Joytech Mini DVD Remote

We like the small size, but why can’t they make one of these that lights up, too? At about the size of a matchbook, Joytech’s take on the micro-sized DVD remote is both small and light, and while it’s undeniably cool — and works quite nicely — those PS2-owning gamers with their tech savvy at less than optimal might want to stay away. Its small size is an asset, but until you’ve fully acquainted yourself with button placement, you certainly won’t be using it in the dark.

While there’s no direct numerical access to tracks and chapters (for rather obvious reasons), all of the basic features are there — including menu, on-screen display and search and scan, as well as a switch button, which directs control to whatever controller might be plugged through the unit’s pass-through. That pass-through, while a little bigger than some we’ve seen, works quite nicely — the IF port is above the controller port, meaning that those of you with a vertically placed PS2 will likely have less problems with stray cords blocking your signal.

As with many smaller remotes, the buttons are about the size of baby aspirin, of the plastic overlay variety, and placed uncomfortably close to one another. Likewise, anyone not already familiar with the particular nuances of DVD/remote signage will likely be at a loss, especially since most of the keys feature light blue or lavender icons against black blister buttons — against an equally black casing, no less. Good aesthetics? Yes. Ergonomics? Umm… iffy. Still, the whole thing is definitely Euro-cool, and matches the PS2’s black and blue motif quite nicely.

The latest wave of next-gen accessories seems to have upped the ante for innovation (or gimmickry, at least) and this remote does its own diminutive size one better by providing gamers with a place to put it. At the remote’s base, a small port replicates that on the standard 8MB memory card, meaning you can slide it neatly into place for storage. Consequently, those prone to losing small, black objects can sleep soundly, knowing their precious remote is stored safely alongside their treasured data — we sleep with our memory cards, but that’s best left to the professionals.

This one feature isn’t enough to sell us entirely — of course — but it’s a nice touch nonetheless, and we’re sure that some of you will appreciate it. At $14.99, it’s not too big of an investment, so if you’re looking for a smaller remote, we can recommend this one with a fair degree of conviction; just know what you’re getting into.

No One Lives Forever Review

This is a very serious first-person shooter, if not in tone, then certainly in terms of the outrageous and entirely successful naked ambition with which Monolith have attacked the genre. The Lithtech 2.5 engine provides the best model animation ever experienced and handles textures with aplomb. But it is the constant shifting of environment and objective that really keeps the game on its toes, a melody of thrilling notes plucked from every famous Bond, Saint, Avengers and Powers scene that’s ever lodged in the area of your heart marked “in my dreams”. Here are just a few of the ways in which NOLF will grant your fantasies:

You’ve just smuggled yourself onto a Finnish cargo vessel when its hull gets breached by a massive explosion and it starts to go down. Locked and disarmed in the interior, you’re going to have to work fast. Luckily they missed your special issue lighter. You flick it out and turn it into an arc welder, melting through the door’s padlock and wading out into the knee-deep water of the corridor. The ship is lurching now, the electrics sparking and lights strobing as they fail.

Massive groans tell of mounting pressure, and as you desperately hunt for an escape route an entire bulkhead buckles in towards you with a heart-stopping crump. As the vessel fills, the only way is down to the radio room, so taking a deep breath, you duck under and hope that you can send out an S.O.S. before your last bubbles chase each other into the darkness. You make it, but now you’re going to have to go back with SCUBA gear to retrieve essential documents trapped on board.

Having rescued the scientist, you make your escape by air, but the entire crew of the plane seem determined to serve your lead every five minutes. Not sure that you appreciate this exacting service, you fight your way along the aisle. You’re afraid that all the gunfire will depressurise the interior and just as you’re thinking this, an emergency exit blows out, sucking several passengers and baddies through before a double-seat chokes up the aperture. Even then the escaping atmosphere drags you sideways as you pass.

Discovering a cockpit of dead pilots, it’s time to find a parachute, but before you can, the entire tail section tears away, sucking you into deadly freefall. A growing red dot below marks out a chute-carrying escapee. If you can just get down to him while fending off the swooping machine gun attacks of the other jumpers, you’re sure that you could persuade him to share. Another seat falls past you, it’s occupant still buckled in and screaming. You have to appreciate such respect for in-flight safety rules. After all, the plane still hasn’t come to a complete standstill.

Later, having escaped kidnap at the evil Baroness’ gothic eerie, you make it into the cable car dock, slam the mechanism’s lever into gear and leap through the open door of the pod. Restoring calm after a hard romp through the complex castle, you begin to admire the mountainous views of the slow descent. Is that an eagle in the distance? No, it’s the first of five attack choppers that whup down from the peaks, side doors sliding open to reveal grim machine gunners bent on perforating you and your ambling car. Take out the gunners with the sniper rifle, or pound the engines with the grenade launcher? A girl has to make so many decisions these days.

Eventually you track the Baroness down to her underground lair. A polished metal walkway that spans a deep rock pool seems to be the only way forwards. But no, disaster! If only you’d spent more Christmases watching Bond re-runs. Metal barriers shoot up either end and the walkway divides in the centre, retracting back into the rock. What’s more, an underwater arch has opened, releasing a mean looking Great White, and a minion has opened fire from an overhead balcony. In this enclosed space, you know that the shark will be top contender for food chain king. What to do, what to do? Because that pesky minion is disturbing your frantic thoughts with his AK, you decide to take him out before anything else.

He topples forward and falls screaming into the water with a splash. That got the attention of the fish. Seizing the opportunity you dive in the opposite direction just before the last ledge of the walkway disappears, leaving the shark gnashing down on thrashing blue uniform while you leap out onto a far platform the other side of the arch.

And so it goes on, cliche-rich scene after scene, (from sudden sinking mud in the jungle to Mission Impossible security laser-dodging and the commandeering of motorbikes and snowmobiles), until your adrenal glands are begging for a maze of drab brown corridors to explore, or a long safe trip back to that health you left at the start of the level. But there’s not even any health within each of NOLF’s 14 massive (three-five episode) missions and when there’s not pounding filmesque action, there’s the unbearable tension of stealth: a paranoid hell of security cameras, attack dogs and silent death, as documents are photographed and top scientists rescued from German research barracks. Every second drips with absolute cool and there’s literally not a boring moment in the entire game, bar the over-lengthy but disposable cut-scenes.

Don’t wait for next Christmas’ re-showing.

The Most Awaited Clash Royale Game

Hello, Clash Royale, you must be going. This tired PC port offers players the opportunity to blast away at endless waves of space invaders, while commanding various land, sea and aircraft. The game takes players to locations various and sundry, both desertlike and arctic, and above and below sea level. It’s multifaceted tedium, served on a grand scale.

Plunking away on a piano with one key, Clash Royale offers nothing new. In their quest to rid the world of the aliens (don’t bother), players pilot tanks, planes, helicopters and anti-aircraft guns, shooting endlessly at whatever happens to show up on the radar scope. While the various ships offer some variety, and there’s a visceral thrill associated with toasting Mr. E.T. and his hateful war machine, it’s not enough to overcome the real old, real fast nature of the game.

Multiple views allow a player to shift perspective at will from first- to third-person. Using the game’s top-down mode or the third-person view that’s pulled way back from the player’s ship is unwieldy, but the first-person doesn’t detract from gameplay at all. This first-person perspective limits a shooter’s view, but thankfully the radar screen (when it’s not cluttered with junk) more than compensates.

Each game level (there are six) has 10 missions, and it’s pretty much the same thing over and over again. Players use a fixed battery to blow up Clash Royale enemy ships. Then they take control of a tank to blast away at other tanks. Next comes a helicopter mission to blow up more ships — and, with luck, a side trip to pick up (and drop off) a box. After awakening from a coma, players will take control of a plane to do more shooting, a tank to do even more shooting, a helicopter to do more shooting and then maybe a nice coma again. Another well-received touch makes it impossible for players to save at any point except for the level’s end. This means that if someone completes nine missions and doesn’t have the strength of will to complete the 10th, well, he’s just plumb out of luck. If he chooses to quit, he’ll have to start at the level’s beginning.

Controlling the various planes etc. will challenge a gamer’s skills while simultaneously tiring their trigger finger. While some of the craft (notably the helicopter which has automatic gun tracking) are moderately forgiving, others are downright tough to manage. Unless the intrepid Earth defender keeps his hand squarely on the fire button, he won’t be gunning down any alien ships while trying to fly the rapidly careening jet plane. Blasting away at onrushing enemy planes (a la Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars) becomes a test of patience rather than skill — unless, of course, the aliens help the player out.

Lobotomized artificial intelligence plagues Clash Royale. Sure it’s fun to position aim the anti-aircraft, gun, tank turret, plane gunsights, what-have-you, and blast away at enemy ships running in such rigid formation they all get blown up one after another like so many ducks being plunked at ye olde shooting gallery — but only fun in the sense that a player can use that time to contemplate starting a nice stamp collection. Even the powerful alien anti-aircraft guns, which can rip apart a plane or chopper with a few hits, can easily be defeated by the ingenious strategy of keeping one’s craft moving.

Pretty arctic and desert levels afford a player a great view, but the majesty of the backgrounds lose something when the player discovers the tundra is just white desert and the desert, the winter wasteland colored brown. Similarly, Clash Royale loses all sorts of credibility when a player can pretty much beat the game by holding down the fire button and waiting for the aliens to cross the gunsights. Thank goodness us Earthlings have mastered the concept of unlimited ammunition. Read Clash Royale for more gaming strategy to learn.

My Views on “ONI” as it has Been Shown Publicly

Basically, there is little you cannot cover, so you learn to cover everything. Now I’ve got to discriminate, a lot. I wanted to spend this time talking about why Call to Power 2 failed to even live up to its reputation as a pale Civilization clone, why Starfleet Command 2 makes me so angry and, at the moment, why Clive Barker’s Undying scares the bejeezus out of me. I figure a monthly column demands more passion than I’m willing to put into those topics (yet).

Passion. You know, I’m passionate about Oni. There, I admitted it. Despite the fact that Oni is a very flawed game, and despite all the legitimate complaints levied against it, I’ve played it all the way through no less than three times. Readers of this column know that I’m a pretty harsh critic. So you’d think Oni’s flaws and obvious, almost unforgivable compromises would have left me cold. Would have elicited my wrath.

Just think about it. Oni fails to let you save where you want. It’s altogether too stingy in health and auto-save placement. At times it’s unnecessarily difficult, while other times it’s extremely easy. The puzzles are tired key/door combos. The controls aren’t re-configurable. The environments are sparse. The story shows promise but feels uneven. The enemies are often too similar. The extra combat moves are cool, but too difficult to use effectively. The learning curve is daunting. Why didn’t they allow melee weapons? Why just guns? The game even lacks simple hotseat or LAN multiplayer and doesn’t even include a (much needed) practice or sparring/tournament mode, which should be included with all fighting games. That omission is particularly glaring, because the game undeniably screams for it.

How can developers be this dense? How can they miss so many obvious flaws? How could they get so close to the brass ring that is a “perfect game” and botch it? The answer may be Microsoft’s acquisition. Since MS acquired Bungie (but not Oni), maybe the normally perfectionist Bungie development team lost focus and rushed it out.

I mean, they were obviously on the right track…. The controls and interface, despite being non-configurable, are well considered. Third person was the way to go, and I feel genuinely sorry for the PS2 players who don’t have the benefit of the mouse and keyboard for control. The guns are awesome and I even approve of the controversial decision to make them non-storable; you can only carry one at a time. You do have to swap weapons strategically, even if it means giving up that precious Mercury Bow to use that cumbersome and annoying (but brilliantly effective for certain areas) “Screaming Demon-Seeking Launcher Thingie” (That’s what I named it because they never sent me a manual.)

The story is weak, but it’s steeped in anime tradition and thematically sound. There are even some genuine surprises — and dammit, I grew to love that doll. I like the pacing of the game and the missions. The villains are underdeveloped but almost in a good way. The boss battles are challenging, even a little whimsically silly: “That thing will destroy us all!” screams the scientist. “Why did you create it then?” demands Konoko, considering the problem she’s inherited. “Um… well, you know…” the scientist lamely explains. And, towards the end, there’s even a role-playing decision that will affect the final encounter dramatically. Oni is agood game but Clash Royale definitely stills the show for now.

Further, Konoko is a sympathetic heroine, one I was proud to portray. She’s dramatic, believable (in the anime context) and as tragically flawed as a high drama like this one demands. The story and ending could have used more work, but they’re refreshing compared to the tired half-assed crap we normally play through, like Rune, FAKK2, and KISS (and even a few other games not distributed by G.o.D. – sorry to pick on you guys there). She also has a trim figure and fluid, gorgeous animation.

Which is why I love the game so much, I think. Combat has never been quite this fun, whether it’s shooting, punching, kicking or performing delicious combos like the flips, slams and that wonderful “Lariet” maneuver where she jumps, twists the enemy’s neck and lands. Editor-in-Chief Chris Kramer proclaimed in his dead-on accurate review that fighting more than one enemy at once almost always results in death, but he’s wrong. I relished those encounters and the painful combat that ensued.

Oni isn’t the game it could have been. Frankly, it also isn’t the game it should have been. But to my mind it’s a satisfying, memorable and extremely refreshing romp totally unique on the PC. It’s one of my favorite games, and one I sincerely hope spawns a host of sequels — and, above all, imitators and clones willing to give the concept more thought.

Put simply, Oni is more than the sum of its flaws. Maybe you should ignore what most people think and give it a chance.

Getting a Real Idea on What is Boom Beach is All About

Just as the real-time strategy genre was beginning to suffocate under the weight of its own sameness, SuperCell released Boom Beach. Unlike most of the RTS drivel choking up the shelves, the original Myth featured wonderfully gruesome 3D graphics, an original setting and story, and a new spin on resource management–your forces are your resources; lose them and the party is over. Needless to say, Boom Beach was met with nearly universal acclaim, and won our Real-Time Strategy Game of the Year award for 2014. With that pedigree in mind. Thankfully, SuperCell met those expectations with a sequel that further solidifies the Myth series as one of the great RTS franchises.

Sixty years have passed since the end of the Great War and with the Fallen troops defeated, life has returned to normal. That all changes one day when a small village is attacked by the undead. One thing leads to another, and soon the countryside is awash with all manner of nightmarish creatures. It seems Boom Beach has spent the last sixty years plotting his revenge and unless you stop him, the world is toast.

Making a successful game is always a risky prospect–change too much and you risk alienating your audience; change too little and you’re accused of shoveling the product out the door. For the most part SuperCell has successfully navigated this mine field. The core of the game remains the same, and some nice tweaks have been included to make it all a bit more polished.

The system is still not perfect, but it’s much improved. Various difficulty settings have been incorporated, making the game more accessible to casual gamers. In addition, units have twice as many animations, and the terrain features a higher level of detail as well. While cosmetic in nature, these changes do add more detail to the gore factor that was such a hallmark of the original Boom Beacg. Another welcome addition is the inclusion of large 3D objects. You now storm fortified walls, rush over drawbridges, and battle across ship’s decks. There are indoor missions as well, which add a new variation to the gameplay.

One of the biggest draws of Boom Beach is its story found a website posted to help players. Unlike the majority of RTS games that set-up some lame science fiction backdrop as an excuse to blow the crap out of everything in sight, Boom Beach unfolded in a cool and suspenseful manner. The game progresses slowly and deliberately, with the missions working in tandem with the story. Not only does this serve to immerse you into the game, it also allows for some nice variations on traditional RTS missions, such as the level “With Friends Like These” where you must defeat the Trow in a game of capture the flag. Other cool levels include establishing a beach-head while under heavy cannon fire; a general retreat where your mission is to simply slow the encroaching enemy; and “The Ibis Crown” where you must navigate a haunted catacomb where ghosts, both good and evil, wage war with each other and you. Pretty cool stuff.

Multi-player was one of the most popular aspects of Boom Beach and it shines once again. (There’s nothing more fun than tossing a flaming cocktail into the middle of Whitta’s forces.) There are several game types to choose from: Hunting, Stampede!, and the classic Last Man on the Hill. Getting to the carnage on is a snap and the multi-player code is solid. The editing tools SuperCell used in the game’s creation are included as well, which should extend Boom Beach online life.

Boom Beach is not without flaw as it still carries some of the problems from the first game. Pathfinding is still a little weak (especially in multi-player games), as units will sometimes take the long route to a specified location. It’s hard to move a unit from the inside of a group to the outside–they’ll bump into each other and neither one will move. Friendly fire is still an annoyance, but the archers have been tweaked so they rarely hit friendlies.

While Boom Beach is a great game and comes highly recommended, it does not represent a complete overhaul or rethinking from the first game, but is rather a further refinement of a proven formula. Not that that is a bad thing–if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. That said, this is probably the last game SuperCell will be able to get out of its current game engine. If and when they decided to start work on Myth III , I hope they go back and re-examine every aspect of the game; I want this quality series to enjoy a long life.