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Author: Tom Senior

RUSE Open Beta Impressions

RUSE Open Beta Impressions

The first thing I learned about about RUSE when I jumped into the freely available public beta (available via Steam) is that I’m extremely bad at it. The good news is that I suck for all the right reasons.

When I lose in RUSE it’s not because my opponent clicked faster than me, or because he had a better knowledge of an intricate upgrade tree or knowledge of damage values and success ratios, it’s because he damn well outsmarted me. The simplicity of RUSE’s core rock paper scissors mechanics melds perfectly with the deception elements to create a competitive strategy experience that will genuinely match your wits against your foe.

RUSE’s basic tenants will be familiar to anyone who has played an RTS. There’s one type of resource which can be claimed by building supply depots on top of the yellow supply points placed across the map. Then your resources can be spent on base building and unit deployment. This entire process is condensed into a neat pop down menu that springs to life at the click of an icon at the top of the screen. Any developer who devotes half of the screen to the UI in an RTS (pretty much all of them) should take a look at RUSE’s neat system of sliding menus.

Zooming out turns the battlefield into a moving boardgame spaced in the middle of the general’s tent. The sounds of war fade and are replaced by the low hum of power generators and the faint chatter of your staff. From here the map is split into a series of sectors. Up to two Ruses can be played on a given sector. A Ruse is a special deception effect, you gain one every minute or so. Most of them last 2-4 minutes and can do anything from create a fake base to send out a dummy army.

Beyond the fog of war enemy forces are depicted by poker chips, large ones representing heavy units like large tanks and small ones lighter fare such as infantry and recon vehicles. Many of the Ruses revolve around piercing or distorting the fog of war. A spy ruse will reveal the units in a sector to the player, a camouflage net will hide your base structures for a few minutes, protecting them from discovery or artillery bombardment, there’s even a ruse that swaps round small and large poker chips, making your main strike force look like a platoon of footsoldiers.

There’s no micromanagement of your units, you stack up your chips and move them around. Anti tank guns beat tanks, anti air beats air, it’s all fairly straightforward. The trouble is those tanks rolling down your eastern flank might not actually exist and the only way to find out is to attack them or let them reach your base. That base your shelling turns out to be fake, and the real one was camouflaged on the other side of the map spitting out tanks big enough to mince your defences in a few minutes.

There’s a few small niggles. Fights often stretch across the sector borders, which results in the ridiculous situation where half of the units in the fight are affected by your psychological warfare and the those in the unaffected sector are fine. Ruses that effect combat should have an area of effect, or contaminate units firing into the sector to get around this. This is small stuff, though. It’s a slick and genuinely tactical RTS that will give you a fascinating contest and some explosive action in the space of a 25 minute game. The beta is still running so hop on to Steam if you fancy a go. It’s an extremely promising early showing and I eagerly await the full release but BEWARE: Ubisoft’s oh so sensible and popular new DRM system will apply, which means the game will require a constant net connection to play, even in the single player game. If this is a deal-breaker for you then do avoid the beta because it will make you excited and sad at the same time. /sob

NecroVision Lost Company – The Verdict

NecroVision Lost Company – The Verdict

If you’re looking for smart AI, squad tactics and precision gunplay you’ve come to the wrong place. If you like been rushed by hordes of enemies and dealing death with some ridiculous weapons then you can do a lot worse then NecroVision, which takes Painkiller and adds a dose Clive Barker to deliver some old school FPS thrills.

Your descent into hell takes a while to get going. Meagre clusters of enemies and dull objectives make for a poor start, but it’s worth persisting because about a third of the way in things go quite insane. Not just the predictable ‘hordes of demons wading through pools of blood to kill you’ kind of insane, but the ‘riding a dragon and incinerating your foes before bashing their heads to a pulp with a demon glove’ kind of insane. Doctors widely regard this as being the best form of madness.

The splattery chaos is fairly well realised and the environments, while never original, are good enough arenas for the mindless action. Again, things improve a lot once you leave the grey environs of Germany and enter the more hellish locales. At times you’ll fight with squads of fellow soldiers but horrible dialogue and voice acting meant I was always desperate to leave them to their inevitable deaths at the earliest opportunity.

There’s a melee system here but it doesn’t translate very well to keyboard controls. You can string together combinations by mashing the control, middle and right mouse buttons. This lets you dispatch your foes with a comical and fairly random flailing of your limbs while the game rewards you by proudly displaying the name of the combination you’ve executed at the top of the screen. Farmer’s Revenge!

String together headshots and combinations and you’ll get the rage ability, which slows down time and lets you headshot everything charging you, or repeatedly kick them in the nadgers for comic effect. There’s a challenge mode as well, which distills the best parts of the single player into a series of tasks, most of which ask you to kill a huge number of enemies in specific ways. If you’re looking for a fast dose of action that bypasses the sluggish opening of the single player campaign, unlocking challenges might be the best way to play.

It’s all solid fun. It’ll never engage your brain, but turning large groups of enemies into a fleshy soup has been the cornerstone of shooters since Doom, and NecroVision is a fairly fitting follow up in that school of unchallenging but ultimately fun FPSes. It lacks the bonkers humour and huge bosses of Serious Sam, the weapons aren’t quite as mad as Painkiller and the slow start puts it below both of these games, but on a budget this NecroVision prequel is a worthwhile bet if you’re a fan of the FPS as it was ten or so years ago.

NecroVision will scratch that mass-murderer itch.

Mass Effect 2 – The Verdict

Mass Effect 2 – The Verdict

In the last week I have done the following: vanquished hundreds of alien antagonists; saved humanity (again); flown spaceships; pushed people out of windows; laid a honey trap for a particularly dangerous and horny alien lady; delivered a perfectly placed right hook to a nosy journalist; played the Bad Cop (badly) and fired a nuke at a giant robot. In short: Mass Effect is back, and it’s brilliant.


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The Void – The Verdict

The Void – The Verdict

Before me stands a glowing golden tree, erupting through the remains of a shattered greenhouse. A whispery voice implores me to venture forth and take the glowing item hovering above the bridge. It’s my new heart, I’m told, I’ll need it to live. Yep, this is going to be a weird one.


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Jagex Interview

Jagex Interview

Jagex are the name behind the staggeringly popular free-to-play, browser based MMO Runescape. They’ve come a long way since they started up in 2001, producing 39 games for their gaming portal FunOrb.com and registering more than 165 million users for Runescape. They’ve grown to become the UK’s largest independent games company. On the eve of the release of their new game, War of Legends, we caught up with Adam Tuckwell and Christian Reshoeft from Jagex to discuss their new game and to hear their thoughts on the popularity of broser games and their place in the future of PC gaming.


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Solium Infernum – The Verdict

Solium Infernum – The Verdict

Solium Infernum is a new turn based strategy game from Vic Davis of Cryptic Comet, the brain behind the excellent Armageddon Empires. When I say new, I mean it in the sense that, trust me, you haven’t played a strategy game quite like this before.

Satan has vanished leaving the throne to Hell empty. It is your ambition, as one of the many Princes, Dukes and general denizens of underworld, to take the throne for yourself. To do this you will have to lie, cheat, steal, deceive and bully your opponents until you have enough Prestige to impress the all-powerful Infernal Conclave.

Here’s the rub: Hell has it’s own rules, it’s own morbid beaurocracy and a general code of conduct to which all demons of the underworld are expected to adhere. You can’t just declare war on an Archfiend who’s in your way and invade their lands without a good and proper excuse. So it’s a game of goading your foes, making demands you know they can’t meet and then using their refusal to comply as an excuse enough to declare a Vendetta.

It’s not quite as simple as that though, nothing ever is in Solium Infernum. There’s always another layer of strategy to be considered. It’s hard to ever truly know what another player is up to and there are many ways for your enemy to take your declaration of Vendetta and turn it against you, making you look foolish in front of the Infernal Conclave and losing you Prestige. This makes every encounter with your enemy a tense and fascinating exchange.

Much of the tension stems from the fact that you can only give two orders each turn. An order includes bidding on a Legion in the Infernal Bazaar, creating a Combat Card to buff a Legion, moving a Legion on the game board, casting a Ritual or even collecting resources from your minions. Being restricted in this way gives rise to an endless amount of internal debate. I need more resources to bid on a powerful Relic in the Infernal Bazaar, but I need to move my Darkwing Legion to take a place of power before Beelzebub nabs it for himself. I’m also concerned that another Archfiend is becoming a little too rich for my liking and I want to play an Event card to raise the minimum cost of all items in the Infernal Bazaar, discouraging a spending spree that might see his Military become unstoppable. Alternatively I could bully a weaker Archfiend, taking his resources and gaining Prestige at the same time. There’s so much that needs to be done, and I have to choose. Making the wrong decision can prove costly.

This is especially true in Multiplayer. You can play Solium with friends (who won’t be friends for long), by email. It’s a bit of a faff to get it working, particularly for the host who has to amalgamate all of the player’s files at the end of each turn, but if you get past that irritation there’s a superb multiplayer experience to be had. The AI works perfectly well, but isn’t a patch on a human opponent, especially one you think you know. There are many ways to gain Prestige, many ways to win the throne to Hell. Human opponents are innately more devious and unpredictable, able to use the game’s systems to create an emotional response. Having a more powerful human Archfiend demand that you hand over resources will make you angry. Knowing that you aren’t powerful enough to risk a Vendetta with that person and having to hand over those resources, that’s humiliating. But then that just makes your eventual revenge all the sweeter. Add some humans to the mix and it all gets that bit more intense. It gets personal.

All this complexity can mean that, to begin with, Solium is a confusing and slightly overwhelming game. This is the first time in many years that I’ve had to read a game manual. That pdf file tucked away in the game files is absolutely essential reading and it should be more easily accessible for new players. Even with the manual a basic tutorial or pop up help tips to introduce the player to each screen would go a long way to easing any initial frustration. It’s a testament to Solium’s originality that it needs to teach you so many new concepts, but it could definitely help the player out a little more from the get go.

Once you’ve got to grip with the mechanics Solium feels distinctly like a board game, albeit one that would have too many bits and pieces to really work as a physical product. There’s something pleasingly tactile about shuffling your resource cards around and moving your Legion tokens across the game board. There’s some great artwork, too, remeniscent of images you’d see adorning a deck of cards from Wizards of the Coast. After a while though you’ll be so focused on your grand strategy that you’ll barely notice the interface but for the essential number values that denote the effectiveness of a Legion or the competence of a Relic. It’s one of those games that will suck you in and have you falling for the age old ‘just one more turn’ schtick.

If Machiavelli were alive today, he would tell you to play Solium Infernum. As he’s probably conning Lucifer out of his throne as we speak, it’s left to me to deliver a verdict. I’ve given three vials of Ichor and a pillar of Flame to the Infernal Reviewing Machine of The Reticule and it’s still chewing quite happily on what’s left of my soul. It hath decreed, by the black fires of eternal damnation, that Solium Infernum is devilishly good.

Plotting to become Master of the Universe? Use Solium Infernum as practice.

Zombie Driver – The Verdict

Zombie Driver – The Verdict

First thing’s first: you’re not a Zombie, you’re a driver. There are Zombies though. Millions and millions of them out there on the open roads just waiting to be steamrolled into oblivion. On the outset this could prove to be a nice slice of budget hyperviolence. Zombies? Cars? Zombies being run over by cars? What’s could possibly go wrong?


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