Category Archives: Editorial Archives

Sony PSP US System Launch – What’s in the Box and Can You Even Get One

Sony PSP US System Launch – What’s in the Box and Can You Even Get One
Written by Mark Smith

Originally Published on March 18, 2005

With the calendar ticking away the final few days until the much–anticipated North America PSP launch, GCM wanted to give you the scoop on just what your hard-earned $249 US is going to get you next Thursday at 12:01am. But just what are the odds of getting a system if you haven’t already pre-ordered one? We decided to call a few major outlets and see.

EB (Electronics Boutique) representatives at the two local stores we called claimed that they only had enough to fill pre-orders. If you didn’t prepay, don’t even show up. Best Buy (who will not be selling them at midnight) had 80 units already on hand while Circuit City only had 20. The two area Wal-Marts had 60 and 50 bundles respectively and with a little digging we found the entire state of Indiana will have just under 8,000 PSP’s in all Wal-Mart stores, most are already there locked-up in the backroom. Target had 20 units already on hand, and the two local GameStops (Babbages) declined to comment on exact numbers but said that each store would have “limited quantities available for those who didn’t pre-order.”

Of all the stores we talked to they all confirmed a “one unit per person” policy so hopefully the price jacking and eBay profiteering we’ve all experienced with the PS2 launch and the recent Nintendo DS launch won’t be as dramatic.

Game will be plentiful with more than a dozen launch titles, many of which are already in stores. Game sales are already doing well in software stores where people who have pre-ordered and “know” they are getting a unit, while retail shoppers are taking a wait-and-see approach. The local Wal-Mart has only sold one copy of NFS Underground in the past 72 hours even though they have several titles and numerous quantities of each already in the display case.

So just what will you get if you are one of the dedicated few who have already pre-ordered your PSP or plan to get in line next Wednesday? There seems to be a lot of resentment about the PSP only being released as a bundle. After all, we’re talking about a handheld unit that costs $100 more than the PS2. We dug into the PSP bundle to find out exactly what you will get and if you will even want it.

The PSP box is large, or at least larger than any of us expected after seeing the compact box of the DS. But the proof is in the contents:

  • PlayStation Portable Game System – Damn, is this thing sexy, and it feels so good in your hands.
  • PSP Battery Pack – This 1800mAh lithium ion battery runs the system and depending on what you are doing can last 4-8 hours. It only takes a few hours to get it fully recharged.
  • AC Adapter & Power Cord – The cord plugs into the adapter, and the adapter plugs into the PSP. You can use the adapter to charge the battery and also play games on AC power, but not at the same time.
  • Headphones – A pair of relatively cheap earbuds. They work well enough but you’ll probably want to use your own headset, something you’ve already broken in.
  • Remote Control – Just like the iPod this remote dongle can be used to control music and movies. It plugs into the PSP’s headphone and remote slot, and has a 1/8″ plug for headphones – either the ones included or your own. A clip on the back snaps onto your clothes for easy access to your PSP multimedia while it’s in your pocket. Buttons on the remote include Play/Pause, Skip Left/Right, Volume Up/Down, and a Hold switch to lock up the controls from accidental bumping.
  • 32MB Memory Stick Duo – Not the more powerful PRO Duo type, but still plenty powerful for game save storage and video and audio playback. If you plan on ripping your own DVD’s to Memory Stick then you will want to invest in at least a 512MB Duo and serious movie buffs should head straight for the 1GB stick. Expect Duo prices to skyrocket in the next few months so buy early.
  • Pouch – A padded soft pouch with a PSP logo protects your new investment and frees up your Crown Royal bag for your D&D dice.
  • Wrist Strap – A white leather tether to connect to the hook on the end of your PSP. You can use the strap and pouch together with the pouch provided some decent protection assuming you don’t have a pocket.
  • Cleaning Cloth – A small gray micro-fiber cloth that keeps those annoying fingerprints off the screen – but then again, this isn’t a DS so STOP touching your screen.
  • Instructional Manual – This multilingual tome approaches 400 pages in length and can be used to beat back anyone who gets to close to your new system
  • Quick Reference Guide – The 16-page Readers Digest version of the main manual.
  • PlayStation Underground Flier – An advertisement for SCEA’s enthusiast service. Sign up at the site, and you can get a free issue of the Official US PlayStation Magazine and a lifetime supply of spam.
  • Technical Support Flier – A small yellow sheet on getting help with your PlayStation systems. Considering 6% of the Japanese systems were defective you might want to hang onto this.
  • ESRB Flier – Learn how the ESRB is trying to replace parental involvement with their kids with retailer responsibility.
  • Sampler Disc for PSP: Volume 1 – A video-only demo disc (non-playable) of PSP music, movies and games. If you don’t get one of the first one-million units (with Spidey) then at least you get a sample of the DVD video quality.
  • Spider-Man 2 UMD Video – The biggest movie of 2004, given away free with the first million PSP hardware systems sold. The movie is slightly reformatted for the PSP screen aspect ratio but only Sam Rami can tell the difference.
  • Cardboard Stuffing & Plastic Wrappers – Always save this for the duration of your warranty…just in case.

So, if this all sounds like something you want, pack a lunch, grab your GBA or NDS and head to your local retailer next Wednesday and get in line. Quantities are limited but at this time there is no real way to judge the level of interest, especially when you are going to have to drop $300 for the system and at least one game.

Sony has also timed their release to either coincide with college spring break around the county or even worse, launching the week after spring break to a bunch of broke and hung over college students – the prime demographic for this system. There might just be a few systems left in stores Thursday afternoon.

For those taking the wait-and-see approach, your patience is commendable and possibly insightful. We’ve already heard the horror stories coming from Japan about the faulty Square button and some units that eject the UMD disc for no apparent reason. Sony has acknowledged these problems but hasn’t commented on whether they have been fixed for the North America release. You might just want to buy that extended warranty if one is available.

Whether you buy this week, next month, or next year, the PSP is destined to change the way we play handheld games. With the bright crisp display and comfortable feel to the unit, plus the additional support for MP3 music and MP4 movies, the PSP is more than just a gaming system. It’s a portable entertainment center.

Look for our full system review and launch game coverage coming soon…

Close Combat: First to Fight

Close Combat: First to Fight
Written by Pfc. Justin Grandfield

Originally Published on December 9, 2004

New Marine Corps video game puts players into “Close Combat”.

The Marines move with quickness and agility through the old, abandoned building in Beirut. It is not long before the Devil Dogs encounter resistance from enemy forces. The battle is fierce, but is over in mere moments, with the Marines emerging victorious. These Marines, however, never really fought this battle. The Leathernecks are virtual representations of Marines placed in a video game.

“Close Combat: First to Fight,” created by Destineer Studios, in association with Headquarters, Marine Corps, the 1st Marine Division and Atomic Games, is a new training tool to help Marines learn about combat, and show civilians the type of work Marine infantrymen do during combat missions.

“First to Fight” will be used as a learning tool to teach Marines about close combat in urban terrain. The player leads a four-man fire team in close quarters urban combat in the streets of Beirut. The game incorporates many doctrines that are currently in use by infantry units deployed around the world. More than 40 active-duty U.S. Marines, ranking from privates to colonels, who recently returned from frontline fighting in the Middle East assisted in the creation of the game, according the game’s official website.

The game employs the Marine Corps doctrine of “Ready-Team-Fire-Assist” to provide players with all-around team security during game play. The same doctrine is used in Middle Eastern conflicts. Players call in for support from snipers, air strikes, mortar fire and more as if they were part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), according to the site.

Marines recently returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) provided input on the game. This enabled developers to tailor the game to the Marine Corps’s training needs and enhance the game’s combat realism, said Lt. Col. Chris Sharp at the 2004 Single Marine Program Worldwide Forum.

Realistic images, faces and bodies of Marines were mapped into the game to give it a more realistic feel, Sharp said.

Currently, videos and images are available to the public at www.firsttofight.com. Marines who have seen the game trailer commented on the game.

“This shows what Marines are really going through,” said LCpl. Carlos Rivero, a file and directives clerk, “It’s very realistic.”

“The graphics and battle scheme are top-notch,” said LCpl. Josh Rowe, a physical security clerk, “It’s good that the developers are using real Marine Corps strategies in the game.”

“We’ve been trying to make this game authentic to the Marine Corps,” said Steven Charbonneau, public relations and community manager for Destineer Studios, “We’re trying to give people a sense of what Marines go through in a combat environment. It also gives non-infantry Marines a chance to be a fire team leader for a while.”

The game developers applied the “psychology model” concept to give the game a sense of realism. Players’ characters have a will of their own and are affected by the other players’ tactics. The psychology model was also applied to the enemies in the game. Players’ tactics could be used to scare their opponents, deplete enemy will to fight or cause the enemy to make a mistake, said Charbonneau.

“The human will is an essential force that governs all action in war fighting,” said Peter Tamte, president of Destineer Studios. He explained that human will is a driving force for a combatant, and should thus be put into this game to give it a sense of realism.

There will be three different versions of the game. A retail version will be available commercially. Another version will only be available as a military training tool. The third game will be distributed to all Marines, and will contain 50 percent of the content from the retail version.

City of Heroes: Six Months Later

City of Heroes: Six Months Later
Written by Aaron Daigle

Originally Published on December 5, 2004

Paragon City has for over six months now shown like a beacon of justice, hailing heroes from across the globe to join in the fight against the scourge of crime and chaos sullying her fair streets. In the last two months players have gotten access to a few very nifty new features that really have polished the Paragon experience to a high gloss shine. From new rewards and missions to helpful new features, Cryptic Studios and NCSoft have so far shown a tireless drive to hone their game into one of the finest online gaming experiences around.

One of the loudest complaints heard ‘cross the net has been roughly along the lines of: OMGZ wh4r r teh C4pes!!!!!111~!11 This GAM SUX0rs witout teh CAPES@!!@!@!!!1 YOU r teh GAY Craptic studios!!!!111!

Now all you cape whoring miscreants can pipe down. Not only did Issue 2 give us capes, Cryptic went out of their way to explain their prior absence in the in game lore. Why were there no capes? The heroes of Paragon doffed them in honor of the sacrifice of Hero 1 who perished taking the fight to the Rikti menace. Now that the official period of mourning is over, heroes of security level 20 and up can under take a mission to prove themselves worthy of wearing a cape. They look really great too; some rather skillful collision and physics programming must have gone into them to make them turn out this well. And it doesn’t end at level 20, when you hit thirty you can earn “Effects,” think a corona of electricity or glowing eyes.

Along with capes, Badges are now awarded for certain accomplishments in the game. These feats range from simply visiting significant locations, to completing some of the more complex storylines. Most badges seem to be strictly for bragging rights, while others have bonuses tied to them like additional powers. Badges have, for me at least, provided an activity to work on while I wait for a group.

And speaking of groups, the new player search system has been rolled out. Those of you who have played the game will remember that prior to update 2 you could only see players looking for groups that were in the same part of the city as you. And you still can, but now you have the option of looking at everyone that playing never mind if they want to group or not, you can sort and filter them by level, Archetype, Origin, hell you can even search for a specific character by name! This was really a much needed feature, and if they would be so kind as to allow you to make a note to go along with your listing, ala Everquest, it will be perfect.

Maybe you’re like me and picked up the odd power that you never use or worse yet doesn’t really make sense for your character to possess. Now at level 24 you have to option heading to the Terra Volta reactor and completing a harrowing Taskforce Mission to earn a badge you can then turn in to reconfigure your powers. Basically it allows you to wipe the slate clean to a certain point and pick your powers and enhancement slots again as though you were just earning them. You have to keep your Archetype, Origin and primary and secondary power sets but everything else can be changed to suit your tastes.

In addition to the nifty new stuff above, we’ve been introduced to two new game zones, the Shadow Shard and the Hollows. And like in any MMO worth its bandwidth, the new zones come fully populated with brand new hostile entities ready and waiting to pound the odd hero to paste! Other little other little tweaks include the choice to turn down a teleport or resurrection. It used to be so frustrating when you’d be doing your thing and some dork would teleport you across the damn map with out your permission.

The bottom line I think is that Cryptic has given away more content in the last six months than most MMOs make you pay for at least once a year with their expansions. So, what do we have to look forward to in the future? Content update number 3, titled “A Council of War”, ought to be out sometime by the end of the month, bringing with it two freaky new archetypes available to players with a level 50 character, global chat, and much more. Cryptic may be getting your fifteen bucks a month, but at least they are spending a good chunk of it on you!

 

HALO 2: LIMITED EDITION – The Second Disc

HALO 2: LIMITED EDITION – The Second Disc
Written by Blake Kenny

Originally Published on November 26, 2004

For those of us who broke down and spent the extra $5-$10 (depending on where you live), for the Limited Edition version of Halo 2, we not only received a worthwhile sequel to a huge Xbox success, but we also took a rare and fascinating, behind the scenes journey into the production of a monster hit.

While special features are somewhat of a rarity amongst videogames, especially when taken to this magnitude, it’s all the rage when deciding which edition of a DVD you should choose to purchase; and while many of us are familiar with the “ins” and “outs” of making a feature film, very few of us have been fortunate enough to witness the level of drive, dedication and determination that goes into making a successful videogame.

After all, few of us are even aware that the videogame industry now brings in more revenue throughout the year than the box office. Granted, this is a recent statistic and wasn’t the case a few years ago, but it does serve to show that videogames have become big business. Spider-man may have been a gigantic film, but in the end, Halo 2 will likely bring in bigger dollars – at least in the short term. In fact, over the next few years the sale videogames is also expected to topple the music industry. Pretty cool stuff.

On the flip side, feature films have something videogames don’t – longevity. After all, films like the original Star Wars Trilogy still generates massive profits (at least for one man) to this very day – and in the end, most videogames are just fondly remembered. At least until 10 years go by and Bungie releases – ”Bungie’s Console Treasures Vol 1”.

Still, I digress; we all know Halo 2 is huge, especially since we’ve all drooled over its impending arrival for years now. While I’ve personally heard a lot of mixed opinions on the game, as to whether it’s better or worse than the original, just more of the same or what have you, that stuff’s all irrelevant now. Its success has been proven and it’s continued success is assured.

Still, I’m not sitting here to cast my vote on Halo 2, Mark’s already been kind enough to do that. My opinion is secondary, I’m here to tell you what to expect from the 2nd disc in its nicely packaged metal casing.

So the burning question, “Were the extra couple bucks worth the investment?” Well in my opinion it was a no-brainer. After viewing the disc I can undoubtedly say that “Yes” it was worth it, even if I never watch it again. Hey, I’ll admit, games aren’t cheap, but once you’ve gone so far, why not go a little farther and get more for your money. “Sure, I’ll supersize it!” Anyway, here’s what you can expect to see on disc 2 of the special – Halo 2 Limited Edition.

FOOT NOTE: The bracketed number beside the feature title indicates the running time of the program.

First up on our beefy supplemental DVD is our primary feature entitled. Behind the Scenes: Making of Halo 2 (52:44). This is by far one of the most comprehensive and engaging programs you will ever see regarding the production of a game. While nearly hour is hardly enough time to cover the extensive number of years it takes to create a game from start to finish, it still manages to sum everything up rather nicely in one cohesive little package.

This segment contains interviews and comments from key players in the production of the game, including the Project Lead: Jason Jones, Director of Cinematic: Joseph Staten, Art Director: Marcus Lento, Game Design Lead: Jamie Griesemer, Mission Designer: Tyson Green, Senior Animator: Nathan Walpole, Music Composer: Martin O’Donnel and a whole slew of others participants.

As insiders during the production of Halo 2 we are privy to see much of the work that went into the creation of the game, including the feverish efforts that went into producing the playable level that Bungie would show off at last years E3 or Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Not only did the demo shown “wowed” that crowds, including many of us who saw it on the Internet, but we learn that everything prepared for E3 wasn’t exactly as it appeared to be. While audiences were thrilled, we learn soon after that Bungie technically didn’t have a game at that point. While it raised our hopes for what the game would come to be, the truth of the matter is, these guys were panicking. The E3 demonstration was nothing more than a hallow offering for a game that was nowhere near where the creative team needed to be. Fortunately for us, the game was completed, and while not living up to exactly everything Bungie wanted for it, players still seem to be pretty happy with the final result.

With the close of E3 2004 the team punches it into high gear to get the game completed on time. 7 days weeks and long hours are the order of the days as Bungie works the code. However, they still manage to find some downtime for a little volleyball and dodgeball. In addition some of them attend a Halo LAN party at the home of Claude Errera, the webmaster for halo.bungie.org Here we see how the original game, after so many years still remains fun for this house full of digital sportsmen. Guests fly in from all over to play, as witnessed when you see the on multiple TV’s and projectors set up all over his home to facilitate the event. Sure looks like a good time, pizza and beer, what more do you need? It’s enough to make you want to dust off your old copy of Halo and get together with some buddies; not that I would expect anyone to have dust on theirs.

As work continues on the game we watch as some of the creative team partakes in actual weapons training from real-life soldiers. This is just some of the nitty gritty work required to bring real world authenticity to what is obviously a fictional world.

In addition we get to see some of the hard work that went into the creation of the popular animated web shorts of Red Vs Blue. Using the original Halo game and exploiting something they reluctantly call a “glitch” in the game, we see how this talented group of guys created something unique and entertaining, it’s certainly work checking out.

While the production of the game is moving along rather smoothly, despite their desires for more time, we see how sacrifices are made to the game in order to appease time constraints. Unfortunate as it is, vehicles and even the use of a combat knife are cut from the final game.

Nearing completion we see a lengthy section on the music and voice work that went into the game. As many of us know, the music is an often overlooked but crucial factor in creating the mood and atmosphere. Halo 2 covers this angle nicely and with well-known actor like Keith David, Robert Davi, Michelle Rodriguez, Miguel Ferrer, Orlando Jones, Michael Wincott and Ron Pearlman lending their talents – the game’s sound is quite simply over the top.

While I haven’t covered everything that’s to be seen in this part of the DVD, it does serve to give you some insight. Overall I found it to be highly entertaining and informative. As mentioned, we don’t get to see this sort of stuff very often and for hardcore gamers it’s a big bonus to see the effort and passion that the creative people at Bungie have to put forward to feed the desire of fans.

Next up on the DVD is a section entitled: Developing the Game, this segment is split up into 3 parts, beginning with Visualizing the Story (5:27).

In essence this section deals a lot with the larger scope of the storyline in Halo 2. In particular the addition of a playable Covenant character known simply as the Arbiter; and how his inclusion in the game, along with that of the Master Chief allows the player to venture through 2 separate stories taking place simultaneously. We also see how other new characters like the Prophets and the Brutes play pivotal roles in this new story arch. One Brute in specific, named Tartanus becomes one of the main focal points of the sequel and is the game’s protagonist.

Next we have Designing Levels (4:32). This part discusses the wide variety of locals the player will venture through. Battles in outer space, on Earth and the Prophet homeworld are just a few of the locations we’ll view, along with an all-new Halo Ring. We see much here, from the crude hand drawn level designs all the way up to the finished product.

3rd on our list is Beyond Single Player: Multiplayer and Live (5:59). This segment talks a lot about how new and improved ideas were added to spice up the common features usually found in multiplayer games. For example, CTF or Capture the Flag as always been a staple of multiplayer gaming. Here we learn how the usual, symmetrical designs of a level were removed in favour of more emphasis on being either the attacker or the defender. Having one flag with each side of the map and taking turns in either role.

We also see how Bungie incorporated little additions like player logos and indicators, proximity voices, customizable appearances, clans, and statistics via Bungie.com to add a whole new levels of functionality to Xbox Live play. One key addition being the Party System, which allows groups of friends to travel from one game to the next without losing one another in the shuffle.

Next up is the Bonus Material. This section is cut into 4 primary categories, each of which has additional subcategories within.

First is Cutting Room Floor. This part deals with both Cinematics (7:37) and Weapons, Vehicles & Characters (4:38) – all of which were cut from the game for one reason or another, be those time constraints or simple impracticality.

Each segment is commentated by several members of the Bungie staff and while we view the material they discuss their opinions of the deleted items and edited scenes. While we don’t see much of interest within the cinematics we get to see a lot of cool stuff in the 2nd segment that unfortunately didn’t make it into the final cut of the game.

Some of these things include the Mongoose; the ATV that was much talked about in the beginning of development, but was eventually removed for logistical reasons. We also view the edited flamethrower. While this weapons was fully modeled and realized within the game, it was eventually removed from the final product. We also see several design sketches for creatures and other covenant troops that were tossed out. While many were pretty cool, like a bipedal creature that could actually be ridden, other’s like the Doberman Gator were utterly ridiculous and thankfully removed from the completed game. Hopefully they’ve thrown that design right about the window.

Like the previous section, Commentaries is divided into 2 parts as well. Namely Halo Origins (4:16) and First Look: Halo 2 (4:06).

Halo Origins is by far the most interesting because it shows a lot of the early computer work that went into the original game. Some of it is actually pretty hilarious as you view the rather crude work to be seen in the beginning. It’s was curious to see how the Warthog originally started out looking much like a typical, modern-day Humvee. It was also interesting to see how the game was at first to take place in a 3rd person perspective, allowing the player to see Master Chief fully at all times. During this segment the guys have a lot to say about this early work, they laugh constantly and obviously take great pleasure in looking back at something that for a time, didn’t look to have much potential.

Next up was the Halo 2 first look. Truthfully, this segment wasn’t very thrilling, especially if you played through the game before you bothered to watch this. Essentially it’s nothing more than a bunch of fly bys through the new locals. Completely devoid of any creatures or action. Not terribly interesting.

Next on our list of special features are the Gameographies. This section reveals a photo, job description, a home origin and a brief biography for 64 members of the Bungie staff. While a nice addition, especially if you’re one of these people, I doubt most owners of the limited edition set will bother to read 95% of them.

The Art Galley is next and contains 31 photos of creatures and locations within the game. It’s nice work, but somehow I figure 31 pictures far from covers the extensive amount of artwork that actually went into conceptualizing the game.

Last on the disc is Set Up & Credits. This is pretty much what you expect; the opportunity to adjust the sound and subtitles and view the credits for the DVD. Whoopde-do!

Overall I found the supplemental DVD included in this set to be well worth the additional price of admission. While there were a few things I had little or no interest in, the primary documentary and the few segments following it were quite good and offered a lot of interesting, entertaining and perhaps educational information.

As mentioned, it’s rare for us as gaming fans to be afforded the luxury of an insider view. Watching the process of game creation, however summarized was a real treat. So for those of us (and I doubt there are many) whole haven’t purchased the game yet, I highly recommend taking the plunge into the limited edition. That is – if you can still find one. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some people to frag online.

EverQuest Platinum: Five Years and Counting

EverQuest Platinum: Five Years and Counting
Written by Roger Cox

Originally Published on October 18, 2004

The Evolution of Online RPG’s

Hi, I am going to tell you a little about my experience with Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) prior to playing EverQuest Platinum. My first MMORPG I ever played was the original Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC). I was immediately drawn into this game because of its huge environments, real-time weather/day and night, cool enemies, and how easy it was to play/communicate with other individuals. DAOC is a beautiful game with many cool spell effect and oddball creatures roaming the landscapes. The thing that keeps you playing DAOC is your loyalty to the guild you join and the realms (land) that you protect. There are 3 civilizations all fighting for control over land and relics (special items that affect everyone’s power in the 3 realms). Everyone that plays DAOC feels loyal to a specific realm and you hate (and want to kill) the other realm. It feels like being patriotic and wanting to defend your country against an enemy. DAOC is based on Arthurian legends, Viking mythology, and Celtic lore (the 3 realms). I felt at home while playing this game and have logged over 2 weeks of gameplay (336 hours). It took me 15-20 hours to understand the games concept, goals, and controls.

My second MMORPG was Ultima Online (UO). This game was the pioneer for MMORPGS and I felt like I owed it to myself to check it out. With its simple 2D graphics and overhead view it felt very outdated. Sure it had a lot of things to do, but where was I to start? UO didn’t give me a good enough grasp initially to go out and explore on my own. After asking countless people and logging 12+ hours of gameplay I finally had an idea of how to play in UO’s world. The problem with UO isn’t so much itself as it is with me. Going from a beautifully crafted 3D MMORP in DAOC to a fully 2D world in UO was a downgrade of massive proportion. While in DAOC you are engulfed and feel as though you have entered a new world. With its gorgeous 3D animations and endless features DAOC left little for the imagination to fill in. UO is a simple 2D (now slightly 3D game) with an overhead perspective that doesn’t draw you into its world as easily as most modern 3D MMORPG’s.

The third MMORPG world I jumped into was Final Fantasy XI (FFXI). Here is a game that expands on top of all the previous MMORPG’s. FFXI has a vibrant 3D world with many unique creatures, non player characters (NPCs) and environments to explore. This was the easiest to master MMORPG I have ever played. However I feel that my opinion may be skued by the fact that I had pervious experience with MMORPG’s. In any case FFXI has the best default control scheme of any MMORPG bar none. You can play the game using only a keyboard and it’s simple to learn. I felt comfortable playing this game after approximately 8 hours. FFXI has the best in game item trading system I have seen. There is an auction house where everyone goes to sell there things (much like eBay). It’s simple, effective, and everyone uses it which makes obtaining items easy. You can easily loose your self in this game and I did for 48+ hours. That isn’t a lot of playing time, but I had to quit because it was consuming my life.

After experiencing those 3 MMORPG’s I just mentioned I was handed EverQuest Platinum. In this latest version of the most successful online fantasy game you get the original EverQuest game and the first seven expansions. It retails for $30 which is a steal because if you tried purchasing them individually it would cost a small fortune. EQP is the last compilation of expansions before EverQuest II comes out this fall.

Five Years and Counting

On March 16, 1999 EverQuest set the standard for today’s MMORPG’s much like Mario 64 did for platform games. The reason I say that EQ set the standard is because the newer MMORPG’s take everything EQ did and they tried to improve upon it. For the most part they succeeded, creating more visually pleasing environments, easier user interfaces, and updated graphics/animation. It’s amazing how familiar EQ is in relation to the new MMORPG’s like Dark Age of Camelot and Final Fantasy XI.

After playing EQ now for over 30 hours I now know why it’s the largest and most successful MMORPG ever. Simply put, it’s still a great game and just as much fun as the latest MMORPGs available today. The only thing that it really lacks is an updated graphics engine which will be coming out in the near future.

However my biggest complaint about EQ is the graphics. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is for me. I love to enter a world with lush visuals that draws me into it just as quickly I can log in. Playing EQ after playing games like Dark Age of Camelot and FFXI was like taking a huge step back graphically. I’m sure that if I played EQ first and then those games then I’d be able to deal with the lack of graphical detail. My point being is that I wasn’t as drawn into EQP as much as I was pervious MMORPG’s that I’ve played.

Nonetheless, this is a great bargain for first time MMORPG players. I would highly recommend this game as a stepping-stone to the newer MMORPGs like EverQuest II. This is because of EQ’s great tutorial. It’s the best one of any MMORPG on the market today. The tutorial in full lasts 50-60mins and covers everything you need to know in order to get started. On top of that it’s completely audible and it leads you through it step by step rewarding you as you go. All the new MMORPG’s coming out will hopefully copy EQP tutorial format and expand upon it.

In conclusion, EQP is just slightly behind the times after being on the market for 5 years. That’s very impressive and it explains why Everquest has been so successful. With 7 expansions in 5 years EQ is an ever-changing and expanding world. Don’t expect EQ to die off silently after EverQuest II is released, it’s not going down without a fight!

EverQuest Platinum Features:

  • 250 Zones to explore
  • Over 350 square miles of virtual environments
  • 40,000 Unique Items
  • Character progression
  • Collectable loot
  • Play in a living breathing world
  • Fully Customizable Control Scheme
  • Over a million None player characters to encounter
  • Choose from 16 different races and 16 unique classes including the new Berserker
  • Hundreds of thousands of active players (over 400,000)
  • The Largest Massively Multiplayer Online RPG in North America
  • First 30 Days subscription free to new subscribers only
  • Includes EverQuest Classic and the first seven expansion packs:
    • The Ruins of Kunark
    • The Scars of Velious
    • The Shadows of Luclin
    • The Planes of Power
    • The Legacy of Ykesha
    • Lost Dungeons of Norrath
    • Gates of Discord

Look for more in-depth review coverage of EverQuest and the upcoming EverQuest II in our game reviews section.

The Price Is Right!

The Price Is Right!
Great gaming thrills for a few measly bills

Originally Published on October 6, 2004

All video games eventually drop in price. It’s inevitable. Most new console releases these days retail for around $50, but regardless of whether they’re good or not, they don’t stay that price forever. Publishers and retailers reduce the price of poor sellers to unload supply, while even immensely successful games – Grand Theft Auto III, for example – eventually land in the bargain bin.

But what about the games that retail for considerably less than $50 right off the bat? You know, the ones we call “budget titles” that typically retail for $20 or less. These games tend to be criticized for lacking value in spite of their low cost. For the most part, the criticism is justified, since many budget games are indeed forgettable.

Lately, however, more and more quality budget titles are hitting the market. Even top publishers, such as Sega and Midway, are getting in on the act, releasing budget-friendly titles that would likely sell well at normal prices. Nevertheless, gamers are coming out on top. On that note, here are a handful of current and upcoming $20 titles especially worth checking out.

ESPN 2K5 Series
Publisher: Sega
System: PS2, Xbox

The battle between Sega and EA Sports for sports-gaming supremacy has taken a surprising twist this year. In an attempt to better compete with EA Sports, as well as make its sports titles more appealing to consumers, Sega unleashed its entire 2K5 lineup at the low price of $19.99. Whether you prefer football, basketball, or hockey, you can experience first-rate sports gaming on the cheap. What’s more, Sega didn’t skimp on the features, so at these prices, these games are practically a steal.

Guilty Gear X2 #Reload
Publisher: Majesco
System: Xbox

If you fancy 2D fighters – heck, even if you don’t – this Xbox-exclusive brawler is a bargain. With frantic gameplay, cool characters, ultra-sharp visuals, and online play (as sketchy as it may be), the game provides plenty bang for the buck. Capcom and SNK fans will surely disagree, but for the money, Guilty Gear X2 #Reload offers the best value of any 2D fighting game on the Xbox.

Katamari Damacy
Publisher: Namco
System: PS2

What is left to say about Katamari Damacy that has not already been said in our glowing review of the game? In short, it’s a charming little title well worth $20 – if you can manage to find it, that is. As mentioned in our review and affirmed by Namco, availability of the game is limited right now. So, if you see the game at your local retailer, be sure to snap it up right away.

Midway Arcade Treasures 2
Publisher: Midway
System: PS2, Xbox, GameCube

Relive many of Midway’s greatest arcade games of the late ’80s and early ’90s with the second installment of Arcade Treasures. Games like Mortal Kombat II, NARC, Total Carnage, Arch Rivals, and Hard Drivin’ defined an entire generation of gamers. When you need a break from the action, the bonus material, in the form of archival footage, promises to entertain and inform. All told, you get 20 (mostly) topnotch arcade games for only $20. That translates into a dollar a game, in case you couldn’t do the math!

Outlaw Golf 2
Publisher: Global Star Software
System: PS2, Xbox

The original Outlaw Golf was one of the more outrageous golf games released in recent years, boasting (among other things) strippers and caddie abuse. Despite being the antithesis of a golf simulation, the underlying game featured surprisingly good physics and gameplay, complete with an innovative composure system. But with only three courses, things became stale rather quickly. Fortunately, the sequel ups the ante with more courses, extra characters, and new gameplay features, including online play and golf cart driving.

So there you have it: several solid games that will rock your console and not your bank account. Hopefully, this trend of publishers releasing quality games at affordable prices will continue. Quite a few budget titles will see release in the coming months, but it’s unlikely publishers will continue to be so generous when the next console cycle begins. After all, we diehard gamers tend to overindulge our gaming habits each time a new console is released, hastily paying whatever prices have been slapped on the accompanying launch titles.

Perhaps gamers and game makers can meet somewhere in the middle, with the average game retailing for $40 instead of $50. Though it sure would be nice if all new releases cost only $20…

Cliff O’Neill

Midway’s Blast from the Past

Midway’s Blast from the Past

Originally Published on June 10, 2004

Although still relatively in its infancy, the game industry has amassed an impressive catalog of video games. One company that has contributed heavily is former arcade giant Midway, responsible for arcade hits such as Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam. No longer in the business of making arcade games, Midway has transitioned successfully to the home market, releasing original properties that have drawn praise from gamers and critics alike. Now, the company is unsealing its arcade vault and letting loose gaming nostalgia. Join us for a quick trip down memory lane as we preview four upcoming console titles from Midway that give new life to old arcade games.

Area 51
System: PS2, Xbox
Release: October 2004

The original Area 51, released in 1995, was one of the more popular light-gun games of the ’90s, so it’s not too surprising an update of the game is coming to the PS2 and Xbox later this year. What is somewhat surprising is the fact that the updated version, from developer Inevitable Entertainment, takes the form of a first-person shooter. As expected, though, the new Area 51 features the latest in 3D graphics technology – unlike the original, which featured blotchy sprites and full-motion video. Plus, Stan Winston Productions is handling some of the creature designs, while Chris Vrenna (of Nine Inch Nails fame) is supplying the music.

The original Area 51, as seen on the Sega Saturn Area 51 in 2004 -- Doom style!

Another thing that distinguishes the new game from the old one is the inclusion of a plot, albeit a rather familiar one (of the “humans versus aliens” variety). There is an interesting twist, however: Your character – a HAZMAT (hazardous materials) operative and squad leader sent to investigate strange goings-on at Area 51 – becomes infected with a biological mutagen that allows him to mutate into a ghastly creature, à la Midway’s horror-themed title, The Suffering. Apart from that, Area 51 follows most of the conventions of a typical, current first-person shooter. Namely, there are multiple weapons, destructible environments, advanced physics, scripted events, AI teammates, and online play (planned to support 16 players).

Midway Arcade Treasures 2
System: PS2, Xbox, GameCube
Release: October 2004

Hard Drivin' Rampage: World Tour

This fall, Midway will unleash a hefty load of arcade favorites – 21, to be exact – via a new Arcade Treasures compilation disc for the current consoles, courtesy of Backbone Entertainment. Among the games that will be featured are Mortal Kombat 1-3, Pit-Fighter, Primal Rage, Rampage: World Tour, NARC, Total Carnage, STUN Runner, Hard Drivin’, and Arch Rivals. Interestingly, while many of the games will be emulated, some (like Hard Drivin’ and STUN Runner) will be ported in order to avoid potential performance issues. Accompanying the games will be supplemental material, such as videos and interviews. In addition, the Xbox version will contain Live support, letting players keep track of high scores. The best part? All this gaming goodness will cost a measly $20!

Mortal Kombat: Deception
System: PS2, Xbox
Release: October 2004

Our pick for best fighting game of E3 2004, Mortal Kombat: Deception is set to recapture the magic of early Mortal Kombat arcade games and looks to be the darkest and most graphically impressive MK yet. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was a good game, but it didn’t meet all the expectations of diehard MK fans. Most notably, Deadly Alliance‘s character roster was missing a few fan favorites. Deception includes old characters, such as Nightwolf and Baraka, who were absent from Deadly Alliance. Additionally, Deception gives the fighters new moves, along with extra fatalities.

'Get over here!' Scorpion's up to his same old tricks in Mortal Kombat: Deception.

Each stage will play host to a uniquely gruesome fatality, as well. For example, one environment features a deadly meat grinder that rips fighters to bits, while another contains a massive stamp that flattens characters into bloody pancakes. Beyond the improved fighting engine, the game will contain a revamped Konquest mode and full-fledged sub-games (they’re too big to be called “mini-games”), including the Super Puzzle Fighter-esque Puzzle Kombat and an action-packed take on chess. Best of all, both of these will be playable online, as will the main game.

NARC
System: PS2, Xbox
Release: February 2005

“Winners don’t use drugs,” read an intro screen for NARC, the violent 1988 arcade game that let players wage a deadly war against druggies. In the new and improved NARC, a mission-based third-person action game in the vein of recent Grand Theft Auto titles, that message is long gone. To win in the new NARC, which is currently in development at VIS Entertainment (maker of State of Emergency), you will very much need to use drugs…virtually, of course.

Switching between two playable characters belonging to the NARC squad – crooked captain Marcus Hill and undercover agent Jack Forzenski – you take to the grimy streets in an attempt to bring down the K.R.A.K. drug cartel, the manufacturer of a new addictive drug called “liquid soul.” In a surprising twist, however, your character can use the drugs he confiscates from criminals to gain special short-term abilities. For instance, smoking weed triggers a bullet-time-like effect, enabling your character to become more in tune with his surroundings. Meanwhile, smoking crack lets him deal out extra damage.

The original NARC in all its pixelated glory All in a day's work

But your main goal in NARC is to curb drug use, not encourage it. Naturally, there are consequences to getting high in the game, as using drugs will affect your character’s health, reputation, and mental state (he can become addicted). Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the ESRB reacts to the updated, controversial NARC as the release date draws closer. Hollywood, on the other hand, has apparently already embraced the game: Reservoir Dogs star Michael Madsen and Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman, will voice the lead characters. Topping things off is a modified State of Emergency graphics engine that allows for plenty of chaos to ensue.

Cliff O’Neill

Baseball from the Inside Out

Baseball from the Inside Out

Originally Published on March 25, 2004

I remember being a young boy and always wanting to play baseball with my friends, or watch a Cub’s game on the tube. A day didn’t go by that I didn’t do something related to the wonderful sport of baseball. Sometime in my late 20’s I seemed to have lost the enjoyment for the sport. A real job, children, and having a wife tended to change my priorities and it seemed that baseball was the one sport that took a backseat to everything else. Well, I am happy to say that for those of you that have gone through a similar “awakening”, that Out of the Park Baseball and Inside the Park Baseball are the perfect cure for childhood dreams forgotten because of the reality of life.

This article is not intended to replace the excellent review of Out of the Park Baseball 5 posted by Scott Shirhall back in April of last year. It is intended to pay homage to the sport of baseball, and also inform the reader of the excellent sport simulations created by Out of the Park Developments. If you want to relive the baseball dreams of your childhood, read on, and see what baseball is like from the inside out.

OUT OF THE PARK BASEBALL

I must say that once I received Out of the Park Baseball version 5 (from here on known as OOTP5) and Inside the Park (from here on known as ITP), I wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of playing another sports sim. I had tried other baseball sims in the past and they had all left me feeling somewhat empty, as if I needed more of the real thing instead of a computer sim. Now granted, no computer game can completely replace the feeling of being in the batter’s box, head lowered, waiting for the pitch from a formidable opponent. But, OOTP5 and ITP can certainly bring plenty of excitement during the off-season and especially during the winter months.

I began my career in OOTP5 as a 35-year-old manager with very little experience…ok, actually no experience. I was looking for a great opportunity to make money and I didn’t really care which team wanted me. I decided to accept an offer from Detroit for a few hundred thousand dollars. Of course we all know that Detroit could really use the help, but a few hundred thousand isn’t going to get them any closer to a pennant.

I did some research on the players and after a short time I was ready for the draft. The drafting process is intense; there are stats on almost everything imaginable in baseball! I was hooked on this game after only playing it for a short time. After carefully drafting my team, we were on to spring training. Some of my players actually increased their skill levels in their very first spring training. During spring training I realized that I had some true talent, and also some not-so-true talent. My pitching staff was decent, but my team’s batting really needed some work. Over the next two seasons I conducted some trades in order to build up my pitching staff and my team’s batting abilities.

Trading can be a very difficult and complex process, however, the developer has obviously spent many hours refining the process and the interface until it is very easy to work with. The computer AI drives a hard bargain, but often I would trade one of my better players for an average player and some great rookies. I finished the first season with 83 wins and 79 losses. My team was ranked 13th out of 30 in the team power rankings. I finished 8 games back and I knew I had to do better the next season or the team owner would trade me for sure. Of course I had to pick a team that has a horrible owner. He is very unpredictable and his demands are almost impossible to meet.

During my second season I decided to experiment even more. I changed my left hand pitcher and right hand pitcher batting orders again and again until I thought I found the perfect formula for my team. And then WHAM, two of my best hitters and one of my best pitchers went down with injuries. Most players will play through injuries if they last a week or so, they just play at 80 to 90 percent instead of 100 percent. The players that got injured were not able to play at all for at least 6 weeks! Luckily, I had some minor leaguers that I was able to bring up to fill in for them for the time they were injured. We finally got past the injuries, but we sure had a long road ahead of us if we were going to make the playoffs.

I finished my 2004 season with an 89-73 record. My two best pitchers, Rodney Fowler and Mark Lieb, finished the season with 20-6 and 20-10 records respectively. I also had the highest rated prospect for first base, Steve Breton, coming up through my minor league system. I had two players finish with batting averages above .300. This was a result of my off-season trades and signings in order to get a few power hitters. My team finished first in our division and then, of course, we lost in the playoffs. Anaheim beat us three games to one in the first round of the playoffs. That was the end of the 2004 season. We had a slow start but we finished strong, ready for the 2005 season.

One of the other great features of OOTP5 is the ability to select managers for your Single, Double, and Triple-A teams. You can also select batting and pitching coaches, and a scout to find new talent and to evaluate the current and older talent already on your team. You select the coaches that you are interested in during the first part of the off-season, and then you bid on them just like you do for the players that you want to draft. I had excellent selections for my hitting and pitching coaches. My scout was top-notch as well. I had a very strong Triple-A and Double-A manager; the only manager weakness was in my Single-A league. Unfortunately, I didn’t sign my hitting and pitching coaches for more than two years due to financial reasons, so they left at the end of the second season.

My 2005 season started off with a bang! Besides having to find new batting and pitching coaches, I also had to find a decent replacement pitcher after one of my top pitchers was hit by a pitch and broke his hand. Frank Temple, my injured top pitcher, had just finished a one-hitter! Unfortunately, he would be out for eight long weeks. I brought up a rookie from Triple-A and he performed better than I expected. My pitching staff was stronger this year than it had ever been.

I had 8 players from my roster finish the season with batting averages above .280. I also finished 1st and 2nd in the league in stolen bases. I had many players tie or break records that had been set by a previous player in the league in the preceding years. I finally had a team that could get me to the World Series! We won the Divisional Series by beating the New York Yankees. We then won three straight games to beat the Yankees. Detroit was finally the Division Champion!

The American League Series proved to be much more of a challenge. We played Boston for the chance to get to the World Series. The series started off with Boston winning the first two games. I had to make some minor adjustments to my pitching staff and also my batting order in order to finally win a game. I was finally able to tie the series at three games apiece. I was feeling pretty confident going into the final game. The game was way to close to call. I played through game 7, inning by inning, trailing in the top of the ninth. I was finally able to pull off the win with a few runs in the bottom of the ninth. I was now on my way to the World Series!

I have to admit, I was expecting the same type of last minute win for the World Series that I played through in the American League Series. Boy was I wrong! I started off by losing the first game in the Series to Montreal. I then proceeded to win the next four games straight to win the World Series! My Detroit Tigers were finally the best team in the world. Granted, this outcome is only possible in a sim game. We all know how good the Detroit Tigers really are.

As I mentioned before, the stats in this game are astounding. My league is set up to keep track of each season and all of my seasonal reports are available through the Almanac screen. Be sure to check out this link to see some of the reports generated by OOTP5. If you truly love baseball, this game is for you. The price of OOTP5 has recently dropped to the low price of $19.95. For those of you that already own OOTP5, you can pre-order OOTP6 from their website for the low upgrade price of $25.95. You can bet that I will be ordering my copy! Both versions of OOTP are available to buy on the developer’s website at http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/ootp/. If you would like to see some screenshots of the new OOTP6, visit this link: http://www.ootpdevelopments.com/newsletters/nl0008/.

INSIDE THE PARK BASEBALL

Now, for those of you that are looking for more than a baseball management sim, you should try the new Inside the Park Baseball game from Out of the Park Developments. Inside the Park sells for only $19.95. I can tell you that this new game is great fun, and for only $19.95, it’s a great deal. After winning the World Series in OOTP5, I started my own career as a player in Inside the Park Baseball.

Obviously, when you begin ITP, you need to pick your player’s name first. Once you have done this, you then need to select the type of player you would like; hitter or pitcher. You then select if you were drafted out of high school or college. Now you’re ready to pick the position that you want your character to play. Once the basics are finished, you begin to build your character’s skills by adjusting the values of six abilities. In the game, these are called RPG Abilities. You begin with twelve points that you have to distribute between the following abilities:

  • Strength – Indicates your character’s basic physical power.
  • Intelligence– Determines how well your character learns and reasons.
  • Dexterity – Measures hand-eye coordination, agility, reflexes, and balance.
  • Constitution – Measures your character’s health and stamina.
  • Charisma – Measures your character’s force of personality, persuasiveness, and attractiveness.
  • Luck – A little something that every ballplayer needs.

Next you get to pick your talents. There are eight different talents to choose from. These talents will determine if your character can hit against lefties, hit homeruns, steal bases, and many more. During the next phase your player is able to select the equipment he is going to use while first starting off. The equipment that you select can have positive and negative benefits to it. You will have to select what is best for the player that you have created.

ITP also has the ability of importing an OOTP5 season into it. This allows you to play in a league that you are familiar with. I have to admit that it’s a lot of fun to come into a league where you already know the best and worst players, the needed positions, and best of all, the teams you would like to play for.

After creating my player, I entered the draft. I was the eighth pick overall during the first round. Montreal needed a right fielder, and I was the man for the job. Not too bad for a rookie. During my first season I was busy learning the game interface. I spent my time exploring the different areas that my player could go to. I would go to my home and look at all of the trophies I didn’t have yet.

I would go to the Internet Café and see what items were for sale and what I could afford…which wasn’t much. I made a few trips to the front office to check out the team rosters and to see where I stood in the batting order. I spent some time at the Sports Store looking at all of the baseball equipment that I could purchase once I was successful. I was actually able to purchase a couple of books that helped me with my batting skills. I spent most of my time at Larry’s Workout Palace designing a training regiment that would help me gain strength and flexibility. You have to be careful not to over-train as your game-time performance will really suffer.

I finished my first season with a .226 batting average. I had 7 homeruns, 55 strikeouts, 22 walks, and 10 stolen bases. My OPS (On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage) was .603. This wasn’t a stellar performance for my first year in the Single-A league, but it wasn’t bad either.

My second season proved to be better than the first. I had a .306 batting average, with 7 homeruns, 62 strikeouts, 26 walks, and 8 stolen bases. My OPS was .818. I was also injured during the 2004 season with a stiff neck, and I was out for a total of 6 days. With five games left in the season, I was promoted to the Double-A team! I finished the last five Double-A games with a .250 batting average.

After only playing 5 games of Double-A ball and progressing through the 2005 off-season, I got a call from the Montreal General Manager. He informed me that I was being moved up to Triple-A. Wow, two years as a rookie and I’m already moving up to Triple-A. I hope this kind of advancement keeps up, I could really use the money!

I played very well my first year in Triple-A. I finished the season with a .250 batting average. I had 40 doubles and 14 homeruns with 424 at-bats. I finished the season with a .755 OPS. I had a fielding percentage of .991 and .992 for left and right field respectively. Towards the end of the season I received another call from the General Manager. He told me that I was being moved up to the active roster and I would get to play in my first Major League game! I played as a replacement player in 3 games and I finally got my first Major League hit! I had a total of one hit in one at bat and I knocked in my first Major League RBI before being moved back down to Triple-A.

After that little taste of the Majors, I can’t wait for my first start in the Big Leagues. I also received my Rookie Card at the end of the 2005 season. This is a big step in the game because you have to get the value of your card to increase throughout the game. My card is currently worth two cents; yes, I was disappointed as well. The good news is that I have time to play great ball and accelerate at my position and over time the value of my card should increase.

During the off-season I decided that I needed to upgrade some of my equipment. I purchased a new bat from The Sports Store for $148,000.00. I also purchased a new batting glove and new shoes from BBay, which you can access from The Internet Cafe. I sold my old, used equipment on BBay as well. You can usually get more money by selling on BBay rather than selling it back to The Sports Store. All of this new equipment had better ratings than my old equipment and thus should improve my speed, fielding, and batting capabilities. Now I was ready to start the 2006 season in Triple-A.

I was called up to the active roster again in July of the 2006 season. After spending two months playing in the Big League, I was moved back down to Triple-A due to horrible performance. I just couldn’t seem to hit the ball and move the runners around the bases. I finished my short stint in the majors with just 5 hits in 31 at bats. My .161 batting average and .487 OPS were just not enough to keep me on the active roster. After only 10 days back in Triple-A, I was called up again.

This time I hoped I would bat better than I had in my previous showing. Well, not only did I finish the rest of the season playing in the Majors, but my team beat Chicago 4 games to 1 to win the World Series! The GM congratulated me on playing well, and I received my very first Championship Ring! I finished a great season in the Majors with a .239 batting average and a .698 OPS. I also had two Major League homeruns to end a great year. My rookie card increased in value to a whopping eighty cents. At the beginning of the 2007 season I was moved back down to Triple-A, but I am excited and looking forward to doing it all over again.

I hope all of you have enjoyed reading about my journey through OOTP5 and ITP. These are both excellent games and I cannot recommend them enough if you are a baseball fan at heart. As I said before, I hadn’t played or even followed baseball for years, but these two great games have lit a fire in me that I hope doesn’t burn out for a long time to come.

Richard Cross

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow Premiere

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow Premiere

Originally Published on March 15, 2004

Los Angeles – 4 pm. Few things are more fearsome than the daily freeway traffic of Los Angeles’s own 405 freeway. Like the River Styx it stands as a seemingly impenetrable barrier separating the domain of the dead from the world of the living, and for those who must cross its forbidding trails on their daily commute to and from work, the freeway offers numerous obstacles. The blazing sun overhead, smog pervading the air everywhere, horns blasting, cars crowding, the screech of brakes and the sudden, yet seemingly inevitable flash of a middle digit held proudly in the air, all these things and more were my trevails to share as I slowly inched my way up the 405 freeway to Universal Studio’s City Walk for the premiere of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow on Xbox.

Both myself and Henry Kim, GCM’s newest reviewer, looked forward to the event with some anticipation, and despite the cacophony of horns, engines and a mysterious wrong turn that led us deep into the entrails of the McDonald’s in Calabasas we were eager to get a glimpse of Ubisoft’s latest and greatest installment in the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell series.

For those in the dark, Splinter Cell chronicles the adventures of covert operative Sam Fisher, an agent waging a one man war against an Indonesian terrorist network. The original Splinter Cell debuted to much critical success, reviewers applauded its intuitive and in-depth approach to tactical espionage and deep cover operations. This time around Ubisoft was hosting the premiere of the sequel, Pandora Tomorrow, at Loew’s Theater in the fabulous tourist destination of City Walk, a grand arcade of shops, restaurants and cafes adorning the entrance to Universal Studios.

Perhaps the god of traffic took pity upon us, for we were able to overcome the unholy gridlock of LA’s commute and soon arrived at the event. We were shown into the one of the theater halls and took a seat near the front, where players flown in from across the country were preparing to play their counterparts in New York via X-Box live in a live-broadcast multiplayer death-match featuring Pandora Tomorrow’s unique multiplayer gameplay.

The crowd that had gathered behind us was eager for action, and as the players prepared themselves for online combat the theater’s camera captured anxious and amused looks from spectators who had come to win prizes and see the game for themselves. With the hosting duties performed by a local DJ, the festivities were quickly underway and the crowd alternated between tense silence and jubilant cries of victory as the online competitors snuck, crawled, jumped and shot their way through the multiplayer levels.

The multiplayer gameplay in Pandora Tomorrow is certainly unique. Perhaps the first of its kind, Pandora Tomorrow incorporates a Spy vs. Mercenaries mode in which the Spies – armed with only non-lethal weapons – must outwit the heavily armed mercenaries and decontaminate three separate areas in order to win. The gameplay was certainly fascinating to watch, as each side had its own distinct advantages. The mercenaries were armed with rifles, motion tracking and proximity mines (among other things) while the spies had access to a variety of gases, stun darts and of course, night vision to outwit their opponents. The spies viewed everything from a third person perspective, while the mercenaries interacted with the game through a first person view. This disparity emphasized the freedom of movement and view afforded the spies, as well as the traditional run and gun power given to the mercenaries.View the Spy Gameplay Movie (15mb)View the Mercenary Gameplay Movie (17mb)

As the competition heated up the temperature seemed to rise in the theater as fans yelled and cheered on the “LA Team” against their competitors in New York. In one particularly intense play, a spy snuck up behind a mercenary and – using the only lethal method of attack available to him – twisted the mercenary’s neck, breaking it and killing him instantly. This move elicited bloodthirsty roars of pleasure from the crowd, causing visions of the ancient Roman Coliseum and all of its bloody spectacles to reemerge in my memory. From that point on, whenever a spy came within close proximity of a mercenary, the crowd would rise like an undulating snake poised to strike with vehement shouts of “Kill him! Get him! Break…his…Neck!!”

Though such spectacles do little to reassure one of the gentle graces of the American masses, it was indeed fun to watch the competition, cheer for our side and even more fun to witness the LA team win most of the matches, coming out the eventual victor.

From what I’ve seen of Pandora Tomorrow, fans can expect more of the same stealth action they’ve come to love with the original Splinter Cell, with quite a few enhancements in place, most particularly in the multiplayer offering. Graphics, sound, presentation style – it’s all there and then some, reminding me of how closely many AAA titles are mimicking huge blockbuster movies these days. To watch the introductory movie for Pandora Tomorrow one can see the template for a dramatic story line paralleling todays headlines, mixed with an unmistakable Tom Clancy flair for modern warfare and politics.

Xbox Live also proved to be quite the star as well – the cross country connection proved flawless the entire time and the headsets looked comfy, allowing players to communicate with ease. Once again the viability and popularity of online console gaming came to the fore, reminding me that even primetime television programming is starting to experience a decrease in viewership in the face of increased competition from online video games.

After the event patrons were free to roam the theater lobby picking up gift bags, prizes and play Pandora Tomorrow on 42” Plasma Widescreen sets. Perhaps the most pleasant suprise of the evening however was the unexpected attendance of actors Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan, The Lord of the Ring Trilogy’s Pippin and Merry (“This my friend, is a pint.”). Henry, ever the repository of movie information, spotted Billy Boyd right away, and not only was he nice enough to sign autographs, but we also took our picture together! Both Billy and Dominic are known to be quite the gamers themselves, having just recently completed work with EA Games’ Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King game. Their presence there was yet another reminder of the deepening connections between Hollywood and the Video Games Industry, as individuals from both industries begin to merge and combine their talents, bringing about synergistic interactive products that are no longer just the result of game programmers, but of Hollywood’s most imaginative minds.

The evening ended with a delightful after-party at Tu-Tango Cafe where members of the press could wet their whistles and discuss first impressions of Pandora Tomorrow. Come March 27, gamers everywhere will be able to experience Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow for Xbox, with a PC version not far behind. If the rest of the game is anything like the multiplayer component we witnessed then video game fans everywhere are in for a big treat.

EVENT PHOTO GALLERY


Miguel Cervantes