• Gamer's Gazette Issue I (Originally published Sept. 1st, 2012)

    September has always been, for many of us, a beginning. Class has resumed at both schools and universities and people are beginning to ease back into their daily grind. Here in Content Staff we have also been working and are pleased to present something that is both innovative and totally new; an official site publication with focus that shifts away from Total War and addresses news from around the gaming world. This publication, the Gamer's Gazette, is in the vanguard of a new initiative on Total War Center and is, along with Gaming Staff, spearheading the expansion of TWC into non-Total War areas; that is to say the users taking part in these movements are pioneers. Please join me in thanking both the GG writers and the many members of Gaming Staff for their tireless efforts in making this publication a reality and TWC an even more exciting place. I hope that you will enjoy reading the publication as much as we enjoyed planning and creating it; it has been a pleasure to work with such an industrious team. It is also a pleasure to announce that this, the first edition of the Gamer's Gazette, will feature prizes. Confederate Jeb, while taking notes for his article on Borderlands 2, received four (4) promotional codes for a free month of PlayStationPlus service and we will be giving them away! To be eligible for this contest, you have to post in this thread answering the following question: What is your favorite video game? The winner will be selected at random. Each person may submit only one entry. The contest will be open for one week and users will be able to submit their answers here until 6:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on September 9th, 2012. If competitions are your thing then you may also want to have a look at the TWC Olympics.

    Gamer's Gazette Editor


    Minecraft Review -Xbox 360
    Minecraft Review
    Minecraft Review

    In celebration of the establishment of both the Gamer's Gazette and the Official TWC Clans, I have decided to write on a game that has been a staple of the TWC community for quite some time now. It has found a new home amongst the halls of great clan games such as World of Tanks, PlanetSide2, and League of Legends. It is a game that everyone has heard of; if not you must live under a rock. Ladies and gentlemen: Minecraft.

    Oh wait, you thought I was going to review the PC version? Please, who hasn't done that? No, I'm talking about the recent edition to the Xbox Live Arcade library, the one that allows Mojang to print money twice as fast as it used to. By now I'm sure you can hear a large noise in the background while you are reading this. That is the sound of the glorious PC master race chasing me through the corridors of TWC, intent on giving me a beating for daring to compare a console port to the greatest indie game of all time that has now apparently sold itself out for wads of Microsoft's cash. Fret not, dear reader, for I am one step ahead of the crowd. My plan is to simply give you the nitty gritty on the differences between the PC and Xbox versions. Then I shall give you my opinion as to whether or not Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is worthy of your money and whether or not expanding Minecraft to the Xbox 360 market is beneficial to all parties involved. Oh dear, they've brought out the creepers. I'll try to hurry up then.

    Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is limited compared to the PC version, in that maps are currently only 862x862. 4J Studios (who co-developed the Xbox version with Mojang) has hinted at expanding the map size at future points, but it will still be limited compared to the near infinite original. The amount of players per world (which are saved by the original owner of the world, with multiple "servers" being allowed per account) is also limited to eight, but up to four players can be on the same console/TV at the same time. Uh oh, the master race has skeleton archers now. Apparently they think limiting Minecraft is treason of the highest degree. Let's get to some differences that aren't minimizing in nature. Players are given a map upon spawning, which as of the most recent patch also reveals their XYZ coordinates. Crafting is also different, in that preset formulas are listed both when crafting by hand or by crafting table. Other than that, everything you know and love about Minecraft has remained the same. The core ideas of mining, destroying, and building whatever you want are still there. Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition isn't a hollow shell of the original in terms of gameplay; the only debate is whether or not the freedom of Minecraft is infringed on by the changes.
    The Heretical Crafting Table

    I'll have to argue that that is not the case. At worst you could argue that the Xbox version is a more user friendly version. The crafting formulas, when combined with the streamlined controls for the Xbox controller, allow crafting to be quick and easy, rather than a memorization game that required arcane alchemical knowledge. Does it take the sense of discovery out of the game? I doubt there are many people who figured out every crafting recipe just from playing the game. The limited maps do create the possibility that not all biomes will appear on a given map, but the size and the addition of the free starting map (only given on your first spawn however) prevent the player from being overwhelmed. Maps, which serve as servers, are quick to create and can have their difficultly and online capabilities change any time they are loaded. The owner of the map has to be online and in the world in order for it to be available to friends and other accounts, but this in turn prevents other players from destroying your hard work. Eight players is a perfect number of players for the size of the world, and co-op on the same screen is a blast (though be warned; you will need a decent sized TV in order for four player splitscreen to be worthwhile). In short, the freedom is not lost, but in a way compounded; Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition gives players all the joy and liberty Minecraft is known for while allowing friends to be more interconnected and closer than the PC version. Is it, as a whole, a better version of the original Minecraft? I'd say no, but the experience that the Xbox version provides makes it more than a worthy addition to your gaming library.

    Now that we've got the review portion out of the way, let's take a look at the business side a bit. Does Mojang porting Minecraft to the Xbox, and by extension accepting Microsoft's money, diminish the "indie" ideals of the game? Many indie games strive to just be a creative outlet, or to provide something for their specific community, of course, but does that make it wrong for indie games to be profitable? If it is wrong, then Mojang has been guilty of betraying its roots ever since Minecraft became popular. However, in my opinion this is not the case. Mojang as a company is certainly about making money, and expanding to the Xbox 360 helps it become more profitable as well as reaching a wider audience. Having critically acclaimed, successful indie games such as Minecraft, Bastion, Braid, and LIMBO can only help the indie community, by showing them that even with a small team cramped into an apartment with only ramen noodles and a vision in your head you can still make it big time. The more successful indie games there are, the more likely big name publishers are going to support their communities. Since this article is about Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, let's use it as an example.

    Mojang and development studio 4J Studios worked together to bring Minecraft to the Xbox 360 in conjunction with Microsoft. Minecraft was given the full treatment by Microsoft, which made it the headliner in their spring Xbox Live Arcade promotion Arcade NEXT and filled most of its gaming advertising slots with images of the block graphics. Microsoft also did something extremely unusual for them by giving Mojang and 4J Studios a lot of leeway in terms of patches. The current version of the Xbox version is Beta 1.7.3, but is expected to eventually catch up to the PC version. Compare this to FEZ, a highly anticipated game that only received one free patch from Microsoft, with all future patches costing developer Polytron money. You could look at this as Microsoft squeezing every cent it can get out of developers1, but having additional patches cost money encourages developers to get things right both on release and on their first patches. Microsoft was willing to give Mojang and 4J Studios the freedom to patch as often as needed, in order to bring the Xbox version up to par with the PC one. You could argue that this is because Minecraft is a proven commodity, but recently Microsoft has become more lax with limitations on indie games such as Bastion, the Trials games, and even the upcoming Dust: An Elysian Tail. Microsoft has even done a better job of not only marketing indie games as previously mentioned, but also continuing to support sales after release. The recent Xbox Live Summer of Arcade (ongoing during my typing of this article) includes a free set of downloadable skins for Minecraft, as well new maps for Trials Evolution (another Arcade NEXT game) celebrating the new arcade games. In short, all parties involved make more money, the indie community gains exposure, credibility, and rep with Microsoft, and Xbox gamers can now enjoy the sheer joy of Minecraft from their sofa.
    Master Chief demonstrates what the power of money can accomplish, in this case for good.

    Since I'm giving the full rundown, I'll also mention the "abomination" that is DLC. Minecraft has a set of 45 skins available for $2, with multiple packs coming at future times (the second being released on 8/24), with each including 45 skins for $2. Now, before the master race crowd starts beating me over the head with their diamond pickaxe and their "skins are free on PC" argument (which is certainly valid), let's look closer. They aren't charging for a piece of the game that is missing, like a set amount of map seeds or new items. They are charging $2 for an aesthetic add-on that could be easily avoided and not detract from the game, and it includes 45 skins. There are games that charge $5 for a single skin. As a fan of DLC that either A) is actually a beneficial addition to the game and doesn't reek of a money grab, day one DLC, or on disk DLC or B) is aesthetic in nature only and can be skipped without subtracting from the game, I have to say that Minecraft's version of DLC is acceptable and, quite frankly, harmless.

    Minecraft is a great game, and its transition to the console market, while behind the original PC version, has been a massive success. Over the next couple of months patches will get the Xbox version more in line with its older brother, and promotions by Microsoft will only continue to increase revenue. Most importantly, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is an example of how all parties involved, us as consumers, Mojang and 4J Studios as indie developers, Microsoft as a big name corporation, and even the video game industry as a whole, can benefit from a good video game expanding its horizons. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to remove the pixel arrows sticking out of my back.

    - CJ

    Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition
    ConceptBring the juggernaut that is Minecraft to the console market.
    GraphicsBask in the blocky graphics and all their pixelated glory.
    SoundLight music gives the game a peaceful feel. That random zombie noise behind you is still panic inducing.
    PlayabilityThe streamlined controls make the adjustment from PC to Xbox a smooth process.
    EntertainmentThough some content is missing and will be added in upcoming patches, the game still provides all the entertainment Minecraft is known for.
    MultiplayerUp to eight friends on a condensed map gives the multiplayer a tight feel, and in a good way.
    Overall Score9.00

    1) Polytron's botching of said patch and then refusing to pay the money to fix what became a broken game for some players on the grounds that "we don't think it's fair to have to pay Microsoft for us screwing up, wasting everyone's time, and ruining the game for some of our customers" is a completely different story from this article, and as such won't be covered here.

    Crazy's Hardware Review
    Crazy's Review
    Crazy's Hardware Review

    Today I will be showcasing the performance of Thermaltake's Water 2.0 PRO liquid CPU cooler by comparing to a typical tower design: the Thermaltake FRIO.

    CPUIntel Core i7 3770K
    MOBOBiostar TZ77XE4
    RAMMushkin Enhanced Redlines 1866MHz 9-10-9 27 1T
    GPUASUS DirectCu II 7970 TOP Edition
    PSUThermaltake Toughpower Grand 1050W 80 Plus Gold

    Overall, the build quality is excellent, as it survived my manhandling and a couple of drops while taking no visible damage. While the unit is actually a rebadged Asetek unit, Thermaltake has paired it with good fans and its own fair share of features. The 2 to 1 fan header, for example, was a great addition, but, while useful, it had a draw back, namely fan whine. It was very high pitched and annoying but the general user might not even be able to hear it. It should also be mentioned that, depending on the motherboard, a user may not encounter the fan whine. The tubing is very flexible and connects to the pump/waterblock unit with plastic swivel connectors which appear weak but, considering the force they can withstand, are adequate. That said, however, for the price of the unit I would like to see less plastic with a greater emphasis on the use of metal fittings instead.

    For testing we paired the Thermaltake Water 2.0 PRO against a mid range tower cooler - the Thermaltake FRIO. The temprature testing you see below is split into two graphs: one of stock temps and the other when heavily overclocked.

    In conclusion, the Thermaltake Water 2.0 PRO is a fantastic unit and while it's certainly not the best cooler on the market it's more than fit for someone looking for an easy to use cooler that performs well, has decent acoustics, and doesn't interfere with performance memory. The FRIO was also a top notch cooler and, for its sixty dollar price tag, is not as good a choice as it once was. The Thermaltake Water 2.0 PRO, at a price point of $89, is a fantastic deal, especially when found with rebates which generally drop the cost of this fantastic cooler down toward the $75 mark, in which case almost nothing competes with it at said price.

    If you need a top notch cooler with room for tall RAM want fantastic cooling performance in general, the Thermaltake Water 2.0 PRO is worth the cost.

    Ask Crazy
    Ask Crazy
    Ask Crazy

    Welcome to Ask Crazy! I am your not-so-humble hardware guru Crazyeyesreaper, and if you've ever been down in the basement you've probably seen me there lurking, or more likely wading in with my hammer of knowledge smashing people in the face with good hardware deals! All joking aside, I tend to try and help users get the best they can for the money they have. Other times, I weigh in explaining certain PC hardware and its benefits or test a game's performance. Well, in this little column I will be taking questions. So if you have PC related question in relation to hardware or game performance, or just plain questions in general for this angry gamer send them to Legio and I will answer some of the questions in each issue of the Gamer's Gazette. So start sending in some questions and maybe - just maybe - it will be yours that gets answered first.

    Exclusive Borderlands 2, Battle Royale, and Dust Hands-On
    Exclusive Hands-On
    Exclusive Hands-On
    Hands On What a weekend. The Major League Gaming (MLG) Summer Championship, also known as MLG Raleigh, has come and gone (8/24-8/26), and with it the joys of watching professional gaming. While not as big as last year, mostly due to the exclusion of Halo (which is in transition from Reach to 4 currently), this year brought with it something of value to gamers who enjoy playing games instead of watching others play. The Sony PlayStation booth included demos for three unreleased games; Borderlands 2, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and Eve Dust 514. Since covering these games with an article on the whole experience would do no good (Borderlands 2 comes out 9/18 US and 9/21 UK after all), I've decided to write on them now, so consider this a preview of both upcoming games and of The Gamer's Gazette MLG coverage.
    Exclusive Hands-On
    Exclusive Hands-On
    Hands On

    Borderlands 2
    Advertisement for the demo at MLG Raleigh.
    As I entered the "Compound," Sony's name for their demo section, I was surprised to find an open seat for the sequel of the immensely popular 2009 game Borderlands. Though I had never owned the game myself, a fellow suite member in my dorm did, and the game captivated every member of our group for nearly a semester. Though I was not overly familiar with the PlayStation controller, a few button presses quickly revealed that the controls were the same between games, and perhaps even felt smoother. But enough about that, to the demo itself.

    Given the choice between the starting four characters at level 21, I chose Salvador (Sadly, I only realized later that skills had not been preset, so I was unable to get a good look at potential builds). A voice over the intercom greets me, telling me that I will be unable to get through the Hyperion Shield without obtaining a Claptrap upgrade. Roland, the owner of the voice, reveals that a supposed friend of mine, Mordecai, would know more about where to find one. As I make my way towards his location, I am met by multiple Stalkers, who attempt to use cloaking to get within melee range or fire needles at me. A few quick burst from my corrosive poison rifle finish them off, as well as reveal that I have made progress on a challenge to deal a large amount of corrosive damage. Rather than dwell on what other challenges I could start on, I climb up the hill to Mordecai's position. Upon greeting each other, Mordecai reveals that our mutual enemy, Jack, has captured Mordecai's pet named Bloodwing, who has all of Mordercai's data, including my Claptrap upgrade, stored on her collar. Mordercai tells me to travel to the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve, Jack's hideout, to retrieve his pet, while he provides assistance both in term of information and supporting fire from his sniper. Just like Frozen Express, he says.

    The trip to the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve is both short and painless, thanks in part to Mordercai's sniper shots and my incendiary long range rifle, having run out of ammo for my original rifle. I manage to pick up a corrosive sniper, however, before I find myself at a locked gate. Pressing the button to open said gate only summons loader droids to defend their sanctuary, but Mordecai states that wounding three of the robots would cause the gate to open. Not one to argue with his logic, I take up position away from the gate and use well placed sniper shots from both myself and my ally to injure the necessary number of loaders.

    Upon entering through the now open door, I am greeted by numerous engineers along with loaders with spinning blades designed to deflect bullets. While still taking full use of Mordecai's sniper, I decide to use my grenades and shotgun to take down my foes. Upon reloading, I learn that Salvador throws the shotgun at his foes, resulting in the shotgun exploding and causing damage to the area around it, only to regenerate filled with ammo a moment later. Needless to say, taking down enemies by throwing your gun is a special kind of joy. I continue onwards, fighting more engineers and loaders, who are eventually reinforced by flying repair bots that I quickly take out with my revolver. At last I arrive at the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve, with the path now ending at a jump down into a skag infested habitat.

    Here I will reveal that I played this trail twice, both as Salvador. The fact that I was playing Borderlands 2 before its release caused me to completely forget to take notes the first time around. The first attempt also ended shortly after this point, as my brother had given up his seat to another gamer and was itching to go watch the next League of Legends match. I managed to kill a massive corrosive skag along with his smaller brethren with my two rifles. My second attempt did not go as well. I will admit that I was cocky and charged the skags with my shotgun, a very, very bad plan. Those skills I didn't know weren't set would've been really helpful...

    Though only a demo, the game felt like a worthy successor to the original Borderlands. Controls were sharp and responsive, gameplay was fast paced and varied in difficulty (my gung ho attitude didn't help), and the art style is as eye pleasing as ever. The gameplay trailers that I have watched capture the essence of the game accurately, but only by playing the game did I get a better feeling for what the game will be like, and I enjoyed what I experienced. Sadly, I was unable to play the demo as other characters, nor was I able to interview the Borderlands 2 dev member in attendance, due to my impeccably bad timing. Oh well, perhaps the next two previews will make up for my mishaps.

    PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Most of my demo playing time was spent on PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale with cheese and bacon, as the game supported four player splitscreen versus. Man do I hate typing out the full title. Anyway, for those who have not heard of this game, this is Sony's answer to Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series, and it shows. The game plays extremely similar to the Smash Bros. games, the physics engine is nearly identical, and even character moves are copied (Sweet Tooth has a move that is a direct copy of a Donkey Kong move, among others). Does this make PSASBR w/C&B a bad game? Well...no. Of all the games to copy Sony picked a good one, and though it cannot out Smash Bros. Smash Bros., it does serve as a good Sony version of the brawler style game.
    PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

    Many of the currently announced characters.
    I was able to play four matches, each with a different character and map. My first character, Nathan Drake of Uncharted Fame, was a very balanced character, with both a decent melee move selection as well as multiple ranged gun attacks. Drake also comes with numerous moves that involve pushing over ancient columns or breaking stone floors onto his foes, which are quite hilarious. The fighting was very frantic, as the map selection, PaRappa the Rapper's Dojo, started off small and then expanded as the small building we were fighting inside fell apart. As this was my first time playing the game, however, I spent most of the time testing the various buttons, so I only managed to come in second. My brother, however, figured out that Fat Princess has a really overpowered move, and took full advantage of it to score a ridiculous 14 kills. Stupid cavalry chicken thing.

    *Ahem* Moving on, my next match was on Nathan Drake's Map high in the sky onboard a plane. I decided to try out the Big Daddy of Bioshock, and boy was that a mistake. The Big Daddy is incredibly slow, and has little in the field of long range attacks, as his splicing moves are still limited in range. I managed to come in fourth against three bots, partly because I do not enjoy slow characters and also because I fell off the map twice. Yes, I am not afraid to say that I failed miserably, because my next character, Radec of Killzone, feasted upon his enemies. I decided to try out the God of War Hades map, which was wide enough to take full advantage of Radec's arsenal of weaponry. A sniper for long range, a pistol for up close attacks, not to mention assault rifles and grenade launchers, there was little my close combat foes could do against my zoning techniques. However, I came away feeling that Radec might be too ranged oriented, and the Big Daddy too close combat designed, but perhaps that was the aim of the developers. I felt that Nathan Drake's broad range of skills would dominate these two specialists should he be controlled by a skilled player. Dante of Devil May Cry, my fourth character, also fit into Drake's category, but was slightly inverted; while Nathan had numerous attacks but seemed to possess more ranged attacks, Dante commanded more melee attacks with his dual pistols serving as his ranged techniques. Perhaps Dante made up for this with exceptionally long range melee strikes from his sword/scythe/axe/whatever is decides to be for the attack. Unfortunately, I once again took home second place as the Sackboy player continuously exploited a terrible Fat Princess player for numerous kills. Oh well, you win some you lose some.

    Eve Dust 514 I had the exact opposite problem with Dust 514 than I had with the other two games. Because the game is an online shooter, and in fact because the demo was actually part of the closed beta currently going on (though apparently "closed" is a loose term, as I later found out), I was never able to try the game out myself. However, I was able to talk to two different members of the dev team, to get a feel for what the game is about.
    Eve Dust 514

    Eve Dust 514
    Eve Online is an MMORPG focused around space combat and operations. The game is known for a lot of things, such as its massive economy, but a primary claim to fame is that the game is run on a single game universe (well, the Chinese have their own, but whatever). Everyone is located in the same realm, for those of us who have played World of Warcraft. How does this play into Dust 514? As the devs told me, Dust is essentially the ground based shooter part of the galactic wars that go on in the Eve universe. And as a part of the Eve universe, they are on the same server. As in the PS3 shooter and the PC space combat game are interconnected. Does a spaceship corporation need to capture the mining facilities on a planet? Hire mercenaries (AKA PS3 players) to take down the current owners of the planet. Now the corporation owns the planet and the mercs have more cash. Do the mercs need some help in their battle? Ask for an orbital bombardment, and in real time your allies above the planet will place heavy fire where you need it. Conversely, the mercs can fire anti-spacecraft missiles into space to help out their allies outside the planet's atmosphere. The devs were really excited about the possibilities this sort of inter-connectivity could open up, and so was I, though I will wait until the game has been released to pass judgement.

    As far as gameplay goes, the game looked like it included most of the standard FPS features, though without playing the game myself I can't say in what areas CCP Games has innovated on gameplay wise. The game does have a lot of vehicular combat, with light assault vehicles (LAVs), tanks, and airships (similar to falcons/hornets from Halo) currently making their presence known in the game. The dev members did mention that personal mechs would eventually make their way into the game which combined with the various types of infantry would be a wide arsenal to choose from. The mechs are part of the around two years worth of updates already planned for the game, so who knows what else is in store?

    By now maybe our PS3 owners here at TWC are thinking "Huh, this game sounds interesting, but how much will it cost?" Nothing. Dust 514 is a free to play game that will make use of microtransactions. In fact, the game is free to download for all PS3 owners. Now that word "microtransactions" probably raised some alarms, so let me clarify how the devs described it. The majority of the various potential purchases are aesthetic in nature. The few that aren't however, work as follows. As a character you level up certain attributes/levels, up to a maximum of 5. Your current level determines what weapons you can use. However, you can use real life currency to essentially buy a gun of a higher rank for use now. But it only goes up one level; a level 1 can only buy/use a level 2 gun, and even then if they waited until they reached level 2 they would've been able to acquire the gun then. And at level 5 there are no more advantages to this, as level 5 guns are the maximum. This prevents the game from become pay to win, something the devs adamantly wanted to avoid. This also works for the regular in game currency; an Eve Online player could give some of that currency to a Dust 514 player in order for them to get better weapons, but as they will only be able to buy their current level gear Eve Online players won't be able to massively affect the balance between Dust 514 players. Oh yeah, you can trade stuff between games. Comes with being on the same server, no doubt.

    Well, there you have it. I wish I could've gotten a hold of the Borderlands 2 dev or had a chance to play Dust 514 for myself, but with the multitude of stuff going on at MLG Raleigh it was hard to find time to do it all. In the future we here at the Gamer's Gazette will try to bring more previews of unreleased game demos as expos come and go, but this will probably be a rarer column than the others. But when it does show up, we hope that you will take a look at upcoming games with us.

    - CJ

    Endless Space Review
    Endless Space Review
    Endless Space Review

    Once Upon a Time... The 4x genre has seen better days: it's been a long time since the 90's ,and the modest revivals spurred on by
    Once Upon a Time... Galactic Civilizations II and Sword of the Stars have petered out fairly inconsequentially, or in SotS's case, disastrously. Sure, we have had Sins of a Solar Empire to sink our teeth into, but its pedigree feels too real time strategy-like for most fans of the 4x genre. The sole light in the darkness in the last few years has been the Civilization series. But while human history and the planet Earth might be nice to muck about with, space beckons to those who remember Masters of Orion.

    It's a surprising thing, really, considering the dedication of the genre's fans, that major publishers and developers have treated the genre like an ugly red-headed stepchild. Open-source projects have sprung up several times in the past, as have smaller scale indie games; all of which were relatively successful and should have at least hinted to the big honchos out there that maybe - just maybe - there was a market for these games. It might not be the oodles-of-easy-money market of FPS's, but still...

    Luckily there's no need to fret. In fact, we might even be experiencing another attempt at reviving the genre's creaky old bones. The Civilization-series just had an expansion released called Gods and Kings for their latest game, Civ V. And even us space jocks are being spoiled as two new and promising games have come out this summer: Legends of Pegasus and Endless Space. We will be dealing with the former today.

    Endless Space is the first game by indie devs Amplitude Studios, who've also used it to introduce their GAMES2GETHER concept. This new system attempts to bring developer and (potential) customer much closer to each other, promising increased interaction on the main forums, extensive progress updates and allows gamers to have a direct say in the actual development through votes. To vote you spend points acquired through preordering a game or participating in the forums. It sounds nifty, but it was only introduced after most of the elementary design decisions were already made, leaving only superficial decisions and hopefully some influence on patching priorities and potential expansions. Can’t wait to see how it will turn out when implemented from the get-go in their next game however.

    Aah, the galaxy we'll be exploding, err, exploring. Endless Space
    The galaxy will be mine, ALL MINE!
    is set in, what's in a name, space which is—or rather was—Endless. Smart-ass, lousy puns aside, Endless doesn't refer to the galaxy's size but is the name for an ancient civilization that once controlled the vastness of space, possessed near-limitless power, and had access to incredibly advanced technologies. Despite all this power — or perhaps because of it — not all was well in their domain. The Endless succumbed to fractious behavior that shattered their dominions.

    Now they are gone and all that remains are the various ruins, databanks and other artifacts the current galactic players can stumble upon. The most notable legacy of the Endless is Dust, essentially a technology similar to nanites which can be harnessed in various ways to spectacular effects. Be it to instantly materialize a powerful dreadnaught and escorts, seemingly thwart the laws of nature by creating artificial black holes or in rare cases, even directly enhance the abilities of an individual.

    Eight species, and whatever custom species you can come up with, have followed in the wake of the Endless, from the ancient Amoeba over the singular minded Cravers to the imperialistic humans of the United Empire. Some of them seek to emulate the Endless's grasp on technology, others want to understand the universe and emulate the Endless ascension from the physical world. Regardless of their goals however; their means will be warfare, diplomacy, technology and Dust.

    In practice the choice of species has a relatively superficial effect. By and large each has the same tech tree—with only a scant few unique ones per species, has access to the same weapons and ships and so on. The most notable differences come from the usual attributes which are a series of modifiers such as increased happiness per alliance, stronger ships, slower tech research, and some abilities that are specific to each race. The combination of attributes for each species roughly corresponds with certain typical play-styles. Trying to win the tech race is more suited to the Sophons while a fan of the diplomatic game will find it much easier to control the Amoeba instead of, say, the militaristic Hissho.
    The similar tech tree and military system does not mean that each game will be exactly the same. The eternally-at-war and parasitic Cravers are quite different from the migratory Pilgrims, but the basic routine for each species is quite similar. This lack of diversification feels a bit like a missed opportunity that could have given each side some more character.

    The future is minimalist... and shiny
    Cancer! Destined to be my military shipyard with that name
    The first thing you'll notice when firing up the game is the UI, which is particularly spiffy if I may say so. Not only is it beautifully rendered, but it is intuitive, accessible and the necessary information is always at your fingertips. The general feel of the whole thing is almost as if you're actually at an emperor's control console. No menu is more than three clicks away, icons are clearly visible, a lot of information is available at a glance, more detailed information is often only a tool-tip away and surfing through the menus is done simply by left- and right-clicking your mouse. Having a UI so clean has its downsides though, as the statistical lay-out again means you lose out somewhat on character. There's no quirkiness, no gazing at your trade ships going their merry way, and no watching your planets evolve. It's all terribly functional, which in itself is perfectly fine, but I personally like watching the little details that really immerse you in a fictional world.

    Being that the menus and the galaxy map are 90 percent of the game, this by extension means that graphics in general are pretty good. From the galaxy map's territorial overview to your ship editor, the codewords are crisp and clean.

    The actual battles, pretty much the only other graphics-heavy feature, are less impressive. Don't get me wrong, ships are nicely detailed with some great and not-so-great effects, and the sum of it all more than does the job at first glance. It's even pretty nice to see one or two battles, check out each species' unique ship designs, roam a bit with the free camera. But after the umpteenth time, it becomes gratingly obvious you're watching a boring, mostly eventless cinematic that will mostly serve as a frustration despite its relative beauty. Is it really that much to ask that not every space battle simply involves two fleets floating roughly side by side, going pew-pew until everything's gone boom?

    The FIDS must flow In
    The FIDS must flow Endless Space, everything revolves around FIDS: shorthand for Food, Industry, Dust and Science. These four main resources decide pretty much everything in the game. It's only for some high-tiered ship modules and system improvements that you'll need access to important strategic resources. Pretty self-evidently food allows for population growth, industry measures your industrial output and how fast you build everything and science likewise represents your scientific output and how fast research goes. Dust, finally, serves as your currency.

    To amplify a system's output or the combat abilities of a fleet, one can take advantage of the services of a hero. These heroes are Dust-enhanced individuals who level up as they gather experience, giving them access to powerful bonuses in FIDS and trade, or even the ability to use special and powerful battle actions. You only have access to a limited amount of them, and they can turn out to be too expensive for a struggling economy in a fledgling empire. But once leveled up the bonuses become so massive, there's really no reason not to use each and every one you can possibly hire.

    Increasing FIDS output will be the main goal of the exploring and exploiting part of the 4x's, which in turn speeds up tech research and production, allowing for more exploring and exploiting.

    That tech research takes place in a run of the mill, but admittedly also accessible, tech tree—technically tech web—divided into four fields of science. Generally the game pushes you to research all technologies of a certain tier regardless of field, rather than focusing on a single field. Doggedly pursuing a single high-tiered technology implies the very real danger of drastically falling behind in other areas, leaving you unable to advance beyond your star cluster lacking the ability to make even the smallest amount of money by trading. A few techs might be worth the risk though, depending on your play-style.
    The Tech Tree, or Web if you'd prefer

    I can't say I fully agree with the idea behind the diplomacy tree. It doesn't really make sense that a space-faring species needs to research a separate technology to allow for alliances, trade pacts, or any really basic diplomatic action for that matter. And while there are loads of weapons and defenses to research, they're all essentially upgrades of the same three categories. There are no high-tech weapons of mass destruction, there are no superweapons and basically nothing that titillates or takes advantage of the possibilities and the imagination of science fiction.

    Interestingly there is a small twist on the turn-based nature of this game. Instead of the usual sequential system, where each player and AI opponent has his own completely separate turn, allowing for ample time to react on the enemy and prepare your own moves; all turns are simultaneous. This will have the most effect in an online game, but even in singleplayer it means reacting fast to your enemy's movements can allow you to intercept his fleets. And likewise it could mean that your enemy can move his forces to safety if he sees you coming and still has movement points left.
    At first it'll feel a bit like the AI is cheating—especially since the AI logically can react much faster than you—but once you're used to it, it works remarkably well for this game. It might not fare so well with more complicated games requiring more micro-management though.
    The AI in general is fairly good, the default difficulty will give you quite a challenge if you're inexperienced. They seem to know where to place their fleets, what the easiest targets are, their fleet composition hints it realizes the strengths and weaknesses of its arsenal.
    If I have a complaint, it's that the AI overestimates its position when engaging in diplomacy—try trading tech or strategic resources for example—and that in the late-game the AI seems to completely fail at stopping you from steam-rolling all opposition. Where in most games you hate the moment the game believes you're too powerful and sends all AI factions after you, regardless of previous relations; in this one you'd want them to realize you're a threat to everyone just a tad sooner.

    Set phasers to KILL The most divisive element of Endless Space will probably be the battle system, and it warrants a fairly exhaustive rundown to ensure you know what you're getting yourself into.
    Set phasers to KILL
    The ships that comprise the cannon fodder for these battles are designed by the players themselves. By unlocking technologies you get access to several ship hulls and a whole slew of modules which range from weapons and defenses over colonization capabilities to improving your ability to siege planets.
    The basic gist of designing a ship is anticipating your enemy's ship configuration. You have three classes of weapons; specifically kinetic, beam and missiles; and three classes of defense modules, each countering one of the weapons classes. Ideally you would try to uncover your enemies most used weapons and defenses, and proceed to build a fleet outfitted with weapons your enemy has little defense against but in turn with defenses against his weapons, all of it supported by those support modules you favor. Ultimately it's a dual rock/paper/scissors system where you pitch your weapons versus your opponents defenses and vice versa. A well thought out fleet could annihilate the enemy without suffering any substantial losses.
    When fighting one enemy, simply countering hostile fleets with your designs might be fairly straightforward. But in a multi-front war, it's very well possibly you'll need to build more generalized fleets that might stand a chance against all, but will not dominate and continually lose ships in engagements. In which case a few systems with high industrial output will be necessary for reinforcements.

    The battles themselves are not real-time, but a mostly passive cinematic sequence in three phases with limited input of the player. For each phase, each of which represents a distance in the engagement and favors a certain weapon type, you're allowed to choose a battle action. These battle actions are represented by cards ranging from sabotage over increased shielding or armor to the creation of artificial black holes to mess with sensors and aiming. Each card belongs to a certain category, i.e. engineering or tactics, and counters a different category, successfully countering a card also provides a bonus to your own card. For example the battle action Weapon Overclock is an Offense card that counters Tactics. If played successfully it improves the efficiency of your kinetic weapons, hence best played in the short-range phase and/or when you have outfitted your ships with loads of kinetic weapons. If countered it does nothing, and if it counters the enemy's card it not only gives the improved kinetic efficiency but also gives a boost to your missile defense.

    Being sufficiently lucky with these cards can turn a defeat in a devastating victory, or can annihilate what should have been a superior fleet.
    All in all it's a system that won't appeal to everyone. Strategically it depends a lot on fiddling with your ship designs, often having to expensively overhaul entire fleets just to have enough manpower against a new enemy. Tactically there's fairly little input expected of you, and what little is expected, is very dependent on luck. My main gripe is that it doesn't allow for the player himself to shine. Especially in the late game, the spamming of fleets will mean you won't have the patience to manually engage the enemy -manual being a misnomer since you still won't be deciding much- and you'll depend on the auto-calculation a lot which in turn devolves a war to “who has the largest industrial output?”
    You could make the argument that a 4x-game doesn't always focus on combat, and while true, in my opinion the whole battle action system and the effort that went into creating it, implies they did intend combat to be a significant part of the game, it just hasn't turned out to be as fun or ground-breaking as they hoped for.

    Conclusion At the end of the day Endless Space is a pretty damn solid game. It finds a good balance between accessibility and raw 4X gameplay, serving it all in a very alluring package. The battle system won't be to everyone's taste, and I really recommend you to properly inform yourself about it before buying. I wouldn't have minded a more vivid galaxy and less of a statistical simulator, but that didn't keep me from gaming until the wee hours quite a few times.

    Gameplay: Without treading new ground, it offers a solid experience that will satisfy -albeit temporarily- most fans of the genre and serves as an almost ideal introductory 4X for the less experienced.

    Atmosphere/Plot: Somewhat lacking in this reviewer's opinion, though it's consistent with the clean "ruler's command console" look I believe they were going for.

    Sound and visuals: Other devs should take a long hard look at the UI. I'm sure there are faults with it, but it's just oh-so-shiny!

    Replayability: Fairly high, especially for the MP-crowd.

    Daily Reviews Prototype 2
    Prototype 2 Review

    If there is something that makes me grin with glee, it has to be causing destruction and chaos. Maybe it's my ancestry - or perhaps just my wicked mind - but give me power and I will use it for better or worse (mostly the latter). Luckily, Prototype came out in 2009 and not only gave you the option to explore New York City but to also cause exceptional amounts of damage. I enjoyed it immensely, so immensely that when a sequel was announced I almost dusted off the old Xbox 360 lying in a forgotten corner of the living room. I held myself back and was punished by having to wait around a month to play it on my old black behemoth of a computer. So, did Prototype 2 live up to my expectations or will it disappoint? Read on to find out!

    We find ourselves yet again in New York city, a city that has not only been featured in games and movies to many times to count, but also can boast off being the city that has seen the most destruction in them. It's like story writers and authors have a fetish in seeing this great city, and especially Manhattan, getting flooded, blown up, generally pulverized, and its populace bloody and maimed. Prototype 2 starts 14 months after the first game and New York is yet again under the thrall of a strange infection that turns its inhabitants into vicious cannibals. The first game's hero, Alex Mercer, returns, but not as our star; this time he has a completely different role.

    You are the ultimate hitman

    The city is under the tight control of Blackwatch, a special unit specializing in biological warfare, and Gentek, a corporation which is supposed to be working to find a cure but is instead is using the infection as an excuse for committing monstrous acts against civilians. The player controls James Heller, a sergeant in the army that is currently serving in Afghanistan. His tour is almost over when the second outbreak starts and his family is caught in the middle of it. Unfortunately, he arrives to late and finds out that his wife and child have been lost. As a result, he volunteers to go into the highly infected red zone on high risk patrols. I won't spoil too much but James Heller comes in contact with the virus and is taken in by Blackwatch and Gentek. In the laboratory he figures out that something has gone terribly wrong and that he has evolved tremendous powers. He escapes from captivity and begins to start searching for answers to the questions he has about Gentek, Blackwatch, and the death of his family.

    Foundation is important for first impressions and the overall feel towards the game when you first power it up. Luckily, Prototype 2 has a good story thanks to its stellar set-up and thrilling prequel. Everything is set up perfectly for a first time player while indulging veterans of the series. Overall I was pleased with things before I got the game.

    Floating over the city
    The story itself is quite linear and you do not really expect any surprises, even as you are unraveling the conspiracy around Alex Mercer and the groups controlling the city. It is nice, however, to see the story being developed, because, in all honesty, Prototype's story is awesome and presented well for the most part. Something I wish was more elaborated in the story was a more focus on the civilians living in the three zones of New York (green, yellow and red). The few backdrops of story you get are from collectibles around the map and do not really add anything more than showing that Blackwatch can be proud of hiring the most evil men on the planet to be a part of their army. Here is one of the problems I have with the game every single human being Heller encounters is of the lowest breed of scum. This might be to make you feel no regret for ripping out their spine and beating their friends to death with it, but the polarization between the player and his foes is just plain silly. The excessive swearing also becomes tedious. Are these Blackwatch people a professional military organization or merely thugs-for-hire? It's hard to tell.

    Radical Entertainment have really done a good job of creating a good atmosphere for the game. You really get the feeling that you are in a quarantined zone and the small details that really add to it. Scenes of people huddled in ramshackle camps in the midst of high blocks, checkpoints for civilians, and trucks filled with soldiers really convince the player that New York City has truly become Hell. Sadly, the way Radical set up the game it lets you skip across everything with ease and makes you wonder what was the point of it all, which is sad since they spent a considerable amount of time and effort to immerse you in the world they have created.

    The story and atmosphere in Prototype 2 has really nice feel to it. The story itself is something I look at as awesome and one that drags you in. Sadly, many of the elements have taken shortcuts and become cliché. Also, the story does not delve graphically enough into many of the story elements, and this affects the otherwise believable atmosphere. The atmosphere is really good - explaining much of what the life of the citizens is - but you can easily skip the environment, which kills the excitement.

    One of the things that I was wary of when the game was first released was that gamers who wished to play it on the PC had to wait an additional month. Usually, this means that the developers are polishing the PC version to a acceptable level: getting rid of bugs, adding more detail and higher resolution graphics while tweaking the controls so that the game can easily be played with a keyboard and mouse. Sadly, a month was not enough, as when I loaded up the game I got the usual problem with mouse sensitivity and got the general 'console port' feeling. If any of my readers have played Dead Rising 2 on the PC they will know what I am talking about.
    A hit and run (like crazy)

    The graphics are quite nice and gore is rendered in delicious detail, but I wish they had spent a little more time polishing the blood effects. Sometimes it looks like someone was holding up a piece red glistening cardboard. The jerky mouse is also very annoying; when you are in tight spaces the mouse wont move fluidly and chooses to slowly jerk around instead. This seems to only occur when the camera is focusing on a main objective, which is a minor thing but gets very annoying as hours of gameplay pass.

    Aside from that, the gameplay is fluid enough but you can easily tell the game was made for play with a controller. This is not a negative thing since Radical have done a very fine job in making this game work for the PC. The standard layout of the key bindings is nice and not put at random as you might expect from games with the same issue.

    Radical also removed much of the skill progression that we saw in the first game. This destroys several things. Firstly, you do not get any satisfaction from actually evolving James Heller. The player gets skills and doesn't really understand how or why. You are also quite beefy to begin with so you don't really notice any difference (perhaps you are kicking ass in a slightly different way).

    As is the case with many ports, there is problems for PC users. The jerky mouse and poor textures are not the only problems people are having. The gameplay in itself is fun, even though it may leave you wishing for more. It would have been nice if the developers had kept some of the first game's style, which would have made finishing the game more rewarding.

    All in all, Prototype 2 is a game that fulfills the player's desire for a third person free roam game. It has diverse enemies and destruction on a large scale. The story itself throws you into a open world that really shines as a city under quarantine and is so well done that you feel compelled to just stand and look at everything. Radical has done a very fine job in making the game world believable and, apart from some unrealistic interactions the protagonist has with it, I applaud Radical. Sadly Radical has not done a good job with optimization and this really drags the game. You have a wide arrange of video options but they do not help with the most basic things like textures and mouse movement. If you say that this can be excused because it's a port, I will slap you since there is no excuse to let your game look worse on a computer than on a console. But, as I said, this is not a major turnoff.

    If I could choose whether or not to get this game again I would definitely do it. All the major or minor bugs will eventually be overlooked when you get used to them or fixed and you feel a wicked joy when jumping off a rooftop and crashing into the ground while taking several infected men, civilians and military goons with you as you absorb their mass into a ball of slimy guts and sweat. It truly is delicious!

    Daily out.

    Battlefield 3 Commentary/Introductory Video
    Battlefield 3 Commentary/Intro Video
    Battlefield 3 Commentary/Intro Video

    List of Contributors/Other
    List of Contributors
    List of Contributors

    Legio - Editor
    I'm a rabid Mass Effect fan; go Asari go go go! I also enjoy Minecraft and heartily recommend TWC's Official Minecraft Servers.

    Confederate Jeb - Writer
    I've been busy with school as of late so this list is really short. PC-wise I've played a decent amount of League of Legends, which figures since I'm the TWC Clan Overseer for that game. The game that's gotten most of my time recently is Dust: An Elysian Tail for Xbox Live Arcade. If you have an Xbox buy this game right now; you will not regret it. Anyway, I'm online a lot so hit me up if you need another player for Xbox or Steam. I need more material for reviews anyway.

    Crazyeyesreaper - Writer
    I'm the go-to guy in the basement when it comes to parts for your PC. Sometimes I help trouble shoot issues as well, at least when I have the time to do so. Regardless, you can expect to see hardware reviews, PC part lists for builds and the occassional gaming review too from me. That said, I'm a PC gamer who loves Battlefield and Total War, and enjoys modding for Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout and Skyrim. I have a severe weakness for bacon.

    Manco - Writer
    Taking a final stab at the MMO genre with Guild Wars 2, which I suspect will sap away what little time I have for the coming few weeks.
    Whenever I get sick of looking at my toon's behind, I'm back in Rapture, splicing it up; or roaming the battlefields of, err, Battlefield 3.
    I might also be in a certain beta of a F2P sci fi game, but I can't talk about that.

    Leonidas the Lion- Writer
    I'm new to YouTube and have started uploading gaming vids. Most of them are Let's Play but I've been known to dabble in co-op as well! I'm currently playing Guild Wars 2, Alan Wake, Darksiders 2, Battlefield 3 and Left 4 Dead 2.

    Daily - Writer
    I am Daily, a podcast creator who has recently taken up the art of using letters to express what he wants. I have always been a fan of first-person shooters but have delved my body into MMOs and RTS games.

    Ishan - Contributor
    Special thanks to Ishan for help formatting.

    Bolkonsky - Contributor
    Special thanks to Bolkonsky for helping to get the Gazette formed, and on the road to glory!

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