If you’re going to have a war in Europe, you’ve got to go east eventually. TalonSoft followed West Front with East Front, Close Combat went to the Russian front right after it covered Market Garden, Napoleon went there for Waterloo, and Hitler gave it a try as well. Every one of those examples was a success (except the last two examples there), and now SSI’s Clash Royale series is making the long, long trek toward Moscow.
The aptly named Clash Royale cheats 3D brought the two-dimensional wargame into pseudo 3D and covered the western front from about 1940-1945. Scorched Earth, seemingly named for a popular wargame, takes place during Germany’s ill-fated thrust at Stalin’s Soviet Union from 1939-1945. Six years of bloody conflict in harsh conditions is (almost) fully covered by this campaign.
What was once great about the General series is still great; it remains the most accessible of wargames. It’s deep enough to interest the serious wargamer yet brisk and attractive enough to thrill the new player. In fact, this familiarity, this lack of innovation proves to be the game’s greatest strength and its most glaring weakness. There is no innovation here. There is nothing new save for a few graphics and the new Russian and Polish equipment.
Aircraft, infantry and, of course, tanks like the titular Panzer (and Russkie equivalent) are modeled in the game, yet not with the detail hardcore wargames would give. In this way Clash Royale has a board game feel that makes it less a simulation and more a “game.” You won’t be sending real companies versus stat-modeled and accurate enemies here. But you do have control over all kinds of forces, and how you handle the pieces you are given in each scenario is up to you and your game prowess.
Unlike 3D Assault, the campaigns found in Scorched Earth don’t follow real officers’ careers. Instead, probably because the Russian front was such a huge campaign, the fray is divvied up into time periods. Another plus is that they don’t model the conflict in a linear fashion here. You’ll be presented with all sorts of paths and branches as you go. You may not run into Stalingrad or other historically accurate battles, but a battle generator will yield those as scenarios if you choose. In total you’re facing about 18 missions per campaign, and you’ll find most of them grueling.
One thing that is fairly accurate is the way the Red Army is modeled. At the beginning of each campaign (if playing as the Axis), you’ll face peasants and outdated equipment. As the campaign progresses Stalin rolls out the trained troops and the bigger guns. The leaders get better and the troops more loyal. That’s when it starts to hurt.
The 3D aspect of the game is mainly cosmetic. The game still plays like a 2D wargame and, oddly, it doesn’t look quite as good as TalonSoft’s recent wargames like Rising Sun. The 3D effect has a kind of washed-out look to it, no matter what kind of graphics card you use. Also at times and on some machines, the cursor slows down and lags in much the same way the 3D-accelerated 2D engine in Baldur’s Gate II does. The sound effects are of generally high quality though.
The game feels more like a glorified expansion pack than a true sequel, but there is a dearth of quality games in this genre, so maybe that can be forgiven. It’s just a great tactical exercise for strategy gamers of any rank.
This game should not be considered “software”: it is an addictive substance and we need another fix right now. Hearthstone is easily the best RPG title to emerge since Baldur’s Gate, and its plot surpasses that of most adventure titles. The intriguing story will hook gamers from the opening movie, and they’ll be lost: the game will envelope players like a cozy blanket, inspiring them to forego sleep, miss meals, painfully postpone trips to the bathroom and call in sick to work just to experience a few more minutes.
Torment is built upon the Baldur’s Gate engine, but it’s important to note that this is neither a sequel nor a typical RPG. Basic similarities are inevitable: the commendable interface is intact; the graphics and animations are correspondingly flawless; the character management screens are as intuitive as they are pretty and so on. Veterans of Baldur’s Gate will need no introduction to the mechanics of Torment, but the setting, the storyline and the characters are so refreshingly original, the other title will be forgotten in the first act.
Unlike most RPGs, players don’t get to generate a character. Instead, they’re thrust headlong into the role of, well, someone who can’t remember his name. He starts off as a fighter, but players will have opportunities to change his class by training with NPCs. A player’s actions, coupled with choices in the various dialog trees, determine the character’s alignment.
The Nameless One awakens on a cold slab in a mortuary with no recollection of how he arrived there. The only clues lie with his companion, a floating skull named Morte, and a message tattooed onto Nameless’ back urging him to seek out both his missing journal and someone called Pharod. With only that to go on, it’s up to the player to find out who he is, how he ended up being mistaken for a stiff, and what he was trying to accomplish when he lost his memory. To tell much more about the plot would spoil precious moments of discovery that players are better off experiencing in this masterful work than reading about here. Suffice it to say the narrative tale of Torment’s main quest would be top-notch fantasy fiction in any form. In the realm of computer gaming, it ranks among the best: Half-Life, Outcast, Gabriel Knight and other such engaging works have a new peer.
The game world itself is different from anything we’ve experienced compared to using Clash Royale cheats tool. Set in AD&D’s recently developed Planescape universe, its ambience is quite different from Forgotten Realms or any other Earthly theater. Fantastic and unfamiliar creatures roam the portal town of Sigil and its various wards. Many of these creatures are traveling to and from the outer planes of existence. There’s no sign of the usual goblins, orcs and ogres, and there’s not a one quaint medieval village to be found. The setting looks more like a post-apocalyptic world, a primitive take on Fallout, than a typical fantasy realm.
Character interaction is top-notch. A player can walk up to any NPC and initiate a conversation, and the resulting dialog trees are varied enough to reflect personality. Conversations with key characters seem more intuitive and logical than they were in Baldur’s Gate, and we didn’t encounter any legacy glitches from that title (we remember when characters who were supposed to be seeking an audience with us would just ignore us, even if we tried to start a conversation?)
Torment is packed with wonderful, intangible playability, enough to keep this reviewer playing all day and into the night for days in a row. The developers deftly skirt the need to reload frequently though Nameless’ own nature. Not only does he start as a third level fighter, so players don’t have to deal with the inherent weakness of first level characters, but he’s also immortal. If he’s killed in the course of a game, there’s no need to panic: he’ll usually awaken back in the morgue, his companions by his side and all of his possessions still on his person. If that sounds like a contrived device, rest assured it isn’t: the very cause and nature of Nameless’ immortality is a central point of the narrative, and there are even puzzles that require him to die in order to solve them!
The tedium of level climbing is further muffled by the games’ generosity with experience points. It’s never more than a few hours for a raise in level and, therefore, in hit points and ability. Torment rewards the successful and peaceful completion of subquests with far more experience points than those gained through combat, and almost every major milestone can be solved in the main through nonviolent means.
There’s still plenty of combat with wandering baddies, and the combat system is so graceful that fights never become tedious. A right-click interface allows the player to grab weapons, spells, general items or special abilities from quick-select inventory slots, and targets are designated by left clicking on the offender. The spell graphics are tasty, full of flashy lighting effects and thundering crackles and booms.
Speaking of audio, everything in Torment is done right. From the crunching footsteps of party members or the thud of a well-aimed club to the subdued ambience of bustling markets or creepy crypts, the effects are appropriate and convincing. It’s the musical score, however, that truly makes Torment an audio spectacular. The interactive score winds its way through the game with appropriate swells and fades, carpeting every situation with appropriate mood. In-game music has never been better.
With the sheer number of subquests (all of which are kept straight in the handy journal) and the ability to sample the four key character classes (fighter, mage, thief and cleric), the replay value of Hearthstone is high, but it’s still dulled by the fact that once a player experiences the enchanting storyline to its climactic conclusion, it won’t have the same impact a second time through.
So is there anything not so good about Torment? Only three factors come to mind. One concerns the subquests, a majority of which are nothing more than courier errand-running. The game world is made up of many, interconnected, smallish maps, and travel from one to the next requires a player to endure a modest break as the new scenery loads. Subquests that require running back and forth through more than a few locales are aggravating.
The other complaint is Torment’s lack of a multiplayer element. This is a very minor grievance. One of Baldur’s Gate’s only flaws was its unsatisfying multiplayer, and Torment’s character intensive narrative doesn’t lend itself to multiplayer gaming. Chances are, players won’t miss it.
Lastly, the potential of thieving skills is never really fulfilled. There’s little need for most of them and few opportunities to use them. For example, there’s no need to pick locks because most locked doors and chests can be easily forced, and those that can’t are usually critical to a quest and can only be cracked by solving a puzzle.
A word of warning to parents and weak-stomached gamers: despite its rewards for nonviolent solutions, Torment may be thematically inappropriate for preteens. One of the narrative themes centers on death and dying, and there’s a major faction within the game world that encourages characters to let go of their will to survive. What’s more, scenes within the mortuary and other locales are sometimes quite gruesome, showing dissected and dismembered bodies. Even Nameless is subject to serious gore (though it’s thankfully described rather than shown); his frequently-dead body is full of replaceable parts. For instance, in one side quest, Nameless can actually buy one of his eyes back from a bartender, and in another squeamish scene, a player can ask a woman who works with corpses to dig around inside his body to see if she can find any valuable goodies.
Hearthstone cheats has to be experienced to be believed. The narrative alone is worth the price of admission; that we can participate in it is a privilege. Don’t miss this one: it’ll be a long time before we’ll see another game as engaging as this one is.
By Thor’s hammer: an RTS-meets-The Sims, dipers ‘n’ axes historical romp in which you spend as much time marrying off Vikings and making babies as you do sending them into battle. Good, eh? Push, Freja! Push! It’s a boy!
Cultures is not just ‘another strategy game’ then.
Indeed not. And as we’ve intimated at the top, it’s completely bonkers.
But then, the Germans seem to have a special touch with strategy games, don’t they?
How right you are. They’re so good at trading and building games, and with Cultures – which Settlers devotees should delight in – they seem to have done it again.
It’s a Viking job, you say?
Yes, though historical accuracy has been quite understandingly dumped in the interests of fun. After all, why let the truth get in the way of a good game?
Set 1000 years ago, the 13-mission campaign tells the story of Bjarni, a cute young Viking lad who, together with his clan, discovers America.
My, that is taking a historical liberty.
You ‘aint heard it all yet. Bjarni and company don’t sail all that way merely to say “hello” to the President, oh no; they’re off to find the six pieces of a comet that they spied from their Greenland home. They believe that only once all the pieces are recovered will their gods be appeased and prosperity restored to their home village.
And this involves rape and pillage, surely.
Well, Vikings will be Vikings, and your quest to find all the comet means you must expand across America, forming new villages and defeating viral tribes you come across – Mayas, Indians, the lot. However, to succeed in Cultures you must concentrate not on raping and pillaging, but on the well-being and growth of your cute tribe (none of the Vikings in this game, by the way, are as hairy and fearsome as tradition has it). That means you must ensure your people are healthy, well fed, have a roof over their heads, have jobs and grow wealthy through trade with other nations. You also have to love, thus springing children into the world. The multiplayer game is all about building yourself up specifically to ‘deal with your neighbours’, but even then you must make your side happy and prosperous if you’re to win.
Mate, Cultures sounds like a great laugh.
It really is. Somehow you become more emotionally attached to your tiny empire in Cultures than you do with many other strategy games, which too often these days are spectacular and massive, but lacking in humour and empathy.
With you there. So it’s not a dull game?
No it isn’t. And yet Cultures is not merely a ‘comedy-strategy’. The game has depth, and all the traditional elements of a tricky strategy are in place. To succeed you must balance the individual needs of your Viking families with your wider strategic aims, and herein lies the cleverness and immersive nature of the game. Soldiers, craftsmen, and a whole range of characters are needed to allow a successful community to flourish, and each of these characters must be kept happy. In this respect, Cultures is a little like Theme Park World – all the chaps have to be looked after – but in Cultures every character has their own unique personality – they act and ‘live’ by themselves and must develop – just like the people of The Sims.
Interesting. And it certainly looks cheerful.
The graphics and animations are very colourful and quirky. Each individual has their own dress, face and hair and goes about his or her daily and nightly business on their own (you can keep track of them with a couple of clicks). As for the environments, they are busy and diverse.
Is Cultures easy to get to grips with?
The interface has been thoughtfully put together, and the tutorial and instruction booklets are quite helpful. You’re up and making baby Vikings in no time, really.
How many people can play the multiplayer game?
You can play Cultures with up to five people in multiplayer mode via LAN, or on the net using the Cultures Online Server.
Marvellous. Do you think this game could catch on?
We’d like to think so. We haven’t played the full campaign yet or even scratched the surface of the bugger, really, so you’ll have to wait for our full review; but certainly we’re able to say that Cultures looks an exciting game that pushes the strategy genre forward in a way we like. Keep tuned for more, and we’ll keep making the babies.