iGamer Reviews: Ace Attorney (HD Trilogy)

By Capcom.

For iPhone and iPad. Individual titles (non-HD) available for Nintendo DS.

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This may actually be the most appropriate review to get started, considering the last post I made that wasn’t just composed of news and false-announcements. In a way, for this first post I will be reviewing both a mobile game title, but also providing a more in-depth look of the Visual Novel genre. That said, let’s get with the review.

What is it?

You might be wondering to yourself, “What could possibly be so interesting about something called, ‘Ace Attorney?’ How exciting can you make a game about lawyers?” These are fair questions. Actually, I even asked those same questions myself when I first heard of the series. Would it be fun to read over legal terms and papers? Could I extract some enjoyment from writing up a crookedly-designed contract with my client, so that after the trial is over, they will be permanently indebted to me so that every time they cry; I can bottle their tears so that I may drink them at my leisure? While the second example may create an amusing mental image of sorts, I believe that the correct answer for most of you is, “no”. Fortunately, neither of those examples reflect how the game actually plays.

Capcom seems to be acutely aware of the negative perception lawyers have in America, and goes well out of its way to make the job of “Defense Attorney” seem as glorious and heroic as possible. You see, to the people at Capcom, being a legal representative is just one part of the job as you also happen to be a private detective and forensic analyst. That’s not to say you actually play someone who is both a detective and forensics expert; instead, it is just entirely assumed that detective work and forensic analysis is part of what being a “lawyer” is, which is enough to make you wonder why all lawyers aren’t also police officers.

What’s the story?

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In the Ace Attorney trilogy, you play the novice defense lawyer, Phoenix Wright, on a personal mission to protect all those who have been falsely accused of wrongdoing. Over the course of three games, Phoenix Wright meets a variety of different characters, both friends and foes, visits various locations, and uncovers several conspiracies, each more elaborate than the last one.

Each game in the HD trilogy is composed of a series of case files that Phoenix Wright takes on, and although each of them have their own respective story, most of them tie into one larger narrative, while some cases tie into the sequel after it. The final result is an elaborate web of expertly crafted mystery stories that seamlessly lead you from one game to the next.

How do you play it?

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As I mentioned in a post, long, long ago, Ace Attorney plays very similarly to a Visual Novel. That is to say, while the narrative mostly takes place from the perspective of Phoenix Wright, you do not physically control him or move him around like a traditional video game. Rather, each case file has two different styles of gameplay: Investigations, and Trials.

Investigations are very reminiscent of a point-and-click adventure games, albeit with some more complexities. In each Investigation, Phoenix Wright must interrogate witnesses, search the crime scene, and collect evidence to help prove his client innocent, all the while determining the true perpetrator of the crime. However, the Trials are an almost entirely different beast.

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After you have collected all the evidence you need, you will ultimately find yourself at the courtroom. From there, your reading skills and memory will be tested instead of your observational skills, as you are forced to go head to head with the prosecution and cross-examine the witnesses. It is through the testimony of the witnesses and claims of the prosecution that you must find the lies or contradictions made, and point them out with the evidence you gathered from the scene of the crime. These sequences  can be brutal if you can’t remember everything that happened, and the courtroom judge will penalize you for presenting the wrong evidence at the wrong time. With too many penalties accumulated, your defense will be overturned, and your client will be found guilty. While this can make picking the correct evidence all the more satisfying, sometimes the correct lines and pieces of evidence are so unintuitive the only logical way to handle the situation is to save your game, and guess wildly until you found the right piece of evidence (or just look up the correct answer online). That said, the logic-defying choices are most common in the first game, and are less common in the other two games.

What’s the final word?

Overall, I had a fantastic time playing through that game, and I’m willing to bet that anyone who is a fan of legal dramas and mystery stories is bound to enjoy it as well. Along with that, at only seventeen dollars for three games (although you can buy each title individually for roughly six dollars through in-app purchases) you will definitely get your money’s worth. And although there may be some frustrations along the way, the experience only gets better with each game you play.

That’s all for now,

Riknas, signing off!

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Free Play Reviews: Shaiya (Archive)

Shaiya by Aeria Games

Well damn, number nine and we’re still here. Hard to believe it’s already been two months huh? Although some say that people will pay more for better quality, Andras and I will stay here to demand the best of both worlds.

Let’s get right into it then, eh?

The Story

The back-story to Shaiya is a simple one, however it leaves a feeling that you are part of a rather epic battle.

The idea is that after the Nordein people (a large brutish race) were removed from their throne up high in the heavens of by the goddess Etain, the Dumianas (Elves, really) grew angry with her, and actually killed her. As a result, gods fought each other for the control of Teos, plaguing it with monsters.

Eventually, it would come down to two goddess, one representing light, and the other representing darkness, still fighting over the world of Teos. As a result, the Dumianas split into two factions, both siding with the different gods. Those allying themselves with the goddess of light would call themselves Elves (told you), and on the opposing side were the Vail (I don’t care what anyone says, these are just Dark Elves).

As the war raged on, the Nordein returned, calling themselves “Death Eaters” came to the aid of the Vail, and the Humans appeared to ally with the Elves. You must choose who your loyalties lie with, and help bring an end, to this ongoing struggle.

Getting Started

So, now you’re pumped to play right? Let’s get that character set up. But before you do that you need to pick which army to ally with. You can either join the Alliance of Light, (Elves and Humans) or the Union of Fury (Vail((Dark elves)) and Nordein). This sounds important in the beginning, because you can only be on one side per server. But since there’s two servers to choose from, it really isn’t that big a deal. In the end it hardly even matters what side you take, since each race mirrors the other in the classes they use, and their only real difference is in name only.

Humans are mostly like the Nordein, and Elves are similar to the Vail (And vice versa). Although this removes a layer of uniqueness, this makes sure everyone is on even ground.

One thing that is however interesting about the classes is how the classes are set up in description, and is similar to Anarchy Online’s (Also covered in Free Play #5) class system. Although Shaiya doesn’t actually slap a difficulty level on the classes, it does have a set of bars rating the Attack, Defense, Group effectiveness and Solo effectiveness, making it easy to figure out what class suits your play-style best.

Lastly, you must decide what difficult you want to play on.

What?

This goes on the aspect of “interesting” things in the game (Note I didn’t say “good”, just “interesting”). There are four difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Ultimate. On easy mode you double the experience you gain, however you can not learn “Special” skills, and only can reach level thirty. In normal, you go at normal XP gain, but can also reach level fifty, etc etc. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, I’m going to just start on Ultimate and not have to grind through those first three difficulties.” But, of course, you can’t. You must beat Normal to unlock Hard, and hard, to unlock ultimate. I was initially impressed at the concept of “easy” for just helping you dip your foot in the water, but forcing you to go through three more difficulty levels, each at a higher level cap, and slower speed seems cruel.

However, to some it is a pleasant way to extend your full game experience (If you actually enjoy being forced to do that sort of thing, I don’t want to meet you.)

But let’s not be dragged down by that quite yet, it couldn’t hurt to give the game a try can it?

GamePlay/World

Yes, yes it can.

This opening has got to be one of the most disappointing beginnings ever. After a brief in-game tutorial, no matter what race I play, I get some kill-quest to find some strange animal, which happens to be so powerful, that the guards can’t handle it. In the case of my human fighter, apparently they are being overwhelmed by a plague of thief monkeys.

Thief Monkeys? Really? Okay, fine. At least it’s different. So it looks like I’m going to go hunt for them in the forest and then make some gold I guess.

Except that’s not the case either, I walk maybe ten feet outside the town to find that it seems the entire road is covered in these non-hostile monkeys, who just walk back and forth, barely straying from the road if at all. When one is killed, moments later another comes back in a bright light.

…Maybe the guards just couldn’t see the monkeys with those big helmets they have on, yeah?

As I completed quest after quest, all amazingly close to each other, I noticed that they occasionally have timed quests, which I also call “grind quests”. The entire point of these quests is to kill as many enemies of a certain type that you can within sixty minutes and still get back to the quest giver. Usually there is a minimum amount that you need to kill for the reward, but the higher amount of enemies killed, the better the gold reward is. So, that’s kind of interesting, not bad either. However it was on my third timed quest for my Nordein where I realized why all quest enemies are so close to each other.

They don’t give directions.

That’s right, for some inane reason, the developers thought it would be a cool idea if they gave you a marker to find people you owe quests for, but not for where your actual targets are. It then became a painfully long time attack to scour the map for that one type of enemy, because it has to be a specific type of enemy. For instance, kill five Doomfall Sentinels. Not a thing else. Doomfall Warrior? No. Doomfall…Hero? No. Just the sentinels. Now I’m no longer looking to find where the enemies are, but where I left my sanity as I wandered up and down the hills to find those Arachne creatures.

Although in the overall scheme of progression, it can be a pain to get some of these things done, playing the game itself is very nice. The in-game animations are very realistic and fluid, making you feel much more immersed in the game play as you use your double sword to slash your opponent to the side, or bringing down your large two handed axe onto the enemies head. And that’s just using auto-attack. All attacks are well done, and is definitely a step up from World of Warcraft.

PVP

Although the PVE in Shaiya is lacking, the PVP in it is a shining beacon to other games, and can be compared to a more limited form of Lineage 2. Shaiya sports 1500 vs 1500 realm versus realm combat, with  the Union of Fury and Alliance of Light players going head to head for dominance. The winners of these battles are given the blessings of their goddess, empowering them even further. For those who’d rather fight on smaller scales, there is Guild Versus Guild combat, and an Arena for all to compete in.

The combat has a nice combination of number crunching (Distributing points into stats and skill strengths) and fast paced combat, by knowing when to conserve your energy and use your skills, while double tapping the left, right, and back movement keys to avoid getting hit.

Admittedly not many games are good at PVP, but this game really knows what it’s doing in this regard.

The Catch

Aeria Games, like most Asian F2P MMOs, features a Micro-Transaction system to buy in-game items. One special thing about it is that you first must buy “Aeria Game Points”. Aeria points are a universal RMT system that you can utilize in any of Aeria Game Entertainment’s MMOs, so that if you buy an excess, but get tired of one of their games, you can use it in one of their other ones.

The only downside is the one that follows all F2P MMOs is that the paying players can have the upper-hand over the free players, however that can’t be helped, as they’re trying to add incentive to get you to pay. However there is no actual problem that makes it even harder for our fellow cheap-skates.

Conclusion

Shaiya online is mediocre at best if you like PVE content, however it is a great place to go for people who enjoy PVP. If Lineage 2 is starting to burn a hole in your pocket, but you don’t want to give up bashing other players, I’m going to suggest giving Shaiya a shot.

However, if you’re looking to adventure and slay dragons with your friends, look elsewhere.

This is Riknas, and I hope you got some good info from this Free Play Blog.

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((This review was written in the year 2009 and may not be completely faithful to the current state of the game))

Free Play Reviews: Dofus (Archive)

Hey guys, Riknas again, if you didn’t pick up on it from the title, this week I’m covering Dofus by Ankama. Take a seat, and enjoy (Or try, at least.)

The Story

This game takes World of Warcraft’s accessibility to a new level, by giving a simple story that most children could understand, it’s so short it hardly warrants its own section. I don’t even have an excuse why it does have its own, other than “I feel like give it one.”

There is legend of seven elemental eggs, each with great amounts of power, as an adventurer, you seek to collect them, and become a great hero. It’s not much more complex than that. However if you really want to read it, just click here.

That said, if you’re a big fan of huge back-stories and the like, you might want to just turn back now…

Getting Started

Okay, so you’re still reading. If you are, then I would assume that you’re either interested/not-bored by the story, or  you just really like reading what I have to say (If only that were true…).

After booting up the game, if you have not chosen a server to go on, it will automatically choose one for you with priority first on your location, and then on population.

Soon after, it will ask you to choose your gender and class.

The classes all have basic stories behind them(All about as complex as the main story…), and each represent a different race and god.

The twelve races consist of:

Iop’s Heart: The knight character, with decent defense and attack.

Cra’s Range: The archer.

Feca’s Shield: The tank.

Sacrier’s Blood: Your berserker DPS class.

Sadida’s Shoe: A witch class, focusing on using living dolls to attack their enemies.

Osamodas’s Whip: Another summoner class, sending animals to do their bidding.

Enutrof’s Fingers: An adventurer class, focused on weakening enemies to make them easier to fight themselves.

Sram’s Shadow: A rogue class, with emphasis on traps to start combat.

Xelor’s Sandglass: A time wizard (Or something like that…) that has emphasis on preventing the enemy from participating in combat.

Pandawa’s Pint: A warrior class that gets strength from ale (Similar to white-trash like myself), that enables them to carry their allies to safety.

Ecaflip’s Coin: A warrior class that bases everything on chance, giving you the opportunity to do tremendous damage, or actually heal your enemy.

Enirispa’s Hand: A caster class, focusing on buffs to empower their allies and themselves.

After choosing what suits you best (Or picking which furry you like most, you dirty perv) You should feel free to customize your character, once again though, don’t expect anything too elaborate. In this character creation, the biggest change you’ll really have is the gender of your character. The rest you’ll be effecting is the color of your outfit and hair. Yea. I tried thinking of a joke to make about how painfully simple that is, until I realized a week had gone by and I had a dead-line to make.

After that, and a brief cutscene you’ll finally be able to enter the world, where you find yourself in front of a statue of your god, and an Eagle Man who is willing to help explain the world around you. This is also rather brief, and only really explains combat, which is already rather simple. However you also will have a small blue pet called “Boone” that will explain things to you as you go along to explore the world.

GamePlay/World

This game is unique both graphically, and in how you play. You view the world beneath you, looking down on your character Diablo style, as opposed to the traditional MMO where your camera trails directly behind your character. On top of that, the world has a very anime-cartoon ( I don’t know if that can be considered an actual phrase, but I don’t care) look to it. Movement is performed by clicking where you want to be, and your character goes to that location the fastest way possible. The world is heavily instanced, and you travel to different areas by walking onto little compass shaped symbols placed on the edges of the area you’re in.

On top of that, it boasts a unique combat system which is similar to the Xbox 360 (And now PS3) game Enchanted Arms. If you liked that, you’ll probably like this style of play. In Dofus, when you enter combat (Which is performed by walking into hostile NPCs you see) you are sent into an instance of the very instance your in, and the area suddenly becomes a grid, covered in squares. Your enemy is given several starting positions to choose from (Which are marked in red) and you are also given several squares to position yourself in (marked in blue). Once you click the “ready” icon the battle begins. It will (usually) start as your turn, and there is a timer for you to decide what to do. Based on your character type, you’ll like either try and keep a distance from the enemy, or move into attack. Certain character classes can attack from farther away from others.

For example, as you might imagine, an archer will be able to attack from several squares away, where as a swordsman will usually be only able to attack from one or two squares away. As the number of enemies you encounter on the grid increase in the higher levels, you’ll find yourself needing to use more and more strategy, as you decide how to best use your action points (mana/energy). Because your health does not regenerate (unless you level up), you might find yourself constantly trying to weigh the risks of whether or not another fight is a good idea. Of course, you could just find yourself increasingly annoyed, and since you are not introduced to a store to shop at in the Free version, the lack of potions and equipment can have you going back and forth to the health fountain might just make you sick of your miserable existence on the computer.

Crafting is like most traditional MMOs, where you learn to gather and create things with them. The only issue people might have is how specific each crafting skill is when you can only have three professions. For example, Shield smith, Axe Smith, and Sword smith, are all their own professions, and you clearly can’t learn them all without having a gathering skill, so being entirely self-sufficient is out of the way. This isn’t helped by the fact that Free gamers are not allowed to join guilds, and have no access to the markets.

The Catch

I’ve eluded to the catch several times, and I still haven’t even went into all of it. Have you noticed the lack of the PVP section? You know why that is? PVP is just for members, which includes factional warfare. As I said earlier, you also can’t access merchants, or join guilds. You’re stuck in one zone, which is known as Astrub village, and are thus stuck fighting monsters no higher than level 20, and with levels going all the way to 1000, it’s hard not to feel left out. You will also be unable to equip items found outside of the village (though I guess that won’t be too much of a problem if you’re stuck in there…) and are unable to have pets of your own.

Really, the game isn’t actually a Free to Play one, so much as  a game that just happens to offer a free trial/demo.

Conclusion

Dofus is a game different from the traditional MMO, however different isn’t necessarily good. Although easy to install and boot up, the cartoon-like art style tries to appeal to a younger audience, but the game itself may also appeal to fans of turn based games like Enchanted Arms and Final Fantasy.

However, the game isn’t Free Play, so much as it is a discount MMO, at the cost of only 7 dollars a month, or 65 dollars a year (For those who pay up front ). So if you’re curious, give it a try. It won’t cost you a thing, aside from time. But if you’re into MMOs, you probably have plenty of it…

This is Riknas, and I’m signing out, until next time folks…

((This archive post was written in the year 2009, and may not remain faithful to the current game.))

Investigating The Secret World (Part 3)

Alright. Now that we’re at Part Three I’m done giving background,  I’m just going to talk about mostly about the game play and questing in The Secret World. If you want to catch up, just check out Part One and/or Part Two. As I said before, there may be spoilers in these posts.

By the time I got through the starter area, I had a pretty good understanding of the faction I was working for, and each of the NPCs I interacted with were fully-voice acted, and I could ask them a variety of questions such as the state of the secret world, their opinions on the other factions, and themselves. Also, after initially meeting with them you can also check to see if they have any quests. So far, any NPC presented quest would be explained in the form of a cut scene, leading to a switch in perspective for the camera. I would say this does make the quests seem more dramatic than having six other people standing in front of the character with you, and while I wouldn’t say that they blow me away each time, I find the consistency to be a positive improvement compared to what we had in Age Of Conan.

Concept Art: “The Besieged Farmlands”

That said, quests so far rarely feel like the run of the mill quests we have in other MMOs. While it’s possible I may not have gotten in far enough, the closest thing I had to a mundane quest was to lure a group of enemies into a magically protected church. This did in fact consist of me shooting them and then running off, but it was explained to me as a way of testing the magic wards the church had in place. It wasn’t especially complicated, but it was more interesting luring five of them as opposed to merely killing five of them. In another quest, I was supposed to help resupply an isolated town under siege by zombies. Instead of simply marking on my mini map each of the locations, first I had to find a phone book and check the list off addresses there. I would like to point out interacting with the phone book was very thorough, I didn’t just right click it and then have it assigned to my mini map, I actually had the opportunity to look at it; the phone book had actually addresses, phone numbers, and the names of each of the locations. Because I could visit the phone book prior to the quest, this time the important addresses were circled in red. It was only then did my character decide which areas would be best best to investigate. Some areas had supplies, and some had giant monsters waiting to eat off my face. Once I had finished checking out all the buildings I had first circled, my character noticed he did not actually have enough, and I had to find another phone book to figure out what to do next. In another quest, I found myself chasing flocks of ravens and then examining a drawing of a pentagram in order to find the right location to put the raven feathers I had collected to summon a monster.

While the puzzles and concepts I was being introduced to were reasonably simple, from what I can tell there are supposed to become much more complicated: they actually have an in-game browser that connects you to Google so you can do research. I would also like to point out that this browser worked significantly better than the original browser built into EVE Online. Really, this is the first time I’ve ever played a game that outright told me, “You’re not going to figure it all out on your own.”

“Besieged Farmlands” In-Game

Now, let’s talk about the real game play where you kill things. Before you can get to fighting zombies, monsters, and those dirty stick in the mud Templars, you need to pick a weapon (If you’re a Templar, don’t bother. You’re already dead). As you progress through your faction starting area, at some point you will be sent to a trainer that will explain the basics of how combat works. This trainer goes on to explain the fire that you seem to have control over (as mentioned in Part One) is your “anima”. For some reason you are able to project this life energy inside you to be a deadly. As such, the question you have to ask yourself is, “How do I want to control it?” This is supposed to be the defining reason why The Secret World is an RPG progression. Any weapon you choose to use is ultimately a focus object for you to project your anima. You have three categories to choose from, Melee, Ranged, and Magic. These three categories each have three weapons associated with them. Melee is composed of Hammers, Swords, and Fist Weapons. Ranged consists of Shotguns, Dual Pistols, and Assault Rifles. Last, we have Elemental, Blood, and Chaos Magic.  At any one time, you can use two weapons and fourteen abilities associated with them (Seven active abilities, and seven passive abilities). This is explained to you in a video shown via the in-game browser. Let me just say, the announcer manages to make everything sound awesome. He tells you to consider abilities as cards in a collectible card game, and the abilities you choose to use are your “deck”. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t actually sound like something to get you pumped. Maybe you think it’s kind of cool, but you wouldn’t go and call it exciting. At least, not if this was being explained by a normal person. The announcer for this manages to say all of it so seriously when he finishes saying, “deck” I think to myself, “Holy crap, this MMO lets me me pick and choose my abilities like its a deck in a collectible card game!” Chances are this guy could convince me that you should only be able to solo in MMOs and that all single player games should be multiplayer only. Really, that guy could get me to buy anything. That said, while all this freedom is well and good, and I may now have a man-crush for the narrator, it doesn’t actually determine whether or not it’s fun.

On the surface, you might think that the combat is more of the same. And to be fair, you can see the similarities to “standard MMO” fighting. However, because you don’t level up through a power tree or a strictly linear system, there is a more strategic mindset for when you start picking abilities you want to learn and use, and the combat itself and feel a bit more fast paced and tactical. Having said that, I think it’s  actually really hard to peg it as “fun” or “not fun”, because it all really depends on how you feel about classic MMO combat. If you think that’s fun (or fun enough), this could either interest you as a step up, or turn you off for being too different. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something different, this might be enough to pique your interest, however to some it might still be too much of the same old thing. Personally, I find the combat to be just different enough to satisfy me.

Overall, I would say that my time spent with The Secret World was pretty enjoyable. Because I have the game pre-ordered and have access to the last beta weekend, you can bet I’ll be talking about this game for a while.

Riknas, signing off!

Investigating The Secret World (Part 2)

Naturally, this is a follow up on The Secret World from Part 1.

So, I’m going to skip over a second set of introductions because chances are if you’re reading this you already read part one. That, and if you didn’t read the first part I can’t imagine you caring much about this post either.

One thing I would like to say before discussing my experiences in-game is to say that Funcom has really gone the extra mile in this project, especially as one of the few prominent independent studios left. I never thought the newsletter that I signed up for on a whim would actually come back and entice me the way it has. Their use of the Facebook “social experience” The Secret War managed to make a simple map of our own world seem significantly more mysterious and enticing. Along with that, they kept me checking in on it regularly with offers of in-game items, treats, and guaranteed beta access for those that accumulated an exceptionally large sum of “points”.

Along with that, they continued to string along the conspiracy theorists with unique marketing, sending those who signed up for the newsletter on an elaborate internet chase, trying to unravel two mysteries at once in what people are calling an “ARG” or “Alternate Reality Game“. They have been keeping us active digging through pastebin archives, searching for hidden meaning in songs on Youtube, deciphering secret codes to unlock Live Action videos that bring us one step closer to understanding another conflict occurring in The Secret World. If you want to try and see what I’m talking about… go to www.funcom.com and wait for a few seconds for the site to load. Then hit “33” on your keyboard, and you can see what I’m talking about They are currently on the sixth seal here. See if you can figure out the questions you may have on your own. One would normally think a game rooted in mystery, deception, and espionage would not lend itself especially well to an MMORPG; while I can’t speak for everyone, Funcom has done a damn good job at making it work so far.

And with that out of the way, let me tell you about my experience inside The Secret World. Keep in mind, there may be spoilers.

The first rule of The Secret World is tell all your friends about The Secret World…Wait, what?

Just before the character creator, you are asked to choose between one of three factions, the Templars, Illuminati, and the Dragon. To help you decide, each faction has a simple trailer (click the links if you want to see them). Considering how they have much more elaborate trailers, I’m surprised that they chose to use those ones. My personal guess is that these trailers are easier for the client to run as opposed to the full CG ones, and they don’t want to tax the program more than necessary.

Anyway, while my personal choice was the Illuminati, I decided to try the starter areas for each of the factions. Regardless of your choice, the game opens up with a cutscene referred to as “One Week Ago” in what is presumably your apartment, unless you actually are a squatter or stole another person’s apartment after killing them and throwing their mutilated corpse in their own closet. “Why so specific?” you might ask. Don’t. Worry. About. It. Okay?

As I was saying, you are sleeping in your (alleged) apartment while a radio broadcast mentions investigations into the Japanese government after an unclear accident took place against a certain “Orochi” group. Meanwhile, while this broadcast takes place, one glowing insect and another regular one fly onto your windowsill and slowly make their way across their room. The first insect flies into your mouth, and the glowing one follows right after it. Almost immediately after, your character brings a hand to their throat and sits up coughing. Reaching out for your jacket across from your bed, a blue fire comes from your hand, and you jerk back in surprise. Testing your hand once more, the flame appears once more and you stare in shock. The screen goes black, and we then see ourselves “Four Days Ago”. Your apartment is now a wreck, CDs, books and various objects are strewn across the floor, along with an entire bookshelf toppled over. And then there is you, tucked away in the corner curled up holding your knees to your chest, face distraught. There’s a rumbling in the background, and you find yourself yanked upward as you let forth an explosion around you and are held up in the air while beams of energy shoot out from your mouth and eyes like you were running a laser-light-show for your organs. By the next time skip you’ve decided to use your fire as part of your own break dancing routine as you throw it back and forth between your hands, until you decide to absorb it from one hand, and let the blue energy travel through your shoulders, up your arm, and materializing it once more in your opposite hand. After that, your paths finally diverge based on your faction choice, and a representative of that group shows up at your door. They capture the moods of their respective organizations very well, with the Illuminati man clarifying the playboy/party life you can lead, the Templar woman explains the importance of nobility and your responsibility to the world, and the Dragon sends a monk with lips stitched together, knocks you out with a bolt of lightning to the forehead, has you dragged off, so you can wake up being thrown out of a van in South Korea. For a bit of context, it is heavily implied that your apartment is in New York City. The Dragon are agents of chaos indeed.

At this point I think I should stop and clarify, not only were all these introductions very cool, for an MMO the animations were extremely fluid and compelling, and from what I have seen, Funcom has clearly gone out of their way to let us know they can do a lot with their character models. This is made especially clear in the Illuminati section as characters stand up and walk around, sometimes raising their fists and shaking their head, while other times providing slight nods and general gestures. In general, the facial animations are a bit lacking, but overall Funcom has conveyed the feeling of living human bodies very well. Of course, I should point out that I did notice a fair number of flaws in the animations for the Dragon starter area, but it appears to be something everyone is aware and should be worked out by the next release date.

Since this article has turned out (again) to be longer than I expected, I will be detailing the combat and gameplay in Part 3.

Riknas, signing off!

Free Play Reviews: ForumWarz (Archive)

ForumWarz by Crotch Zombie Productions

Don’t be deterred by the whole Crotch Zombie Productions, this is actually a sophisticated- screw it. You already know that this game isn’t really going to take itself seriously because they decided to use a “z” instead of an “s” in the title. But, dey don’t be-leev dat htey R teh HAx0rZzZ!!!11!11 It’ll become clear in a minute.

What’s the Deal?

So, what is it about Forum Warz that separates itself from other Free to Play MMOs, and what types of games is it trying to separate? Please note, I am asking these questions rhetorically , and am not actually wondering those things. But to those of you who are, Form Warz’z(?) combat plays out a lot like a turn-based game. In fact, the similarities are so apparent, I am going to call it turn based. I don’t know what made me say “a lot like” before. Forgive me. When engaging in combat, you choose from a growing list of abilities which you can use, along with some items here and there. It’s a pretty standard affair.

Now, how it differs can pretty much be summed up in the word “everything”. In Form Warz, you play as a deplorable internet personality (starting as a Re-Re, but later “upgrading” to camwhore, emo, or troll) trying to piss off everyone they can via forums. You use your abilities (like bang head on keyboard) to increase your PWN. When forum members reply, it decreases your Ego (read “health). Once your PWN reaches max, the forum goes down, and you move on to the next. As you gain levels and abilities, strategy begins to open up a bit, at least in my Emo… class? personality? spammer? For instance, I have a power that gains in strength when my ego is low, but uses my tears (magic). So, I found myself constantly operating in this near-death danger zone, only healing little bits when necessary, but tearing through the forums. It’s an interesting and unique premise if nothing else.

It’s like he’s trying to tell me something…

The thing I find really interesting is that the creator of the game loaded style into absolutely every aspect of the game, and he (or she) makes it pretty obvious that he (or she) hates forum spammers. He (for the sake of ease, I’m going to pretend it’s a guy) constantly makes fun of them in quests, vendors, messages, everything. It’s like his personal joke, make people play a game where they all have to act like idiots to advance.

But if you take a step back, it actually does a fairly good job of conveying the message I think he was originally trying to get across. When you go from forum to forum, doing some of the same basic moves (as with most MMOs) you really start to see how completely meaningless the whole thing is. Not that I ever felt compelled to ruin forums anyways (nor should any of the fine folk here), but it really put things in perspective.

Dude, what was it like?

Excusing my philosophical tirade, having people play as intentionally lousy characters does have its drawbacks. The game is completely filled with immersion, in a way I wish other games would attempt. Since the game is based on the internet, and it is browser based, the game takes place is a pseudo internet. It comes complete with a google knock-off, instant messaging, bookmarks, etc. And with all this at work immersing the player, you really begin to feel like some attention deprived jack-off. Maybe it’s just me, but after a while I found it hard to want to progress. I mean, although you won’t admit it to your peers, in World of Warcraft (the eternal comparison) you really want to be that level 70 paladin. You want to feel cool, wearing the best armor, crushing weaklings, having spells of unimaginable strength. That desire is the driving force behind your play. In a game where you start as an “Emotionally Stable” Emo, and are trying to gain that treasured “unstable” rank, that drive is gone. Again, maybe it’s just me.

From a less personal standpoint, the game has all the bells and whistles coupled with its own unique twist. The tutorial is a robot that constantly insults you, but also wants your *cough* feces in his, uh, oral cavity. The shops are all websites, quests come in emails, everything has a little twist to it.There are a decent range of items, but this isn’t a lewt intensive game, lulz. Most items are cheap single-use boosts, but I wouldn’t have them any other way, from the way the game is set up.

Do People Pay for This?

(Just look at a picture of a forum, you’ll be fine.)

No.

Really, from what I could tell, the game runs entirely off of donations. That is pretty impressive, considering the amount of work that seems to be put into it.

Now, Bring It On Home

So, what’s the deal on this game? It is simply so different, I have to recommend a simple run-through of the game. Sign-up was practically non-existent, so don’t let that be a deterrent. However, it will probably be either hit-or-miss for most people, and you should be able to tell by the first two levels or so. Just, don’t expect this to be your new favorite past-time, because the premise of the game in inherently inhibiting. By that I mean, if this becomes your new favorite game, you should go crawl in a hole because nobody likes a CamWhore/Emo/Troll.

((This review was made in the year 2009, and may not remain entirely faithful to the current game. Review by Andras.))

Free Play Reviews: Dark Orbit (Archive)

Dark Orbit by Big Point

I have been trying not to criticize the names of some of these F2P games, but come on! Dark Orbit? Seriously? I understand why they chose the name, don’t get me wrong. Orbit has a lot to do with space, where the game takes place. Not that anything in the game actually succumbs to the power of gravitational fields, but that seems beyond the point. I understand why they chose dark, because it sounds dangerous and mysterious, and if they chose black it might sound racist. But, merely smashing two logical words together does not a good title make. I mean, how in the world (or beyond it) could an orbit, the imaginary lines in space, possible be dark. That makes as much sense as a lemon tasting fast. I might as well accuse this game of being too tall for me. But I digress, let’s get on with the game.

What Just Happened?

Yes, this game does in fact include a story section. If you had the delusion that this might have any effect on gameplay, you would be sadly mistaken. In fact, I only stumbled into the story when I was in the help pages. The story is as follows, only in an irritating third person (“the highly developed species known as mankind”):

Climate changes on Earth. Three major companies go into space. They colonize planets and make their climates habitable. Why they couldn’t do that on Earth is beyond me, but whatever. There are limited resources, so all the companies went to war with each other. So that’s that.

What’s This Button Do?

Sign-up is pretty simple, not any different from any other signup. It asks for a desired username and password, and then an email address. You then verify that, yes that is really your email. Then they let you play.

But they don’t really tell you how. As soon as I entered the “world” I was a bit overwhelmed with all the stuff on the screen and having no idea what I should be doing. There was a little button that said start, so I figured that might be a good thing to hit. It was.

That Was Fast

So, after my short paragraph and uneventful time signing up, I began my game. I had to choose between one of three companies to work for. I couldn’t really tell the difference between the three, except that one of them was read in a male’s voice, so I decided to work for them. There was a brief description provided, but nothing to really care about. I was then plopped down in a spaceship in the middle of space (I don’t understand how space can have a middle either) and there I was. I noticed on the map in the bottom right hand corner, aptly named the mini-map, that there was a giant blue blob on the upper right hand side with some red flecks floating around. Do to my excessive knowledge in Radio Detection And Ranging I figured blue was good and red was bad. Moving in the game is fairly intuitive. You see the game from a top down perspective of your ship, and click where you want to go. You can also hold down the mouse to have a form of manual control. After gliding over to the blue glob, I found it to be nothing other than a space station, with a horde of friendly ships hovering around it, like piglets suckling from their mother.

Lock and Load

So, at this “mother” ship you can buy equipment. Or, at least, you can go to where you can buy equipment. You see, you can’t actually buy and equip stuff in-game, it instead links you to the main website’s page where you then purchase things. It wasn’t all that complicated, but it was a bit irritating. I’ll forgive them, because they have a very schnazzy (yes, I just said that) site.

The actual stuff you can buy is sparse to say the least. There are about 10 different ships you can buy, but each one is almost always completely superior to that last. That means there no real choice in which ship you want, just which one you can afford. The rest of the equipment was so incredibly barren I almost feel ashamed of it, as if I had some part in the creation of this game. There are a mere 4 different weapons to buy. That’s it. Four. And 3 of them have practically the same name “Laser LF 1”, “Laser LF2”, “Laser LF3”. Once again, they vary only in their damage output, with each one entirely superior to the last. If you notice a theme here, it’s the lack of variety. This in itself may deter people hoping for a lot of depth in their games, or any sense of individuality. There are also drones and engines you can buy, but they too have a depressingly small amount of variety.

Fire When Ready

Let’s move into the next area you are probably wondering about, how do you use these new weapons? And the answer is disappointingly simple, you just click on the enemy and hit laser attack or rockets. Imagine world of warcraft, only you have nothing but one spell and an auto-attack, and you have a pretty good idea what this is. In my first experience fighting I found the red specks moving towards the giant blue blob, and figured enemy players were trying to over-run our base. Needless to say, I began a full assault on all the red specks in sight, and found that they died very easily. After the initial thrill ran off, I noticed that these enemies would not engage me and would fly around in circles if no one attacked it. To my great embarrassment, I was getting worked up over a bunch of low level NPCs.

So, really, the combat is one of the worst features of the game. It is so simple and automated you might as well be watching someone else play.

The game seems to prefer it this way, since everything in the game revolves around the automated combat. It’s as if the game wants as little interaction from you as possible, but still wants you there, like playing action figures with a 5 year old. The missions that didn’t involve fighting were even worse, here’s an example:

The first mission tells you to find a certain kind of mineral and bring it back to base. It told me to find the mineral in X-1 and X-2. After some fiddling, I was able to bring up the big map and found that I was in some J galaxy. But all of them were Js. There were no Xs in to found. In dismay I flew around randomly and shot down some NPCs that dared fly in circles while I crossed their path. Some of these NPCs dropped the mineral I wanted, but apparently THOSE ones were contaminated or something because they did no count for my quest.

As anyone would do in that situation, I consulted the help pages. They were absolutely no help at all, as it covered only the rudimentary basics, such as how to fly. When I went to the map section to see if I was looking on the wrong map, it gave this confusing bit about how you navigate the Space Map. I had to read it three times to understand that by Space Map, they mean the HUD and your play screen. Why they insist on calling it a map, is beyond me. So, with my new-found vocabulary and frustration, I decided to give another whack and flying around randomly. After doing this for a good 20 minutes I found what I sought, my red mineral just floating in space to be picked up. Apparently the minerals randomly spawn across the map. Since I only gathered one and the quest required 20, I decided to completely abandon that mission and go on to the Kill X of Y ones. Those provided even less satisfaction.

You Pay For This?

So, how do these guys make money? There is your fairly micro-transaction option at work here, you pay real money for uterium. Some ships require payment in uterium, while others are paid for in standard credits. But, since you can find uterium in bonus boxes lying every two feet on the map, payment isn’t really necessary. If you want you can convert your uterium into standard credits too, but that seems to defeat any point to actually playing the game.

Closing Statements

Really, you can do a lot better than this game. To give an example of the amount of work going into this, there’s a flash game on newgrounds that is almost identical to this one, and that was a one man show. I cannot think of a reason to play this as opposed to other MMOs unless you have a space-ship fetish, but are too cheap to buy any of the numerous spaceship games that are good.

((This review was made in the year 2009, and may not remain accurate to the current state of the game. Review by Andras.))