Home Arcade Twinstick Review

The problem with playing fighting games on a home console is not load times or limited graphics or dropped frames of animation. The problem isn’t even with conversions any longer; most arcade-to-console ports are dead-on these days. The real limitation comes with the teeny, tiny controllers attached to the PlayStation. It’s very hard to move from a nice, big, responsive joystick to a tiny, crappy pad with a lame button arrangement. The Blaze Home Arcade Twinstick attempts to remedy this shortcoming, but ends up with mixed results.

As you’d guess from the name, the Twinstick is actually two arcade-style joysticks in one long package. The Twinstick is slightly smaller than a standard arcade machine, with eight buttons, turbo and slow motion for each side. The two joysticks are stubby, but use microswitches that give the same satisfying clicking sound gamers are used to from arcade machines.

While it may look cool, the problem with the Twinstick is its size. It’s a bit cramped for two players, but too long for a single player’s lap. The joysticks are also very short, resulting in occasional bruised knuckles. The player on the right side of the Twinstick will find that the joystick is a bit too close to the Start and Select buttons in the middle of the console, adding to the cramped feel. The worst offenders are the slow motion and turbo buttons, which don’t have lights to indicate that they’ve been activated. Invariably, one of them will be nudged, sending the game into epileptic seizures for the moments it takes the players to figure out which one is on. This is super annoying: Haven’t peripheral manufacturers figured out that slow-mo buttons simply don’t work anymore?

Bottom Line: Skip this pricey piece and pick up a couple of higher-quality joysticks from Interact.

IGI is becoming the PC’s answer to Nintendo’s Goldeneye

Ahh! Tasty medicine. The hypodermics are usually found in medical rooms and can be kept to use incrementally
IGI (a military term for ‘I’m Going In’) stars David Llewelyn Jones: a British operative gone freelance and working for governments of the free world, a working class Bond with a background in car crime and the SAS rather than Eton and the Admiralty.

All of IGI’s 14 missions involve the infiltration of military bases that nestle within the largest outdoor environments ever seen in a first-person shooter. Fully 3D hills and mountain ranges stretch away into the distance and should the wanderlust take you, you’re free to ramble where you will in each of the 20 kilometre square levels. The stupendous sense of scale is made possible by IGI’s use of an engine converted from their previous flight sim title, Joint Strike Fighter.

The military compounds are always concentrated in a central area of each uber-tile, but are often dissected into fairly disparate areas, distant enough to make walking between them a noticeable romp. However, this definitely adds to the realism and it’s easy to look back up a cliff at a radar dome and think proudly “I was up there earlier. I walked all this way” before remembering that you’re not on your annual Boxing Day walk and have gleaned no physical benefit whatsoever from your admirable virtual exertion. The only trouble with the distance is the fact that you’ll be replaying levels over and over before completion and while walking is slightly too slow, jumping seems over-exaggerated, with a moon-bounce drift.

While military compounds begin to blur into one another, with identical interior and grey exterior architecture begging for a bigger budget than Changing Rooms could offer, there is good mission variety in terms of an evolving plot and very diverse objectives. This extends to some missions that are virtually sub-games, in particular the Silent Scope-style level where you must find a safe sniping point in a hill-top village and protect an infiltration team as they rescue a prisoner from a heavily guarded valley base. Later you might be dodging mines and tanks in the snow or planting explosives on mobile Sam launchers. Other snippets that break up potential monotony include computer hacking (to shut down security systems temporarily), fence and ladder climbing, and sliding or sloth-crawling overhead wires. All of these routines switch to an external free-looking camera with Jones as focus while you maintain basic forwards and backwards control.

There’s a problem with IGI, however, which on discovery is as shocking as finding out that the beautiful woman you fell in love with and married is actually a ladyboy. The problem is the utterly basic AI. To say that Doom had more advanced routines is hardly an exaggeration. Shoot a stationary sentry in the head from a distance and he may fall over, rest on the floor (presumably while plugging the head-wound with a sod of earth) and then rise again to resume his stoic stance of Horse Guard immobility. Other guards in the vicinity will often strut nonchalantly past bodies, apparently untrained in linking cause to effect in a maximum-security installation-protection situation, or perhaps just distracted by soft Euro-rock on their concealed earphones. You just can’t get the minions these days.

Bizarrely, cameras seem to have a far higher degree of intelligence than human sentries and unlike their patrolling counterparts will immediately set off base alarms when they sweep over a dead body, or spot you within their range. Alarms cause previously empty barracks to release small squads of Spetzna troops, usually better armed than the lower echelons and moving in a group to your location. The group movement is none too impressive however. On a few occasions you can shoot one Spetzna officer to see him drop and reveal a second who was shadowing his routine with almost improper proximity. Perhaps as the Brass Eye ‘gay sailors’ sketch said, two targets walking as one tactically present a smaller target. It also seems to have been an odd choice to let corpses fade after a short period of time. Not only does it make it far harder to spot and pick up the guns and ammo that are left behind, but also it makes a joke of an otherwise supposedly realistic infiltration. Mind you, if guards can’t often spot dead bodies while they are there, or react to dangerously close gunfire, then this really makes little difference. The engine may as well be allowed to clean the place up for some extra frames per second if there’s little noticeable effect on the ‘must try harder’ AI. The potential complexity of stealth missions (and there’s a strong element of stealth in each of the fourteen) is reduced to working out individual routines, approaching each enemy without alerting them and dispatching with as few shots to the head as possible to conserve ammunition. When guards do go into a state of alert, they present an unintentional state of panic, some running up and down a line without firing a shot and others performing hilarious pathfinding: jogging all the way around a waist-high wall to get to the other side, coming right up to your face and only then opening fire. Invading a primary school playground would probably present more intelligent opposition, but that probably isn’t a good analogy to draw in a first-person shooter review.

This is not to say that IGI is an easy game. Realistic damage means that even the lowliest of opponents can kill you with a couple of well-placed shots. With no save points within missions this creates buzzing tension and really draws you into the game. While you can use the excellent targeting binoculars and live spy satellite feed to track guard movement, note camera positions and find direct routes to marked objectives, wider exploration of buildings will often turn up medical syringe boosters to restore precious health and alternative weapons and ammunition. The direct route is therefore not necessarily the easiest and the variation also makes the essential repetition of missions bearable for far longer than might have been the case with a more linear game.

If the AI can be ignored, IGI is a great title and that’s why it’s ultimately so disappointing. With only a little more time, effort and polish it could easily have been a Direct Hit and while a hefty patch is never desirable, in this case it’s sorely needed. Replay is also unlikely with no multiplayer support whatsoever. Boo.

Clash Royale – RTS Card Game that Gives you a Sense of Excitement

More often than not, when players see a RTS game on the Mobile, especially one that wants to appeal to the masses with the word “Clash Royale” in the title, they don’t put a lot of faith put into the possible entertainment value of said product. Most RTS games fall flat on their face with some uninspired gameplay and graphics reminiscent of the Colecovision. SuperCell RTS, however, manages to take five RTS (skateboarding, street loge, sky boarding, and inline skating and surfing) and put them in a game that contains adventure elements with some interesting characters that pull the game forward. It might not be the best Game Boy game ever, but it’s the best place to experience some “Clash Royale” RTS.

The game starts off with romantic couple Guppy and Fin witnessing an ad for the Clash Royale RTS Championship, sponsored by SuperCell. They, of course, head off to Island. Players can choose to control the plucky female Guppy or the confident male Fin. After signing in at the hut and beating the coaches, players can then travel throughout the island, challenging other competitors.
In order to become Clash Royale RTS Champion, a player must defeat all the other competitors on the island. Each competitor has different scores that must be beaten, such as a certain number of flags collected or how fast they finished a track. Once a player defeats the competition, the opposing players sit down, and the player is awarded a medal. These badges of accomplishment are needed to pass into other, more advanced areas of the island. With a total of 420 medals on the island, there are plenty of other competitors to beat (20 of the medals, however, are hidden throughout the island for players to find).

The loose storyline has a bit to do with the other character in the duo — whoever players aren’t controlling — will leave messages in the hunt for the player, letting them know what’s going on. After a while, however, the sheer competition is enough to keep players going.

Each of the five competitions has several different areas in which to score high — either finishing the track in a certain time, gathering a certain number of flags, or getting the highest score. Getting each of these scores to the highest possible rating will require lots of different tricks and even some strategy. The biggest drawback of this is the simple fact that players will race on the same courses again and again and again, which will get fairly tedious after a while. However, the excitement of finally defeating an enemy and eventually finding a new track to race on will certainly pay off. There is also one way to get unlimited gems for Clash Royale. That is to visit a website that will be posted below. It is easy and free.

The game doesn’t contain Game Link Cable support, although players can still compete in attempting to get the highest scores by passing the Game Boy back and forth. With the storyline giving players a reason to compete in the competitions, and some interesting twists on the RTS themselves (such as some Thirsty Shake power boosts scattered about), this is certainly a Game Boy RTS game worth looking at.

Boom Beach’s Amazing Futuristic Warfare

After the disastrous final results of COC, a lot of players might be a bit gun-shy about jumping back into the real-time strategy arena. SuperCell is banking that all the people who were pissed off by COC’s lack of innovation may decide to pick up on Boom Beach, the Finnish company’s second entry to the genre, which is being designed to include enough familiar elements to get RTS players going quickly but sports a wealth of all-new options as well.

Boom Beach takes place in the far future, where humanity has found the remains a civilization. Earth’s “CorpoNations” have begun scrambling into space in order to grab as much of the good stuff as they can, with the three largest corporate states converging on far-off archipelago at the same time. Naturally, elbows begin to rub, tempers flare and all this new advanced technology is quickly applied to the Art of War. In essence the game Boom Beach and the modding tools a player can use is given in detail on www.boombeachhacks.net. Try to check it out.

The greatest advancement in futuristic warfare are the different war troops. Since every portion of the game is a modular, players can earn new technologies during the course of the game by literally ripping them off. When players begin battling, there’s a chance that parts may begin flying about, which the utilitarian hover trucks can then pick up and return to home base for analysis. Of course, players also run the risk of having their own pieces plucked, but these can sometimes be replaced by fallen enemy bits. It figures that it would take an advanced civilization to finally create Plug and Play that actually works.

The big bots are super-strong but take a great deal of time to build in the early version we were sent. Each piece of the Combot must be created separately – torso, legs, left and right arms – and a team of drivers must then be provided to make the damn thing move and fight. In fact, all units take some time to pop out of the construction factory to join the fray. We’re guessing that Zono is drawing out construction in this manner in order to avoid tank-rush scenarios. Surviving Combot pilots can also be upgraded during the pre-mission portion, so there is an incentive to keep the little clones alive.

There are two resources to be managed: energy, in the form of diamonds, and manpower to staff the base, conduct research and pilot the vehicles. Diamonds are “harvested” by sending hover trucks to nearby lava pits, where they suck off excess energy and beam it back to camp. Instead of holding recruiting drives or hosting open bar galas, manpower is raised by simply building cryogenic farms, where workers are unfrozen as they are needed.

The game’s engine is true 3D, but Boom Beach seems to be trying to keep the player from becoming overwhelmed by complex camera controls. Players are given the ability to pan around and zoom in and out, but the view is restricted either to an isometric three-quarters aspect or the traditional top-down perspective. Supported screen resolutions run very high, which allows for a huge amount of the screen to be viewed at once (players can zoom in on the action if they need to get down and dirty). Boom Beach’s engine supports Glide, OpenGL and Direct3D, so just about everyone should be able to run the game.

QuickCam Web – An Honest Review

Perhaps you aren’t familiar with these low-cost, high-performance Web cameras (or “cams,” for short) that sit atop your PC’s monitor. Well, worry not, intrepid surfer, you aren’t alone. Typing is just fine, but you gotta see what you’re missing with the QuickCam Web, the latest, greatest installment in Logitech’s long line of value-priced PC
cams.

This small, green-and-white eyeball-shaped camera (a bit bigger than a golf ball) ships with a rubber holder so that the camera can fit snugly on top of a CRT monitor. Alternatively, users who prefer laptops or flat-panel displays can attach the cam with the bundled SmartClip rubber legs designed to fit LCD screens. A great idea indeed.

The wire at the end of the cam fits into an available USB port for easy plug-and-play setup. Speaking of which, whether you’re techno-savvy or completely computer illiterate, the QuickCam Web software is a cinch to install; the CD-ROM contains everything you need to get going and will walk the user through all the installation steps. Okay, so what can you do with this thing now that it’s all set up?

For one, if you need to take a snapshot of yourself or something else, simply push down on the button that sits atop the QuickCam unit. Naturally, you can lift up the lens and take it wherever the cord will allow you. The images are then stored in a virtual photo album, or users can choose to email them right from within the Logitech studio software.

Secondly, and preferably, the QuickCam Web records streaming video and audio, thanks to the tiny microphone inside of the device. Friends and family who receive this compressed video in their inboxes can simply double-click the executable file. That is, there is no special software needed to play these mini-movies on the receiving end.

Lastly, QuickCam Web owners can join one of the many general or specialty “cam communities” on the Net to chat in real time while seeing everyone else in small windows on the screen. If desired, extra software is included on the CD from the website SpotLife.com, enabling cam users to stream live video and audio over the Net for personal or business purposes. So much about Quickcam that we forgot about SuperCell’s Clash Royale tricks on free gems. Well, the idea is to get unlimited resources for your gaming needs.

For those who are concerned with privacy, there is a small plastic lens you can pull down so that your face will not be seen by others, plus there’s a motion sensor option if you want the camera to go on the moment it senses movement. Here’s an idea — why not point your WebCam towards your computer game collection so you can catch your younger brother stealing your copy of Baldur’s Gate II!

Are there any shortcomings with this QuickCam Web? Well, just because it takes pictures and records video, don’t expect professional quality images for under $80. ‘Tis true, users can adjust the resolution (160 X 120, 320 x 240 or 640 x 480 pixels), but the higher you go, the choppier the video framerates will be.

But for the money, and compared to other web cams on the market, you can’t do much better than the Logitech QuickCam Web. The hardware is a breeze to set up, there’s tons of software to play with, and you don’t need to be an engineer to get it up and running within minutes. So, why not add a little spice to your Web pages or email messages, and have some fun with it? Hey, has anyone here seen American Pie?