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Review - Divinity: Original Sin [PC]

 Recently I received a gift of Divine Divinity and Divinity: Original Sin on Steam as a belated birthday gift from one of my best friends, David. He had been keeping watch on Divinity: Original Sin while it had been in development and thought I might like it. I had never heard of the series nor its creator Larian Studios, but I was willing to give it a go.

Divinity: Original Sin is a top down, third person, isometric view RPG. Think of the way the Diablo series looks and you get the idea. However, the game play has very little in common with the Diablo series.

First things first. The character creation.

Character creation is interesting because you start by making two characters. The appearance editor is okay. It has a several options for both male and female characters, but nothing really to write home about. However, the class or abilities portion of the editor is where it shines. Yes, you have 11 classes to choose from, but each of these can be modified by the player during creation. Playing a Wayfarer but don't want the Pet Pal talent? Change it to something you feel will be more useful. The only part of the editor I took issue with was the character portraits. Despite there being many, I really felt like it was still too easy to come up with an appearance for your character that didn't have an analogue in the portrait selection.

The visuals and audio for the game are both well done. The maps and general animation are on par for this style of game, but the spell and particle effects really kick it up a notch. Some areas you walk through will have seeds and leaves blowing by your field of view, making the game feel more alive and further immersing you in the game. The sound track for Divinity: Original Sin is truly top notch. Normally I tend to turn music way down or off in games because often times I find it jarring and that it doesn't fit the mood of the game. Not so in this case. The first time I heard the theme music at the beginning of the game I was hooked. And the music in the game is no different. It just sounds great and works.


Looks like you passed out around a lot of combustibles, little goblins.

Divinity in gameWhere Divinity really shines for me is the feel of the game play. I have never played an RPG video game that feels so close to playing a pen and paper RPG, ever. The game doesn't spoon feed you your quest information or where to go. You have to spend time conversing with NPCs and looking for clues. For the most part I really like this, but there have been a few times now where I've missed a vital clue or it just seemed there wasn't one.

The combat also feels like a table top RPG too. When out of combat you just roam around at your leisure, but once you go into combat it goes to an initiative based turn system like most pen and paper RPGs. Once in a fight you rely on action points to determine your movement and what attacks or actions you can take. This might not sound very interesting, but believe me when I say that the combat in this game is some of the best turn based combat I’ve ever experienced in any game. There is so much that goes into an encounter that it's really hard to describe it with out writing a small book, but i'll touch on one of the coolest parts; that being the area effects. With your elemental attacks as a magic user or a ranged attacker, you can set the field on fire to burn anything coming at you. Fire isn't working? Cast a rain spell to douse the fire and create steam clouds which you can then hit with lightning to electrify. This is just one example of many.

My only real issue with Divinity: Original Sin is also one of its strengths. The conversation. On one hand you have these great moments of dialogue between your two main characters that can reveal a lot about their personalities and back story and reward you with in game bonuses. On the other hand dialogue with random citizens is the same thing over and over. I would have preferred that there be no conversation option with the background players because they all pretty much have the same dialogue options which tend to be pretty jarring and pulls me out of the immersion of the game.

Divinity: Original Sin in a very well done RPG. I think for true fans of the genre it's a game well worth owning and playing over and over again. If you are hoping for another Diablo clone or something hack n' slash, don't bother.

 This review originally appeared on GameonGirl.com

  • Published in PC

SOMA Review [PC]

Introduction to SOMA Video Game

SOMA by Frictional Games can be described as a combination adventure puzzle search and find role playing video game. In my opinion SOMA is a video game that has to grow on you. In other words, when you start playing SOMA, you may think there is nothing unique or different about it. These were my initial thoughts; however, I decided to give SOMA the benefit of the doubt. As I got further into the video game play, I got the impression Frictional Games was attempting to provide a different type video game playing experience from the usual type video games I’ve played before. By the way, I played SOMA on my Alienware PC.

As a summary of SOMA, the main protagonist, Simon Jarrett, experiences adventures not of his own choosing as a result of a brain scan that seemed to have gone haywire -- to the point where he is transported to all types of environments while facing various dangerous situations.

Positives of SOMA Video Game

SOMA, in my opinion, has excellent voice acting including that of the main video game protagonist in the game, Simon Jarrett. As you venture through the SOMA video game environment, additional, expert voice actors are added to the cast for video game characters such as Amy, Carl and others.

I think SOMA has good sound effects. When you hear the stomping steps of the robot villain as it approaches near, you get the feeling that it is right there with you, wherever you are playing the video game. As the robot villain gets closer, the stomps become increasingly louder. As it moves away, the sounds become fainter which gives you the impression that it is safe to either start or keep moving around the SOMA environment.

I liked the puzzles within the video game play with problems you had to solve. For example, in this game you are faced with having to log into a computer; however, the challenge is you do not have the i.d. number to access the system. You have to not only figure out how and where to get the i.d. number, but you must also try to stay away from the robot villain as well. To add to the challenge, you must remember how to get back to the location of the computer, once you have found the i.d. number.

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SOMA gives you lots of missions to complete which are necessary to advance through the video game. Sometimes you get your missions directly from a computer within the video game itself. For example, during the initial part of the game, you must locate the communication center which is a room with a domed ceiling. This, of course is easier said than done, because in trying to do so, you must not only remember where the communication center is once you get this mission -- but you must also try to locate it in what seems to be a gigantic, partially dilapidated mechanical plant that is not the safest place to be.

Some of the puzzles involve opening locked doors, which may sound simple, until you find out you have to roam around the massive plant to locate a special type tool to do so. Once found, the tool is added to your inventory. I liked that you can retrieve your tool as well as other items added to your inventory as needed by just the simple push of the tab key -- if you are playing SOMA using your PC. Bonuses are also added to your inventory during gameplay as well. For instance, during the early part of SOMA video game play, I earned a special trading car as my bonus.

I think SOMA has detailed, realistic-like graphics that complement the sound effects. In the scene where I was trying to get away from the robot villain, the mechanical plant was so realistically illustrated, I got the feeling I was actually fleeing down the winding metal stairs, rushing to get safely away from it.

If you like exploring environments and real worlds in video games, SOMA may be your type of video game. You can spend quite a lot of time roaming the areas within the context of either escaping villains, locating items, going to and from different locations or other travels depending on the missions or challenges.

Additionally SOMA video game play provides a level of suspense of not knowing exactly what is going to happen next. In a way, SOMA plays like a mystery novel where as you turn the pages, you can delve more into the various actions taking place. The difference, of course is as the video game player, you are the one who must guide the character in order to solve the mystery. From the SOMA video game play, the mystery appears to involve some type of devious underhanded actions going on that are revealed the longer you play SOMA. You, as well as the main protagonist, Simon Jarrett, are learning more about what is happening to him as you advance through the video game.

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Some of the puzzles in SOMA, in my opinion, were creative. For example, once you located a computer, there is a section of the video game, where instead of inputting an i.d. number to log in, you had to realign vertical and horizontal lines within the computer screen so an emblem on the screen defragmented just right for a connection to take place.

Another positive of SOMA was the checkpoints. I liked that if for some reason you were destroyed during the video game play, the checkpoint started at a logical place -- so time was not wasted repeating video game play that had already been completed.


Negatives of SOMA Video Game

I mentioned previously that exploring the SOMA environment was one of the positive attributes; however, there is a not so fun side of this exploration. Even though there was a map of the mechanical plant on a computer within the video game -- SOMA did not provide a map to help you navigate through different environments. Many times, instead of following a map on the screen, you had to try to remember locations based on either the layout of the building or signs posted in the plant.

Since there is not a SOMA map, you will probably end up retracing your steps or going in circles until you determine the correct way to go. This happened to me quite a lot during the SOMA video game play, with me sometimes opting to check out either the hints or a youtube video of SOMA game play to find out where the character should go next and to avoid circling the environment over and over again.

A hint given during the underwater scene was to follow the lights, which was not helpful since there were a myriad of lights in the hazy darkness of the environment. To me it was a waste of time for the character to follow lights that sometimes took him back where his travels began in the first place.

Regarding the robot villain in the early part of the game -- you are not able to fight or defend yourself against it. If you do not get a chance to hide before it spots you -- it will destroy you. Your defenses are to hide until it’s out of sight or to run away from it and hide somewhere else. The plus side is the robot villain moves very slowly which gives you a chance to get away.

SOMA gives you the option of moving items within the environment around, similar to other similar type video games. However, in my opinion, there was no need to be able to move some items that did not serve to advance the story along or help solve puzzles. For example, I was able to move boxes and some other items around for no other reason except that I could do so. Initially when I played this video game, I was under the impression I was moving around items for a specific reason -- but this was not the case.

I know video games do not depict real-life situations because after all -- they are video games. However, I think the developers may have been stretching this a little too far when after Simon Jarrett experienced lots of perils, he reaches a computer and Amy, the person he is talking to on the computer, asks him what is going on. I agreed with Simon Jarrett when he indicated he had no idea and thought that she (Amy) knew. My thought was unless Amy had Simon under surveillance during his earlier adventures, how would she have known what had been happening to him which could have led her to ask such a question.

Even though I did not mind playing this video game as the male character Simon Jarrett, I think it would have been a plus if I was given the option to play as either a male or a female. Additionally, I understand SOMA is rated M for Mature, but personally, I did not like the video game dialogue that was sometimes laced with profanity.

The above being said, overall, I think SOMA has an interesting storyline and challenges. The major minus for me was the lack of on screen map or hints or options in the video game. In my opinion, some of the long stretches of travel during the game where you are simply moving the character along from place to place, would have been ok, if there was a simple diagram to show where you should go next. Even if a map was not used, visual hints could have been displayed to help move Simon Jarrett to his next missions quicker-- which would have eliminated wasted time moving the character around needlessly, sometimes in the wrong directions while playing this video game.

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Rating of SOMA Video Game

Initially I was going to rate this video game lower because of the tendency for repetitive game play due to non-defense capability of the main protagonist as well as the lack of maps or helpful hints. However, I reconsidered my rating taking into account the attention to detail of the video game graphics, the creative storyline as well as the good sound effects and voice acting.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest score and 10 being the highest, I give SOMA a rating of 7.

Availability of SOMA Video Game

SOMA is rated M for Mature and is available for purchase on Steam, the PlayStation 4 store, GOG.com and the Humble Store.

  • Published in PC

Moebius: Empire Rising (PC)

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interest. She is the writer behind many classic Sierra Online games and the creator of the Gabriel Knight adventure games. Recently she has taken to Kickstarter to back two games. The first of those two games has been released, Moebius: Empire Rising.

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interestMoebius: Empire Rising is a point and click adventure that tells the tale of Malachi Rector, an antiques and art appraiser. He is very intelligent and sharp eyed in his chosen profession. He is also something of an aloof snob and an ass. He is hired by semi-secretive organization (F.I.T.A.), run by a man named Amble Dexter, to go to Venice to investigate a murdered woman and determine what historical figure her life most resembles. While there he is attacked by ninjas who then scan all of the information he has on the murdered woman. He reports back to Dexter that, while her life closely resembled Livia Drusilla, she did not match completely.

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Working for himself again Malachi is next in Cairo to appraise ancient artifacts from a mummy's tomb. While there he saves ex-special forces American, David Walker, from the same ninjas who attacked him in Venice. He decides to hire David as a bodyguard. In many ways David is a typical American, blonde haired, blue eyed, jock, who likes to tell bad jokes. (How many Special Forces soldiers does it take to change a light bulb? Sorry that's classified information.) When the ninjas attack a third time Malachi and David are able to stand their ground and fight them off. He finishes his business in Cairo and returns to New York.

Malachi believes the ninjas are part of something bigger and asks to meet with Amble Dexter. He is surprised when Dexter insists that Malachi bring David to the meeting. At the meeting Dexter reveals that F.I.T.A. believes in Roman philosopher, Paramedes’, theory that everyone is an "echo" of someone in the past. From there the story takes some strange twistsNot like reincarnation where a person was someone else but now living a new life, but that same person living the same life event for event in a new generation. Their overall goal is to make Senator Markam, whom they believe is the echo of Augustus Caesar and will bring hundreds of years of prosperity to America, the next United States President. Malachi agrees to help in their endeavor.

From there the story takes some strange twists from a detective adventure towards one of a more supernatural vein.

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The mechanics of Moebius: Empire Rising is pretty standard and sound for a point and click adventure. No major problems arose when I used the controls. It does have a quirky playing feature. In most point and click adventures you can pick up and carry almost anything. In Moebius: Empire Rising, you can’t just pick up whatever you want and carry it around. Certain items needed for a puzzle can’t be picked up until you hit the right “trigger point” that will allow you to pick up that item. This causes a lot of backtracking during game play. The oddest of which is when you try to get into a VIP tent to meet Senator Markam. You practically go from one end of Manhattan to the other, working back and forth gathering the items you need. By some strange coincidence the Senator's rally lasts just long enough for you to do all this and then ends the moment you walk into the VIP tent. It's a slight stretch of your suspension of disbelief, but it’s not a game breaker.

The graphics are where the breaks start happening. Moebius: Empire Rising has anexaggerated comic book look that turns into the late 2000's video game style. All the characters have long thin limbs, except David who looks in normal proportion. The style is fine. It's clipping and other effects that fail. Feet go through floors, legs sometimes twist in unnatural ways, and at one point Malachi moves a chair, but he doesn't actually grab the chair as it magically moves, his hand floats on top of it and the whole thing shifts. Little things like this took me out of the game. The worst offender was the water reflections. Now in the background things like trees and buildings that didn't have as much definition are reflected fine. It was when characters stood next to the water with their backs to it. The reflection was not their backside reflected, nope. It was a complete recreation of their front. So unless everyone has their face on the front and back of their head, something's not right here. The first time I saw it I thought the game was going into a dream sequence of some sort.

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I do have to give great praise to Moebius: Empire Rising's voice actors. They turn in some fine performances. I think the real audio gem though is Jane Jensen's husband, composer Robert Holmes. Robert provides a great soundtrack that wouldn't sound out of place in a Hollywood spy thriller.


Moebius: Empire Rising's story starts a bit slow, but by the third and fourth chapters things start getting interesting enough that I want to see how it will end. Malachi is a really hard hero to cheer on. His aloof attitude never really endears himself to the player. The only thing that makes him seem to have a heart is subtle underlying relationship between him and David. At one point David tells Malachi that he is meeting Malachi's assistant, Gretchen, at a nightclub. Malachi asks that David not get involved with his only other employee, to which David replies, "She's not my type." At the nightclub David hints around that he's not interested in Gretchen. Towards the end of the conversation Gretchen tells David point blank to not get too close to Malachi, that, "he will break your heart." The possible gay romance never really moves up from a subtle possibility. It gets to a point where you wish it they would either just come out with it or drop it.

Jane Jensen can tell an interesting tale in a video game still, but there seem to be some stray parts to Moebius: Empire Rising that just doesn't pull me in. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good gameA main character I have a hard time caring for and a subtle romance that doesn't go anywhere are things that push me away from a game. Throw in graphical elements that completely take me out of the game and we are starting to have real problems. I have to say the puzzles hold things together fairly well, but an adventure game needs more than just puzzles to engage a player. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good game and you can see where Jane Jensen wants to take it, but as a whole it falls to the middle of the road. If you're a fan of Jane Jensen or point and click style games it might be worth it, but it's a pass otherwise.

  • Published in PC

Rush Bros. (Mac/PC)

rush bros review

If you would like to play a fun, energetic, competitive  type video game, then you may want to play Rush Bros. In the multiplayer mode, you play against your friends and find out just who is the better player.  Rush Bros. is essentially a platform racing game, where your video game character travels and avoids or conquers several obstacles before reaching the finish.  The gameplay consists of about 40 levels, with you as the video game player choosing the specific level you want to play. You do not have to traverse each level in sequence -- you have the freedom to choose whichever level you prefer to play.  There is also a survival and fast forward mode where the gameplay is basically the same; however, your character will move more quickly.

 

Rush Bros. Gameplay Before I get into the specific gameplay, lets talk about some preliminaries.  Rush Bros. is a PC/Mac game, so it is playable on either the PC or the Mac.  I played this video game on my Mac, and did not experience any problems having the game added to my Steam library for gameplay.  So it goes without saying that before you play this game, you must already have a Steam account or be prepared to set one up.  I'm thinking that if you are an avid video game player, whether you play games on your favorite consoles, PC or Mac -- that you more than likely already have a Steam account.  If not, why not set one up so you can play Rush Bros. with your friends?

 

Rush Bros.!Rush Bros.!

 A big part of video games in addition to gameplay is the graphics.  This game did not disappoint in this area.  I believe you will enjoy the bright graphics as well as the colorful backgrounds as you play the different levels of this game.  Even though Rush Bros is a racing game -- the race to the finish may not be as simple as you may think.  On your way, hopefully to victory, you will encounter spikes and other obtacles that you have to avoid if you want to clinch the win.  

 

Need help in getting to that next higher structure while you are racing?  Simply, use the springs to propel your character to the next higher height.  If the springs do not do the trick, then you may have to scale the side of the structure before jumping over the spikes to continue your journey for the win. My points here are there are a multitude of ways to move your character along the platform.

 

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 You may say to me -- "Well, that's all good, Ms. H, but were there any negatives about this game?"  My response would be the positives of this game outweigh the negatives -- but there were some.  When I loaded the game and saw the graphics on the main page, I thought this would be basically a music game.  I saw two figures wearing sunglasses who appeared  to be DJs.  And what do DJs do?  Among other things, they play music.  So I was getting excited about playing some sort of music game.  However, that was not to be the case.  Music is a big part of this game -- in fact, you can change the music to listen to different tracks as you play the game.  However, music is more of a by-product of the game -- instead of being intricately woven into the gameplay -- at least on the parts of this game that I played.  Once the gameplay started, the music was more of a backdrop to the game itself.

 

I'm not sure if this was a glitch in the game; however, while trying to get my character through a maze of blocks, I got him actually stuck in a block -- and he could not get out.  Try as I may -- the little figure stayed in the confines of the block until the challenger, of course, obviously won the race, since I could not get my character out of the block.

 

Another possible glitch is at one time during gameplay, I stopped pushing buttons during the game; however, the figure continued to run back and forth across the screen. Mind you, this was a character that should have been following my directional commands -- but that was not the case. He kept moving along, without me pushing nary a button.

 

There was also what I would call a "tedious" part of the game. The gameplay involved the character needing a key to open certain doors.  In order to get the key, the character had to backtrack over areas that had already been covered to retrieve the key -- and then go back to the door with the key to open it.  I found this part of the game to be tedious, because I felt that I made progress in getting to the door that required a key -- only to find out that I had to sometimes retrace my steps to get the key and return back to the door to open it.  Some may see this as a way to win the race, especially if your challenger is not fast at locating and using the key; however, I found it tedious to go back and forth in this game.  My suggestion would be to position the key at a checkpoint that is very close to the door to be opened instead of having the player to retrace his or her steps.  

 

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From a PC/Mac playing standpoint, versus the video game consoles, i.e. the current Xbox 360, and the PS3, I had to get accustomed to using either the directional arrows or the specific alphabet keys to move the character. In my opinion, this game would be more enjoyable to play using a controller instead of the keyboard.  In fact, I believe it is recommended that a controller be used along with your PC or Mac.  Unfortunately, during the game, in my zeal to win, my fingers would sometimes become overly taxed, as I pounded the keys to move the character.  Thankfully, my fingers returned back to normal after I stopped playing the game. Of course, you may or may not experience this discomfort while playing the game.

 

Now back to the positives. I liked  getting co-op help on certain parts of the game via challenger on Skype. I also liked the upbeat music that played during the gameplay, as well as the different environments that changed with each level. 

 

Sounds like a video game you would like to play? If so, you can play Rush Bros. now since it is available on Steam for the PC and Mac. 

 

Rush Bros. was released on May 24, 2013 by Xyla Entertainment.

{youtube}http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYe_JNDUiFo{/youtube}

  • Published in PC

Is A Gaming Laptop For You?

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Now that the next generation video game consoles, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One,  have launched, maybe you would be interested to know about another medium to play your favorite video games.  Did you know there are laptops designed especially for playing video games?  Of the many gaming laptops available, one that caught my eye was the Razer Blade.  Recently, while browsing in an electronics store, the Razer Blade gaming laptop caused me to take a second look.  In additon to the, in my opinion, eye-catching display, the claim that it was the world's thinnest gaming laptop pixed my interest.

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I took the opportunity to actually use and navigate sites on the Razer Blade gaming laptop to get a feel of using this technology.  In addition to being ultra-thin and light-weight, the Razer Blade gaming laptop was, in my opinion relatively expensive, bordering on a $2,000.00 price tag, $1,999.99 to be exact as of this printing.  During my on-hands inspection of this gaming laptop, I looked on the sides of the laptop, searching for the familiar CD rom where discs for PC games and other types CDs/DVDs are inserted -- but there was none.  After talking to the saleperson, I found out that even though this particular gaming laptop did not have a CD rom per se, there really was no need for it, since most of the games that would be played on the laptop would probably be downloaded from the internet.  He informed me there were other gaming laptops that had a place for discs.  We walked to the other side of the store, where more laptops were located.  There, he pointed out to me an Asus gaming laptop that had a CD rom slot.  I immediately noticed how much heavier and bulkier this gaming laptop seemed to be when compared to the Razer Blade.  The Asus laptop was almost half the price of the Razer Blade and I could instinctly tell the Razer Blade gaming laptop appeared to be of a higher quality.  The salesperson confirmed my instincts by stating that the Razer Blade gaming laptop was a much better gaming system than the Asus.

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Razer Blade Gaming Laptop

When I asked the salesperson what was the difference between the Asus gaming laptop and the Razer Blade, his answer was the Razer Blade displayed better gaming graphics and had a "solid state" configuration.  I researched further and found out the Razer Blade is designed especially and primarily for gaming.  It weighs a mere 4.1 lbs and has a 14.0 display with an LED backlight.  Regarding its thinness -- this laptop's depth is usually compared to the size of a dime -- to give you a visual of just how thin this laptop is.  According to the Razer Blade gaming laptop's website, it has an all aluminum chasis, that is seamlessly integrated with gaming grade peripherals that take gaming to a whole new level.

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Razer Blade Gaming Laptop keyboard

You may say that this is all well and good -- but at the end of the day -- a gaming laptop is just that -- a gaming laptop.  Some may also question why the seemingly exhorbitant price tag for this laptop.  There are some people who would disagree with the statement that gaming laptops are similar to PCs.  For starters, gaming laptops are distinguishable from other PCs in that they contain high-end hardware, capable of handling the latest graphics and process intensive computer games.  Additionally, it's been said that gaming laptops can do what a regular PC does; however, PCs are unable to perform some of the functions of a gaming laptop -- which may also be used as a basis to justify its high price tag.

Of course, video game consoles are expected to be around long into the future.  However, if you want to look into another device to play computer and video games, you may want to check out the Razer Blade or even other types of laptops and computers manufacured especially for playing and in some cases developing video games.  Just as the genre of video games has expanded from wide varieties and types of games, so has the technology blossomed and spread to provide more choices upon which video games are played -- including gaming laptops such as the Razer Blade.

{youtube}http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FteWxGiPc8{/youtube}

Mom's Minute 6-17-2013

Fresh from covering the Anime Mid-Atlantic event for Allgames.com, Ms. H welcomes everyone to the show with a promise to fill listeners in with more details of the event during her next show -- due to time constraints.  She also wishes everyone a happy "after Father's Day." She reviews Knytt Underground and Sonic the Hedgehog Tennis video games....

Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter (PC)

Most epic fantasy has a lot of thanks to give not only to Tolkien, but to his inspirations: mythos and lore. In this same way, much of modern fantasy that occupies tabletops and gaming consoles can tip a hat to Forgotten Realms for the depth of their universes. It's hard to escape the influence in most games set in medieval or high fantasy. Expecting Perfect World and Cryptic to bring something new to the table when presenting their free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, is a bit much considering this framework defined the genre. Yet they still brought innovation to the table, just with focus on MMORPG functionality.

This isn't to say Perfect World changed how they monetize FTPMMOs. They have a solid structure that has worked with their many other titles, and they know better than to mess with that. For those new to the program, however, things can be a little daunting. I get that the urge to rush into the gameplay is strong, and you probably feel you have a pretty good grasp on MMOs in general, (at least I did), but it's important to pay attention in the beginning of the game. Not everything you need to know is spelled out for you, but the game offers access in game to wikis and provides tips in load screens. You can also do a quick search and find plenty of fanmade wikis to aid you, as well. Learning as much as you can as early as you can will benefit you, because there are a lot of things going on here.

First, there is normal gameplay. The controls here are decent once you get used to a targeting system that is a little unorthodox for third-person RPGs. (I did, however, much prefer the controls here to the ones found in D&D Online, but maybe I just didn't give those enough time.) My biggest gripe with a targeting system where you aim instead of click on targets is how often line of sight is easily broken. (This is especially a headache if you try to heal an individual in a full on battle.) When targeting enemies, however, there is a bit of an auto-aim that adjusts your character's focus while you are in attack mode. The controls are fluid and responsive. I have always been a double-click the mouse runner, but learning to use WASD full time was not difficult, especially since it's pretty standard. The rest of the key-mapping is intuitive and easy to remember, and also entirely customizable.

Speaking of customization, the character selection screen is pretty darn good. Players can choose between some of the most prominent races in Forgotten Realms, such as halflings, half-orcs, dwarfs, and even the drow eventually, with more races to come. Tieflings are also an option, creating some of the most impressive looking wizards you'll see running around in game. Individual tweaking of character appearance is detailed (though not quite as much as in PWI or other Cryptic titles) and impacts both facial structure and body structure. A wide range of tones are available for skin, hair, and other features. There are also three body types available, including a “heavy” preset, which can be altered using individual sliders for each body area.

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Class is not limited to race, though different races have abilities consistent with specific class types. There are also more classes that will be added to the game over time.  Attributes are chosen by rolling, which is a nice touch. One of the best parts of creating a character is choosing their background and deity alignment. You can also add a character history while creating a character, or at any point during gameplay. Just be sure to save this text in another application, because I encountered a glitch that repeatedly erased the character history I wrote for all of my characters. Only two character slots are available per account, with additional slots available for purchase. Some gamers choose to create multiple accounts to get past paying, but keep in mind that purchases made on one account with real money will not transfer to other accounts.

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Speaking of the many forms of currency, how do they work? Well, the Zen currency is used in all of Perfect World's game incarnations. It allows you access to exclusive items, but there is also a variety of game currencies that can be achieved through different means as you progress in the game. Each currency relates to a specific market, granting access to things such as augmentations, profession items, and potions. Astral diamonds are the in game currency that can be acquired and traded for Zen to be spent on exclusive items. The amount of astral diamonds needed for these items is very high, and it takes a lot of work, but there are ways to avoid spending real money to get some of the real money items.

 

Astral diamonds/Zen also help to unlock Nightmare Lockboxes that are found in the game. While most of the drops in the game at lower to mid level are good, they all lack a certain legendary quality. The character will have many chances to collect these dropped lockboxes. They contain very rare items at random, but require a large about of astral diamonds or the purchase of Zen to open. At this point, there are aspects of the game that resemble a pay-to-win structure. I personally prefer when games stick to purely aesthetic purchases for real currency. On the other hand, you are required to pay nothing for a game that will likely provide you weeks upon weeks of enjoyment.

I had no real issue with the currency system because I've always been more of a PvE player, but there is a PvP arena that allows party vs party combat. It can be really invigorating provided you're in a solid team. If you prefer solo or small group play, the game is set up for that, too. I found the rogue and cleric to be very fun in solo play. You can also unlock the ability to use a computer controlled companion that you train and summon to help you. Keeping up with the timing of their training, on top of timed profession building, means your character has a lot to focus on while they strive for the current level cap of 60. Professions work like time-based quests found in social gaming apps, so they can be performed in the background at all times. There are dungeons and skirmishes available, each performed with a full party of five players. Queue up for these events while you work on other parts of the game.

All of the things I'm describing are achieved at level ten and higher, but you can only realize how fun these things are if you make it past the beginning of the game. Granted leveling is quick, and the beginning is relatively short, but the story here is drab, dry, and a sorry follow-up to the awe-inspiring opening cinematic. The story and fighting abilities vastly improve as the player levels, and my personal favorite feature of the entire game is introduced at level 15- The Foundry. The Foundry allows players to create their own quests and campaigns within the game. Some of the stories you can play, created by individuals from all over the world, are varied, creative, and an excellent way to level outside of the main quests. You can create your own campaigns, but this varies from the tabletop version. Even with a vastly adaptable tool kit and a cornucopia of base content to configure, there are limits simply by using the visual representation required in game. That's not to say the limits prevent any worth- the Foundry is an amazing addition to this gameplay format, and does a fantastic job at resembling the creative nature of tabletop itself.

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The truth is, as a lifelong fan of the Forgotten Realms and nearly every game released from this universe, I had high expectations. In some ways, I was disappointed. I maybe expected too much from the story given my nostalgia for other games set within Neverwinter or Baldur's Gate. Neverwinter is a game that takes a little time to ease into, but it's worth the investment. I'd even say that in-game purchases with real money are warranted, provided you like the game enough to keep playing as it grows better and better. Beware of glitches that can cause things like character histories to be erased, or even prevent you from using an ability or potion here or there during battle. (I encountered the latter infrequently, and I'm sure the game is constantly patching and fixing these things.) One of the most compelling features of Neverwinter is the constant attention to improving the game and adding more features, including endgame PvE and PvP opportunities. This, along with character created Foundry campaigns and a seeming desire to incorporate the essence of tabletop magic, lead me to highly recommend at the very least trying this game if you are a fan of Forgotten Realms and MMOs.

  • Published in PC

Preview - Interstellar Marines [PC]

Interstellar Marines can be best summed up in one word: potential. These days terms like “alpha” and “beta” have been so overrun by marketing speak and promotion that they don’t have much of a meaning anymore. That’s not the state that this game is in, it’s what we would have considered “pre-alpha” and in truth I don’t think it’s anywhere near complete. That’s not to say that Interstellar Marines doesn’t have something to offer at this early stage, just that the finer points of what it can and intends to become have not formed yet.

The tale Interstellar Marines dates back to 2005, when the project was originally started to be an Unreal 3 shooter for the 360, PS3, and PC that was hoping to use pre-orders and investors to bypass the mainstream publisher system and create a high profile game. While that did not work out, developer Zero Point Software has fully utilized the modern independent landscape to keep its vision alive. After a transition to the Unity engine and an unsuccessful Kickstarter in 2012, Interstellar Marines has found a home on Steam with both the Greenlight and Early Access program. Despite the sordid tale of its beginnings, one who looks at the eventual goal and current work on this title cannot deny that it is compelling and may give way to one hell of a game. Throughout the development, one key concept has remained intact: deliver a “AAA” (which is code for “high budget, high profile”) experience within the independent development system.

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If you haven’t heard of it, you probably wonder what Interstellar Marines is and wants to be. Zero Point Software has released a concept statement that will pique interest. They are promising a tactical shooter that takes a more simulation approach to gameplay and integrates RPG-like elements to create and enhance character progression. Additionally you will have the option to take your character on a sci-fi adventure campaign, a co-operative campaign (at time of writing these appear to be separate campaigns), and of course a myriad of competitive multiplayer modes. Zero Point has made specific focus on the unpredictability of the campaign, realistic simulation goals, and also has released some great concept art as to what we can expect in alien worlds. I mean seriously, there’s a hulking shark creature, who doesn’t think that’s cool?

So how has that fared so far? Since releasing last summer, twelve updates have gone live and this title has begun to shape up into a playable format. It used to be simple items like traversing several areas, which eventually gave way to the eight or so maps that you can play around in at this point (although you will be completely alone in them). Each environment is a medium sized playground that follows the multiplayer shooter concept by the book – mild verticality, choke points, and strategic points for both defensive and assault play types. As you navigate these maps they will come to life with random effects like alarms going off or rain beginning to fall. It could be day, it could be night; both have strengths and weaknesses although I did not see an actual transition cycle from one to the next. Areas warn of hazards like poison gas or reduced oxygen – these hint at future plans for both zoning and the helmet function – but currently nothing happens there. It all points to a heck of a lot of minutia for a game that is so early in development. I’m not a developer and I know little about the stages of creating a contemporary shooter, but typically this amount of detail is one of the last parts in development on most previews I’ve seen (and it’s been quite a few over the last 5 years). Still, there’s no denying the game looks gorgeous and with the steady patter of rain to impede sight or having an underground passage flooded with poison gas to trap enemies you can see where these early ideas could be cool.

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The closest hint you will get to actual gameplay can be found in the prototype area where you can play around with previous updates. Bullseye is a shooting gallery that lets you get used to how the guns will work and the basic concept of aiming. Given that this game is focused on being more realistic, you will probably notice right away that kickback and aim are a large factor. For those hunting down the single player experience, here’s where you can challenge yourself to high scores and even unlock some achievements.

Once you’ve had your go at the shooting gallery, you can move on to the Running Man demo that integrates shooting and movement with some bots. It’s more of a movement concept to show off what could be, but it doesn’t resemble much of a training ground. It should also be noted that you can play these two prototypes in a web browser on the Interstellar Marines web site (interstellarmarines.com) before purchasing the software. There is also a cooler updated version in the “bonus” folder of the Steam version called Get Killed By Bots! that can be run to unlock that fun little feature. It was amusing to say the least.

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Most people who pick the game up at this point will jump into the active stage of development: multiplayer. It’s only available on one relatively open map that takes place at night with the usual weather effects. Named Deadlock, it has capture-and-hold areas on the map but the catch is that it’s more intended for single players to be at each point. This is handled by putting more spread out points on the map than there are players on a single team and points are only given to the first player that arrives. This means you’ll want to take advantage of ducking, cover, sneaking up on people, and planning your shots appropriately. An arrow appears in blue over teammates’ heads so you do not shoot at them, although I think the only penalty is giving away your position. Jumping feels a bit weak, although if you’re going for realism the average soldier doesn’t have the vertical leap that other shooters give them not to mention the near flight Master Chief is capable of. Respawns take time but you can dynamically view cams and open environments while waiting so it’s not so bad, but it does work with the low health of each player to encourage you not to be hasty. Given that it takes place at night, you can also play around with your laser scope and flashlight for assistance, but again this is a visual cue of your position. The helmet can be put on and taken off, but it currently does nothing save for having a visor animation – plans for a HUD may be live in the next update. It’s fun for a short spell, but honestly wasn’t my main draw to this title although in full disclosure I’m not much of a multiplayer fan in shooters.

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If you are going to play Interstellar Marines be prepared for a few decent, and expected, hiccups in running the game. It ran just fine on my Windows 7 64-bit and didn’t ever crash, but I saw quite a framerate dip in multiplayer along with occasional lag. At times the game would hitch up and I would need to quit and restart, not to mention the bugs that Zero Point cop to. Keep in mind that at this early stage this is all to be expected and hopefully as development continues we will see improvement to the framerate. Honestly it’s unfair to expect much until the final finished product hits, which is usually when the engine is optimized to run as best as it can. I was on a 3.4 ghz quad core AMD with 4 GB of RAM and a GTX 760 and was able to run Interstellar Marines in 1080p with mostly high settings around 40-60 fps. Tweaking some of the effects didn’t make a drastic difference in performance, but I also didn’t see a drastic difference in visuals without some effects. Granted, I’m betting the game performs much better on a stronger machine, I would consider mine midline. All in all Interstellar Marines has the potential to take on bigger budget games provided that it can get development wrapped up at a slightly faster pace. This already seems in place as co-op is supposed to hit September 18 and they are hoping to release the single player Prologue after that and within about two years the full campaign. It’s going to be a slow process, but in the end those that get in early should hopefully expect some decent updates every 12 weeks or so (based on current pacing). Keep in mind that mechanics are still being worked on so campaign is most likely a back burner item. With all that in mind you may find that $19 for the regular edition is worth getting in at the ground floor or if you’re really dedicated you can get the Spearhead Edition for $44 that gives you a gift copy of the game and earlier access to some updates along with plenty of bonus items. It all comes down to whether or not you see the potential and if you trust the development team. In the least, Zero Point Software has been very open about the development process, but this also demonstrates just how slow high end game development is today.

Interstellar Marines is currently available on Steam Early Access for $18.99 or $43.99 for the Spearhead edition. It is possible to pay to upgrade the regular version to Spearhead at a later date. A code was provided for this preview. We plan to continue review coverage after major updates come along that justify more elaboration. Currently the co-op update is scheduled for September 18, but this is subject to change. Keep in mind that all Early Access games are in development and that this game is still quite early. It will be some time before it is in any state that resembles the goal of the finished product, but purchasing at Early Access means that you are getting the final project at presumably a lower price point.

  • Published in PC

MayFlash Universal Arcade Stick Review

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Overview: The MayFlash Universal Arcade Stick, simply put, aims to be an alternative to some of the other better known (& pricier) arcade sticks currently out there on the market. Frankly, at first glance at the arcade stick's price point, I had low expectations for the product, assuming that it would be of cheap construction and overall poor quality compared to the alternatives out there that are at a much higher price point, with the saying "you get what you pay for" in mind. I was pleasantly surprised at what I learned upon receiving and testing it.


The arcade stick's box contents are basic. Aside from (obviously) the arcade stick itself, it only comes with 2 other items - a mini CD with the appropriate drivers (for PC use) and a card that contains its instructions. Out of the box, the arcade stick is ready to be used on the PS2, PS3, & PC. For the other systems that are listed above, you need the appropriate adapter, which is sold separately (the only downside to the product that comes to mind).


Upon removing the arcade stick from its box & examining it, I notice a few things. First of these is the fact that the product does have some weight to it - not overly heavy, but enough to feel "right". Secondly, it feels rather solid and sturdy, with the body being made of metal. This is in contrast to my preconceived expectation that it would be overly light, flimsy, and easy to damage with little effort.


Visually, it is pretty bare bones. It is a solid matte black in color with no art designs on it whatsoever. In as far as I am concerned, this is a positive. The simplicity in its appearance means to me that it will fit in nicely with your gaming setup & won't clash with anything else.The lack of any game-specific artwork also negates a whole host of other issues that would otherwise come into play, such as having the product becoming dated after awhile, etc.Aside from the joystick itself, the arcade stick has 12 buttons, an auto-fire button, a "clear" button, 2 buttons that serve as a "Start" & "Select" (these 4 are in a row near the top of the arcade stick), & 8 "main" action buttons that are numbered from 1 to 8. The joystick & the 8 main buttons look and feel like what you would expect to find on an actual arcade cabinet, which is fantastic.


I ended up testing out the product on my PC. Installation of the drivers was simple enough & I proceeded to try using the product on numerous retro, arcade & arcade-style games via Steam. Simply put, the product performed beautifully. After playing a given arcade game for a few minutes, I almost felt like I was playing said game at the arcade on an actual arcade cabinet. It was comfortable to use and the button layout was spot on. Frankly, the only thing that would have made this product even better would've been the inclusion of a second joystick on the far right side (for twin stick shooter games) and a small trackball for those games that were originally designed to be used with such things, but I'd hate to be nit-picky.


In conclusion, can I recommend this product and say that it's worth the price tag? Yes, and yes. While it may not be flashy or have a whole lot of bells and whistles, it doesn't have to be and it is still a great product nonetheless.


PROS:
- Simple design that looks great
- Good ergonomics/layout & weight
- Easy to use
- reasonably priced compared to the more well-known alternatives


CONS:
- Separately sold adapters are necessary for use on some systems
- lack of second joystick & a trackball for games that would support/need them (minor gripe)


GRADE: A

  • Published in PC

Star Trek Online 4th Anniversary Event and Season 8.5

January 30 2014 was Star Trek Online's 4th year anniversary, and besides the fun and prizes normally included in an anniversary there will also be a release of an episode of Season 8.5 called “A Step between Stars” with actor Tim Russ starring as Admiral Tuvok. Season 8.5 will be introducing a Brand-new Ship Management System, new episodes, a new PVP arena, and so much more. There will be three rewards you can receive by playing episode “A step between Stars” three times or you can receive a single one for playing through once. On the first playthrough you will be rewarded with 400 Qmendations. The Qmendations can be used for the Anniversary event reputation project.

 

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