Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air Review

Ah, good old-styled adventures. Even though the genre is slowly fading away, with less and less titles coming out each year, it seems that the decrease in quantity somehow managed to result in a spike in quality – at least judging from games like Dream Chronicles: Book of Air.

The game actually follows a long-running line of adventure titles, and is the fourth installment so far, putting the player in the role of Lyra, the daughter of the previous protagonist of the series.

Gameplay

Those of you who’ve played Myst will find the style of DC:TBOA somewhat familiar – the game is played from a first person perspective, with the main objective being to find and solve all of the puzzles around the playable areas. The game is not played like a traditional quest, in the sense of there being basically no character interaction – the setting feels a lot like the aforementioned Myst, with an eerie yet soothing sense of solitude.

You can approach the puzzles in whatever order you prefer, adding a lot of variety to the gameplay; furthermore, some of the puzzles are interconnected, as sometimes you’ll have to find a required item in another location.

Puzzles range from simple to mildly difficult, though the more challenging ones are simply a matter of hunting out a large number of pieces, usually. You shouldn’t have a hard time figuring out how to get past most of the areas, unless you’ve chosen to play on the “Challenging” mode (as opposed to the other setting, “Casual”).

For those of you who saw the option in the menu and were wondering how it affects gameplay, the challenging mode replaces all of the puzzles with more difficult ones, and if you’re playing in casual mode the game will help you by skipping a puzzle if you don’t solve it for a long time.

Graphics and System Requirements

The graphics of DC:TBOA are one of its major points. The game is absolutely stunning, and the amount of fine detail in each scene is simply godly – words lack the power to truly describe what a feast this game is on the eyes, so you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Considering the game is based around the idea of dreams, except some vivid, abstract scenes that may make you rub your eyes for a few seconds the first time you enter them. The art style is great too, as the game doesn’t look 100% realistic (it could easily have), but has this odd blend of surrealism to it that brings it that much closer to the idea of a dream.

Since all of the scenes are pre-rendered, system requirements for this game are practically non-existent – the only special thing you’ll need is 1 GB of ram to handle the asset loading, but apart from that if you can run your OS, you can run this game as well. It requires DX8, but only for the audio and not for any rendering purposes.

Other

Despite being a casually-oriented experience, the game does have it slight competitive edge – you’re given a score when you complete it, based on how much items you’ve managed to collect, so you can always come back and attempt to improve that.

Conclusion

Please, other developers – look at how many players are enjoying Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air and realize that adventure gamers aren’t a niche crowd – it’s a real market that needs more games like this one.

Dragon Age: Origins Review

With the larger portion of the RPG genre moving towards online play, we’re always very eager to see a new game that’s designed entirely with single player in mind. It doesn’t happen often these days, so we usually enjoy whatever comes our way – but when you get a single player RPG that’s also done with as much care as Dragon Age: Origins, you can’t help but fall in love.

Gameplay

The game is set in a classic medieval fantasy world, with dragons playing an important part in the plot. The player is tasked with gathering the kingdom together in order to repel an impending invasion from the Underworld. At the beginning of the game, you’ll have to create your own character by defining its race and “origin”.

The origin is a new concept introduced by the game, where you’ll have to go through a short (for the length of the game, more on that below) series of levels where your character’s background story is defined – you play this part of the game as usual, and its end leads up to the actual events of the game.

The number of hours you can spend on Dragon Age is very large – if you’re new to the game (and/or the RPG genre as a whole), your first-time play may last over 50 hours. And if you decide to go for all of the additional quests and bonus rewards, you’re looking at several hundred hours of solid gameplay – none of that repetitive, monotonous grind that most RPGs tend to put in there, giving way to quantity over quality.

Graphics and System Requirements

Dragon Age is not only well-executed in its gameplay, it’s simply a marvel to look at, too – you’ll explore lush forests, cities with interesting architecture, and meet all kinds of highly detailed characters. Your own avatar can look quite differently as well, depending on your choices initially – and as a whole, the game’s graphics add to its already great variety a lot.

The vast worlds that Dragon Age spans over need a powerful computer to be rendered properly though. The recommended system requirements are a Core 2 Duo running at 2.4 GHz, as well as 2 GB of RAM (3, if you’re on Vista or above), and a Radeon HD 3850 with 512 MB of RAM powering your graphics rendering. Mac users will need to have at least version 10.6.2. of their OSX in order to play.

Other

Before buying Dragon Age, we advise you to make sure you have a small vacation coming up ahead of you – the game not only takes a long time to complete on the first go (seriously, divide the 50 hour minimum over however you spend in front of the computer daily), but its replay value is tremendous as well, and your first playthrough will leave so many questions and so many things you’ll want to see, that you’ll feel weak against your desire to go through it again.

Conclusion

A true blessing for classic, old-school RPG lovers, Dragon Age: Origins is a game that will be talked about for a long time.

Darkest of Days Review

Have you ever wondered what would happen if we were able to go back in time and prevent certain accidents from happening, certain important figures from dying? Darkest of Days takes a stance on the perspective that this has already happened and is actually the reason many of history’s great characters survived to make it into the history books. In an original and interesting storyline, it takes the player through a variety of time periods trying to solve history’s problems.

Gameplay

You take the role of Alexander Morris, a soldier from the 19th century period who gets rescued by a team of time travellers, destined on keeping history intact by interfering with it whenever needed. As the plot is unveiled, it’s revealed that the organization has been working hard to protect certain people from getting killed in accidents, thus preserving the integrity of time as we know it – until their leader had gone missing, causing history to start getting disrupted again.

The player must travel through a variety of time periods, engaging in historic battles, going as far back in history as 79 AD where the protagonist witnesses the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii. You can use a large number of weapons, both from the specific time period you’re currently in as well as from the future where you came from.

Additionally, there’s another group of time travellers tasked with making sure you’re doing your job well – if you kill too many innocents, you’ll have to fight a squad of those guys, who come with equipment even more advanced than your own.

Graphics and System Requirements

The engine was written exclusively for the game, and incorporates various bits of technology that are needed to cope with some of its specifics. Since you’ll be engaging in some large-scale historic battles, expect to see up to 300 characters on your screen at any one moment – so you’re probably guessing that there has been a good amount of optimization done to handle that properly.

Still, the game looks very pretty, and all of the historic moments have been depicted with pinpoint accuracy, down to the last detail in the clothing of the characters. Every period looks unique and memorable, and can be easily identified from the others.

The engine is kind of heavy on the system, despite the amount of optimization work done for it – don’t expect to get away with smooth framerates if you don’t have a strong machine to back you up. A 256 MB DX9-compliant video card is a must, as is a strong processor if you want to handle the particle effects properly and without straining your computer too much.

Other

One of the things we were slightly disappointed with was the short time spent in the more interesting time periods – most of the game is played in a small number of periods, giving the other ones 20-30 minute segments for you to enjoy.

Conclusion

Darkest of Days has an original idea and an acceptable implementation of it – it delivers what it promises, and it has the potential to become one of your favorites if you love intense shooters.

Borderlands Review

Gearbox Software are a well-known game developer – and if you think about it, that’s a curious fact considering they’ve been coming out with only a handful of games (most of which based around their own franchise, Brothers in Arms).

However, looking at their release history, pretty much every title that’s come out from their studio has been a highly successful one – and their newest Borderlands is set to solidify their name as a developer in gaming history.

Gameplay

Borderlands is a combination of first-person shooter and RPG. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, reminiscent of the world from Mad Max – everyone is fighting for their own survival, anarchy prevails, and people have split up into small groups to increase their chances of making it alive. In the beginning, you get to choose your character from four possibilities, and each will offer you a completely unique gameplay experience.

The game follows a non-linear plot, where you have one main quest you’re following, but can also take on various side-quests that are given by friendly characters. Doing so gives you access to more money and upgrades, which in turn helps you progress through the game at an easier pace.

Scavenging is a major part of the game’s play style, as you’ll have to collect the weapons of your fallen enemies to sell later. One of the interesting aspects of the weapons system is their semi-random generation – much like in Diablo and similar RPGs, you have a set of “base” weapons which the game modifies before giving to you. That way, you can find the same-looking shotgun with completely different stats, for example increased firepower or reload speed, better accuracy, etc.

This makes it important to constantly look around for new weapons and collect everything, as you never know if the one you’re using won’t turn out to be a kids’ toy compared to the one laying on the ground that you just passed by.

Graphics and System Requirements

Borderlands is unique not only in its gameplay, but also its graphics – the game is designed in a cel-shaded art style, and it looks simply outstanding. It’s not as cartoony as, say, XIII, but also looks less realistic than even Valve’s Team Fortress 2. Borderlands is a great example of the flexibility provided by the Unreal Engine 3, as most companies are using it to create highly realistic environments, while Gearbox have managed to do the exact opposite and have done their best with the engine to draw the animated characters.

The game is a bit lighter than most other UE3 games, mostly due to the simplicity of its assets – with fewer polygons and lower-resolution textures (as anything more detailed would’ve spoiled the looks), it can easily run on a 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 coupled with 1 GB of RAM and a GeForce 8600 GS.

Other

Beating the game on your own is fun, but if you give it a go with a few of your friends in the co-operative mode, you’ll never want to go back to the single player again – the online play in Borderlands is a truly captivating experience.

Conclusion

A game that will surely be talked about for long, Borderlands pushes the boundaries of the FPS genre in ways few developers have dared go so far.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight Review

Command & Conquer has been one of the most popular strategy game franchises, spawning numerous sequels and spin-offs like Red Alert. Thus, it’s an understatement to say that the next game in the series was hugely anticipated, both by fans of the original and the gaming community in general – it was obvious that a new hit was on its way to the shelves.

Gameplay

What we got somewhat clashed with expectations though – even though the game turned out very well-done and polished, it was a large departure from the previous ones in terms of gameplay. Instead of using the standard mechanic of gathering resources and using them to build a base and a strong army, C&C 4 plays more like a real-time tactics game, having the player capture various control points across the map. The goal is to control as many points as possible over time, which eventually leads to victory.

You can again play as the main rivalling factions in the game’s storyline, the NOD and the GDI, and your units are separated into several groups based on their role on the battlefield. Your success depends on picking the appropriate combination of units for the situation and using them correctly, with a lot more focus on micromanagement than the previous games, which focused more on building massive armies and spamming units.

Graphics and System Requirements

The game looks well enough for a strategy, even if it does come across as a bit outdated in several aspects. You’ll find the graphics pleasing to the eye even on a large monitor running a standard resolution, and some of the special effects utilized for the units are very well-executed. There’s been a lot of emphasis on using visuals to better aid the gameplay, and this shines through in many spots of the game.

The system requirements are bearable, and there’s quite a large gap between the two ends of the requirements list – relatively old computers shouldn’t have much trouble running the game, but of course don’t expect to enjoy a lot of its beautiful visuals. For that, you’ll have to get yourself an upgraded computer, but it won’t be necessary for just playing and enjoying the game.

Other

Even though a lot of the accent here is on the game’s online play and competitive capabilities, make sure you give the single player a go as well. It may not be as heavily defined as in the previous games, but you’ll still get a well-written saga with your favorite characters – and yes, the game does still feature those awesome live-action cutscenes, so you’ll have something to watch inbetween the missions as well.

Conclusion

You may consider this to be a strange addition to the C&C series if you’re a fan of the previous games, but you should still give it a go and disregard what you may expect about it. It won’t be just another C&C strategy game in the line of all the others, but it should definitely be remembered as something unique.

Killing Floor Review

When it comes to zombie shooters, there have been numerous attempts to create something original in the genre – and most of them have been just copies of the previous, with one or two added features. Some games have managed to stand out from the crowd though – and in some rare cases, even non-commercial projects have caught the spotlight.

Killing Floor started out as a freeware modification for Unreal Tournament 2004, which was subsequently adopted into a complete commercial product that’s now enjoying a steady fan base (which, as of recently, has expanded to Mac users as well).

Gameplay

Killing Floor has several players fighting together as units in a special response team in an outbreak of zombies. The gameplay is very dynamic, with levels being divided into several parts, during which players need to survive against an oncoming wave of zombies. After each section, they can visit a store to purchase better weapons, using money that’s earned by killing zombies.

Some of the weapons are slightly unbalanced though, some positively, some negatively, as the shotguns tend to be a lot more useful than the other weapons for their price, as an example (and weapons like the flamethrower see less use because of their low price/usefulness ratio). The zombies’ AI is commendable, on the other hand, as they don’t always rely on blind rushes to get their “job” done.

Graphics and System Requirements

The game uses the Unreal Engine 2.5, which is getting a bit old for today’s standards. You can see some repetitive textures here and there, as well as the engine’s “trademark” square-patterned light beams. However, this makes it very good for older computers which can enjoy it without much strain, and this has helped the game retain its player base despite the heavy competition from other similar games such as Valve’s Left 4 Dead and its sequel.

The atmosphere is a bit more serious/grim than that of Left 4 Dead though, with some references to demons and Satanism, as well as more brutally-looking zombies and effects. The characters are more generic and not as uniquely designed as L4D’s, though that doesn’t kill the atmosphere and it’s still enjoyable to exchange voice commands as you’re on your way to the next wave.

Other

The game has a few bugs in several occasions, one of which may prevent you from progressing on a level, though it can be averted in most cases. It can also get somewhat repetitive fast, so try using some of the more underutilized weapons if you want to spice up your experience and feel that the game’s getting dull.

Conclusion

If you’re crazy about horror-themed entertainment, Killing Floor is one of the games you must not miss – it may not be as polished as Valve’s series, and may not have as many players behind it, but the fun you can have in it is still on par with its competition.

Left 4 Dead 2 Review

Left 4 Dead 2 is the sequel to Valve’s hit online zombie shooter, Left 4 Dead. Despite gaining some criticism over the fact that it was released just one year after its predecessor (and not as a free expansion, either – a full-blown game with regular price) – it still managed to live up to the expectations gamers had about it and surpassed Left 4 Dead’s popularity timesfold. The game remains one of the most popular online shooters right now, and keeps bringing new players in.

Gameplay

Left 4 Dead 2 puts the player in the role of one of four survivors in a zombie apocalypse, who have to make their way through a variety of levels mimicking the style of classic horror movies, looking for a way out of the whole mess. There are new weapons, with the addition of a new category, melee weapons, as well as new types of zombies – and new special ones, like the Jockey who can take control of a player and attempt to steer them in the wrong direction away from his/her buddies.

The gameplay is even more intense than before, with the AI Director doing its best to keep players on their toes throughout the levels, while making sure they get a few seconds of breather after a massive fight, in order to prepare for the next one.

Graphics and System Requirements

The four survivors have been designed extremely well, as were those in the first game – each has their own personality and behavior, and they look and sound unique, which greatly adds to the atmosphere of the game. The writing is superb, and the dialogue between the characters reveals them as near-lifelike human beings bit by bit, such as the slightly cynical gambler Nick, or the amiable and somewhat naive country boy Ellis – after just a few rounds they grow on you and it’s part of what brings you back for more.

The overall graphics quality is good, as can be expected from Valve’s Source Engine, which has been presented in its latest incarnation here. The survivors’ flashlights cast very realistic shadows from the objects around the levels and the players themselves, and the addition of daylight levels as opposed to the all-night style of the first game is a refreshing change. Source is known for its scalability on older machines, so you should be able to run the game even if you’re not up to date with your hardware.

Other

Valve have a tendency to continuously update their games post-release without any extra fees, and Left 4 Dead 2 is no exception – it received a free content package after its release, containing a whole new episode – though when we say free, we only mean the PC version of course – due to Microsoft’s policies, the update costs 560 MS Points on the Xbox 360.

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of horror movies/games and you want a game packed with tasteful dark humor that you can enjoy with your friends, Left 4 Dead 2 would have you glued to the screen.

Mass Effect 2 Review

Mass Effect came out a few years ago and struck great success due to its deep, intricate storyline and varied gameplay that gives players many options about the outcome of the game and the general way it progresses. Mass Effect 2 expands on those trends, delivering even more of what made the original so popular and successful – and it should definitely remain in the hearts of gamers for a long time.

Gameplay

Mass Effect 2 features a much-improved combat system, with damage now appropriately affecting different areas of your enemies’ (and yours as well) bodies, and there have been various improvements to the AI as well – for example, your enemies are now much more persistent, refusing to simply die, instead they’ll crawl to you even if they can’t get up, doing their best to hurt you.

The healing system has been replaced by a regenerating health one, similar to what’s used in some other games. The “medi-gel” that was used in the original game is still present though, as it’s used to revive your allies that have been struck down. Weapons behave more realistically as well, and you’ll have to be careful if you want to avoid them overheating, or other dangerous side effects of overuse.

Graphics and System Requirements

The latest version of the Unreal Engine can deliver some very high-quality graphics – you’ll see lots of great-looking effects accompanying the exciting gameplay all around, and the level of post-processing is simply tremendous and adds to the atmosphere of the game immensely. You’ll also get to enjoy a well-coded physics engine, which makes for some spectacular, chaotic firefights with ragdolls flying all around.

System requirements are rather high though, as with all the games running on the Unreal Engine’s latest version. You’ll need a good modern-day computer capable of handing current titles without problems, if you want to enjoy Mass Effect 2 as well. Toning down some of the graphics quality settings may be a small remedy, but those don’t change that much in this game, so you won’t get away with as much as you would in other games.

Other

Mass Effect 2 offers a lot of replay value, so don’t just put it on a shelf after you’re done with it – make sure you give it another try, this time taking different turns and options in your dialogues – you’ll find it to be a completely different experience, and you’ll actually be able to get at least several different and unique run-throughs, if you’re careful in your choices when it comes to conversations.

Conclusion

Mass Effect 2 is definitely a game that deserves all the praise it got, and it should figure in your collection at all cost if you value true gameplay quality served in an aesthetically pleasing and captivating manner. It may be a bit complex at first, and you may find some of the gameplay decisions a bit irritating, but you’ll still enjoy it greatly and that’s guaranteed.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Modern Warfare 2 is the follow-up to the massively successful Call of Duty series. Ever since coming out, the game has built up to the top of the ladder of online shooters, and still ranks #1 in terms of players online at any time. This huge success came despite some negative backlash from the community against the way the servers were structured in the new version – it seems that people have calmed down with time and have came to terms with the new rules (more on that below).

Gameplay

The game features a rather short single-player mode, which managed to stir up some controversy due to the depiction of a group of Russian terrorists slaughtering an airport. The selling point of the title isn’t the single player though – its power lies in the online play, managing to gather together thousands of players every day. You can unlock various new weapons, tools and ranks as you progress through the RPG-like levelling system, giving you access to a very powerful arsenal on the battlefield.

Some of the criticism from the community came as a response to the removal of dedicated servers – in other words, you can’t host your own private game, you need to rely on the IWNet (Infinity Ward Network, the game’s centralized account system) to connect to other players via “lobbies” – which, while convenient for newcomers, precludes more advanced players from customizing their gameplay to greater extents.

Graphics and System Requirements

The game uses the newest version of Infinity Ward’s proprietary engine, and it performs excellently for the task of giving you tons of eye candy – the game looks spectacular, and the graphics combined with the rest of the effects really make you feel like you’re in the center of the action. The system requirements scale appropriately though, and you’ll need a powerful machine to run the game with everything enabled – at least a GeForce 6600GT or Radeon 1600XT, or any other DirectX 9-compliant card; and a 3.2GHz processor if you’re using a single core.

Other

An underrated aspect of the game’s multiplayer is its cooperative mode, which allows you to play with your friends in a variety of exciting situations – so if you’re getting MW2, make sure you give that one a try, if you manage to find any lobbies for it. Also, since the game was released, more content has been made available for it in the form of DLC map packs (one released so far and more coming up), though you’ll have to pay for those as they’re not free.

Conclusion

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 managed to become one of the highest-ranking games of its time, and we’re yet to see anyone take the crown from it – and despite its occasional flaws and hiccups, it deserves its popularity in all aspects – so if you want a refreshing shooter, give it a try.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat Review

STALKER was a massive hit when it came out. Set in a fictional near future, it revolved around events in “The Zone”, a common way to refer to the Zone of Exclusion around Chernobyl. In the game’s fictional timeline, a second major disasted in Chernobyl causes the military to completely cordon the zone, at the same time creating a self-sustained area inside it, where bands and organizations fight against each other for dominance and survival. Call of Pripyat is the second expansion to the original, set shortly after the events of the first game.

Gameplay

In Call of Pripyat, it’s assumed that the first game ended with the player destroying the organization controlling The Zone (as the game featured multiple possible endings). There have been various additions to the gameplay, such as upgrades to the weapons and changes to the trading system. There are now also daily “emissions”, a new type of anomaly caused by the disasters in the area, which causes deadly outbursts of radiation, forcing the player to seek cover.

A much-requested Free Play mode has been added as well, which allows you to continue playing the game and exploring its world freely after you’ve finished it, completing some of the “perpetual” quests and enjoying the game’s atmosphere – which, by the way, is in some aspects even better than the previous games.

Graphics and System Requirements

The X-Ray engine has been slightly upgraded for this version, bringing in some new post-processing effects, and new eye-candy such as water realistically flowing down walls when it’s raining – if you’ve got a computer that can support it at the highest levels of detail, it will be a fantastic experience, guaranteed. The game portrays both outside and indoor environments very realistically and in a captivating manner – and the new effects utilized for anomalies are just spectacular.

Despite that, Call of Pripyat’s overall system requirements are actually lower than those of the previous two – apart from eye candy, the engine also received a lot of optimization, it seems. This is always great to see, as many developers nowadays tend to concentrate on buffing up the graphics quality without any regard for how much they’re shrinking their potential customer base.

Other

The game does have a few bugs and glitches, as the developer is known for releasing products like that. However, the latest patches fix most of what could be troubling you, and the game becomes a smooth and enjoyable experience. Online play is there but not very heavily accented, as the primary spotlight here is the single player experience – though still, you may want to have a few rounds blasting other people with the game’s guns (mostly the sniper rifles, due to the way it’s balanced).

Conclusion

A solid game that grabs you and just doesn’t let go until you’ve beaten every single side-quest and explored every last ruined factory. It’s not just your regular shooter, it’s an absolute masterpiece that really deserves more attention than it’s received.