Category Archives: Previews

GTR 2

GTR 2 Preview – 2006

I always used to approach racing games with an air of nonchalance, and a knowing smirk, safe in the knowledge that my elite driving prowess would ensure my undisputed victory against any hapless AI competitors.  This bloated self-assurance diminished somewhat upon my first race in the original GTR, which saw me sat dazed within my demolished car as it lay alongside a rather obstinately unmovable concrete wall, rubbing my head and wondering what the hell had just happened.  On the first corner.

GTR didn’t care what kind of an amazing driver GTR 2you were, it picked you up with its iron grasp and brutally flung you back to the foot of the humility ladder.  Simulation racing at its finest, here was a game that didn’t mollycoddle your ego, but proved to be one of the toughest, yet most rewarding experiences any gamer will have ever had the fortune to play.  Sadly, the dedication to realism lost the interest of many casual gamers.

GTR 2 is promising to be a lot more accessible to the mainstream gaming public now, with additional modes to curb the realism for people who don’t know their hood from their trunk.  Thankfully, the core simulation experience will still remain, offering all the refined ultra-realism of the original.

Additions to this sequel include even better graphics for both the cars and the locations.  Every single vehicle is modelled in intricate detail to replicate the real-life GT race hogs.  You can now also tear these beasts to shreds in even more dramatic ways than before, with plenty of crumple zones and detachable parts to spread around the track.  And the wonderful object physics ensure the other racers will suffer from your detritus, as each body part has its own physics properties that can affect other cars.  So losing a wheel at a carefully timed point in the race may actually prove to be a tactic.

Atmospheric and weather effects are particularly breathtaking, with real-time sun, rain, wind and more.  Even more impressive is the fact that the dynamic weather conditions have noticeable effect on the way the cars handle on the track.  A sudden downpour will make things a lot more hazardous than you might expect.  We haven’t yet seen if snow will make an appearance, but if it does you can be sure that SimBin will have given ample consideration to its qualities of lubrication.

And to educate the lesser drivers among us, there is even a driving school, where you can learn the basics, right up from acceleration and braking, to advanced handling and manoeuvres.  A useful tool for all, no matter how impregnable you deem your driving skillz to be.

With included online play to test your mettle against like-minded petrolheads, as well as the vast array of tracks and cars, GTR 2 is looking to be a long-term proposition.  Keep an eye out for our imminent review, where we will take off the hood and examine the innards of this fine looking beast.

TOCA Race Driver 3

TOCA Race Driver 3 Preview – 2006

It can only be a good sign when the unpack utility used to install the game is called an Anti non-reversing desquishimificateriser.  A pleasing premonition for the lunacy and non-conforming attitude of good ol’ Codies.

From the second you start up TOCA Race Driver 3, the strong reek of quality smacks you in the face like a wet kipper.  Menus are slick and slidey, and make lovely swooshing sounds, and the interface is clean and professional, and incredibly easy to navigate.  The feng shui just seems to augur a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience.

And do you know what?  It is spot on.  TOCA Race Driver 3TOCA Race Driver 3, although still not quite complete, is virtually ready for commercial release.  The game is quite simply splendid, offering the most diversely diverting, yet universally acceptable racing experience you could ever hope to find.  Rather than restrict its remit to one style of racing, TRD3 just takes almost all racing modes and crams them into one huge frenetic mashed up melee.  Many would fail miserably at such a task, but Codies meet the challenge head-on as usual.

So you want a bit of classic Touring Car action?  No problem.  Maybe some F1 racing.  Or some 4×4 offroad, or dirt buggies, or classic racing cars, or American muscle cars.  You can even plonk yourself in the capacious cockpit of a lumbering behemoth of a racing truck.  Yeah sure it handles like a drunken, pregnatised elephant on ice, but it’s damn good fun.

And don’t think that having such a huge variety of vehicles waters down the gameplay.  The handling is unique for each and every different vehicle, and the difference between them is tangible.  A FWD will handle completely differently to a RWD for instance.  And wonderfully, the realism is scaleable, so you can adjust it to suit your skill at driving.  Even a barrier-magnet like myself managed to stick in the vague location of the track without too many detours into the scenery.

And the animation in the cut scenes is absolutely breathtaking.  3D is just so blasé by now, but the ridiculously realistic graphics, and the frankly jaw-dropping realism of the animation is unbelievably good that even a calloused 3D voyeur like myself was positively aroused by the sumptuousness of the 3D quality.  I had to keep pinching myself to persuade my befuddled brain that I was watching an animation and not a video clip.

Simply put, TRD3 would receive a damn fine review if I was reviewing it right now, as it is already a masterpiece.  But this is just the unfinished preview code!  There really is very little that can go wrong here.  Keep your eye on this little speed demon when it is released next month!

Legion Arena

Legion Arena Preview – 2005

How about this for an idea?  Make an RTS game based in Rome the very year after Rome: Total War is released.  Many might consider this to be an act of either lunacy or supreme confidence.  However, Slitherine did the whole Rome RTS thing first, back in 2001, with their debut title – Legion.  Ascertaining that this time period held most interest for gamers, they have decided to revisit it, and with a vastly different game from their previous attempts.

Possibly the biggest deviation from their Legion Arenatraditional game formula is the abolition of the campaign map, and all the resource management and other responsibilities that went with it.  Now everything is geared towards the battles.  To signify this, Slitherine have made the leap to 3D, and have built themselves up a positively spiffing new graphics engine.

In some regards the graphics are still a little rough, such as the dodgy water animation, but with time to sort that out, as well as the excellent unit variety, we should be in for something quite special.  Amazingly, rather than just having squads of cloned units, your soldiers are comprised of many different individuals, each with slightly different dress, age, and facial features.

With a slight poke in the RPG department, your units now gain skill with each successful battle they fight, and these can be spent on hundreds of continually more useful upgrades, allowing you to turn your green fighters into hardened veterans over time.  Whether attack bonuses against specific units, defence bonuses against others, or just general attributes such as morale boosting, the skill system really allows you to hone your troops into strongly defined, skilled warriors.

There are a few rough patches still, particularly with regards to the AI, as they do some positively ridiculous things at times, and are noticeably recalcitrant when you attempt to make them do something.  AI tactics also need working on, as enemies do not use their troops and the surrounding terrain to its fullest advantage.  Also, a broken save system meant that all my hours of playing were erased upon exit.

However, from what we have seen, Legion Arena is looking to offer some excellent fun for Caesar-wannabes.  Judging by Slitherine’s track record, we are confident that they will successfully deliver the goods yet again.  Check back shortly for our full review.

dragonshard

Dragonshard Preview – 2005

A dragonshard – An object conferring great power to its owner, and is thus the subject of constant fighting for possession of it.  Just like women then really…

Set in the exciting fantasy world of Eberron, dragonshardthese meteor-like dragonshards constantly fall out of the sky, to the delight of all who find them.  The game is based around an exciting event – the biggest dragonshard ever, the Heart of Siberys, has just come to rest in a mystical district known as Xen’drik.  The three native rival factions are rapaciously attempting to take control of it.

However, each faction has their own agenda.  One wants to milk the power for their own dubious plans.  Another wants to use it as a means of revenge.  And the final faction are shrouded in mystery, giving no indication of why they want the power of the dragonshard.

The most intriguing element of Dragonshard is that it comprises two entirely different, yet complimentary game styles.  The first is RTS, which is in operation whenever your avatar is above ground, allowing for the usual mix of resource accretion, unit production, and huge assaults with enormous armies.

The second is RPG, which completely alters the gameplay whenever you enter a dungeon or underground location.  Your party now take on a traditional D&D formation, hacking and slashing, and using common sense, working intelligently with the rest of the party in their assigned roles.  RPG progression is also in place for both gameplay styles, allowing the development of your characters in a vast array of skillsets.

The story is penned by the creator of Eberron, Keith Baker, and promises an enjoyable fantasy romp combining action aplenty with an enticing but twisting storyline.  Commendably, your actions in either gameplay style have direct repercussions on the other.  So all the gold and other resources you gather whilst trundling through the dungeons can be used above-ground to build up even better armies.

With sumptuous graphics, impressive animation, a huge and involving fantasy world, and excellent gameplay mechanics, Dragonshard looks like it will be a sure-fire hit.  Keep an eye out for our imminent review.

Written for Spot On Gaming

Spore

Spore Preview – 2005

Will Wright is nothing less than a genius.  After creating the biggest selling PC game to date, he now goes and casually announces his next game, Spore.  It’s going to have to be pretty damn amazing to rival the success of The Sims, but a closer examination shows precisely why Spore is going to be one of the most ground-breaking games of this decade.

Usually we will here mention a genre or Sporestyle for the game.  Well one genre wasn’t enough for that kerrazy Mr Wright, so he’s only gone and poured just about all genres into a giant great big soup and stirred them loving a into a glutinous mish-mash of gaming nirvana.  The concept of the game sees you start life as a single living cell in a primordial evolutionary soup.  And your goal?  Galactic domination.  No, seriously!

There are six different stages throughout the game, each one marked by an entire genre and style change.  Let’s run you through these quickly.

Tidepool Phase – Starting with retro beginnings, your first missions involve the survival and building of your cell in what could be described as a modernised version of Pac Man.

Evolution Phase – Your cell starts taking on a physical form in an RPG gameset, according to the characteristics that you choose to define on him.  This will be unique for every player, so every single Spore gamer will have a different kind of creature that they have nurtured into a living beast.

Tribal Phase – The game now continues progression with an RTS style, allowing you to breed a whole tribe of your own hand-made offspring.

City Phase – Control now pulls back a bit, so that you take control of an entire city of your creatures.  Management gameplay begins, as you have to cope with the technological and economic progress of your colony.

Civilisation Phase – Now things pan back even further into a global viewpoint, where you have to oversee your unique hordes of creatures as you attempt to take control of the entire planet that they exist upon.

Invasion Phase – This is where things get quite mind-blowing, as you are now tasked with taking over the entire solar system.  And when you have done that, there are thousands more solar systems to venture into across the entire galaxy, which is truly an awe-inspiring prospect.

The genius hits home even further when you realise that the evolution system is completely dynamic.  Your creation is moulded exactly how you want it to be, and so no two people will have the same creature.  Even better, the game downloads the creations of all the other users across the world, and uses them as the inhabitants of all the AI-controlled planets that you attempt to take over, thus giving infinite character variation to every single planet.

Picking up twice as many awards as any other game at E3, Spore truly is a game to keep your eye on.  Release date is set for 2006, so Will still has time to polish his brainchild into a glorious shine.  An evolutionary revolution of Newtonian proportions; we expect great things!

Precursors

Precursors Preview – 2005

As Freelancer was keen to point out, space can be a fun place to be if you know where all the right parties can be found.  Precursors seems to be aiming for that sublime spot between Freelancer and X2, sporting both a deep and involving universe and trading system, but also providing plenty of action for the more blaster-orientated players.

Describing itself as a cross between classic gamePrecursors Elite, first-person shooters, science fiction movies and Andre Norton novels, Precursors is trying very hard indeed to be a crowd-pleaser.  There are numerous options open for the player to define their own style of gameplay.

The game is set in a vast universe inhabited by millions of both aliens and humans.  There is also a universal war going on between two major races.  Wherever you go you will encounter other sentient beings, whether pirates trying to steal board your ship, mercenaries attempting to arrange a date between their laser blasters and your skull, or just peaceful NPCs who will help and interact with you.

There are plenty of planets set throughout the universe, and you can land your ship on each one, at which point the game changes to FPS perspective.  Once your business is complete you can take to the skies again to batter the enemy with your deadly missiles and lasers.  On the larger ships you can even take on a first person perspective to explore around it.  Even fighting aliens off your ship yourself.

The planets also promise plenty of unique features such as giant man-eating plants and ferocious insects to endanger your land-based travels.  There are even certain guns exclusive to their indigenous planet, which can be used alongside your personal selection.

There are 250 different missions touted, and apparently your actions within these missions can affect the overall outcome of what happens within the whole universe.  Indeed, the entire game can pan out differently according to what decisions you make.  With a devoted engine for graphics, physics, networking and AI, Precursors doesn’t seem to be cutting any corners in that department either.

Although details are relatively scanty at the moment, it is clear that developers Deep Shadows are aiming at an extremely lofty benchmark.  Such a vast and varied experience will require an incredible amount or work to be successfully created.  We must say we are dribbling at the prospect though!

X3 Reunion

X3: Reunion Preview – 2005

The X Universe has never had it so good.  After enjoying spectacular success with their X² iteration, Egosoft have decided to expand the experience exponentially with X³: Reunion.  Here is why X³ is supposedly going to break all the boundaries and set new benchmarks in the space combat/trading genre:

First up, the impressive economy systemX3 Reunion which will serve as the basis for your future space empire has been enhanced beyond recognition.  Vacillating prices are dynamically dependent upon supply and demand primarily, but also upon other activities.  For instance, interstellar wars affect the balance of the entire universal economy, which canny players will take advantage of.

There is a professionally penned storyline awaiting your adventuring whims, or you could just ignore it entirely and wing your own way around the vast universe.  The choices are limitless, and they are all yours to make, whether you want to be a pirate, business entrepreneur or just play chicken with passing comets.

Graphics are touted as being ten times the detail of X²’s gorgeous visuals.  This is made possible through an all-new graphics engine that renders the entire universe in stunning detail, including those luscious swirling gaseous nebulae that keep us entertained for hours.  Ship models and space stations are looking fantastic too, as is seen in the newly released screenshots.

AI is also improved, with different classes of ship being granted much better situational awareness, and greater ability to deal with different circumstances.  The NPCs in the game will construct their own towering space empires to challenge yours, so don’t expect an easy ride on the road to riches.

It’s clear that X³: Reunion is aiming to supersede the scope and grandeur of its forebear.  Time to pack up the social life and put the kids into hibernation methinks…

Cossacks II

Cossacks II Preview – 2005

Cossacks was a remarkably successful title, selling over 2.5 million units in the first few years after release.  Its wholesome and pleasing brand of RTS action proved alluring to many.  The sequel, Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, carries on in the same vein as its predecessor, but focuses specifically upon the battles around the time of Bonaparte.

There are several admirable qualitiesCossacks II shining through so far.  Probably the most overt of these is the video overlay.  The developers have actually gone and shot masses of real life footage of soldiers re-enacting battles from the time period.  So basically, whatever your soldiers are doing, whether standing still, charging, fighting, reloading, this will all be replicated by the real life soldiers in the little video overlay box.  It is a strange idea, but it works well to give a little more atmosphere to the gameplay.

It is also commendable that Cossacks II tries to capture the flavour of the time period.  For instance, the rifles sported back then were ridiculous firearms compared to what we have seen in more recent years.  They were wildly inaccurate at anything further than close range shooting, and the interminable reload time actually took almost a minute to undergo, as you can see by the reloading scenes in the video overlay. But they have been accurately recreated, and this gives a whole new tactical edge to the game, as you constantly have to judge between safety, effectiveness, and reload times.

There are plenty more tactical nuances that you pick up through playing, such as the importance of formations, the advantage of trees and foliage, and the effectiveness of various units in different situations.  Once again it is possible to have tremendous numbers of units on screen at any one time, touted at 64,000, allowing for truly gigantic battles.  There are also 150 different unit types, 180 building types, and 6 playable civilisations.  An impressive collection.

Although Cossacks II is still in development, we noticed a lot of rough patches of game threatening proportions that need to be ironed out before release.  Daft things such as wrong sound effects playing continuously, unit animations running at treble speed, and routing soldiers strolling away leisurely as though they were taking a walk in the park.  The translation is also atrocious, with statistics such as ‘Resourses maintainanse’, ‘Expiriense of generals’, and ‘Your looses’ being thrown in your face constantly.  All the in game dialogue needs rewriting properly in English before release, as the spelling and grammar is absolutely appalling.

But if GSC can get things smoothed out in time for the 8th April release, then Cossacks II has a lot of potential, and should attract even more gamers to its enticing style of gameplay.  We’ll bring you a review shortly.

Restricted Area

Restricted Area Preview – 2005

Describing itself as an action-packed cyber-punk RPG, Restricted Area is set in the year 2083.  It paints our earth in an altogether darker light, awash with vicious mutants resultant from mass environmental pollution.  In a story reminiscent of 28 Days Later, there are just a few pockets of surviving humans left, holding out against the depredation of the mutant swarms.  Capitalist corporations have sprung up, taking advantage of the weakened government to accrete power.

As a gun for hire, various companies and Restricted Areaindividuals will employ your services to perform dangerous operations within the monster-ridden wastelands.  Excellently, there is also a cooperative multiplayer option, so you don’t have to frighten yourself stupid on your lonesome.

Gameplay is focused on action, and moves at a much faster pace than your traditional RPG.  You’ll be doing a lot of running as well as fighting in order to complete missions.  Taking on five giants with just a shotgun is not really the kind of war you want to wage.  Your character is also able to use augmentations, Deus Ex style, to boost your various abilities and strengths.  There are 75 skills in total, each of which can be upgraded ten times.  Plus, you play as one of four unique characters, who each have individual specialist skills.

Restricted Area claims a similarity to the dark future worlds depicted within The Matrix, and Bladerunner.  It seems these films have inspired some of the characters too, particularly a Neo look-alike with the same black hair, black clothes, long black coat, and dark glasses.

A supposedly impressive feature is the dynamic dialogue between players and NPCs as the story progresses.  Responses and conversations change according to your previous actions.  I say ‘supposedly’ because the game version I played was spoken in German, and the accompanying English subtitles were riddled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, which lessened the impact somewhat.

However, if the developers can get the dialogue sorted, as well as fixing the numerous graphical glitches that still exist, then Restricted Area does have a fair bit of potential.  It doesn’t look to be anything revolutionary, but it should hopefully turn out to be a tasty gaming snack.

Restricted Area is due for release in Quarter One of 2005, so keep your eyes peeled for a release in the next few months.

 

What’s so special?

A game engine has been developed specifically for Restricted Area.  It’s called IRIS, touted to be the most powerful engine ever written for an isometric game, and has been two years in the making.

Developer Track Record

Developers Master Creating are a team of fourteen freelancers.  Aside from a few budget releases, this is their first proper commercial title.

breed

Breed Preview – 2003

Inspiration, it seems, is based on the success of others.  Look what happened after the tremendous success of Vietnam-based titles like Vietcong.  Soon everyone was leaping aboard the bandwagon, ‘inspired’ by the success, and we had titles like Vietnam: Med Evac and the awful Line of Sight: Vietnam thrown at us.

With the non-appearance to date of Halo on the PC, yet with its breedunrivalled success on those console machines things, it didn’t take developers long to figure out that this was the way forward.  Hence was born Breed.  It would be easy to criticise the apparent plagiarism, even though its appearance might be entirely coincidental, but with quite a few upcoming titles aspiring to the grandeur of Halo, you have to ask yourself, is this really a bad thing?

As you might have guessed then, Breed is a futuristic FPS, where humans and aliens are engaged in an ongoing war for supremacy.  Naturally, you fight for the human side, and get to kick alien butt with all manner of powerful weaponry, and drive various hefty vehicles.  The Halo-esque aliens fight back with Halo-esque plasma guns, and drive Halo-esque vehicles to aid their cause.

One of the best things about Breed is that it is being developed purely for PC.  The result of this is a game that doesn’t have to stay within the capabilities of a console, but instead can fully exploit all the resources of a PC.  Take for instance the environments in which you fight.  These are huge, sprawling, open landscapes, slightly akin to the expanses of the IGI titles, and you can explore the entire place without a single loading screen to hinder you.

Other tangible differences include the potential amount of enemies on-screen at any one time, allowing for vast hordes of aliens to attack you; graphics are not dumbed down; full mouse-control of your avatar and all vehicles; non-linearity; and also the inclusion of the infamous quick-save.

The current game build is looking very promising indeed.  The first thing that impressed was the tutorial, putting you into a holographic training course not entirely unlike the concept of The Matrix’s training programs.  A particularly bizarre but clever touch being the inclusion of a holographic image within the holographic simulation.

The mission themselves are looking to be quite special as well.  The objectives aren’t incredibly varied, but the mission themselves are.  In one mission you might be leading a team of grunts on foot to attack a base.  In the next you might be driving a tank around firing at vital targets.  The next mission you might be the top-mounted gunner of the tank while somebody else drives.  Then you might be put in a giant robot suit for a frantic rescue mission.  Or maybe be ordered to fly around in one of the planes for some objective or other.

No matter how limited or tired the subject matter, Breed exudes a multifarious nature, simply for the constantly changing methods of completing each mission.  Add to this as well the feeling of non-linearity, as you usually get to forge your own path throughout a mission, and are not restricted by anything but the terrain.

The graphics are quite impressive as well, everything modeled nicely, and the terrain although still a bit basic at the moment does look adequately believable, the trees even sway slightly in the wind.  Actions are all animated well, and the aliens move fluidly, as do your own grunts.  This all takes its toll though, as Breed is a hefty system hog.  It will utilise all your PCs power and then some, particularly on the higher graphical settings when things can get very chuggy indeed, even on a high-spec machine.

The AI is acceptable, with Breed aliens ducking and rolling when fired upon, but not standing out really.  The problem with judging the AI of an alien is that they have no predefined intelligence, and so can be granted any AI that the developers think necessary.  Hopefully the AI will be improved in the final build though to include aliens taking cover when fired upon, or even retreating.  If not, there is a multiplayer option with a few basic modes like deathmatch and assault that you can take respite in.

As usual there are currently a whole host of bugs and deficiencies that should be ironed out eventually.  There are various clipping problems, I got stuck in the floor more than once, saw through a solid wall, and was shot by an alien behind a wall.  Baddies don’t currently die when you run over them, weapons don’t fire at times, even with full ammo, and I got stuck in a perpetual cutscene, only managing to get out after five minutes by changing team members.  The difficulty also needs a little tweaking, with some missions too easy and some way too difficult.  These and many other bugs and glitches should hopefully be fixed by the final version.