once each since the chaotic battles play out differently every time. Sneaking is pretty disappointing; you have a light meter à la the Thief series, but the short and linear map means you can just lean on your sprint key to run past your enemies with no actual stealth required. They do a fairly good job of chasing you, following you outside their spawn areas and down some stairs, but the level ends before they have any chance to corner you. Combat is a lot more entertaining, the elaborate swordplay system (swipes, blocks, kicks, power strikes, backstabs, special moves and an adrenaline bar) alone is a step up over the standard mêlée system in a first-person game, but what really makes the game is all the environmental hazards to kick your opponents into – off cliffs, down stairs or into fires or spikes – and the other potential traps like ropes to cut which will bring deadly weights swinging down. In fact, this is a little too powerful, as there’s nothing to stop you blocking the first few hits until your enemy is lined up, then a swift kick or two will bring on instant death. Going for similarly powerful moves with the sword leaves you open for a second and is a much more dangerous tactic. The bow likewise looks weak next to the boot in combat, but it is very useful for taking out enemies by triggering traps from a safe distance.

Magic also offers plenty of opportunities for mayhem. The basic fireball spell is not much more useful than the arrows, although it can be guided after firing for better accuracy. The other two spells in the demo (aside from the night vision spell) are very powerful; “fire trap” allows you to plant an invisible and deadly mine which will destroy any enemy that wanders past, whilst “freeze” allows you to freeze an enemy solid allowing you to shatter them, or, if pointed at the floor, will produce an ice patch that can send enemies skidding to their death. Unfortunately, all of this comes to an end very quickly, the demo cuts out after a couple of duels and a final brawl, leaving you with a teaser of the level boss and a real lack of closure.

Aside from the 1.4GB download (2.4GB installed size), Dark Messiah is pretty hard on your PC. The load times are enough to make me reach for my DS and put in a lap of Mario Kart, and even on minimum detail the framerate regularly loses smoothness – although not to the point of unplayability, as the game isn’t that fast paced. What’s worst is an occasional hitch that freezes the game for a minute or so that occurs on roughly every other playthrough. This might not be indicative of your experience, as the review was done on an (offically unsupported) Windows 2000 machine, but you should certainly take the minimum requirements listed below pretty seriously. In fact, I’d say that if you have a lower-end GeForce FX you want to give this one a miss.

A great experience while it lasts, but its brevity and technical problems mean it can’t really be recommended to anyone without a lot of bandwidth and a heavy-duty gaming PC. Pixel shader fans only.

Score: 1/3 – For fans only

Tech details:

Size: 1.4GB

System Requirements: 2.2 GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, 128MB GeForce FX/6/7 or Radeon 9/X series DirectX9 Video Card, 1024×768 or higher resolution, Windows XP

Sword of the Stars

August 9, 2006

Sword of the Stars is a stripped down space 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) game where the objective, as ever, is to expand your empire from your home world and conquer a galaxy. 4X games are a tricky proposition to review and indeed play, since they require a serious investment of time just to tell if they’re fun all the way through, and to see if they’re fundamentally broken. However, if a 4X game clicks with you, you’ll find that nothing presses your obsessive-compulsive-gamer button like epic turn-based strategy. And then keeps pressing again and again for years.

SotS seems to be a genuine effort to raise the 4X bar in several areas. To make each game unique the tech tree is freshly generated for each game with several branches missing, so you can’t just race for photonic torpedoes every time. This alone ensures that you’ll play the (very long) demo 3 or so times, just to see what other tech is out there. Ship to ship combat and planetary bombardment take place in real time and can be user controlled or resolved automatically. Ships move in a 2D plane (viewed in 3D) and have a simple combat system (concentrate your fire well and you should come out ahead). You can only control a certain number of ships, depending on what technologies you’ve researched, in each battle at a time, so epic 400 ship battles play out much the same as 20-a-side skirmishes. This makes sense from a game balance point of view but is a little disappointing. The combat AI is sadly pretty poor (“Charge!”)- you’ll want to control the battles yourself to maximise the value of your ships, yet this part of the game gets old fairly fast.

Micromanagement of planetary resources has been cut down to a minimum, which is a great improvement in accessibility but might not please the serious 4X fan. However for some reason they’ve made the spaceships very touchy about fuel, a step backwards to match the step forwards. Remembering to build plenty of tankers is essential. Likewise, for an accessible game the tutorial and manual are useless, luckily the controls are simple enough to figure out with a bit of experimental clicking. SotS also suffers from the same problem that a lot of games like this do: the endgame takes forever. When you have a big lead in tech, fleets and economy you really can’t lose, but the AI insists on fighting to the death, leaving you to either declare yourself the winner and stop playing, or spend the time to crush an unworthy enemy into dust – neither option really satisfies. Also, there are no allied victories, so any alliance you make will inevitably end in backstabbing.

The SotS demo is remarkably comprehensive, with two of the four races represented. Each race has a different method of moving between the stars, the Tarkas with sci-fi conventional faster-than-light engines and the Humans with “node drives” which can travel much faster than the Tarkas, but only along certain routes between stars. This leads to some interesting play scenarios, as two worlds that are close in normal space can be distant on the node network, giving the Tarkas freedom to attack without retaliation, or the opposite can be true allowing the humans to zip across the galaxy and establish a beachhead far away. The demo only includes the smallest of the three classes of ships, but with a fairly large tech tree so many different variants are possible. The are no time or turn limits on the demo, and LAN and online multiplayer are supported, with the option to start with several planets and a large treasury to get things going, and turn time limits for frantic blitz games.

If you’ve never played a 4X game this is a great one to start with, it’s accessible to new players, has lots of options you’ll want to try out (the demo is practically a full game in itself), and will keep most genre fans amused through a few games.

Score: 2/3 – Play the demo

Tech details:

Size: 227MB

System Requirements: 1Ghz CPU, 512 MB RAM, 128MB DirectX8 video card, Windows 2000/XP

Lego Star Wars 2

August 9, 2006

This time Lego Star Wars takes on the original trilogy, with the demo taking you through the outskirts of Mos Eisley and the cantina. The poor camera and loose controls make the combat frustrating, but never deeply so as you have infinite lives, and the puzzles are very simple. Most of the fun comes from collecting items and unlocking new characters for the free play mode, and the humorous retelling of the Star Wars story. For fans only – but almost everyone’s a fan of Star Wars.

Score: 1/3 – For fans only

Tech details:

Size: 437MB

System Requirements: 1GHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 32MB video card with v1.1 shaders, Windows 2000/XP

Gamepad recommended

Coming soon

August 7, 2006
  • Demo reviews of Sword of the Stars, Micro Machines V4, and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit