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Category: Preview

Any game previews we write.

Hands On Preview – Football Manager 2011

Hands On Preview – Football Manager 2011

A phone company once said that it is good to talk, Sports Interactive have heard this message and turned Football Manager 2011 into a game all about conversations. It is no longer about football; it is all about sitting down with your players, with their agents, with the board to talk about things. I never knew talking could be so fun.

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Preview – Frozen Synapse

Preview – Frozen Synapse

It’s a rather overused adage now to compare games to chess. But if any game fit into this comparison so snugly, it’d be Frozen Synapse, the new strategy title from three man indie team Mode 7 Games. Not that you would be able to immediately guess that from first glance.

Utilizing a visual style somewhere between Defcon’s minimalist blueprint style and Tron, Frozen Synapse is essentially the modern day homage to turn based combat seen in games like X-COM UFO Enemy Unknown, but with everything stripped down to the essential components. Two teams face off against each other on randomly generated maps, with the aim -at least on the default gamemode – to kill the other team. Once players have made their moves, they send them to the server, and if the next turn has already been made by their opponent they can see their actions immediately. Otherwise when the turn is sent you can get on with other tasks, and the game will email you when the next turn is ready. After five turns, a victor is declared, based on how many of your team are still standing against your opponent.

The spark of genius comes in that the game actually allows you to thoroughly plan your moves, even down to anticipating your opponent’s. In the default mode Dark Extermination, you are shown the inital starting point of your enemy, and then after that only if you see them again. However, their last known locations not only stay on the map, but you can also move them in anticipation of where you think they are going to go before you commit your move. This means you are far more informed of decisions before you actually make a move, if you think an enemy is going to duck behind a wall but you can hit him with a well ricocheted grenade, you can try out your theory. If it’s unsuccessful, you can try something else without worrying about your move being comitted. A lot like how in chess you know pieces can only move in certain ways, this really helps to inform your stratagems, and victories really feel earned through both intelligence and skill. Of course, the enemy might not actually go the way you thought they would go, but as such defeats feel fairer because you feel as if you didn’t plan for it, not as if you couldn’t.

There are various units, each with their strengths and weaknesses. For example, snipers are more accurate at long ranges but take time to line up a shot. Rockets create a massive explosion that can destroy the scenery but they can only be fired at walls, never at opponents. It’s little nuances like this that make Frozen Synapse deceptively complex while being fairly straightforward to grasp – the hallmark of the best strategy games. Other game modes include an ingenious mode where you have to bid on areas of the game to attack and defend. Whoever makes the highest bid then has to make good on their claim.

Mode 7 Games really seem to have the outwardly simple yet deeply complex thing down to a fine art. From the straightforward controls that allow everything to be done on just the mouse, to the accessibility of one button game joining and the ability to export your best games straight to YouTube; It’s clear Mode 7 have made user-friendliness peak of their agenda. Even though it’s still in beta, it’s a very polished product – so much so that ordering it right now from their website nets you two copies of the beta to play with a friend so you can try it yourself. It already seems fairly complete, but with a map editor, single player campaign and more promised for the final release, Frozen Synapse definitely seems like one to keep an eye on in the time to come.

Frozen Synapse is available to pre-order now from the website from £16.99 which gets you a free copy for a friend.

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

Tiger Woods Online – Closed Beta Thoughts

Tiger Woods Online – Closed Beta Thoughts

Tiger Woods Online - Taking a Shot

If there is one thing I really enjoy doing after a session of Need for Speed: Shift or Resident Evil 5, it is to hit up the closed beta of Tiger Woods Online and play a couple of rounds of golf. Yes, I have been playing a golf game, and I am enjoying it. Tiger Woods Online is a free-to-play game from EA, in which you play some rounds of golf and improve your characters skills.

Tiger Woods - On The Green

The closed beta features a nice variety of courses, I’m no golf expert but at the very least I recognise the famous St. Andrew’s course in Scotland. So far a couple of extra courses have been added to the game thanks to the willingness of the beta testers to complete several thousand rounds of golf within just a few days.

When I am out on the course with my nice bright cap I will generally find myself finishing around ten shots over par. This is because I will often skip the short introduction to each hole which informs you of the various hazards you will face, or I won’t pay attention to the win gauge and I will see my shot land with a gentle ‘plonk’ in the nearby river. I won’t talk about the sand traps or the number of times I have found myself stuck trying to hit a ball out of a massive thorny bush.

Tiger Woods Online - In the Air

The simplest way of playing involves the so called ‘three-click-swing’ where you measure your power and accuracy along the bar on the bottom of the screen. Being an online game though, if you are experiencing some lag you will often find yourself badly miss-timing your clicks and hooking a shot deep into the rough. The other way to play is ‘true-swing’ which involves you moving your mouse with enough gusto and the right direction to get the ball to go where you want. I personally find myself sticking to the three click system.

As I indicated earlier, you can develop the skills of your golfer, you can improve your driving power and accuracy, purchase more putt previews which show you where you putt will go and even buy new shots like the chip, flop or punch. Unfortunately you aren’t able to punch your invisible caddy or break your clubs over you knee. You can develop skills by completing different challenges on each course, score your first birdie or finish under par earn you big bucks. Smaller things like subsequent birdies, getting to the green within a set number of shots and others earn you smaller amounts of money.

Tiger Woods Online - The Tee

There is also a strong community element to the game, you can join or create groups which allow you to keep track of what your friends are up to and try to become the best group in the game. Daily and weekly tournaments are also present for players of varying skill levels in which you compete for big prizes.

It may not make up for the lack of a proper retail PC release of a new Tiger Woods game for some, but the new Online version looks very promising, there are issues which have to be resolved, namely shot lag and various other bugs that users have spotted. It will be interesting to see how EA monetise the game and how many more courses and features are added before it goes public. I for one will carry on playing, even if it is simply to relax after a hard day blasting zombies.