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Call of Duty: Black Ops First Look

By Shaun McInnis, GameSpotPosted May 28, 2010 9:05 am PT

We travel by SR-71 Blackbird to 1960s-era Russia, then make a brief stop in Vietnam.

The most recent trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops bridges its two halves with a very serious voice uttering the line, "We live in a world where everything you know is wrong." It's a bold but not entirely universal statement--you probably know for a fact that trying to fist fight a shark is an objectively terrible idea--but there's truth in that proclamation when it comes to the military history that the Call of Duty series has long steeped itself in. With Black Ops, Treyarch may not exactly be exposing all the secrets in American military history, but the developer is nonetheless focused on exploring some of the shadowy covert operations that went down during the height of the Cold War, in addition to some of the more famous conflicts of that era, such as Vietnam. The game appears to be a mixture of the frantic run-and-gun action the franchise is known for and a generous sprinkling of new gameplay options. Treyarch has plucked those gameplay options from this period in history to help paint a better picture of what went on both in and out of the public eye.

We were recently treated to a pair of demos showing two very different sides of Black Ops. The first was a slow and deliberate trek through the snowy mountains of Russia circa 1968. It began with a first-person view of a pilot boarding an SR-71 Blackbird aircraft in a dusty, windswept air force base in Northern California. The plane starts a booming sprint down the runway, the player pulls back on the left analog stick, and one flash forward later, the SR-71 is high above the earth ready to do some reconnaissance above enemy territory.

The player is shown a screen with a rough outline of a road, some buildings, and a few bright blue blips moving in a group. It turns out that these blips are actually ground troops, and it's up to the player--sitting in an aircraft capable of flying 80,000 feet above the earth while wearing what's essentially an astronaut outfit--to direct these troops on where to go, almost as if this were a real-time strategy game. But these commands aren't just for show. Where you send these blips on the screen actually determines how you approach the next sequence of the mission. In a matter of moments, the game cuts to those men on the ground as they're suddenly greeted by enemy soldiers.

This next part picked up with a first-person view of someone hiding deep in the woods under the cover of branches and leaves while a Russian patrol walked by unaware, no more than 10 feet away. The player and his squad then jumped out of the bushes--a crossbow in hand--and began moving down a steep, snowy hill. After repelling down a sheer cliffside using the two triggers to alternate holding and releasing the rope, they breached the windows of a Soviet communications station to start a good old-fashioned Call of Duty-style shootout. The breach itself was especially impressive, with the crew repelling down the outside of the window before jumping back and kicking in the windows in slow motion.

What happened next was familiar Call of Duty punctuated by shiny new ways to deliver hurt. The player used a combination of '60s-era automatic weaponry to dispatch frantic enemies when things were hot and sniped them from afar with a deadly silent crossbow when it was quiet. One of the new features is the inclusion of alternate weapon types. In the case of the crossbow, it can fire timed arrows affixed with timed explosives. The onscreen result is an enemy stuck in the leg with an arrow flashing a bright green light for two seconds before exploding and taking out any nearby friends with him.

This Russian level--dubbed WMD--ended with the player and his squadmates escaping out onto a snowy ledge overlooking a huge abyss just in time for an avalanche to start rumbling in the distance. They dashed down the ledge but soon ran out of footing, reaching a point overlooking nothing but clouds below. With no other choice, the player took a running start and leapt from the ledge. The sound of sweeping wind quickly faded away while the main character's heavy breathing rose. With the ground quickly approaching, the screen cut to black and the demo ended.

The second demo was a marked departure from the first. This much was obvious from the title screen, which introduced the level as a sequence called "Slaughterhouse" set in Hue City, Vietnam. The action began with the player in a helicopter above a chaotic warzone splashed with an eerie reddish hue from all the fires and flares in the area. Things got ugly in a hurry as the helicopter that the player was repelling from got shot down, sending everyone falling down into the building below.

Inside, they managed to pick up a few combat shotguns equipped with incendiary shells. This helped the crew tear through waves of enemy soldiers with fiery shotgun blasts that looked more like a malfunctioning racecar tail pipe than any shotgun we've seen in Call of Duty before. The rest of the action in this level was just as over the top as the weaponry. It felt a lot like an early level from Modern Warfare 2 where players scrambled their way through Iraqi buildings fighting insurgents; only this time, it was enemy Viet Cong with their sights set on both you and any civilians trying to flee the premises.

Outside, the player grabbed a radio from an injured marine and used it to call in a helicopter strike against a series of nearby buildings where enemies were terrorizing the characters from balconies and rooftops. The action moved at a fast clip, with the main character weaving in and out of demolished buildings under that unsettling red sky while occasionally stopping to call in another chopper strike. This outdoor section looked like absolute chaos, with building rubble showering down onto the streets, explosions all around, and an enemy soldier taunting you over a loudspeaker all the while.

One of the things that grabbed us about both demos was the chatter between characters. Specifically, the playable character has a voice for the first time ever in a Call of Duty game. You're no longer playing a mute supersoldier but someone capable of chiming in with his own thoughts and ideas about what's going down. We're eager to see how Treyarch handles the storytelling in Black Ops, considering that Modern Warfare 2's plot tended to veer out of control for much of the adventure--much more so than previous games.

All things considered, Black Ops looks impressive. Of course, it is a Call of Duty game, so that's probably not much of a surprise. But the varied pacing, new gameplay features, and fresh setting make for an intriguing combination. We're looking forward to seeing what else Treyarch has up its sleeve leading up to Black Ops' November 9 release date
READ MORE - Call of Duty: Black Ops First Look

GTAIV Ballad of Gay Tony Hints & Cheats


Cheat Codes

Dial these codes into your cell phone in game to gain the effect, go to the cheat menu in your cell phone to use previously entered cheats whenever.

Cheat Effect
227-555-9666 Spawn Bullet GT
359-555-7272 Parachute
276-555-2666 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 276-555-2666 end_of_the_skype_highlighting Super Punch (exploding punches)
486-555-2526 Sniper rifle bullets explode
482-555-0100 Health, Armor and Advanced Weapons
362-555-0100 Health & Armour
486-555-0100 Weapons (Advanced) (New Weapons)
486-555-0150 Weapons (Poor)
267-555-0100 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 267-555-0100 end_of_the_skype_highlighting Remove Wanted Level
267-555-0150 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 267-555-0150 end_of_the_skype_highlighting Raise Wanted Level
468-555-0100 Change Weather
359-555-0100 Spawn Annihilator
938-555-0100 Spawn Jetmax
625-555-0100 Spawn NRG-900
625-555-0150 Spawn Sanchez
227-555-0142 Spawn Cognoscenti
227-555-0168 Spawn Super GT
227-555-0147 Spawn Turismo
227-555-0175 Spawn Comet
272-555-8265 APC(Tank)
625-555-3273 Vader(Bike)
625-555-0200 Akuma (Bike)
938-555-0150 Floater(Boat)
359-555-2899 Buzzard(Helicopter)
227-555-0100 Spawns a FIB Buffalo
READ MORE - GTAIV Ballad of Gay Tony Hints & Cheats

Medal of Honor First Look


Hearing executive producer Greg Goodrich describe things, you'd wonder why a developer would want to use military advisors at all. He had just finished showing us a demo for the upcoming Medal of Honor reboot. It was a tense scene from early in the game--a group of Navy SEALs prowling though the Afghan mountains under cover of darkness. More than anything else, the sequence seemed intended to show the surgical precision with which these elite Tier 1 soldiers operated. Characters slid from one al Qaeda campfire to the next at a pace that was nothing short of brisk, dropping enemies before they heard the M4s go off. It was a ruthless level of efficiency on display, and it seemed that the only things keeping the player from falling behind--or off a cliff--were the objectives whispered from his squadmates. So, of course, when EA Los Angeles showed the demo to real-life SEALs, their only feedback was that they'd never speak a single word during a mission like this one. Silence is golden.

Such are the challenges of developing a game where the primary goal, according to Goodrich, is authenticity. There's a difficult balance to strike between what paints the most realistic picture of special military operations and what works as a fully functioning video game. Finding that balance has meant developers have had navigate the murky waters of a give-and-take relationship with the very Tier 1 operators depicted in the campaign. Sometimes, the result has been taking things out of the game that these elite soldiers can't afford to make public, and at other times--like the example mentioned above--the development team has had to politely disregard feedback in order to keep the game playable.

But for all the hiccups or roadblocks in this relationship, Goodrich says the developers have been able to draw from a mountain of helpful advice and stories. Case in point: The aforementioned demo is based on a real military operation, described to EA LA by some of the SEALs involved in it. It's the night before a major offensive, and the plans call for a group of army ranger cargo helicopters to pass through a particularly dangerous mountain range in Afghanistan. As part of a SEAL unit, you're sent in beforehand to eliminate a number of targets to give those Chinook helicopters a safer flight. An easier way of putting it might be this: You need to soften them up a little.

Goodrich likes to use the catchy phrase "scalpel and sledgehammer" to talk about missions like these. You have to lurk through the darkness to methodically take down unsuspecting enemies, and once you've loudly announced your presence by blowing up their antiaircraft guns, there's suddenly AK-47 gunfire cutting through the nighttime quiet like an angry swarm of bees. According to Goodrich, that's how real life Tier 1 operations work. At any moment, you can go from precise and deliberate to utter chaos; thus, keeping your cool in those jarring transitions is what matters most.

Fortunately, you've got advanced technology on your side. Toward the end of the demo, you see a fleet of enemy trucks coming up the pass. It looks as though these heavily armed vehicles are going to spell failure for your mission. But if you flip down your night-vision goggles to get a better look, you'll see a flashing strobe light on each truck. Off in the distance, a friendly airship fires a missile at this caravan and immediately wipes it out of the picture. Without any context, it seems like you've just been rescued by the military equivalent of magic and pixie dust. But as it so happens, those strobes were carefully planted by a different playable unit in an earlier level. That gradual intertwining of various Tier 1 missions is a key part of Medal of Honor's narrative. And as an example that "narrative" doesn't have to equal "fiction," Goodrich quickly points out that those strobes were planted in the real-life mission as well.

That's one of the more obvious ways EA LA has drawn from this military advisory relationship. After the demo wrapped up, Goodrich told us about some of the more subtle bits of feedback that have been incorporated into the game. If you glance at the cover art, you'll see a real-life Tier 1 operator sporting a thick, impossibly manly beard. He's not just there for looks. This soldier is responsible for switching up one of the most overlooked parts of a first-person shooter: the hands holding the gun. When EA LA brought him footage of handgun combat, he abruptly noted that the player was holding his gun like a cop. That led to the realization that various units within the military will often employ different gun holds from one another. This is all a long-winded way of saying that you'll see different hand configurations on similar weapons as you bounce between military branches in the game. It's one of those subtle things most people probably won't notice, but it's an interesting example of the team's focus on details.

Driving all of this is a heavily modified version of the Unreal Engine. Medal of Honor's matter-of-fact presentation is a far cry from recent EA games that have used this tech to render highly stylized visuals (think Mass Effect 2), but the art design isn't without its striking ambitions. If you climb your way up one of the game's mountain perches, you'll be greeted with an impressive vista showing the sprawling valleys and peaks of Afghanistan's mountain ranges. These views capture a nice sense of scale, which should hopefully give the final game the feeling that you're just one man--however highly trained--in a much larger battle.

At this point, we're looking forward to seeing some of the other parts of the war in Afghanistan that this latest Medal of Honor will seek to portray. We're told that the final game will offer up missions that are set in dusty mountains, urban slums, and even some lush environments that few would recognize as Afghanistan. In the meantime, you can expect Medal of Honor to arrive this fall.

READ MORE - Medal of Honor First Look

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty Updated Hands-On - More Campaign, Beta Updates


If you're reading this, you have some idea of what Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is. It's the first of three chapters of Starcraft II--the sequel to one of the most popular and influential real-time strategy games ever, Starcraft. Starcraft II is currently in a multiplayer beta specifically built for testing balance between the game's three famous factions: Terrans (human marines), Protoss (ancient alien lorekeepers), and Zerg (a genocidal swarm of insectlike aliens). During a recent press event, we received an update on the game's beta status and also played through three additional missions in the game's single-player campaign--and we have much to report. Please be aware that this story may contain minor story spoilers.

Starcraft II's development team discusses the game's progress and its single-player campaign.

The beta itself, for those who aren't keeping track, currently offers only one-on-one or two-on-two head-to-head multiplayer matches online. Blizzard lead designer Dustin Browder was quick to point out that this is because the beta isn't intended to be a full-on playable demo for the purpose of giving players a sense of how fun the entire Starcraft II experience will be, but rather, it's for balance testing only. Browder did suggest that the beta team is making much better progress than he'd originally hoped for and is now focusing on nitty-gritty details that will make each individual matchup great, such as making Zerg vs. Zerg matches more interesting.

However, the designer did point out that because Starcraft is an internationally well-known product with beta testers all over the world, there still seem to be gray areas in which it isn't quite clear whether certain factions or units are overpowered, or one group of players knows the game better than another. As an example, Browder cited the current state of the beta in Asia, where the Zerg are the most popular race by far and are considered to be somewhat overpowered, while in North America, the Zerg are far less popular and are considered to be underpowered. According to the designer, ironing out those details will make all the difference to the final game's balance and gameplay. Browder also gave an update on the next rumored beta content patch, which should have the map editor and possibly stronger computer AI--the patch should ideally be out by the end of the month but "may slip to a bit later."

After being briefed on the beta, we hunkered down in front of a fairly early part of the single-player campaign to play through a few more missions. As we've related in our previous coverage, the single-player campaign in Wings of Liberty tells the continuing story of the original Starcraft Terran hero, Jim Raynor, who is now considered to be an intergalactic outlaw with a bounty on his head placed by the evil Terran Dominion. Raynor continues his fight against the Dominion, rejoined by his contemporaries Matt Horner and Tychus Findlay on his ship, the Hyperion.

The ship works as a hub area in the game from which Raynor can commission mercenaries at the cantina. He can also purchase single-player-only upgrades for his units at the armory, which come in the form of two different upgrades for infantry, vehicles, and structures--a cheaper, lower-level addition and a more-expensive (and more-powerful) addition. For example, the Terran bunker structure that can be garrisoned by up to four low-level marines to take cover while unloading their combined fire can be upgraded with a relatively cheap armor bonus, as well as a much more expensive, but very worthwhile, ability to garrison up to six marines instead of four.

In addition, the Hyperion lets Raynor conduct either Protoss or Zerg "research" in the ship's lab. Research is powered by research points--which come from either Protoss artifacts or Zerg DNA that appear in certain missions as optional goals. Each line of research (Protoss or Zerg) is tiered from five points up to 25 points and offers two-sided choices at each tier. For instance, the first tier of Protoss research, once you've recovered five points' worth of artifacts, will let you add either a permanent, single-player-only bonus of 5 percent damage to infantry upgrades purchased at the engineering bay structure or a permanent, single-player-only bonus of 5 percent protection to any infantry armor bonuses purchased at the engineering bay. At each tier of research, you can pick only one of the two choices available, at which point the second becomes locked out. Browder suggests that by the time players get through the single-player campaign for the first time, they should be able to unlock at least 50 percent of the game's research upgrades and about 80 percent of the game's credit-costly unit upgrades.

At the opening of the campaign, Raynor makes the shocking discovery that not only have the Zerg returned to mount a new invasion, but they also appear to be led by Raynor's former comrade, Sarah Kerrigan (now known as Queen of Blades after her body and mind became infested by the Zerg). In our previous time with the campaign, we had just run a mission for Gabriel Tosh, a disgraced former Ghost (the infamous Terran stealth corps). At the start of our second session, we found that Tosh had made his way onto Raynor's ship, the Hyperion, and was offering bounties for another mission.

Raynor and Zeratul enjoy an all-too-brief reunion.

One of the two missions we were able to play was Bel'Shir, an ancient Protoss holy planet with deposits of "terrazine gas," a mysterious substance that Tosh is desperate to get his hands on for reasons that aren't immediately clear. Bel'Shir is a lush, green jungle world dotted with gas deposits. In this mission, Raynor starts off with an established base camp that includes most major structures (though this could be subject to change). This base camp is located near another expansion of the game's two primary resources (crystals and vespene gas) controlled by the Protoss.

Your mission is to order some defenseless space construction vehicle (SCV) building units to each gas node to slowly collect up to seven gas deposits (or, alternately, to completely eliminate all Protoss from the map). However, over the course of the mission, zealous Protoss forces who insist that their sacred homeworld must be defended will send out small recon parties to seal up each node, and if they seal up enough of them, your mission will automatically fail. Each of Starcraft II's campaign missions unlocks a new unit you can begin using from there on out; in this case, the missile-launching goliath walker was our new unit, and we put it through its paces.

While Raynor and his Terran forces start off on one end of the map, and the main Protoss encampment is on the other end, you must keep an eye on multiple fronts, guarding your vulnerable SCVs as you send them out to collect gas while also keeping an eye out on the homestead for any Protoss raiding parties that try to attack your base. You're also required to constantly scout and leapfrog your escort by pushing further into the fog of war that conceals the next gas nodes (which are often guarded by Protoss forces of varying size).

For aggressive players who want to push through into the Protoss installation, the heavy-duty punch provided by the goliath (with backup from the marauder heavy infantry) does a great job of breaking through Protoss defenses so the rest of your forces can swarm in. Bel'Shir seems like a fairly challenging mission that becomes much tougher on the higher difficulty levels. At the end of the mission, a quick visit to Tosh on the bridge reveals that terrazine gas, along with a mineral substance Raynor sought out in a previous mission for Tosh, was used in his experiments in the ghost program to create a new kind of ghost unit--a more-powerful, psychic-powered stealth operative known as the "spectre." Raynor expresses displeasure at how Tosh kept this a secret, but Tosh assures Raynor that there isn't any threat to the vigilante marshal.

The second mission we played was on the planet of Xil, the site of a Protoss reliquary and an accompanying Terran dig site from which all contact was mysteriously lost. According to Findlay, Xil houses an extremely important artifact for which the mysterious Moebius Corporation--a group that offers big credits for Protoss artifacts--will pay exceptionally well. Raynor desperately needs to finance his own efforts, so this mission is primarily motivated by money. As he touches down on the planet, Raynor is once again accosted by hostile Protoss who fanatically believe their holy site should remain untouched (and presumably took out the previous Terran operation). Our new unit in this mission was the siege tank, which, like in the original Starcraft, can be deployed as a stationary artillery unit and performs exceptionally well when you have both line of sight to your enemy and the high ground.

Over the course of this mission, Raynor scouts out the abandoned dig site and hacks its abandoned facilities to start working for him, at which point he can start harvesting resources and pumping out units regularly. The dig site also houses a gigantic mining laser that continually pounds away at the heavily sealed doors protecting the artifact (though there are actually three other hidden artifacts on the map that you can convert into Protoss research points as well). The mining laser slowly but surely chews away at the seals on the artifact while the Protoss send wave after wave of land and air enemies at you.

Fortunately, Horner gives you manual control of the mining laser. This changes the dynamic of the map considerably, since you can focus the powerful weapon on any enemy unit or structure with which you have line of sight and then more or less instantly destroy it. By switching regularly between the laser and our standing forces, we were able to hold off all Protoss encroachments while pushing outward to the artifacts and eventually to the Protoss installment on the other side of the map. Like with the Bel'Shir mission, you can complete this mission simply by eradicating all the Protoss on the map.

After completing this mission, we headed back to the Hyperion, where, in a cinematic sequence, Raynor wanders the halls and takes a few pulls of liquid courage from his trusty flask before being confronted by none other than Zeratul, the Protoss dark templar he aided in the previous game. Zeratul, who appears to be injured (the Protoss warrior clutches his own arm while speaking), suggests to Raynor that the end of the universe is coming and that the key to salvation is none other than the evil Kerrigan. Before the incredulous space marshal can even protest, Zeratul presses an "eon crystal," a small Protoss device, into Raynor's hands. The crystal apparently lets its user relive the recorded memories of the Protoss that originally used it--Zeratul entreats Raynor to use the crystal, which will help him understand the real threat.

The crystal, when used in the ship's laboratory, opens up one of the game's optional "challenge maps," which offers research points as rewards, as well as several of the high-quality prerendered cutscenes for which Blizzard has become famous. In this mission, you play as Zeratul as he reminisces about his journeys investigating the troubling visions he has seen of the end of the universe, culminating with his arrival on a sacred Protoss world that has been overrun by Zerg. He begins his journey alone but possesses powerful innate abilities, such as the ability to be permanently cloaked in psionic invisibility, the ability to telekinetically "blink" himself to a different location, and the ability to use telekinetic "void" power to briefly stun opponents. He easily makes his way past the first few spawns of Zerg in search of the ancient Protoss texts that are housed on the planet, only to encounter Kerrigan, who makes a vaguely threatening speech about how the end of the universe is coming and how neither of them can stop it.

Puzzlingly, Kerrigan lets Zeratul walk away, and over the course of his journeys, the dark templar uncovers a few texts guarded more closely by larger clusters of Zerg with scouting units that can pierce his invisibility. He's joined by a group of Protoss stalkers for backup, and later, by a small army of Protoss archon infantry whom he cannot control, but for which he provides backup against increasingly vicious waves of Zerg. Eventually, Zeratul's newfound comrades vow to slow the Zerg while he escapes, at which point we took him and his few remaining stalkers and made a frantic dash toward the exit.

Just as Zeratul is about to escape, he is again challenged by Kerrigan. Zeratul bravely attacks the Queen of Blades in a spectacular prerendered cutscene that involves the dark templar blinking to and fro in wispy clouds of smoke and Kerrigan repulsing a lunging Zeratul with a telekinetic "push." Both characters trade blows--Kerrigan scores a hit on Zeratul, causing him to hold his arm (just as he does when he meets Raynor), while the Protoss manages to slice off one of her wings. Rather than retaliate, Kerrigan casually regrows her severed wing and calmly explains that the unavoidable end of the universe is coming. She then departs. Zeratul vows to find some way to avoid the culmination of the prophecy and climbs to safety. This ended our single-player experience with the game but also introduced many new questions, such as exactly what sort of prophesied end of the universe is coming, and how, as Zeratul suggests, Kerrigan represents the only hope of avoiding that terrible fate.

Blizzard hopes that optional challenge missions like these, along with the game's achievement system (which offers additional challenges with each single-player campaign mission, such as finishing the mission with no casualties or destroying all enemies on the map), will not only extend the single-player campaign's replay value, but will also help lead newer players along the path to trying the game's online multiplayer, perhaps first in cooperative play against computer-controlled opponents and eventually in head-to-head matches with other players. In any case, Wings of Liberty's single-player game remains intriguing. Stay tuned to Systemkill for future updates.

READ MORE - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty Updated Hands-On - More Campaign, Beta Updates

Red Dead Redemption [review]


This stunning Wild West epic raises the bar for open world action games, and stakes its claim as one of the most engaging games this year.

The Good

  • Superb cast of memorable characters
  • Varied and always-fun story missions
  • Loads of optional activities and challenges
  • Story does a great job of building up to multiple climaxes
  • Good number of enjoyable multiplayer options.

The Bad

  • Infrequent but noticeable bugs
  • Limited customization options for persistent multiplayer character.

As you ride the train west from the northern city of Blackwater, you have no idea what's waiting for you in the frontier town of Armadillo at the end of Red Dead Redemption's intro sequence. Conversations between other passengers clue you in to the state of the nation, and a quick look out of the window tells you that the territories are as untamed as they are beautiful. But it's not until you step off the train in the well-worn boots of protagonist John Marston and have to sidestep a drunk staggering out of the saloon that you realize how alive the world feels, and how much fun you're going to have exploring it. Similarities with recent Grand Theft Auto games are immediately apparent in the controls and the HUD, though both have been improved in subtle but important ways. Those basics, in conjunction with excellent gameplay, a great story, and a sizable multiplayer suite make Red Dead Redemption something very special.

In Red Dead Redemption, even escort missions are fun.

When you arrive in Armadillo for the first time, you're a small fish in an extremely large pond. None of the townsfolk have ever heard of John Marston, and they're too busy believably going about their business to pay you much attention unless you bump into them. The gameworld stretches for miles in every direction beyond the confines of the modest town, and if it weren't for a number of mandatory missions that deftly familiarize you with the controls and gameplay mechanics early on, the prospect of venturing out into the wilderness could be daunting. Marston is a deeply flawed but very likable protagonist, and therefore it doesn't take long for him to start making friends in the New Austin territory. One of them, a ranch owner whom you meet early in the game, gives you both a place to stay (which doubles as a place to save your progress) and a horse to call your own, and it's at this point that you're more or less free to do as you please. Marston's lengthy and occasionally surprising story is linear for the most part, but it's told through missions that don't always need to be completed in a specific order, and you're free to ignore them for a time if you'd rather just explore the giant Wild West sandbox you're playing in.

Whether you're galloping between locations where there are missions available or just trotting around aimlessly, Red Dead Redemption's world is a far easier one to get sidetracked in than most. That's because in addition to the dozens of excellent and varied story missions, there are countless optional undertakings to enjoy--most of which offer some tangible reward in the form of money, weapons, or reputation. While you're in town, you might choose to gamble at card and dice tables or tear a wanted poster from the wall and do some bounty hunting, for example. And when you're in the middle of nowhere, opportunities for gunfights and the like have a habit of presenting themselves or even forcing themselves upon you. Random strangers in need of help can show up at any time, and while it's a little jarring to find two or three strangers in the same predicament back-to-back, most of their requests are varied and fun for the short time that they take to complete. You might be called upon to retrieve a stolen wagon, to collect herbs, or even to rescue someone being hanged from a tree. There's no penalty for ignoring strangers, but when you help them you collect a small reward and become a little more famous in the process.

Fame is interesting in Red Dead Redemption, because it's measured alongside but independently of your honor. Regardless of whether you're doing good deeds or bad, becoming increasingly famous is inevitable as you progress through the game. How people react when they recognize you is determined by your honor, though, which can be positive or negative. If you spend your time acting dishonorably, townsfolk might be terrified of you, but if you're considered a hero, they'll go out of their way to greet you and might even applaud as you ride into town. Either way, there are pros and cons to becoming something of a public figure. People won't bother to report you when you steal a horse if you're famous, and any bounty hunters or posses that come after you when there's a price on your head will take twice as long to try again after failing the first time, for example. On the flip side, as you make a name for yourself you become a target for gunslingers who are looking to make names for themselves, and so you're challenged to duels that play out entirely using the game's slow-motion "dead eye" mechanic.

In duels, even though speed is a factor, dead eye affords you an opportunity to place your shots precisely. The head is the most obvious target, but occasionally you might be required to (or wish to) win a duel without actually killing your opponent. With practice, you can shoot a gun out of an enemy's hand as he makes his move, which is especially satisfying and makes you more famous than killing someone outright. Dead eye can be used in much the same way during regular play, but a slowly replenishing meter limits how often you can trigger it, and given how effective the lock-on targeting system is, you're unlikely to need it much. With the exception of sniper rifles, you can lock on to enemies from a great distance with any weapon. Then, once you're locked on, you can tweak your aim to target a specific part of your enemy. Nudge your aim up just a touch, and there's a good chance you'll get a one-hit-kill headshot. (You do that so often that it's likely to become a reflex every time you raise your weapon). However, you don't always want to kill your enemies, because, for example, once you learn to use a lasso, you have the option to bring bounties in alive. It's more challenging, but it also doubles your reward, and it's extremely satisfying to shoot a criminal in the leg so that he falls to ground and can only try to crawl away, hog-tie and slump him over the back of your horse, and then deliver him to the local sheriff.

You can also use your lasso to rope wild horses, which is a fun way to upgrade or just replace the mount that you spend so much time with. After catching a wild horse, you wait for just the right moment to mount it and then, via a simple minigame in which you maintain your balance as the horse tries to buck you, you break it. Initially, you might want to change your horse just to get a color that you like (there are lots to choose from), but it's also fun to keep a lookout for rare breeds, because they not only look a little more impressive but are also noticeably quicker. Regardless of what kind of horse you ride (including those that are pulling carts and wagons), the responsive controls work in the same way and make it easy to adjust your speed from a walk to a trot, canter, or gallop. You also have the option to match your speed with that of any character you're riding alongside, which is incredibly useful.

As you spend more time with the same horse, it rewards your loyalty by increasing the length of its energy bar, which determines how long it can sprint at full speed. You shouldn't become too attached to your mounts, though, because Red Dead Redemption's world is both a dangerous place and one in which horses occasionally behave unpredictably. There's nothing wrong with a horse walking around a little when you climb off it, but if you leave it close to a deep river, you run the risk of losing it if--as we witnessed on one occasion--it stupidly steps in, because, like you, horses can't swim. Horses also have a habit of not staying put when you tie them to a hitching post, so you then need to whistle for them to come to you from wherever they've ended up or run the risk of inadvertently stealing someone else's identical mount. Other, more avoidable ways to lose a horse include its getting shot by enemies or attacked by wild animals, though the controls for shooting from the saddle are good enough that you really have only yourself to blame if that happens.

Red Dead Redemption's varied wildlife adds a great deal to the world and also makes it a dangerous place to let your guard down. Crows, hawks, eagles, and vultures fly overhead; armadillos, raccoons, deer, and skunks try to stay out of your way; and cougars, coyotes, wolves, and even snakes can be dangerous if they see you before you see them. All of these species and lots more inevitably cross your path, and whether they're solitary creatures or hunting as a pack, their behavior is always believable. Furthermore, all of these animals can be hunted and then--via an animation that sees blood spattering on the screen--harvested for their skins, meat, and other valuable body parts. Beavers, boars, bobcats, bears, buffalo, bighorn--all have something to offer, and all pose a slightly different challenge.

Other than the fun of the hunt, the main reason to kill most of these animals is so that you can sell the aforementioned body parts to a store owner the next time you're in town. Sometimes, though, there are additional incentives in the form of ambient challenges that, as the name suggests, reward you for objectives that you might complete in the course of regular gameplay. For example, sharpshooter challenges include shooting people's hats off and shooting birds out of the sky from a moving train. Hunter challenges, on the other hand, include one-shotting grizzly bears and taking down a pack of wolves using only a knife. For a change of pace, treasure hunter challenges present you with a treasure map that often amounts to little more than sketches of a landmark, and challenge you to locate the treasure hidden nearby. You become a little more famous every time you complete one of these challenges, and beating a significant number of them is a requirement for unlocking at least one of the different outfits that Marston can change into.

Standoffs like this one mark the start of every multiplayer match.

Marston is an impressively detailed character whose scarred face and default outfit play big parts in making him wholly believable as a 30-something gunslinger. Other than donning a bandana that covers much of your face (and hides your identity so that you don't affect your fame or honor while performing certain actions), there's nothing you can do about the scars, but by putting on a different outfit you can change how certain people react to you. There are more than a dozen different outfits to discover and unlock. Some of them, like the duster jacket and the poncho, are easy to unlock and offer no real benefit other than making you look even more dangerous. Others, though, such as military and gang uniforms, can be obtained only after completing multiple challenges, and wearing them makes certain factions more accepting of you. There are even a couple of outfits that can make gambling more fun: one gives you the option to cheat anytime you deal in a game of poker, and another--acquired by signing up for the Rockstar Social Club--grants you access to a high-stakes game.

Believe it or not, even while cheating at cards and gunning down hundreds of enemies, it's possible--with only one exception during a plot-critical mission--to make it through Red Dead Redemption's entire story without ever getting on the wrong side of the law. It's fun to play as a heroic bounty hunter, but it's also fun to be chased by one, or several. Much like the system in GTA, being spotted committing a crime alerts local law enforcement, and until you outrun them, they pursue you relentlessly. Your crimes aren't completely forgotten the moment you escape in Red Dead Redemption, though, because every crime that you commit raises the bounty on your head, and the only way to clear that is to visit a telegraph operator and either pay the amount of your bounty yourself as a fine or present him with a letter of pardon--which isn't easy to come by. It's a great system, because in conjunction with fame and honor it really makes you feel like your actions have lasting consequences.

Depending on how much time you spend completing optional challenges, Red Dead Redemption's single-player mode can take you anywhere from 20 to 40 hours to play through. If you're in a rush to get through the game for some reason, you can use stagecoaches and quick travel options to move between key locations on the gigantic map instantly, but there's so much fun to be had out in the wilderness that bypassing those areas isn't recommended. You should also know that while bugs and glitches are few and far between, there's at least one stagecoach driver who apparently isn't great at math and might inexplicably charge you $100 (not an insignificant sum of money, given that it's enough to buy property) on top of the quoted price for a journey. Other problems worthy of note during our 30-plus hours in single-player included a conversation between Marston and another character in which only Marston's lines could be heard, an attempt to crouch behind a decrepit overturned wagon that resulted in Marston being thrown high up into the air, and a cutscene in which two versions of the same character--one injured and animated, one neither--appeared alongside each other. You might also notice characters having some pathfinding problems when confronted by hitching posts, stacks of crates, and the like, but beyond these extremely rare issues, the world of Red Dead Redemption is very difficult to find fault with. It looks incredible, it sounds superb (though the excellent soundtrack occasionally swells up without reason), and it's just a fun place to spend time regardless of what you're doing or whom you're doing it with.

In addition to its lengthy single-player offering, Red Dead Redemption boasts a good number of multiplayer modes that support both competitive and cooperative play. No matter which mode you want to play, all multiplayer sessions start out in Free Roam. Here, you and up to 15 other players are free to do whatever you please with the entire gameworld at your disposal. You can shoot each other, you can cause trouble with townsfolk, you can form posses to complete gang hideout missions, or you can become the session's most wanted outlaw and then kill or steer clear of any other players who come looking to collect the bounty on your head. Your character in Free Roam mode is persistent, and as you earn experience points you gain access to additional character models, better weapons, and superior mounts. It's unfortunate that you don't get to design a character from scratch, and it can be frustrating to enter Free Roam as a level-one player riding a burro and armed only with a pistol, but it doesn't take long to level up, and even high-level players can be killed with just a few bullets if you can get close to them.

When you enter competitive online modes, you don't get to use your persistent character, and everyone is on a level playing field. The five modes on offer are free-for-all and team-based versions of Shootout and three versions of Capture the Bag. Clearly, these modes are variations on the traditional deathmatch and capture-the-flag themes, but they do more than just apply a Wild West lick of paint to them. For starters, all multiplayer games kick off with an awesome standoff in which all players stand around in a circle (or in two opposing lines if it's a team game) and wait for all hell to break loose when the word "Draw" appears on the screen. And in Capture the Bag modes, the bags of gold that you carry weigh you down so that you move more slowly, making you an easy target in the free-for-all Gold Rush and making escorts or cover fire vital in the team-based Hold Your Own.

Between the Free Roam and competitive modes, there's enough great multiplayer content to keep you playing Red Dead Redemption long after you've watched the credits roll at the end of the superb single-player mode and gone back in to finish up any optional challenges and missions that you missed. This is an outstanding game that tells a great story with memorable and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny characters. Think about great moments that you remember from spaghetti Western movies, put them all into one 20- to 40-hour epic feature, and picture yourself in the starring role. Now you have some idea of what's waiting for you in Red Dead Redemption.

READ MORE - Red Dead Redemption [review]

Age of Empire III [Cheat]


this is too hardWin in singleplayer
Gives 10,000 wood
Speed always winsTurns on 100x gather/build rates
Ya gotta make do with what ya gotSpawns the Mediocre Bombard at your Home City gather point
Sooo GoodTurn on “Musketeer’ed!” when you get killed by Musketeers
Give me liberty or give me coinGives 10,000 coin
Nova & OrionGives 10,000 XP
A recent study indicated that 100% of herdables are obeseFattens all animals on map
Medium Rare PleaseGives 10,000 food
X marks the spotReveals map (fog of war still there)
Shiver me Timpers!Destroys all the enemy boats on the map
tuck tuck tuckSpawns a big red monster truck that can run over anything
Where's that axe?George Crushington
Get 10,000 Wood
READ MORE - Age of Empire III [Cheat]

Mass Effect 2 [review]


January 22, 2010 - Mass Effect is one of my favorite games of the past decade. Despite its technical shortcomings, BioWare's first in what it promised to be a trilogy took the role-playing genre to new cinematic heights. Mass Effect 2 is a better game in near every way. From the very first scene, you will be hooked. And the farther you dive into this epic action role-playing game, the better it gets. It fulfills the promise of its predecessor while continuing to push the boundaries of what we should expect in a videogame.

This is the continued saga of Commander Shepard. It's the future, and all sentient life across the galaxy is in peril. An advanced race of machines known as Reapers is intent on wiping the slate clean. Shepard, a distinguished soldier, has faced this threat and emerged triumphant once, but victory is far from assured. Now Shepard must take the fight to the enemy -- a mission that is dubbed suicidal from the outset. Things don't look very promising, but Shepard has a plan. It involves recruiting the best and brightest from around the galaxy and somehow convincing them their lives are worth sacrificing for the greater good.

These heroes are what drive the story. Their motivations become yours as the experience continues to get better with each addition to the cast. Shepard's compatriots are fascinating and flawed; captivating and occasionally despicable. The arc of the main tale itself isn't in itself exceptional, but the characters BioWare has crafted most definitely are. These are some of the most compelling players I've ever seen in a videogame -- the Drell named Thane is a particular favorite of mine -- and the great design and writing isn't limited to the main cast. The citizens of the galaxy are extraordinary and offer more than enough reason to explore every location and talk to everybody.

All of this is made even better by Mass Effect's trademark cinematic and interactive approach to conversations. With Mass Effect 1, BioWare introduced a conversation wheel that allowed for fast-moving, intriguing, and player driven cutscenes. Rather than slowly moving through conversations by selecting dialogue from a list, Mass Effect allows the player to quickly choose an emotional response, which generally include an honorable paragon reaction and a snappy renegade remark. The result is that every little dialogue snippet is about as engaging as they come. It was innovative when Mass Effect 1 first came out, and it's still so far ahead of the curve, backed up by further refinements, including a quick-time interrupt system, and powerful voice acting. Mordin Solus, a Salarian scientist played by Michael Beattie, and Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man, are high points in an all-star cast of voices.

The true strength of Mass Effect 2's story, however, is in how personal BioWare has made it. If you played Mass Effect 1 through to the end and still have your save data, this game will import your character and all the decisions you made. The central plot will not drastically change, but the experience most certainly will. Some old friends and acquaintances will return – and others won't – based on decisions you made in the last game. Even the opening moments of Mass Effect 2 can be slightly different.

The actions you take in the sequel only compound this feeling of personalization. By the finale you'll have made so many decisions – ranging from simple things like whether you play as a male or female all the way up to those governing life or death – that the result is a game that is yours and yours alone. Choices you made in Mass Effect 1 come back to remind you of past good deeds or injustices. Decisions made here affect the final outcome. Reminders that everything you do will be reflected in Mass Effect 3 are everywhere, adding further drama to every conversation. Things you say and do actually matter, and that's an incredible sensation to get from a videogame.

Even if you didn't play Mass Effect 1, this game is worth playing. If you're not importing a character, BioWare simply makes some of the decisions from Mass Effect 1 for you. It's slightly less dramatic and the story here is often references events in the first game, which might make some bits less thrilling for novices. There are revelations and tantalizing plot twists that Mass Effect veterans will go crazy for. These same moments simply won't carry the same weight with those hopping in for part two. It's a bit of a Catch-22 for the designers tasked with the impossible job of pleasing newcomers while still pushing thelimits.

Speaking of pleasing people, BioWare listened to every last bit of criticism leveled at Mass Effect 1. That game, particularly on Xbox 360, suffered from a few technical and presentational issues. This sequel is a much, much cleaner experience. Long elevator rides and slow-loading textures are gone, replaced with (occasionally lengthy) loading screens. Generic cut-and-paste side quests and empty planets to explore have been totally ripped out. Pretty much everything that anybody took even the slightest issue with in Mass Effect 1 has been axed or rebuilt entirely.

Even though it's a cleaner production, Mass Effect 2 isn't a perfectly polished game. I've played through the game twice and during that time experienced sound cutting out, my character getting stuck in the environment and full game crashes. Thankfully, these miscues are infrequent, which allows the art style to shine. Mass Effect 2 is a visual treat, filled with breathtaking landscapes and an awesome attention to detail. If you're playing on PC and have a powerful rig (I took Shepard for a spin on an Alienware Intel Core 2 Quad 2.00 GHz prcoessor, dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260M cards, and 6 GB of memory), it will look even better.

The improvements aren't only technical. The inventory and skill systems have been made more manageable, streamlined to the point that they might initially appear too thin for a role-playing game. Keep playing, however, and you'll begin to see strength and depth emerge as you further customize your squad.

One of the biggest reasons why this streamlined approach to character customization works is the retooled character classes. The same six specialization options are back, ranging from the Jedi-inspired biotic users to the technically inclined engineer. This time, however, they've been defined and differentiated much more clearly, each getting its own set of weapon specializations and unique skills. Playing as a soldier is a vastly different combat experience compared to the vanguard or infiltrator. Each class has its own approach to battle, which is then further defined by how you choose to outfit your squad and where you assign skill points. By the end of the game, everything about Mass Effect 2 will be shaped by your choices – from the story to the ebb and flow of combat.

Of course, none of this would matter if it isn't fun to play. Good news. Mass Effect 2 is a lot of fun. The action has been refined to the point that even general fans of shooters will find a lot to like here. It's not perfect, but the game handles quite well. It doesn't take long to master simultaneously ripping off rounds from an assault rifle, tossing out a few biotic skills, and directing the two AI driven squad mates to combine raw power with smart tactics. And when things get really rough -- and they will, Mass Effect 2 is no cake walk -- you can always pull out a heavy weapon and tear the enemy a new one.

Add in fantastic level design and awesome skills like the vanguard's charge or the infiltrator's cloaking ability and you have one spectacular virtual playground. Mass Effect 1 toed the line by offering some of the action elements that shooter fans enjoy with some of the role-playing tactics that the hardcore fans of the genre want. The sequel improves both areas for a through-and-through satisfying battle system.

On PC, the heads-up display is a bit different, custom built to work with a keyboard and mouse. Both versions are largely identical, though you will get a few more options for customizing hot keys and skill usage on the PC. Which works better for you will be a matter of personal preference.

An emphasis has clearly been put on ensuring that the combat in Mass Effect 2 never grows stale. Side quests each have their own unique areas to explore -- and you'll have to explore the galactic map, talk to random characters, and find key items to even trigger many of them. The combat zones themselves, however, have been cleaned up to be more straightforward and compelling, rather than repetitive labyrinths. New gameplay twists are introduced frequently with some large quests eschewing combat entirely. There's a great focus on exploration and discovery here and BioWare has made sure that the reward for doing so is worth the effort.
READ MORE - Mass Effect 2 [review]