"Battle of Sierra Street"
29th Salon del Comic - Barcelona | atractivoquenobello
this year's poster by Rubén Pellejero
In 2012, one of the best European comic events & conventions (with the permission of Angouleme) will be celebrating its 3 decades of existence… quite something to celebrate for a European comic festival (Angouleme is 36 now). But that will be next year, because this one Barcelona's "saló del comic" reaches it's 29th edition.
And what's the offer then?
From April 14th – 17th some international guest artists will come to the Catalan capital for a few talks, a few autographs, a few smiles… and to inspire. Kurt Busiek, Eddie Campbell, Ryan Penagos… but Barcelona's comic saloon is mostly about the Spanish & European BD, because there's a lot here too, and just as good (or even &hellip.
Some of the most notable art pieces this year (nominated in 3 categories each) include the last album of the Blacksad series (hell, silence) by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido which many of you probably know (being published by Dark Horse in the U.S.)…
… Paco Roca's "Drawer's winter"… (whose 2008 award winning "Wrinkles" work is getting a film out this year btw)…
…or the less well known (at least in the U.S.) 3rd part of Ken Games 3: Ciseaux José Manuel Robledo y Marcial Toledano" (José Manuel Robledo & Marcial Toledano).
All of them nominated to the "best work, best script & best artwork by Spanish author" categories from comics published in 2010.
But there's a long long list of many other nominated works from Nacho Casanova's non-authorised biography, to Jazz Maynard 4.
If not, you can expect the same as in any other comic festival… loads of stands from the major national and international publishers trying to sell a bit and a bit more their novelties. So if you're in Barna by mid-April, you now know where to go.
More info on their website.
It doesn't go without adding a note about yet another one from my (ancient) spy game collection: Conspiracy: Weapons of Mass Destruction (Oxygen, 2005) which seems not even having been worth a review on GameSpot in 2005, is left but far behind other games of this category like Psi-Ops, TimeSplitters, even Cold War...
"Believe nothing... Trust no-one..." is the special advice given for this game; however, temporarily assuming the role of to-be tough mercenary Cole Justice one is getting to see nobody but (lots of) diver-like armored soldiers, frightened scientists, and apathetic employees, while quite naturally due to circumstances, those contacts tend to be too short-timed to even allow any form of indoctrination.
The usual remote instructions one does receive from red-haired Cara who at the end of the fourth episode taking place in an absurdly guarded office complex is being kidnapped to be rescued from a high-tech warrior vessel in the fifth and final one, and it is also here where one gets tentatively indoctrinated for the first time by ways of a certain Damien simply denying what is being said about the organization he seems to be the head of: useless, as it may.
That this unambitious game has been released in about the same time as Psi-Ops: Mindgate Conspiracy or TimeSplitters: Future Perfect is hard to believe, so poor is its overall design and so generally is it lacking any other options during gameplay as there are neither checkpoints structuring the missions nor inventory to choose from, though given its 5-6 hours of extension one does not really need to do so, either.
With its low frame-rate and outdated visuals, with the noble exception of some laboratory and office interiors that seem to put a special accent on in-game computer terminals fully equipped with accessories like mouse plus mouse pad, media disks, headphones, screensavers and the like, evidencing the game's contemporaneity, Conspiracy might recall PC games like the first Half Life, only that there has been a coherent storyline guiding a challenging quest, and likewise in Matrix, which is missing here completely.
Though there truly is some real background story, one actually wonders whether the publishers had been knowing the game themselves since while jetting from secret bases in South-American Aztec ruins to military-like training camps in the Arctic Circle in order to prevent "a rogue government agency known as 'Hydra'" allegedly funded through illegal means such as trafficking arms and drugs from selling its weapons of mass destruction to worldwide terrorist organizations, one does rest ever at the surface only of this so-called conspiracy one is to aim one's own weaponry ―pistols, assault rifles, sub machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade and rocket launchers hardly to distinguish― unscrupulously at.
With even the soundtrack being bad or lacking one almost gets the impression that the rather favorable preview for this third-rate first-person shooter has been published long before its being finished, or even incubating the release date, since with a little more dedication one could at least have been producing a game up to the other ones of its genre ― what shows also that the actual title and cover description of a video game, as likewise for books or movies, can sometimes be misleading, and this is probably why I have it here in my personal catalogue and even owe it some of its more exciting moments ―escaping the laboratories or aborting the missile's launching―, while in reality it might rather not be worth a second look…
Cold War (Dreamcatcher, 2005) comes along like a somewhat parodist version of Splinter Cell plus the failures of Tenchu Z, yet the game offers still some features that make it worth some retrospective look...
Matthew Carter, an investigative journalist and rather sarcastic version of Sam Fisher in quest of the Pulitzer price thanks to the sensation report of his life, finds himself suddenly alone behind the Iron Curtain of 1986 when accused, framed by a fundamentalist group led by the radical KGB boss Barinsky, of being an American assassin planning to murder the Soviet President. The conspiracy, however, is that of Barinsky himself who –"Perestroika is a lie. It cannot last. Mother Russia shall be reborn."– does not want the URSS to be transformed through a process of transparency putting an end to the Cold War but, mainly through building his own atomic bombs in the nuclear plant of Chernobyl, intends to re-establish the former communist hard line instead.
Alike Tintin but lacking the latter's sincere principles, like in other stealth action games the ethics aims at killing only when necessary (killing civilians results in failing the objective); however, Carter necessarily gets rapidly accustomed to shooting, as more as it works remarkably well for somebody used to using his ball pen and camera only. But while the self-fabricated non-lethal rubber bullets in the first episodes might be enough against the dumb soldiers around Kremlin and Lenin Mausoleum, he increasingly will have to recur to his AK-47 when fighting the armored "Spetsnazs" mobilized by Barinsky.
Tintin (whom I could easily imagine on NDS) recall also the comic-like cut-scenes linking the twenty-three consecutive missions, whereas the voice-over reflects the journalist's own story-telling perspective.
Interesting character that could have served for some sequel Matt Carter is however less versatile and well-trained than Sam Fisher, and not as brilliant as Tintin, as he moves quite slowly even when running or knocking somebody out; while this may also mirror his sloppy character, the slow trot of his yet contributes to some unnecessary lengths in the game when having to repeat endless-seeming labyrinth corridors in either Kremlin, Mausoleum, or nuclear plant (though with him almost gliding it becomes better with a weapon being drawn).
In addition to the high-tech X-ray camera having been replacing Carter's original one when getting framed at customs, it is the many additional gadgets to be fabricated using the junk parts frequently lying around –cans and rags, plastic bottles and ether flasks, screws and batteries, as well as blueprints earning tech points for their assembling– that represent one of Cold War's more appealing aspects. However, including even vodka and cigarettes to seduce the apparatchiks, while successively filling the inventory just like in Tenchu Z one doesn't have too many opportunities of needing all the stuff for, whereas the time-consuming way of accessing and using it in most of the situations makes one prefer just the right away shooting approach of getting through.
And most of the time it doesn't need more than that since in spite of being highly official places: the Kremlin, the Lenin Mausoleum, the KGB prison, the Chernobyl nuclear plant, the vigilant personnel and equipments –easily bypassed or deactivated laser fences and video cameras–, image perhaps of the regime's literal go down, seem to being less up to the situation than even inexperienced Matt Carter.
Interesting, too, is the original navigation system sort of a computer game in itself optionally to be mapped on the screen thanks to which one gets to safely monitor one's temporary accomplices: Grushkov, Sonya –both abused but honest Russian opponents to Barinsky's evil ambitions–, even the President himself, but who otherwise seem to be sleepwalking and deprived of any own will during this very time.
Resembling rather a harmless walk-around in the beginning while permitting also to get acquainted with the controls, the game consecutively gets tougher in the course of the different episodes with the climax being –as Grushkov– the escape from the imploding Chernobyl nuclear plant and the final confrontation of Barinsky and his squads in the Kremlin due to some additional time countdown, after having safely escorted the President outside –an American journalist against whose own Russian soldiers!– representing one of the most implausible moments of the whole story, though.
A short game finished in few more than a day also thanks to the PC-like save system that permits saving at any moment without the necessity of too many suspense-killing repetitions it surprises that Cold War offers no additional playing options beyond the actual story mode (there have been more in the PC version, though), while its richness of features seem to suggest that one might be interested in replaying the whole just for the sake of trying them out (which seems also the idea behind Tenchu Z's inventive inventory).
Well, it is less its exceptional gameplay borrowed from Splinter Cell and the likes than its background story that gives the game its interest; the end, as one might imagine, does allow Carter neither to get the Pulitzer nor to come out as the hero savior of the President in preventing the subversion of a moderate political regime yet the Soviet government applies its usual cover-up: the near nuclear catastrophe about erasing half the Ukraine had been a "minor accident", and the aborted subversion not more than a break-in in the Kremlin (without the artworks of Socialist Realism being stolen).
And with a final "Do you know who killed JFK?" Grushkov as learned Russian patriot also seems to recommending Carter the coverage of the own homemade affairs rather than those of other countries....
I obviously liked Kill Bill, so this must have been why I fell for another martial arts-related video game, Tenchu Z (Microsoft, 2007) on X360, a little while ago.
I love the aesthetics of the game so I felt quite shocked when seeing the bad rating it got on GameSpot in 2007 (4.5 by Aaron Thomas): for anybody truly interested in Japanese culture, the game with its authentic architecture, clothing, interiors, music, even voices, should have some appeal beyond stealth kill by means limited, above all, to knife and sword (note: it does not always have to be high-end machine or plasma gun, either).
So I cannot confirm that I found the game that "uninspired" (Thomas) with its carefully designed, sometimes almost photo-realistic details developed over as much as 50 (solo) missions: while it might be clear that with that number there should be some redundancy –however, being rather short there are no checkpoints during the missions which are finished once one completes the task and without the necessity to find one's way out again–, the same could probably be said of any spying or Mafia game, too.
Mafia games like GTA I am a great fan of in general have less to do with stealth, though, so it is rather with Splinter Cell (Ubisoft, 2002) Tenchu Z has some aspects in common, protagonist Sam Fisher having been labeled "a high-tech government ninja" by Greg Kasavin in his GameSpot review of 2002.
Well, there are no zombies in either of them, but above all both titles share a common supreme motto: execute a mission preferably without killing innocents nor leaving any trace of your presence. In Tenchu Z, there's no Lambert to put an end to one's mission, but any being detected or supplementary killings result in a minusvaloration in the mission's final score, whereas stealth kills and fast, target-oriented but silent acting counts positively (consequently, one might sometimes get more while failing a mission –100 points or gold awarded– than in winning it...).
In both cases a stealth meter reduces the risk of being seen, to which Tenchu Z adds a noise and a Ki-meter showing the distance to the closest enemy as well as his alert level by means of color and respective symbol, where it is even the odor that can trigger an alarm – yet a Ninja must stay calm and rational, impassible, just like Sam Fisher.
There are more outstanding abilities both Ninja and elite spy necessarily have in common, above all, the amazing moving and climbing skills: Fisher in his smooth, forceful, almost motion-captured manner can effortlessly climb fences, pipes, and ladders, shimmy around ledges, zip along wires, and rappel down walls; Tenchu –which signifies "divine punishment"– strikes though a little less lifelike through the extreme, casi gymnastic agility in climbing Sly Cooper-like on walls and over roofs with the aid of nothing more than a hook, with both allowing for noise-reducing crouched jumping or evasive rolls to soften landings.
Both games share, unfortunately, also some failures, for instance, the sometimes ridiculously poor enemy AI that makes one prefer running while taking some non-lethal blows rather than wasting a lot of time on stealth, though, indeed, most of the time it's rather rest than rambo, and one might also have some personal interest in improving one's personal stealth (s)kills... (the last mission is really a good, martial arts-based boss fight, though).
The guards –what are most of the hostile vigilants in both video games– in Splinter Cell, according to Kasavin, are "believable enough" though "predictable" since they "don't exhibit any complex behavior", whereas Thomas for Tenchu Z accredited them "the attention span of fruit flies" that quickly "abandon pursuit and head back to their post" once the suspicion of one's presence having been aroused.
However, considering the five years that lie between, I found them absolutely comparable in their "Nani"-"Must have been nothing"-inquisitive behavior, only that in Tenchu Z the enemies tend to react extremely brutal when getting one, and the missions to being less heavily scripted. – And does one really always want enemies being that tremendously intelligent...?
Though in general the controls in both games work well and are quite intuitive to handle, the inventory in either case sometimes does represent a handicap rather than a true help through its time-consuming eye-controlled access: so one might not always be as fast in choosing a secondary weapon –shuriken or sticky shocker– or swallow an urgent health add as one might actually want... Consequently, in some moments the difficult of a mission to accomplish might be due to the controls rather than the level, for instance, when conflicting commands attributed to the same button make one open a keypad (or whatever) rather than grab a character from behind or choose the wrong item from one's inventory in a given (but urgent) situation...
There is however a lot of positive to be stressed in Tenchu Z: first of all, the many possibilities of customization, allowing to adapt the Ninja to one's gusto, for instance, by choosing a female protagonist with some sweet –though here rather decorative– male companion (with opposite sexes being available only), as well as the appearance, features and personal –original– outfit, plus supplementary gadgets.
The balance of Vitality - Strength - Agility can be individually varied by weighing the one rather than the other according to each mission's requirements, and further abilities and techniques be bought with the mission money (so it is not only tyrannic superiors –like Lambert in Splinter Cell– to decide about one's skills and when to use them...), though it is true that in Tenchu Z in general one doesn't get too often the opportunity to apply all those additional skills (combos) and items one can acquire.
Of course both video games differ from one another in story background and execution mode: receiving the missions tacitly from Rikimaru often aiming at simply killing the one or other money or position-abusing character, the loosely sketched story in Tenchu Z combines above all the efforts in stopping a local Mafia boss from trafficking an illegal drug called Shishi (Kodama leaves) while extending his power over Goda county, in a feud with neighboring Ogawara. Splinter Cell in comparison happens on a supranational level in a post-Cold War atmosphere with top-secret Third Echelon, an unofficial NSA daughter agency, doing some "dirty" counter-espionage work against a network of Georgian, Russian and Chinese (state) terrorist activities menacing American national security. When being caught, the US government will disavow, so Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher has to act according to the script given to him remotely through Colonel Lambert and Anna Grimsdottir, while Tenchu Z gives individual liberties in the execution of each task in opting for either stealth approach or brute force through its being reflected in the missions' respective point scores only.
Well, while I cannot say that I had ever been a real specialist in stealth games I felt sufficiently attracted to either of the above ones to stick up to the end, only, to quote Kasavin, "Just don't expect the life of a secretive commando to be [that] easy...."
PS: I'd really like to see some follow-up or expansion for Tenchu Z, such as GTA Chinatown or San Andreas: same aesthetics, controls, and cool gadgets, but some further going story– it's just that with those appealing ingredients one would appreciate having a bit more opportunity of making use of them...
- Splinter Cell: http://www.gamespot.com/xbox/action/splintercell/index.html
Struck with a severe display problem –I do not even have television anymore as in Spain all channels are digital now–, in addition to some "new" PC ones right now I am busy with replaying several games on my good old Xbox console rather than on the X360 I am almost unable to use in the moment. Where I wanted to point out that I am really sorry about Xbox games not being distributed anymore, contrary to PS2 ones, for all the games on this list were Xbox ones, several without real follow-up. So instead of adding some redundant reflections on some of the yet acclaimed new games, I'd prefer making some point in favor of what I consider some of the more outstanding or even unforgettable among yesteryear's video games (and looking them up on GameSpot for some fashionable URL to add I note that all of them got a quite reasonable score...): just having been or being about replaying them, all the games listed here in a rather logical order are some of those I liked very much or have never finished yet, basically due to time needs.
Well I have to say that I like violent games, above all when shooting from above, equipped by a sniper rifle, or behind the visor of an armoured turret. But it clearly is not only in being noisy and violent that a video game can be entertaining, and this is certainly the case for JetSetRadioFuture (SEGA, 2002), follow-up of Jet Grind Radio released in 1999. Framed by a subversive story that might somewhat recall that of Shaun White Skateboarding (Ubisoft) only that here it is not the City Hall's Mayor to exert oppressive power but local businessman Gouji's corporation having taken control of the police force to chase the skaters, it is above all the unique mixture of beautiful graphics –you almost get the impression of having been visiting real Tokyo here!– and impressive skating skills that give the game its appeal. And of course the original graffiti, symbol of the skater punks' defiance of the establishment in a similar way as Epic Mickey (Disney) with his paint and thinner in using spray cans only to defeat the enemies –Gouji's police– and some rival skater gangs. The 12 different characters can be switched, graffiti individually created, and music titles changed within the "Garage", with the DJ being freaky Professor K of the rebel underground radio station that lends the game its title.
While the eight chapter-long story in single-player mode is displayed in a not too linear, rather open-ended way, making one feel sometimes a little unsure about where to orient next in the City's dense jungle, the multiplayer mode offers five nice customizable racing and tagging minigame competitions for up to four players via split-screen that does only lack the possibility to be continued online.
Addressing a rather adolescent public through its design and its music suited to the action (my favorite is: "Birthday Cake", by Cibo Matto) , the game is above all about fast tagging and skating which, enriched with acrobatic tricks and combos that have to be gradually learned during gameplay, can be a lot of fun at its own end, and the speedy rhythm sometimes makes one want skaters in some other video games, too...
Outcome also of the past-decade Japanese pop culture featuring (future) Tokyo and aimed at a juvenile public, but certainly more violence-bound, Phantom Crash (Phantagram, 2002) addresses all those interested in the Machine Wars for the present 21st century to come. The story, visually situated between Manga and Matrix, takes place in year 2031 in the streets of Tokyo, basically the three anarchic districts called the Neglected Area, "Shinjuku West3", "Shibuya West Valley2", "Tokyo Aqua 409", since the failed 'Cloudbuster' experiment in 2020 converted all East Asia in a desert due to a dramatic increase of the carbon dioxide level.
In Quest Mode, after a lengthy introduction by Pepper, local 'gaido' from ClubWired, and her partner 'Salsa' (a cat chip), one is to create an Alias, choose a Scoobee and join the Wire Heads in order to go 'Rumbling', the SV-clashing combat games fought rather than played without particular rules ('anything goes' until you win) by mostly teenage competitors each equipped by an improvable intelligent Chip along with a robot-like, well-armed Scoobee, both derivatives of late 20th-century military technology leaking out to civilians. The prize money in New Yen –the official currency acknowledged in the contest areas– one can win in the contests (after deducing fees and reparation costs) by defeating the maximum number of opponents, can be used to upgrade the SVs through buying used modules (weapons, additional abilities like optic camouflage, customized colors, stickers, the favorite songs...) in several in-game shops, as well as worthwhile chip improvements: sort of man-machine interface the pseudo-human AI animal type chips support the SV pilots with their respective abilities making attacks and defense more efficient and are even able to recognize the personal relationship with their owner... Successively fighting and upgrading one's way up through the different areas' ranks does make the game's setup ever more customized during gameplay giving it sort of a role-playing touch that might also recall some futuristic races like Quantum Redshift (Microsoft).
Being all about speed and armed fight, the good working, intuitive controls in handling the SVs make this rapid game with its fast-paced battles an exciting every-day pleasure where one is only sorry that no online extension has been opening the three above mentioned structurally unique but restricted Tokyo areas for multiplayer pleasures.
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
The same combination of military and experimental elements, though with other results, can be found in Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (Midway, 2004), third-person shooter on the background of a nazi-type story with some mad general leading an army composed of brain-washed soldiers and newly generated monsters. After the abandonment of 'Project Mindgate', the American 20th-century Psi program using paranormal aptitudes to the end of espionage once finished the Cold War, the ambitious General William Krieger, accused of war crimes when abusing the program's powerful resources in a non-authorized manner, has been forming a new underground Psi army known as the 'Movement'. From some secret bases he is planning to take over world power and his revenge thanks to a happy few endowed with Psi powers dominating the simple-minded as well as a strange artifact known as the 'Monolith', and it is only the likable Nick Scryer, brain-washed former UNO anti-terrorist agent remotely assisted by blond telepathy specialist Sara Blake, who finds his way through all this mess in order to prevent the General from fully realizing his evil intentions...
During the film-like story Nick is successively regaining both his memory and former Psi abilities –and the player along with–, which are in fact amazing, including telekinesis as the most outstanding one, remote and astral view, mental control, mind drain, and pyrokinesis, and which help him to defeat the legions of manipulated enemies as well as their insane bosses.
– A captivating game with tough boss-fights and a lot of suspense I did always like for its ingenious controls –enabling one to launch the soldiers themselves rather than firing at them, or to use them (and their minds) for shooting at their fellows– which might remotely recall the recently released Mindjack (Square Enix).
TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
A lot funnier than Psi-Ops is TimeSplitters: Future Perfect (Electronic Arts, 2005) coming along with a sci-fi inspired supremacist story not to take too serious but with wit and a lot of splendid ideas. Likable character less frustrated than Scryer, Cortez is a spacetime marine time-hopping back and forth in the different centuries –1924 to 2401!– in order to prevent retrospectively the creation of a superior predator race –the TimeSplitters– through a certain Crow, evil mind behind the U-Genix project, by means of the Time Crystals. Shorter and less profound than Psi-Ops, the story provides a variety of science-based ideas one might recall from Star Trek and the likes, for instance, the time travelling via 'wormholes' causing –as humorist as useful– time loop paradoxes, i.e., repeated scenes between the past and the future Cortez with each one helping the other out, as well as an arsenal of different weapons adapted to the respective time period.
Like the other first-person shooters of the TimeSplitters series this game is based on fast action getting its charms from its multiple features; what might be criticized, for instance, the story being a mere pretext for action, surely doesn't hold for this one, while I like it above all for its highly entertaining nonstop gameplay that doesn't need resorting to neither sexy cheats nor sophisticated walkthroughs in order to complete the game in due time. And it is fun, the dialogues as well as additional details packed in, like the in-game laboratory terminals, the jukebox on Khallos Express, the minigame-like circuits, the human-like robots...
The boss fights might be a little feeble in comparison to those of Psi-Ops but they follow also a less orthodox structural scheme, and one might be compensated through the many additional playing modes offered by the game, as Arcade plus League option, the Challenge mode, Mapmaker, and, in principle, the online Multiplayer mode (that might be a little outdated now, though).
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
After that much 1st/3rd hand future it's time to dip a little in the medieval fantasy world: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Electronic Arts, 2003) certainly is not pure Harry Potter (whom I am no fan of), but doesn't the Middle-Earth-in-disorder story with legions of undeads instrumentalized in an obscure interest of world domination also remind of a failed mega-experiment...? And isn't the famous 'One Ring' just like PsiOps' 'Monolith' an instrument to gain superior powers which, as a metaphor for power as such, necessarily corrupts the character of whom has it in his/her possession?
The Return of the King is pure breath-taking action, moreover, the frantic battles on the background of cinematic scenes and scenery are appealing not only to the fans of the The Lord of the Rings movies and acceptable also according to today visual standards. The well-known story is relatively simple but assumes the player's familiarity with the trilogy's previous parts, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, setting in after a brief introductory cutscene with wizard Gandalf's well-timed arrival at the break of dawn with the Riders of Rohan, decisive for putting rival Sauron's terrifying armies into retreat in order to win the battle of Helm's Deep, prerequisite again for accessing the main menu's structure. The three paths to choose from here reflect those of the main characters: the "path of the wizard", the "path of the hobbit", the "path of the king," the missions of which have to be finished in proper order but permit to select one of the six playable characters: Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Sam, Frodo, available in function of the level chosen but successively unlocked during the game, each of whom differing somewhat by attack type and speed as well as their unique –improvable– abilities to be enhanced by means of the experience points won during the preceding mission (unless one chooses the more expensive "fellowship upgrades" benefiting to all).
The game gets its special thrill out of the hectic and frenzied action when having to find one's way through avalanches of collapsing walls and against hordes of enemies coming out of nowhere, a breathless, hot plate-like situation fuelling the illusion to be in the center of the movies' original battles and able to contribute decisively to Middle Earth's final destiny.
Men of Valor
Ceaseless action against legions of enemies coming out of nowhere can be found also in Men of Valor (2015/Sierra, 2004), first-person shooter again taking place during the Vietnam War that I for no real anti-militarist have been starting anew (along with some other Medal of Honor games I wanted to tackle again).
I recently read in a commentary on video games and their supposed positive/negative effects by a local science popularizer that (probably non-localized) video games were good in order to improve individual language skills so I might consider myself really fortunate since all my games are in either English, French, Spanish, even Japanese... (while I am actually a native German speaker – anybody out there needing some translations?) Well, doing this game in French I felt a bit like Légion étrangère here and the French setting might not appear that inappropriate when thinking of the whole Indochina context, either.
Anyway, cowardice doesn't pay off in the lively firefights against the communist Viet-Cong and Nord-Vietnamese army making this a really challenging –also by its tension-rising save system– and not too out-dated game (as I had the chance to do a bit of SOCOM4 (Sony) yet) focusing on the Vietnam War (1965-68 ).
Controls and weapons are easy and efficiently to handle, in spite of the archaic introductory tutorial, convincingly conveying the feeling of being close to the nerve of the actual battlefield. The landscape with its dense and rather detailed textures still looks amazingly real in both its intact and destroyed condition, contrary to the somewhat awkward character animations however enriched by original-seeming material, photos, briefings, letters as well as original quotations of political statements giving the game a more authentic, almost documentary character: "It is patriotism, not communism that inspired me." (Ho Chi Minh) – "It cannot be called a grand nation anymore that betrays its friends and allies." (Richard Nixon)
Moreover, having been one of the first wars fully covered by the media, Men of Valor also critically treats how war information is made up by the national and international press (e.g., a reporter would report that entire villages had been burnt regardless of women and children while in the desolate straw huts there had been nobody but clusters of yet silenced highly-armed guerrilla snipers).
In addition to the single-player mode there is a cooperative and a online multiplayer mode being offered that might yet be more spectacular with newer games like SOCOM and the likes but still is worth being mentioned here since all in all this too is a game still too interesting to fall into complete oblivion yet...
PS: PC games other than my current Disney battles and surely not to be abandoned once started: Splinter Cell, Half Life, Matrix... – is it really that inappropriate revisiting the better games of yesteryear?
Epic Mickey, as covered by GameSpot , seemed me a really awesome game that surely can be recommended without objection for the promising videogamer offspring. Another one of Disney's ingenious creations standing out in my recently refreshed off-price collection of ancient PC games is Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon (2002).
While there surely is no real need to advertise Disney, this game brilliantly combines historical with futuristic elements thus allowing to sail with 18th-century frigates and galleons equipped with both traditional and laser cannons in open space, exposed to elementary as well as human dangers, in order to win in a conflict opposing the two major political blocks of the galaxy, the Procyon and the Terran Empire, one technologically, the other industrially superior to the other.
Kevin-V mentioned in his blog "The Problem of Genre" about one year ago that "when developing Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry described it as 'Wagon Train to the stars'"; well, Battle at Procyon –actually labeled Strategy game– surely is no Western but more likely a historically inspired naval battle adventure relocated in a Sci-Fi environment: Space, the final frontier.
And it is above all about navy vessels in space: the story takes place five years after the events of the film, Treasure Planet, and in single-player mode gives life to young Jim Hawkins, hero known from the movie, now officer in Her Majesty Illysa II's service after his graduation from the Navy Academy.
Taking the ship rather than the train, and as Jim Hawkins rather than Jim Kirk, over twelve epic missions one is putting on the solar sails in order to help other ships courageously out of vital dangers, as it is: asteroids, nebulae, black holes – and pirates.
Completing the different missions one is rising in rank allowing to gain ever larger and better ships as well as a greater fleet to command which might too be customized choosing between thirteen different weapon types and particular crewmen, including conquered enemy ships coming under one's control.
And throughout the missions one does also find out what the real menace is: mysterious alien ships called 'Ironclads', armoured –as their name indicates– well-armed destructors and submarines with smoking chimneys instead of sails now infiltrating the Terran Empire's homeland after allegedly starting to cause ravages in Procyon territory six months ago and responsible for the sudden disappearance of numerous of the Royal Navy's patrol ships.
Following on peace talks between the two conflicting powers on the subject of the commercially vital McCullough current crossing both territories to become neutral territory, the Terran Queen has yet sent ships of her Navy to help the Procyons, raccoon-like warriors of somewhat Sly-ish features, while the Procyons Diplomatic fleet is coming to the Terran Parliament for negotiation. However, as if to honor their prejudicial appearance, the whole has been planned by the Procyons as a trap: after first missing the chance to join the fleet at the Frontier, it is nobody else but Jim Hawkins to discover the true identity of the Ironclads, in reality Procyon vessels in disguise trying to distract the Navy fleets while kidnapping the Terran Queen. And Jim too is fooled once again through an evil robot imitating his long-term pirate friend Long John Silver, who (the authentic one) in the end however comes to help saving him in the final battle of Ironclads aggressing the fleet under his command. As one might expect, or as it should be, in the end it's the right ones that win, and the Empire is saved with the Procyons being forced into peace terms thanks to their treachery.
Well, while one might consider this a simple everyday story, what is most appealing to the game is just easily navigating a rather conventional ship through the beautifully colored Etherium ("fascinating", as Mr. Spock might put it), with islands rather than small planets and populated by some strange but good-natured beings like the space whales, thanks to its intuitive, not overly sophisticated controls and smooth, simplified gameplay.
And it is really not boring at all, as Strategy games sometimes can be (as I am rather into action), though as with Creatures, one might sometimes want to do something different in parallel...
Check it out:
Rather sort of a "second hand gamer" (as I'm not getting payed for playing new ones ;-) a short while ago I stepped into a used items shop to look for some old computer games to be used on my pretty low-end laptop PC (rather than on one of my more performing two desktop PCs) in order to give it a new reason of being, also in terms of its lower energy consumption.
One of those now shamefully cheap games I stumbled over yet worth a second look has been "The World's Most Advanced Artificial Life Game!" Creatures (tm) ― The Albian Years (© 2004 Fusion / Creature Labs).
I've recently been asking myself what games are made for women and what games women are apt for, so this may be one of them ― as it is all about hatching, raising, mating, breeding, successfully reproducing some amazing virtual creatures called "Norns" over successive generations within a seemingly straight world called "Albia", with evolution and "natural" selection allowing to improve their genes over time...
One might argue that the whole concept of breeding ones favorites and passing on their genes and characteristics to the next generation, getting even different game players to export and exchange successful individuals over Internet for procreational purposes in order to avoid in-game inbreeding, smells of eugenics; rather harmless I found it however quite enjoyful a world to explore and less destructive than most of the video games I use to spend my time with...
And the story is not that simple, either: while other video games like "Little Big Planet" (Sony) or "Create" (EA) offer more variety for the player's individual creativity, this one comes along with a lot of (real) scientific stuff packed into: so these artificial life forms are complete with their own digital DNA, brain, biochemistry, and ―quite picturesque― environment, thus modelling real biological systems on the computer's virtual one. In fact, the different tools provided to the potential "breeder" for successful observation are quite challenging: the health kit, for instance, allows to monitor each of the artificial biosystems' chemical processes and brain activity , whereas the science kit permits to follow the actual hormonal and chemical blood stream levels or to study the chromosome map ― encompassing almost all aspects making up a full individual being except, perhaps, astrology though a birth certificate is being edited for each of the creatures, too, at the given moment.
It is said that none of the creatures' behavior had been specifically programmed. Indeed, they show each an amazing dynamism of their own, allowing you easily to play some other game on another console in the same time, but while they are good-natured, social, and curious by nature, the young Norns ―and this is where yet another type of AI comes into play― are also to be taught and guided (what might recall some other more recent games like the "Ivy the Kiwi" (Gamebridge)): by learning them some basic linguistic concepts of communication ― come, look, get, eat, push... and to act accordingly, and the names of object categories like food, plants, toys, bigtoys, music― by means of a proper computer device, by rewarding or punishing the Norn through "tickling" or "spanking" with the cursor-hand, by getting them to distinguish the good from the bad in a world full of dangers...
Sure, there are the usual predators, in this case, the green-skinned, red-eyed, disease-carrying Grendels that like to steal food and beat up the Norns thus seriously damaging their health, some annoying insects like the Cave Fly or the Carrot Beetle, as well as several bad weeds ―the Death Cap, the Nightshade, the Ugly Tomato―, which have to be carefully distinguished from the healing plants and edible food, especially the ―aphrodizing― Tomato, Carrots, Lemon, Cheese, and Honey. So while the real Tomatoes carrying Adrenaline should stimulate sex drive and thus favor reproduction among Norns, on eating an "ugly", spotty one, a Norn is losing its lust and in consequence, interest in mating, which might be useful if you don't want it to breed due to its genetic ill-disposition.
And just like any other truly biological life form, the Norns eventually die, from disease or starvation, which one should avoid through caring and curing, or finally old age (after ten hours), whereupon they come to the Creature Graveyard where their memory might be stored for the future with some consoling words and nice snapshots, but fortunate individuals might even virtually survive via their digital DNA in case of having had some life-fit descendants.
Creatures 2 (and successors) offers a couple of advanced features: new tools and toolbars and many expanded possibilities ―the feelings trainer, neuroscience and ecology kits, a genetic splicing machine allowing crossbreeding even between grendels and ettins―, new species, both animals and plants, like ants, bats, and snails, potato and pear plant, a new whole huge world-on-a-disc to discover.
However, my first prototype here passed away relatively fast due to exhaustion so be careful to train it well to be prepared for a life in a world full of dangerous temptations...
As I seem unable to post a comment to my own blog, just to ad(d) to the last one:
Actually Assassin's Grid is quite different from Assassin's Creed –which I for sure will acquire one day!– but nevertheless an interesting experience. While it is said to be happening in year 2028 it is more like an anarchic grid –that's why the name– *parallel* to Second Life's (yet virtual) 'meta-verse' (sort of 'game within a game'). This is to say, one is moving and behaving in the same SL places populated by the same SL people as ever but secretly belonging to the Assassin's Grid –composed of Slayers, Assassins and Deathstalkers–, as long as one's Avatar is 'wearing' the player faction HUD attached (just one click and s/he isn't an assassin anymore...); you might think of networks like Mafia or Masonry here.
Of course one can attack each other and (virtually) die, as in most other video games, and there are even Leaderboards for Top Kills, Top Conquerors, Top Traders, and so on, according to the faction players belong to ( http://www.assassinsgrid.com/leaderboards.php ).
However, as stated before, for me there are more reasons to get started with Second Life (ask Little Lostlinden who seems much more expert than humble me), and there is also a lot more role-playing to discover here...
Anyway, thanks for your interest.
There has been a recent discussion about Second Life on GameSpot (http://www.gamespot.com/news/6285825.html?om_act=convert&om_clk=hot-stories&tag=hot-stories%3Bcomment%3B2#generic_comments), so as one of the SL-fans I felt like adding something about SL game culture here on my new GS blog.
In fact, there are quite a lot of interesting games for everyone's taste that might be worth a look:
For instance, Assassin's Grid, a "multi-player Combat and Acquisition game" under development by Akaesha Designs that does permit entering action right away.
While Assassin's Creed is an Action Adventure aiming at subverting the Borgias' influence in Historic Rome, Assassins Grid is sort of a secret parallel society to Second Life's real-time Metaverse where you can claim land and power where and whenever you like.
And like in real life you might be better off with some real dollars but it's true that actually you don't need any money in Second Life since there is a lot of free stuff around to equip if necessary.
Please check out:
SL: City of Nu Karne - Assassin's Grid (Free to Play MMO/FPS), Akaesha Island - Moderate
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