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In case you haven't noticed already, we posted our first wave of reviews for 3DS launch games today. Of the 16 launch titles (17 if you include Europe's Splinter Cell 3D), we've managed to get eight of them reviewed this side of the weekend. Ghost Recon is under embargo until Sunday morning, and the rest will follow next week. We'd have loved to get all of the launch titles reviewed ahead of the system's North American launch, but with access to only two 3DS consoles on this side of the pond, our core reviews team simply wasn't able to devote as much time to 3DS reviews as we would have liked. Big thanks to our colleagues in the UK for helping out where they could. Here are the 3DS reviews you can check out on GameSpot right now:
Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Video Review)
Nintendogs + Cats: Toy Poodle & New Friends (Video Review)
Pilotwings Resort (Video Review)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D
Steel Diver (Video Review)
Super Monkey Ball 3D (Video Review)
Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition (Video Review)
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D
Capturing footage was especially fun; currently, we have no way of capturing direct feed from 3DS games, so our crew chief Frank "MacGyver" Adams whipped up what I affectionately call THE CHAIR. This ingenious (torture) device requires us to play the 3DS (which is fixed onto a near-vertical surface) more or less at arm's length, with both the top screen and our heads tilted back. To say that I was skeptical (and terrified) as I sat in it for the first time would be an understatement, but Frank did a great job, and we're all really pleased with the gameplay videos and video reviews that we were able to produce as a result of his efforts.
Tom McShea gets comfortable in THE CHAIR.
As of right now, I think it's fair to say that while we're feeling good about Nintendo's new system, we're pretty underwhelmed by the 3DS launch lineup. I believe I'm right in saying that I'm the only member of the reviews team who has preordered a system. I also preordered just one game, which, at the risk of hinting at how our review is going to look when it posts on Sunday morning, is Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. Anyhow, it's Friday night and about time that I got my weekend started. Have fun playing with your new 3DS systems, those of you who are picking one up, and be sure to put your Mii Maker to good use by scanning in this QR Code of everyone's favorite Nintendo character.
As you may have noticed, we have posted our Crysis 2 review--but only for the Xbox 360 version. Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Hey GameSpot! This is a sequel to an awesome PC game. What about the PC version? And for that matter, what about the PlayStation 3?"
As it happens, there was a Crysis 2 review event where we and other members of the press were invited to play the game for review in a controlled setting. As you may know, we don't attend review events, because we feel that we should play games just like you would: using our own televisions and our own systems, and without interacting with game publishers or developers during the experience. While we've asked multiple times for review code for Crysis 2, we have yet to receive any other version but the Xbox 360 version--and we received that on Friday, four days before the game's release.
I finished the game on Saturday and have spent lots of time in multiplayer, so we went ahead and posted the review for the version we were sent. However, as of this writing, we still haven't received the other versions. In fact, we were specifically asked if we needed to play those versions before posting reviews. (Of course, the answer is always an emphatic yes!) I've already purchased and downloaded the PC version from Steam and will purchase the PS3 version today if we don't receive it in the mail. I didn't want anyone to think we were intentionally slighting the other platforms or ignoring them. Unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence. We are commonly sent only a single version of a game for review--sometimes just a few days in advance of release and sometimes not at all. I wish we could have had a review of every version up at the same time, but I wanted to reassure you that I'm working on it, and we will post those reviews as soon as we're ready to deliver our final word.
I've spent a few dozen hours now with Yakuza 4, running around the streets of the noisy, neon-lit pleasure district of Kamurocho. When not kicking dudes in the face and beating them bloody with everything from signs to sofas, I've been engaging in a host of pastimes both innocent and adult in nature. The full review of this latest entry in Sega's gangster saga will be up on Monday, but I wanted to share some of my experiences with you now.
First and foremost, Yakuza 4 is absolutely, completely crazy. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has played the earlier Yakuza games, but if you're new to this series, be prepared for a lot of ludicrously over-the-top fight choreography and a ton of larger-than-life characters. Perhaps the biggest thing that sets Yakuza 4 apart from its predecessors is that you now play as four such characters, rather than just one. The inscrutable Kazuma Kiryu, hero of the earlier Yakuza games, is still here, but he's joined now by three other memorable protagonists. There's Shun Akiyama, a loan shark with a very unconventional way of running his business; Taiga Seijima, a convicted murderer whose quiet exterior hides a passionate soul; and Masayoshi Tanimura, a corrupt cop who operates according to his own moral code.
Each of these four characters has his own fighting style, and his own personality. Like the earlier Yakuza games, the story here is an intricate tale, packed with betrayals and stunning revelations. The way it's told isn't always exciting--many scenes substitute dry text and canned animations for voice acting and prerendered visuals--but it's overflowing with emotion. Like a good soap opera, the heightened emotions and constant surprises make this story an engaging one. And the fact that it hops from one fascinating character to another at regular intervals keeps the story moving until the credits roll.
You have to clobber hundreds of dudes before you reach the end, though. As you run around Kamurocho, thugs constantly approach you and demand your money or just insult you, which inevitably leads to fists and feet flying. Showing these punks the error of their ways is rarely challenging, but it's fun nonetheless. The responsive controls make pulling off insane, physics-defying combos easy and enjoyable, and you frequently level up, which gives you access to new moves to expand your arsenal.
But there's more to Yakuza 4 than just brawling. A lot more. Kamurocho is a pleasure district, after all, so it makes sense that on its streets, you find video arcades, bowling alleys, and batting cages, along with more adult forms of entertainment, like massage parlors and hostess clubs. These latter locales were removed from Yakuza 3 when it was released outside of Japan, but Yakuza 4's international release contains the full, uncompromised experience. Spending time with hostesses is a dating sim in which you give gifts, choose responses in conversation, and participate in activities like karaoke (a simple rhythm game) in the hopes of making the hostesses fall for you. Visiting a massage parlor triggers a minigame in which you try to receive as much relaxation as possible from the massage, if you know what I mean. Elements like these certainly won't appeal to everyone, but they do enhance the sense that this is a pleasure district you're hanging out in, and with the early minor exception of a brief bit of time spent in a hostess club, you can avoid these aspects of the game altogether if you prefer. You can also while away the hours (and earn money and prizes) playing poker, blackjack, darts, billiards, mahjong, and a number of other traditional Japanese games of skill and chance.
Regardless of how much or how little time you spend with these activities, Yakuza 4 delivers much more of the outrageous brawling and juicy melodrama that are staples of the series and introduces three memorable new protagonists who can each stand proudly beside the charismatic Kazuma Kiryu. Our full review on Monday will have more detail, but suffice it to say that if you're a fan of the series, or if you're open to experiencing some emotionally charged, hard-hitting action with a distinctly Japanese flavor, I think you'll enjoy your time in Kamurocho.
If you're one of GameSpot's many European readers, you might be wondering where our review of MotorStorm: Apocalypse is, given that there are already a number of reviews out there. Evolution Studios' latest racer isn't scheduled for release in North America until mid-April, but prior to recent events in Japan, the game was due to arrive on European shelves this Friday. Our review, written by GameSpot UK's Mark Walton, was ready for posting when those of us in the US arrived at work last Friday morning, but given that the game takes place during a massively destructive earthquake, we decided that in light of what had transpired in Japan only hours earlier it would be insensitive for us to post it. Subsequently, we learned that Sony has decided to delay the release of the game as well, and so while our original intention was to delay the review for one week, our current plan is to post it only when it becomes relevant. In other words, we'll aim to post our review shortly before whatever new release date Sony decides on for the game.
Thanks for understanding, and if you haven't already, please consider making a donation to Japan disaster relief using the button at the top of the site.
When you first start up Rift, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've seen this game before. With the art style, the interface, and the basic structure, you see the influence of World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online all over this massively multiplayer online game. (And of course, those games dripped with the influence of earlier games, like Everquest and Asheron's Call.) Its derivative nature was the first thing I noticed about Rift, and when you see screens and gameplay clips, it might be the first thing you notice too. The good news is that Rift is more than just a clone. I've been playing it for a week, and the game has absolutely grown on me. I am still a week or two from delivering a full review, but I wanted to share some thoughts and invite those of you who have entered the world of Telara to share your own as well.
I think it should be said straightaway, however, that in an age when few online role-playing games feel complete upon release, Rift is one of the most slick and refined MMOGs I have ever played during the launch window. I fondly remember the mostly trouble-free launches of Dark Age of Camelot, Earth & Beyond, and Asheron's Call 2, but even then, few games of this ilk feel like they have everything they need from the beginning. Final Fantasy XIV was missing an auction house and quick travel (among many, many other things); Champions Online and Age of Conan had noticeable content gaps; and Star Wars Galaxies lacked vehicles and mounts. Rift has had a few short downtimes for hot fixes, and I have run into login queues here and there, but otherwise, it is a working, attractive, playable game out of the box. All of the basic features you need in an MMOG are here from the get-go, without having to trust in a patch that may or may not come. Of course, patches and fixes will come; they always do in such games. But Rift isn't a shell, meant to have mechanics bolted on at a later date. It's a fully featured MMOG waiting for you to play it.
And if you are already playing it, I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am right now. There's a certain amount of chaos when you begin. Rift throws a lot of lore at you at once, without much of an introduction. The tutorial gets you up to speed well enough: You are an "Ascended," resurrected and sent back in time to fight the forces of the evil Regulos and halt the apocalypse before it occurs. Quest givers throw a lot of backstory at you, but it's all a bit scattered, like being dropped into the middle of the third installment of a fantasy trilogy. The confusion is compounded once you start looting items and earning different currencies, unsure of how to use some object or another or where this or that currency might be usable. But once the game allows you a moment to breathe, you can get up to speed with the intricacies and start enjoying what makes this game uniquely "Rift," and not "just another fantasy game."
Rifts and invasions are key to setting Rift apart. Everywhere you go, portals from other dimensions open into Telara from which nasty demons pour out. These events seem to happen almost anywhere and everywhere. One of the most memorable moments I have ever had in an MMOG was the first time such a rift opened right on top of me. The sky darkened, purple gunk erupted from the ground, and nasties appeared in flashes of blinding light. Nearby players converged on my location, and we defeated these demonspawn, the game automatically inviting everyone to join a raid group. You might think of rifts like Warhammer Online's public quests, except that rather than having to go to the quest location, the quest location comes to you. Marauding creatures parade down streets toward villages, and you might join a throng of other players as they pass, hunting down these monsters to halt the invasion. Rifts lend welcome unpredictability to a genre sorely needing it.
The other aspect of Rift that sets it apart is its class flexibility. You choose a main class to start with, but within it, you equip three souls. Souls are essentially subclasses, and when you level up, you spend skill points in any of the three. This improves skills you have earned and allows you to learn new ones. It also lets you mix and match to make your own class, though some classes are better fits than others. (After all, no one wants to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.) You aren't stuck with the same three souls for the duration, however; instead, you earn more as you complete quests. My current mage is a necromancer/warlock/dominator, which I enjoy not just because it is a pet class, but also because I can do ranged DPS (that is, damage per second). I can also help with crowd control by, for example, turning enemies into squirrels. (This is incredibly helpful in player-versus-player matches.) But in time, I might swap in other souls to see how I fare as a pyromancer or summon the power of wind and rain as a stormcaller.
Of course, these mechanics are wrapped into a by-the-book, quest-focused RPG. But they go a long way toward making Rift feel truly fresh--a big surprise if you judge this book by its admittedly derivative cover. I need to spend more time exploring this world, clearing dungeons, and closing rifts before I can deliver a more definitive word. But I offer a strong preliminary recommendation for now; not just because Rift makes a few nifty changes to an aging formula, but also because it does so in an elegant package that looks great and runs beautifully.
Online role-playing games have already given you the chance to act as a triumphant superhero or dastardly villain, but DC Universe Online marks the first time one has used a well-known superhero license. In this new massively multiplayer game, you create your own hero or villain and run about the streets of Gotham City and Metropolis, aiding your allies while fending off evildoers--or doing some evil of your own. As with all such games, reviewing DC Universe Online will take some time, though at the current pace of leveling, I suspect that this game doesn't hide many aces up its sleeve. But so far, it's light, breezy fun, with a smooth feel and a charm that is sure to delight fans of the license. I don't know that it's the right choice for someone looking to find a new long-term virtual home, though I have yet to experience all of its features. In the meanwhile, I thought I would share some thoughts regarding my experiences thus far, as well as some screens and movies to help tide you over before I deliver a full evaluation.
It's hard not to compare DC Universe Online to 2010's Champions Online, given their obvious thematic similarities. If you've played last year's superhero funfest, you may be somewhat disappointed that DC Universe's character creation isn't as flexible as that of Champions. There are fewer cosmetic options, nor can you create your own personal origin story, since the game's narrative provides you one. Don't fret too much, however, since you still get the opportunity to create a great-looking character using a variety of skin types, belts, boots, capes, tops, and so on. Of course, what makes DC Universe immediately rise above its recent competition is that you can play as either a hero or a villain, which enhances its appeal. Your choices aren't just cosmetic, however: you choose a basic power set (gadgets, for example, or ice, or fire) and an initial weapon. My magic-focused villain uses a staff to beat up her foes, while my hero gadgeteer wields dual pistols. (Note that you are limited to your initial weapon choice for the first nine levels).
You also decide upon a method of travel. On the PC, I went with acrobatics for my villain, which allows me to glide and quickly scale surfaces; on the PS3, my hero takes to the skies in full-fledged flight. My fellow reviewer Tom Mc Shea chose super speed, and it's a hoot to watch him flash across the screen while we travel together. You also must choose on a mentor. There are three mentors for heroes and three for villains. If you feel particularly virtuous, you can side with Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman; scoundrels choose from Lex Luthor, The Joker, and Circe. After you make these choices, the game opens with a quality tutorial that introduces you to the story and combat. The battle system is striking for its clicky/mashy action, which is a refreshing change from the more usual, less direct, massively multiplayer online combat. DC Universe feels like an action game, which gives it an immediate user-friendly appeal, though you may find that the appeal wears thin over time.
DC Universe Online mixes up its open-area questing with instanced scenarios in which you enter private areas and beat up on adversaries and interact with non-player characters and objects as you make your way to the end boss. One thing I appreciate about playing as a villain is that there's a definite evil (but tongue-in-cheek) twist to the missions that 2005's City of Villains sometimes lacked. For example, in an early quest you convert helpless citizens into less wholesome beings, and there's something awful and wonderful about hearing their cries for help before channeling a demonic presence. The main quest chains culminate with those instanced quests, which reward you with a sharp-looking, narrated comic cutscene. There's a lot of voice acting in DC Universe, and most of the beloved DC characters sound quite good. (As you can imagine, Mark Hamill is impeccable as the Joker.)
I've tried other types of content as well, including player-versus-player battles. Your introduction to PVP play has you and your teammates taking the roles of iconic characters and capturing key points while fending off an opposing team. I prefer using my own characters, however, since I am beginning to develop a bond with them, as I would in any online RPG, and have had more fun in the arena as a result. The PVP is flashy and enjoyable, though I haven't played enough of it to know if it has lasting appeal or if it's balanced particularly well. I've also taken part in alerts, which are extended player-versus-environment team missions. My first alert's end boss took some time to defeat, but that was due more to an inflated health bar than to an actual challenge. Most of the PVE content I've seen has been rather easy, which has led to a certain sense of shallowness. That impression is enhanced by other aspects of the game--the simple combat, limitations to how many powers you can equip at once, the fact that there are only two major locations (though they are impressively large), and certain interface and feature quirks. (For example, you can't share your quests with teammates as you can in most similar games.) Some of those limitations make sense from the console perspective and make the game friendly for those using a controller. Keyboard jockeys, on the other hand, may miss many of the interface standards and the flexibility they've grown used to over the years.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is that you loot new gear and weapons, but you can choose whether or not those items should appear on your character when you equip them. This way, you can get the stat bonus without messing with your physical appearance. My flirty she-villain doesn't look so hot in a flouncy blouse, but I enjoy seeing different looks appear on her as I progress. On the other hand, I love the appearance of my mysterious gadgeteer so much that I refuse to change it. This was a smart way to allow players the satisfaction of collecting loot without forcing a new look on them. And speaking of looks, DC Universe has them. This isn't a technical stunner, but the game's art is colorful and captures the spirit of the source material, and DCUO has performed admirably on both my work and home machines. I've experienced some performance hitches on the PlayStation 3, but nothing particularly earth-shattering.
Mind you, these are top-level impressions based on a dozen-plus hours of play, and I expect that my weekend will be spent spreading my online infamy. I'll have a review ready soon, but until then, I'll be posting screens and videos for you to feast upon. And if you're already cavorting about Metropolis in a cape, I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts!
Several days ago I stayed up until midnight so that I could be among the first players on my server to start playing the new content in World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion. We'll be posting our full review sometime next week, but in the meantime I wanted to give you all a heads-up on where I'm at with the game.
After experimenting with my three level-80 characters in order to see how they had changed following recent updates, I initially decided that the night elf death knight was going to be the one I'd play through the Cataclysm content with first. Predictably, moments after midnight the server was struggling to cope (and eventually failed for a time) as thousands of players all gathered in the same spots to get their Cataclysm adventures under way. Personally, I had opted to hang out near a flight trainer in Stormwind so that I could learn to fly in the original Azeroth continents before heading out to one of the all-new zones. That was my first mistake, because as you can see in the screenshot below, plenty of other players had the same idea.
With my flying lesson bought, and after struggling to interact with a couple more non-player characters that were being similarly obscured by crowds of players, I made it to the new Mount Hyjal zone. There, I spent maybe 45 minutes or so trying to complete the same quests that hundreds of players from both factions were also trying to get done, replaced my favorite epic sword with a green quest reward, and then called it a night because competing for quest items and enemies was becoming increasingly frustrating as more and more players flooded into the area. Fortunately, players are much more spread out now, and so the time I've spent playing since that first night has been much more productive.
I've mostly been playing with my dwarf hunter this week, and as of this writing he's level 83 after playing through most of Mount Hyjal and everything that the underwater zone of Vashj'ir has to offer. While I found the former to be a little disappointing because of how similar it is to other zones in Azeroth, the latter really impressed me. World of Warcraft's first underwater zone is everything that I hoped it would be and much, much more. Without giving too much away, some of the highlights include taming your own seahorse mount, a series of flashback-style quests in which you get to play as a naga, and rides on both a shark and a submarine. The ending of the Vashj'ir storyline that you're treated to after playing through all (or at least most) of its 160 quests is also well worth the effort.
Like the original zones that were significantly changed prior to Cataclysm's arrival, the new areas introduced in the expansion are almost entirely self-contained. Previously, quests in any given zone would encourage you to dip in and out of other zones and ultimately move you into them, but that doesn't appear to be the case any longer. Instead, every zone (with the exceptions of those in Outland and Northrend, which haven't changed since they were introduced in the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions, respectively) has a largely linear line of quests that tells a story from beginning to end. I wasn't sure what to think of this new approach initially, but it has really grown on me. Not only am I getting to see all of these stories through to their conclusions, but my quest log is no longer filling up with unfinished quests that I didn't complete before moving on to another zone.
Another reason for the unusually uncluttered state of my quest log is that dungeon quests are now dealt with in a much smarter way. I've played through only two of the expansion's seven new dungeons to date, so this might not be true of all of them, but it seems that rather than going into a dungeon with several quests to complete inside, you now go in with only one or two. Then, as you progress, you have opportunities to turn them in and take on new quests. In Blackrock Caverns, for example, there's a quest associated with each boss, and so after downing one you claim your reward and can accept the quest for the next one. It really is a great system, and I can't wait to see how it's implemented in dungeons like The Stonecore (which I've now found the entrance to--a requisite for being able to run dungeons now, even via the group finder option) and The Vortex Pinnacle.
In addition to playing with my hunter, I've checked out both the worgen and goblin starter zones, formed a guild with some GameSpot colleagues to get a good look at the new guild leveling and rewards systems, and spent some time playing around with the new archaeology profession. I had already played through the worgen starter zone in the beta the one time that I logged into it, which might be why I found it a little underwhelming, but entering the goblin area for the first time was a real "wow" moment. The zone is unlike anything that has previously appeared in World of Warcraft, and before I'd even reached level 3 I was using a hot rod to navigate it. Archaeology is also good fun as far as professions go, though despite retrieving numerous fragments from several different dig sites, I have yet to finish an artifact. That will change this weekend, I'm sure.
Obviously I'm not ready to deliver my final verdict on World of Warcraft: Cataclysm just yet, and let's be honest, there are probably very few of you reading this who are waiting for a review before deciding on whether or not to buy it. The review will be up next week for sure though, and in the meantime I'll just say that after six years of playing and canceling/renewing my account on more than a couple of occasions, Cataclysm and all of the changes that preceded it have me more excited about playing World of Warcraft than I've been in a very long time.
It has been a long time coming, but Gran Turismo 5 is finally here. I've been playing the game for a few days at this point, and while I'd love to post a full review when the embargo lifts at midnight tonight, it's just not going to happen. That's not only because GT5 is a big game with a lot of different components, but also because the game's online functionality (which was just patched in last night) hasn't actually been available for most of today. I daresay it'll be up and running in time for launch, but as of right now I haven't been able to get into a single online race. I was able to set up my online lounge last night, and I unlocked a handful of photo exhibits for my museum just by logging on, but to date that's the extent of my online experience. Clearly, I need to spend some more time with the game before I can deliver a review. In the meantime, though, I thought it might be helpful for me to give you my impressions of the game thus far. To give these impressions some context, I've apparently completed 30 percent of what the game has to offer. I've mostly been concentrating on the GT Mode's A-Spec events and Special events, taking time out only to complete three of the six license tests, to race in Arcade mode using cars imported from my Gran Turismo PSP save, and to start leveling up a driver in B-Spec mode.
One of the first things that struck me about GT5 is how rare the "premium" cars are early on. Starting out in GT mode with only $20K to spend, your best shot at getting a competitive car is to check the used-car dealer where, to date, I don't think I've noticed a single premium model. A handful of new used cars replace old ones at the dealer after every event, so I've gotten into the habit of checking it often, and because I'm a sucker for '60s and '70s models, I've been spending money on plenty of vehicles that I don't really need. I'd love to use some of these classics in the game's Photo mode, but that's reserved for premium cars unfortunately, though it's still possible to pause replays and take photos of standard cars that way. Premium cars look significantly better than standard ones; the former actually look like they're constructed from individual panels, while the latter are more like carefully shaped blocks of wood with details like gaps between panels, door handles, and lights just painted on. Quick tip for when you buy used cars, by the way: Regardless of what their mileage is, used cars always need an oil change before they'll run at their best.
Driving in GT5 feels easier than it has in previous games because there are a number of driving aids switched on by default. These include both traction control and antilock brakes, the effects of which can be adjusted on a 10-point scale. Other aids, like the driving line, skid recovery force, and active stability management are either on or off. It really does feel like GT5 is customizable for players of just about any skill level, and I'll point out that while I plan to use Logitech's latest force feedback wheel for most of the day tomorrow, I've had no problems playing with a regular DualShock 3 so far. Regardless of how you're playing, there's no denying that these cars feature believable handling (I'd say realistic, but I'm not sure my few laps of the Catalunya circuit in an Audi A4 several years back or my limited go-karting experience qualify me to do so) and that it's fun to put them through their paces on some of the world's finest courses.
The A-Spec (you driving) and B-Spec (you giving instructions to an AI driver) modes use the same series of events. I've completed only a few events in B-Spec mode, but in A-Spec mode I've beaten the Beginner, Amateur, and most of the Professional series. All of the Expert series events are unlocked for me now, but I need to hit level 20 before I can see what the Extreme series has in store for me (I'm currently level 19, so not long to go.) You earn experience points toward the next level for just about everything you do in GT5, including the license tests, which are completely optional this time around.
Race events, like those in previous GT games, require you to adhere to different car restrictions. Early on, you might simply have to use a compact, a Japanese classic, or a car with an FF or FR drivetrain, but later the requirements get a lot more specific. This works in the game's favor because while it's possible to "cheat" early events by entering them in cars that are significantly more powerful than the rest of the field, that becomes increasingly difficult as your career progresses. Very few of the events that I've entered thus far restrict the maximum horsepower of your car, so after earning only a bronze or silver trophy I've found that I can often turn that into a gold simply by adding a few parts from the tuning shop and racing again. I know that I won't have that option for much longer though.
The options available to you in the tuning shop are impressive, and regardless of how much you know about cars, it's easy to figure out where your money will be well spent. Not all of the upgrades are available for all cars, but most of the restrictions seem to make sense. You can't make the diminutive Caterham Seven any lighter, for example. I'm a little disappointed that the option to add full-on racing modifications isn't available for more cars, but if I remember correctly, that was the case in GT2 as well, and it's one of the features I remember most fondly from that game.
When I look back on GT5 in years to come, I'm hoping that I'll feel that way about the online play, and I know for sure that I'll feel that way about some of the special challenges. There's a really good assortment of challenges on offer, and they're made more challenging by the fact that none of them give you the option to upgrade or even choose which car to use. The Gran Turismo Karting Experience is the most obvious of the special challenges to call out since it's so completely different from everything else in the game, but other highlights for me have included the Jeff Gordon NASCAR School (a series of lessons that test your high-speed cornering and drafting skills), the Top Gear Test Track (where you race in a VW camper van, a Lotus Elise, and a 1944 VW Kubelwagen), the AMG Driving Academy (timed Nurburgring events in different cars and weather conditions), and the Sebastien Loeb Rally Challenge (chase a ghost car around some of the most challenging rally courses in the game). The special challenges pay really well, but unlike regular events, you can't keep repeating them to earn more money. Earning a gold trophy also pays out for the silver and bronze, and at that point there's no more money to be made from them.
In my garage right now I have a total of 68 cars, 10 of which are premium. I've been keeping all of the cars that I win as prizes thus far, but since I need to start investing in some racecars soon, I think that's probably going to change. I probably don't need four Honda Civics, after all. Even with that many cars to choose from, it's not difficult to find the car I'm looking for at any time because there are options to filter my collection by country, make, and drivetrain, as well as to sort them by manufacturer, maximum power, and a bunch of other options. The only slightly odd thing is that premium and standard cars appear in completely separate lists, so if I'm just looking for a car that's eligible for a certain event and don't care whether or not it looks good, I have to search twice.
Anyhow, I think that's about all I have to say on the subject of Gran Turismo 5 right now. Be sure to check out the embedded movies of some of my replays, and check back next week for the full review.
If you love strategy games, then you know Stardock, the respected developer and publisher behind such games as Demigod, Galactic Civilizations, and the awesome Sins of a Solar Empire. Its newest game is Elemental: War of Magic, an intriguing strategy game that I purchased on Tuesday when it became available on Stardock's own Impulse store. It's unfortunate that technical woes have made this a difficult game to play thus far, so the review may come later than I'd hoped.
Upon initial download, it was hard not to be struck by how poorly Elemental explained itself. If you are a newcomer, learning the game's unique take on turn-based strategy will take a bit of patience. Happily, some tutorial pop-ups have been added since the game's first patch. (Three days after release, two patches have been issued.) The in-game help tome fills in some gaps, but it isn't terribly complete. It tells you, for example, that there are four ways to win a game, but it lists only three of them.
More importantly, Elemental's crashes have become more than a rare nuisance for us. Of course, there is no guarantee that any given PC game will be perfectly stable for every player; you may run into problems I haven't encountered, and you might have a flawless experience. I've played the game on three separate PCs far exceeding the recommended requirements, and using the most recent video card drivers. And unfortunately, Elemental crashes relatively often on all of these systems--two using ATI cards and one using an Nvidia card. On one system, the game crashes every time an army is defeated. DirectX runtime errors and out-of-memory errors, all leading to crashes, have also been an issue.
After installing the second patch this morning, I was more hopeful, though sadly, games saved before the patch are not compatible with the patched version, meaning I couldn't continue from where I had left off yesterday. I have yet to venture into multiplayer, though as the reviewer's guide (attributed to Stardock CEO Brad Wardell) we received states, "multiplayer just isn't that fun." I am more excited about the included modding tools, not just because I want to flex my creative muscle, but because I am eager to see what other players do with Elemental's strategic foundation.
If you are interested in Elemental: War of Magic, I need to express extreme caution. While you may have a technically flawless experience, you may also run into severe bugs that hinder your enjoyment. Even if they pass you by, you are almost certain to notice other glitches, many of them related to Elemental's less-than-stellar interface. We'll bring you a full review when I've been able to spend vast amounts of time with the game, but for now, at least, you may wish to hold off until the wrinkles have been ironed out.
In Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty's opening cutscene, the gruff, cigar-chomping Tychus Findlay opines, "Hell… it's about time." He's talking about his release from prison, but he also speaks for Starcraft fans that have waited many years for the original game's sequel. Well, it's here, and like many of you, I am voraciously gulping down the game's campaign, in which I am already totally invested. As you may already be aware, the press didn't get copies well in advance; GameSpot received boxed copies yesterday and had to wait for the battle.net servers to go live and allow the game to be installed. This is why you haven't seen any advance reviews, but the good news is that we are well into the game and will bring you our review as soon as we've finished the campaign and spent significant time with the other modes--both online and off. Obviously, we're not ready to pass on a final verdict, but I am willing to say this much: The campaign is pretty great.
The early campaign missions are what you would expect: smaller-scale battles that gradually introduce you to the units you will be commanding. In this case, of course, you will only be controlling Terran units (or at least, we assume) because Wings of Liberty includes only a single campaign. Yet even the early missions are super fun, thanks to small and subtle details that get you invested. Even the first mission--a typical "lead all your units around and shoot everything that moves" task--gets under your skin. You shoot down propaganda holograms, which give you a sense of the emotional influence Emperor Arcturus Mengsk wields over his subjects. And when the colonists you save rise up and fight, you taste their desperate desire for freedom.
And so the campaign continues, having you fight the Zerg while avoiding overflowing lava, shoot down racing trains, retrieve artifacts in the midst of Protoss versus Zerg showdowns, and more. The between-mission activities are what make the campaign so intriguing--not just the missions themselves. There's a point-and-click adventure element here in which you can click on the various characters aboard your ship, and they fill you in on the backstory or further flesh out their motivations. Not only does it get you immediately interested in Jim Raynor and his colleagues, but it also allows players unfamiliar with Starcraft to get up to date quickly and easily.
You aren't just advancing the story onboard your ship, however. You also research advancements (using research points you earn for doing missions and finding important items during missions), hire mercenaries that you may summon during your mission, and spend the currency you earn for doing missions on upgrades to your base and units. Many of these enhancements are either/or propositions, so there's clearly some replay value here, if just to see how these choices manifest on the battlefield. In-game achievements also provide a reason to return to single-player missions, and many of them are a real challenge to complete, often requiring you to play on harder difficulties to unlock them.
As you might have guessed, Starcraft II's cinematics are incredibly impressive, but what's more impressive is how well the gameplay pulls you into the story--through varied objectives, through unit and hero feedback, through visual and musical touches that set just the right tone for your mission. Obviously, there's a lot more to talk about with Starcraft II: the social features, the challenges, the editor, the online ladders, and more. We'll bring you a full review when we can, but in the meanwhile, we'll be uploading movies and screenshots for you to feast upon. We hope you enjoy them!
I wouldn't want to live in the city of San Paro. Packs of pierced and tattooed criminals speed about the streets, chased by equally adrenaline-filled peacekeepers desperately trying to rid the city of its delinquents. Fortunately, this crime-filled metropolis is fictional, so my current tour of duty there isn't life threatening, though it can be a bit harrowing from time to time. Welcome to APB, developer Realtime Worlds' first foray into the (sort of) massively multiplayer market. The game was just released this week, and I've been cavorting about as a ginger-Mohawked enforcer, bringing criminals to justice while admiring my sweet leather jacket as I hang out car windows like a streetwise vigilante. It's too early to tell whether APB deserves the key to the city or whether it should suffer in skid row, but in advance of the review, I thought I would give you a quick look into my life as an enforcer.
Perhaps APB's greatest selling point is the amount of customization on offer. Initial character creation is robust, but it's after you get in the game that this aspect starts to boggle your mind. Here's one game in which you can make sure your character looks nothing like anyone else. Using a Forza-style editor, you can use basic geometric shapes and decals to modify not just the vehicles that you buy, but also your clothing. As you gain favor with your various contacts in the world, you unlock more decals (and of course, new weapons and clothing as well). But you aren't just personalizing your looks: You can also use a simple in-game sequencer to create tunes that your victims hear upon defeat. I haven't made any fancy clothing just yet, though I did purchase a sweet "Assassin's Jacket" some player made with a familiar logo on it. (If you know who Altair and Ezio are, you know what I'm talking about!) I've spent more time in the midi sequencer and created a fun, short, and slightly discordant version of a tune from Ms. Pac-Man for my kill tune.
As for the gameplay, many of APB's ups and downs are obvious within a few hours. You perform missions for your various contacts to gain favor with them and unlock new goodies, which generally involves grouping up with other players and performing mundane tasks while shooting up the rival players assigned to opposing tasks. The game makes it easy to hook up with others, assigning players to groups automatically unless you choose to turn that option off and run about with players of your own choosing. You might get about 10 players on opposing teams on some occasions, though more frequently, there may be four of you. Missions are easy to take: The group leader receives constant mission invitations no matter where he is in San Paro, and when he accepts one, the team rolls out. The game will (hopefully) then match your team up with a competing team--enforcers versus criminals.
The massively multiplayer aspect applies to the world at large but not to the action. There are firefights going on all around, but I can't shoot up criminals willy-nilly--only members of the assigned opposition, unless there's a bounty on someone's head. It's certainly an interesting dichotomy: large-scale environments with all small-scale shootouts. Some traditional online shooters like MAG, Modern Warfare 2, and Bad Company 2 feature action on a much larger scale, so don't go into APB expecting massive battles. Nevertheless, it's undeniably cool to hang out of a passenger's side window, shooting up the rival team's vehicle as it pursues my team's van, hoping to murder our VIP. It's less cool to be the driver, only because the vehicles, at least at this stage, aren't much fun to drive. They either feel like heavy boxes on wheels or like you're speeding around on streets made of banana peels. Luckily, as with weapons, you earn upgrades for your own vehicles, which you can spawn at designated points throughout San Paro. I'm interested to see how vehicles improve as I earn these upgrades.
I'm also interested to see how the action improves once I gain access to some awesome weapons. You may find yourself up against some pretty tough rivals, using your puny early weapons to shoot up guys with upgraded gear. It can be frustrating to unload a ton of bullets in someone, only to get taken down in a few shots. Things are a lot more fun when teams are on level footing, but there's no guarantee that you'll have a fair fight when you first start. At least the game keeps you moving from one mission to the next, so you won't lack things to do. They do seem to always be the same things, however, and I'm looking forward to seeing if APB develops a greater sense of forward momentum. There's not a lot of story or world/character development, so the game relies on the promise of better weapons and customization options to keep you invested.
I haven't run into a lot of lag, which is fortunate, but I have encountered some craziness in the launch week. Busted animations and texture pop-in haven't affected the gameplay, but they can still be distracting. On the other hand, certain bugs, like capture spots located inside level geometry, can keep you from finishing missions. Another glitch allows you to unlock countless stuff if you stay logged in to a clothing customization terminal. (Now you know why dozens of unresponsive players are all huddled around those machines in the social district!) However, I haven't had any logging difficulties, and lag spikes have been rare for me, so there is some sugar to sweeten the lemonade.
Look out for a review of APB in the next week or two. In the meanwhile, if you'd like to party it up in San Paro with me, send me a private message on GameSpot; I'm on the La Rocha server!
Can you believe it has been two years since the launch of Age of Conan, Funcom's low-fantasy online role-playing game? Time sure has flown, and that game has grown by leaps and bounds since its release, which isn't surprising given its slightly rocky start. Last month, AOC's first expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, hit store shelves, and I've been sinking many hours into it. I had hoped to have a review published for you today, but even after 40 hours, I feel like I need to spend a bit more time in the newly added regions of Khitai before I'm ready to pass along a verdict. But I will say this: I am having a lot of fun, and the new content is significant. Since I won't be able to write a review until after E3, which will fill up all of next week, I thought I'd show off a little of what Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer has to offer.
Rise of the Godslayer's content centers on Khitai, a vast area composed of five different regions. If you create a new character and select the Khitan race, you voyage to Gateway to Khitai after you finish your initial exploration of Tortage. If you've got an existing character and want to journey forth, however, you should talk to the new caravan master in Khemi. He gives you a choice: pay a fee for immediate and uncomplicated travel, or get free passage, but only if you're willing to work off your debt--that is, perform a randomly chosen quest. I've traveled this route several times and have encountered three different missions: one that involves a bit of climbing and combat, a high-seas Kraken assault, and a moody underwater reverie in which you must collect a number of artifacts.
The new level 20-40 content (level 40-80 characters are left out in the cold, unfortunately) seems uniformly excellent, though that's no great shock, considering the great quest writing that permeates all of Age of Conan. You free slaves from the bonds of their captors and assault Hykranian archers on horseback, all while traversing the region's beautiful grassy plains and rocky cliffs. You also come face-to-face with a number of gruesome bosses, such as the one pictured at the top of this article. The demonic creatures known as Kang Zai will also put up a fuss, and I enjoyed chopping them up along the great wall separating the Gateway from the neighboring level 80 grasslands.
If you're in the level 40-80 range, be warned that Rise of the Godslayer doesn't offer much new questing for you, though if you've strayed since Age of Conan's launch, you'll appreciate the new areas that have been added since the game's initial release, such as Ymir's Pass in Cimmeria. If you've quested and pillaged your way to level 80, however, there's a ton of stuff in the expansion designed to stir your interest. I marvel at the visual diversity on display as I travel deeper into Khitai. The detailed architecture, character design, and exotic landscapes were clearly inspired by the Far East, yet the environmental variety is impressive. For example, the idyllic coastlines in Paikang are far removed from the charred villages you glimpse in Chosain Province. Yet all of these areas capture that grim Age of Conan essence, and even the most tranquil oases exude a touch of barbarism.
There's no increase to the level cap. Instead, Rise of the Godslayer adds an alternate advancement system, in which you spend points on new types of feats and perks. There's a bit of a Guild Wars-inspired twist to the perks you acquire, however: they must be equipped to your perks bar, but that bar has limited space, so you have to pick and choose which perks you wish to be active at any given time. The other major addition is the faction system, which requires you to take sides in the never-ending struggles for dominance in Khitai. You earn and lose favor by completing quests, triumphing over enemies, and even choosing your responses carefully in random conversations with non-player characters. Gaining favor leads to fun rewards, including new mounts. I'm currently working toward a wolf mount, which entails questing on behalf of the Wolves of the Steppes, though the need to repeat some of the related quests ad nauseam becomes a mild grind after a time.
As you might be able to tell from the above screen, there are also new raid dungeons and bosses to conquer. It's a good mix of solo content, small-group instances, and large-scale raids, and I'll be spending more time checking out the new group-oriented content today and this weekend. If you've been away from Age of Conan and are looking to return, I do recommend checking out some of the fine interface mods available. I am using the Plagued UI, which comes in multiple versions, and the Age of Conan UI Installer, which makes it easy to get a new mod up and running quickly.
I have encountered some glitches and bugs here and there, and even two years later, the graphics engine remains demanding, though performance has greatly improved, and the DirectX 10 features inserted after launch add a nice shine to an already eye-catching game. Expect a review the week after E3, and until then, consider this blog a preliminary thumbs-up to Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer, an expansion I've enjoyed thus far.
While it's not something we like (or thankfully, need) to do often, we have always and will always own up to our mistakes. Yesterday, we published a review for the Wii version of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands in which we were highly critical of the game's camera. However, after some further investigation prompted by messages from readers and someone who worked on the game, we've realized that this was in error.
Shortly after starting the game, the reviewer opted to switch from the default camera option to the expert one because he felt that it worked better in combat. He then forgot to switch back to the scripted camera, which, as he's confirmed by playing through a good chunk of the game again this morning, does a much better job of framing the action during platforming sequences.
We regret the error and offer our sincere apologies both to Ubisoft and to those of you who were misled by our original review. We'll post a replacement review for the Wii version of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands as soon as possible.
Our review for Iron Man 2 just went live today, and some of you alert readers may have noticed that the review is only for the Xbox 360 version. So where is the PlayStation 3 version?
Well, it's like this. We purchased the two versions on launch day and then proceeded to play through the Xbox 360 version. When we fired up the PS3 version, disaster struck! In the middle of the second level, our PS3 abruptly shut off and could not be turned back on. The poor thing died with Iron Man 2 in the disc tray, and we didn't have time to run out and pick up another copy before the weekend. Rest assured, we'll have a review of the PS3 version early next week, but the Xbox 360 review will have to tide you over until then.
The Passing is the first downloadable add-on for Left 4 Dead 2. Xbox 360 players have to shell out $7 for the new content, so we've posted a proper review to help them decide whether to buy it or to pass (yeah yeah…couldn't resist). For PC players, this content is not only free, but it will also be automatically installed the next time you fire up Left 4 Dead 2 (if it isn't there already!).
What is the new campaign like? What are Mutations? And how do the L4D2 survivors get along with the old guard, the original L4D crew? To satisfy your curiosity, here's the multiplatform video breakdown of The Passing. Enjoy!
Hi all! I know some of you must be incredibly curious to see what we think of Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii. We originally anticipated having a review up for you tomorrow morning (the US embargo lifts at 9 a.m. on 4/20), but as it happens, the fates were not kind enough to be in our corner. Capcom sent us a version of the game playable only on a debug unit--that is, a developer Wii unit that can play final code burned to DVDs that have not yet undergone the retail manufacturing process. Unfortunately, a number of outlets, including GameSpot, could not take part in scheduled online sessions due to limitations of certain debug units. And as you may know, Monster Hunter's online component is an integral part of the experience.
In the meanwhile, we also ran into difficulties getting a retail copy of the game from Capcom. We finally received a retail copy today, though the game's online servers will not be activated until later tonight. Because saved games and character data from the debug version can't be transferred to a retail version, this means starting the game from the beginning and replaying large chunks of it. It'll take some time, but I wanted to assure you that I'm spending lots of time with Monster Hunter Tri, and we'll have a review for you as soon as is feasible.
I'll be taking screens and video throughout the week, so keep an eye on the gamespace. I'll also get up some early impressions later this week so you have something to chew on until the review is published. And should you have any questions, don't hesitate to message me. In fact, if you pick up the game before the review is up, message me and maybe we can get some co-op in. Until then, I appreciate your patience!
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is known for its incredible single-player adventure, but there is still a lot to do when you finish Drake's quest to once again save the world. Fantastic multiplayer modes bring the fast-paced action from the campaign into a competitive setting, paving the way for chaotic matches that continually surprise and entertain. With the latest round of downloadable content, Naughty Dog has added even more ways to enjoy this superb game. Two new maps afford you fresh opportunities to swoop down on your oblivious friends from above, dropkick them in the head, and then clamber up a nearby wall to dodge the rocket screaming right toward you. But the best part of this package is a new cooperative mode in which communication and sharp shooting are critical for staying alive against waves of increasingly tough enemies. There isn't anything monumental to lure lapsed players back into the fold, but for those of you who have never left Drake's side, this offers up plenty more explosive fun.
The brand-new Siege mode is the best part of this expansion. Similar to Survival mode, it pits you and up to two friends against an aggressive force that doesn't care one iota that you're grossly outnumbered and most likely low on ammunition. The goal is to stay alive through 10 waves of enemy attacks, but you're restricted to small territories that are difficult to hold on to. Once all players are stationed inside the zone, a circle slowly fills, counting down the time needed to stay alive before you finish that wave and have to run off to the next section. The basic concept of Siege has been seen before, but there is extra tension involved when you are bound to such a small area. You can't exactly run from a fight when your friends are counting on you to hold down a territory, so you're left searching for every scrap of cover available, blind firing and lobbing grenades with reckless abandon, and doing everything in your power just to stay alive.
The most thrilling aspect of this mode happens when your friends are in need of help. A downed ally can be revived, but risking your own life to save his is a gamble in even the best circumstances. Enemies are all too eager to take advantage of your altruistic nature, and it's a heart-pounding rush to sprint toward your fallen friend and help him to his feet while you simultaneously yell at him for ever leaving cover in the first place. Even more exciting is when your unobservant friend gets caught by a grappler. This sets up a hostage situation in which you have to gun down your armed opponent without accidentally nicking your buddy with a bullet. If your aiming arm is shaky, you can always rush in to help with some timely melee moves, and there's nothing quite like landing a cheap low blow to free your friend from certain death. Siege mode ups the ante every round, rolling out progressively tougher enemies to take you down. If you don't think it sounds difficult to stay alive when you have to deal with a gang of riot-shield soldiers, Gatling-gun monsters, and fiendish snipers, just wait until a helicopter enters the mix.
The two new maps draw on levels from the single-player campaign, giving you a new way to re-create those thrilling set-piece battles. The first is called The Highrise. When Nathan Drake visited this Nepalese city the first time, he leapt out of a building just before it collapsed. Now he has to survive bullets, rockets, and the occasional punch to the head. This level emphasizes your impressive agility, giving you plenty of opportunity to leap between buildings, shimmy up ladders, or hang from ledges to take potshots at your friends. Positioning is the key to victory. You have to constantly weigh the benefits of being on high ground (increased sniping chances) with the obvious disadvantages (everyone will hate you). The most notable aspect of this stage is the environmental danger that crops up at random points during a match. Remember the helicopter that shows up in the single-player adventure? Well, its back, but you won't have a chance to gun it down this time. If you're caught standing on a rooftop when the warning sirens go off, say hello to a missile and good-bye to your life.
The other map is called The Museum. This map draws on the stealthy single-player level it's based on by offering a slower, more thoughtful experience. You are rewarded for keeping a low profile, slinking into and out of shadows, and striking with deadly precision when the opportunity presents itself. Not even the sun can reveal your location here. Dusk has settled in on this cultural institution, creating long shadows that provide a perfect hiding spot for those intent on surprising their foes. The darkness creates the feeling of fear because there are no safe corners to back into, making you constantly scan the environment lest your foes get a drop on you. But that doesn't mean you have to stay quiet and be a silent observer. There are secret passages strewn about the level for sharp-eyed players to find, making it imperative for you to be constantly on the move, hunting your friends before they get to you first.
Clearly, the content available in this pack is great. Plus, in addition to the two new maps and one new cooperative mode, there are six more skins and 11 trophies to strive for. When you combine all these features, there is plenty of content to justify the $5.99 price point. For those who are still enthralled by Drake's exploits, or if you simply crave an exhilarating cooperative experience, there is a lot of fun to be had in this expansion pack. Siege may deviate only slightly from Survival, but it's so rewarding and challenging that it doesn't matter that it isn't very original. And the maps open up new tactics, offering up unique battlegrounds in which to kill your buddies, archrivals, or just strangers who get in your way. The Siege Expansion gives you another reason to keep playing this excellent game.
After a rocky launch earlier this week, the first downloadable map pack for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has settled into place and started attracting a lot of virtual soldiers. The so-called Stimulus Package includes five multiplayer maps for 1,200 Microsoft points ($15). Three of these maps are completely new, while the other two are from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Of the three new maps, Bailout's sunny residential streets and sprawling apartment complex offer the most visual variety, though all provide good settings for the chaotic, lightning-quick combat for which the series is famous. That said, none of the maps are standouts that really change the game in any intriguing ways, so they don't offer a particularly strong incentive for players that have strayed from the servers. Similarly, those who are still engrossed in the cycle of prestige will likely welcome the variety and the return of some old favorites. If you find yourself on the fence about the Stimulus Package or just want to hear more about the new maps, read on.
As mentioned earlier, the Bailout map feels the most novel of the bunch. The map is roughly rectangular, with a long driveway littered with cars running lengthwise down the center. Along either side of the road are apartment buildings with hallways, balconies, and multistory rooms that you can sneak your way through. Some of these provide long sight lines down the road, making them attractive for snipers with claymores, though the number of ways in or out of these places makes prolonged tenancy difficult. The central road is a dangerous place, though it is the quickest path between the many tough-to-defend headquarters points. Bailout is like a cleaner, cozier Skidrow, distinguished by its seemingly smaller area and rectangular footprint. It also nicely captures the strange suburban warzone feeling of the campaign level Exodus.
Salvage is set in a wintery junkyard littered with smashed cars and sections of large concrete pipe. A house and a large garage set at opposite ends of this squarish map offer defensive anchor points for Capture-the-Flag matches. The area between these points is crisscrossed with paths that wind around, over, and through the aforementioned junk, and a few elevated positions provide better sight lines at the risk of increased exposure. Claustrophobic firefights are the name of the game, and enemy air support is even more fearsome, thanks to the lack of cover. The arctic whites and grays make Salvage feel visually familiar, and the large hanging magnet and lonely doghouse are welcome pieces of flair.
The final new map is called Storm. Yes, the weather is inclement and you will see flashes of lightning illuminating the sky. The setting is industrial, so warehouses, shipping containers, and elevated walkways carve up the open paved areas, leaving a lot of compartmentalized combat areas. This creates a combat flow reminiscent of Sub Base as you move from buildings into open areas and sprint up stairs to travel between sectors, perhaps cruising by an eerie and distracting row of mannequins on the way. There is a decent interplay of elevation here, though the industrial aesthetic also feels very familiar.
The other two maps are oldies but goodies. Crash is set in the heart of a war-torn desert town where a helicopter has crashed and broken into pieces. Lots of buildings and windows make this a fun place for snipers, and sneaky types can also thrive by moving quickly along the streets. Overgrown takes you to a rural village bisected by a dry riverbed and dotted with houses. Long sight lines and cramped buildings provide a great variety of combat. Neither of these maps has been changed in any significant way, so if you've played them a lot, it will be like deja vu all over again.
The Stimulus Package maps can currently be played as part of only two playlists: Stimulus and Hardcore Stimulus. Both automatically cycle through different maps and modes, so if you're hoping to pick your poison, then you are out of luck for the time being. You'll have no trouble finding a match in either of these playlists, and the issues that plagued the DLC's launch have been rectified. So is it worth the higher-than-usual price for this 60 percent new, 40 percent recycled map pack? Well, if you're looking for some variety in your regular MW2 play sessions, then odds are you've already downloaded the Stimulus Package. If you're still undecided, then it depends on how much disposable income you've got lying around. For 1,200 Microsoft points, you can buy some of the best games that Xbox Live Arcade has to offer, and the novelty of the three new maps is good, but not great. Ultimately, the Stimulus Package feels like a tough sell to all but the MW2 faithful.
Earlier today, after being contacted by a member of the official Global Agenda forums, I made the difficult decision to remove the Global Agenda review that was posted yesterday. The review undoubtedly made some valid points, but after learning that it was written after only six hours of play (not including time spent in the game's hub area), having it criticize the "first dozen hours or so" and comment that it takes "10 to 15 hours" to unlock more varied and enjoyable content was clearly unacceptable. A replacement review from a different reviewer will be in the works shortly, and because it seems that the game's subscribers-only "Conquest" gameplay isn't quickly accessible, I suspect it will be at least a couple of weeks before it appears on the site.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with our reviews policy, we generally expect editors who are reviewing massively multiplayer online games to spend a minimum of 30 hours playing them, and no deadlines for these reviews are ever set. (Kevin spent over 50 hours with Star Trek Online before writing the review that we'll be posting later today, for example). Since it's an MMO/third-person shooter hybrid, it's conceivable that Global Agenda won't take quite as long to review as a more traditional MMOG, but ultimately that's for the reviewer to decide.
We're sorry for any inconvenience caused and look forward to bringing you a replacement review of Global Agenda in the not too distant future.
It's that time again--time for another licensed online role-playing game to vie for World of Warcraft's stranglehold on the US market. Developer Cryptic Studios' Star Trek Online was released earlier this week, much to the delight of Trekkies everywhere, and it doesn't seem to have a shortage of players in its first few days. We're still a week or two away from being able to deliver our final verdict in a review, but fellow editor Justin Calvert and I have spent a healthy chunk of time with the game this week, and I wanted to give you some early, top-level impressions. Our initial thoughts? Star Trek Online is underwhelming, though as any veteran role-player could tell you, 15 hours just isn't enough time to draw too many conclusions about a massively multiplayer online game.
If there's one thing that's not underwhelming, however, it's the character creation (though there's a caveat even there, which I'll get to in a moment). Cryptic is the same studio that brought us City of Heroes and Champions Online, so if you've played either of those games, it's not so surprising that the tools here are flexible and robust. You can stick to the basics, choosing a known race and skill template, and tweak your options from there, but if you want some real fun, choose the "alien" option and start from scratch. You can mix and match everything from facial ridges and beards to breast size and tattoo color. You should note, though, that you must play for the Federation when you begin, though at level five, you unlock the ability to create a Klingon character. It's wholly clear, however, that the Klingon side is simply unfinished now, useful only if you stick with just player-versus-player combat. Character and ship creation are incomplete (some dropdown lists contain only one option, for example, and ship customization is much more limited when compared to the Federation side), and player-versus-environment content just fades away after a short time.
Most of your time is spent in your ship, which you fly from sector to sector to complete missions in the various solar systems you find there. Early on, you choose either a tactical, engineering, or scientific career, and set out to boldly go where--well, you've heard this one before. And obviously, you'll be seeking out enemies to blast into smithereens. Space combat is slow and mildly tactical; your initial ship (you'll get a better one about 10 levels in) has slots for fore and aft weapons, and four shield arcs surround your ship and take local damage when hit. For now, at least, combat has been relatively simple against the majority of enemies--just blindly fire your shield-weakening phasers (you can even have the game fire some weapons for you automatically) and hull-damaging torpedoes, occasionally activating your special powers (siphon emergency power to your shields, for example) while maneuvering to keep your strongest shield arc pointed toward your enemy, or repositioning so you can fire a specific weapon.
The space combat makes for a good first impression, and large-scale battles, in which you join other players to defeat masses of Klingon Warbirds and other imposing-looking ships, look bright and colorful and feel appropriately explosive, if not quite epic. Why not epic? Because for now, combat is exceptionally easy, so I rarely feel like I am struggling against powerful battleships. And if you do die, no matter: There is absolutely no death penalty--you just respawn at a checkpoint and start from where you left off. The combination of easy combat and lack of a death penalty means that there's little tension to combat. However, even if it isn't grand and challenging, it can still be fun; there's something satisfying about defeating an enormous vessel, and the resulting explosion, even if it took patience rather than skill to make it happen. Even now, however, tedium is setting in, and I look forward to purchasing better ships and earning new skills to see if they can add a little of the oomph that battles currently lack.
Battles in space are generally more fun than those on the ground. You will requisition officers who man particular stations (again, engineering, tactical, or science), and they join you on the ground as away team members. This means you get to manage multiple paper dolls, not just those of your own character and your ship, so loot sorting has some appeal as you decide the right weapons and shield types for your various officers. You also get to customize their looks and uniforms, which lets you again play with the cool customization tools. The combat itself is much less compelling, perhaps because it's just as easy as, if not easier than, skirmishing in space. It's somewhat typical of an MMOG--you use hotkeys or click on the interface to fire weapons and perform special skills, but it's all a bit messy and dull. You can do things like sprint and tumble, and being able to do flanking damage when hitting an enemy from behind is a good idea. But right now those things feel superfluous, since you can just sort of hammer on hotkeys and make it so, while your teammates and enemies flit around without much rhyme or reason.
Having crew members fight at your side is really quite terrific at first; it's like having your own little group wherever you go. But while having them there to draw aggro is handy, the poor AI makes them a liability sometimes as well. Officers get stuck in the environment quite often; I'll be running along and suddenly notice I've left a crew member behind, so I'll go back and find him running helplessly in place because he couldn't find a way around a crate. Or perhaps I'll return to find him dead, because he stood in the middle of a fire and didn't think to move. At least crew members can be easily revived--even if their bodies have been engulfed in flames for 10 minutes.
If you're interested in the game because you're a Star Trek aficionado, you'll be glad to know that the game, more or less, feels like a Star Trek game should, making any number of clever references and rendering the various races with care and detail. The visuals aren't stellar by any stretch of the imagination, but they look appropriate and have been solid enough in spite of some noticeable annoyances, like jarring texture pop-in and slowdown during ground battles. Considering the potential for excellent storytelling here, however, it's too bad that the mission design is so cut and dry and that the NPCs have so little personality. In fact, some missions involve beaming down to a planet, activating a series of consoles, and then…beaming back up. Others don't even make a whole lot of sense: Why would a Ferengi captain decide to trust me only if I inspect for safety violations? Why would bar patrons attack a Federation officer for turning off the holodeck? Another oddity: Space, as depicted by Star Trek Online, is not vast and expansive, but rather made up of small pieces riveted together. This might make the game easily digestible, but it also makes exploration feel chunky and awkward.
At least our time has been relatively stable, though on one of the three systems I've played on, I have run into some crashes during ground missions. Most of the technical annoyances I've encountered are minor--tutorial pop-ups that never stop popping up, errors when spending skill points, and whatnot. Of course, I have a lot more time yet to spend with Star Trek Online, so consider these impressions as highly preliminary--as MMOG players know, a lot can change as you progress. Look for a full review in the next few weeks.