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video games

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force Review

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force is the definition of depth when it comes to the interactive experience of combat flight. All declassified features of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 are fully controllable and functional, you won’t turn anything off or on that doesn’t affect some function of your jet. Your responsibilities range from controlling the flow of your fuel supply to operating realistic air-to-air and air-to-ground radar.

The scope of Allied Force extends far beyond such desired elements, requiring air traffic control commands for takeoff, landing and identifying targets through AWACS before shooting them down. Even more lifelike is the fact that you have to check in and check out with AWACS to complete a mission successfully. You’ll feel the pressure of succeeding with friendly aircraft all around you that will be in line to land in sequence right behind and in front of you after a mission. There’s a full-scale war surrounding your every move, so you’ll hear real time chatter of pilots calmly landing as well as expressing acute fear when their lives are seriously threatened in battle. There are times when you’ll hear all of this in one fell swoop, before you ever taxi onto the runway for takeoff. Every aspect of a campaign is running in real time and that’s the real beauty of Faclon. This creates more interest than any storyline due to the variety it dictates. The same thing never happens twice in any mission, so you won’t be able to adjust your strategy based on where you were last shot down.

There isn’t a respawn in this game. If you get shot down and end the mission, you’ll be put in the cockpit of the jet that was second to you in formation and so on, should you continue the mission once back at the briefing screen. Your squadron loses a plane every time you get shot down, so if you’re in a flight of four, for instance, and get killed three times, you’ll be the only friendly left flying in the area.

There is often much left to be desired from the artificial intelligence of interactive software, but Falcon has just about every AI engine that I’ve seen beat dead to rights. This combat flight simulator features what seem to be real people whom you have to go up against, giving you good reason to choose your battles. Let’s say you’ve identified hostile aircraft and are willing to follow him to make sure he never comes back, but suddenly you notice three dots on your screen as you close for the kill. Those are his wingmen and you’re about to be engaged in a four to one aerial assault. You get a warning that a missile has been launched in your direction. There is a true to life technique for dodging both air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. If you haven’t learned those techniques, you’re about to go blind (lose all radar and heads up display function of your jet) and either eject or be blown to bits.

Flying the F-16 in Allied Force can be frustrating, but it’s one interactive software application that will make you feel as if you’ve accomplished something constructive in the free time you spend with it. The best part of the sim, the depth, can be the most frustrating, but it’s also what makes the replay value of this game nearly infinite if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a fighter pilot, lacking only the desire to risk your actual life.

Categories
books technology

The OpenSolaris Bible: a review

Today, I just received my copy of the OpenSolaris Bible by Nicolas A. Solter, Gerald Jelinek, and David Miner. While the post office only dropped this off today, I’ve been frequenting my local bookstore to read this book several times over the past week. To be honest, I haven’t yet finished the book’s meaty 971 pages, but I’ve read enough that I feel confident in telling you: I love it.

Categories
video games

Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor Review

Company of Heroes is the pinnacle of World War 2 RTS games. Relic, CoH’s developer, takes a little bit of realism in their WW2 strategy, and removes most of the baggage from the genre to focus more on the tactical level. Today I’m reviewing Tales of Valor, the second standalone expansion. It brings three new multi-player modes and three new single player campaigns.

Each successive expansion past the original Company of Heroes has been designed to facilitate a new style of play and address some concerns of previous players. The first expansion, Opposing Fronts, was designed to enable the new British faction with their defensive measures and the German Panzer Elite’s tanks. Tales of Valor has some new multiplayer and single player modes for more direct action similar to Relic’s Warhammer 40k RTS Dawn of War 2.

One consistent concern voiced by players must have been the length multiplayer matches take to play. Apparently the developers were also concerned with removing any base-building strategery. So now we have no lead up to the action in this new multiplayer mode called Panzerkrieg.

In Panzerkrieg you can directly control one of three types of tanks per side, each with special abilities that you purchase using command points. Various special actions enable you to defend areas with troops, carpet bombs, and more. It even goes so far as to allow you to mark a target like in an MMO.

Another conceit to modern standards is Stonewall mode. Essentially this is horde, or last stand, or whatever you want to call it: a co-operative mode for Allied players to play against waves of computer-controlled Germans. It would have been nice if Relic had taken the opportunity here to integrate a zombie mode so as to take advantage of the zombie-mania sweeping the game industry. The game already has some fairly intense scenes of violence and could use something less depressing than the actual war.

The third new mode for quick games of multiplayer is Assault mode. This puts you in command of a single “hero unit” who fights alongside another few hero units and an AI which will toss endless waves of infantry against another AI with another set of human compadres.

All of these discrete modes have their intended effect of putting you into the action instead of pulling you out with the usual two-sided conflict of grunts being tossed into battle after some time spent building bases. This is kind of a shame since I think it undermines the simplicity of the original Company of Heroes vision to have these disparate elements.

Unfortunately, there is only one map per new mode, which is a total disappointment. Hopefully there will be a new set released later on after the community and critical responses have mellowed so the game can get another publicity boost and we can try these modes with some different terrain.

Despite all of that, I love the new multiplayer modes. The regular online play is full of folks who have put many more hours than I can into it, and these new modes are a relief from the hardcore players. Finally we’re about even when we all only control a single unit or two in the Assault and Panzerkrieg modes. With only a few units in these new multiplayer modes, Relic have enabled casual players who don’t have to make a serious time commitment.

Instead of spending hours learning how to build up our bases we can just jump into a tank or a single infantryman in Assault and go to war.

However, Relic’s forum members are up in arms over various exploits and bugs, which I am sure these will be fixed in a decent amount of time. Though the bugs are not an issue for casual CoH fans who are mostly interested in this expansion for the single player campaign and the somewhat innovative-if-reactionary new multiplayer modes.

Of course, just like the previous expansions, you can play regular battles online with anyone who owns any other version of Company of Heroes or the expansions.

What about the Single Player?

There are three campaigns in Tales of Valor’s SP, all of which are extremely short three-map affairs. “Tiger Ace” puts you in command of the 101st’s Tigergruppe with direct-fire (left click to fire your turret, focus follows mouse). One German tank, one squad driving, loading, and firing.

“Tiger Ace” is perfect for learning how to utilize a tank more effectively in multiplayer, however the Tiger in single player is basically invulnerable. Your crew can repair at any time and while this renders the tiger immobile, the turret can keep firing during repairs.

Also included in the realm of unrealistic tank powers is the way your command points can be spent on various upgrades to the crew. Yes, the crew should become more experienced over time and it is fun to command the Tiger, but the command points just seem pointless when you only get to use them for the three Tiger Ace missions, all of which are on the same physical map even if the objectives change. Near the end of Tiger Ace you’re left wondering why you’ve been able to upgrade so quickly; and then you watch the credits roll.

I suppose it is better to leave the player wanting more rather than having some filler, but this is just too little time in-campaign to justify an upgrade system. Perhaps in the future there will be a direct-fire co-op multiplayer mode where each player controls one tank like in Panzerkreig, but versus an AI and then there will be some larger upgrade system.

Until then, Tiger Ace was fun while it lasted.

The second Single Player campaign included with Tales is “Causeway.” It has the all the gameplay of Tiger Ace but with an American infantry focus instead of the tanks. Playing it, you’re apt to realize that if ever there were a game that needed an MMO-style action bar, this is it.

“Falaise Pocket” is the final campaign and it puts you back in command of some German troops. Unfortunately as the Germans are the (spoilers ahead) losers of this war, you’re forced to retreat at the end of the campaign.

I wouldn’t mind the retreat if the game could handle it. The scripting logic is so incredibly broken it took me about three or four attempts and many hours to complete the mission and get the computer to recognize that the I had in fact completed my objectives when I completely wiped out the enemy. Even then I had to give up hope of receiving some auxiliary medals (achievements) just so that I could be sure I would finish.

Altogether Tales of Valor is an adequate package of upgrades with a few surprises in the multiplayer and single player. Some of those surpises are good (the direct fire mode and the new multiplayer gametypes), some are not so good (the single player campaigns are definitely too short). Is it worth some cash for fans of the previous games in the Company of Heroes series? Definitely. New players? Maybe. The new multiplayer modes, while fun, aren’t a lot to play around with until more maps are released. If single player is your thing and you still haven’t played the original I’d really suggest going back to try that.

7 out of 10 Panzer Groupies

Categories
apple sports

MLB At Bat 2009 Review (iPhone)

mlb-iphone-app

I’ve been listening to MLB.app since the start of the season and as rocky as it has been for the fighting phils, the app has been great.

It streams audio from the Phillies home radio station, even though I’m in San Francisco.

It plays highlight videos from mlb.tv.

It costs $10 per season, whereas the streaming audio feature from mlb.com costs $15.

Most importantly, it gives you a box score and play-by-play text.

Overall, I’ve had few issues with At Bat. Mainly, I’d appreciate it if there were full streaming video of the game, but I suspect they’ll do that for next season and charge $10-$20 more for the app.

The lesser issue is with my connectivity. I live in SF and AT&T’s network stinks, but the inability (on the part of the app or the iPhone) to switch between edge/3G while streaming the in-game audio is terrible. I have to wake my phone up just to get it to realize it should keep trying to get signal.

If you are usually in a wifi-zone like I am, though, you’ll be fine. We’re lucky to have At Bat on the iPhone and it is a steal at $9.99. As far as I know there are no blackouts for the radio stream.

Check out the gallery after the break for all the screens. Then go buy it from the app store.