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Well, during the labor day weekend, I dove head first into a decent amount of games. Now, I actually have a decent sized column in who knows how long. Beta testing, a new review, news and more. It’s all here in this edition of Game On!

First, I have to say that, even though it’s in the beta stages, the CALL OF DUTY 4 multiplayer is shaping up to be one of the best online gaming experiences coming out this holiday season. Not only does it run at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second (even in beta form!) but there’s a huge amount of improvements and features to keep fans coming back and playing more.

cod4_1.jpgFirstly, there’re the new weapons. From modern AK 47s and Carbines, to the lovely RPG rocket launchers, there’s a load of destruction to go around. The graphics here look amazingly sharp, and kills come fast and with greater detail than in previous iterations. The main appeal, however, to the multiplayer game is the new perk system. As you make kills in a match, you earn XP, which moves you up in rank and allows for more features for your selected warrior, such as the ability to create you own class, customize weapons and more. Plus, for strings of uninterrupted (AKA, no dying yourself) kills, you get certain features you can use during a match. 3 kills gets you a UAV radar, to find where your foes are hiding, 5 kills sends in an air strike, and 7 kills lets loose a helicopter, blasting forth and racking up kills for you. Sadly, my kill as a player has only granted me ONE air strike in my two weeks in the beta, but man is it ever cool. If there’s one complaint I would have about the weapons, is that some of the sniper rifles don’t seem to be as accurate as they could be, or as powerful. I hit a guy with a good, solid headshot, and it took two more before he went down. Still, most of the other weapons perform accurately and are huge amount of fun to use.

As I said, however, all this leads into the perk system. By gaining the XP and ranking up, you can customize your class to include some very cool options. Firstly, you can outfit your weapon with scopes, grips or camo (and unlock more by completing challenges, like 25 headshots with a certain weapon) as well as choose a side arm and special grenade (stun, flash or smoke). You also have three “perk slots”, which each have their own variety of features. Perk One allows you to choose to add C4 to your arsenal for remote detonation, three special grenades instead of one (unless it’s smoke), the afore mentioned RPG ad more as you progress. Also, if you choose to outfit your heavy assault rifle with a grenade launcher (otherwise known as the noob tube) this takes up Perk One. Perk Two is more for the conditioning of your character, such as extra health with “Juggernaut”, higher explosive damage, more stopping power with bullets and the like. Perk Three is my favorite, which features some awesome game enhancements like Steady Aim, Deep Impact (to allow shooting through walls), as well as the fan favorite “Last Stand”. When killed with last stand, you have a few brief moments (unless shot while in Last Stand) to take aim at your attacker using only your pistol to try to bring them down, or take the “coward’s way out” and derive them of their XP points for the kill.

The three maps offered give players a great variety and fairly large locales in which to battle. Overgrown, which takes place in a farmland is ideal for snipers. Vacant, with its abandoned buildings and run down back alleys is a great run and gun area. Crash, the best of all, features a downed Black Hawk helicopter in the center of a village square, and features ample high and low ground in which to fight. There’s your typical Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch (Free for All) options, as well as Team Tactical (small Team Deathmatch and Search and Destroy missions with 2v2 or 3v3) and Team Objective, which offers either Domination (a capture the flag variation with respawns) or Search and Destroy (with no respawns).

The perk system is definitely what will keep folks playing the game, just to see what more can be unlocked. The beta went up for the public last Monday (press got in a week before, but I suck so much at these type of games online, it took me this long to write this), but closed temporarily to allow the huge amount of folks who signed up to play. Sign up for another will be soon, according to Activision, and hopeful players can go to www.CharlieOscarDelta.com and sign up to get a token to the beta on Xbox Live. So far, here’s another game who’s experience (this time in online) is making me say “Halo Who?”

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Speaking of maps, there’s a bunch of free ones out monday. The GEARS OF WAR “Hidden Fronts” pack, normally $10, is free starting today, and the first GHOST RECON ADVANCED WARFIGHTER 2 “Throwback Pack” dropped to free as well. Hell, “Throwback Pack 2” just dropped, featuring maps from GHOST RECON SUMMIT STRIKE and the original GRAW, and is free as well…that’s like, $30 worth of maps for the sweet price of FREE! HAPPY LABOR DAY WEEKEND!

WE CAN BE HEROES

heroesofmana1.jpgThe once revered MANA series has had its share of troubles lately. With every subsequent sequel, prequel or whichever, they try to re-invent the style of gameplay. DAWN OF MANA didn’t work as an action RPG because it had a crazy level system where your max level was 4, and it reset with every subsequent stage you completed, and the camera REALLY sucked. Prior to that CHILDREN OF MANA attempted a traditional RPG style, but lost out, frankly, due to the game being far too boring. Now, HEROES OF MANA attempts an RTS style, and while it works for the most part, it too has it’s problems.

For the most part, the traditional staples of an RTS are there. Bases to create different types of troops, scouts, gathers and the like. Assigning tasks with the stylus works well, as circling troops to move them as a unit it very user friendly. Attacks are automated, for the most part, all it takes is leading the troops to the battle, and letting them battle. Sadly, this is also where the game’s short coming come in. A lot of the time, if the path to battle (or rather, anywhere) isn’t a straight line, one or more of your troops will get lost along the way, and you’ll have to wrangle them in far too much. Also, certain enemy types are susceptible to opposing types of your troops, like a flying attacker can be brought down by a missile attacker, but can’t hurt a heavy unit, or the like. Unfortunately, you often can’t tell what kind of foe you’re fighting right away, so you may be wasting time attacking a foe who’s going to do double damage on you while you’re doing ½ of what you could to them, with no way to recognize this.

Most of the frustration comes from the attacks themselves, however. While most of your battles are fairly matched, some of your troops won’t attack at all, just standing just outside of where a ranged attacker is, not fighting, but taking damage. Once you wrestle control to that troop and get them involved, their health is so depleted they die anyway, and you must restart the mission.

Still, the game does keep it as basic as possible, so even neophytes to the RTS style will get the knack of controlling and ordering troops, making bases, and more. The graphic style is also quite nice, with a certain mix of old school sprites and nicely animated cut scenes between stages. The stylus control gives a certain amount of precision, but again, there’s a bit of frustration to be had AFTER it’s done, when the troops, despite you orders, take a mind of their own.

It’s not broken, it’s just not a perfect mix. And while it does have some nice things going for it, sadly, the bad outweighs the good. It’s something to try if you have to have every chapter in the MANA universe, and it’s beginner style may appeal to those new to RTS’, but it’s far from perfect presentation and frustrations may keep most from playing too long.

One Gamer’s Opinion:

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THE GAME ON! RATING SYSTEM

 

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Ratings From Greatest to Least:

Kick Ass, Right On, Okay, Eh, and Stinker (aka CRAPTACULAR)

 

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