Monday, October 30, 2006

Microsoft Flight Simulator X Review

Microsoft Flight Simulator X, developed and published by Microsoft Games.
The Good: High-quality and entertaining missions, exceptional terrain detail, believable flight physics, multiplayer can be fun
The Not So Good: Could have more aircraft, most won’t see visual improvements due to system requirements for high detail, feels identical to previous versions
What say you? The reigning champion of novice-friendly, feature-heavy flight simulations is back and pretty much the same as before: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
It's finally come to this: in order to sell more copies, Microsoft has added hardcore nudity to the Flight Simulator series. Oh wait, I'm thinking of Flight Simulator XXX: how silly of me! As the 10th entry in the series, Microsoft Flight Simulator X continues the series on its long quest to make your computer explode, or at the very least require you to upgrade your hardware (I think it’s a grand conspiracy). Featuring a grand suite of civilian and commercial aircraft, Microsoft Flight Simulator hopes to model the entire globe and make flying to and from any real world airfield possible while providing a realistic aeronautical experience. Will Microsoft Flight Simulator X soar like an eagle, or crash and burn like an ostrich?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Like most versions of the game in the series, Microsoft Flight Simulator X pushes the graphical envelope to the extreme. The game will run on medium settings for the newer systems out there, but those who like to run everything at high resolution and high quality will be out of luck, as there are hardly any systems available on the market at this time that can do so. This is the double-edged sword of computer games: we want good graphics but then complain about the high system requirements. What jerks we are! Running the game at medium settings will make Microsoft Flight Simulator X look just like Flight Simulator 2004 with some subtle differences, such as cars and boats driving around. The terrain is exceptional for mountainous regions, as the peaks closely mimic their real-life counterparts. There are already some tweaks to improve performance made by some community members that will slightly increase your frame rate, and the game still looks really good for all of the detail on the screen. I think all of the complaints made about the requirements of the game are unrealistic and made by people who demand to run everything at 60 frames per second on the highest setting. Personally, I’m fine with running the game at a playable 15 FPS at medium-high settings, as the level of detail is still exceptional. It’s amazing how far computing power has advanced in the past 20 years, and Microsoft Flight Simulator X shows just how powerful consumer-level PCs are.

ET AL.
Like previous versions, Microsoft Flight Simulator X features standard and deluxe editions. What’s the difference? For an extra $30, you get 6 more planes, 5 more high-detail airports, 10 more high-detail cities, 20 more missions (for a total of 50), the ability to play as air traffic control in multiplayer, and the new Garmin display in 3 planes. Is it worth it? The extra missions and ATC controls are nice (I am apathetic towards the other additions) and it’s about the same price as an expansion pack (which it essentially is). If you plan on playing all of the missions and enjoy being the air traffic controller, I would say it is; otherwise, you’re not missing that much. Either way, all of the content I will describe from here on out is from the deluxe edition, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

The big new addition to Microsoft Flight Simulator X is the missions. The missions consist of several tutorials and a good variety of challenges covering many different situations. All of the missions are well thought out and enjoyable, and they will certainly appeal to people who find generic, non-objective flight boring. The missions comprise 22 hours and 10 minutes of gameplay (I counted; I am such a nerd) and include such things as flying to Area 51, landing a plane on a moving bus, racing a jet-powered truck, rescue operations, and racing. It’s nice to finally have a structured campaign of sorts, and, coupled with the comprehensive learning center, the missions make Microsoft Flight Simulator X feel like a more complete game rather than an extensive sandbox.

Of course, you can still fly anywhere in the world using the game’s free flight options. You start off by choosing one of the game’s 21 aircraft, which include three commercial airliners, a glider, a regional jet, two helicopters, eight single engine props, one turboprop, one twin engine jet, three twin engine props, and one twin engine turboprop. While Microsoft Flight Simulator X features a nice range of aircraft, covering all of the major classifications of civilian planes, I would be nice to have more. For a person who enjoys piloting jets, having just two Boeing commercial jets is kind of disappointing, especially when you consider the variety of strange craft available in competing software. Plus, there are no military planes, which would be an interesting fit into the game even if they didn’t fire anything. Of course, having a limited number of planes opens the door for all of those third party add-ons, which help to keep the Microsoft money train moving. Microsoft Flight Simulator X again features comprehensive weather options: the ability to download real world conditions in addition to using themes or user-defined conditions. The flight planner allows you to select a departing and arriving airport and will generate a path.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X has notable multiplayer options available, as the game has licensed the Gamespy matchmaking software. Finding a server is extremely easy, and you can place yourself at the closest airport to all of the action. Of course, the quality of multiplayer in a flight simulator is dependent on how the other participants are behaving; most servers with active ATC (usually noted in the server's title or description) are entertaining. The deluxe version lets you step into the shoes of an air traffic controller, and while the procedures aren’t as realistic as a full-fledged ATC simulation, they do an adequate job at letting you track aircraft near your airport. You communicate to other pilots through voice or text chat rather than the in-game ATC communication window used in single player; while this is more realistic, it only works if the operator and the pilots know what they are doing. Playing online on a good server is quite enjoyable and it's a close as most of us will get to real airport operations. You can also have a human co-pilot in a plane, which is a neat addition. While I can imagine that organized groups will have great fun with multiplayer, joining a public server will sometimes result in a chaotic mess of planes flying in random directions.

To most people, Microsoft Flight Simulator X’s physics model is indistinguishable from previous versions. All of the behaviors seem to be hard-coded into the game, which makes designing custom aircraft more difficult; the lack of supported editors supports this (most custom aircraft end up using the physics of existing or slightly tweaked aircraft). The planes appear to behave realistically, but it’s less believable than the real-time model employed by X-Plane that uses the shape of the plane instead of pre-coded values. Microsoft Flight Simulator X certainly has all of the bells and whistles you’d expect, but I still feel that X-Plane delivers more convincing flight models, and the flexibility of X-Plane should not go overlooked in comparing these two simulations.

IN CLOSING
While Microsoft Flight Simulator X has a number of new features, the only one you’ll really notice is the new selection of missions. Multiplayer additions such as air traffic control and co-pilots are nice but they will only be used to their fullest extent by structured groups. Otherwise, Microsoft Flight Simulator X is identical to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, and most users will not notice any difference whatsoever outside of the missions. Are the missions worth $50 (or $80 for the deluxe version)? No, so unless you’re completely obsessed with the series (in which case you’ve already purchased FSX), you can stick with the slightly cheaper FS 2004. Of course, the simulation as a whole is certainly good value, so people who are unfamiliar with the series or are new to flight simulators will find a solid product. Microsoft Flight Simulator X is good for beginning pilots or those who enjoy lots of features, but I still like X-Plane more for an overall experience due to its range of aircraft and more flexible physics model. Of course, if you value a more user-friendly simulation over a more accommodating physics model with more varied aircraft, then clear Microsoft Flight Simulator X for landing. Aviation jokes are hilarious!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Silent Heroes Review

Silent Heroes, developed by Dark Fox and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Nicely animated and detailed graphics, varied use of surrounding terrain
The Not So Good: Outrageously unfair difficulty, contextual commands are imprecise for moving targets, units will not stop and return fire
What say you? A stealthy tactical strategy game that’s just too tough: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Following on the heels of 2004’s Soldiers: Heroes of World War II comes Silent Heroes, which takes the original real time tactical strategy game and minimizes it to incorporate fewer units against greater odds (which apparently involves silence). Silent Heroes leans more towards the small band of merry men end of the strategy equation, much like Hammer & Sickle/Silent Storm. The game acts as a standalone expansion to Soldiers and is priced as such, featuring similar tactical strategy action as you take on the bad guys in the World War II setting.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Although Silent Heroes is played from a fixed 3-D perspective, the game looks quite good and compares well against other real time strategy games, such as Rush for Berlin. The environments are very detailed and are quite impressive: grass sways in the breeze and the environment responds to player movement, which includes destructible terrain. While the characters in the game are quite small, Silent Heroes is chock full of great animations; actions that are usually cut are shown here, such as getting in and out of vehicles. Silent Heroes creates a believable atmosphere for World War II, and even though you can’t get up close and personal to the action, the game works well enough to be quite plausible. The sound for the game is quite average, with very few voiceovers (only canned responses to fixed events) over the generic background music. The lack of character dialog makes it hard to bond with your computerized allies, and reading the story is much less effective than hearing the story.

ET AL.
In Silent Heroes, you will lead a small band of hearty souls against great numbers of enemy forces to achieve some kind of objective. Silent Heroes assumes you are familiar with Soldiers, as it does not contain any sort of tutorial or introductory level. In fact, you’re thrown right into the mix from the beginning: the first mission involves your group of three against 50-75 enemies, including multiple tanks. Silent Heroes stresses silence (it’s in the title, people), as one wrong move will result in certain death, as in every mission you are greatly outnumbered. People who enjoy this kind of slow-paced and carefully managed game will enjoy Silent Heroes, but most will get frustrated by the stacked odds and limited game assistance. The game does allow you a good degree of freedom in completing your missions, as most of the game’s levels are wide open. However, you can clearly see areas to avoid and areas to traverse through, so there is some limitation in your available strategies. You’ll engage in several missions through the single player campaign, each being preceded by a briefing informing you of how many enemy soldiers you have to avoid. Movement is made exclusively through the mouse: left-clicking on a location will give an order to selected troops depending on the location clicked. Silent Heroes lets you manipulate and use the environment much more than other strategy games (a carryover from Soldiers), namely using lots of cover. This is a fine system that results in less clicking, but it makes targeting moving objects extremely difficult, as the selection area for enemy troops is extremely small. You may think you clicked an enemy soldier and issued an attack order, but your troops will just walk over next to them without firing a shot. This is extremely frustrating and it’s made even worse by the tremendous odds against you in the missions. Your troops will automatically fire at the enemy but only while stationary: imprecise orders will result in certain death. You can issue general behavior commands to your troops, such as hold fire, return fire, or hold position. If you want more control over your troops, you can enter direct control mode, where you can use the keyboard directional keys to move a specific soldier around. This system works well, but you’ll be essentially ignoring all of your other troops, so you won’t be able to use it very much. Much like role-playing games, Silent Heroes features an inventory system where your troops can carry a limited amount of supplies: guns, ammunition, matches (to start fires!), first aid kits, and mines. Setting fires is pretty fun and also a good distraction to enemy troops.

IN CLOSING
While some people will find the “against all odds” mentality of Silent Heroes enjoyable, I just found it frustrating. The amount of coordination and perfection required to successfully complete a mission is just too high, and the imperfections in the user interface makes it almost impossible. I do like the context-sensitive mouse commands, but it makes targeting small and moving objects (any enemy solider) extremely difficult and it can even result in incorrect orders and subsequent mission failure. The graphics are solid and the price is right, but most people can skip over Silent Heroes and not feel too badly about it. Silent Heroes, being a stand-alone expansion, doesn’t offer many new things to the genre, and just tweaks the basic formula laid down by Soldiers by offering less troops and more missions. I prefer the more evenly-matched Soldiers: Heroes of World War II to Silent Heroes, but fans of slow stealthy strategy games can find some fun for a budget price.

Monday, October 23, 2006

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 Review

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007, developed by Sports Interactive and published by Sega.
The Good: Comprehensive management and strategy options across multiple real-world leagues
The Not So Good: Overwhelming to new players, daily simulation takes an extremely long amount of time, breadth can result in information overload
What say you? It’s got everything you’d want in a sports management game, but sometimes too much is too much: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Ice-based sports have taken a hit recently. With the season-long lockout of the NHL coupled with the poor ratings of the Winter Olympics (losing out to America Idol), it seems that Americans are no longer entertained by cold climate escapades. Trying to win back some of the fanfare is the venerable NHL Eastside Hockey Manager series, delivering their 2007 version even though it is clearly 2006. Like most sports management games, you’ll take the helm as general manager of a hockey team and lead them to consecutive last place finishes in their division. Or the Stanley Cup, whatever your long-term goal is.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Being a management game, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 features primarily text-based graphics full of exciting charts and graphs. Other than the overhead 2-D view of a hockey rink during games, there isn’t anything that separates NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 from all of the other sports management games out there. In fact, maneuvering around NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is more difficult than in some other management titles; finding important information that should be accessible from all of the submenus requires backing out of several layers of menus, something that should not be an issue. For example, you aren’t allowed to exit the game unless you are at one of the main menus (and not looking at player stats). This kind of limitation in the user-interface makes playing the game frustrating, as you sometimes can’t accomplish what you want in the order you desire. Finding specific players is also difficult, as the filters are limited and there are a lot of international hockey players included in the game; scouring 200 pages of player names for a potential free agent is a gigantic waste of time. Sound is almost non-existent in NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007, although this might be considered a good thing since background music in management games is usually awful at best. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is everything you’d expect in a sports management game in terms of graphics and sound, although it could use a more user-friendly interface to quickly find specific data.

ET AL.
NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 allows you to control any team in the NHL or several minor leagues, such as the ECHL. The game is really intended to be played as the GM of an NHL team, as the rosters for the minor leagues are extremely small (nine total players?) and free agent movement is limited. The game allows you to play using the standard game engine or an enhanced league, which includes more micromanagement. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is a very comprehensive game, as it includes everything you’d want to control in a hockey franchise. The game allows you to sign, trade, and maintain your player roster across all of your affiliated teams and also set an overall goal for the team in terms of player acquisition (favor young players, rebuild through draft), intended for more desirable CPU trade offers. Each of the game’s players are rated for physical, mental, and technical skills, although the game does not have a specific “overall” numerical rating (although players are assigned a generic desirability rating, such as “good” or “OK”).

Despite your general manager role, you are allowed to set tactics for your team to use during games (which is more of a coaching decision), including player usage, line matching, and shot targeting. You can also change a number of advanced tactics: aggressiveness, gap control, puck pressure, temp, formations, and more. As you can tell, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 allows you to completely tailor your hockey squad to their strengths and your desired style of play. Of course, the downside to this is the sheer number of options will be daunting for new players and those unfamiliar with hockey terminology who might think “dumping the puck” is scatological in nature. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 has full scouting options and makes managing your scouts pretty simple; you can assign scouts to evaluate the next opponent, the draft, or a specific nation.

You can choose to play the games yourself or let the computer simulate them according to the tactics you have come up with. Watching and coaching the game can involve calling line changes and the like, but since most of the in-game tactics have been decided beforehand, there really isn’t much reason to watch the games. Although NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 has a load of coaching and managing options, the game is not that desirable for newcomers. As I have mentioned earlier, the game is quite difficult to navigate as important information is sometimes hidden several menus below the surface. Also, the game features a lot of information that takes a while to digest, especially when starting a new team. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 does not have a tutorial to ease new players into the game, so you’re just thrown in to the fray. The standard leagues eliminate some of the overwhelming nature of the game, but it’s still quite a feat to get accustomed to the game. Sadly, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is one of the slowest games I have ever played, as it takes half a minute to simulate a single day in the game. Since the game starts in the offseason, getting to actual matches takes quite a long time, and the lack of interesting actions during the offseason makes the wait even more arduous. To begin with, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is quite boring to play until you get into the full swing of the hockey season; the fact that the beginning of the game is quite monotonous does not bode well in attracting new players to the franchise.

IN CLOSING
NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is clearly geared towards veterans of sports management games and the series itself. The game does have one of the most all-inclusive set of coaching options available for any sport, giving the user specific control over every aspect of their organization’s strategy during games. The rest of the game is pretty standard fare (player options, graphics), but the slow pace of the game doesn’t help matters as NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is probably the slowest sports simulation game I’ve played in resolving daily actions. Gamers who understand the ins and outs of hockey strategy will find a great management simulation of the game, but most people who are unfamiliar with the game will be befuddled by all of the options at their disposal. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 will appeal to fans of the genre and the sport but most of the gaming public not included in that niche group can avoid the game and not feel worse for wear.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Battlefield 2142 Review

Battlefield 2142, developed by Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts.
The Good: Intense Battlefield-style gameplay, some unlocks are pretty cool, cinematic background music, close quarters battles in Titan mode are fun and a change of pace
The Not So Good: Unlocking is an unfair system that punishes new players and rewards stat padding and exploits, additions from BF2 are superficial and minor (including Titan mode), same old bugs are still not fixed
What say you? A nice mod or expansion pack, but there is too little new content to justify a full-priced game: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
The Battlefield franchise has gone a long way since it was first published way back in the year 1942 (thus the title of the first game). The game has taken you on tours of Europe, Africa, Vietnam, China, and the Middle East as you shoot, drive, and fly your way to capturing control points and accumulating a higher score. Since most of the recent major wars have been covered, the series has only one way to go, and that’s into the future. The future, Conan? Yes, all the way to the year 2142! The Earth has frozen (I knew pollution-reducing legislation was a waste) and now the world factions are battling over the few glacier-free locations around the globe. Featuring futuristic weapons, futuristic vehicles, futuristic aircraft, and futuristic futurism, Battlefield 2142 strives to make slight changes to the Battlefield 2 formula while still charging full price. Isn’t capitalism wonderful?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics of Battlefield 2142 are very similar to those found in Battlefield 2, except the developers have added a more metallic and gloomy feel to the game in addition to some futuristic effects like interference when using digital displays. The game looks like a well funded mod team has come in, designed a handful of levels similar to those found in Battlefield 2, re-skinned some vehicles, and gone home for the day. Even though the graphics (and system requirements) are similar to Battlefield 2, the game runs much more sluggish. On a system that ran Battlefield 2 on high detail level with ease, Battlefield 2142 runs laggy and slow with medium settings, especially with a lot of explosions on-screen. This is quite disappointing: where did all of the extra computing requirements come from? Half-Life 2: Episode One made a quantum leap from the original title and ran the same; why can’t the same be said for Battlefield 2142? In fact, you would think that a follow-up game would perform better than the original, since the developers have had more time to streamline and improve the code. The sound of Battlefield 2142 remains as good as ever and is still one of the strong points of the series. The menu background music has a very cinematic feel to it and continues the strong tradition of the series in this area. The voice commands, while repetitive, are still effective (although I have yet to figure out what allies yelling “GREASEMONKEY!!!!!!!” means, apparently a slick primate is loose), and all of the weapon and vehicle effects are convincing and plausible enough. Battlefield 2142 has strong graphics and sound, a hallmark of the series, but I just wish it ran the same as its predecessor because it sure looks the same.

FEATURES AND DEFICIENCIES
In Battlefield 2142, you will join either the British EU or the Russian PAC in a fight for survival. The game features single player, but, like Battlefield 2, it’s limited to just 16 players and completely useless. You would think an extra year of development beyond Battlefield 2 would result in better code, but there are a lot of minor bugs in Battlefield 2142:

  • The game refuses to save my control settings for forward and backward movement (I use the right mouse button…so sue me), so I have to re-input them each time I run the game.
  • Unit tags don’t pop up soon enough, leading to some friendly fire kills, especially on distant (but still in range) aircraft and vehicles.
  • Ranked servers are incorrectly identified in the server browser. First, the filters are useless: selecting “ranked servers only” will show both ranked and unranked servers. Brilliant! Secondly, some ranked servers seem to be marked unranked and vice versa; this might explain why people are reporting that their stats are not being updated properly, as they might think they are playing on a ranked server (because the server browser told them so) but aren't really.

Not really a bug but still annoying, Conquest mode has discarded the straightforward enemy-always-red color scheme used in Battlefield 2 (and the Titan mode) for a confusing green/orange combination, making it difficult to quickly assess friendly and enemy bases and making you remember which color you’re on. The Battlefield series has always been known for minor but irritating bugs, and the trend continues in Battlefield 2142. The gameplay of Battlefield 2142 is very reminiscent of Battlefield 2 (not surprising), with very little change other than different (but still conventional) weapons and vehicles and some futuristic unlocks and tools. The game works the best with a coordinated attack, and the command and squad tools from Battlefield 2 remain essentially unchanged, although artillery attacks are much less powerful now. You are still allowed to spawn on the squad leader (although any transport vehicle is now available for your mobile spawning needs in Titan mode), and the squad leader as some additional tools at their disposal: a stationary spawn point, recon drone, or sentry drone.

BUT THE TITANS SUCK!
Battlefield 2142 can be played in the classic Conquest mode, where you run around the map taking flags to reduce the opposition’s spawn tickets, or the “new” Titan mode. Despite the fervor surrounding the “new” Titan mode (ostensibly the biggest addition to the game), it’s exactly the same as the Conquest mode (flags have been replaced with missile silos) except for the end-game, where you get to board a Titan and take it down by destroying several components in the interior. I’m glad to see Battlefield 2142 take the series to indoor, close-quarters action, and boarding and running around the Titan is pretty fun, if you can get a coordinated attack. Plus, destroying the enemy Titan has more of a defined end to each round, instead of an arbitrary and anticlimactic ticket count. While not as innovative as advertised, the Titan mode adds an extra step to the Conquest mode and will probably become the more popular online mode, since it includes everything Conquest has to offer plus the raw excitement of shooting people indoors. It’s too bad, then, that the list of Titan-equipped maps is pretty low (only five of the game’s ten total maps), especially considering that all you need to do is swap control points for missile silos and add some airborne Titans to the map. The low map count of Battlefield 2142 isn’t all bad, as each game plays out essentially the same anyway and the actual map is just window-dressing. Battlefield 2142 features about the same mix of maps we saw in Battlefield 2: mostly open air maps with some city maps, that will probably prove to be very popular again. The developers have seemed to put a greater emphasis on tighter quarters with more choke points, which results in more intense battles with a large number of participants.

STUFF TO SHOOT STUFF WITH
Although the game is set 136 years in the future, most of the weapons and vehicles of Battlefield 2142 are quite conventional. Each side comes equipped with a jeep, an APC (equipped with assault pods for boarding enemy Titans), a heavy tank, a hover tank (that can strafe), and a walker, the second major addition to the series. While walkers are an imposing figure on the battlefield, they are clunky and they don’t offer any real advantages over more conventional vehicles other than offering more weapons (anti-personnel guns, anti-armor rockets, anti-air EMP missiles) if the walker is fully staffed. You can make walkers sprint and crouch, but the high profile makes the walker a desired target on the battlefield; in any event, they still look cool. Taking to the skies is a lot easier in Battlefield 2142 as the assault and transport planes are very easy to control due to their hovering ability (a fine combination of helicopters and jets). You will also automatically be encased in an assault pod when exiting a plane, which makes storming an enemy base from the air a much more realistic proposition. Apparently the future is devoid of any boats, and avoiding water is a primary concern, as every vehicle is now aquaphobic, including the previously amphibian APCs.

The weapons of Battlefield 2142 are also conventional and, like previous titles in the series, their availability is dependent on your class. Battlefield 2142 combines a lot of the classes of Battlefield 2, resulting in just four: recon (sniper plus special forces), assault (assault and medic), engineer (engineer and anti-tank), and support. The default support and assault weapons have high firing rates but piss-poor accuracy and, due to the extreme overheating of the support machine gun, behave exactly the same in the end. You would think they would have developed an efficient cooling mechanism by 2142 for conventional weapons, but apparently not. Your specific role in each class will be dependent on the unlocks you choose as you advance through the ranks. Personally, I abhor the unlock system, as it penalizes new players and rewards points-gathering over good team play (although points can be earned by team-related activities, they are overshadowed by kills and renegade base capturing). In Battlefield 2, the only unlocks available were different weapons, but Battlefield 2142 keeps all of the cool futuristic tools away from new players, including some essentials available from the beginning in Battlefield 2 like grenades, C4, and the defibrillator kit. Recon players can choose between a sniper rifle or unlocked carbine, and unlocks include AP mines, a better scope, C4, and optical camouflage. Assault players get the standard rifle that can be upgraded with rocket or shotgun attachments, in addition to smoke grenades and defibrillators for those budding medics. Engineer classes get the most rounded set of weapons out of the gate (namely why they are the most popular class so far): a sub-machine gun, rocket launcher, and repair kit. Engineers can be upgraded with EMP mines, vehicle detection systems, or moving mines. My favorite class, support, comes with a light machine gun and can be upgraded with EMP grenades, temporary shields, enemy scanners, or sentry guns. As you can tell, the developers have come up with some really cool gadgets to play with; it’s just too bad they aren’t available until you’ve played the game for quite a while.

IN CLOSING
While Battlefield 2142 has the solid and entertaining gameplay from Battlefield 2, the additions to the series are so minor to the overall experience that charging full price for the game is unreasonable. Essentially, you are paying $50 for a new mode (Titan) that’s almost identical to Conquest, re-skinned and tweaked maps, weapons, and vehicles, and a bunch of unlocks you can’t use until you’ve invested quite a bit of time into the game. I see how unlocks add some longevity to the game, but shouldn’t the gameplay alone be enough to keep you coming back? I’d much rather let everyone access all of the tools from the beginning and just restrict usage to one unlock at a time. Those players who enjoy playing multiple roles (a strength of Battlefield: variety) are penalized as they now must spread their unlocks over several classes (jack of all trades, master of none). Battlefield 2142 feels like a well-developed mod of Battlefield 2 because that’s essentially what it is. The changes from Battlefield Vietnam to Battlefield 2 are much greater, and it makes paying full price a little hard to swallow. In addition, the game features in-game advertisements to go on top of the already inflated price; I hope this is not a trend in games, with publishers trying to ink even more money out of you. We are also subject to the same bugs from Battlefield 2: this is inexcusable. Still, Battlefield 2142 is fun to play and a blast when you get on a good team, and Titan mode adds a much-needed conclusion to the end of each round. However, unless you really like the series, Battlefield 2142 doesn’t offer anything beyond Battlefield 2 that warrants a $50 investment.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Arvoch Conflict Review

Arvoch Conflict, developed and published by Star Wraith 3D Games.
The Good: Above average mission variety for a combat-heavy space sim, medium-sized battles, multiplayer
The Not So Good: Limited scope, lack of a “living universe” hurts atmosphere and replay value, difficult
What say you? A reasonably entertaining, but antiquated, squad-based action space simulation: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
I’ve received so many space simulations lately that I’m running out of things to say in the introduction, so I’ll keep it short. Independent developer Star Wraith 3D Games comes out with two types of games using their engine: trade simulations like Evochron Alliance and combat simulations like the Star Wraith series and this game, Arvoch Conflict. Insert semi-amusing joke, and continue to the next section.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Other than the new 3-D cockpit, the graphics and sound are identical to Evochron Alliance. The graphics don’t quite have the polish or pretty effects seen in bigger-budget space titles (such as DarkStar One) and Arvoch Conflict looks like it was released several years ago. The ship models are varied but the textures are less detailed that you would like. The explosions, while impressive, are canned and look the same for each death. The weapon effects are well done, however, and the sight of beams of light shooting across the screen, coupled with the trails of missiles, can be impressive. The backgrounds are devoid of the artistic license seen in most space games, as a majority of the game’s locations consist of a planet set against a plain backdrop of stars. The sound consists of basic weapon effects and repetitive voice acknowledgements by your squad members, in addition to a minor amount of background music. Although the graphics and sound of Arvoch Conflict are dated, they still hold up reasonably well if you accept that the game is developed by a small team.

ET AL.
Unlike the trade-oriented Evochron Alliance, Arvoch Conflict is almost exclusively combat. With a few variations, most of the missions revolve around destroying the enemy force. The game does offer some variety, such as constructing a defense network or escorting other ships, but in the end the gameplay is all the same. Whether going through the campaign or choosing a quick battle, you’ll be able to choose your ship and weapons along with those of your allies. There is a good variety of ships and weapons available in the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, although the game does not clearly indicate these differences through a bar graph or comparison display. These ships are also available from the beginning of the game, so Arvoch Conflict does not restrict the new player on choosing better ships and weapons if they choose to use them. Not only can you engage the computer, but online multiplayer is available to dispense (or fight along side) your friends.

In every battle, you’ll start at one end of the map with the enemy at the other and headed straight towards each other; the mission ends when the enemy fleet is destroyed (or you die). You’ll always be given four wingmen that you can issue simple orders to, like forming up or attack. The “elements of real-time strategy” the official site claims are limited at best, as Arvoch Conflict is all about the shooting. Controlling your ship is easy, and can be done through the keyboard, joystick, or (my favorite) the mouse. Enemy units are automatically locked when they are within range, and a leading reticule indicates where to fire to take out enemy units. The only real strategy in the game consist of allocating your ship’s energy for shields or weapons; everything else in the game is standard space combat with the occasional building or mining operation before or after battle. All of the battles take place in static environments, which makes Arvoch Conflict seem more like a game and less like a simulation of a plausible future conflict. In games such as DarkStar One, there are other people going about their business in close proximity to your actions, but you feel quite isolated in Arvoch Conflict. This lack of a convincing setting, coupled with the repetitive missions, results in Arvoch Conflict becoming quite boring after a while, especially when compared against the hordes of space combat and trading simulations available on the market.

IN CLOSING
Arvoch Conflict works well as a simple combat simulation, but the bar has been raised in recent years and the game feels archaic. The game tries to bring some new concepts to the table of space simulation, but they are limited in scope and really just slightly accentuate the core combat. Unfortunately, the gameplay and the graphics of Arvoch Conflict just feels old. In addition, this is another game in the Star Wraith line and the changes of this version over previous offerings are minimal. There are some good points about the game: the combat is solid and I do like how the squads make you feel like more of a team rather than a loner fighting against evil on your own. But, the lack of a real storyline and a greater purpose makes Arvoch Conflict just another combat-oriented space simulation.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Baseball Mogul 2007 Review

Baseball Mogul 2007, developed by Sports Mogul Inc. and published by Enlight Software.
The Good: Straightforward and helpful user interface, real world pitches and players, player mode allows you to strategically place and guess pitches, fast simulation and prompted interruption during close key games, online leagues
The Not So Good: Creating a custom league could be more automated, salary does not time scale
What say you? A terrific sports management game that’s brimming with features and friendly to new players: 7/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
It’s that time of the year again, when the air turns cooler, the sun sets earlier, and America’s attention turns to its favorite pastime: NFL football. Apparently, there are these playoffs for this newfangled sport known as baseball as well, although, as a niche sport, I have never heard of it. As your favorite team fails to makes the playoffs for a 17th consecutive year, you start to wonder if you could do a better job at fielding a competitive team. Well, Baseball Mogul 2007 has your answer in sports management form. Adjust lineups! Develop new talent! Struggle against the financial glass ceiling imposed by large market teams! All the excitement of sitting in front of a computer staring at numbers can be yours! How will Baseball Mogul 2007 stack up against other baseball management games?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Baseball Mogul 2007 looks better than most sports management games. The user interface is easy to read thanks to generally large print; the squinting experienced in most management games is mostly absent in Baseball Mogul 2007. The interface is also extremely easy to navigate: everything is accessible from every screen in the game thanks to the top menu. All too often, games try to be over-stylish in their presentation, sacrificing ease of use. Baseball Mogul 2007 also has some pre-rendered 3-D models during the games themselves; they are a lot like movies and aren’t dynamic by any means, but it’s better than just staring at a square ball going across a static field. While Baseball Mogul 2007 is in the upper echelon of sports management games in terms of graphics, the sound is quite limited. There are only a few effects present in the game, and all of these take place during games and are rather repetitive. Still, some sound is better than no sound at all.

ET AL.
Overall, Baseball Mogul 2007 is a lot like most sports management games: you control the daily operations of a baseball squad, including signing free agents, adjusting lineups, and making managerial changes during the game. But, the game presents several additions to the genre that makes it stand out as the best baseball management game available. First, you’ll choose a team to control from any year between 1901 and the present; Baseball Mogul 2007 uses the Lahman database, so realistic information on every major league player in the 20th and 21st centuries is available. Baseball Mogul 2007 does not have all of the customization options available in ProSim Baseball 2007; making a custom league is laborious instead of automated, but having every baseball team over 100 plus years is still pretty good. Baseball Mogul 2007 features robust online play, where leagues can be coordinated with human managers for each squad, much like fantasy baseball but with more control (and it’s free with the game). Baseball Mogul 2007 has the usual player options: the draft, free agents, minor leagues, trades, and contract negotiations (and arbitration) during the off-season. The AI makes some interesting multi-player trades (usually offering a current stud for young players), although most of the trades appear to benefit the AI in the long run. The game features numerous ratings for each player that are summed up in an overall rating displayed next to each player name for easy organization. In addition to acquiring new talent, you’ll also need to set prices for tickets and concessions to earn money for new talent; Baseball Mogul 2007 gives data suggesting prices based off the league averages and the income of your metropolitan area. Baseball Mogul 2007 has all of the nerdy stats nerdy baseball fans demand, organized over several pages in an easy-to-access format. Organizing your lineup and rotation is very simple, and the game can make suggestions as well, letting you direct just how much control you desire. Baseball Mogul 2007 seems to create realistic results from simulated games and it does this very quickly; there’s hardly any waiting around while games are played. You can choose to simulate a day, week, month, year, or to the end of a significant injury. You can also enable an alert mode that allows you to jump into games when they are close, according to your settings of opponents (division or playoff rivals) and lead (tied, one run, et cetera). This is really useful in skipping blowouts and just adding your input to the important games. During a game, you can watch the action, manage the game by making substitutions and calling plays (bunts, steals, infield adjustments), or control the players themselves. It is this last option that sets Baseball Mogul 2007 apart from other sports management games, allowing the player greater control over the game and allowing for meaningful input. As the pitcher, you can call the pitch type and placement of the pitch, while the batter has the option to call pitch types and locations. This makes Baseball Mogul 2007 play a lot like an arcade baseball game and less like a non-interactive management game where you have little impact on the outcome once your lineup is set. The fact that Baseball Mogul 2007 gives you the option to use player mode rather than forcing it on you means the game has much wider appeal than most sports management or arcade baseball games.

IN CLOSING
Baseball Mogul 2007 rises above the pack of sports management games due to its gameplay features. While the base game is everything we’ve seen before (player and financial options), the level of interactivity during games sets this title apart. Baseball Mogul 2007 actually makes it quick and painless to play out a disturbingly long baseball season and this is coming from someone who loathes baseball. Despite being primarily text driven, the large text and colorful menus are easier on the eyes than most management games. The intuitive interface makes it easy to learn the game, as everything is just one click away. The lack of 3-D graphics during play does not bother me in the least, as the end result is the same. I would like to have an easier time coming up with custom leagues, and the fact that salaries are not realistic for historical time periods is an extremely minor quibble with the game. Engaging online play should appeal to fantasy players, and the game’s overall polish shines through. Baseball Mogul 2007 is a couple of tweaks away from being a very enjoyable baseball game with wide appeal, assuming you have some interest in the general manager role. Still, fans of either management games or baseball should check out this title, as it has something to appeal to almost every type of fan.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Toribash Review

Toribash, developed and published by SXP Software Consulting.
The Good: Flexible fighting physics engine, multiple multiplayer modes
The Not So Good: Steep learning curve
What say you? An interesting physics-based fighting game that requires a lot of practice: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
For whatever reason, fighting games have almost exclusively been released on consoles where they are very popular. I’m not quite sure why fighting and wrestling games have never made it over to the vastly superior personal computer; I bet the PC crowd is far too advanced for mindless button pushing that seems to enthrall the limited intelligence of console gamers. If the PC was to have a fighting game, it must use real-world physics and be much more complicated! Enter Toribash: a fighting game that uses real-world physics and is much more complicated! What a strange coincidence! Toribash takes the rag doll physics seen in many first person shooters and applies it to hand-to-hand mortal combat.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The best way of describing the graphics and sound of Toribash is to say it is minimal. The fighters themselves look like early 3-D models: an interconnected set of control points amassed to resemble a person. The game could have played the same using more advanced models or realistic-looking people, but the developer chose to keep it simple. The background is a stark white, a definite contrast to the dynamic backgrounds seen in most fighting games. Toribash does have a lot of blood, however, complete with dismembered limbs, so that’s an overly violent plus. If the graphics are minimal, the sound is almost non-existent. There is no background music to speak of and the only sounds are heard when contact is made and when the match is over (I still can’t figure out what the game says then). Sure, Toribash lacks the polish and pristine nature of most fighting games, but as long as the game plays well, most people won’t mind.

ET AL.
The goal of a match in Toribash is to cause parts of your opponent’s body to touch the ground or score more points through more powerful moves. You do this by manipulating all of your character’s joints and muscles, applying a tensional or compressional force to each part of the body (shoulder, elbow, wrist, glutes, neck, knee, or hip as examples). This is done by a simple mouse wheel operation, so making adjustments is easy. However, actually pulling off successful moves is extremely difficult. The game’s flexibility allows you to pull off any conceivable move instead of canned moves activated by a button combination, but it takes lots of practice to even make the most simple moves work well without your competitor falling over (damn you, gravity). Toribash is turn-based, and 10 frames of action is executed at a time before you can tweak your fighter. The game shows what the expected results of your current input will be, but it does not take into consideration any actions of your opponent. The game can obviously allow for some pretty cool moves, as evidenced by the 60 replays included with the game. Dismemberment adds another aspect to the game, as an arm flying across the room can count towards disqualification if it touches the ground (adding insult to injury). While the single player mode is more of a practice sandbox (there is no AI), joining a multiplayer game is fairly easy. Because of the flexibility of the game, there are numerous fighting styles available (judo, sumo, classic) each with their own starting positions and rules. This makes Toribash quite an exciting fighting game in terms of expandability, since anything that is possible in real life could be simulated here (weapons are an expected future addition). The game comes with two short movies showing how to execute simple punches and kicks, but the game still requires a lot of patience as you become accustomed to controlling your character.

IN CLOSING
Toribash is a very interesting title, but the highly flexible nature of the game doesn’t help out new players that may become frustrated early on. However, it’s worth it investing time in the game, as the multiplayer modes offer some interesting contests and the title offers almost unlimited mod support. While the graphics and the sound might not compete with top-flight titles, you won’t really notice it much while you are ripping your opponent’s arm off and beating them with it. Unlike most fighting games, you are not restricted by pre-set moves in Toribash and the only limit is your imagination. Any fan of fighting games will enjoy the brutal action of Toribash as long as you’re willing to spend some time practicing with the rag-doll mechanics.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

GTR 2 Review

GTR 2, developed by SimBin and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Superb physics, tons of cars and tracks, three levels of realism, aggressive and challenging AI, multiplayer, excellent graphics with time of day and weather effects, debris is dangerous
The Not So Good: Driving school lessons are repetitive, minimal changes from the original outside of the graphics, default setups make it hard to be competitive
What say you? A fine continuation of the realistic racing simulation for dedicated drivers: 7/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Quality race simulations have become a mainstay on the PC. While other simulations have fallen out of favor, driving cars really fast seems to hold a high level of appeal with the PC crowd, culminated in many superior titles. A scant 18 months ago, GTR was released to the masses, emphasizing realism in its approach to the grand touring racer. Developer SimBin is back with the sequel to that game, coincidentally titled GTR 2, a game that features lots of expensive cars going too fast around really tight corners.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The most noticeable area that GTR 2 has made improvements in is the graphics. GTR 2 looks really good for a simulation racer and is full of nice, subtle touches to make the game’s tracks even more lifelike. First, each of the game’s 18 cars are exquisitely detailed and shine in all of their reflective glory. The cockpits have also undergone some improvement, closely mimicking their real-life counterparts. In addition, the driver now responds to user input, including visible movement of feet during braking. The tracks are enhanced as well and look almost photo-realistic in places. The off-track objects are more plentiful this time around, and the track details, from the rumble strips to the braking points, correspond well to the real world locations. The damage model is also improved, as debris that has flown off a competitor’s car can independently cause damage to your car: running over a bumper is now a tricky operation instead of just a visual flair. And despite all of these improvements, the game still runs about a smoothly as before (which is to say about par for the course for PC driving simulations). The sound, like the graphics, is much improved. GTR 2 provides good audio clues pertaining to tire grip, and the shaking and rattling of the cars when traveling at high speeds is the most convincing I’ve seen in any racing game. I’ve always felt that games don’t show how precarious it is to travel upwards of 200 miles per hour, but GTR 2 makes the experience frighteningly exhilarating. GTR 2 can easily compete with the rest of the racing simulations available on the PC in terms of graphics and sound and the game ends up looking and sounding better than most of them.

ET AL.
GTR 2 covers the 2003 and 2004 FIA GT seasons (why not 2005 or 2006?), containing all of the cars, drivers, and tracks from those particular campaigns. This means that GTR 2 has 18 car models over several performance classes and 15 tracks (plus variants), which is more than enough to satisfy most simulation racers. New to GTR 2 is the driving school mode, a set of instructional challenges meant to help new drivers get accustomed to the game’s mechanics. The lessons are very repetitive for each subject area, asking you to complete the same task on the same section of track in progressively shorter amounts of time. The lessons are useful, however, and it’s a lot easier to learn the game through some instruction instead of just learning on your own. The driving lessons are used to unlock custom championships (a specific set of cars on specific tracks), which are used to unlock alternate configurations of the game’s base tracks. Once you’ve learned the game a little, you can participate in open practice sessions, time trials, full race weekends, 24-hour events, and official championships. A race weekend consists of two practice sessions, two qualifying sessions (qualifying can be skipped and a starting position assigned or given at random), a warm-up period, and the race itself. Each of the races can be customized in terms of length (the game provides an estimate of the race length based on the length percentage), cars, and weather. Weather plays an important role in GTR 2, as wet roads are extremely difficult to drive on (more so than most other racing simulations) and dry lines will form after a heavy rain. The 24-hour events can include accelerated time of day, as you might not want to race for a full 24 hours. GTR 2 also includes the official FIA GT championships from 2003 and 2004 to test your mettle against the full 64-car field. Multiplayer racing is also available and joining a server is easy and games are available for each of the game’s difficulty levels. Due to a lack of online participation, I did not have a chance to fully test out the multiplayer modes, but they are there if you want them.

While GTR was strongly geared towards simulation racers, GTR 2 has opened the door for more arcade-inclined racers that don’t want the steep learning curve realistic racing requires. While driving in pro mode requires smooth acceleration, braking, and steering, novice mode enables some driving aids to help out beginning drivers. While the game is still more difficult (meaning realistic) to control than purely arcade racers, I feel that the novice mode strikes a good balance between easy handling and realistic control. The physics of GTR 2 are fabulous and the cars are easier (less twitchy and more fun) to drive than rFactor, but more difficult than the less powerful cars of Live for Speed. However, the default setups are complete garbage and the game requires you to make some tweaks even on novice level to even become slightly competitive against the AI drivers (let alone experienced online competitors). Personally, I could care less about camber, wedge, and tire pressures; I just want to race. The lack of quality setups also makes learning the tracks difficult, as the corner gear suggestions are about a gear too high (at least for my erratic driving style). Speaking of the AI (well, a couple of sentences ago), the computer opponents of GTR 2 are some of the best I’ve seen in a PC racing simulation. Unlike games such as NASCAR SimRacing, the AI actually notices you are along side and will adjust their racing line and even give up positions if they feel it’s in their best interest. The AI provides solid competition, although they may be a little too good against the default setups (competitive driving for me required toning down the AI strength to extremely low percentages compared to values I’ve used in other simulation games). Not being able to find human competition in the multiplayer modes is not really an issue because the AI is strong enough and the single player portion of the game gives enough depth to keep drivers going at it for a long period of time.

IN CLOSING
GTR 2 is a lot like GTR (not surprising), but with better graphics and some additional game modes. For people who already own the original game, this is probably not enough to warrant getting this version of the game, but for everyone else, GTR 2 is an enjoyable racing game, as long as you put enough effort into the title. Even with the novice mode and the new driving lessons, the game is not that friendly to new players, especially those who are new to driving simulations. The default setups make it difficult to be competitive right out of the box, and those people who don’t like tweaking with setups will be disappointed. I imagine that custom setups will begin to appear on the Internet shortly after the game is released, but the developers should have included at least some decent offerings for new players at the novice skill level. The most apparently overhaul since the original version is in the graphics and sound departments, as GTR 2 looks and sounds great. Add in a complete single player experience in addition to multiplayer modes, and GTR 2 should satisfy most simulation racers. While the game does not offer the broad appeal advertised for this newest iteration of the series, those gamers who tend to fall on the simulation side of things will find plenty to enjoy in GTR 2.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Time Portal Review

The Time Portal, developed and published by Zhang Games.
The Good: Appropriate for all ages, lots of puzzles
The Not So Good: Some extremely subtle differences, only two modes of play makes the game monotonous, strenuous on the eyes
What say you? A picture puzzle game that’s challenging for the whole family, but it sorely lacks variety: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
My first memory of picture puzzles are from reading Highlights Magazine in the waiting room at the optometrist, scouring a kitchen scene for a table leg that looked like a fork (good times). An extension of this concept is comparing two adjacent, similar pictures and finding the discrepancies between them, and that’s what The Time Portal is all about. Instead of having to use antiquated magazines or newspapers, The Time Portal utilizes cutting-edge computer technology to show the photographs on a screen. What a world we live in! How will this simple concept work in the computing realm? How long will it take The Time Portal to make my eyes bleed? Hopefully not until I finish writing this review.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The Time Portal features very simple graphics and sound, essentially consisting of the pictures themselves and limited music and effects. The pictures are low-resolution, and it sometimes makes it hard to find the correct alterations; playing the game in windowed mode only increases the problem. There are a good variety of pictures in the game (200), but they don’t have an overall theme and just seem to be thrown together at random. I’d like to see larger versions of the pictures in a game such as this, especially since many personal computers are running at higher resolutions these days. As I mentioned earlier, the sound in The Time Portal is limited, consisting of simple sound effects and generic background music: nothing spectacular. The Time Portal is simplistic in terms of graphics and sound, but that’s par for the course in puzzle games, so it’s not really a knock against the experience as a whole.

ET AL.
In The Time Portal, you are discovering clues hidden in pictures left by your lost uncle. The game consists of a linear set of 20 rounds of 10 pictures each. You are given a total of just over 20 minutes to solve all of the pictures in each round before moving on to the next one. For each picture, you must find (by clicking on them) either five mistakes between two versions of the same picture or find the locations of five small cutouts from the larger picture. And that’s it. You’ll do this 200 times before the end of the game and you’re required to pass each and every picture within the time limit. You are given four hints per round that you can use if you’re stuck, and clicking on an incorrect location results in a time penalty. Obviously, The Time Portal doesn’t have any replay value other than the first time through the game, and most people will have seen enough after the second or third round. The cutout location puzzles are far easier to solve, and some of the differences you’ll have to find in the other mode are tremendously slight and hard to find. This game is appropriate for all ages and easy to learn, but it wears out its welcome far too quickly due to its limited gameplay.

IN CLOSING
The Time Portal is a good idea, but I wish far more were done with the concept other than the two modes present in the game. I’m sure there are other ideas related to picture-based puzzles other than finding mistakes or hunting for small samples, and the feeling of doing the same thing over and over again wears on the player much too quickly. The Time Portal does have a whole bunch of puzzles, but they are all the same. There are some people who will greatly enjoy the concept of The Time Portal and will play it extensively, but most everyone will quickly grow tired of the repetitive nature of the gameplay. Only true fans of picture hunting puzzle games will spend more than 15 minutes with this title due to its lack of diversity.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ankh Review

Ankh, developed by DECK13 Interactive and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Lengthy with a good number of puzzles, moments of humor, canned figs
The Not So Good: Generally nonsensical combinations, fixed camera angle despite 3-D graphics, cut scenes can’t be skipped
What say you? A tiresome combination adventure game that will only appeal to fans of the genre: 4/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
I have played some truly horrible adventure games in my time. This has soured my opinion of the genre, as point-and-click titles have not interested me very much. Something about being required to catch a cat with a green bag and let her lose to knock over a bait bucket to make the fisherman leave so that you can take his rod and spare bucket and collect salt from the side of a boat and grind the salt up on an indention of a tombstone and throw the salt on a concrete structure to make it collapse just doesn't sit well, as puzzles that make no sense cause me to stop playing very quickly. So it was with some trepidation that I received Ankh, an Egyptian-themed adventure game where you go on an adventure in Egypt. Will Ankh's cartoon atmosphere, gameplay, and hard to pronounce name change my opinion on the genre? Let's hope so, for my sake.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Ankh features 3-D graphics, which is somewhat unusual for a point-and-click adventure game. The graphics look good from afar but less detailed with close-ups of the characters. The environments are detailed and look good, but the characters are fuzzy and consist of low-resolution textures that you can really see when zoomed in close. Most of the close-ups only occur during cut scenes, so you won’t notice it during normal gameplay very much. Despite the fact that Ankh is in 3-D, the game still features a fixed camera angle. This is highly annoying, as parts of the level are obscured or off-screen a lot of the time, making it difficult to select certain objects during gameplay. All they needed to do was to let your rotate the camera view a little bit, and I would have been fine with that, but Ankh imposes some arbitrary restrictions on camera movement. The sound is just average, with average voice acting and average musical numbers during cut scenes. While Ankh has better graphics that most classic point-and-click adventure games, I want more flexibility in my viewing options.

ET AL.
Ankh is a point-and-click adventure game where you click on objects and combine them to form useful solutions to the game’s puzzles. This means that there is generally just one way to solve each puzzle, and I dislike being pigeonholed into a solution, especially when the solution is irrational. Examples: using a fishnet stocking (get it?) to pick up a fish because it’s too slippery; using a lobster to cut a banner; making cocktails with umbrellas. Not all of the solutions are like this, but it only takes one absurd puzzle to stop you dead in your tracks. Plus, objects are usually not used immediately, so if you forget to pick up some arbitrary object from three levels ago, you’re out of luck. This is why I hate adventure games: ridiculous inflexible solutions to puzzles that don’t make any sense. At least controlling the game is simple enough: left-click to move or look, and right-click to use. The mouse icon changes according to what objects can be selected, which cuts down on the amount of hunting you’ll have to do. In another stroke of genius, you can’t skip any of the cut scenes. Personally, I don’t care what the background story is and I just want to play, but Ankh makes you sit through all of the musical numbers and occasionally witty dialogue between the characters. None of the cut scenes are required to solve any of the puzzles, so I’d just like to press escape and move along. The game does eventually introduce some “advanced” puzzles involving two characters that you have to switch back and forth between, but this really just adds to the confusion of the game.

IN CLOSING
There’s only been one adventure game I've played with reasonable puzzles, and Ankh is not it. Ankh falls into the time honored adventure game tradition of unreasonable puzzle solutions that only the developer and a select few will be able to figure out, and I just don’t find that level of frustration fun. And you’re supposed to be having fun while playing games, right? I can honestly say that I never had fun while playing Ankh. The puzzles are tedious, and since this is the core of the gameplay, that pretty much ruins everything else. The graphics aren’t bad for an adventure game (although you shouldn’t look too closely), the game does include a bunch of puzzles, and Ankh tries hard to be funny, but most people will get frustrated starting with puzzle number one. Only the true fans of adventure games should wander into the Egyptian landscape of Ankh.