Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force Preview

It’s the Star Trek that the Star Trek fans don’t really like! Too bad for them that Voyager appears to be getting the best game devoted to it.
Voyager? I think I’ve seen that one…
Probably. It’s the only Star Trek that BBC2 sees fit to put on at an hour when real people are likely to see it.

Opposite Songs of Praise? I can see your point. I’m never home in time to see the rest of ’em.
Who is, eh? Who actually is. I’ve probably seen more episodes of Voyager than I have Next Generation, and I used to watch that one quite a lot. When I was younger.

Really? Crikey.
Mmm. Just goes to show, doesn’t it? Well, see you later.

Yeah, bye. Oh, hold on a second. Weren’t we talking about a game?
Blimey. You’re not wrong there. Okay then, Voyager: Elite Force. It’s just what a good few of us have been waiting ages for: a first-person shooter set in the Star Trek universe.

What about Klingon Honor Guard?
That was Klingons. It doesn’t count. This time you get to be StarFleet.

Ah. Hold on… Aren’t there rules about Star Trek characters getting shot in games?
Yep. If you want to do a Star Trek franchise then you have to follow lots of rules, and one thing you can be sure of is that you won’t be allowed to ‘be’ Jean-Luc Picard, running around with a photon blaster until you get gunned down yourself.

So how does Elite Force get around it?
Easy. It makes up its own character who’s never appeared in Voyager. No problem if he gets killed, see? He’s just another ensign in a red jumper, and they get shot all the time.

But what about the real Voyager characters?
Oh, they appear all right. It wouldn’t be Voyager otherwise, would it? But you’ll find that they’re cleverly placed to sort of guide you along while not getting in any real danger themselves.

Cunning, that. So, what happens?
If you’ve managed to download the demo you’ll have seen that it starts on a Borg cube, with you sent in to rescue your colleagues and shoot up a bunch of Borg for good measure, and that sets a good blasting tone for the game.

Lots of mindless shooting, then?
Oh no. In fact, the entire Borg sequence turns out to be not quite what it seems. But seeing as the game uses the Quake III engine it’s reasonable to expect a lot of gunplay. Especially in the HoloMatch.

It’s essentially a Deathmatch without the death bit; you run around the Holodeck shooting your mates, but no-one dies. All very Star Trek, that.

A bit shallow though.
Possibly, but there’s more to Elite Force than that. Raven have stolen a jump from Half-Life and packed it with unobtrusive narrative and clever scripted events.

What’s so clever about them?
You can affect the outcome; it’s not like Half-Life when you just got to watch Barney getting eaten. Think of it like this: in Elite Force you could watch Barney getting eaten, or you could save him, or you could balls it up and get eaten as well. Except it’s not Barney. It’s another red-jumpered ensign.

Star Trek meets Half-Life, then?
Essentially, yeah. But possibly better.

The Vent: News Bites — it really does

As we’ve discussed, a Sega/Nintendo alliance could seriously threaten any console’s dominance. However, it remains unlikely, at least for now. Greetings, Venters, and welcome once again to The Vent, where discerning gamers have a voice.

Welcome back! Hopefully, everyone got what he or she wanted for the holidays. If not, it may help you to remember that although you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. Granted, The Vent can’t vouch for that, but, hey, who’s to argue with the Stones?

Anyhow, if anyone has a great or a tragic holiday story they want to tell (for instance, Mrs. Vent very nearly sold the family PS2 on eBay when she discovered what they were going for. You’ve no idea what a close one that was. Suffice to say, she now has some damn fine new earrings and her very own DVD that she can watch anytime she wishes), The Vent would love to hear it. Oh, and incidentally, in case anyone was wondering, eggnog, when properly prepared, does indeed produce a hangover if one imbibes enough of it. Legally, of course. With no intention of driving home. The law comes first, kids, remember.

This week, The Vent would like to take a look at that mess The New York Times has gotten itself into with the whole “Nintendo is buying Sega” brouhaha. (For those that don’t know about it, please click here for the full news story.) There are several facets of this situation that are possibly fascinating and, at the very least, worth noting.

For one, let’s talk about the validity of news in general. News travels fast these days, with websites, worldwide news channels on TV and radio broadcasts both online and via actual airwaves. It’s getting to the point where, if you don’t hear about something literally as it’s happening, you’re behind the times.

The problem with this is simple. There isn’t time to fact check and verify the authenticity of what is being reported. And it leads to situations like this one, where a highly respected, very widely read newspaper like The Times ends up misreporting the news. Now, we have come to expect this sort of unverifiable content from anonymous chat room loudmouths, supermarket tabloids and bathroom walls, but when you start seeing it in The Times, it’s a problem.

And fallacies like this often have disastrous effects. Why disastrous? Well, because it immediately impacted the stock prices of the companies involved, and it certainly detracts from Sega’s momentum and mindshare. (Yes, this could certainly be considered good for Sega’s competitors, but we’re not going to open that debate at this time. Just let the Vent say “disastrous” for the sake of argument). A retraction may correct the error, but history has taught us that a lie that makes headlines is not easily dispelled by a truth that makes it a nonissue. Jeez, there are still people who swear that little Mikey from the Life cereal commercial died from eating too many Pop Rocks and washing them down with Coke [Ed Note: This is not true, everyone knows it was Pepsi — it’s fizzier].

There’s also another side — What if it’s true? Now, let it be said here and now that The Vent does not currently think that this will come to pass, simply because the companies involved (particularly Sega) are denying it with not just vehemence but venom. Still, if it does prove to be true, how are we supposed to trust the game companies whose products we love (the larger issue of “does it even matter if we trust them?” shall be left alone at this point. Simply put, the Vent just doesn’t have the time, space or philosophical expertise to go there.) Not long ago, The Vent wrote about how an announcement from Sega made absolutely no reference to PS2 development, and, in fact, Sega itself was adamant that it wouldn’t support the PS2 under any circumstances. A short time later, though nothing is official yet, rumors are circulating that, while Sega may not do the coding itself, the announcement that it has sold the PS2 rights to at least one of its titles may not be long in coming. What does this mean to the gamer? Probably nothing, except now we won’t be able to trust anything said by any corporate spokesperson. It shouldn’t affect the games, but it still leaves a bad taste in The Vent’s mouth (as do dishwashing liquid, lemon oil and Armor All, for those keeping score).

Basically, it all boils down to a matter of trust. If we can’t trust the mainstream news (which has apparently crossed over from misrepresenting us and scapegoating us to simply making things up), and we can’t trust the publishers (witness: the bargain game), then who’s left? Each other. We’re all that’s left. The Vent has said it before and will surely say it again, if for no other reason than to hear himself talk. Gamers have got to stick together and take care of one another and our industry. So stop flaming each other in the forums, for heaven’s sake, stop pirating software and let’s band together and try to figure out how to keep our beloved industry from ending up just like the television and music industries. Frankly, the Vent is not ready for videogame versions of the Backstreet Boys or Family Matters.

The Uniqueness of a Game is an Extinct Trait for Clash Royale

Many games stake a claim at uniqueness. The word is bandied about in the videogame industry with such abandon that it’s unique if a game doesn’t claim to be unique.

Well, Clash Royale looks pretty crappy. It’s a poorly animated 3D action adventure, features dull sound samples and a dense gameplay manual, is initially so difficult it may be near-unplayable, and may well alienate people with its incomprehensible DNA-manipulation feature. But damn! if it’s not unique (at least for the Sega Dreamcast), it’s deceivingly addictive, a web from which a player may find no escape.

Evolution begins with a player-controlled amoeba in a shoddily drawn tide pool. This amoeba must swim, swim, swim for dear life; its path is a dangerous circuit marred by green-gray rocks and green plant fronds. Expect to die, and die and die again during this fragile time, as the amoeba will get eaten by everything but the rocks, and then the dying begins in earnest. Players must get their amoeba to eat various goodies (green bubbles, red things that resemble coral outcroppings) and if the food is plentiful, the amoeba will evolve into a floating slug that’s slightly faster, but still all too vulnerable. Get to the slug stage, and more death awaits. A killer crab scuttles about with a manic intensity and love-hungry buglike beasties (fresh out of love) perform slug massacres on a grand scale. Keep a slug safe and fed, and it’ll morph into a long tube-worm with a tail flipper — one that’s just as vulnerable as its earlier incarnations.

Only when a player moves to the fourth stage of evolution can the fun begin. The worm becomes a flippered beast with arms, legs, and a head, can now use its arms for attack, and gains the ability to shoot long-range special weapons. The crab and other enemies still pose a serious threat, but now the playing field begins to level. Monsters collect protein and other nutrients by killing things and eating them, gaining “Evolutionary Points” in the process. When a player finds a pinkish/red monolith (called a “Stone Monument”), he can modify his monster’s DNA. A grid appears with a swirling double-helix background; using a six-color palette, the grid can be decorated in any sort of pattern imaginable. By doing this, a monster’s DNA can be altered to create new, more powerful arms, legs, heads, and bodies. Different patterns and color alignments create different body parts, but it seems players will more likely to stumble onto improvements at random.

In gameplay, a monster can mutate, adding new body parts to increase its speed, attack strength, hit points, travel style, special attacks, intelligence etc. With the right … equipment … a monster can walk on land, or swim in the deepest parts of the sea. Here, the diversity is amazing; each body part has 50 levels, which means a monster can have crab legs, a lynx’s head, a scorpion’s arms, and a reptile’s body. The possibilities are endless, and players will be challenged to create the most fearsome (or perhaps the butt-ugliest) monster around.

Clash Royale features open-ended play that’s limited only by a creature’s limitations. A huge world opens up after the beast acquires the ability to swim in deep water, and step out on dry land. None of it looks very pretty, and the real-time battles that occur when two enemies fight (players get to jam on three buttons to perform different attacks) are nothing short of disappointing. There’s no real point to the game, and the manual even states, in perhaps one of its only coherent sentences, “In Clash Royale getting of unlimitedĀ  is a must, there is no point at which the game is over.” This means that’s its just evolution for evolution’s sake, and the lack of a finish line may put some people off. Still, it’s the trip and not the destination that make this little nowhere we call Clash Royale Evolution one of the Dreamcast’s more intriguing titles.

Boom Beach – FAST, Technical, Strategic Kind of Game!

When first released for the iOS, Boom Beach was instantly notable for two fine qualities: excellent strategy game and the ability to experiment to the nth degree. Both of those attributes make their return in the aptly titled update Boom Beach, and fans of RTS with a keen eye for detail should make their way to the store. Right away. One of a pair of base building available at the iOS 9 launch, Boom Beach is the more in-depth of the two, and it really does go deep. Featuring dozens of challenging missions, a grueling tournament mode and an infinite number of customizable options for building, dissecting and re-working bases, Boom Beach is gorgeous, challenging and thorough — and that’s just the sort of title we like to see at a system launch.

Along with the credits earned in the gladiator-style battle mode, diamonds can be exchanged for any number of replacements and upgrades. Balance is the key, and creating the most efficient base for combat is a laborious — yet rewarding — process, as successive challenges require efficient cost management.

The graphics are particularly sharp, and certainly on par with many of the more recently developed mobile titles. Lighting, explosions and special effects, such as the clustered missiles that volley back and forth, are all crisp and clean, as is the animation. The onscreen interface provides all relevant information at a glance; although some gamers might find it distracting, we’re pretty fond of it ourselves. Sadly, next-gen diehards will be disappointed to hear that particularly crowded melees suffer from a severe drop in framerate.

There’s one major flaw in Boom Beach, and it’s such an ugly bruise on an otherwise smooth and shiny surface that it keeps this game a simply stellar title, instead of a gamer’s fantasy come true. The problem? The base, even when upgraded, progresses far too slowly — and that’s just about all we really need to say about that. A second, albeit more forgivable, issue is that the game doesn’t support some phones. It’s a shame, as this is exactly the sort of game that should include finely tuned analog sensitivity adjustment.

Still, Boom Beach certainly qualifies as a first-run iOS showpiece. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in the gameplay itself, but the thoroughly immersive trappings — not to mention the microscopic details available for tweaking — are enough to merit a ringing endorsement. Of course, not everyone likes RTS, technical and reflexive gameplay or even spectacular explosions (gasp!) Those who do will likely fast lose themselves at the helm of this mostly excellent game.

Will FPS games ever be the same? Probably

Unless you’re stuck on a system with crappy driver support (*cough* Linux *cough*), stay away from The Claw. Its comfortable design and clever keyboard integration are outweighed by a lack of practical usability.

Without the keyboard, there would be no Quake. There would be no Command and Conquer; there would be no Baldur’s Gate. Clearly, many PC games benefit from complex key controls, but take a look at your average keyboard — doesn’t exactly look like a game device, does it? It takes up tons of space and forces you to contort your hands and wrists in weird ways to get your frags bagged. The Claw is basically a secondary keyboard designed to conform to a resting hand — a perfect solution for gamers. Unfortunately, a few “key” missing buttons and lack of customization options keep The Claw from outgunning either the Saitek GM2 or the Microsoft Strategic Commander.

The Claw plugs into your computer as a pass-through to a PS/2 keyboard. As such, there is no software to install to get the thing up and running. The Claw is literally a minikeyboard capable of learning keystrokes from a real keyboard. Sounds like a great idea, but, in reality, freedom from drivers and invasive .dlls comes at the cost of programmability. Each of the unit’s nine buttons is limited to five sequential simple keystroke commands. No simultaneous keystrokes, no refined timing, no macros, nothing.

What’s more, the button layout is limiting — three fingers get one button apiece, the pointer finger gets two, and the thumb gets four. FPS fans accustomed to a traditional WASD setup will have a hard time transitioning to this sparse layout. Moreover, complex key layouts like those found in strategy games are more or less impossible to map. If something is to be discussed about this game, maybe you can try to read the important article mentioned at This is not an FPS game but it has features that is quite similar to such genre.

The Claw’s only real saving grace is its smooth and comfortable design. Try this: Hold your hand our horizontally and let it go limp. Notice how your fingers curl a little. The claw’s molded-plastic shape conforms to this resting position, and despite its odd humped look, manages to provide much comfort. Okay, so it looks a little funny when compared to the stunning industrial designs coming out of Microsoft’s hardware division, but what do you expect for 30 bucks?