By now, when people think of The Sims franchise, they think of a virtual dollhouse in which you guide little idiot people through the mundane details of their lives rather than living your own.
That reputation is both well-deserved and unjust. Now in its third iteration, you still have to worry about getting your Sims to a bathroom before they wet themselves. On the other hand, it can be so addictive that it often feels like there’s someone watching you on his PC monitor, selecting you, then clicking on your computer and choosing “Keep playing The Sims 3” from your radial menu. If you’re lucky, he’ll let you go to the bathroom.
Fundamentally, The Sims 3 is a very similar game to its predecessors: You juggle the needs and wants of a family of Sims to make them healthy, wealthy, and wise. What has changed is the revolutionary increase in scale. Previous Sims games locked you into a single lot, and if you wanted to take your Sims elsewhere you’d have to sit through an epic-length loading screen. The Sims 3 loads an entire town, which both frees your Sims to stroll down the street or drive across town, and expands the number of characters living in the world at once from a handful to dozens, simulating an entire community. The ability to quickly zoom out and view the whole area alone puts this version head and shoulders above The Sims 1 and 2.
Videogames have taken us everywhere. Space, the Wild West, the Oregon Trail, the future, heaven, hell, purgatory (Ever played Big Rigs? Yeah), World War II, the apocalypse, the post-apocalypse, and World War II again. You name it, and gamers have probably been there, done that, and gone to Hot Topic to pick up the T-shirt. So, what’s left? Where are we to boldly go without even a walkthrough to guide us? Well, if you’re I’m asking me, I’d say we should forget the rest of our well-trod universe and try picking our own brains. Yep, it’s time for a bit of good old-fashioned psychology.
At this point, I imagine many of you are remembering simpler times, when tales of Rorschach inkblot tests, salivating dogs, and men who loved their mothers lulled you to sleep in your public educational institution of choice. And a few of you might be thinking of Psychonauts – to which I say “good!” We’ll get to that in a little while.
Anyway, games obviously aren’t the domain of stuffy old guys with fancy degrees and fancier couches. However, that doesn’t mean some of the more universal psychological themes can’t find their way into videogames. Case in point: Batman: Arkham Asylum.
While Arkham may be known foremost as the only Gotham prison less effective than a wet paper bag, it is – in actuality – more of a correctional institution than anything else. The game, then, portrays Arkham’s staff members as hard-working ladies and gents who are trying their darndest to crack classic nutcases like the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow, and Killer Croc. The player, as Batman, stumbles upon evidence of these correctional interactions in the form of taped interviews focusing on different villains.
Plants vs. Zombies takes the familiar desktop tower-defense formula—defensive towers line a path and shoot at endless waves of mindless automatons—and turns it on its side... in your backyard. In typical tower-defense games, you manage one path (and one set of baddies at a time). In Plants vs. Zombies, you have to manage five or six lanes and you have to plant your botanical towers in the same lanes the undead baddies walk.
The game starts simply; you have a few lanes to manage and one or two types of zombies. The number of lanes you have to manage and the number of plants you have at your disposal increases quickly, although the difficulty ramps up slowly over the first several hours of play. You’ll eventually unlock about 50 different plants, each with a different function. Some will form the backbone of your sun economy (sun is the currency you exchange for each plant you place), some are purely offensive, some are purely defensive, and some fill various support roles.
To keep you in check, new zombies are continually introduced. Each different zombie type has new (frequently hilarious) powers, ranging from simple helmets and screen-door shields that let the undead absorb more damage, to Pogo-Stick and bungee zombies that can leap over your defense. Each type of zombie has multiple plant counters; for example, the balloon zombie, who floats happily over your defenses, can be countered by balloon-popping cacti as well as by the Blover, which generates a mighty wind that blows away flying zombies.
Oh boy, we can't wait to see the reaction to this one, so here goes. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror, and if need be, have your birth certificate handy. Do you see an overweight, 35-year-old depressed person staring back at you? if so, you qualify as an average gamer, says a new study.
Published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, and Andrews University put their heads together to comb through survey data from 522 adults ranging in age from 19 to 90 and living in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
"Video-game players also reported lower extraversion, consistent with research on adolescents that linked video-game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status, and to mental-health concerns," the researchers noted.
The findings apply to both men and women, noting female gamers are at a higher risk of depression than women who do npt play videogames, while male gamers reported a higher BMI and more time spent surfing the Internet than men who don't play games.
The researchers admit the study isn't conclusive, but went on say that their findings "appear consistent with earlier research on adolescents."
Originally released in February 2009, Acclaim's MMORPG The Chronicles of Spellborn has gone into a redevelopment stage. This is expected to carry into 2010 and will include a bevy of enhancements and changes as the game morphs from a monthly subscription model into a free-to-play title supported by micro-transactions.
In the meantime, Acclaim tells us it still has its servers running the original version and has decided to make Spellborn free to play.
"We felt like people missed out. They didn't get to see what Spellborn was really like. And we are going to fix that," David DeWald, Community Manager for Acclaim, wrote in an email.
While the original version remains 'frozen in time' and free to play, note that there will be no upgrades or patches.
The PC Gaming Alliance (PCGA), a non-profit consortium created to promote the awesomeness of gaming on a PC, stands eight members stronger today. These new members include BFG Technologies, Bigfoot Networks, Flextronics, GameStop, GameTap, Gas Powered Games, Howie's Game Shack, and InstantAction.
"We welcome these new members to the PCGA, a rapidly growing organization where companies of all types can come together to expand and improve the PC gaming ecosystem," said Randy Stude, PCGA president and Intel director, Gaming Program Office.
The new additions will help fill a void created when Activision-Blizzard and "a few others" left the consortium last April because "they cannot justify the budget (membership and staff) required to maintain an active role in the PC Gaming Alliance at this time," the PCGA told Kotaku.
Other members include AMD, Intel, Capcom, Dell, Epic Games, Microsoft, Sony DADC, SMU, Digital River, EMG, Gas Powered Games, Razer, and WildTangent.
It is said that a great game is easy to learn but difficult to master. Demigod has the latter part down—the former, not so much. Veterans of the Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, from which this game draws much of its inspiration, will have an easy time grasping the excellent concept, but to most other players it’s a very new form of multiplayer role-playing game, and the lack of tutorials makes learning the ropes a challenge.
To make a long, superfluous story short, portals on both sides of a symmetrical map spew out waves of AI-controlled troops that clash in the middle. Controlling a single powerful character, your goal is to push the tide of battle back at the enemy and topple their citadel. It sounds fairly simple, but thanks to a blizzard of game elements such as eight character classes, structure and minion upgrades, item purchasing, and flag capturing, Demigod becomes extremely complex.
Jailbreak your game console and no one is likely to take notice. But make a home business out of jailbreaking consoles for others and you may draw the attention of Homeland Security.
At least that's the case for Matthew Crippen, a 27-year-old Cal State Fullerton liberal arts student who was arrested by Homeland Security authorities on Monday. Crippen was picked up for allegedly violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
"Defendant Matthew Crippen willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage and private financial gain, circumvented a technological measure that effectively controlled access to a copyrighted work, more particularly, used software to modify a Xbox machine's Optical Disc Drive so it would circumvent the anti-piracy measures contained on the original unmodified Optical Disc Drive," U.S. attorney Thomas P. O'Brien wrote in the indictment (PDF).
In a telephone interview with Wired.com's Threat Level, Crippen maintains the purpose of his jailbreaking business was to allow patrons to make "legally made backups," not for piracy.
The indictment charges Crippen with two counts, and if convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
We begin another trip through the freeware files with a focus on graphics this time around--graphics and zombies. While a majority of the free games in this roundup feature some kind of interesting graphical treatment, there's one straggler that looks a bit like the sprites from SimCopter. But this little gem, of all the games on said list, features a healthy dose of zombie-killing. So for that, I can forgive its less-than-ideal looks.
But enough about that. You want to get to the games. I don't blame you. In fact, just to make sure I'm appeasing your interests, I'm taking a look at a number of different genres this time around. If zombies aren't your thing, or you can't stand the thought of an 8-bit, FPS-style puzzle title, then you'll surely find a winner in one of the other titles on this week's list. From marble-smashing arcade games to awesome little racecar rallies, you're guaranteed to find at least one gem amongst these super-fun freeware titles.
Finish up your finger exercises and put on your wrist sweatbands. Then click the jump, 'cause it's time to game!
Despite what you see in the screenshots in this review, H.A.W.X. is as much a flight simulator as Burnout Paradise is a driving sim. Ubisoft’s latest liberty with the Tom Clancy franchise is more akin to Descent or Wing Commander than it is to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. It’s an arcade shooter that cares more about maintaining a high explosion-per-minute ratio than realism or even proper physics. That means fighter jets with 200-plus capacity payloads, a dearth of takeoffs and landings, and an army of AI-controlled enemy units that are more than willing to fly straight into your missiles for the greater pyrotechnic glory.
As David Crenshaw, former leader of the Air Force’s elite H.A.W.X. squadron, you’ve now turned to the private sector to pay the bills and catch the thrills. In the first half of the game, Artemis Global Security hires you to guard oil refineries and bomb military bases for the highest bidder, which—shocker—eventually has you at odds with the U.S. government. Ever the patriot, this twist sends you back into the arms of Uncle Sam and you spend the rest of the game defending America from an all-out invasion.