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Warlords Hands-On Preview

We sample Warlords, the chaotic downloadable remake of the 1980 Pong-meets-Breakout Atari arcade classic.

The 1980 Atari arcade classic Warlords lives once more in this Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network title, due summer 2011. For those unfamiliar with the original, Warlords resembles Breakout crossed with Pong, flavoured with fantasy fiction. Two to four players slide a shield along the wall of their forts to deflect fireballs, which bounce away and towards the enemy in the manner of a Pong ball. If you fail to deflect a fireball, it damages your fort, a la Breakout. Players win by defending their fort and demolishing those of their enemies.

A two-player match in fort-smashing Warlords.

A two-player match in fort-smashing Warlords.

The players’ forts are arranged around the edge of a walled courtyard, with the action best viewed from above (there’s also a less useful view that places the camera inside the fort, peering out over the top of your walls). Fireballs bounce around inside the courtyard, spat there by a passing dragon, and a steady stream of little armoured minions (“snoots”) issues from each fort. With your left analog stick you control your sliding shield, and with the right analog stick you move your rally snoot, a flag-bearing snoot towards which all your other armoured grunts make their way.

The multipurpose snoots are used to seize control points, which confer various power-ups, to repair your walls and to damage those of your opponents. And while they are milling around in the courtyard, more and more ricocheting fireballs will collect in the same space–they will stick around for as long as they are bounced by shields. It makes for a chaotic battlefield and demands both sharp reflexes and strategic thinking, while you deflect fireballs with one stick and position your troops with the other.

Follow the bouncing fireball.

Follow the bouncing fireball.

Matters are further complicated by an aggressive black knight character, who occasionally appears on the field with troops of his own. He can be attacked with a fireball power shot, obtained by catching and holding a fireball with your shield, charging and repositioning it, and then firing it back out. The black knight’s attacks on your fort walls will come in addition, of course, to the charged fireball shots from your enemies (either computer-controlled or human-controlled, via local or online multiplayer).

The game is styled in a lightly comic fantasy fashion and looks good, though it doesn’t quite dazzle; the snoots are puny, top-heavy creatures with skull helmets, and the player is squeakily guided through the tutorial by one of their number. Up close, their animations lack some polish, but you’ll mostly see them from afar and above. The multiplayer variants will include free-for-all and two-versus-two and should make for some hectic competitive and cooperative action when the game becomes available for download this summer.

By Jane Douglas, Section Editor

E3 2011: The War of the Worlds Demo Preview

Cruise through a global apocalypse while fanning past alien invaders.

For more than a century, The War of the Worlds has made an impact on the sci-fi community. Starting as a novel, the tale of Martians invading London has spawned movies and television shows. The franchise is also no stranger to video games, although it has been more than a decade since one was produced. Dark Void Zero creators Other Ocean Interactive seeks to bring its highly regarded platform adventuring to the H.G. Wells classic. We took a look at one of these levels created and played by the designers.

The first noticeable aspect of the game is its atmosphere. The two dimensional side-scroller was layered with independently moving backgrounds and foregrounds, creating a three dimensional effect akin to older Disney films. The humanoid characters were clearly roto-scoped actors, painted over with high-definition graphics; this created an eerie and surreal nostalgia akin to Out of This World and Prince of Persia. The setting was further enhanced by the brilliant narrator of Patrick Stewart. The story the acclaimed actor told was not 100 percent faithful to the original novel but was so perfectly written and spoken that many would swear it was penned by Wells. The developers confirmed that a modern-day writer was hired to mimic Wells’ style.

War of the Worlds gameplay is difficult and stressful. The main character is an everyday man, weak enough to die in one hit or long fall, and he starts with no form of attack. However, the checkpoints are very close, allowing quick resapwns after every death. For this first stage, the main tactic was stealth, timed movement, and puzzles. The Martian enemies consisted of flying drones that used their lights to spot targets. Once in sights, the machines would quickly fire out lasers that would instantly fry any human in their path. We witnessed as non-player character soldiers moved through (or unsuccessfully attempted) the war-torn battlefield. By copying the soldier’s timing, our hero was able to dodge through the alien blasts.

The adventure spanned from Hyde Park, into a dank sewer, and out to a flaming wasteland. The protagonist pushed down crates from a steep ledge into the fires below, forming a path to the next danger: the Martian fighting machine. The gargantuan monstrosity was too busy with the military, providing a distraction for our hero. He snuck up across one of its massive grounded legs. This wasn’t without danger: Shield disruptors were sprawled throughout the machine. Contact with one of these shield beams would disintegrate a human just like a drone laser. The main character stealthily moved through these hazards and climbed up to the head of the Martian. This allowed him to disable the machine and end the immediate threat on Hyde Park. However, the demo concluded before we could glimpse the remaining chaos plaguing London.

While we saw no weapons or items during this demo, Other Ocean informed us that there are several creative means of fighting back. These included manipulating the light generators within some levels, crushing aliens under heavy boxes, and using gas masks to become immune to deadly black smoke. There are even chances later on to wield Martian technology and weapons. We look forward to trying these features out when The War of the Worlds is released later this year for Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.

By Kurtis Seid, Game Guides Editor

E3 2011: Fruit Ninja Kinect Hands-On Preview

We make fruit salad with our fists as this mobile game phenomenon makes its way to the Xbox.

Microsoft announced this week that popular Aussie-developed mobile phone and tablet game Fruit Ninja will be making the transition from fingers to arms, launching later this year on the Kinect. As a refresher for those who haven’t been keeping up, Fruit Ninja puts you in the role of a produce assassin, drawing lines on touch screens to bifurcate apples, oranges, pineapples, and other fruit. Bonus bananas fly across the screen at random intervals, slowing down time and causing a fruit frenzy to spit extra fruit from the edges of the screen and onto the playfield at a higher rate than normal, temporarily increasing your score multiplier. The game’s simple rules and controls have made it popular with non-gamers, and it stokes the competitive fires of core gamers looking to best their stats with one more turn.

It’s a no-brainer then to bring the franchise to the Kinect, where instead of drawing your path of juicy destruction with a finger or three, all you need to do is wave your arms in front of the Kinect camera’s sensor to register fruit genocide. All the modes you’ve come to know are here. Classic mode lets you chop fruit and avoid making contact with purple bombs for as long as possible, and Zen mode, the simplest form of the game, strips out things to avoid cutting, instead focusing on getting right down to business racing the 90-second timer as you try to boost your score as high as possible. Arcade mode is one minute of bomb flinging and fruit cutting, but it also receives a new type of fruit with pomegranate thrown into the mix. Provided you land an initial blow when it appears onscreen, swinging furiously continues to make cuts. It works a bit like the big finish free-play section at the end of some Rock Band songs. We managed to land more than 30 hits before the timer ran out, all with a series of flailing karate chops.

Multiplayer matches can be played either cooperatively or competitively, and the Kinect version of the game will support two players swinging onscreen at once to either reach a common goal of slicing everything that appears or to cut only the blue or red outlined fruit that corresponds to your team. Like in all Kinect games, once the action gets heated, you’re going to want to ensure you have plenty of space. We hit our partner once or twice during our demo, so you’ll want to leave adequate room for you and your buddy to thrash. Though we were initially concerned that we wouldn’t know where we were cutting, a shadow of our form superimposed over the background made it a snap to find our bearings. Once the fruit started flying, the hardest part was remembering that we could use both hands simultaneously.

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While the iPhone and Android versions have built a loyal fan base with regular, free updates, Developer Halfbrick has confirmed that the Xbox version–which will be an Xbox Live Arcade game rather than a full retail release–will offer a mix of free and paid DLC. Fruit Ninja Kinect will be making its debut as part of Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade promotion and will cost 800 Microsoft points when it goes on sale. Stay tuned for more details.

By Dan Chiappini, Editor of GameSpot AU

Full House Poker Hands-On

Your Xbox Avatar has to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

If you’re looking at the title Full House Poker and thinking to yourself that it must be the long-overdue poker game starring the Tanner family, you’re probably not much of an expert on poker jargon. But that’s fine–Full House Poker isn’t a game that requires an expert-level card player. It is, after all, a game with an entire button dedicated to pulling open a what-beats-what cheat sheet of poker hands (that would be the left bumper). And of course there’s the reassuring fact that you’re not actually betting real money. That always helps newcomers feel less intimidated.

But then, if real money isn’t on the line, what’s the draw? Rewards and competition. Microsoft touts more than 150 possible various rewards to unlock in the game. You’ve got the types of things you’d expect to earn in a Microsoft-published game, like new avatar items, but there are also a number of other things like in-game costumes for your avatar, new poker tables, and even “chip trick” animations for your avatar to show off his or her nimble fingers at the table. There are also 30-player, three-table tournaments to jump into, so at the very least a skilled player can collect the tears of the defeated, if not money itself.

Aside from that, what you’ve got is a fairly straightforward Texas Hold ‘Em simulator. You can spice up the game a bit by emoting with your Xbox avatar, doing things like adding emotion to your folds, calls, or raises by holding the left trigger to come off as discouraged and timid, or the right trigger to come off as super-aggro. Think of it as bluffing without the human element. Altogether, Full House Poker looks like a pretty full-featured package. There are a number of game modes and a slick presentation, and perhaps best of all, you can make your avatar look like it’s angry enough to flip over the table on command. You can expect to see the game released within the next few months on Xbox Live Arcade.

By Shaun McInnis, Editor

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam Hands-On

We head into the heart of the jungle for a look at DICE’s upcoming expansion pack.

With the latest in the Battlefield series, developer DICE is taking the classic Bad Company 2 experience players know and love and bringing it to the 1960′s war-torn Vietnam. Modern laser-guided weapons have been replaced by period-correct iron-sighted rifles, the action has been moved from modern locales to lush jungles, and the music has even been changed to a range of 1960′s rock.

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Our hands-on took place on map called Hill 137, which was set amid misty mountains and a foliage-filled jungle. We played a quick round of Conquest mode, which required our team to capture and defend flag points at various locations on the map. Playing as American soldiers, our team landed on a sandy beach behind the jungle, which was an ideal place to sneak up on the enemy. Behind us was a set of heavily armed ships, which were ready to rain down shells once we had captured enough flag points.

Players familiar with Bad Company 2 will have no trouble adapting to Vietnam. The same ad hoc squad system is still present, along with the usual medic, engineer, recon, and assault classes. However, the weapon loadout for each class has changed substantially. High-tech weapons have been replaced with 1960′s rifles, which lack features, such as laser sights and modern anti-recoil systems. This makes aiming and firing a little bit trickier, and we found there was a period of adjustment before we could kill consistently. We also found a rather pleasant surprise in the form of a flamethrower, which we rapidly equipped to our assault character.

Working our way through the jungle, we came across a set of mud huts in a clearing. Using the flamethrower, we stormed into the enemy-infested huts and flushed them out with some searing-hot flames. As they poured out of the huts to escape, the rest of our team picked them off from afar with sniper rifles, enabling us to secure the nearby flag. We found the flamethrower was extremely useful in close-quarters combat, and seeing our enemies run around in a wall of flames was immensely satisfying.

The flamethrower is the ideal way to clear a room.

The flamethrower is the ideal way to clear a room.

After capturing all the nearby flag points and escaping the area, the nearby ships bombed the entire area, pushing us inland where we had to take another set of flags. This area was set in a large clearing in the middle of the jungle, which was full of mud huts, dirt tracks, and tunnels. We spied a nearby jeep and promptly hopped onto the machine gun on the back, with one of our teammates driving. Right after we set out on our motoring rampage, an enemy tank appeared, blowing us into smithereens. Back on foot, we proceeded to infiltrate the local huts, setting fire to the Vietcong with our flamethrower and, eventually, capturing the point to win the match.

Even with all the flame-fueled action capturing our attention, we were impressed with how great the visuals looked. The mist-covered mountains and lush jungles made it feel like we were in the classic Vietnam film Apocalypse Now, which was made all the more impressive by the licensed rock soundtrack. Vietnam veterans can get their hands on the game later this year on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

By Mark Walton, Senior Staff Writer – Reviews

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam First Look

We soar high and sneak through the jungle with our first look at Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam.

EA hasn’t been shy about releasing regular postlaunch content updates for its Battlefield: Bad Company 2 game since the title went on sale earlier this year. Six free map packs have been released in total, tacking on additional maps at no cost and giving the already brimming online community of shooters something new to play with. Teased briefly at this year’s E3, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam marks a turning point in the DLC strategy, reskinning and aging the existing multiplayer game to provide players with the same shooter experience they’ve come to know and love, and moving it into a different time period. EA was showing off the expansion at its TGS 2010 press conference, and we got our hands on it.

We played Conquest, a mode Battlefield fans will already be familiar with, which was set up across four consoles as part of a larger online game. For those uninitiated in the ways of war, Conquest requires teams to capture and defend flag points scattered across the playfield. Locations are held only as long as they can be defended, and it’s not uncommon to scrap for possession as teams fight it out at different spots and force players to make snap decisions on whether to stay and secure or move to cut off the enemy and claim more ground. EA reps on hand at the event confirmed that B:BC2 Vietnam will not include any single-player component and will be entirely focused on expanding online competitive and cooperative play.

Likewise, player rank and persistency will play a larger role, revealing that there will not be an unlocking process to get your hands on the biggest and baddest weapons. Rather than being staggered, all upgrades will be available from the word go to avoid offering only a small handful of guns to choose from. The development team believes it will be “the best way to play Vietnam,” and as a result, future DLC will most likely follow the same design mantra to avoid the grind. Just because it’s all ready and waiting to be shot doesn’t mean that long-term play has fallen by the wayside. You’ll continue to earn experience points for every bit of turf captured and for every kill made, with courage determining your badge and ribbon rewards in the line of duty.

Chatting numbers with the development team, we were told that the game will ship with around 15 new weapons, including Vietcong mainstay the AK-47 assault rifle; six new vehicles, of which we saw a jeep, a tank, and the Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter; and four new maps, including the Phu Bai Valley, a mountainous piece of terrain with a smattering of marshy areas, thick jungle undergrowth, and well-worn dirt paths primed for roaring vehicles to negotiate. Hopping into the hotseat of a missile-laden chopper is further amped up by the inclusion of era-appropriate music, giving your explosive mayhem its own soundtrack as you perform village strafing runs and dodge gunfire from ground troops.

The lineage of this game is evident in its look and feel, but this new expansion brings with it a distinctive and recognizable setting. No pricing information has been made public yet, but keep your eyes peeled for Charlie hiding in the grass when it ships on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC late in 2010.

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By Dan Chiappini, Editor of GameSpot AU

Bastion Hands-On Impressions

There’s a lot to like about this indie role-playing game, not least of which is the all-encompassing narrator.

There’s a point in Bastion when you wonder to yourself if the narrator is going to stop chattering anytime soon. It’s not that he’s annoying; in fact, the mysterious voice that describes nearly every move you make is a terrific accompaniment to the action and exploration that make up this indie role-playing game. Go east instead of west, and he’s got something to say about it. Swap out your hammer for a sword, and he’s got something to say about it. It’s an effect that feels as though you’re hearing a story and creating it at the same time. But the omnipresent commentary kind of makes you wonder: How long can he keep this up?

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If the hour-long demo we played is any indication, the answer is more or less the entire game. That type of storytelling–the sensation of hearing a tale unfold while simultaneously dictating its events–is one of several reasons this action-RPG looks so promising. First, a basic rundown. You play as a child who has woken up with the decidedly unsettling realization that he seems to be the last living person on Earth. The world around you has undergone a terrible disaster–referred to as “the Calamity” by the narrator–and all that’s left at the outset of the game is you and a bunch of mysterious monsters that have overrun what once was home.

Said world is portrayed in vibrant hand-drawn illustrations. It’s a striking art style filled with all sorts of rich and varied detail–a hodgepodge landscape that feels like an eccentric amalgamation of Old West saloons, medieval stone buildings, and outdoor bazaars. The musical soundscape is equally varied, going from ambient and moody sounds during the subdued moments of the game to, at one point, a raucous bluegrass number with what appeared to be dueling banjos during a major battle scene. Take all of those elements–the art style, the unique music, the narrator–and what you’ve got is a game with a nice bit of character.

From what we’ve seen, Bastion seems to do varying emotions pretty well. You’ve got the bright, vibrant colors and music of certain early environments, but toward the end of our demo we encountered a much more haunting level. In this one, the main character runs into statue after statue, but these aren’t monuments–they’re the petrified remains of those who weren’t fortunate enough to survive. The grim subject matter and the sparse music combine well with the low-key narrator to create a very eerie, somber level–one that feels pretty powerful in an otherwise heavily stylized game.

While Bastion’s presentation sets it apart from a lot of games out there, its core gameplay is a little more rooted in old-school inspirations and tried-and-true action-RPG formulas. You run around the isometric landscape doing battle with enemies large and small, attacking with a single button press. You can equip two different weapons, each of which has a dedicated button on the controller for making mincemeat of foes. It’s a simple choice between ranged and melee weapons, and the animations that accompany each attack are quick and responsive. In the early goings, it’s very much a game where you can get away with good old-fashioned button mashing.

But as you progress further into the game, that tack doesn’t work anymore, which is when the layers of customization come into play. You’ll routinely pick up new weapons, weapon modifiers, and personal attribute boosts, which all vastly alter how you or your weapons perform in battle. A lot of these have strengths and weaknesses, so there’s very much a mix-and-match, risk-versus-reward element to the customization options. The new weapons you pick up feel quite different from one another, as well, like going from the giant battle hammer early on to a lightning-fast machete, or transitioning from a bow and arrow to a mortar gun. The arsenal selection feels good and varied, but the new weapons you pick up aren’t really worlds better than the ones you start out with–they just seem like different offerings that work better in some situations.

Welcome to the world after the Calamity.

Welcome to the world after the Calamity.

Because this was a roughly one-hour demo, it was hard to get a good sense of how the combat in Bastion will shake out for the duration of the game. The big question will be just how deep the customization system gets, because the core combat itself is a simple matter of pressing one or two buttons at the right time. Right now, we’re big fans of the aesthetic and presentation, and it looks like the combat has a nice, solid foundation–we’ll just have to see how well the initially simple combat will hold up. Nevertheless, we’re eager to see more of it. Look forward to additional Bastion coverage leading up to the game’s expected summer 2011 release date on digital distribution channels.

(Disclosure: Bastion is being developed by Supergiant Games, a studio that includes former GameSpot editor Greg Kasavin.)

By Shaun McInnis, Editor

E3 2011: Serious Sam 3: BFE – Gun Nut

This latest entry in the Serious Sam series takes us back to the good old days at this year’s E3 convention.

Serious Sam 3: BFE is all about life’s simple pleasures. There’s no clunky cover system, no regenerating health. Instead, it’s all about you and your friends facing down an endless swarm of monsters as they try to bum-rush you out of existence. At E3 2011 we got the chance to go hands-on with this over-the-top shooter and racked up a kill count reaching the triple digits in no time.

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You know it’s going to be a good demo when a monster gets its eye ripped out in the first 10 seconds. Nearly every enemy will come with its own special way to be obliterated in hand-to-hand combat. However, we’re not sure, given the time it takes to perform this melee kill, how practical it will be in a larger fight. Another way to get intimate with your enemies is with the trusty sledgehammer. This weapon could split a cyclops’ head open with a single swing, or dispatch multiple enemies with a 360-degree spin attack. However, you’ll need to be careful with that spin attack, since just watching it started to make us dizzy.

In addition to the sledgehammer, Serious Sam 3 is adding a few more new weapons to your arsenal. The first we tried out was the assault rifle. This weapon served two purposes: It cut down lesser enemies with ease at midrange and doubled as a sniper rifle with its mounted scope. Next up was the explosive shotgun. Unlike a normal, nonexplosive, shotgun, this weapon functioned as a lesser rocket launcher. It didn’t pack the same punch, but it hit fast and didn’t cause painful splash damage. A pistol, two shotguns, a minigun, and the completely outrageous cannonball launcher rounded out the set.

The area of the game we played took place in the Egyptian desert. All of a sudden we were back in 2001, cutting down all our favorites. The headless kamikaze bombers, complete with wailing screams, rushed us from all directions. Charging bulls knocked us all around the battlefield. And dozens of other enemies were scattered in between. Seeking reprieve from all the chaos, we ducked inside a random temple only to watch the walls come crumbling down as one of the bulls blew through it. Environmental destruction will be a big part of Serious Sam 3, and nowhere will be truly safe.

We still picked up ammo and health just like in the classic games, and the only cover we could rely on was the number of bullets between us and the enemy. Built to accommodate 16 cooperative players, all the areas we saw ranged from big to huge. The number of enemies will scale to how many buddies you have in tow, and we can only imagine how insane a full party will be. Serious Sam 3: BFE will be released on the PC this summer and on consoles later this year.

By Maxwell McGee, Editor

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