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The Month Ahead For PC Games – October

The Month Ahead For PC Games – October

Welcome to ‘The Month Ahead’, a new feature where we take a brief look at some of the PC games coming in the month ahead and what we think of the games that you are dying to play, or dying to avoid. This month we have monster titles such as Medal of Honour and Fallout: New Vegas coming, the racy Official WRC Game, an…interesting sounding Garden Simulator and more readying for release.


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World Rally Championship Game Interview

World Rally Championship Game Interview

There are two types of rally game out there, the arcadey stylings of DiRT and the real-world focus of the upcoming official World Rally Championship game from Milestone. The head of physics game designers at Milestone, Irvin Zonca was able to talk to me about the game. Read on for thoughts about competing against DiRT, car set ups, weather and much more.


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Mount&Blade: Warband – The Verdict

Mount&Blade: Warband – The Verdict

An interview by the universe

You’re late.

I know.

It’s been fucking five months.

Yeah, I noticed.

So – what the hell?

I was busy. Er. Playing Spelunky? You should play Spelunky.

Did you even get round to playing Warband?

Of course!

What prompted you to finish it now?

It’s on sale on Steam, and you should buy it. You still have time!

Oh. So now that you’ve had lots of time to think about it, maybe you can at least tell us what it is first?

It’s an RPG about horses and hats, largely. And swords and arrows and ladies and mercenaries and honey and villages and kingdoms. Or khanates, if you are so inclined. Despite what I said about hats last time, here they’re a reasonable addition to the game, as they’re mainly made out of metal.

Ladies? There weren’t any ladies in the original game besides the useless wives of the lords.

It’s not just the original game with added multiplayer. They’ve redone almost everything to some extent, not to mention all the additions. They’ve gone to lengths such as redefining how much happiness a jar of butter inspires in your soldiers. If you’re used to the vanilla M&B, the changes in the most minute details will strike you at times. It’s not often you see how difficult it is to balance a single-player game.

This might be a good time to remind you that there’s absolutely no point in buying the vanilla version of the game. There’s not one area where the original is better. Everything feels like a better thought-out game and they’re also heavily supporting the game. New, large patches are sent out every few weeks, even though the game is quite old. And unlike with The Creative Assembly, the patches don’t meant that the underlying product is broken.

I want ladies, not game balancing.

But yeah, ladies. It’s perhaps one of the most prominent, if also one of the least useful additions. Wives can serve as a secretary of state of sorts, but that appears to be it. Strictly no sex. Hilariously, when I married my in-game wife, her relationship to me got a severe hit and stayed at -14 until the end of the game. I’m actually rather happy that they didn’t give women a more strategic part in the game, as you generally don’t want those kinds of distractions in M&B.

Then again, you can now play the game as a female character, and it’s more than a cosmetic change. The game warns you that it’s actually a (mildly) sexist bastard and will treat you differently if you choose against beards.

Ladies are more boring than I hoped. Any war stories instead?

How convenient that you’d ask that. Let me walk you through a short period of one of my kingdoms.

Only three nations remain. The Khanate does not count as they hold no cities and most lords have been captured. The Rhodoks, despite their majestic spears (pervert), pose a minor threat with three cities close together and no easy access to my territory. The Sarranids are a different matter as i have never actually fought them for long. Can they keep up with our war machine? How will their mamlukes fare against our knights? Do they have any considerable super units that i don’t know about?

A far-away land until recently, both our and their conquests have now bound the borders of our nations. Minor skirmishes by bored lords over looted villages and attacked caravans have been raising the tension for a while. Open war is near. It’s just a matter of who mans up first.

The Sarranids invade. I lose three cities on the first day of the war. Fortunately I’m a sore loser and end the game, so I don’t get to see how I’m utterly murdered, probably to death.

Your kingdom?

Mine, yeah. Gone are the days of simple rebellions and the other kingdoms take upstarts relatively seriously now. It’s as you’d expect of course, with huge territories being increasingly difficult to maintain and control. In the end, I was losing as many castles to treason and my knights deserting me as to direct enemy action. Unfortunately, the mood of your knights and lords has more to do with your interpersonal relationships than the success of your kingdom. There’s also an annoying see-saw effect: if you get along well with one of your lords – say you give him a village – your relationship with the rest of your subjects will suffer.

So I found myself in an idiotic position where I didn’t want to designate rulers for my lands as my relationships would suffer too much. Besides pillaging, lands are the best source of income, so I was struggling to raise anything but very basic armies.

Fortunately that brings me back to the good parts of the game, as they’ve actually greatly streamlined the way you actually gather money from your lands. It was really satisfying to see that it’s now automatic, so you don’t have to travel from one side of the map to the other to get money from a few poor villagers. Mount & Blade: Warband officially features automatic horrors of feudalism!

Actual war stories, as opposed to this strategy nonsense? I want to kill men with sharp objects.

As I’m sure you will. While the battles have improved, they’re still somewhat basic and get repetitive after some time. But not more than other in most other action games! I really think they’re excellent, but could be much better. As of this iteration, they don’t make for wonderful war stories. You tend to try to single out enemies, kill them during short dogfights and then turn to the next. The fighting mechanics are still really fucking good and that’s what the game originally shot to fame with. It just puts any other medieval/fantasy game to shame. I’ve been playing Oblivion lately and it’s just completely pathetic in this regard.

Right. And that extends to Multiplayer?

Yes, it’s got multiplayer.

Yeah, but, you know, talk about it. This is supposed to be a comprehensive review.

Nay. I specifically decided not to talk about it at all besides saying that in my opinion, it’s different and excellent. If you want the details, go read other blogs or reviews. It’s all the web is talking about.
I’m a terrible salesperson. CAN YOU SEE? Telling people to go read other resources online. Sorry Chris.
I’m also out of ideas on how to end the revi

Victoria II – The Verdict

Victoria II – The Verdict

The age of iron, steam and gunpowder! Of great games and nation building, peeling back the last curtains of the uncivilised world to shine with the glorious light of European enlightenment, while back home people and politicians forge national identities that stand into the modern day…

That’s what the history books would have you believe. They were wrong. So very wrong. Nobody really got much done. They were too busy mopping up Jacobins every time they fell from the sky. Whenever anyone tried to invade Iraq they were immediately taken up in arms against by raving packs of Anarcho-Liberals. The Tzar had a particularly hard time. By 1860 or so the whole Russian state was chequered with anarchist banners, shedding states in a desperate effort to maintain national unity. He’d have probably dropped more, but I don’t think they actually exist. At least the bleeding heart  liberals would be pleased with the complete European disinterest with Africa. Though who could blame them. It’s a big blank mass interspersed with those tribal groups cinema has been gracious enough to donate screen time to.

Victoria II then, is plagued with issues. First and foremost as I see it is the afformentioned intermittent Jacobin storms that rage around the planet. One of the major distinguishing features of Victoria II from Europa Universalis 3 or Hearts Of Iron 3 is the POP – a representation of social groups within your nation, and their concerns. Should you fail to sufficiently cater to the needs of your various POPs, and sooner or later the more militant POPs begin amassing, intermittently sprinkling your nation with stacks of angry rebels. Sure, the 19th and early 20th centuries were an age of such movements – the Paris commune, or the Russian revolution’s multitude of armed political groupings for example. But as Victoria II handles it, there’s little respite, and little strategy to defeating them besides periodically sending your armies on a roadshow when the clouds break. Unless you’re the AI. The AI just cannot cope with these rebel movements; I saw Russia basically all but taken over – the rebels don’t actually seem to be able to take over a state, even if they’ve captured most of the lands. Mexico is basically awash with enemies. Curiously, both nations were still in the top 8 of the leaderboards, which seems to indicate another of Victoria II’s problems: The economic side is too easy.

In the 80 or so years – game time, mercifully – I played through my campaign as Sardinia-Piedmont, later Italy, I scarcely once hit a major budget problem. It’s just too easy to keep accumulating funds once you’ve got set up. In 50 years I didn’t once have to public spending, or touch taxes. I might have had it a little easier because I opted to go with Laizez-Faire economics, meaning you don’t have to build factories, instead leaving it to the whims of the free market and it’s capitalist champions to lay down the capital… even so, it’s just too easy. The result was seemingly a budget that basically never went into the red, besides the odd dip – a minor blip – when I needed to raize new particularly large armies. My grand railroad scheme to cover the whole country in tracks scarcely dented the books. I literally couldn’t spend fast enough, and evidently other nations were not struggling despite their economies allegedly coming under siege by militant factions.

The opposing AI doesn’t put up much of a fight either. The early half of my campaign – the unification of Italy – put up a little challenge, requiring me to carefully time my military acquisition of Austrian held territory with wars against an ascendent Prussia, later Germany, while slowly acquiring the allegience of the rest of the peninsula. This was quite fun; until it became clear that the Jacobin invasion of Austria had ended their hope of halting my aggression and I sailed into statehood, putting Austria underfoot, to boot. Awash with money, I had little to do but accumulate armies and ponder where to go next. Skimming over to Africa I quickly notice that – despite it being 1870 – scarcely one change had been made to the political borders in Africa south of the Sahara, and only token efforts north – mostly by the French. It gets worse. Britain seemed disinterested in it’s Imperial mission, doing little more than slowly accumulating allies worldwide. Enough to keep it number 1, granted, but not much else besides the occasional invasion of China. Resigning myself to boredom, I slapped a quick invasion force together and conquered Iraq, only to find those wiley Anarcho-Liberals there too.

All these weaknesses come all the more bitter because there’s a lot of potential in Victoria II. In depth politics adds a refreshing dimension to shaping your ability to influence affairs compared particularly with Hearts of Iron 3, requiring you to attempt to meet -or reject- your citizen’s clamour for political or social reform as the game progresses. I particularly enjoyed the diplomacy game, especially during the afformentioned unification of Italy, requiring you to compete against the other great powers for influence – and thus power – over lesser nations. If the game lived up otherwise, I could certainly see myself enjoying a campaign as one of the powers competing in the great game for Afghanistan and Persia. The economics focused heart of the game certainly shows some potential, requiring you to decide on – or indeed, have elected- the economic principles guiding your nation, and focusing your acquisitions on economic goals – the sub-par balancing however means it’s rarely taxing enough. There’s a lot of promising features added to Victoria II that definitely show it has potential.

All said, in it’s current state of release however, Victoria II is a weak offering. The extent of it’s failings is demonstrated quite clearly by a stickied thread on the official forums pointing out fan made fixes, which certainly demonstrates what a sorry state of affairs it is in. It will be made all the more galling when Paradox inevitably release patches masquerading as expansion packs maps a few months down the line. It’ll be a particular insult if they charge for a complete political map / mechanics for Africa. I hope things improve. As any Paradox game however, it seems we must wait a year and a gold edition down the line before it’s any fit state to play.

JACOBINS!
FOREVER!

Let’s whine about hats: TF2 is going too far

Let’s whine about hats: TF2 is going too far

[Insert ordinary praise for the game and a slow introduction here]

Have you listened to the developer commentary of TF2? As you’d expect from Valve, they’re clever and give you a pretty thorough look behind the curtains of the game. Unfortunately, some of it is out of date by now, and only serves as a reminder of earlier times. Times without paraphernalia better suited for games like Men of War.


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Starcraft 2 – The Verdict

Starcraft 2 – The Verdict

Chances are that you already know if you’re going to like Starcraft 2. If you’ve played any of Blizzard’s games then you’ll pretty much know what to expect: an accessible if somewhat cheesy game with high production values and extensive multiplayer support. I could go into detail on the unit balances and the intricacies of battlenet, but those are not really important. In fact, the important parts of this game, really, are the multiplayer and the campaign, and I imagine a sizeable chunk of consumers would disagree with me on the latter point.


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Turba – The Verdict

Turba – The Verdict

Music makes the world go round, or so we’re told. It certainly seems to be an adage for many ‘casual’ games released on Steam lately, as we’ve seen with titles like Audiosurf and Beat Hazard using your music to create new gameplay experiences. Now Turba gets in on the act by combining music with the old mainstay of the puzzle genre – block matching. But how well do Turba’s blocks rock your beats?

In Turba the aim is to get a high a score as possible, by selecting groups of four or more connected blocks of the same colour, and then remove them by right clicking. You get bonus points for clearing on the beat of the music, if you can get a group of each colour at the same time and through multipliers which can be cleared with any colour block, while being wary of bomb blocks which must be cleared within the number of beats displayed, lest they turn themselves and surrounding blocks into unmatchable black blocks. Free Play presents you with a board full of random blocks that you must clear, with the bottom row being replaced on every fifth or so beat. Ascend, as the name suggests starts with an empty board, and new blocks being added from the bottom, while descend is as expected, similar but in reverse. However, while there is no punishment for the board filling up in descend, on higher difficulty levels, allowing the board to fill up in Ascend will incur a game over. In these modes, the blocks that appear are apparently decided by the song, and thus are – in theory – the same for every player.

Turba's visuals are very colourful, but can get confusing

The major problem with Turba is that it’s really hard to actually feel any connection between the music and the game. Most of the time it never really feels like your music is more than a backdrop to a very average puzzle or block matching game. Suposedly matching combos ‘on the beat’ heightens the score, but the difference between what your ears pick up as the beat and what the game decides can be vast. Admittedly, it was improved slightly in a recent patch, but when such an integral part of your game mechanic is resting on the technology, it’s a deep flaw that feels very hard to shake off.

There are, of course, special powers, of which Turba lets you pick one of five at the same time you pick your gamemode and one of these abilities is unique to each game mode. For example, Auto Combo helps you out by clearing some of the already made block formations for you, while Laser shoots a laser to clear blocks, breakout style from the board. However, the actual helpfulness of some of these powers can vary. Whereas some are activated automatically, many require you to actually stop concentrating on clearing blocks while you use the power, which can be almost impossible to do on the higher difficulty levels as frantic as they are already. It can sometimes be difficult remembering how to use certain special powers as well, especially as once you’ve picked them you’re not given any reminder in game which one you’re using for the most part. A major bone of contention on the higher difficulty levels is the need to select every block manually in a sequence to clear them – when the blocks themselves are moving and with the middle mouse button often moving columns or blocks to other locations, it can lead to some very frustrating situations.

Bombs create unclearable black blocks if allowed to detonate

One nice touch of the game is that the powerups and indeed yourself can be ‘upgraded’ by playing and using the abilities more, such as increasing the time your powers last, and slowing down the amount of time before a level is failed. This does encourage you to play more, although to say that the longevity of the game rests more on how long it takes you to max out these powers than your music collection does make these additions feel like they’re artificially extending the game’s lifespan. Achievements, leaderboards and last.fm support are also included, but again they feel like very token additions – they certainly don’t add very much to the experience.

Which is the main flaw with Turba. The experience is essentially, very shallow – and no amount of dressing, game modes or powerups can truly hide that. And unlike other rhythm action games, it feels oddly disjointed and disconnected from the music. There’s no real connection, and the basic game isn’t really much more than you’d expect from a free browser game. If anything, Turba feels like a bit a cash in on a fad. It’s not out and out awful, but you’ll soon find you’d rather go back to Bejewelled and stick on your own music in the background.

Not Turba-ble, but not great.