Space Empires V

Space Empires V is the culmination of 4X turn-based space strategy games. 4X, of course, refers to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate, in this case, a space empire game. Pretty obvious from the title, guys. Essentially, it’s in the style of the Civilization series.

Though I usually prefer Real-Time Strategy, I really liked this game as well. Beginning with a single homeworld, the player can expand throughout their star system, and then into the surrounding ones, all the while researching new technology and weapons that allow them to control their emergent Space Empire. The customization is probably the greatest feature but also the thing that most sharply brings up the learning curve.

Its easy to build ships from your build queues, but in order to do so, you have to design them first. The design manager allows the player to select a hull chassis, and then from there, add on whatever components are necessary to make the ship run, like crew quarters or life support, and then other components to serve the ships purpose”perhaps a satellite bay, or armor and weapon systems. There is an autocomplete feature, which allows you to select a ship, and then select its purpose and the game will automatically complete the ship with whatever components you have available, but I’ve found that you can be more successful designing them yourself.

The component idea is a really outstanding feature of this game. There are so many components and different kinds of weapons, armor, shields, and types of research that it may be a little dizzying at first. Once in the swing of it, though, it allows for very varied gameplay.

Aside from the component system, another one of the remarkable features of the game is the real-time combat. Once units enter combat, you can choose to go to tactical, much in the style of Lords of the Realm II, and use your ships in real time to combat enemies. The ships animations are very good even though they fly on a 2D plane.

From a graphical standpoint, the game doesn’t rate so high. The game actually is in full 3D, though all the gameplay takes place on a 2D field (Probably for the betterwith everything else you’ll be thinking of, its much easier to simplify game controls and spend time on your strategy). The illustrations and 3D models of most of the ships are a little sub-par. The icons for each component look pretty good, but while the models for the ships look good the textures kind of bring it down.

There are a lot of races in the game, and depending on what gametype you’d choose to play you can even customize your own, choosing specific race features, bonuses, and weaknesses to customize your people. Another fun thing you can do in the game is invade and conquer your opponents planets, which allows you to colonize, for instance, a gas-giant when you have only the technology to colonize Rock planets. This will usually result in a planet populated with a different race, so you can always choose to ship in some of your own kind, or let them live on their own.

There is also an extensive online community which discusses and mods this game, and available is a lot of user-created content. Coupled with the component system, the full 3D graphics, and the advanced alliance system (ranging from trade agreements to full partnerships), and the technology, I give this game a plus. Its fun to get on here for a couple of hours, play through a game you’ve been running for a few hours from last night, then come back to it again in a week and play a few more hours. Its rather addicting.

Gears of War (+)

PLAY THIS GAME. That said, I thought I may have been a little behind the curve, as I assumed most people would have already played through it.

Though you, loyal readership, may have, I was alarmingly surprised to find that many of my friends have not yet even seen it. If you don’t have an Xbox 360, you better make friends who do, even if its just to check it out. This game is pretty high up there.

Thinking back, Halo, and then Halo 2, have pretty much been the guys-hanging-out games to play. For a brief time it was Super Smash Brothers, yet somehow we played less and less and more and more Halo. Here’s a whole new animal for you to sink your teeth into.

The first thing that catches your eye, quite literally, is the amazing visual quality of the game. It uses the Unreal Engine 3, and takes full advantage of the amazing power of the 360. Seemed like Microsoft bashers were fine in saying that Halo was the only reason that the Xbox was close to good; well, in this generation, I would say that at the moment, Gears of War is keeping the 360 buoyant as ever I haven’t heard much bashing whatsoever. Graphically, its outstanding the level of detail, grime, and gore is amazing. Whether you’re sawing through someone with the chainsaw bayonet (Yes, its better even than you would imagine!) or curb-stomping a felled enemy, the game is greasy and gritty. And bloody. Deliciously so, especially if you’re into blood and gore, and amazing graphics.

Gameplay is quite satisfying. Teamwork is a big part, whether you’re working cooperatively with another player, or just with the AI. The enemies are pretty clever, and I think the games success is due in large part to the difficulty of the campaign they were very right in making the normal or medium setting hardcore. Insane is a step up, but both settings test your skill throughout each area. Casual is nice too, if you want to sit down with your dad and play for a bit.

The element of third-person agility moves isn’t new, but its pretty darn great in this game. Using the a-button, you can duck behind cover, jump over barricades, charge, and perform dives and rolls. One difficulty in it is that it’s the same button to run as it is to grab cover, which can be irritating when it comes to close combat, but hey. I guess I don’t have anything else to say about that.

There is some great online play, but you may run into trouble if you’re used to fielding a team of 8 or so playing Halo online. Gears of War only supports up to 8 players max in a game, meaning 4 on 4 action. The multiplayer levels aren’t really big enough to support more, but so far I’ve been pretty satisfied. It supports voice chat, individualized matchmaking, recorded statistics, earn achievements, and personalize gamer profiles.

The music of the game is pretty good too. Sometimes this can really drag down games, but with a healthy mix of orchestral space-opera type music and heavy lead guitar, one might be reminded of the effectiveness of the Halo theme, later featured on guitar in the second installment.

This is the only console game I’ve ever played that made me actually consider purchasing a console for the express purpose of playing this single game. The only other game that came close was Doom 3, on the Xbox. Seriously guys if you hate on Xbox, this might change your mind; if you have an Xbox 360, this is WORTH the 60 bucks; if your buddy has a 360, you know what he’s getting for the holidays. You might consider handing it over to him as an early gift, though, and GET YOUR GEAR ON.

Let’s Go to Prison

Remember the previews for Let’s Go to Prison? The Warden says that if anyone is innocent, they should step forward, and they can go free. One poor soul chooses to do so, and gets a gun butt to the face. Pretty much the character of the whole movie.

“We should be cellmates. I don’t snore, and I’m a quiet masturbator. Hell, I’ll even give you the top bunk.”

Though the movie is pretty crude, its definitely not as vulgar as I expected. It has a healthy mix of what one would expect as prison humor, and amazing performances by supporting roles. Chi McBridge’s performance as ‘Barry,’ the huge “black dude” inmate, has such heart that its impossible NOT to fall in love with him: unless, I suppose, its you he is wooing. I kid you not: “Prepare to be woo-ed, by the master.”

Another great supporting role is that of the Warden, played by Dylan Baker. His cold demeanor, coupled with his dry ‘humor’ makes this guy funny because he’s NOT if you know what I mean. I mean honestly, what a dick.

The writing is pretty good, even though the premise is pretty silly. When criminal John Lyshitski finally gets out of prison another time, he goes after the judge who’s sent him there, time after time. When he finds that the judge is dead, he goes after the judge’s **bleep** son, gets him sent to jail, and decides to commit a crime to follow him in. When a surprising turn of events turn Nelson Biederman the IVth into boss of the slammer, things are a little less fun for John Lyshitski.

With good acting, great dialogue, and some great plot twists, this movie is one to stop by and check out, even if you’re not running there NOW. Go see it with some friends, and hey: if your babe can handle The Pick of Destiny, go ahead and make a date night to see Let’s Go to Prison. You know you want to.

The Pick of Destiny

The tagline: The greatest motion picture of all time. I think it pretty much lives up to it, if you narrow the category to the greatest Tenacious D motion picture of all time.

That said, the movie was great. If you’re a Tenacious D fan, this movie has everything that you’ll expect from a Tenacious D movie. That is to say, if there were a Tenacious D movie, this is exactly what it would be like. Which it is.

With a whole new lineup of songs, you won’t be bored by listening to the tracks from the album you may have already heard a thousand times. Though there are a few teasers alluding to the previous album. I don’t want to ruin it for you, though.

Definitely a soundtrack you’d want to get your hands on. That aside, Jack Black does his usual, which pleases the fans but may irritate those specific people who don’t specifically like that guy. So don’t go to the movie with those boring people. Kyle Gass does a great job on-screen, and his acting is fabulous. Though, with those two, I’m pretty sure they aren’t acting too much.

As far as the writing, I really liked the plot. It delves into the fictional creation of the band, which is an entire great subplot in and of itself. After discovering that a single pick has been used by all the Rock Masters, the duo embark on a quest to acquire this item so that they, too, can become great. I don’t want to spoil too much, because so much of comedies especially ones like these are pretty fantastic when you’re surprised by the absurdity.

I will say though, that Ben Stiller makes a worthwhile appearance, and that’s pretty fun. He does a good job. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this as a movie to see when you’ve got the guys together, but you might want to avoid this one as a date movie: unless you two are cool like that.

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.