Tag Archives: Multiplayer

Beach Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back Review

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These days, there are all kinds of wonderful death match experiences. From Rise Of The Triad onward, First-person shooters have given players hours of competitive multiplayer. But back in the golden age, not as many games did this. Oh sure, there was the quest for the high score. However, many games had you on the same side, or alternating turns while competing for points. But when Beach Head came out it had a novel idea. Combining several games resulting in a really fun campaign. The sequel took that idea on step further.

PROS: Well crafted. As fun today, as it was when it came out years ago.

CONS: Last stage can go on too long between two great players.

MEDIC: The voice samples are some of the most memorable quips in a video game.

Beach Head II is one of the best competitive multiplayer games ever made. Released two years after the original game, it made one little change to its formula. This completely changed the dynamics of the game in this sequel. Instead of alternating turns, this game casts one player as the heroic army, and the other player as the dictator’s evil forces. The core concept is intact. There are a set number of scenes, each acting as its own arcade style game. Once that game is played, things move onto the next game, and so on. This tapestry of games, makes for an overall campaign, and storyline. Beach Head takes place during World War II. But the setting in this sequel is more contemporary.

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The first stage is an invasion. Player one air drops a squadron onto the shore, and from here they have to storm the Bastille. Player two has to do everything in their power to keep the heroes from getting inside, by using a giant turret. As the second player fires down upon the walls, the first player has to move combatants one by one, to the entrance. They can scale walls, or run down toward the next set. If they get to the bottom, they’ll succeed.  The more combatants they can get down to the bottom the better prepared for the following stage. This is also the moment you’ll see something else that makes the game memorable. This is one of the earliest computer games that implemented voice samples.

When one of the allied combatants get shot, it plays one of four samples. These are looped so the deaths will vocalize the same pattern of phrases. Even still, these are pretty great for the time, and are still pretty memorable. There are other samples that play in later stages too. Now one may think the odds are against the allied forces, and they are. But the heroes can throw grenades at the dictator’s turret. A successful throw will destroy it for big points, and the soldier will make it in, as a replacement turret spawns in.

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Stage two sees the allies taking control of the turret, and firing into the dictator’s military installation. Here the object is to provide prisoners cover as they try to shuffle along, and escape. The person playing dictator, can summon tanks, combat jeeps, a bomb expert to set traps, and even a guy on a roof dropping rocks onto the prisoner. Points are awarded to the allies for every successful rescue, while the dictator gets points for successfully murdering prisoners.

The third stage is a helicopter escape mission. The allied player loads the chopper with liberated soldiers, and attempts to get away. It’s a shmup level, but the dictator can control the many vehicles in an attempt to shoot down the chopper. If they’re successful the round starts again, with the allies trying to shuttle out any remaining prisoners. Obviously the allies get huge bonus points if they can successfully dodge all of the dictator’s assaults.

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The final stage sees the leader of the allies facing off against the dictator himself. Each on a pier facing each other. They throw knives at each other. After landing a few hits the victor will see their opponent fall into the sea. This battle goes on for ten matches. This is where the game’s one major flaw comes into play. The final battle can go on far too long. Once you have two evenly matched players, they can easily duck out, sidestep, and otherwise dodge dagger throws. A 30 minute match up of fun, can quickly become a several hour affair due to the last battle. In hindsight Access Software should have made this a two out of three falls match.

Be that as it may, the final battle is still a lot of fun thanks in part to the nice animation, and splendid sound samples. Hearing the dictator exclaim “YOU CAN’T HURT ME!” is a pretty rewarding experience. Once all of the modes are done, the final score is tallied letting you know which army was victorious.

Aside from the voice samples, the sound effects are really good. Explosions, gun fire, and other sounds are all a cut above most other games of the time. There is also a really nice chip tune of the US Marines theme song. Visually the game still holds up pretty nicely. The sprites all have a great use of shading techniques to portray details. And while not every thing is graphically impressive, it does an awful lot, with a little.

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Now in addition to the full on campaign, you can play the individual stages instead. This is nice if you really enjoy a specific level more than the other ones. But for most who go back, and play this one, going through the campaign together is really what makes things fun. One can also play through the game on their own as the allies. There are three difficulty levels, and the higher you go the more punishing it is. The highest difficulty is notoriously difficult, as the computer will rarely make a mistake. If you have nobody to play it with, it’s a fun ride. But the real entertainment comes from competing with a friend. I spent many Saturdays, and afternoons playing this with my brother, and friends from school back in the 80’s. It was one of the most fun multiplayer experiences on the Commodore 64.

But Beach Head II was also published on other computers of the time. If you collect for the Apple II or Atari 400/800 line, you can also find this game for those platforms. If you happen to live in Europe, you can also find versions for the Amstrad CPC, and the ZX Spectrum. No matter how you play it though, this is one awesome head to head game worth picking up if you have the chance.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Toxikk Review

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The arena  first-person shooter. It’s been awhile since the subgenre has been anywhere near the public eye. Oh sure, some people will tell you that Overwatch, and Team Fortress 2 are arena first-person shooters. Mainly because they have some zippy movement, and outlandish characters. But they’re not arena first-person shooters in the classic sense. When many people wish for an arena shooter they mean the very late nineties, and early two thousands. Shooters like Quake 3 Arena, The Unreal Tournament series, and even a dab of Tribes.

PROS: UT2k4-esque movement. Great weapons. Great map design.  Wonderful tutorial.

CONS: Skill Class system could use minor tweaking. Needs a bit more identity.

FATALITY: This game takes a cue from UT99, and adds environmental fatalities.

For full disclosure, I bought the Early Access pass on Steam last year. I know it makes me a bit hypocritical as I never buy EA passes normally. There’s no guarantee a game will get finished, and so I generally wait. But in this case, I caught wind of it, remembered my days in the Maximum Carnage UT2k4 clan, and was wistful. I liked what I saw at the time, but never really talked about it much because there wasn’t much content. You can’t really review something that isn’t complete.

Now that the game is done, and I’ve thoroughly played the final release, I can. The final version, is really, really good. It does everything it advertises, bringing players a game that hearkens back to the old days. Which weren’t that old, as the last UT game came out in 2007. Still, nine years is a long time in video games. There were other attempts like Nexius, but they fell flat even if they weren’t bad for a variety of reasons. They didn’t have an interesting enough look, or they weren’t talked about enough to give them a look. Or they didn’t connect with the players for other reasons.

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But with Toxikk, Reakktor, the game’s developer, seems to be trying to avoid some of those problems. For starters, there’s a demo. That gives you access to all of the game content. I’m serious. You can go download it, play to your heart’s content, and see if it’s something you’ll enjoy. But if you buy it outright you’ll get a lot of features you’re going to need if you plan on playing it with friends for a substantial amount of time.

But before I get into that, let me tell you what the game is all about. I’m sure there are some of you moaning “It’s an Arena FPS! We know!” But I’m sure there are also a number of people out there who have never played one of them. Toxikk is an arena first-person shooter. There is no single player here. The entire game is meant to be an arcade experience where you play against friends or strangers. The core game mode is a Death match mode. Basically it’s a free for all mode, where the person with the most kills wins when the time runs out, or whoever hits the score limit first.

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But what makes the game a bit more challenging is that it uses a similar movement system to Unreal Tournament 2004’s. So instead of simply running around, and shooting people, you can make yourself harder to hit. You can double jumps. You can do massive long jumps. You can do short dodges. You can do cartwheels off of walls. This means enemies have to step up their aiming game. Likewise they can do the same thing. The maps are all designed with the movement system in mind. So you may need to use an elevator jump to get to a certain room. Or there may be a huge gap between rooftops you can’t simply jump over. But using the advanced tricks you do a dodge jump toward the left, then wall jump off of that surface to make the rest of the jump. This system makes travelling through the stages faster, and worth the time to master.

The movement system is paired with a pretty cool selection of weapons. You’ll start with a pistol, but you can run through the maps to find shotguns, sniper rifles, flame throwers, rocket launchers, plasma rifles, and even a nuclear rocket launcher. These weapons all have influences from Quake 3 Arena, and Unreal Tournament. The great thing is, they all have secondary fire modes. So you’ll have to master when to use a primary or a secondary mode. There are also health boxes, ammo boxes for each of the game’s weapons, along with armor pieces to pick up. You’ll also find some stages have a jetpack, health that takes your meter up to 200, and armor that does the same. In most cases you’ll need to know the movement system well enough to get to them though. They’re also in places where you’re a prime target. So there is a nice mix of risk, and reward. The key to victory in a Death match is to keep everyone else from getting the power ups, and good stuff. Even more than your goal of killing everyone. Because it makes them have to fight an uphill battle. All of these elements add layers of depth to what may seem simple on the surface.

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But you aren’t only getting a Death match mode to play. There’s a Team Death match, called Squad Assault where one team goes after the other.  A point capture mode, where the game puts three points on the map for your team to hold. You walk over them, turn the spots into your side’s, and try to keep it. The challenge here is that if you have enough players for the map you’ll have three endless skirmishes. You’ll want to keep some team mates on each point to ensure the other side can’t simply walk up, and take it. Whichever side took points more times wins. So if you can hang onto them longer you’ll keep the odds leaning in your favor.

There is also a Capture the flag mode called Cell Capture. Basically one side tries to steal the other’s cell, then bring it back to their base. The other side is trying the same thing simultaneously. So across the different modes you have a variety of old-school game types. But it gets better for people who love the CTF, and Point Capture modes because some of the maps feature vehicles. Just as UT2k4, and UT3 had them, so does Toxikk. In this game you get a ship that operates a bit like a helicopter, a hover craft, a jeep, and a FREAKING GUNDAM. Each of them is a blast to use, and can add a lot of tension in the battles. The ships can shoot missiles from above, cut people down with a chain gun. The Gundam can step on people, take out several people at once. The hover craft can steam roll people. The jeep can have a rider take control of a giant gun on the back of it while they drive to get the cell.

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But if all of the vehicles sound like they add insurmountable odds, they surprisingly don’t. For one, vehicles all have fairly low health. Even the Gundam. If you’re good enough at maneuvering with dodges, jumps, and the other movement tricks, you can avoid a lot of the firepower. Most of the vehicles will go down from a handful of missiles. If you’re inside a vehicle when it blows up, the other team is also getting a frag. In Cell Capture, you also can’t drive or pilot a vehicle if you’ve picked up the enemy cell. You have to make it back either on foot, or on your hover bike. And if you choose to use the hover bike, you can’t shoot any of your weapons. So you’re pretty crippled, and really have to hope your team can cover you when you’re bringing back a cell.

If the movement system sounds rather daunting to you, Toxikk does have a pretty well thought out tutorial. The very first lesson is just the movement system, and basic weapon handling. From there each lesson gives you a handle on, more, and more. I would recommend every player to at least try the tutorial before going online. Because it can at the very least give you  a handle on the basics. It will also force you to acknowledge when someone is honestly that good. Seeing someone clear a rooftop jump, while shooting down three enemies, and landing unscathed can feel intimidating.

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But that intimidation is why Toxikk has a Skill Class system. As you play the game it measures what you’re doing, and will give you a rating between 1, and 12. This is always in flux. So you can have a ranking of 8, play ten really bad rounds, and find yourself a 7. Likewise, when you improve you’ll go up. This was put in place because the developers realize a lot of people won’t have fun if they’re constantly getting crushed by 12’s with no hope of learning everything. When you go on the server browser in the full game (more on that later) you’ll see servers allow some ranks, but not others. One server may be ranked 1-4, another may be 8-12, with others in between. You have to be within those ranks to join them.

That said, there are servers that don’t utilize the system. So if you would rather learn by playing against the heavyweights than training against  a cruiserweight division, you do have that as an option. Unranked servers are also great for groups of friends because you don’t have to shut out that friend who is too green, or that other friend who is a seasoned veteran.

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Separate from the Skill Class, is point system is an MXP experience point system, and this isn’t really all too important. But if you enjoy the game, and play fairly enough, over time you can increase this number for some cosmetic armor options for your character. There’s an assortment of different heads, torso options, and camouflage options you can use to customize your look. Everyone can change the color of their combatant. But people who like the game can add a few more tweaks over time. The coolest being a fearsome skull mask. This is one of the few grievances I have though because nothing about the core game requires any grinding. Perhaps it was put in for fans of that sort of thing, without effecting the game play. But it just seems odd. Since everything is open anyway, why make costume pieces on a ladder?

It doesn’t matter too much though because everything gives you boatloads of MXP. Fragging someone. Completing a tutorial. Utilizing trick jumps in a match. Piloting a vehicle. Virtually everything aside from dying gives you some points. You even get MXP in team modes for assists. Hell, if you’re bad at the game, but just really want a cosmetic item bad enough you can play against bots on the lowest possible difficulty.

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Now people who just want to play the core game can use the free demo. It isn’t timed. You aren’t blocked from any of the levels or weapons or movement. It’s all there. But if you enjoy it, or have friends you want to play it with, it’s well worth picking up the e-tail version. Buying the game means you’ll get a server browser. So you can actually find a server you, and your friends can all join without having to worry about an outlier not being able to get in because it was a certain rank limit. Paying customers also get the ability to host their own server, be it dedicated or by playing peer-to-peer through a router. You can set up private games over the internet too.  There are other perks for buying the full game too. You get to use the character customization I talked about, as well as the game’s SDK.

What does that mean? Well you can make your own content. New stages, modes, characters, whatever you want. If you’re proficient enough in using Unreal Engine 3, the sky is the limit. Because of this, even if you don’t plan on designing mods, or stages you benefit. Buying the game means that you can also download, and install mods other players make through the Steam workshop. So there is a wealth of potential stuff you have access to if you buy the game outright.

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Unreal Tournament games were played for years after release due to the prevalence of new maps, modes, skins, characters, weapons, and other content made by fans. The same could be said for the Doom, and Quake games. So hopefully, Reakktor Studios’ insistence on taking the path set by Epic, and id many years ago will have a similar payoff.

It all hinges on a player base sticking around. At launch some of those fears were quelled as a lot of people seem to have discovered the demo, and seem to be liking it. Toxikk is a fun game I think everyone should at least try. It’s a beautiful game too. Reakktor has pushed this iteration of UE3 about as far as it can probably go. There are a lot of cool visual tricks, and filters they’ve utilized to make it keep pace with even some of the newer games on bigger budget engines coming out. The environments are gorgeous. Great textures, wonderful designs, the entire world looks like it takes place in the same universe. Even the homage levels Dekk, and Cube feel like they belong here even though their layouts are taken straight from Unreal Tournament (Deck was in all of the games), and Doom 2 (Dead Simple).

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There are a wealth of menu options too. You can tweak all kinds of graphics settings, turning off some of the visual fidelity, lighting effects, bloom, and motion blur if you’re on fairly modest hardware. You can even turn off the frame rate limiter which starts on 60. But for a game of this nature you should really push it as high as it will go. It’s a much more responsive experience, and worth dealing with some tearing if you have a standard 60hz monitor.

You can also customize your entire HUD. The colors of the weapons on your selection bar. The crosshairs on your weapons, you can  even turn off your HUD entirely if you want. The hit markers when shooting someone, the size of them, the sound it makes. All of it. That’s besides the fact you can set whatever key binds you wish, weapon priority order, and a whole lot more. Toxikk is not giving you a shortage of performance or personal style options here.

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The audio is one of the weaker points in Toxikk. The sound effects are actually really good. But the soundtrack  could stand to be markedly better. The game tries to accent everything with a score of thumping techno, and electronica. But nothing really stands out. There aren’t any catchy loops, or hooks the way its inspiration possessed. UT, and its sequels had great songs like Go Down that would be stuck in your head even months after playing. Even people who aren’t fans of electronica can enjoy the UT OST. Toxikk’s soundtrack isn’t bad. But it feels too generic at times. It fits the atmosphere of the game, but doesn’t do much beyond that.

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The only other issue I have with Toxikk  is that while the character designs are really cool, they aren’t anything you haven’t seen in other games. They could use a little bit more personality, and perhaps some fleshed out back story. The most you hear about is that there are two factions; the Drayos, and the Exocom. There isn’t much told about either group, or the world. While I do think it is imperative any multiplayer game, focus on the actual game being fun (which this absolutely does.) it could have given players a little bit more detail on its universe. It may have gotten some players a little bit more invested, by having them care about the world. The UT games did this well with much of the story being put into the world, and in bios for the characters. There was also an intro in them to explain the setting. All without having to make people play through a campaign.

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That said, I still highly recommend Toxikk. If you miss playing old school arena FPS games I think you’re going to like it immensely. If you’ve never played Q3A, or a UT game but love playing competitive shooters in other subgenres you may like it. In the short time it’s been out there are already plenty of new players learning, and adapting. That’s in addition to veterans of the old games who have discovered it. If you’ve wondered where this style of game has been, or you’re someone tiring of modern progression systems Toxikk is definitely worth looking into. If after my long-winded review, you’re still on the fence check out the demo. You have nothing to lose by doing so.

Final Score: 8 out 10

Rogue Stormers Review

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A number of years ago, Black Forest Games had released Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams, an expansion pack, and a spinoff. These games of course were continuations of the classic cult Commodore 64 game. But back in the days of the sisters, Rainbow Arts had also made one game that wasn’t consigned to cult status.

That game was Turrican, a multi scrolling action platformer. It would go on to be a pretty big deal, with sequels appearing on various computers, and consoles. Including the Super NES. Of course not every game in that series would be a Rainbow Arts game. But the first one was. One of the biggest hooks was its jetpack. Something not a lot of games have done as well. It also came out at a time when action platformers were becoming the norm.

Many innovations were happening with arcade style games. A couple of years earlier Konami would release Contra. Before that Atari would merge fantasy RPG mechanics into a top down action game with Gauntlet. Going back farther than that, we can see Robotron would give us a new control scheme. What does any of this have to do with today’s game? Quite a bit.

PROS: Looks gorgeous. Frantic, and fun combat. Cooperative multiplayer!

CONS: Brutal difficulty.

HUMOR: There’s a lot of subtle, and not so subtle comedy. Stabbygale.

Rogue Stormers started life as an Early Access game on Steam. Originally called Diesel Stormers, Black Forest Games was forced to change its name during production to avoid a lawsuit by a clothing company. But regardless of the name change, the game carved out a niche for itself. It stayed in the beta program for two years where it went over a couple of major revisions.

The final game is a combination of action platforming, and rogue like titles. At first glance some might think it is a Risk Of Rain clone with a bigger budget.(If you’ve never heard of that game CheapBossAttack recently did an excellent review of the PSVita version.) But they would be wrong. Rogue Stormers does have some similarities with that game in that it has waves of bad guys, unlockable characters, and some randomized stages. But from there the similarities really begin to end.

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Rogue Stormers actually has more in common with the games I mentioned earlier. At its heart you’ll be playing a twin stick shooter. You move through the game with one stick, and fire with the second. You’ll also be equipped with a jetpack right out of Turrican that will let you hover for a few seconds after you jump. You can also dash along the ground or in the air. So even though you’ll be in the midst of a lot of chaos, you’re also given a pretty great level of control.

Your character also has their own specific special attack. There are five characters in total. Each one with their own pros, and cons. They act as individual classes as in Gauntlet. Just as that game had different characteristics in each class, so does this game. The first character is given a machine gun, and a damage booster. As you unlock more you’ll find an opera singer with a flamethrower. A bar waitress with a shotgun, a warrior with slime themed specials, and finally a sniper. Not only do these characters have different play styles, but they all have their own personality.

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There are two main ways to play the game, a single player story mode, and then there is a Co-op mode. The story mode tosses you into six stages before a final showdown. As in multiplayer, you’re never going to play the same level twice, even though the objectives are in the same order. The game will put you into a randomly generated stage made up of around 9-12 rooms. Every time you play you’ll have a different mix of rooms but with a unique objective for each mission. Because of this, each stage is its own little adventure. You have to explore the stage thoroughly in order to find the end. You can try to rush your way to the end, but if you aren’t very good at classic action games of yester year it isn’t very advisable.

Going through the levels, you’ll find there are a number of portals in rooms. Step around half way into any given room, and these portals will open up. Hordes of orcs, and other enemy types will attack. You’ll find some reprieve after you defeat any given horde, as you pick up health, and experience points. Each of these is important to collect, and this is also one of the reasons why you may not want to rush to the objective too quickly. The game starts you off with only so much health. Taking hits from anything can damage you, and while some small arms fire may not worry you at first, it does add up. You also only have one life per game. One life. Should you die, you have to go all the way back to the start.

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Fortunately, the levels, and enemy corpses are going to drop experience points. You get to keep your level going after deaths, and restarts. Most importantly, filling an entire experience bar will give you a randomly generated perk. You get to keep these perks even after you die, so eventually the difficulty may become a bit more manageable for you as you progress. I’m not very good, but even after five or so restarts, I managed to have a few. The other thing about the single life system is that it will again, hearken back to the 1980’s arcade game feel. Back then, if you ran out of lives you started over. Oh sure, there may have been the odd game that allowed for continues. But your low score was a sign to everyone that you spent a lot more than a token.

This can be seen as or a good or a bad thing, and there are valid reasons from either viewpoint. On the bad side, one might point out that the lack of continues may mean that some players won’t see a lot of what the game has to offer. On the other hand, the campaign is only six stages in length. The meat, and potatoes are really in the gameplay. Personally, while losing can be frustrating, it somehow doesn’t feel completely unfair. It’s an awful lot like a bullet hell shooter in that regard. Again, I barely beat games like R-Type, Abadox, Gradius, or Contra when I was a kid. When I did it was after hundreds of attempts, and continues. But there was a lot of fun to be had in that challenge, and I think there is here too. Considering that you do get some perks, and other characters you get to keep once you’ve unlocked them, it does get easier.

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That being said, this is still a pretty difficult game. Most players aren’t going to burn through it in 20 minutes. But stick with it, and you’ll feel vindicated when you finally complete a mission, or defeat a boss. In addition to perks, characters, XP, and health pickups, the game does have a number of awesome weapons, and items you can use during a play through. There’s the awesome spread gun, that feels right out of Contra. Handy for taking out small mobs, or dealing big hits on bigger enemies. There are portable land mines. There are cool remote turrets. There are attachments to your primary guns that cause extra damage to enemies.

All of the game’s weapons are fun to use, and feel useful. While you might find you like using one pick up over another, you’ll never feel the secondary weapon you have is worthless. Some of them might work on one particular type of enemy better than another. But everything is still very effective. You just need to take your time, experiment with weapons, and learn how they work against each obstacle. Once you become proficient with a few of these items, and discern some of the enemy patterns things can become quite addictive.Deaths go from rage quitting to “One more game.”. I also have a word of advice for you; always pick up gold drops.

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Gold drops are another important utility in the game. Each stage will have a hidden shop room you can use to buy temporary buffs for your character. You can find gold any number of different ways. Most commonly, you can raid the corpses of fallen orcs. But there are treasure chests, that have gold, and other items too. Some require a key, usually found by exploring. There are also red colored chests, and lottery machines you can use your gold on. I wouldn’t advise the red chests, as there’s a high chance you’ll actually lose health. But the lottery machines will often give you a secondary weapon or more gold. Secondary weapons can also be found by freeing prisoners peppered throughout the land. If you do choose to go spelunking for the shops, make sure you grind as much gold as humanly possible because some of the better items are pretty pricey.

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Multiplayer also makes the game a lot more palatable, as this gives the game more replay value. Basically, the co-op mode can be played online or offline. Up to four people can play together, and it’s everything in the story mode just with your friends or strangers. Offline co-op is one of the best things about Rogue Stormers. So few games have couch multiplayer anymore. Especially on the PC. It makes this game again, feel like being in an arcade in the 80’s or 90’s. Which is great. The rogue like elements actually help it in this regard. Were this a fully traditional experience, like Turrican or Contra, or Commando players could memorize where everything is going to hit them from after a while. Seeing how they recycle rooms here that can still happen. But you also have the rooms in different areas each time. There’s always a chance to be caught off guard.

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Rogue Stormers also has a story, though it’s pretty cut, and dry. We meet an evil orc, named Hector Von Garg. He convinces the kingdom of Ravensdale to turn against the Rogue Stormers, before enslaving everyone. Now the heroes fight to dethrone him. Throughout the game you unlock bits of story lore which come in the form of newspaper clippings. The story isn’t much to write home about, but the art, and character designs most certainly are. Everything feels new, and yet familiar. Sometimes things look right out of Warcraft III, with the exaggerated looks of the orcs, and yet the game has a lot of its own style. There are clearly influences from Warhammer, but again everything still has a distinct look. From the orcs in hot air balloons, to the magic squids you can fly. Backgrounds have the gloomy, dreary atmosphere you would expect in a war-torn fantasy world. The little details in the environments give this game a nice dose of personality.

The soundtrack, and effects are also really worth a listen. The mix of electronica, rock, and orchestrated music fits the dystopian environments brilliantly. It almost feels like a sci-fi film at times, which is probably fitting considering some of the steam punk influences with some of the game’s antagonists. Composer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden brings the same quality of work to this game, as he has in many a big budget title. The results are fantastic. If you’re a fan of ambient orchestration you might want to nab the soundtrack.

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The game also has a pretty respectable level of options for you to tweak. You can change your resolution, window size, and even a number of lighting, and texture quality settings. As well as change the level, and type of anti aliasing. I would have liked to have seen some more of these options available rather than general sliders for categories. But Rogue Stormers is still a cut above other games in this regard. On the plus side you can use any number of control options. I tested the game with a Steam controller, Xbox 360 controller as well as my trusty G402 mouse. All of them worked flawlessly. While I would still recommend you use a controller, if you don’t have one, you can still be effective with  a mouse.

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Performance is pretty good overall. Though I found in my case sometimes things would chug along at maxed settings during major explosions, or if a large number of enemies appeared in certain rooms. Dialing things down slightly did help. To be fair, I was also running the game while I had a lot of other things running on the machine. Nevertheless, If you are on an older machine, consider turning off the FXAA, and SSAO, it won’t look too much different, and you may avoid some of those drops. Other than that everything ran very smoothly, and performance was really nice. The requirements aren’t absurdly high either. Minimum specifications are almost a decade old as of this writing.

 

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While the combination of bullet hell shoot ’em up, action platformer, and rogue like elements may not sound like they’ll gel to some, here they do. Rogue Stormers is a lot of fun to play, especially with three friends. It probably isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is something I recommend picking up. Particularly to anybody who loves golden age arcade games like Robotron, or fans of those old action games on the computers, and consoles of yesteryear. Although Rogue Stormers veers that way, fans of rogue like games still might want to check it out anyway. It does use the chosen elements of that subgenre very well. Even if you’re not one for any of those types of games you may want to give it a look. It’s different enough from either it still might just appeal to you.

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The only thing keeping it away from sheer impeccable status are the lack of online players, and a couple of very minor things akin to nitpicking . Like being forcibly warped to the other players if you disagree on where to go, or the sometimes finicky flying squid. Really nothing major. Of course if you don’t have friends over very often the lack of online players might be a sticking point. But, if you can convince a few of them to nab a copy, or you’re able to plunk down a little bit extra for a two-pack, you’ve got one of the most entertaining multiplayer experiences of the year. Online or offline, Rogue Stormers is a cult game worth joining. A very difficult one. But so was Demon’s Souls.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Splatoon Review

Third Person Shooters have become one of the most popular genres since joining their First Person brethren. Nintendo has seen some minor action in these realms before. With Metroid Prime being one of its flagship entries. But that trilogy was more of an adventure game, with light combat elements. Long before that, there were Rare’s Goldeneye, and Perfect Dark. What  did both of these titles have in common? Second Party status. Nintendo’s formerly partially owned studio made these. Nintendo hasn’t had a fully First Party shooter with a competitive focus. Until now.

PROS: Focus on a different target. Family friendly as well as hobbyist friendly. Miiverse. Humor.

CONS: A little light on maps. Customization needs to be unlocked. Campaign may be too hard for young kids.

STEVEN BLUM?: There’s a homeless version of Mugen named Spyke who will steal clothes for you.

A smaller, younger team of Nintendo’s developers played a lot of those Nintendo 64 shooters back in the day. They initially came up with an idea of two blocks splattering ink on a floor. Competing with one another to see who could cover more of it. From that game play idea, the team built Splatoon on top of it. It’s a surprisingly captivating direction to take the genre in. For years we’ve been used to shooting at each other for frags. Even in games with team based objectives, there is an obsession with kills versus deaths. Splatoon has fragging, but the focus on turf really makes kills secondary.

Booting up Splatoon for the first time immediately puts you in a tutorial to get you accustomed to its control scheme. The game uses the Wii U gamepad in a combination of controller, and mouse look controls. If you’ve been accustomed to game pads over the last 20 years, it may take you a few minutes to get used to. But it’s actually pretty intuitive. The left stick moves your character, while the right stick just swerves the camera left, and right. You actually use the Gamepad’s gyroscopic feature as a mouse. This makes aiming much closer to a PC game. Things are fairly smooth, and easy when tracking down an enemy. The left, and right turn speed is a little slower though, so you may go back, and forth between using the stick, and moving the pad. For those who absolutely refuse to use mouse look, you can turn it off in the settings, which makes the right stick aim instead.

Once you’ve completed the tutorial you end up in a hub world. Walking straight ahead takes you into the online battles. You can play turf war against friends, or random players in four on four matches. Every match you play, whether your team wins or loses will give you some in-game currency, and experience points. Of course winning a match will give you more points, than losing. Rounds are two minutes long. In that two minutes your team has to paint as much of the floor with your ink as possible. While your team is doing this, the other team is doing the same thing. Skirmishes then break out, as you kill opponents to buy yourselves enough time to continue painting the level in your turf color. It may not seem like much, but Splatoon’s combat actually becomes pretty deep. Pressing the left shoulder trigger will turn you from a humanoid, into a squid. You can then swim in your own ink, undetected by the enemy. Spraying walls allows you to even swim up them, and onto higher terrain. If you’re running out of ink, turning into a squid, and swimming in your team’s color will reload your weapons. Each weapon comes with two secondary attacks as well. Pressing, and holding the right shoulder button will launch the first secondary. This uses up more ink, but depending on your weapon can have a variety of uses. Ink grenades, landmines, and shower curtains are just some of what you’ll see in Splatoon. Each can be used in a variety of tactical ways. The shower curtain can be placed in narrow hallways, while you paint the other side of it. You use it like a force shield in a sense. There are desperation weapons you can use as well. Filling a meter by painting over enemy ink, will let you launch them by pressing the right stick down as a button. Then you can press the right shoulder button to use it. There are ink tornadoes, Shin Hadokens, among a plethora of other options.

The gamepad touch screen also comes into play during battles. There is a fast travel option you can use. If you look at the pad, during a match you can see where your team mates are, and super jump to their location. You can also see where enemies are, so long as they aren’t swimming in their ink. This can be good, and bad. Good in the sense that you’re able to quickly come to the aid of a comrade. Bad in the sense that the opposing team can use it as an ambush. This could be even more effective had Splatoon offered a voice chat option. Unfortunately it doesn’t. While the reasons are sound when it comes to public matches (Not having to deal with sore sports hurling slurs or curse words in a family friendly game is a good thing.) it takes away communication from friends.(You also have the ability to join your friends in these matches through a friend’s filter.) It isn’t unreasonable to think someone might have 7 friends or acquaintances who might play this together online. Still, with the short match times, it isn’t too much of a detriment. You’ll still have plenty of fun, and if you’re desperate you can always conference call three friends during your games together.

While you’re in the lobby waiting for players to join up, you can also play mini games on the gamepad. These also appear on an arcade cabinet in the plaza, where you can play them at your leisure. The best of these is probably the first one, a tower climbing game, where you jump up platforms as a squid.  After levelling up to a certain ranking, you’ll be allowed to play ranked matches in addition to the standard turf wars. Every so often you should stop playing online, and re-enter the hub stage. There are stores you can enter to buy better weapons, and clothes. Clothes in this game do more than simply make your character look cool. You have to reach a rank of 4 before you can buy anything. But once you do, you’ll find the store clothing items will enhance your online play with perks. A shirt may refill your ink faster. A certain pair of shoes may make your character run faster. At the same time none of this feels really overpowered. if you can aim, and move well enough, anyone can defeat anyone. In addition to abilities, all weapons have some sort of drawback. There is a big emphasis on balance when it comes to maps, and weapons. While there are plenty of weapons to choose from, rivaling even the Call Of Duty series, there aren’t many maps. Nintendo is promising free content updates for this game, so in a few months things may be better on this front. But for now, it is a little bit lacking. Thankfully, the underlying game play is so much fun, that it shouldn’t dissuade you.

This game does a lot of little tiny things that make it feel different enough from other games in the genre to make for a vastly different feel. The atmosphere is right out of a mid nineties Nickelodeon cartoon. The music is filled with late 80’s, and mid 90’s power pop, and pop punk trappings. It’s pleasant to look at, and listen to. While it might look like a children’s game on its surface, it really does hit a vibe that screams “Everyone is welcome.” If you love your modern military shooters, you’ll have fun. If you cut your teeth on Quake, Doom, and Unreal Tournament, you’ll have fun. If you’re a parent who wants to play a shooter with your 10-year-old child, the both of you will have fun.  Very few, if any, developers have been able to implement a genre usually aimed at a 17, and up demographic, into an all ages setting.

The game also does a really great job at implementing Miiverse. Probably one of the best implementations thus far. Going through the hub world, you will find other players’ characters populating Inkopolis, with their forum posts being spouted in a cartoon bubble. Other times you will see Miiverse postings appearing as graffiti on walls. You can also go to a kiosk to post to Miiverse. It’s pretty good, and I hope it’s expanded upon either in updates, or new games. Another thing that happens fairly often are the progression updates. As you get farther in the game the two valley girl news caster characters will warp you to the hub world to watch a news brief. Sometimes this will be upon unlocking a new map, or mode. Other times it pushes along the single player campaign story. That’s right. Splatoon also features a campaign.

If you go to a certain manhole cover in the hub world you will find this old man inkling named Captain Cuttlefish. He’s a conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with proving a race of Octopi are looking to take over the world. Why? Because years ago the people of Inkopolis defeated them in a turf war, and they want revenge for it. Of course the Captain can’t prove it, but he sends you on a 5 hour-long campaign to stop them anyway. While Splatoon is focused almost entirely on the multiplayer aspect of the game, this campaign is not an afterthought. It does a pretty great job of acclimatizing newcomers to the controls of the game, and teaching multiplayer techniques. All while offering a satisfying single player experience. Much like the base game, it starts you out in hub worlds. You have to find secret entrances to each level by uncovering them with ink. When you do, you’ll enter them, and be treated to a TPS meets Super Mario Galaxy level. What I mean by that is that each one of these levels has launch sequences similar to the SMG series. You’ll kill a bunch of Octopi, look for secrets, and then launch Mario style to the next area.  At the end of each of these levels, you’ll free a Zap fish. Think of these like the game’s shines, or stars. After you beat so many stages you’ll have to contend with a boss. And make no mistake, these bosses are difficult. They add in the challenge of Nintendo’s greatest platformers’ boss puzzles, and patterns with third person shooting.

All of the stuff you need to succeed in the multiplayer, also needs to be used in this campaign. So for those who have zero interest in the competitive online combat, the campaign is still going to be compelling. Plus you can use the skills you learn in either mode in the other. The campaign is also worth playing for those who have no interest in single player. Why? Because throughout the campaign are hidden blueprints you can find, that will unlock weapons for the multiplayer mode. So the game is really poised to make you want to try everything. There is also a 1 on 1 multiplayer mode where one player plays on the gamepad, while the other uses a classic controller, and the TV set. This is played offline, and each player tries to shoot target balloons. But they can still frag each other to buy time to pick up a few more targets while the other waits for their next life to spawn.

Splatoon also has support for Amiibo figurines. There are three figures available one based each inkling, and a squid figurine. In the plaza there is a giant Amiibo figurine package. Putting one of these toys on the gamepad will give you a handful of special clothing items, and a list of challenges. The special content really has no bearing on the gameplay. The clothing items don’t give you any better perks over the main game’s. The challenges are really for a personal experience, so you don’t really have to buy any of the toys to enjoy the game. Though two of the mini games can be unlocked by beating the challenges.

Splatoon is an excellent Third Person Shooter. Nintendo has laid the seeds for what could potentially be a major franchise, and has made one of a handful of shooters that can be enjoyed by any age group. Still, it isn’t absolutely perfect. There aren’t any functional problems to speak of. Everything in the game feels great. After bingeing on the game for a couple of days non stop, I can say I rarely ran into a connection problem. I never experienced any notable lag. This game is solid in every respect. But the lack of voice chat in games with friends, and the low number of maps keep it just shy of reaching its full potential. Nintendo has plans for updates, and content. Nobody knows all of the details, but as of now things are light on the map front. It’s also going to disappoint some that you have to unlock the ability to customize your character by levelling up. Fortunately the game play in multiplayer is so good, it will keep you wanting to play in spite of those issues. The game’s single player campaign is also a great ride. It might prove difficult for some of the younger children to get a handle on, and lead to some frustration. But if your kids are pretty good at platformers like Mario, or Donkey Kong, and want to move into fast paced action games Splatoon is easy to recommend. It’s also easy to recommend to any shooter fan. It plays great, and does a number of things to move the genre in a new direction. Whether you’re a hobbyist, or a dabbler Splatoon is something you should look into.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Insurgency Review

It seems as if modern military themed shooters are a dime a dozen. Call Of Duty 4 turned the series into a nearly guaranteed seller every year. So big a seller, that over the last decade many games have taken that theme. Even games that never competed directly with its mechanics, or action movie narratives. EA’s Battlefield certainly altered itself over the years to compete with it. Other games crashed, and burned in their attempts to clone Activision’s 800 pound gorilla. So here comes an indie game looking to nip at the heels of those big budget war shooters.

PROS: Challenge. Gear mechanics. Stellar map design. Old school tactical mechanics.

CONS: High difficulty. Graphics won’t satisfy those with unreasonable expectations.

MOD SQUAD: This joins the list of video games that started life as mods for popular titles.

The developers started Insurgency as a mod for Half-Life 2. Over time, and setbacks this eventually led to the creation of an entirely new game in Source engine. If it sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it is. Many other games in recent memory have followed a similar path. The original Counter-Strike is probably the biggest example, launching not only an entirely new franchise, but the careers of developer Gearbox Software.

Only time will tell if New World Interactive will follow the same trajectory. But Insurgency has the potential to  become a pretty big franchise if this title is any indication. Let’s get one thing out of the way, the entire focus here is multiplayer. There is no story driven campaign of scripted events to really speak of. There is a tutorial that has a little bit of exposition, and context. But it doesn’t go into any deep territory. There’s nothing that will remind you of more serious war movies like Platoon. It just explains that you’ve joined up with some contracted mercenaries who have been hired to fight off terrorists. The game doesn’t reference any groups or nations in order to avoid too much controversy. But just like Call Of Duty, Battlefield, and Counter-Strike you’ll be fighting in environments inspired by real world locations.

While there’s no doubt Insurgency borrows from other games, it seems to take out loans on only the good modes. There are several different modes to choose from in both , competitive, and cooperative styles of game play:

Push is fairly similar to the Rush mode you’ve likely played in any of the last few Battlefield games. There are three objectives on the map for the attacking team to claim, while the defenders have to stop them. If the attacking team succeeds, the defenders are pushed back, until they either successfully hold a position. Or, until they’re pushed back to their final position, and destroyed. There are no nodes to destroy in this mode, but the game mode works largely the same as in BF’s Rush.

Ambush is much like the Escort mode you’ve seen in Team Fortress. There are extraction zones on the map, and one team has to escort an assigned player to one of them. The assigned player has a limited load out to defend themselves. The opposing side wins if they can manage to kill off that specific player before they can make it to an extraction zone.

Firefight, and Skirmish are similar to the Conquest modes you’ve played in Battlefield. The difference between the two is that Skirmish adds a weapon cache to the mix. If destroyed, it deals a blow to the opposing team’s ability to have reinforcement tickets. Firefight replenishes tickets for a team when they capture a node on the map.  In both modes though, capturing all three nodes is essential to keeping the enemy team from being able to replenish tickets.

Strike changes things up from the other modes. By making an attacking team go after weapon caches, while defenders try to stop them. If the defenders can’t stop them they lose. They’ll also lose if they are wiped out while trying to stop the attacking team. It’s a little bit higher on the stress factor than some of the other modes as a result.

Occupy is essentially a king of the hill mode, where both teams try to hold a single position on the map. When your team is holding the position, you don’t have to worry about losing waves of lives. But the second you’re on the losing end, trying to reclaim it you do. So the game goes until time runs out, or until one side is out of lives.

But the game doesn’t end with these modes because there are a few cooperative ways to play as well. The most noteworthy mode is Hunt mode which feels like it was heavily inspired by Rainbow Six 3. In that game teams would enter a map, and plan a way to use stealth to take out computer controlled terrorists. If all of the players failed to do so they lost the game. But if even only one person was left standing at the end, the mission was successful. This mode is very similar except the maps are much larger, being a war game. It can be especially tough when dealing with night versions of the various maps, and ridiculously accurate snipers. But if you can pull it off it feels very rewarding.

The other cooperative modes aren’t quite as fun, but they will still have their fans.  Checkpoint is a lot like Push except you’ll have all of the human players fighting against the computer. In addition to that mode is the Survival mode which is effectively a horde mode. Teams try to survive against waves of computer controlled enemies for as long as humanly possible.

Once you’ve decided what kind of game you want to play you can either use the Source browser list, or you can invite friends into a group, and have the game find, and connect you to a server by itself. Having the game do it is a lot easier, and more convenient. However, it won’t always find you the closest possible server in proximity to everybody. So doing this does mean you’re going to end up on the occasional lag ridden game. Purists will want to use the Source browser to find a server to mitigate this possible problem.

When you do connect to a game you’ll be assigned to one side by default, and it is here you can choose to either switch teams or choose your class. This is where Insurgency really starts to veer away from the path taken by other team based shooters. In most games, you are given a choice of four classes, each with its own weapon tree. Over time you level up, and have access to more weapons, and upgrades for that specific class. Insurgency abandons that formula. Instead of only four classes, there can be several. Classes are dependent on the map in question, as well as the mode that is being played. They are also different in number. So there may only be three openings for say, snipers, one for an engineer, and two for other classes. Another interesting spin is that there are two sub groups in each army rather than squads of four people. Each of these subgroups can have one player lead them.

Once everyone has a class chosen, and the match is about to begin players can then choose their load outs. Each player is given a number of points to use. Each weapon, attachment for a weapon, explosive, armor, pouch, and so forth has a point value. You cannot exceed the number of points given. So you have to really think about what you want to sacrifice. Do you want to beef up your shotgun at the expense of body armor? Would you rather have extra grenades, and a side arm instead of a beefy machine gun? Perhaps you want to extend your life above all else, and you put more of your points toward armor, and pouches, instead of primary weaponry.  It’s a refreshing change from the weapon tree system so many games have used over the past decade. It hearkens back to the days of Rainbow Six where tactical games let you use whatever you wanted so long as you were going to be okay with the trade offs.

Once everyone is settled with their load outs the game will begin. Insurgency makes a lot of use of voice chat. It’s built into the game, and it’s highly recommended you take advantage of it. It’s a lot easier to be able to communicate with everyone than trying to type in the chat box. For those who don’t have a headset, you can still type, just remember you’ll need to find a good spot to hide. The game does allow you to mute individual players too though. So for those times you find you have an abusive or annoying player, you don’t have to listen to them. The game also makes very good use of Valve’s VAC anti-cheat system. It really cuts down on the number of cheaters. No game is cheater free, mind you but it does seem to be one of the better systems in place.

That said, you can expect to die an awful lot in this game. Because it does not hold your hand at all. Many of the things we’ve been trained to expect simply aren’t here. If by some miracle you survive being shot you will not regenerate health. Oh you may cease experiencing blur, but that’s only because they’re no longer shooting at you. One or two more hits from another combatant will probably finish you off. Most of the weapons in this game will put you down in three hits max. If you have the maximum amount of armor you may take a few more, but you’ll also move slower. There are no crosshairs. That’s right. No crosshairs. You’re going to have to really use your eyes, and learn to lead your targets here. You can use iron sights to make aiming slightly easier, but it is also slower. You also won’t always find time to use it when engaging three or four enemies at the same time.

Fortunately, some of the attachments for weapons like foregrips, and scopes can help you. But again, you will have to sacrifice something else in order to use them. The same can be said during night maps, where you’ll want to use night vision goggles in lieu of something else. Suppressive fire is almost as important in Insurgency as scoring frags. One of the cool features the game has to offer is the effect of debris. The game doesn’t have destructible environments, but it does have dust, and particle effects flying off of surfaces when bullets hit them. This can overwhelm people because they can’t quite figure out where they’re being shot upon from. So often times suppressive fire can lead to a retreating enemy, allowing a teammate to get them if you couldn’t. Which leads to another difficulty. Unless a server is equipped to do it, there are no notifications. If you kill someone, you won’t know without checking for a body. There are no kill cams. If you die, you won’t see a spy cam or a replay revealing who took you out. Again, a server may run a program that displays who got the jump on you, but it isn’t going to tell you where.

If all of this sounds frustrating, and difficult, that’s because it is. Very much so. But in a good way. When you think about it, it leads to much more careful plotting, and communication with your team. As opposed to other games where it’s easy to place a spot marker on someone, or consult a mini map to find an objective. In Insurgency you’ll have to pull up a large map, and risk being shot. It’s better to memorize the maps after several plays to remember where objectives are. There’s something really compelling about the ramped up difficulty. Especially if you’ve played a lot of the classic tactical games like Rainbow Six, Counter Strike, or Battlefield 1942. Doing well feels a lot more rewarding here than in many other modern shooters. Even if you do end up feeling frustrated, it’s still fun. You’ll still want to succeed, and you’ll probably want to keep playing until you do.

Insurgency doesn’t have all of the bells, and whistles of a major AAA title. Being a Source game, there are some rough edges here. Simple geometry in some areas. Decidedly, lower quality textures in others. If you’re the type who obsesses over what a game looks like rather than how it plays, you may be a little turned off. Nevertheless, Insurgency is not an ugly game. The game does a pretty respectable job at displaying lights, reflections, and shadows. The parking garage section in the Ministry stage comes pretty close to the look of the one in Battlefield 3: Close Quarters’ Operation 925 stage.  Player models aren’t highly detailed, but are on par with the ones seen in some of the older Call Of Duty games. There are also a decent number of options in the graphics menu. Making this something quite scalable.

As a matter of fact, the game has some of the lowest system requirements compared to many other games that have come out over the past 12 months. The minimum requirements list a Core 2 Duo E6600, (A processor that came out in 2006), a Direct X 9.0c compliant Video Card with 512mb of memory on it ( This version of DX came out around 2004), and 6GB of space on the hard disk. Suffice it to say, if you have a fairly old computer that can’t run most new releases, you may be able to run this. Albeit on the lowest settings.  Which still look surprisingly decent all things considered. Even in the world of independent B games, it’s rare for a new game to run okay on a nearly ten-year old computer. The game also runs on Macintosh, which should please those on Apple boxes.

But Insurgency does have some technical issues that keep it from dethroning the ARMA, Call Of Duty, Counter-Strike, and Battlefield franchises of the world. The worst problem the game has is lag. To be fair, all of those other great games certainly have issues as well. But this is a crucial area for competitive games. Being on par with the others isn’t going to help it climb the mountain. The lag issues aren’t nearly bad enough to make the game unplayable. But there seem to be nights when the hosting servers can’t seem to keep up with the traffic. It’s about as infrequent an occurrence as it is with many of the AAA shooters. But it will annoy you if it does happen during a play session.

The other problem it has comes up very rarely, but it will still infuriate people. Sometimes the game will simply close, and exit to the desktop on its own. You won’t see a box show up explaining that it has crashed. You will just see your desktop as if you had never launched the game. Again, almost every other game it competes against has bugs, glitches or crashes. It’s a shame though because it could be another chance for New World Interactive to have one over on its peers. One can only hope these connection issues, and random crashes are solved soon enough. One thing that is very encouraging, is the fact that NWI has been frequently supporting this game with updates. So hopefully they can iron out these problems.

Insurgency may not have the best in visuals, drivable vehicles, or an action packed campaign with Hollywood set pieces. But it has plenty of modes to keep you busy, a large variety of maps, weapons, and a very good communication software feature. It also has very low system requirements, widening the potential player base. The lack of hand holding is going to be very compelling for those who tire of red splashes, and kill cams. Players looking for a really good team based tactical shooter will really love Insurgency’s many competitive modes. Players who want a great cooperative mode will love the Hunt mode.  If you’re looking for a great shooter, with a ton of replay value you should definitely take a look at this game. So long as you don’t mind average graphics, and a high level of challenge. Insurgency kicks ass, and it will certainly kick yours.

Final Score: 8 out of 10