Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide

Published by Atari
Developed by Bioware/FloodGate Entertainment
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Released – Out Now
Requires: Neverwinter Nights
Price : £19.99
Neverwinter Nights has been a huge success for Bioware and as a result of this, the expansion packs are set to flow. This year there will be two released, the first of which has to be the worst named expansion pack ever, Shadows of Undrentide. Shadows of Undrentide is not a Bioware creation as such, as the development was carried out by FloodGate Entertainment. I was surprised to see that it’s not a continuation of the story from Neverwinter Nights and what we have here is more of an add-on rather than expansion.The game begins in a similar manner to the single player game in Neverwinter Nights. You begin in an academy and you have to locate 4 dangerous artifacts and of course at the beginning of Neverwinter Nights you had to locate 4 different creatures. However this is merely a coincidence and the story ends up being completely different. In the academy there are yourself and three other students, Xanos, Dorna and Mishca. The leader of the academy is Master Drogan, a dwarf and at the very beginning he comes under attack and is almost killed. A female Harper named Ayala tends the sick Drogan, whilst you are told that Drogan was attacked because he looked after the four dangerous artifacts. You must go after the assailants, take vengeance for the attack and recover the artifacts. You are not alone though and you can take either Dorna or Xanos to accompany you. In total there’s about 20 hours of gameplay to be had with this add-on and whilst that is some way short of the 60 hours that you had in the original game the story is interesting enough to want to play it through again with a different character.The extra story isn’t all you’re getting for your money though. You also get five additional prestige classes. These are Harper Scout, Arcane Archer, Shadowdancer, Blackguard and Assassin. Those who like to create their own modules for Neverwinter Nights will be pleased to find that an additional 3 tilesets have been included. The Desert, Ruins and Rural Winter tilesets should allow for some different looking modules. Module creators should also be pleased to know that there are now new scripting commands available too. I can’t say how effective these are mind you as I never have the time to dabble in module creating. There are also 50+ new spells and 30+ new feats available to you. There are 16 new monsters and grenade-like weapons have also been added. The best improvement, in my opinion, has to be the enhanced enemy AI. Enemies actually seem more intelligent this time around and will give you more of a battle.

Graphically Shadows of Undrentide doesn’t offer any improvements over Neverwinter Nights. What’s strikingly obvious is how much brighter it all looks thanks to the new tilesets. We still don’t have the level of detail that we were used to in the Baldur’s Gate series but it still looks good, particularly on the higher screen resolutions.

Shadows of Undrentide is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. The game is exactly the same in this respect as Neverwinter Nights, what else would you expect. The manual fills you in on the new additions that have been included in the game and explains all the new spells and new feats so you’ll know exactly what they all do.

Shadows of Undrentide is a solid expansion pack. The new tilesets, classes, spells and feats will all be welcome additions for fans of the original game. The story is also enjoyable and whilst it doesn’t last as long, it’s still worth the money. You now have greater control over your henchman (or woman as the case may be) and you can put armour on them and encourage them to develop their abilities in a certain way. Despite all these good additions though it’s a shame that the game doesn’t add any real depth to Neverwinter Nights. Moreover, the creators of the Crypto Code software could have included the subtitles to each screen so that it becomes simple for the deaf gamers to easily understand each scenario that would help them to better predict the positioning of their characters and classes. As per the present situation, each gamer has to keenly observe the lip movements to make their next step. Maybe I’m looking for something to make it more like Baldur’s Gate II? Perhaps if you were able to have a party of more than two it would add the need for more in-depth tactics. As it stands there is still a little too much hack ‘n’ slash in the game for it to have the appeal that Baldur’s Gate II enjoyed.

Overall Game Rating: 7.4/10
A solid expansion pack that fans of Neverwinter Nights should appreciate.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems for deaf gamers. Shadows of Undrentide is exactly the same in it’s provision for deaf gamers as Neverwinter Nights.

 

© Deaf Gamers.com 200

Phantasy Star Collection

 

 

Published by SEGA
Developed by SEGA/Digital Eclipse
Platform: GBA
Released – Out Now
Price : £34.99

The GBA is pretty well covered for RPG games. Golden Sun has been out a long time and is rightly hailed as a classic, Zelda has now arrived (although you could argue that isn’t a true RPG), and with a Final Fantasy game on the way and Golden Sun 2 and the new Pokemon games almost upon us it’s looking good for RPG fans. Phantasy Star Collection gives you the chance to enjoy some old SEGA RPGs on your GBA. In fact you get three games, Phantasy Star I, Phantasy Star II and Phantasy Star III. Let’s see how they shape up in the 21st century.

The first thing you’re going to notice is how bad these games look and believe me they do look bad. I know a lot of people are in to retro games but it’s a real shame that these games weren’t given a graphical facelift to take advantage of the GBA. Of course fans of the series who want a carbon copy of the games they played all those years ago will probably be thrilled to bits. As you would expect Phantasy Star I looks the worst and rightly so because it’s an 8-bit game where as the other two came out during the 16-bit era and look noticeably better. Of course poor graphics are going to keep the eye candy enthusiasts away but those who are more concerned with the gameplay will be able to look past the aesthetics.

Each of the three stories are completely unrelated but much like the Final Fantasy series they all share common elements. Combat is turn-based and although it’s a poor turn based system you can see the roots of modern console RPG combat emerging, especially in Phantasy Star II. In Phantasy Star I you play Alis. She attempts to take revenge on the evil King Lassic for the death of her brother, Nero. Nero had discovered Lassic’s evil plans before he was silenced. The game begins with a dying Nero telling Alis to seek out a man named Odin. Phantasy Star II follows the story of Rolf, a government agent who must rid the Algo Star System of the oppressive Mother Brain. Finally Phantasy Star III sees you playing as Prince Rhys who, as he is about to get married has his bride-to-be kidnapped by a demon. Rhys has to try and get her back. The quality of the games’ stories is actually not that bad. I would say that the second one is a lot better than the other two though.

All of the games in this compilation will cause no problems for deaf gamers. In actual fact the games’ sounds are even poorer than the graphics. All information is text and you can read the conversations at your own pace as they require a button press to continue. Phantasy Star III features a scrolling text introduction but asks you what speed you would like it to scroll at before it commences, a nice touch.

The Phantasy Star Collection is really for retro fans and old time gamers alike who want to replay the first three games in the series. Gamers looking for style as well as (or indeed instead of) content will be disappointed though, especially with the first game, as the graphics look poor and the menus can seem unrefined if you’ve played any of the modern releases such as Golden Sun. Still the pack represents good value for money with around 80 hours of gameplay on offer, which is exceptional for just under £35.

One of the best games for under $50 with more than 80 hours of gaming experience, the Phantasy star collection, is the journey of the Alis to take revenge for her brother’s killing from the King Lasik who is the evil in the game, the graphics are good, and the game has different for the players to win trading with Bitcoin Loophole automated mode.

Overall Game Rating: 7.5/10
In terms of value for money this is one heck of a compilation. It’s a real shame that no effort was made to spruce up the graphics though.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Perfect for deaf gamers.

 

Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies

Published by Just Play/Matrix Games
Developed by Apezone
Platform: PC CD-ROM
Released – Out Now
Price : £24.99
You don’t always get what you expect do you? With Master of Orion 2 being such a good game the anticipation for number 3 in the series was sky high. What happened? To be completely honest it was one of the biggest disappointments, in the strategy game genre, of all time. The game looked OK but unfortunately it felt like you were doing nothing and that the game was playing itself. Those of you who were expecting a title that was equally as good as Master of Orion 2 would have been severely disappointed. However you might want to take a look at Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies.Starships Unlimited began life as a shareware product. Since then the game has undergone a few revisions with improvements being made to the game all the time. As a result the product we are reviewing today has had many of it’s gameplay elements finely tuned and it shows. Starships Unlimited was created and developed exclusively by Andrew Ewanchyna. Andrew, on his own, has managed to create a title that is far more enjoyable than Master of Orion and although it might not have the graphical niceties of a lot of today’s titles it has that all important addictive gameplay that keeps you playing long after you should have been in bed.

If you’ve played any of the Master of Orion games (or Star Trek: Birth of the Federation) you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Starships Unlimited is about. For those that haven’t played any one of these titles though we’ll attempt to give a brief summary of the gameplay. Starships Unlimited is a 4X game (eXplore, eXploit, eXpand, eXterminate). The game is a mix of real-time and turn based action. For the most part the game runs in real-time but when decisions need to be made the game will pause whereas when you are caught up in battle the game transforms into turn-based action. At the beginning of the game you choose which race you wish to participate as. There are 10 available races including the Terrans (Humans), Mirrshi and Gimpati to name but three. You can have upto 7 rivals in any game but you don’t have to play with this many and you can play with as little as 2 opponents if you wish. You also get to set such parameters as the shape of the galaxy, the amount of stars in the galaxy (from 50, short game, to 150, which could take a couple of weeks), the starting technological age, the style of your space crafts etc. You also get to choose between three difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced and you can also give yourself, or the AI opponents, advantages, which can also adjust the difficulty of the game.

As a gamer, you can take the advantage of speaking to the characters while the gaming is in its progress stage. This gaming software is so designed to decode the verbal conversations and convert them to the text on the screen. You can read more here about the advanced gaming technology.

Once the game is underway you’ll begin in the Sol system and you’ll have to make a choice of what to research. The game has four technological ages. These are the Atomic Age, Fusion Age, Anti-matter Age and the Singularity Age. To progress from one to the other you’ll have to obtain wisdom artefacts and have fifteen technologies from your current age. You obtain new artefacts from exploring new planets. Before you can obtain the artefact though you’ll have to defeat the planets guardian which isn’t always easy. You can choose whatever you wish to research but you must bear in mind that if you elect to build something, a space craft for instance, then research will be suspended. Of course once you control other planets and systems you can set the one to research and the other to build.

The game has quite an impressive diplomatic model in place. As per usual in games of this nature you have to earn trust with your prospective ally. The game allows you to trade between races and also send gifts that will help the smoothing of relationships. As relations improve you’ll be able to form an alliance and even a federation (where all the allies resources become your own). In a rather novel twist though you can only have one ally at a time. This prevents the game from being one big stand-off between a few major forces and keeps the game open. The idea of the game is to conquer the galaxy and it wouldn’t be much fun if stalemates could occur. Each of the games races has one out of a possible two philosophies. These philosophies are know as Big Endian and Little Endian. Those with the same philosophy as your race are more likely to become your allies as relations begin with you having a 50% trust rating. That said though with some well placed influence (such as causing unrest) it is also possible to become allies with a race of the opposite philosophy by subversion, given time.

Whilst peace is always welcome, soon enough you’ll be involved in a battle. At the beginning of the game you’ll have to deal with the artefact guardians and eventually you’ll come up against rival races or pirates. For battles the game switches over to turn-based mode. During a battle you’ll get the chance to choose from your available weapon systems, choose your target, pick manoeuvres and even quit the battle. Your space craft will gain experience from battles they take part in so it’s even possible that your lowly scout ships can even cause more powerful enemies a problem should they have the greater experience. Damage to your space craft is shown numerically, via floating text, and placing your mouse pointer over your craft will show you the condition of your craft (in the lower right of the screen) so that you can assess whether it would be prudent to pull your space craft out of the battle.

The only major disappointment with Starships Unlimited is that it doesn’t have a multiplayer mode. Whilst the single player game is thoroughly engaging there will come a time when you are not challenged by the AI and want to take on your friends and other gamers over the Internet. That’s not to say that the single player game is short lived. In fact it has all the replay value of games such as Civilization III etc. Creating a game with a 150 star galaxy is going to take a mammoth 50+ hours to complete so as you can see it’s certainly going to keep you busy for a heck of a long time.

Eye candy enthusiasts aren’t going to be impressed by Starships Unlimited. The graphics are simple and whilst they would have sufficed around 5 years ago, today they look a little out of date. Fortunately strategy genre gamers (especially the turn-based strategy sub-genre gamers) are more forgiving of the quality of the graphics if the gameplay is fully intact, so fairly low quality graphics aren’t really an issue.

Starships Unlimited is fine for deaf gamers. All information is given in text so nothing is hidden from a deaf gamer. The game’s printed manual is quite decent and explains the basics. There is also an electronic (acrobat) manual that explains the gameplay in a little more depth. To be perfectly honest there won’t be too much need for the manuals as the game does a wonderful job of explaining the game as you play and all tips and information are given in text. The game pauses so that you can read this text in your own time.

Starships Unlimited: Divided Galaxies is one of those games where it pays to take little notice of the screenshots. It might look out of date, to a certain extent, but it’s the gameplay that really shines. Given a straight choice between this and Master of Orion 3 there would be no hesitation, it would have to be Starships Unlimited. The gameplay is more involving, more enjoyable and plays very well indeed. The lack of multiplayer is a disappointment but as a single player game it is certainly well worth it.

Overall Game Rating: 8.2/10
Forget Master of Orion 3. If you want an enjoyable sci-fi based, 4X strategy game then Starships Unlimited fits the bill nicely.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all. All information is given in text.

© Deaf Gamers.com 2000

Genma Onimusha

Published by Capcom
Xbox
Out Now
Price £44.99

One of the titles that had a great deal of success on the PS2 was Onimusha Warlords (indeed it will soon be on the Platinum range). Dubbed by many as Resident Evil in a Samurai setting Genma puts you in the role of Samanosuke Akechi. Rather than be a straight port of Onimusha Warlords, from PS2 to Xbox, Genma Onimusha has been improved upon and contains several game enhancing modifications.

The background of the game is basically that in the Mino prefecture, soldiers and workers are vanishing without trace and the people are beginning to panic. Worried, Princess Yuki decides that help is needed and calls for Samanosuke to help. Samanosuke rushes to her aid but it is all in vain as when he arrives she has been kidnapped. Under attack from the warlord Nobunaga the people of Mino have too much to be concerned with without immediately going to find Yuki. Samanosuke and his partner Kaede go off to search for Yuki although they go in two different directions. During the course of the game you get to play as both Samanosuke and Kaede.

Combat is the name of the game in Genma Onimusha and the control system reflects that fact. Much like the default control system in Silent Hill 2 where if you pushed up on the direction pad the character would move forward, regardless of the direction he was facing. The only problem here is that sometimes you have to go to the left for the character to move right. If this is your first experience of a control system like this it will initially prove baffling. The solution in Silent Hill 2 was to offer an alternate control system. In Genma Onimusha there is no alternative control system though. While it may prove a little strange outside of a battle situation it certainly comes into it’s own when in the thick of a dice ‘n’ slice situation.

Unlike in the PS2 version Samanosuke comes with a magical gauntlet which enables him to absorb enemy souls and equip orbs that can give him magical powers. Once Samanosuke has absorbed five green souls he can use Ogre Power that basically makes him invincible for a short period of time. There are also new armours on offer such as the Ogre armour. A host of new enemies to do battle with have also been included and to deal with them, Samanosuke can now make powered attacks to strike with more force. There are also several secrets to be found within the game. This feature alone should keep you coming back for more. There are also more enemies this time around. The hardest of these is known as the Doll Girl and she is really hard to beat.

On beginning the game I originally struggled and got slaughtered quite quickly several times. After about the fourth time in succession I received a message (in text) to say that an easy beginner mode had now been enabled. This allowed me to progress a lot further into the game. This is a nice touch by Capcom as it allows the player to not be put off by the game. The longevity of the game really comes down to what difficulty you play the game at. Play the game on easy and it won’t take you too long at all where as if you play on the hard setting it could take you weeks. One thing for sure though is that the appeal of the game is such that you’re going to want to replay the game simply to try and find all the secrets.

Graphically the game is fantastic. The animation and detail on the characters is wonderful. It is a shame that the backgrounds are pre-rendered but they look stunning nevertheless. The visuals in the cutscenes are as good as anything ever seen and the introduction is truly amazing. The only moan I would have is that the camera angle can sometimes become a niggle when it switches around during a battle as it can cause you to lose your bearings.

Now it’s on to the best part. Since the release of the Xbox we have had a few disappointments with Halo and Oddworld not really catering for the deaf gamer but at last we have a shining example of how a game should be subtitled. Everything is subtitled in Genma Onimusha from the cutscenes to the conversations in-game. The cutscene subtitles are fantastic. They are on be default and slow enough for everyone to read. This makes the game so much more enjoyable for the deaf gamer. You really can’t believe that everyone else hasn’t subtitled their games in such a fantastic fashion.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10 A fantastic samurai action/adventure game. The difficulty levels and the secrets that are there to be found will keep you interested after the game has been completed. This game is a must buy even if you have Onimusha Warlords on the PS2 as the adjustments and extra features that Capcom have added make for a richer experience.

Deaf Gamers comment: This must be considered the benchmark game for the Xbox in terms of catering for deaf gamers. Let’s hope other developers copy this shining example.

 

Screenshots

Sonic Advance 2

Published by SEGA
Developed by SONIC TEAM
Platform: GBA
Released – Out Now
Price : £34.99

One of the quickest game characters of all time makes his return on the Game Boy Advance. Sonic Advance 2 sees the return of Sonic and his friends for more high speed, side scrolling action. It’s still the same old routine, collect the rings, avoid the spikes and of course you have to exact your revenge on Dr. Eggman. Let’s take a look and see how it shapes up.

The story behind the game is, well, as flimsy and as unoriginal as ever. Dr Eggman returns and plans to build a new evil empire and you can guess who is the only character who can stop him. It doesn’t matter though as a good plot isn’t required to enjoy a Sonic game. The game consists of 7 zones, each of which consist of two acts (levels) and a Boss fight. After completing the 7th zone you’ll be taken to the Final Zone which has only one act. The levels are all typical Sonic and very enjoyable. The only problem is that you breeze through them in no time with only the Boss fights offering any kind of challenge.

Like Sonic Advance, playing through Sonic Advance 2 will only take a few short hours. If that was all there was to it, it would be a very poor effort indeed but thankfully there are incentives to play through time and time again with different characters. There are five playable characters in all and you get different bonuses for completing the game with each one. Completing the game with the first character will unlock the Tiny Chao Garden . Completing the game with the second character will unlock the sound test function, which is useless for deaf gamers. The third time you complete the game you’ll gain access to the Boss Levels and the fourth time you’ll be able to unlock Amy Rose as a playable character.

The Tiny Chao Garden mode allows you to nurture your little Chaos. You can import and export your Chaos to Sonic Adventure 2: Battle if you like. The Tiny Chao Garden also comes with two mini-games. Chao Super High-Jump let’s you control Cream as she tries to bounce her Chao off the spring carriage in order to collect the rings. The memory game is where you have to turn over a matching pair of cards and you have to remember what card is where. These games are simple and younger gamers will definitely appreciate them more than older ones, like me.

Playing this exclusive game can greatly enhance your

  • Concentration power
  • Curiosity level of deliverables coming up in the next stages
  • Logical reasoning ability
  • Solving capability to come up with the best solution from complicated scenes just like using the Bitcoin Code trader robot
  • Tackle physical and mental challenges
  • Soften your mood

It’s not just about single player action as the game comes with a single and multi-game pak multiplayer action to enable you to enjoy the Sonic experience with friends. The multi-game pak mode allows you to race through the game levels to see who can do it the quickest. The single-game pak multiplayer mode sees you trying to collect the most rings in the time allowed. In fairness the multi-game pak mode is more entertaining but at least you can play a game with your friends/relatives even if they don’t own the game.

Unbelievably Sonic Advance 2 looks even better than Sonic Advance. The graphics and animations have been wonderfully improved and the whole thing looks fantastic. The speed of the game is also noticeably quicker this time. I don’t recall ever playing a Sonic game that moved quite this quick. At times it feels like you’ve got little control over Sonic because his acceleration is so quick. Sonic fans will be impressed by the effort that has gone into the game and it’s probably the best looking 2D Sonic game.

There are no problems for deaf gamers with Sonic Advance 2. You get some conversations between the levels but it’s all in text and you get plenty of time to read it. The manual, whilst short, explains all you need to know with the minimum of fuss. All the actions for Sonic, Cream, Knuckles, Tails and Amy Rose are described in the manual, which is pleasing to see as a lot of games expect you to work it out for yourself.

Fans of the Sonic series will undoubtedly love this offering. It’s good to see a single pak multiplayer mode as this gives you a more realistic chance of getting to play it. After all how many of you have brothers, sisters or friends who buy the same games at the same time as you? The single player game is a bit short for my liking but the Time Trial and Tiny Chao Garden (and the mini-games you can find there) add to the value of the game.

Overall Game Rating: 8.0/10
Sonic Advance 2 will please fans of the series but I would have liked to have seen a lot more action for the single player game.

Deaf Gamers comment:
There are no problems at all with Sonic Advance 2 for deaf gamers.

 

Screenshots

KOCH Media goes to WAR with The Bitmap Brothers

BASINGSTOKE, England (January 24th, 2003) – UK software publisher, KOCH Media announced last week the exciting news that they have signed the rights to publish renowned UK developer, The Bitmap Brothers latest PC-CDROM title – World War II: Frontline Command. Set during the climax of the Second World War, Frontline Command lets aspiring Generals make the strategic commands necessary to turn the tide of Axis aggression and liberate occupied Europe.

The year is 1944 and as Allied forces prepare for the D-Day invasion, your squads of elite paratroopers land in occupied France to disrupt the entrenched Axis forces. Utilising a fully realized 3D engine, this action strategy title offers gamers incredibly realistic visuals, coupled with a highly advanced AI system, which allows for intelligent and adaptive game play. Such is the level of depth and detail, the game features a ‘Hearing’ system, where by units not in ‘Line of Sight’ can be detected if they are within hearing range. It also features an advanced ‘Morale’ system, where units confidence in battle is varied by the situations and decision of the commanding officer – YOU!

With over 23 historically accurate units per side and 25 single player missions, the war effort does not end there, as all 25 missions, plus 10 unique missions are available for multiplayer via LAN and the Internet using GameSpy. Using real World War II archive footage and a professionally orchestrated audio score and effects, players are immersed into the heart of the action, as machine gun bullets ricochet off stone walls and the thunderous explosions of mortar fire echo’s across the battlefield.

“We are extremely pleased to be working with The Bitmap Brothers on this exciting title,” said Craig McNicol, Managing Director of KOCH Media. “Their history of game development is exemplary and Frontline promises to be their finest yet.”

“KOCH Media are regarded highly in Europe both by retail and the specialist press,” said Ed Bartlett, Business Development Director for The Bitmap Brothers. “Frontline is shaping up to be a fantastic and broad-reaching title, and we have absolute confidence in the abilities of the KOCH Media team to do the product justice.”

Developed by The Bitmap Brothers and published by and distributed across Europe by KOCH Media, World War II: Frontline Command will release May 2003.

KEY FEATURES

  • Fully realized 3D engine allowing for advanced game play techniques incorporating true 3D Line Of Sight systems, full particle system, seasonal lighting and environmental effects, landscape scarring and multiple stage deformation for all units and buildings.
  • The game camera can tilt, zoom and pan around the action so that the player can always realize a perfect view of the titles awesome graphics.
  • Intuitive context-sensitive interface allows for simple or complex strategies to be employed, rewarding the player with a rich and absorbing pick up and play experience.
  • A varied and interesting script for background detail and mission briefings. Debriefings are also awarded to the player upon the successful completion of a mission.
  • 6 cut scenes using real WWII archive footage, including rare colour footage, which provide an informative and historical update between sub campaigns.
  • Professionally orchestrated audio scores: authentic, positional sound effects and professional voice actor recordings.
  • Intelligent and adaptive AI system that reacts to your strategy as you play, counterattacking, finding and firing from cover, utilizing captured artillery guns and deploying infantry within buildings wherever possible. The AI will retreat when necessary to rearm or heal their forces as you play.
  • Features a “Hearing” system whereby enemy units that are within range but not in Line Of Sight can be detected if they are heard by the players units.
  • An advanced “Morale” system that is comprehensive but insightful in nature; battlefield troops report back differently depending on their morale level. The morale system also influences the style and actions of the units in play; “Heroic” actions can be performed when morale is high, for example.
  • 25 Single Player missions that can be played either as a 12-mission “Recruit” campaign or a 20-mission, non-linear “Veteran” campaign whereby your actions influence what occurs in forthcoming missions. You will travel from the west coast of Europe in 1944 right through to Hitler’s Eagles Nest at Berchtesgarden high within the Bavarian Alps in 1945.
  • Multiplayer support is included for up to 4 players via LAN and the Internet using GameSpy, and offering a variety of game styles. There are 10 specific multiplayer maps and the 25 single player maps can be played upon making 35 in total. Players can create custom armies from either Allied or Axis sides in multiplayer mode.
  • 23 real-life, command able WWII units per side, featuring historically accurate hardware, with a maximum 200 units per map.

 

  

  

About KOCH Media:
Founded in 1994, KOCH Media develops, publishes and distributes a diverse mix of titles for home console gaming systems, personal computers and the Internet. Based in Basingstoke, UK, KOCH operates a pan-European service, with additional offices in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and its headquarters in Austria. KOCH has distribution contracts for a number of software publishers including Nintendo, Konami, Steinberg, Ulead, JASC and Gamester. As part of the Virtuoso division, KOCH exclusively markets, PR’s, sells and distributes for Davilex Software, Wanadoo and Paradox Entertainment. KOCH also develops and publishes educational and lifestyle software via its Europress brand. For more information on KOCH Media and its products visit http://www.kochmedia.co.uk

The Bitmap Brothers:
Founded in 1987, The Bitmap Brothers are one of the few remaining ‘old school’ independent developers: a small, highly successful development team with a history of creating unique, critically and commercially acclaimed IP. Continually striving for originality, attention to detail and new levels of playability, the company has been responsible for several of the games industry’s most memorable titles.

Based in riverside offices in Wapping, East London U.K. The Bitmap Brothers are currently developing a WWII RTS title, “WWII: Frontline Command” as well as targeting next-generation platforms with concepts including a follow-up to the multi-million selling Speedball series, Speedball Arena.

For further information, visit: www.bitmap-brothers.co.uk

 

Shenmue II

Published by SEGA
Developed by SEGA AM2 Co.LTD
Platform: Xbox
Released – Out Now
Price : £39.99

If you had to pick the definitive game on the Dreamcast console it would have to be Shenmue. Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece was like no other game before it and was impossible to pigeonhole into a genre. It has elements of an adventure game, an action game, beat ’em up game and to some extent an RPG. This may seem like a weird combination but Yu Suzuki has created such a subtle blend of the genres that somehow it feels natural and what’s more it’s completely engrossing.

I would imagine that most of you out there already know what happened in the original Shenmue but for those who don’t know here’s a brief summary. Ryo Hazuki’s (the character you control) father is killed by the evil Lan Di. Lan Di was after a mirror that Ryo’s father had, although there was also an element of revenge in the murder that we are not made fully aware of. Lan Di goes to Hong Kong after obtaining the Dragon mirror in order to search for the second sacred mirror: the Phoenix mirror. If both of these sacred mirrors fall into the wrong hands it could spell disaster. What Lan Di didn’t realise though is that Ryo’s father also had the second mirror. Ryo, who actually saw Lan Di murder his father is out for revenge and by the end of the first game has the Phoenix mirror and is on a ship bound for Hong Kong. This sequel begins with Ryo arriving in Honk Kong.

Shenmue II is played in a kind of real-time. Ryo has to keep his eye on the time. Certain events only happen at specific times. For the most part Ryo can do as he pleases but there are some restraints. At 11pm he must return to his lodgings to sleep for instance. Ryo usually has to pay for things he wants, as well as for his lodgings, so it’s a good idea to try and earn some money by either gambling, working or visiting a pawnbrokers to part with some of his belongings. For this, he has to employ the Crypto CFD Trader app and hunt for things that easily help him to earn some money that can further be invested for the items he needs to equip himself. Say for example, if he needs an armour, he has to make bonuses so that he can purchase this tool from the game box. The jobs are never exciting but you only have to do them when you need the money, you don’t have to do them everyday if you don’t want to. The area of Hong Kong where Ryo is, is quite large and is broken up into smaller areas. Initially finding places can be tough. Ryo can either ask people where he must go or find them for himself. It’s far better to ask someone. More often than not they will take you to the place you want or point you in the general direction. There are map machines scattered around and Ryo can buy these and also mark specific locations on them, which is a tremendous help.

There are various elements to the gameplay in Shenmue II. There’s the free quest mode, which is basically roaming the environment as you see fit. You can either follow the story or simply browse around the shops or earn money doing various jobs or gambling. Then there’s the free battle mode in which Shenmue’s combat elements get a chance to shine. The fight moves have been taken from the Virtua Fighter series so you know the mechanics are going to be up to scratch. Next is the QTE (Quick Timer Events) mode, which are basically interactive cutscenes. In a QTE you have to press the button or direction as soon as the button or direction icon appears on the screen. A QTE can be a fight, puzzle or task. Failure to press the relevant button quickly enough will usually result in you having to do the QTE again. It does not lead to a game over thankfully. A QTE can be very dramatic and is a nice way of getting you involved rather than simply having to sit there whilst a cutscene plays out. There is a point worth mentioning with a QTE though. When the button icon appears onscreen a sound, which increases in tempo, is given. This doesn’t really effect the gameplay as such because the idea is to press the button as soon as possible. There is also a sound, should you not do the QTE properly but, as the QTE will just repeat if you fail, then this noise is of little consequence. There is one QTE where Ryo has to catch a single leaf between his fingers. In order to do this Ryo has to concentrate on one leaf until the camera zooms in and a slight sound is given out, then he must grab the leaf with his two fingers. This could potentially cause a problem for deaf gamers but I noticed that there is a slight blurring of the leaf at about the same time of the noise. To be honest the blurring of the leaf is a better guide than the sound anyway.

SEGA have included some nice extras in Shenmue II. If you walk into an arcade in the game you’ll find arcade machines of classics such as Outrun, Space Harrier and Afterburner 2 to name but a few. Once you’ve played on these during the game you can play them at any time from the main menu. A very nice touch indeed. An exclusive extra to the Xbox version is the ability to take screenshots at any time by pressing the black button. These pictures can be viewed at any time from choosing the snap-shots option from the main menu. The Xbox version also allows you to change your graphical filter by pressing the white button. This allows you to play the game in black & white as well as a sepia tone. Of course you’re not going to want to play the game like this but it’s effective to take photos when using one of these filters.

Shenmue II was originally a Dreamcast title and to be honest, it shows. That’s not to say that there have been no refinements made for this Xbox version though. The slowdown that plagued the Dreamcast version has been removed and the resolution of the game has been increased to make the graphics and textures seem so much sharper. There is still evidence of its Dreamcast roots though. You’ll often see people fade in and fade out as you walk down a busy street. It doesn’t look bad but it’s obvious that the game wasn’t built for the superior Xbox hardware. Don’t get me wrong the game looks good but it doesn’t use the power of the Xbox as well as it might have. The one grumble I do have though is that the camera angles can be poor on the odd occasion whilst your having a battle which can make it awkward at times.

Shenmue II is absolutely superb for deaf gamers. The actual game is fully subtitled*. Indeed you can choose to play with just text and no speech at all. The text is quite large and is very easy to read, even on a small TV. In conversations you have to press the ‘A’ button to progress and there is plenty of time to read the text. In fact there are only two complaints with the overall package. The game comes with Shenmue digest. This is a short compilation of the events of the first film and this is not subtitled. Also in the package is a DVD movie of the first game that is essentially a film compiled out of the first game’s cutscenes. This would have been great to introduce newcomers to the game but alas it’s not subtitled. However on page 3 of the manual you can learn about the important events from the previous game, it’s not as good as the movie but at least you’re not in the dark about the important events. To help you keep track of what you should be doing Ryo is equipped with a logbook which details what you have done and what needs to be done and can be looked at whenever you like.

This has to be one of the best games ever to appear on any console. Of course if you’ve played Shenmue II on the Dreamcast there is probably little here to tempt you into playing through again. For those gamers who have yet to experience the Shenmue series or for those who have only played the first game, this is a must own title. The gameplay is as deep and involving as any game you can buy on the Xbox. The only downside is that there are no known plans to release the third title in the series. Let’s hope SEGA sees sense and announces it pretty soon.

Overall Game Rating: 9.2/10
An absolute gem of a game. Shenmue II introduces the series to Xbox owners and after really enjoying this we can but hope for Shenmue III.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems with the game but it’s a shame that the DVD film isn’t subtitled.

*There is a section in Kowloon where Ryo has to listen to a tape recording. There are no subtitles for most of these conversations (they are not important anyway). Fast forward the tape to number 591 and a unsubtitled message will play. After the message Ren will ask for the message to be played again (this time it’s subtitled).

Mario Party 4

Published by Nintendo
Developed by Hudson Soft
Platform: GameCube
Released – Out Now
Price : £39.99

Nintendo were the first to provide a console that enabled 4 players to participate in a game in the shape of the Nintendo 64. Of course having a console that enabled 4 people to play simultaneously created the need for a game that really delivered a fun and exciting experience. Mario Party was to be the game that delivered the goods and showed gamers that 4 player gaming could be hugely enjoyable. Since then of course there were two more sequels on the Nintendo 64 and a whole heap of imitations that just couldn’t create the multiplayer magic of Mario Party. Of course the Nintendo 64 is now history and this latest title in the series finds itself on the Nintendo GameCube.

For those few out there that haven’t played a Mario Party game before a brief explanation is called for. The game is basically a board game. The objective is to collect coins and stars. At the end of each round a mini-game is played and extra coins can be earned. The winner of the game is the one who has accrued the most stars. Of course it isn’t this straight forward. The nature of the board spaces and items that can be bought or acquired, change the nature of the game.

Like any board game the space you land on often triggers an event. Land on a blue space and you’ll earn 3 coins where as a red space will take 3 coins off your total. A happening space (denoted by a question mark) will trigger a board event. There is even a fortune space and landing on this will result in playing a round of Reversal of Fortune which is a kind of pinball game where you could end up losing what you have or gaining what you don’t. There are also spaces to trigger Battle mini-games, Bowser spaces that can either take coins off you or trigger a Bowser mini-game and Mushroom spaces that can earn you a mega or mini mushroom.

To add extra variation to the gameplay there are also various items that can be bought from shops or acquired from certain board spaces. Mini mushrooms allow you to shrink to crawl through spaces, Mega mushrooms give you two dice blocks (you have to hit a dice block on your turn to determine how many spaces you will move and the numbers range from 1-10) and increase your size. If you encounter any events whilst using a Mega mushroom they will be ignored but if you pass another character you will take 10 coins away from them. There are super variations of both the Mini and Mega mushrooms as well as Warp Pipes, Swap Cards, Sparky Stickers, Gaddlight and a host of other items that can rapidly change the nature of the game. In fact it’s fair to say that it’s the variation that these items add that prevents the gameplay from becoming repetitive and also means that even a player who is far behind always has a chance of victory.

There are various parts to Mario Party 4. The Party mode is the heart of the game. Here 4 players take part in a board game in a race for stars and coins. If four human players are not at hand then an AI opponent/s will make the numbers upto four. This is the mode where Mario Party is at it’s best. You just can’t beat Mario Party 4 for the thrill of playing against three human rivals on any console. Story Mode is for single players and sees you trying to win on each of the five boards in order to become the Party Star and acquire a present from each of the five characters who have their own board. There are eight controllable characters in the game and winning the games with different characters will result in different prizes. There is also a special bonus for those who manage to win all the games with each character. It’s also possible to play the mini-games in isolation. Initially there will be no mini-games that are unlocked but as you encounter them in either Party mode or Story mode they will appear in the mini-mode section. You can even setup your own Battle mode games and Tic-Tac-Toe games. If this isn’t enough you can always enter the Extra Room to play in Thwomp’s Backroom Ball or Whomp’s Basement Brouhaha. The options are seemingly endless.

Having played a lot of party games recently there is one key difference between Mario Party 4 and virtually all the others, variety. The different kinds of games that are on offer are either 4-player mini-games, 2 Vs.2, 1 Vs. 3 and Battle mini-games. It’s quite easy to label party games as simply button bashing, and in most cases this is true. In Mario Party 4 however this is not so and although there are some mini-games where button bashing is required there are also plenty of games where this is not necessary. Games such as Mr. Blizzard’s Brigade simply require you to dodge the snowballs and movement of the control stick is all that’s required. Of course Mario Party 4’s variety does not end there. With there being over 50 mini-games on offer it’s easy to suppose that a few games are very similar. It’s to the developers credit that all the games not only look different but also feel different. From the brilliant simplicity of Trace Race (where each of the characters have a giant crayon and have to trace the line in front of them as accurately as possible to earn points) to the tricky Right Oar Left, the mini-games will never cease to impress you.

Mario Party 4 is without a doubt one of the best games on the GameCube and it is wonderful to see that it’s great for deaf gamers too. All the information in the game is given in text. Before the start of a mini-game you are given the instructions for the game. The text is static and can be read in your own time. You also have the option to practise the game before playing it for real. I found this an invaluable addition, especially when playing the single player story mode. The only verbal information that is not shown in text is the occasional trademark comments from the characters as they move around the board. This doesn’t detract from the enjoyment at all and these comments are only usually 2-3 words.

The game features force feedback. In fact some games such as Cliffhangers and Rumble fishing depend on force feedback. If like me you’ve got used to the rather splendid Wavebird controller then there is no need to worry. You can turn off force feedback in the game options if you want to. In games where force feedback is an essential part of the game an exclamation mark is shown over your character’s head to visually depict the force feedback. I didn’t turn off the force feedback option and to my amazement the game still showed the exclamation mark when I used the Wavebird controller. When I used the standard controller the exclamation mark was gone and the force feedback returned, very impressive.

Graphically Mario Party 4 represents a huge improvement for the series. The characters in the game are Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Waluigi, Wario, Donkey Kong and Yoshi. Each of the characters look very good indeed. The texture detail is not as good as what is on offer is Super Smash Bros. Melee but nevertheless the characters look impressive. The mini-games also look very good. It is worth mentioning that the water in games such as Cheep Cheep Sweep looks magnificent and completely lifelike. There are five different main game boards in the game, Toad’s Midway Madness, Goomba’s Greedy Gala, Shy Guy’s Jungle Jam, Boo’s Haunted Bash and Koopa’s Seaside Soiree. The boards look good although they are not as graphically detailed as they could be.

Mario Party 4 is indeed very impressive. As a multiplayer experience it’s as close to perfection as you’re going to get. You can even create a custom list of your favourite games and use only these in your Party game. This is especially useful when playing the game with your children as they know they are going to play the mini-games that they love instead of having to play the ones they may dislike. As a single player title the game doesn’t equal the multiplayer experience but it is still very enjoyable and the desire to unlock all the mini-games and complete the Story mode will keep you busy for ages.

Overall Game Rating: 9.1/10
A dream of a multiplayer game that will keep you busy for ages. Even as a single player experience the game is very addictive. One of the best multiplayer games on any platform.

Deaf Gamers comment:
The occasional character comments are not subtitled but in every other way the game is brilliant for deaf gamers.

 

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Alpine Racer 3

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by Namco
Platform: PlayStation 2
Released – Out Now
Price : £39.99

Fancy a high adrenaline racer with a difference? If so then Alpine Racer 3 could be the game you’ve been looking for. Taking to the piste either using skis or on a snowboard, the game offers an exciting, speed filled challenge. Alpine Racer 3 is one of those titles that’s easy to get to grips with but difficult to master.

The game comes with five modes to enjoy. Cross Race, Slalom, 1 on 1 and Time Attack are all one off events and have little depth to them at all. The Extreme Winner’s Cup is where you’ll be spending most of your time. Choosing one of the initially seven available characters, who all have there own distinctive look and abilities, you’ll take on a series of challenges and along the way you’ll earn money and will be able to purchase better equipment for your character. Money is awarded to you depending on your time, tricks performed and jumps made. You’ll also lose money for falling so it’s best to try and stay on your feet. The races can either be raced with a snowboard or skis, the choice is upto you. Should you fail to win one of the races you’ll have the chance to pay for a retry. If you decide not to retry, the game can be saved and you’ll have to start from scratch. However if you pick the same character again then any money you accumulated will be available to spend on your character.

The biggest disappointment with Alpine Racer 3 is the quality of the graphics. The textures and aliasing (jaggies) are absolutely appalling and the game looks like it’s a first generation title rather than one that comes out two years after the PlayStation 2’s release. Throughout the game you’ll encounter races where avalanches occur and these have been nicely done but on some slopes there are bright lights all over the place and the angular nature of the slopes causes any shadows cast onto the ground to look hideous. Everyone wants an easy to use website with fantastic graphics and interface. It is not difficult to create if the developer focuses on the website and works hard to develop the idea. There are only a few crypto-robots recommended by this website, as they endorse a program only when they are convinced about its efficiency. Follow the link here, and read the impartial reviews, https://top10cryptorobots.com/crypto-robots/qprofit-system/. Coming back to the game,

As with all racing games a fluid framerate is paramount and Alpine Racer 3 does not disappoint here. There races feel fast, very fast at times which adds to the addictiveness of the game.

There isn’t too much verbal content within the game and what it there isn’t subtitled. This isn’t a problem though as it’s just comments from your racer such as when they’re in the air, mid-trick as it were, and when they cross the finish line you either get an ecstatic comment if they win or a moan if they don’t. There is also some comments from the racers when they are selected prior to a race but again these are only small and have no bearing on the gameplay. All information is shown in text though and therefore the game is fine for deaf gamers.

Alpine Racer 3 is purely an arcade experience and fans of arcade racers will find this one a very addictive title indeed. You just wish that the graphics had been much improved and the game actually looked like it came out recently and not look like it came out two years ago which is what it does. If you liked the arcade version of Alpine Racer then you’ll be pleased with this PS2 version.

Overall Game Rating: 7.9/10 If you’re looking for a race experience with a difference Alpine Racer 3 could be the game for you.

Deaf Gamers Comment: There are some comments from your character that aren’t subtitled but this doesn’t harm the gameplay and won’t take away from your enjoyment of the game.

 

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Klonoa Empire of Dreams

Published by Infogrames
Designed by Namco
Platform: GBA
Out Now
Price £29.99

The Emperor is unable to dream and in true tyrant tradition, if he can’t enjoy something then his subjects can’t enjoy it. The problem is Klonoa and Huepow continue to dream. Somehow the Emperor finds out about this and they are arrested. They are about to be executed when the Emperor decides to let them off providing they can vanquish the four monsters that are attacking the empire.

Klonoa is a cat type character and Huepow is an imp that conveniently places himself on Klonoa’s magic ring and waits to assist him. You control Klonoa and to complete your quest you are going to have to complete over 40 challenging levels that are spread over five different worlds.

Klonoa is not your standard platformer, it is much more than that. Of course the classic platform ingredients are all here and executed splendidly but what makes Klonoa different is that it really makes you think. In order to complete a level you have to find the three stars. These stars can be in tricky locations and you have to use a variety of techniques and objects to acquire them.

Klonoa has a variety of moves that can assist you in this puzzle solving. In addition to the basic movements he can also perform a hover, which allows him to temporarily remain in mid-air, he can fire a wind bullet which captures enemies and allows him to throw them and finally (and perhaps most importantly) he can double jump. A double jump uses a captured enemy as a springboard to perform huge jumps. This allows Klonoa to access what would otherwise be inaccessible areas.

Not all the levels are about collecting the three stars. The levels in which you have to collect the three stars are known as Puzzle stages. There are also Action stages. Action stages either involve you speeding along on a self-propelled hover board or participating in an athletic challenge in which you have to overcome obstacles and reach the goal. Finally there is the Boss stages. These are simply a fight to the finish with Boss characters.

Klonoa looks absolutely fantastic. The graphics are bright and colourful and the animation is first class. Little things like the revolving of the worlds, where you choose which stage to have a go at, has been wonderfully done. All of the backgrounds for the stages look great. To be honest it looks as good as anything Nintendo themselves could create, it’s that good.

The game is perfect for deaf gamers. There is no vocal feedback, as you would expect with a GBA, and everything is given in text. On the first couple of stages you will come across sign posts and looking at these will explain how to perform certain moves. These messages require a button press to continue so that you can read the text at your own pace, which is large and easy to read.

Klonoa is a supremely playable platform game that is as good as anything on the GBA. The puzzle nature of the levels has been balanced just right and it will provide an immense and enjoyable challenge for fans of the genre. Like all class titles it will also appeal to gamers who don’t normally like platform games because the puzzles prevent it from becoming too straight forward and similar to other platform games.

Overall Game Rating: 9.3/10 Klonoa Empire of Dreams is a truly great and innovative platform game. Namco have done a superb job. This is a must have title for your GBA.

Deaf Gamers comment: Klonoa Empire of Dreams is perfect for deaf gamers. With clear, easy to read static text, what more can we ask for?

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