By Relly Carpio, hackenslash Contributor INQUIRER.net "I will not be dictated to, I will not be threatened. I am the morning and evening star, I am Pharaoh!" -- "Prince of Egypt" IT is by your will and decision where the city shall lie along the great banks of the Nile. It is by your wisdom what crops shall be sown after the inundation. It is by your leave when the priests will have their joyous celebrations, exulting the gods. It is by your command how those who dare challenge your rule will fall. Pharaoh may not be a game for everyone, especially now that the fad for "gamers" is first-person shooter Half-Life clones (which any real gamer will instantly recognize as Quake 2 progeny, but that's another review). Riding on the fame of the SimCity game fad which took the world by storm then, Pharaoh and its predecessors, the Caesar series were a historical alternative to the present-day sprawls of Will Wright and the boys and girls at Maxis Software. It was a fair alternative to SimAnt and SimFarm. This game is part of the City Building Series that was published by Sierra Entertainment and Myelin Media. This particular game was developed by Impressions Games and those familiar with it will instantly see that it uses the Caesar III engine. Pharaoh was released in October 1999, and has an expansion, Queen of the Nile: Cleopatra. The game received fair acclaim when it was launched. Surprised? One should consider that the game was released after the movie "The Mummy" was shown in the summer of 1999. And the year before that, Disney's "Prince of Egypt" came out. You begin the game as a "person in charge" of an area that has to be developed. Success means you get promoted and you move on to the next mission. Failure means death. No, you can't hold a snap election and extend your terms. The elite Royal Guards storming your city gates and slaughtering everything in their path should be enough evidence that Pharoah is not pleased. As you progress your Family slowly gets entangled in the politics of ancient Egypt until eventually you become Pharaoh. But even then, you answer to the people, the priests, and the gods. Yes, there are gods. Crime is the least of your problems in this game. As with Caesar, Pharaoh also has its share of divine problems. There are gods in the game that have to be constantly appeased and worshipped. Should a god find itself lacking a temple in any of your city areas, there will be trouble. In the city grid, temples and eventually the massive temple complex will occupy the most space second only to designated living areas. There is usually a patron god aside from the other gods in every mission. Being mindful of the needs of this specific god above the others will ensure the survival of your city. Each of the missions has goals that need to be fulfilled before you can move on to the next city and mission. If any of the goals are not fulfilled, then the game just goes on and on. Usually the requirements include a certain population, the better the city, and the better the quality of the housing allows for more people to live in a smaller area. Then there are the ratings that you need to fulfill, namely: Culture (making your city close to the Egyptian standard), Prosperity (making your people happy), Monument (making pyramids, obelisks, the Sphinx), and Kingdom (making the rest of the kingdom view your rule favorably). Now the population doesn't idly sit around and watch you; they actually do the work. No population means no workers, thus the city will fall into ruin. There are overseers (the city council/computer) that automatically tell everyone what to do after you assign areas and buildings for what they are. But most overseers can be overridden and one of the most important is the Overseer of the Workers. Left alone it tries to spread the workers all over the place. But realistically there are more people in food production and industry. Left alone, unless there is a surplus of workers (a.k.a. unemployment), you will have starving people on one side of the city and people swimming in it on the other. Oh, and commerce grinds to a halt as goods get stuck in the storage yards. On that note, we get to the most important part of the game, trade. In Pharaoh you trade with other cities in the kingdom and with other kingdoms like Greece and Babylon. You begin the city with a certain amount of start-up money (they call it debens, not gold). If you don't export something soon, this will run out. Early in the game, the missions will not need trade. But later on, without it, expect the soldiers of the Pharaoh in your city, to "collect" on his investment. There will be goods that you might need to import to improve your city, and you need something to export to make money. Sometimes you actually import the cheap raw materials and then export the expensive finished product. The economy system of the game is actually very good in teaching the realities of how import/export works and how it affects the economy of an area. With trade and economy comes the end result: battle. Yes, there is battle. This is what sets Pharaoh apart from most of the city building sims. You have to build an army and/or navy and actually use it to defend your city, sometimes, defend another city by sending them there, or yourself from the Pharaoh. This fact is what gives Pharaoh its real-time strategy facet and woe betide a city that finds itself defenseless. The combat is laughable and at times is annoying as the graphics border on the comic; but the effects are all too real. If an enemy force attacks a building, it gets destroyed; and as long as there they are on your map, no one will immigrate to your city. No population means no workers, thus the city will fall into ruin. As a whole the game is fantastic as it actually teaches the basics of politics, providing basic services, concept of immigration/emigration, realities of import/export, effect of warfare on an economy and population, and the religious festivals and culture of an ancient race. There is even a section in the Game Help that discusses the real history on which the game is based on, in case you need a National Geographic fix along the way. Game Tips: If at the start it seems slow and daunting, be patient; soon there will be so many city options you won't be fast enough to set up services before trouble starts happening. There are numerous missions that you have to go through, and in the later missions it will take time and planning, the pause button and safety saves will be your best friend. It's okay to play the game on "Very Easy" difficulty setting as the game engine only increases cost of building and ramps up the chaos engine with every difficulty increment. If your city planning is quirky from the start it won't matter what your difficulty setting is, your city will not work, and the monuments will still take a thousand years to finish. On that note: it will eventually come to a point that you will fall asleep waiting for the monuments to finish. Waiting for the monuments to finish will be the most challenging part of the game as you will spend hours doing nothing but maintaining the city and watching your populace place one block on top of the other. Planning the construction sites before hand will make a very big difference, and the finished monuments are worth the wait, always. Use roadblocks; they concentrate services throughout areas. Lastly, it is better to have a burning house than an angry god; keep the faith.
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By Michael Martin Leaño, hackenslash Contributor INQUIRER.net Editor's note: The Xbox 360 and PC game Bioshock is the spiritual successor to System Shock 2. Let's wax nostalgic and take a look at this classic. A LOT has happened to video games since the new millennium: photorealistic visuals, emergent gameplay, and more complex game worlds, among other things. But even before all these changes to the medium came to the fore, there was System Shock 2. SS2 is a strange mix of first-person shooting, role-playing, and sci-fi horror. Think of it as "Event Horizon" meets Doom. The game was developed by the now-defunct Looking Glass Studios, and Irrational Games, the creators of Freedom Force. SS2 is the sequel to System Shock, another hybrid that came out in 1994. This follow-up takes place 42 years after the events of System Shock. The Von Braun, a spaceship owned by Trioptimum Corp., is SS2's main setting. Like the ship in "Event Horizon," the Von Braun is using a new kind of travel technology that lets it travel faster than light. The Von Braun's mission is to journey into the unexplored areas of space, and it's being escorted by the Rickenbacker, a military craft. Where do you fit in? You're an unnamed soldier who awakens when things get a little hairy aboard the Von Braun. You're contacted by another survivor trapped in the upper deck, and you're supposed to meet up and survive in the process. It's not that simple though, because survival would prove to be SS2's biggest challenge. Like other games of this sort, you'll be hard-pressed to find the necessary items to stay alive. Ammunition is scarce, and guns are even scarcer. If you do find ranged weapons, you're always pressed for inventory space so you're going to decide which item gets left behind. Dropping weapons become necessary when they're broken unless you can fix them. Items for restoring precious health is also in short supply so each step taken must always be a cautious one. The role-playing elements of SS2 make each experience almost unique. You'll have to choose between three military branches, and each changes your attributes and skills. Choosing to be a Marine makes you proficient in weapons and physically able, but not much else. If you want to be part of the Navy, you get crucial technical skills like hacking, but you're no expert with standard guns. Signing up as one of the OSA gives you useful psionic powers, but you're a weakling physically. The career choice would determine how you handle various situations. SS2 is frightening not only because of the limited supply of weapons and items, but also because of the moody atmosphere and the grotesque creatures that you'll face. There are no generic scares here -- imagine a formerly human foe that will scream at you, ask you to kill him, and bitterly apologize while you drive a wrench into his gut. This excellence in psychological scares can be attributed to the brilliant sound design of SS2. The ship's steady hum, the echoes of your steps, the random anguished shrieks, and the clang of metal provide an atmosphere that's ripe for scares. There's some dynamic music in between that shows up from time to time, but it's never distracting from the immersion that one gets while playing. The only sore point that dampens the aural feast is the wooden voice work in a few audio logs. However, the poorly-delivered lines won't diminish the fear evoked by SS2's audio. Never has a game made monkey sounds so chilling. After almost eight years of release, you'll notice that SS2 hasn't aged well in the graphics department. The enhanced Dark Engine shows its true age when you play SS2 today. The most noticeable proof would be the humanoid models that look bad even by 1999 standards. Playing the game in current machines is mostly a cinch because the game performs very well even if you crank the resolution all the way to 1024x768. If you purchased SS2 today and you're using Windows XP, you may encounter some technical issues while running it. You'll have to download a patch for an updated version of SS2's executable and fiddle with a configuration file somewhere in the installation directory. The good news is fans have made updated textures for SS2 to "modernize" the game. When applied, the visuals do look better. Caveat: our copy was not tested for Vista. SS2 remains relevant because despite its aging visuals, it's still one hell of a game. SS2 is a piece of Looking Glass' legacy, and a part of Irrational Games' impressive credentials. When you've finished the game, it continues to disturb like a timeless horror film for the ages. SS2 deserves a place on your shelf. System Shock 2 Genre: FPS/RPG Developers: Looking Glass Studios, Irrational Games Publishers: Electronic Arts ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
NOW on its third go-round, everybody’s talking about how EA’s Fight Night franchise has indeed redefined the boxing game genre. But because it’s a boxing simulation and tries to approximate the real thing as much as possible, it’s not something that everyone can enjoy right away. It does have a Total Punch Control gameplay system that you need to learn first. Videogame boxing wasn’t always like this, though. Early boxing games were simply more of the pick-up-and-play, button-mashing arcade types, especially back in the day when Atari consoles ruled our homes. But it wasn’t until Nintendo came out with its Punch-Out!! franchise when the boxing games started to come into their own. With the exception of Mike Tyson who appeared on one Punch-Out!! game for the NES in all his jagged glory, the series featured fictional sluggers with colorful personalities complete with matching swagger and signature moves worthy of the World Wresting Entertainment. Needless to say, Mike Tyson felt very much at home with the likes of Soda Popinski, Bald Bull and Mr. Sandman. It was a lot of fun while it lasted. Sadly, we haven’t heard from the franchise after the release of Super Punch-Out!! for the Super NES. So when EA Sports failed to score a knockout with its more realistic but less than stellar Knockout Kings and its sequels for both the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, Midway answered the bell with their own version of Punch-Out!!, only this time in 3D. In this corner, enter Ready 2 Rumble Boxing. While versions for other consoles were also released, the definitive version of R2R was for the then awesome 128-bit wonder that would later turn out to be Sega’s last (hardware) hurrah, the Dreamcast. As one of the DC’s launch titles, R2R showed off the console’s graphical capabilities with gorgeous-looking models of the largely cartoonish characters that can you can still marvel at even today. At the same time, it also had many other things going for it, including its engaging gameplay, tight and responsive controls and tongue-in-cheek humor. With no less than ring announcer Michael Buffer (Mr. "Let’s Get Ready To Rumble" himself) introducing the fighters, the original game has you starting out as an unheralded boxer working your way up to that coveted title shot. You can’t create your own character, though and have to choose from R2R’s roster of fighters that includes the lean and mean and Chris Rock-sounding Afro Thunder from New York to the seemingly Eddie Guerrero-inspired Angel "Raging" Rivera from Mexico to the Dolph Lundgren-deadringer Boris "The Bear" Knokimov from Croatia to even Brazilian hottie Selene Strike. You start fighting in a near empty arena that gets bigger and more crowded as you rack up more victories until you finally win it all. Form the word RUMBLE as you connect with more powerful punches and you are transformed into an unstoppable force of nature that knocks the other boxer out cold. That’s about all there is to it in R2R, though. The game is not that hard to beat since it’s pretty much a button-mashing affair. Sure, it has a Championship Mode that’s essentially the same as its Arcade Mode except for some required training mini-games in between matches that aren’t really interesting enough for the most part. Among the unlockables, only four are extra characters and none of them is anything to write home about. Fortunately, Midway was more than up to the task of improving the game’s shortcomings with the release of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 two years later. It’s still pretty much the same game, only bigger, better and certainly a lot funnier. Round 2 brings back the best of the first R2R and adds several more interesting characters (most of them unlockable) to the fold including Afro Thunder’s brother, G.C. Thunder who looks a lot like Prince, punk rock livewire Freak E. Deke (a personal favorite), robot Robox Rese-4, who mimics the moves of other fighters just like Mokujin in the Tekken series and five real life personalities namely basketball superstar Shaquille O’ Neal, the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, then White House tenants Bill and Hillary Clinton and in a surprise Jekyll and Hyde transformation, announcer Michael Buffer himself. If that’s not enough reason for you to bid for a used DC at Bidshot and eBay and hunt this gem down, then perhaps the three levels of RUMBLE will. Getting the final level of RUMBLE will reward you with the power to deliver a punch strong enough to send, say, Michael Jackson, flying out of the ring. Yes, it’s that satisfying. For the most part, R2R Round 2 is still an arcade boxing game for the most part and has therefore limited replay value for single players after all the characters have been unlocked. But you can probably say the same thing about other fighting games for that matter. The real strength of games in this genre lies in its multiplayer replay value in Round 2 is pretty high in this area. What this game lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in sheer attitude and laugh-out loud fun. If you have a DC, round up your best buds and schedule a bout with Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2. Your idea of Fight Night may never be the same afterwards. Editor's Note: hackenslash contributor Edwin Sallan writes for Manila Bulletin.