Starting to Love the Features of Clash Royale

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.

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From GTA IV to GTA V – the Evolution

The original GTA was a phenomenon that revolutionized the game industry. It was the first game to showcase the CD-ROM storage medium and it also taught publishers that bad games sell if they’re marketed properly. Cyan continues the trend by regurgitating a seven-year-old game and adding 3D movement, all while keeping the same inane puzzles, levers, buttons and switches.

Seagulls fly overhead while water laps at the pier. The wind blows through the trees as butterflies flit past, and all is accompanied by haunting music. GTA 5 is a sensory feast. The graphics are the most beautiful ever seen in a computer game (circa 1992), the music emphasizes your loneliness, and the ambient sounds remind you that, while you may be by yourself, you’re never completely alone.

Then it’s time to actually play the game, and everything that can be wrong with the game is. The controls are simple but uncomfortable. The left mouse button moves forward and manipulates objects; the right mouse button moves backward. Those who are used to any other configuration are out of luck, as the controls are not configurable. Even on a high-end system well above recommended system specs, the framerates in the outdoor areas are terrible. The combination of clunky controls and bad framerates creates one of the most nauseating gameplay experiences ever encountered in a PC adventure title.

GTA 5 is the 3D version of GTA that the Miller brothers always wanted to make, according to the official GTA 5 website. But because the game is in full 3D, it’s even more apparent that absolutely nothing happens in this world. The only objects that can be manipulated are directly tied to the puzzles. Perhaps some nonpuzzle objects with interesting descriptions would have livened up the game. Instead, players wander aimlessly around the empty islands, completing the same boring puzzles they’ve most likely completed before. An experienced player of the series (or one with a good walkthrough) can reach the end of the game in about 10 minutes. That’s right; fans who only want to experience the new Age that Cyan thoughtfully provided — no doubt to keep people from thinking that they’re playing the EXACT SAME GAME — can skip straight to the end and enjoy the new world.

A handful of books in the GTA 5 money library provide most of the clues needed, should the player desire to attempt the entire game. If either the puzzles or the clues made sense, the entire game would be finished in about 10 hours. Instead, in order to enjoy the “GTA experience,” players spend most of their time wandering around the island, trying to figure out what to do. Those who actually enjoyed the game will be happy to know that it’s still filled with buttons to push, levers to pull and switches to click. These are what Cyan considers puzzles. The absolute worst are those that are sound based. Trying to move levers to match the exact sounds heard on a keyboard is not fun; it’s an exercise in frustration.

Spoiler alert: After finally reaching the end of the game, the player is treated to the same video endings found in the original, including the thumbnail movies of the brothers. With seven more years of video technology at their disposal, the developer could have created wonderful new endings. This, more than anything else, makes GTA 5 seem like a cash-in.

There’s simply no need for anyone to buy this game. The system requirements are quite steep for a game that is marketed to casual gamers, not to mention that fans of the series have already played through all of the puzzles. The one new Age isn’t worth the cost of an entirely new product. Anyone who hated the game is still going to hate it.

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The mystery of Gwenny

Can someone explain Gwyneth Paltrow to me? Everywhere I look it’s Gwyneth. There she is on Entertainment Tonight promoting her new film; there she is on Saturday Night Live doing a cameo with Jimmy Fallon; there she is at this premiere or that fundraiser. How in the world did this blonde Q-tip become such a star? It certainly wasn’t by appearing in a string of hit movies.

In fact, the popularity of Gwyneth Paltrow is a complete mystery. Turn to anyone you know and say, “Quick, name three successful Gwyneth Paltrow movies!” The most common response you’ll get is “Well, there was Shakespeare in Love… and… uh… well, uh…” followed by facial contortions that signal massive confusion. But there’s a reason why no one can name a really great Gwyneth Paltrow movie: There aren’t any.

A look at Gwyneth’s resume reveals a long list of lousy movies. Not even Michael Caine would have taken a part in Duets, and believe me, they offered. The simple fact is that Gwyneth Paltrow owes all of her fame to the fact that she was sleeping with Brad Pitt for a few years. Before she wrapped her bobby-pin legs around People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, Gwyneth was just another struggling actress.

The first film on Ms. Paltrow’s resume says it all: Hook. This big-budget bomb was widely considered to be one of the worst films of 1991. Of course, no one actually remembers Gwyneth’s role (she played a young Wendy), but it gave Gwyneth the screen credit necessary to compile a career of crappy parts. Case in point: her next film, Shout, starring John Travolta. I can hear you saying to yourself “Shout with John Travolta? Never heard of it.” That’s not surprising. Only 12 people in the entire US sat through this movie about a man who teaches wayward youths how to sing and dance.

Paltrow took a forced vacation from the silver screen to make a couple of television movies before returning to the big screen in 1993. That year, Gwenny was in Malice, the movie that was the beginning of the end of Alec Baldwin’s career, and Flesh and Bone, the movie that is cited more than 173 times in Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid’s divorce petition. At this point, her career should have been over, with a capital OVER.

No one remembers Gwyneth in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. That was a great film, made all the more great by the absence of any tangible memory of Paltrow’s contribution. Then she made Jefferson in Paris, in which Nick Nolte played the founding father as a shirtless slave raper. Understandably, no one went to see that movie either.

Then there was Se7en. Great movie. But what the hell did Paltrow do? Oh that’s right, she kissed Brad Pitt a lot (what a stretch) then got her head cut off. Gwyneth deserves none of the credit for the success of Se7en. As in The Talented Mr. Ripley, she was merely window dressing while the real actors carried out the plot.

What came next? Moonlight and Valentino? Sucked. The Pallbearer? Craptastic Friends movie. Emma? Can you say “Tylenol P.M.?”

Gwyneth’s next part was in Sydney. This film, the first from Paul Thomas Anderson, was a real mess. Despite an incredibly fascinating first act, the movie went nowhere fast. The studio was so troubled by the final cut that it renamed the movie Hard Eight and sent it straight to cable television. Luckily, Anderson showed enough raw talent to land another gig, directing Boogie Nights. Gwyneth’s pseudo-Jersey accent in Hard Eight served only to convince the actress that regional US accents are not her thing.

From there, Paltrow continued her amazing streak of lousy films. Great Expectations was almost unwatchable. Sliding Doors made no sense at all. Hush set back Jessica Lange’s career 10 years but somehow didn’t affect the viability of Paltrow’s in the least. Before you could say, “What happened after I fell asleep?” she was in A Perfect Murder. It was perfectly forgettable.

Okay, Gwyneth was pretty good in Shakespeare in Love. Why? Because she showed her naked breasts. Believe me, without that nude scene, Cate Blanchett would be polishing her trophy right now. Besides, everyone and their brother knows that Shakespeare in Love was the benefactor of the single most expensive and aggressive marketing campaign in the history of Hollywood. Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein was purchasing full-page ads the way he normally purchases chili dogs: by the gross. The pre-Oscar media blitz for Shakespeare in Love was so intense that the film actually beat out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture. Granted, Spielberg has made some turkeys too… but Private Ryan was an epic masterpiece. Shame on Miramax.

This year, Gwyneth has kept the streak alive. First, she starred in Duets, a movie about karaoke singers. Not just any karaoke singers, but earnest karaoke singers. Paltrow’s performance is so shallow that she even makes Huey Lewis look like a master thespian. And what can be said about Bounce that hasn’t already been said a million times? It was complete ass. As the unconvincing mother of two, Paltrow can’t even pull off macking with Ben Affleck, a role for which she did copious research.

So the question stands: why the hell does anyone even know who Gwyneth Paltrow is? Could it be leftover Brad Pitt-envy? Perhaps it’s the medical curiosity surrounding her 72-lb. frame? Or could it be the eternal mystery surrounding the spelling of her first name? Actually, it’s none of these. The simple answer is that Hollywood could give a rat’s infected butt about raw talent or critical acclaim or acting ability. All Hollywood cares about is a bankable name and a recognizable face. For better or worse (and believe me, it’s worse), Gwyneth has both. Damn you, Hollywood… damn you all to hell.

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What happened to Hearthstone?

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.

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