"Batman: Arkham Asylum is a game where all the individual elements, story, gameplay, design, music and voice acting all combine superbly to create an extraordinary experience," said David Stephen, Managing Director of Feral Interactive.
The RPG genre has evolved quite a bit since its inception. To many of its fans, however, not all of the changes it's seen have been welcome ones. "Streamlining" has become a dirty word to many, as the roles of methodical strategic combat, statistical analysis, and character customization are downplayed, or have vanished altogether. Avadon: The Black Fortress, the latest release from prolific indie RPG developer Spiderweb Software, acts as an answer to the growing trend of streamlining RPGs. It may not be much to look at, with visuals easily outpaced by genre entries from ten years ago, but it can still be every bit as arresting and evocative as a modern, triple-A epic. And frequently, even more so.
The game's world is a tumultuous one. The Pact, an alliance of convenience forged between the five central nations, is at constant war with the neighboring Farlands. The center of The Pact's political and military power comes from the titular black tower of Avadon, ruled over by the ruthless leader known only as Redbeard. This is where your story begins.
Frozen Synapse plays like a futuristic board game lit by pulsing neon. It doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping like big-budget action games, but if you’re the type of player who likes to sit back and out-think your opponent with the leisure that only turn-based games allow, there is plenty here for you to get excited about.
The obejct of the game is to battle an opponent; the missions or matches take place between two players on a randomly generated map viewed from a bird's-eye perspective. Every side is given a number of units, each defined by the weapon it’s carrying; a machine gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, sniper rifle or rocket launcher. There are a variety of goals, like infiltrating/protecting a given area, or assassinating/escorting a specific unit, but invariably every scenario comes down to outmaneuvering your opponent, getting the drop on him before he gets the drop on you.
Don’t be fooled by the machine guns and slick visual design. Frozen Synapse has an old school pace and feel. Very old school—we’re talking chess, or any number of German board games. The point of the game is to think and test out many possible strategies using the game’s robust and ingenious user interface before finally committing to a plan. If you’re not prepared to endure slow, meticulous plotting, you’re not prepared for this game.
Runespell: Overture (available via Steam) is the latest game to emerge from the trend of infusing an RPG with puzzle DNA. Upon first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking it was simply Puzzle Quest, but with poker substituted for gem matching. There's little point in denying Overture's inspiration, but that doesn't mean that it has nothing new to offer. While it may not capture the same spark as the original puzzle-RPG, it forges its own path enough to warrant a second look.
You play as the Changeling, a mysterious cloaked being who emerges in 11th Century England after apparently winning first prize in a Soul Reaver look-a-like contest. Having lost its memories, the Changeling ventures across frozen mountains searching for meaning, accompanied by a surprisingly deep backstory and colorful, though oddly anachronistic, characters, and engaging in plenty of card combat along the way.
Think of browser-based games and your mind probably automatically turns to Zynga. What it probably doesn't imagine is a fully-3D Star Trek MMO with tactical combat; an in depth story penned by Lee Sheldon, one of the series' writers; and an authentic visual design straight out of the TV series thanks to collaborations with Michael and Denise Okuda, both of whom played a prominent role in Star Trek's distinctive look.
Valve this week launched a beta test of a new Steam feature: Steam Trading. The new facility offers the ability for players to trade Team Fortress 2 items and Steam Gifts at this time, with a mind to rolling out the program across Portal 2 and third party games over the next few months.
The trading of Team Fortress 2 items is relatively similar to the current in-game implementation, with the difference being that it's no longer necessary to launch Team Fortress 2 to complete the transaction. Trades are now carried out either via Group Chat or the Steam Friends list. The new functionality also adds the ability for players to "tag" their friends with one or more keywords, so it'll be easy for players to organize their friends list into players they know well, people they've played with before and people they've just traded with.
Trading of Steam Gifts is a little different to item trading: any game that you purchase as a gift from the Steam Store or receive as an Extra Copy can be traded with other users, so long as the Gift has never been "opened"—i.e. played. Extra Copies of games are usually acquired when purchasing compilations containing individual items that players already own—often these sit gathering virtual dust until players are able to find someone who doesn't already own, say, Half-Life 2. Now it'll be possible to trade these games as a commodity and exchange them with other users either for a different game or TF2 virtual items. Over time, as more games support this program, it'll be possible to exchange games for virtual items in all manner of titles—perhaps even in Steam's growing Free to Play section.
Even the most blinkered of Apple skeptics will admit that the rise of the iPhone—and its close siblings, the iPod touch and iPad—as been nothing short of meteoric. Since the inception of the original 2G iPhone back in 2007, Apple has shifted an incredible 190 million units of its combined iOS range, making it one of the most successful platforms of the modern era, and the company recently overtook Google to become the most valuable brand in the world.
One area where Apple has enjoyed particular (and some would argue unexpected) success is in the distribution of games. The iTunes Store now boasts over 350,000 items available to download, a large percentage of which are focused solely on finger-friendly entertainment. Titles such as Angry Birds (), Fruit Ninja (), and Flight Control () have sold in the millions, making gamers out of people who ordinarily wouldn't even dream of picking up a traditional controller, let alone purchase a portable console.
Apple's conquest of the interactive entertainment arena shows no sign of relenting, either. Recently, the company acquired the services of former Nintendo UK Head of Communications Rob Saunders and Activision's Nick Grange. While neither individual is involved explicitly with games development—their expertise lies in the field of public relations—such bold moves are nonetheless a clear indication that Apple is keen to take control of its own destiny when it comes to gaming, and could hint at a wider attack which will leave stalwarts such as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft reeling.