X3: Reunion (-)

There was this game that you saw in stores, and you thought it was a video game for X-men 3. You either ignored it straight up, because you didn’t want to play an X-men video game, or you picked it up and were sourly disappointed that it wasn’t. Either way, it’s probably okay that you skipped out on this one.

X3 is a space simulator that is mainly from the first or third person views of your spaceship, and the player can choose to fight, trade, pirate, protect, all sorts of stuff. You can do practically anything; even follow the story, if you feel like it.

The graphics are pretty amazing, and the universe that is created I definitely enjoyed. I not only love hard sci-fi settings, but the expanse and area of exploration you pretty much can’t argue with. Unless you have other things to do, or a very short attention span: the loading times I definitely give a minus. Even on my high-end PC, I experienced horrendous wait times, on my 2006 PC on a 2005 game. I can’t imagine playing it on something else.

Okay, so the graphics are great but load really slowly; so what? I enjoy great settings and usually will sacrifice loading screens for beautiful graphics, something I value greatly. Problem is, the loading screens only magnify the already slow game play. This is a game I got excited about, because, in theory, with enough time and effort, concentration and talent, one could build an expansive commercial trade empire, defended by a considerable private militia while making side trips to pirate goods from competing traders and at the same time find contracts with local authorities to hunt down enemies. Or just look at stuff.

Problem is there is a lot of looking and not quite enough stuff, because even with the time compression feature, it takes so long to start up, to get enough funds to even BEGIN to start making more money.

Straight up: the game is hard. It has a pretty steep learning curve. This game is pretty much right up my alley, but maybe a little bit too far. I love customizable exportable settings, and component features on spaceships and the patient economic maneuvers in video games; this was just a tad too slow.

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BlockHeads Clash (+)

Venture to a strange place inside cartoon labyrinths where the only weapon is your head, literally.

Think the PC needs fun arcade action games? Well Out The Box Software has developed just the game for you! BlockHeads Clash brings the player into a creative and colorful world that not only looks good, but is actually fun to play.

With up to 4 players and over 12 stages in 3 worlds, it’s a quality game. The presentation from the music to all the menus, fit the style of the game world. Even though the characters are all made out of blocks, they are unique and look great.

The gameplay itself consists of the player smashing their Cube guy’s head on the floor to knock down their enemies or break crates. Every time they smash their head the Cube guy’s energy level goes down. This provides an interesting twist to the gameplay as it limits the amount of times you can smash the Cube guy’s head before dieing. Of course occasionally the enemies and crates have energy boosts.

The stages are divided up into sections, where the player has to find the location of a key to unlock a certain door. The keys can be found by smashing enemies, crates, or solving puzzles. The puzzles in the game are very simplistic. Most of them include some form of button that the player has to find and smash.

The most amazing thing is that this game can run extremely well even on old machines. Yes I’m talking about Windows 2000 on a 1ghz processor!

This is an absolute charming game that I highly recommend to anyone who loves old school platform/action-adventure games. Its simplistic controls make it easy to play for all ages. For under $10 it’s a great bargain that is available on both the Mac and the PC.

Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock (+)

“When are we gonna get another case, Sam? Surely the local lawbreakers must miss our esoteric brand of personalized criminal justice!”

It has been a while, but Sam & Max, the self-titled freelance police, are finally on the job again. After a 1993 Sam & Max Hit the Road, the franchise has scraped past a Fox Kids cartoon show in 1997, and the canceled Sam & Max Plunge Through Space of 2002, and then again in 2004 when Sam & Max: Freelance Police was canceled by Lucas Arts, Sam & Max: Culture Shock has finally arrived.

Sam & Max: Culture Shock is the first installment of a 6-episode series by developer Telltale Games. The episode-format is supposed to offer short games released much more often, and gamers can purchase the individual episode or the season. After all the struggle to produce a Sam & Max game, and the culmination of Telltale Games’ episode format, how is the game itself?

It’s ridiculous. Appropriately ridiculous. And pretty darn good. This point-and-click detective adventure game has a beautiful shading and visual system designed to make it appropriately feel like you’re playing a cartoon, has a great jazz musical style that puts you in the mood to solve ridiculous mysteries, and is filled to it’s short episodic brim with the traditional esoteric dialogue so indispensably vital to the Sam & Max experience.

The characters really drive the story and gameplay, as each action triggers a short dialogue, which never fails to disappoint. Sam, the anthropomorphic dog dressed in a detective suit usually delivers long-winded mock-noir fiction sentences, such as “Jiminy Christmas Eve in a padlocked sweatbox”some misguidedly ballsy felons’ napped our phone!” Max, a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing,” is his crazed violent sidekick, who usually responds with short, often violent, retort.

Visually, the game is stunning. Most screenshots do real justice to the concept, but to see it in motion is beautiful. The voices are perfect, and my favorite part is the audio syncing, as nothing gets older faster than a game heavy in dialogue with terrible character face animations. By incorporating the audio so well into the visual world, especially with the music, the world is easy to get into.

The puzzles are pretty simple, but there were a few that I had to really think about. Most importantly though, the game plays like a TV show, because there aren’t any puzzles that are going to stump you so much that you can’t play through the whole episode in one sitting.

On the negative side, it was pretty quick, but that’s appropriate for the cost ($8.95 per episode, or the complete season for $34.95). After having played it there is no real replay value, but that’s true to the adventure genre. One of the great things about it though, is that there are 5 episodes coming out, in the first week each month starting January and ending in May.

Overall, I’d have to give this one a definite plus. Check out some of the gameplay footage, which will give you a good idea of how charming this little diversion can be.