First appearance God of War Released 2005 Format ps2 created by SCE Santa Monica Studio

It’s not that we don’t feel for Kratos – our day’s a write-off if PSN goes down, so being tricked into

slaughtering your own family by a vengeful god has to be at least twice as bad. But extenuating circumstances aside, that PlayStation’s least likeable personality consistently makes it to the top of your favourite ever characters is a wonderfully gory anomaly. Let’s review the evidence: not only does his quest for revenge against the gods of Olympus doom the world to Armageddon; he also uses a wailing woman as a doorstop, bashes Zeus’ face into mulch and repurposes another god’s head as lamp.

And yet, there’s a simple purity to Kratos’ bloodlust. When he’s condemned to the Underworld, he just ups and walks out again. When faced with monsters the size of mountain ranges, he gamely scurries up their legs and pokes their eyes out. And there’s not a body part on any mythical creature that the God Of War can’t remove with the right QTE. We doubt Kratos’ bloody quest for vengeance will ever bring him the peace he’s after – but it would be a sad day for PlayStation if it did.

Mega Man Battle Network 5: Team Colonel

This fifth addition to the GBA-exclusive Mega Man Battle Network series is marked by a new fighting mode and an emphasis on teamwork. Players are joined by up to six ally characters, many which were featured in earlier Battle Network games, to wrest control of the cyberspace game world from the imposing Nebula. The Soul Unison collection system returns, as does the presence of temptingly powerful but hit-point-draining Dark Chip power-ups. The gameplay and story are similar to those of Team Colonel’s companion release, Mega Man Battle Network 5: Team Protoman, but the selection of unlockable ally characters is different in the two versions.

Ridge Racer 6 Xbox360 Review

When the Ridge Racer series emerged on home consoles, it established itself as the one of the leading arcade-styled racers. Fast forward a couple generations, and unfortunately it’s changed so little over the years that other hot rods have long since caught up. Launch titles usually don’t squeeze all of the hardware juice out of a console–but Ridge Racer 6 looks can almost pass as a regular Xbox game.

Building textures look noticeably low-res even at blurringly fast speeds, and the cars themselves fall short of models seen in Forza. Borrowing levels from previous games, the game’s stages fail to excite you. Game mechanics seem trapped in the previous gen, too. Building up nitrous gauges is a take back to the PSP version, and the addition of the Ultimate Charge does little to approach a Burnout level of intensity. And isn’t next-gen a perfect time to make damage modeling standard? Not in this conservatively status quo racer. The computer controlled cars seem clueless of their surroundings, make each course a mind-numbingly repetitive ordeal. Namco typically delivers satisfying electronica tracks, but the cobbled-together score innocuously bumbles in the background in RR6, helping to fill out the otherwise devoid experience. Of course, all else is overshadowed when you hear the Ebonics-spouting announcer–the only phrase missing from his crass stereotypical banter is “word to your mother.” Race long enough and you’ll even have the pleasure of hearing him use the leet-speak hot phrase, “own.” It’s not a bad game when you break it down, but there’s no sense in dropping 60 bucks on a next-gen title when there are plenty of other previous gen games that’d get your heart racing faster. Hold out for the inevitable next-gen Burnout. 80/100

Auto Assault (viewpoint)

PUBLISHER: NCsoft DEVELOPER: NetDevil GENRE: MMORPG AVAILABILITY: Retail box, download ( ESRB RATING: Teen REQUIRED: 1.6GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, 10GB hard drive space, 128MB videocard, Internet connection RECOMMENDED: 2.5GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, 256MB videocard, headset MULTIPLAYER: Massively so

Auto Assault—a blasted, abandoned stretch of highway, barren of life but for the occasional lone survivor struggling vainly to hang on. Sadly, we’re not talking about AA’s setting; the game itself amounts to an online no-man’s-land, situated somewhere in the fl yover country between MMORPGs and action games. It’s worth visiting just to say that you’ve been there…but apparently not the best place to hang around if you want meaningful human interaction in your games. Just why the hell is that? Most reviews have been giving it noncommittal scores (we’re talking the ubiquitous 7-out-of-10s) without a lot of agreement about why, while alternately praising and condemning the game’s departures from MMO conventions.

GameSpot’s Jeff Gerstmann puts the game’s lack of a death penalty in the list of bad things because, “you never really feel any tension from the battles,” while IGN’s Tom McNamara says, “You may believe that death penalties are ‘meaningful’ and make the game more ‘challenging.’ I prefer not to be punished for trying to ‘have some fun.’”

Other reviews hail the game’s “solo-ability” as either refreshing or self-defeating…and a surprising number of players actually want a game they can play with one frontal lobe tied
behind their back. “I like to be able to play a game where I can accomplish things while still doing one or two other things. Such as when I raid on the weekends—I can usually make
dinner while I’m doing it,” writes Rude on the offi cial Auto Assault forums. Depending on
whom you ask, the game either doesn’t behave enough like an MMO, or it doesn’t behave
enough like a straight-up action title; either it’s too different, not different enough, or just different in the wrong ways.

Not that the game is without issues everyone can agree on—mostly the cloud of minor bugs that began swarming the title during beta. One universal acknowledgement knocks AA’s baffl ing lack of an auction house, effectively throttling the in-game economy. A potentially deep crafting system in there somewhere, too…but without other players or an easy means of trading with them, you just don’t have much justifi cation
for learning its intricacies.

But players don’t often mention any of these fl aws when they bother to say why they’re quitting. Frustration-riddled posts line the game’s offi cial forums, such as “I love this game, but
one of the main things that draws me to any MMO is the fact that there are people to interact with,” and “I’ve already cut my six-month subscription down to three, and the clock is ticking each day I log on, and nobody else is playing. I don’t play MMOs to solo in an environment devoid of other players.” So nobody wants to play because nobody else is playing. It’s a self-defeating cycle—one that will probably run the game over and leave it for dead on the side of the road.

Even with a critical, self-sustaining mass of players, you wouldn’t have much reason to actually
play AA with other people. Grouping isn’t actively discouraged, but in all but a few cases, it’s completely unnecessary…compounded by AA’s aforementioned auction-house-lacking gameplay (which renders the player economy stillborn). The only real player interaction happens
through optional PVP, itself relegated to arena matches and a single high-level zone for interfaction confl ict. You have no way to view the details of another player’s gear, removing
the vital elements of prestige and competitiveness. Taken together, these factors essentially
translate AA into a decent single-player game with a monthly fee. Sadly, consolidating the game’s underpopulated servers would be less a solution and more an embarrassing admission of defeat.

“Nothing says ‘We failed—our population sucks’ more than a server shutdown…. They might as well pull the plug on all the servers after that,” writes Reasan on the AA forums. It might mean that (for a while, at least) we wouldn’t have to drive across the entire world without encountering another player…but putting more people in the same place without giving them a reason to actually play together hardly solves the problem. Most MMO players group out of necessity; otherwise, they’re just getting in each other’s way and competing for the same resources.

At this point, we have no idea how to save the game, short of a complete overhaul. Either
retooling all of the classes to make them more interdependent or making it an entirely instanced game and converting it to a free Guild Wars–like model might help. The second option is probably technically impossible; the fi rst, on the other hand, would likely only piss off a small core of diehards (unless we’re talking a full Star Wars Galaxies–style relaunch). But AA already went through one rebuild midway through its beta; as much as we like the game, we’d be shocked if it stuck around long enough for a second overhaul.


IGN 7.5/10



OK, maybe—at best—probably a hundredaire. A thousandaire if you’re really lucky. Whatever—it’s hard to beat having a chance at winning cash for playing solitaire or simple word games. That’s part of the appeal of Club Pogo, a casual-gaming site that offers something more than high scores and personal satisfaction.

At $35 annually (or $6 on a monthly basis), Club Pogo costs more than most casual games, but you’re spared pop-up ads and given the opportunity to win tangible prizes. You won’t fi nd
anything superhardcore among the 75-plus games here, but then again, Microsoft bundles
Solitaire with Windows for a good reason—it can be stupidly addictive. More so with Club Pogo’s
World Class Solitaire, which adds some strategic twists. And while QWERTY is a simple crossword game, it’s hard to beat the satisfaction you get from trouncing another player online.
As fun as the games are (and with 1.2 million subscribers in two years—each averaging 14 hours per week—they’d better be fun), the rewards provide the real hook. Wins earn tokens, which are tradable for things such as avatar upgrades, special badges, and entries into daily, weekly, and monthly cash-prize drawings. Topping it all off: a prize spinner that gives game winners a chance to score up to $4,999. That’s a pretty nice carrot to dangle in front of some Java games.

Even if you don’t want to join Club Pogo, you owe it to yourself to download Alien Stars from the core Pogo site, This top-down shooter follows in the Galaga mold, except it’s a lot prettier—and tougher. Each of the game’s 12 levels packs an unholy number of enemies and obstacles to destroy (or avoid) before a face-off against a massive boss. Alien Stars doesn’t reinvent the wheel— but it does dip that wheel in chocolate and unicorns and happy laughing babies, making it pretty much irresistible. Of course, plenty of power-ups that actually bring a strategic edge to the action help make it fun, too.

Rise Of Legends VIEWPOINT

Legends becomes myth

PUBLISHER: Microsoft DEVELOPER: Big Huge Games GENRE: Real-time strategy AVAILABILITY: Retail box ESRB RATING: Teen
REQUIRED: 1.4GHz CPU, 256MB RAM, 4.5GB hard drive space RECOMMENDED: 2GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, 128MB videocard, Internet connection MULTIPLAYER: 2-8 players

revolutions—they make small advances and occasional retreats, and they usually wind up safely treading in territory others conquered long, long ago. This is a genre whose last great upheaval came when StarCraft decided its three factions would offer somewhat different gameplay mechanics.

And that was what, eight years ago? That’s why I don’t much cotton to Game-
Spot’s review of Rise of Legends, which says that “this wacky mishmash of real history,
Dungeons & Dragons, and Chariots of the Gods is damn hard to warm up to. Each of the civilizations is so offbeat that there are no reference points, no similarities to RTS conventions
that you can latch onto and use to dip a toe into the weirdness.” But that’s the beauty of it, really. Familiarity breeds contempt—and in a genre glutted with Terran clone troopers and
musket-wielding French revolutionaries, even the choking steam clouds produced by ROL’s
most “boring” faction feel like gusts of fresh air.

And we say “boring” with the utmost reverence: The Italian-fl avored, Jules Verne-ian Vinci
family’s clockwork men, wobbly fl ying contraptions, and ponderous juggernauts provide the
game’s most obvious link to RTS convention. They’re by no means conventional…just easier
to relate to than the pseudo-Arabian, pseudomystical Alin (desert dwellers who deal in sand,
fi re, and—by bizarrely logical extension—glass) or the Mexi-cosmic Cuotl with their death
spheres, Cities of Vengeance, and Aztec Power and structures straddle the line between cartoonish and exquisitely detailed, and it’s simple to tell at a glance (and from the icons at the
bottom of the screen) which units are which; if you possess the visual and mental bandwidth
to watch them work, they’re all entertaining in their own right.

So does a wealth of creative riches make ROL the greatest RTS since StarCraft? Not quite. While the game’s art-direction coup certainly merits celebration, the gameplay itself remains fi rmly entrenched in the genre’s time-tested tactics: expand your base, collect resources (though you get mercilessly little of that here—just Timonium crystals and wealth or energy, depending upon your faction choice), upgrade units to build bigger and better armies until you can roll over your enemy.

And while the three sides each have different nuances when it comes to healing, attrition, and resource gathering—you can build the Alin’s unit-producing Sand Circles even outside your own territory, for example, while the Cuotl’s Fanes can lift themselves off the ground and transport units across chasms—they all build upon the same RTS foundation. The trade-off for far-fl ung gameplay differences: The sides all seem perfectly harmonized; while you’ll need to adjust your tactics and buildorder decisions (see sidebar), no faction feels over- or underpowered.

ROL’s other great achievement is its ultrarefined and superstreamlined interface, which honestly tries to work with you rather than against you. In almost every potentially messy instance, the game seems to intuit your intent—no need to worry about accidentally loading confused miners or passing trade ships into your army transport’s cargo bay for frontline deployment. And when you don’t have time for interfacial details, you can trust ROL to take care of them for you, allowing you the free mindshare necessary to learn the game’s tangled hotkey web, which lets you do everything from the usual Control-key grouping to fi nding the city where it’s cheapest to purchase military districts.

And, as GamesRadar warns, “the guy with the steeltrap memory and piano fi ngers will smoke your mouse pokes every time.” The campaign, fun as it is, makes a poor preparation regimen for fi eld duty. No matter how well you fare against the A.I. (which favors waves of easily conquered miniarmies), casual contact with autistic strangers online only leads to despair. If you do decide to brave the online world, ROL offers a robust and simple matchmaking service, with a Quick Battle option and a threepronged “level” structure that tries to match you with equally skilled opponents.

Early reviews complained of multiplayer connection issues— mostly midgame drops—but developer Big Huge Games has since issued several patches (v1.5 as of this writing) addressing some of the problems. We haven’t yet run into any postpatch issues (though whether that’s due to a patch that fi xed everything or sheer dumb luck is diffi cult to tell), but it would be a shame if these early technical problems already meant premature death for ROL’s online lifespan: A month after release, multiplayer isn’t particularly lively—you can end up waiting several minutes for Quick Battles, and we only found three or four custom games available whenever we looked at the list. Our advice: If you’re interested in more than just the campaign mode, make sure you have some like-minded friends.

Of course, just sticking with the campaign mode is another option. Like the original Rise of Nations campaign, ROL employs a board game–style strategic map that lets you pick and choose which battle to take on next, adding a smart, simple strategic layer that doesn’t divert attention from the RTS core. Enemy heroes wander the map, too, dividing and conquering on their own—but ROL smartly avoids the drag of making you reconquer lost territory, instead letting you purchase autodefending military districts to buttress your former conquests. Each territory, once claimed, offers specifi c tactical advantages (from more skill points to special powers you can summon during emergencies), and you earn various skill, army, and invention points from districts you build in already-conquered areas. IGN lauds the campaign’s “nice range of
mission types…some are just straight-up slugfests between you and whoever happens to
own the territory. Others require you to defend against a siege, or free people from a massive
prison, or chase down and kill a genie who’s got something you need. In nearly every mission, there’ll be hidden objectives that you can uncover and undertake, but the only rewards for doing so are the pride you feel knowing that you did something that you technically could have skipped.”

Unfortunately, the mission variety really only holds true for the superior first two legs (Vinci
and Alin) of the campaign; by the time you get behind the reins of the Cuotl, the story’s lost its steam. It’s like the designers ran out of objective ideas. “Eh, just conquer all the cities on the map, then. Whatever.” Halfway through the Cuotl arc, we found ourselves cranking the game speed (which could use a tick mark or two between medium fast and supercrazy fast) just to get plow through to the (very loosely resolved) end.

Late-campaign lack of inspiration aside, ROL provides an exquisite example of real-time-strategy design gone right, from its unique art direction to its evolutionary, astoundingly unannoying interface to its perfectly executed three-party balancing
act. Pay no mind to the naysayers who list ROL as a gimmick that soon wears out its
welcome—most RTS games wish they had a gimmick this good.




Rollin’ Out

trying to get up to speed on Guild Wars and its new assassin class (after spending a decent chunk of time away from the game), I got sidetracked by another recent NCsoft title—one that I was curious about, but not particularly compelled to play: Auto Assault, the wreck-a-licious new Twisted Metal-meets-MMO postapocalyptic game that breaks the MMORPG genre’s ubiquitous D&D mold. EA’s Motor City Online attempted the “car-PG” thing a few years back with disastrous results, and I’m hoping Auto Assault doesn’t suffer the same fate.

And depending on how you look at it, why should it? AA has a lot going for it: It’s goodlookin’,
it’s easy to pick up and play (picture World of WarCraft, except with cars), and it’s fun. Plus, it’s published by NCsoft, the MMO expert…so I expect much better support than what EA coughed up for MCO. The real disparity between something like WOW and AA, though, is the population. In WOW—which naturally enjoys the advantage of a loyal, built-in following—we see new servers pop up all the time, thanks to the insane number of players. But AA forges a brand-new IP, a risk factor clearly refl ected in the low-to-very-low populations that its servers (as of this writing in June) maintain.

I hope that more people give AA a spin (no pun intended) and fi nd out what a cool game it is (check this month’s review on page 88 to fi nd out what I mean), as I can only imagine what a world full of cars, trucks, and dune buggies would be like if it were buzzing with enthusiastic people. I bet the PVP zones would rock pretty hard, with rival factions of humans, biomeks, and mutants all blasting each other to bits. With no death penalties in the game, PVP is really a painless endeavor, and it seems like the gun-shy players out there would find more reason to participate when they’re rolling around in monster cars with big guns.

As you might expect, you can equip your rig with better gear as you level up—but at the expense of meaningful characterization. Sure, each of AA’s three races gets a representative
“face,” but players get no specifi c NPC avatars to rally behind. You’ve got a woman, a woman
with green eyes, and a dude who looks like he walked off the set of Mad Max. Wouldn’t the game-buying public warm to the concept quicker if AA presented more actual characters instead of just big metal cars? You do get to create a humanoid avatar to drive your car…but the game doesn’t exploit this element to its fullest, and you generally just don’t get a lot of options here.

If people don’t “get it,” they’re not going to pick up the game. Since I have the luxury of trying out these games ahead of time, I know that AA is good times, but it’s a lot more diffi cult for the average consumer to see that from the outside. For someone to even give this game a shot, they have to pick it up and contemplate paying a monthly fee. “Is it worth the trouble of downloading and installing?” they’ll wonder, and, unlike the typical fantasy MMO, it’s not as clear-cut a decision. Some sort of endearing characterization might lure a few more people in; maybe, as a start, NCsoft could put a 3D head in the upper-righthand corner of the screen that reacts to the
carnage. And possibly the avatar of someone you’re targeting in PVP play, so you can actually
see who you’re attacking. Adding a little more personality to the game would make things a little more…well, personal. And that’s a good start right there.

GUILD WARS (viewpoint)

click to full view

REQUIRED: 800MHz CPU, 256MB RAM, 2GB hard drive space, Internet connection RECOMMENDED: 1GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, Guild Wars MULTIPLAYER: Massively so

this character for 172 hours, 27 minutes over the past 39 days.” If that isn’t a glowing endorsement of how much I enjoy Guild Wars Factions, the fi rst stand-alone expansion to
developer ArenaNet’s free-to-play action- MMORPG, then I don’t know what is. Factions retains the sort of gameplay you’d expect in a Guild Wars game (or most any fantasy MMORPG, for that matter): Kill monsters, gain experience, earn new skills, and battle it out in player-versus-player arena combat. The six core professions introduced in the original game
(henceforth referred to as Guild Wars Prophecies) each gain numerous combat options, but the lion’s share of the attention goes to Factions’ two new professions: The assassin and the ritualist.

Anyone who played Factions during its first weeks no doubt experienced the glut of daggerwielding assassin characters—usually manned by players attempting to employ the class as a frontline fi ghter instead of as the calculating hit-and-run damage-dealer it’s meant to be. The assassin really shines in the hands of a capable player who knows how to take advantage of
its high-damage attack chains, but ultimately lacks the raw versatility of core professions such as the ranger and mesmer. Conversely, the creepy, shamanlike ritualist goes for a jack-ofall- trades support role and fails on all fronts. This profession’s muddled blend of healing spells and spirit minions make it very micromanagementintensive, and essentially demands twice the work to achieve half the results of, say, a dedicated monk or necromancer.

The campaign itself makes up for the new professions’ shortcomings: Factions introduces Cantha, a land with an exotic Asian motif and a much better cadence than that of the comparatively uneven Prophecies. You can actually hit the game’s 20-level cap before leaving the tutorial island, making Factions the full realization of ArenaNet’s antigrind mantra. This energetic pacing persists throughout the 13-mission story line, and while you do have to slog through some mazelike adventure areas (“It’s easy to get lost and have to backtrack ridiculous distances,” reviewer Joel Durham Jr. rightly points out), most of Factions’ environments trump Prophecies’ often irritating level design. The new tiered mission scoring system (you earn rewards based on time and performance) improves on Prophecies’ diffi cult bonus objectives, and multiple groups can compete for ranked scores in certain challenge scenarios.

Player-versus-environment and player-versusplayer gameplay aspects were largely split in Prophecies, but Factions unifi es the two camps, pitting player guild alliances against one another for control of 18 different contested outposts throughout Cantha. Victories yield faction points, which your alliance can collectively exchange for a controlling interest in one of the contested outposts—and access to perks such as elite mission areas. It’s an interesting and competitive system—but, as GameSpy reviewer Miguel Lopez explains, it caters toward the hardcore.

“Ingenious indeed,” he writes, “but exclusionary to the average player who can’t get into one of the big guilds.” Casual players might instead take advantage of the new guild-scrimmage mode, though these battles could use something beyond the lone capturethe- fl ag mode currently offered (a simple 8-on-8 knock-down, drag-out battle might be fun). But now I’m just nitpicking—the great thing about Factions is that it offers something for everyone, rewarding skill and ingenuity rather than time served, catering to a variety of play styles, and opening a slew of options that (new professions aside) easily outshine Prophecies. Says’s Durham: “Whether you want to gather with a few friends or start a massive guild, whether you’d care to play through the adventure or take on the world, Guild Wars Factions has something for you.” Believe it.


IGN 8.5/10


click to full view

2GB hard drive space, Internet connection, Final Fantasy XI RECOMMENDED: 1.5GHz CPU, 256MB RAM, gamepad MULTIPLAYER: Massively so

branches out in an arc not dissimilar to human aging. The original game set the stage as an infantlike MMORPG ripe for tweaking, patching, and fi nessing. The fi rst expansion, Rise of the Zilart (included as part of FFXI’s North American debut), let players now comfortable with the early-game skills ply their trade in whole new regions and environments, while offering new jobs to master. The followup, Chains of Promathia, is where FFXI went all gothic teen angst—diffi cult and frustrating, but that’s a part of growing up. Treasures of Aht Urhgan, at long last, thrusts FFXI into full adulthood for its fourth (and possibly fi nal) chapter. While FFXI is, in general, much less forgiving than a game like World of WarCraft, sustained play teaches players the ins and outs of the game’s battle system and, in turn, reveals a greater payoff for skilled, cooperative play with one’s party members. It’s diffi cult at fi rst, and the true beauty of the game manifests later rather than sooner—in the high-level, endgame areas where players battle the gods. This remains so in Treasures, and gamers can either accept this or not.

The installation process, layers of menus, and old-fashioned experience-point grind clearly vexed GameSpot’s reviewer, who seems to think that the game’s recent Xbox 360 port holds appeal only for new users, failing to realize that the conversion imparts a haven for players whose PlayStation 2s had dried up (or who just wanted the power of PC-quality graphics at a console price). It’s too bad many people won’t realize that the process of leveling up is aided by Treasures’ new areas, where low-HP mobs and experienceenhancing items and job abilities expedite the grind to the game’s level-75 cap. GameSpy, on the other hand, knows the
game’s inner workings and battle system much better, pointing out that—despite vague quest
details that send players fl ipping through online FAQs—FFXI features an evolved communication system, insidiously deep crafting mechanics, and a mentor system designed to help veterans assist newcomers to the game.

The big question, though: Does Treasures add to the legacy…or detract from it in the way that the previous expansion, Chains of Promathia, did? While many zealots argue that Promathia’s story line made that expansion worthwhile, its sheer diffi culty and low incentive made for a game that catered to the hardcore—in theory, shrinking FFXI’s appeal and sending droves of players to games like WOW and Guild Wars. Treasures puts the brakes on this decline, with three new job classes (Blue Mage, Corsair, and Puppetmaster) that—while currently unbalanced
and overpowered—introduce some cool new party-confi guration possibilities. The basic game mechanics remain the same, crossing the traditional turn-based combat of the Final Fantasy series with the real-time involvement involvement of an action-RPG. Once you engage an enemy, a palette of options appears, offering you the chance to cast spells, use special attacks,
and activate job-specifi c abilities.

One particularly useful new feature, Assault— a mode that allows small parties to engage in different miniraids for a short period of time—offers incentives like armor, weapons, and fame within the game. The other major addition, Besieged, promises massive enemy raids on player towns…but it’s currently broken due to too many players and enemies being shoehorned into one small, instanced area. The bottom line: People will either appreciate the depth of FFXI despite some of the above-mentioned hurdles, or they’ll move on to less-demanding MMOs. Treasures’ swanky Arabian-themed graphical style still doesn’t hold a candle to those of games like Oblivion, but the organic environments and more realistically proportioned characters ensure that FFXI continues to age better than many of its competitors.