Kasey Chang @kschang
Dick Marcinko: Rogue Warrior (Windows)
Also-Ran Cover Shooter With Melee Fatality Moves
Interesting background and setup, fatality moves if you can get close enough to do a silent kill
Generic cover shooter otherwise in rat-run levels and generic weapons
The Bottom Line
Rogue Warrior is best described as a "cover shooter" set in the latter days of Cold War. Basically, you travel from location to location, in search of ever larger objectives and unravel a conspiracy across the world. In the first mission, you are sent into North Korea to retrieve a defector who has important information. That only leads to further missions in North Korea, than to yet other countries, and all the way north into an enemy base...
The premise is intriguing enough, and the Marcinko does know what he's talking about as the background material is excellent. However, shooter itself is about as generic as generic can be. It's a basic "cover" shooter where you can lean against walls and cover, pop out to shoot or blindfire around the cover. You have a few grenades, and variety of weapons, but you can only carry two: usually assault rifle and SMG, but there are also pistol, shotgun, and some minor surprises.
The game's primary feature is a series of "fatality moves". According to the game, there are over 30 different ones, depending on how you approached the enemy before triggering the "kill move". And they are quite bloody and visceral that should not be described. Let's just say they belong in a Rambo film.
The levels are generic "rat runs" where there is a single way through the level that you have to fight through. Occasionally there are wider areas that allow slightly different approaches, but generally your approach is hide in cover, shoot to kill a few enemies, wait for reinforcements to show up, shoot them too, gather ammo, advance to next segment. And this repeats ad infinitum. Occasionally you can sneak up on a patrolling guard to do a fatality, but it's not always possible. Indeed, there's no bonus for doing so.
There is multiplayer, but that was not tested.
Graphics are average for a shooter of this vintage. The levels look detailed, albeit not very useful tactically.
Enemy AI is dumb, and relies on placement and spawning (often they do spawn to the sides of you) and their numbers to pose any threat.
This is one of those games with "wait to heal" health that as long as you can find some cover and don't get hit you'll heal automatically, and it's kinda lame that way.
There are many impossible plots, such as Marcinko taking a dive into arctic waters while wearing short sleeves, then swam underwater a few hundred meters for infiltration into enemy base.
All in all, this game is a generic cover shooter. Marcinko's name got it a better backstory and some fatality moves, but the end result is still a generic cover shooter.
By Kasey Chang on April 28th, 2013
Alarm for Cobra 11: Nitro (Windows)
Decent graphics, decent handling, time limit too tight
Alarm for Cobra 11 has lots of cars quite a few "exciting" missions, decent graphics for 2006 game, supports full controller remap, supports splitscreen
Default campaign too limiting (fixed 25 missions plus 2 bonus missions), single race are limiting as well, no internet multiplayer, plot is usually quite silly
The Bottom Line
Alarm for Cobra 11 is basically Germany's version of "CHIPs", the highway patrol, with two main characters going after criminals on the freeway or in the streets, and occasionally, running away from them. Nitro is one of the games that attempts to capture the feel of the TV series, but lets you drive the cars.
The town is quite large and has wide variety of roads, from city streets to parks, highways to country roads, and such. The game has a very good "GPS" that tells you which way you need to go, so getting lost is not a problem.
The officers, often working plain-clothes or undercover, has a wide variety of vehicles, usually a MB or a BMW, but occasionally Audi or Porsche. There are even a few missions featuring a Toyota Supra and the two "special" missions featured a SEAT. In any case, the mission will let you know which car to drive. You can choose among the 3 dozen cars available in single race after you unlock them from the campaign.
The vehicle handling is quite nice. The cars usually understeer with the occasional snap oversteer if you maintain power in the corners. The different vehicles do behave differently, and nitro is usually NOT available in the missions, and you don't need them.
The missions are your standard variations: checkpoint, pursuit and smash (put down the target), pursuit and disable (hold the vehicle for X seconds), and escape (do not let yourself be overtaken). There's one special mission where you need to dock with the vehicle (come along side it for X seconds).
For most missions your path is pre-defined, and deviation from that will result in a "reset" where you are placed on the street in the correct orientation (you can also do manual reset when you crashed and ended up stranded or upside down and such). However, some of the checkpoint races are semi-freeform... They tell you which checkpoint, you figure out best way to get there.
In actual gameplay, the civilian vehicles burst into flames at the tiniest excuse, even diesel vehicles.
By Kasey Chang on April 28th, 2013
American McGee presents Bad Day LA (Windows)
This is not a game, this is a satire as a game
// Art direction // style // satirical content. The art is comic-y. The characters are comic-y in the Archie-type of a way. The prose is biting without being insulting, and there are "did he just do that!?!?" type of moments.
Just about everything else, unfortunately. The game combines repetitive objectives (backwards and forwards through the level), with a bit of free-form play like GTA series. The language is crude (I don't want to use the n-word, but the main character sure behaves like the n-word. He's like Chris Rock at the comedy hours, except even MORE irritating. Game itself is hard to aim and movement is shoddy and jerky. And many elements are just plain mean. One boss fight is a high-tech version of whack-a-mole. A boss-sniper can flit from window to window, and you have to counter-snipe him X times without being killed yourself.
The Bottom Line
Bad Day in LA is basically a satire on the American politics dressed up as a game. It is aimed at mature audiences, as you have to be old enough to recognize the jokes and the satire. However, it is cartoony to emphasize its satirical nature. As a result, it's not that good as a game, and thus, having no real identity. Gamewise, it's roughly a satirical version of Grand Theft Auto III mixed with Half Life, with shoddy controls and repetitive (read: boring) gameplay. Occasional cleverness may illicit a chuckle or two, but overall, the combo just doesn't work that well.
You play as a homeless person Anthony (by choice) who has turned his back on society. Except... When a series of man-made and natural disasters visit upon LA, Anthony will have to decide that the society he tried to get away from, may need a bit of his help after all...
The actual gameplay is in third-person view with cross-hair. At the easiest level, you are automatically resurrected at the same spot if you die. So there's nothing "game-ending". And you are rated on the smileys (good deeds) and frownies (bad deeds) you do. The more good deeds (like putting out fires, healing people, kill terrorists, cure zombies) you do, the more people trusts and want to help you. The more bad deeds (kill civilians, military, law enforcement, random destruction of property) you do, people will start attacking you.
The graphics are cartoony and occasionally even looks a bit cell-shaded. The whole game is rated M despite its cartoonish looks though. As game progresses, you are given more and better weapons. And yes, you get a "weapon of mass destruction" at the end. And no, it's NOT what you think it is.
The problem is the "game" aspect is feels not that well related to the satire. The truth is, the cutscenes are more entertaining than the game itself. The gameplay is repetitive with "hunt for exit" and "what to shoot" puzzles. There are occasional breaks like a rail-shooter level or two, but overall gameplay really disappoints.
If this was launched like Michael Moore's Sicko or Bowling for Columbine, it would have made far more sense. However, it was launched like a regular game, and thus, completely missed the intended audience. Kids won't "get" the satire and parody, the action's repetitive and boring and thus, it only serves to illustrate that American McGee is a better writer and artist than he is a game designer.
If you get it for about $5 or can play it for free, give it a spin, and you'll get some laughs. Else, you may be wasting your money.
By Kasey Chang on August 11th, 2007
MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries (Windows)
This Merc title did everything right about BTech
Mercenaries managed to capture the flair from the first Mechwarrior title, except the contract negotiation and dynamic campaign with extended missions. You are in charge of a new merc outfit and depending on YOUR performance you can grow at the optimum rate, or even go to Solaris VII to prove your own worth as a Mechwarrior. Loads of weapons, "Black Market" to trade weapons and mechs, loads of mechs, multiplayer, it's almost a Btech player's dream
No graphical upgrades, still balanced toward the larger mechs (i.e. a bit too powerful), many mechs are in the extra cost expansion packs, as are some of the weapons (though you don't need them for SP), no true dynamic campaign (the whole thing is multi-branch scripted) not enough reference to the existing "lore" other than the initial bits.
The Bottom Line
Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries is the last iteration of the Mechwarrior 4 series. After introducing Mechwarrior 4, Black Knight, and the 2 mech packs (Inner Sphere and Clans), Mercenaries is basically what FASA and Microsoft has learned from the entire series distilled into a single game.
The graphical engine did not get upgraded, as they need to maintain compatibility, but all the bugs have been fixed and performance tweaked. The MW4 series is a bit faster than MW3 and a bit more action oriented, and the new engine works well enough for that.
Sound remains about the same as well. Nothing major, though some of the new weapons sounds pretty good.
The main difference is you are now running your own mercenary company, instead of working for someone else, or a planetary government / alliance. You are really on your own, work for the highest bidder. You start your career allied with one out of four sponsors, which basically gives you a default orientation and bonus. One starts with more cash, one with more techs, one with better mechs, and one with better weapons! From there on, take on the various missions, try to earn as much money as possible by fulfilling mission objectives, and try to obtain salvage. Capture enemy weapons and sell them.
When time is right, Solaris VII becomes available, where you can choose to fight on mech to mech action in various classes, and hopefully be crowned "grand champion". Winning gives you a huge bonus paycheck.
As missions get harder, you'll need to hire additional help, and you can take many mechs into the battle, subject to mission drop weight limits. You'll need to hire mechwarriors to pilot them and weapons / ammo to outfit them, of course. Employees cost money. As it is your company, it is all up to you.
At the end, you can choose your allegiance toward Davion, Steiner, or neither, as you have fought from one end of the known galaxy to another in this long campaign, and you do need to choose sides, as choosing one side will preclude missions on the other, and so on.
Some missions require tactical finesse, while others rely on speed, teamwork, and more.
Single Player campaign, as mentioned, is quite good, with lots of branches and lots of apparent freedom. Individual battles can be hard, but not overwhelming, at least not after a bit of practice.
Multiplayer has no "commander" view, it's basically every one for himself, though there is chat support which would offer some sort of coordination.
All in all, MW4:Mercs is the most satisfying of MW4 series, giving players a true taste of being a mercenary (Black Knight expansion doesn't really count in that sense) and adding Solaris VII is a brilliant touch. Multiplayer is a lot of fun if you find the right people. All in all, a great time to be had, just wish they added more of a "dynamic campaign" to the MP.
By Kasey Chang on July 30th, 2007
WWII Tank Commander (Windows)
Barely worth my time if free, not worth $10
It has decent graphics, it's simple, it's fast, it has rather satisfying explosions
Too simple, everything dies the same, you can damaged by machine guns, too many enemies, arcade-like "resupplies", immortal teammates
The Bottom Line
WWII Tank Commander is a budget title that tried to ride a wave of WW2 movies and anniversaries. It offers some interesting a semi-realistic actions, but in actuality it's a purely arcade game that offers nothing realistic.
WWII Tank Commander casts you as one of the tank commanders with Patton's 4th Division charging across Europe. The controls are best described as the "tank portion" of Call of Duty. You know, as the Russians? When you're called upon to substitute as a tank commander? This game is basically it, the whole game, blasting other tanks.
You move your viewpoint with the mouse, and you drive the tank with the common WASD. The catch is, of course, in a tank your viewpoint may NOT be where the tank is moving to. So you also have an "align" key, which aligns body with the turret. As turret does not turn instantaneously, there's a little "lag" between moving the view and the main gun pointing. But otherwise movement is not bad, with a bit of up/down springy motion when the tank starts and stops and after firing each round.
Terrain is not bad, with decent looking hills and valleys and such.
Enemies are ridiculous. While infantry actually move and shoot, and tanks rotate turrets to engage you, most of them just sit still like a pillbox, begging for your rounds. AT guns don't even bother turning toward you. They aim off to one side, but they hit you nonetheless.
There are many additional problems. First of all, your teammates are immortal. They can take infinite number of hits, esp. the tank that leads you, if any. Thus, hide behind them is a very good place to be. If they die, that's because the script called for them to die.
Second, you have to go into graphics and max out the draw distance. If you don't, you can't see the enemies, but they can hit you... from BEYOND your view distance. ARGH!
Third, no ballistics. Basically point, and shoot. There seems to be a semblance of armor modelling, namely, pound at the FRONT of the enemy, and you will take 3-4 hits to kill it. Pound at the side, and you can kill it in one or two hits. However, it's almost impossible to ID the enemy from a distance, esp. with fog turned on.
Fourth, INFANTRY and MACHINE GUN can damage tanks. This is simply unreasonable. It seems that every German soldier is armed with a Panzerfaust, except they never seem to fire it, yet you are hit nonetheless! What's wrose, machine gun fire, from soldiers can actually chip away at your tank! Shoot enough and you can actually go boom! (And you can do this to enemy tanks, if you ran out of main gun ammo)
Now the really arcade-y experience... The enemy tanks, when they die, sometimes leave behind a red cross or 3-rounds of shells that you can pick up as life / reloads. The problem is... When they blow up, they turn into a wrecked version, in flames (turret suddenly rotated back to normal!) then they just disappear in a puff of smoke, sometimes leaving the powerup. That just breaks your immersion factor. Everything else is so realistic... why suddenly use the powerup?
Then of course, is the "historical" aspects. Most tankers don't get to blow up more than a handful. You blow up a dozen or more in a single mission. What's more, M-4 Sherman's 76mm cannon is one of the weaker ones in WWII, can't even beat a Panzer IV up front, yet, in this game you'll be killing everything in sight, Panzer IVs, Panthers, even Tigers. The firing rate on these cannons are also ridiculously fast. You can almost crank out a shot every 2 seconds. Hah!
Sound gets REALLY monotonous after a while... clang of treads, boom of cannons... and so on.
All in all, this is okay for a quick diversion. The whole thing is an exercise in arcade game design, trying to cash in on 50th anniversay of WW2, and the result is cheap, and barely worth playing.
By Kasey Chang on July 9th, 2007
MissionForce: CyberStorm (Windows)
One of the most overlooked strategy games ever
Almost infinite number of varieties. Seven major categories of weapons, each with lots of variations, many different HERC chassis models each with different limits (and thus weapon packages), different bioderms each with different limits (thus matching the 'derm to the HERC is a full-time job), ability to apply chemicals to the 'derms during combat to give them temporary boost in ability (completely optional), almost endless variety of terrain and special terrain/field features (some beneficial, others ambivalent, others hostile) such as poisonous atmosphere (no ejections), heavy dust storm (sensors limited to point-blank range only), and so on, multiplayer support, deep backstory, good variety of enemies
Only two sides gets a bit boring after a while, some missions extremely tough, yet others extremely easy (due to the random generator), configuring HERCs and Bioderms gets tedious when you have to do so for multiple HERCs and 'derms, no battlefield salvage and tech discovery -- just revelation, variety of weapons can be overwhelming...
The Bottom Line
MFC used to be the best tactical mech combat game. It supported multiplayer that's finely balanced through the credits system. It has a ton of options that allowed each player his/her own tactics / outfits. And the AI is challenging enough without being overwhelming. The random mission generator creates an infinite variety of missions for the campaign, and the later systems introduce variety of terrain / field features that seriously complicates your tactical planning. It is the perfect tactical mech game.
You start out with only two HERCs and 2 weak 'derms. Command them well, get promotions, and you'll get higher HERC and 'derm limits. Each Cybrid kills gets you bounty, which can then be used to buy more HERCs, upgrade HERC weapons and equipments, and better 'derms (and heal or train the ones you have).
Just managing the derms can take up quite a bit of your time when you get a few of them. The earliest derms have only rudimentary skills, and they reach their limits quite quickly. Later you will gain access to the advanced and "unique" derms, and they often specialize in different areas. Some may be good with projectile weapons, while others may be better with energy weapons, or special weapons, or piloting... and so on. However, each 'derm only has a limited lifespan and you have to save your best 'derms for the big battles. Each 'derm will need training to maximize its skills, and detox between missions. Considering on which derm to use in which HERC is a major undertaking when you have more than a few to command.
The HERC types range from tiny scout HERCs (also useful for suicide missions) to monstrous dreadnought HERCs, and everything in between. Each HERC has different size ratings, limiting its armor and shields, and movement. It also has different number of hardpoints, thus allowing for different combinations. Some HERCs may be energy-weapon heavy, while others can fit more indirect-fire weapons, yet others for shield-busters, and so on. No one HERC can do everything, and decided which HERC to bring and how to outfit each one depends on the tactical situation, 'derms available, and so on.
There are seven different categories of weapons. Each of them act differently. As all HERCs (and the Cybrid equivalent) are usually protected by both shields and armor, each weapon acts a little differently against shield vs. armor. For example, lasers are usually better against armor than shields, while EM weapons do massive damage to shields but very little against armor. As shields recharge, but armor does not, one of the tactics is to combine a shield-buster weapon with a an anti-armor weapon. Also, it is possible to concentrate a shield to a specific direction, and thus, another tactic is to distract the enemy by giving him multiple threat vectors, and thus he cannot protect all sides. Finally, the ELF weapons bypass shields completely (though it doesn't do that much damage). Different weapons also require different ammo, energy, hardpoint, weapons skill, and so on. There are also missiles and indirect firing weapons. Thus, matching the weapon to the HERC can be a full-time undertaking as well. Fortunately, one can easily save the configuration of the chassis, and simply load the config to outfit the HERC as ordered provided sufficient credits are available.
If you are playing a campaign, you generally have nine missions available at any time. The top four are mining missions, generally pretty easy and low risk, but occasionally it can be interesting. The next four are military missions, usually stuff like protect outpost, destroy Cybrid outpost, etc. The final mission is the big one: destroy Cybrid main base in this system. As there are only three systems, attacking the Cybrid base is a MAJOR undertaking, and you better be at maximum rank with maximum HERCs (fully outfitted too) and the best 'derms before attempting the big battle.
Once you've chosen a mission, your force is then inserted to the specified battlefield. Your insertion craft stays on the map unless it was hit by enemy. Then it will leave, only to return if you win or call for evacuation. The terrain elevation is modeled and visibility is affected accordingly. Hexes are used but that does not distract from the actual gameplay. You start with a map with only a small portion revealed. Your scout and other units will reveal more of the map as you move along. If there are friendlies on the map you can see them and the terrain around as well. As you locate enemies (i.e. they show up in your sensor range), you can then engage with bearing weapons from appropriate units. They will do the same, and you keep doing this and/or move until either side is annihilated or escapes.
In many missions, one of the objectives is to mine, and your HERC must be equipped with a mine extractor. Once the map is clear, you can choose to keep mining until full, or call in the auto-mine at 50% commission. That is worth credits as well. Each Cybrid killed and Cybrid structure destroyed is worth credits as well. That would be your primary income to fuel your HERC and 'derm expansion.
While the idea of playing bazillion missions just to support one big battle to win the system sounds boring, each mission is different. Starting location is different, enemy faced is different, and they will react differently. Even if you meet the same enemy chassis type, it may be mounting different set of weapons, or YOU may be mounting a different set of weapons, requiring a completely different set of tactics. Or the terrain / planet may require you to use a different tactic (such as a "no missile" planet, or a "no plasma" planet, and so on).
Multiplayer is simple and balanced, and easily handicapped by giving a few more credits to the side that needs it. You can even have the Cybrids still running about as a spoiler force.
All in all, this is one of the best turn-based mech tactical combat game available, PERIOD. Titans of the Sun may be close, but it doesn't replace this one. Highly recommended.
By Kasey Chang on February 20th, 2006
Delta Force 2 (Windows)
Great terrain, great graphics, lousy gameplay
Graphics are gorgeous, as voxelspace engine generates some of the best terrain in the business without using a ton of polygons. You actually feel as if you're sliding through the grass as you crawl on the ground prone.
Nice variety of weapons, but not enough of it was silenced.
Your AI buddies are kamikaze idiots, instead of special forces soldiers. They rush headlong into incoming fire, go prone, die any way, leaving you to do all the work.
No anti-air weapon despite the fact that often you are expected to engage enemy gunships.
Unrealistic settings. While Delta boys are the elite, they are NOT supposed to be used as assault troops!
The Bottom Line
Delta Force 2 is a shooter based on the Novalogic Voxelspace engine. It generates a very convincing terrain with the hills and valleys and grassy areas and such, and as one of the top counterterrorism warriors of the United States, you'll have to count on your fellow squaddies' help as well as your superior firepower to counter enemy's overwhelming superiority.
You have a wide variety of weapons to choose from (no switching during the mission though) from assault rifles to sniper rifles to machine guns and submachine guns. You even have grenades, LAW rockets, claymores, and misc. other weapons, not to mention commando knife and pistol (usually silenced).
Youa re sent on a variety of missions chasing down first a biological threat after an unknown force attacked an Antartic bio-research lab, then a terrorist threat in Africa, in two campaigns. There is also a variety fo single missions. There are also more missions you can download from enthusiast websites, as the mission editor is included.
The HUD is easy enough to understand and quite intuitive, though switching weapon modes by pressing the key multiple times may not be as easy as first thought. Shooting at enemies is easy enough, and sniper rifles are very powerful, capable of killing enemies out to several hundred meters. Fortunately AI isn't smart enough to send out mortars and patrols to catch snipers. Game counteracts this by requiring you to enter some buildings, and do some close-quarters battles.
The hostiles do die in a variety of ways, though no ragdoll physics, just nice variety of death poses. Clipping is a problem as bodies can and do appear through walls and such.
Night-vis and scope is handled nicely, perhaps a bit TOO nicely as it doesn't really interfere much with your field of view the way they're supposed to.
The problem mainly is with the mission design, and your buddies AI.
Supposedly, you're in bravo squad, the squad that does the heavy lifting. Alpha squad is the scout, and charlie / delta squads are support. In reality, they all run ahead of you via separate paths and engage the enemy before you can catch up, and they quite often get killed since they're outnumbered like a dozen to one, then you have to sneak up and avenge them, then figure out how to complete the mission without them. That is just... pathetic.
As explained before, the AI doesn't react much to snipers other than freeze in place and look around, making them even MORE vulnerable to follow-up shots. The game counters this by hiding enemies in buildings, and thus the rest of the mission becomes a "gopher hunt".
The game does support multiplayer over NovaWorld, where dozens and dozens of players can join in huge multiplayer battles, completely with voice-over-net support (though that's often turned off to save on bandwidth). Don't lose your CD-key as you will need it!
All in all, this is a military sim "lite", with emphasis on fun, NOT realism. If you want realism, go play Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series or even SWAT 4. On the other hand, if you want an updated version of this, go get Delta Force Xtreme, and have a blast in multiplayer.
By Kasey Chang on November 7th, 2005
Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising (Windows)
One of the most underappreciated RTS ever
Lots of units, each different // ability to customize a unit with new weapons // different personalities fly/drive differently and has different levels of aggression and so on // resources are important, but not TOO important as the personalities give you some way of "automating" some of the tasks, leaving you to strategize // a story that actually makes sense, rather than just bazillion units fighting // ability to either take control of units directly or just direct their profiles to fight
Graphics engine a bit outdated // perhaps TOO different from RTS where you basically out-produce the AI // British style story may not quite catch American eye // some battles can drag on for HOURS if one doesn't know how to approach it // Controls aren't that intuitive
The Bottom Line
Antaeus Rising is basically an RTS but with several key improvements. Some may not like these "improvements" as they do not match the common RTS mold. On the other hand, they add new wrinkles to the RTS genre and makes the game challenging in a very different way. Those who are used to conventional RTS will likely hate the game, while those seeking a new challenge and willing to learn the system will enjoy the fresh challenges.
You are basically in control of the cruiser Antaeus, which is also your primary battle control center. You have a full 3D map of the surrounding area and can issue orders on this map, fully rotatable and zoomable. The ship itself has a set of broadside cannons that can fire limted number of salvos that can be used to knock out specific targets... If you have a unit that can do the spotting. However, the ship will not be doing the fighting. The ship is also equipped with 4 nano-manufacturing bays capable of building new units in an eyeblink, provided that enough material/energy is available in the storage capacitor banks.
The material/energy is the "resource" in this game. While you do gather resources, you are limited in amount of units you can produce and use (due to number of Soulcatcher chips you have). The harvester can gather the resources automatically (if equipped with a chip) and you can pretty much leave it alone unless it wanders into hostile territory.
Each deployed unit, unless under your direct control, requires a Soulcatcher chip profile to run. This means you must concentrate on quality and weapons and tactics instead of quantity. And each profile / soul has a personality who are better in certain things. You can send an aerial specialist to drive a ground vehicle, but don't expect top performance!
The backstory is excellent, is a bit on the sappy side. The opposition's motives were never really explained, but it wasn't that necessary. The cutscenes and voiceovers are excellent, all rendered with the in-game 3D engine. Even the level loading screens takes place on a map showing the cruiser moving from one island to the next, searching for the enemy. Production value is excellent.
Antaeus is not a twitch game, so the controls aren't as intuitive as one may suspect. It does not detract from the game that much except for twitch gamers. You don't control the units directly AND you don't have too many units cluttering up your fight. This means you don't have to micromanage each unit, but it's a feature not always appreciated.
The units vary from helicopters to VTOL jets, from tanks to stealth vehicles, and even hovercrafts. Most have a normal form and an advanced form. You don't have all the designs right at the beginning, and you must acquire new designs in order to build the new units later. Introducing the new units are done very nicely and each new units actually does help.
Each of the units are modular and can fit items like armor, shields, Soulcatcher unit (so the unit becomes autonomous albeit still subject to orders), repair module, recycler (i.e. harvester) module, and more. Advanced units can mount two weapons while beginning units mounts only one. Each of the weapons are also different, from simple chain gun to missiles to EM gun that disables targets to long-range lasers and howitzers. You have a good variety of weapons that are suitable for different platforms and different tactics. Indeed, you'll need to invent a few in the course of the game (or read the FAQ).
The goals in the mission are logical, and are sort of self-directing. In order to destroy the enemy, you must stop his production, which means push them back until you can destroy either their energy source (the energy wells / storage) or their production facilities. Thus, you mount an amphibious assault where gunships take care of ground-based howitzers and turrets whle hovercrafts destroy SAM and AAA sites. When the area is clear, bring in the recylcer to absorb the energy/metal from the wreckage, while you use your new beachhead to push the enemy back, build some of your defenses, and proceed to clear the island one piece at a time.
Each level has a somewhat different challenge. Some levels are timed, while others includes escort, search and rescue, search, to babysit a convoy of scientists. Others are simply annihilation.
By Kasey Chang on May 5th, 2005
Delta Force: Task Force Dagger (Windows)
New things don't add much to the game, if at all
Lots of action // Stealth required at times // Fun locations // Lots of tangos to kill // Lots of weapons to try // Nice multiplayer support
Unrealistic weapon performance // unrealistic tactical scenario (one guy vs. the world) // 10 special units actually have almost nothing distinguishing them // most of the weapons are virtually identical with minimal operational difference // most missions can be done with the same weapons // UAV and commander's map too powerful
The Bottom Line
Delta Force / Task Force Dagger is an attempt to cash in on Operation Euduring Freedom (i.e. invasion of Afghanistan) by Novalogic. They came up with some missions based very loosely on the missions actually undertaken by SpecOps troops and Rangers. The problem is, those real missions involved hundreds of people, and these missions are one-man shows where one (or sometimes, two) guys kills dozens and dozens of terrorists in your way.
As long as you keep in mind that you're NOT going to find too much realism in this game, it can be enjoyed quite well. There are a lot of weapons available. Half-dozen or more pistols, a wide variety of assault rifles, sniper rifles, even light and medium machine guns are available. There are even anti-tank rockets and demolition charges, plus grenades for additional firepower. Many of the weapons are silenced, giving you plenty of stealth if you want it. However, operationally, there really isn't any difference between some of the weapons. I mean, an Austeyr is almost the same as SA-80 or M-16, except for magazine size and minor details. Differences don't mean much operationally.
The maps really do give a sense of size, as the maps are measured in square kilometers, instead of often claustrophobic maps in other games. Sniper action becomes very important, and enemy snipers can and will target you.
Buildings aren't really detailed, but that could be forgiven. The hills and such are nicely contoured and organic looking, thanks to Novalogic's voxel technology.
Enemy AI... when set on easy, they are horrible, as they don't attack much if at all. They'll shoot at you if they see you, but that's about it. On regular or HARD, they are more aggressive and more resistant to damage, providing more of a challenge. The problem is all of the enemies look the same. Seems they all wear green camo jackets, bandoliers, eyepatch, and a green turban. Never saw any variation, such as facial hair, turban color, and so on. Guess Novalogic want to keep the enemy ID easy.
Supposedly you can choose from any of the 10 different units, but that just means you gain one of the five special abilities for being in a particular group, and even then those abilities don't really affect play that much, and you can even turn off the special abilities if you wish.
The "campaign" is just all 25 missions played together, and kills are recorded. You can also play specific missions in any order as "Quick Missions".
In the mission you can call upon "Commander's Map", which is like a god's view of the stuff nearby, and it's WAY TOO powerful, esp. on easy, when you get to see the location of every enemy AND THEIR FACING, even if they are UNDERGROUND! With this, you have no excuse to being shot as you have the ability to sneak up behind the enemy and kill them in the direction they do not expect. This feature is WAY too powerful and one must practice NOT to use it.
You can control an UAV's cameras in the mission, but there's really no need to.
The missions are generally man-vs-world type where you're dropped behind enemy lines, kill lots of tangos, find an object or two, and get out. That is NOT the way special operation guys work. They go in as a team, they come out as a team. On the other hand, it is kinda fun. Just imagine you're really a supersoldier doing a whole team's job.
Soem special mission have you riding on a chopper shooting at enemies below. Those are interesting as it provides a new set of challenges, as your shooting platform is constantly moving and you need to adjust your aim a bit. If you can hit someone from the air with sniper rifle, you must be pretty good. However, those special missions are very few.
DF/TFD's multiplayer is supported through NovaWorld, and lots of maps and play modes are supported. This is excellent... If you can find enough good players. By now, most players have moved on to Joint Ops / Escalation, so the cupboard is looking a bit bare.
All in all, DF/TFD is another chapter in unrealistic military shooter pumped out by NovaLogic. Take it for what it is, and you should be happy with it. Don't expect realism and you won't be disappointed.
By Kasey Chang on April 30th, 2005
Road Wars (Windows)
Deeper than first suspected, but too fast and not deep enough
Quick Race gets you right into the action // Racing with weapons lets you vent road rage // Variety of cars and weapons, both front and rear firing // Multiple Viewpoints // Decent graphics // Customization possible in career mode
Weapons aren't different enough // Differences between cars aren't significant // Weapons gets in the way of racing // Not enough tracks, only 6 in regular or reverse modes
The Bottom Line
Road Wars is a racing game with weapons, a bit like Mad Max:Road Warrior. You race around the course in souped up vehicles with weapons, and the first one to cross the finish line is the winner. Feel free to shoot the folks in front of you. Is it fun though? Not really.
You can choose among the 6 different cars (each with multiple paintjobs available). They start with different weapons and different characteristics. Some accelerate faster, others are more durable, some have high top speed, and so on. Each is armed with usually 3 weapons, a forward firing gun, a heavy missile, and a rear firing mine or oil slick. You also have 10 shots of nitro to get a quick speed boost.
The graphics are decent and gets the job done. The environments are sorta imaginative, though doesn't seem to have callous public that may demand a sport such as this except for one track out of the six available. Some even have alternate paths. Some has automated turrets that shoot at everybody, kinda like the Tusken Raiders taking shots at the Pod Racers in Episode I of Star Wars. Others have narrow gates and such that you may have hard time negotiating at high speed. Sounds interesting, right? More like frustrating, as you must slow down to negotiate the gates. The automated cannons rarely hit anything unless they happen to spin you around, and that will set you back by several seconds.
The cars and their handling have problems. All the cars understeer at speed, and some cars can go faster without slipping than others, but due to lack of handbrakes it's not possible to do powerslides and this makes racing rather... Boring, as most of the more advanced maneuvers are impossible to make. You pretty much end up accelerating and braking just to make the turns at the max speed without hitting, anything, and that's it. You may be able to do a four-wheel drift, but that's more by accident then doing it on demand.
Weapons aren't that interesting either. While variety of weapons are good, they don't do enough damage for their use to be very practical. You usually don't stay in the back fo the other car long enough to use the weapon for a while unless we're talking missiles. One can waste a bit of machine gun ammo, but the firing rate is low enough not to warrant further attempts. The rearward firing weapons are a joke since there is no rear-view mirror in the views. Thus, one either deploy it right after being rammed, or try to locate the narrowest part of the road simply deploy the traps/mines/oil there.
What will likely happen is you race in a pack for the first bit of the race, when the weapons are locked. Then when the weapons unlock, you fire everything at once, just about, trying to damage as many cars as you can while staying in the pack or keep the enemy in front of you, while the AI cars attempt to use nitro to get away from you. Then after they did, you try your best to keep up, but your reflexes doesn't let you use nitro much . Most of the accesories are there for show only. So you were able to damage maybe 2-3 cars, and get yourself into 3rd or 4th place. The other cars get away from you... and you never saw those cars again until they came up on your backside, or the race was lost.
The AI is simply BRUTAL, as they NEVER make any mistakes while racing. They may run over your mines, but the weapons don't quite do enough damage any way. You may be able to force them into some mistakes, like bumping them so they missed the entrance or jump, but overall racing them is almost futile unless you manage to damage them significantly.
If you managed to damage your car, you will enjoy visible damage like crumpled panels and such, but those don't seem to affect performance. It's when your engine starts smoking heavily and then lapse into flames, then you'll likely not finish.
The honest truth is... The cars aren't different enough, the tracks are decent but not that good, and the vehicles aren't different enough either. The depth like different range of weapons, different damage, and so on aren't different enough, and the racing end up being quite ho-hum, against AI that never makes mistakes. Altogether, this makes the game rather boring.
By Kasey Chang on April 25th, 2005
I was an Atomic Mutant! (Windows)
Stylistic destruction a lot of campy fun, and less filling
Plenty of 50's movie horror poster style, complete with black and white, cinema 3D vision, and other campy special effects, got the feeling of the atomic panic just right, each monster has their little "origin" movie which further adds to the campy feeling
Monsters not that different, as they all have about the same 5 attacks, and otherwise nothing really different except the looks, no "purpose" to the game other than destruction and survival (onto one more town!), seems the game will never end sometimes, same tactics work over and over, enemies sometimes come from nowhere.
The Bottom Line
IWAAM is a game that could have aimed just a bit higher. It is dripping with style, and lots of production value, but it is just shallow enough that it will be relegated to the bargain bins.
Basically, you choose one of the 5 monsters (each with their own origin intro!) and then you rampage through the desert, destroying towns and outposts and cities and whatnot. As you destroy each one, you're healed and move onto the next town, which would have more defenders... You will be attacked by all sorts of enemies, from simple soldiers to chemical warriors spraying poison, from small P-51 Mustang fighters to B-52 bombers, from armored cars to tanks, and plenty of fixed weapons, all trying to slow you down and stop you.
You can be hurt, and those hits add up. Attacking a structure that explodes too close will hurt you as well. Your life ("awesome MIGHT!") is your measure. If you run out, you fell to the ground, and it's game over! (Though you actually do get multiple lives). Your other measure is "atomic energy", or your little "attack bar". Most attacks cost energy, and when you run out of energy, you can't attack, but energy regenerates rather quickly. Different attacks (there are five of them, from beam/projectile, to smash, kick/stomp, pick up/throw, and a special attack. Each would use different amount of energy (some don't use any!) thus energy management is a key skill.
Some of the monsters can pick up items, and throw them, doing even more damage. Cars and armored cars got tossed into buildings, sky scrappers fall into ruin, civilians panicking and running away... I's all here.
There are some power-ups you can find on the map that will give you extra lives, or recharge (or both!)
You can also play in "monster mode", which means you have only ONE life, but unlimited energy, or you can play in regular mode, which gives you 3 lives, but energy can run out. You just keep attacking towns and installations until... The humans bring you down.
The problem is... the game gets a bit boring after a while. There is only so much you can do. The monsters aren't that different, contributing to the monotony. Survival and high-score doesn't quite seem to fit the "monster" theme, but then, this is a "campy" game. One hopes for monster "versus" mode, ability to customize the monsters a bit (trade speed for life, etc.) and of course, multiplayer.
All in all, IWAAM is a sleeper-hit of a game that is sadly under-appreciated, and deserves a second look, if only for the campy chuckle factor.
By Kasey Chang on April 7th, 2005
Star Trek: New Worlds (Windows)
Complexity is not necessarily an improvement
Interesting subject, as ground ops is a part of Star Trek seldom seen, 3 sides have different units and different tactics, not to mention the "natives", officers can gain experience and affect efficiency of various departments, decent backstory that actually manages to flow together a bit
Too complex to be fun, as you can't build anything useful until you're half-way up the tech tree. Scouts and APC's are essentially unarmed, and it's not until the phaser shuttles (i.e. "tanks") and photon artillery units that you have offensive capabilities. Building powerplants and crew quarters is BORING, too many raw materials to juggle. There are three major raw materials, which are refined into 3 useful materials, which are then used to build things! As the ores can run out, you must have a high efficiency processing in order to get the most out of your mines, and that's micromanagement. Actual combat is mainly mob-attack, few tactics are involved except for stuff like indirect fire, cloaked raids, and so on. Units on ground move so slowly they don't feel like hovercrafts at all.
The Bottom Line
Star Trek: New Worlds is an RTS with a Star Trek MOD. The 3 sides have virtually identical units (unarmed fast scout, APC, "tank", artillery) except for one special unique unit. The structures are virtually identical on all three sides and all have identical tech trees. Most of the "growth" is in growing the "colony hub" to level 4 by building the pre-requisites so you can build combat units in addition to the defenses. Since you can't do any offense before then, the game then becomes who can click the fastest (and get the most building done!). As a result, the game has severe pacing problems.
To "mine" resources, you drop mines (and later, advanced mines) in the middle of a resource concentration. Then the building gets built. You will need some workbees to run between buildings, but that's almost automatic, you just need to make sure you have enough of them.
The game itself looks fine. Terrain features are nicely displayed, structures look nice, sky looks good, units bob and weave on their anti-gravs , etc. Even the minimap is actually useful in telling you where enemies can be seen as well as remaining minerals in the ground (tha tyou can mine). Even the sounds are quite appropriate. The problem is in gameplay.
The officer aspect of crew management can be completely ignored and wouldn't affect the game much. Assigning officers to certain specialties (like tactical officer to armory, science officer to research, and so on) is supposed to enhance productivity, but I've never really noticed any notable difference. Perhaps that's the problem of RTS... The different between 4 seconds vs. 5 seconds by feel alone is minimal, even though it's technically a 20% improvement.
All in all, Star Trek: New Worlds proves that complexity in an RTS game and the known franchise name does NOT guarantee good sales. The wrong pacing decisions in the game tech tree design along with added complexity does not make for a more interesting game.
By Kasey Chang on April 7th, 2005
Babylon 5: Shadow Wars (Windows)
Well, it's the only official B5 game ever
It's the only one of its kind
Just about everything else
The Bottom Line
Shadow War is Sound Source Interactive's attempt to cash in on their B5 exclusive license. The multimedia collection is subpar (wallpapers are only 800x600), videos are short, sounds are short... And the game... Please, it's a disgrace to give it the B5 name, but let's leave that aside for a moment.
Shadow War is your typical Galaga clone, albeit with B5 ship. You start in a Starfury, and your objective is to blast incoming bad guys before they can harm you or the station. B5 can take only so many hits, and it just wanders along the bottom, bouncing from one screen edge to the other. You however, can move left, right, even a bit up and down. Enemies like Drak just drifts over from top of screen and shoots at you randomly. Your shields can take a few hits... But later waves includes tougher enemies with more powerful shots, including Shadow ships that shots the heavy beam... However if you manage to survive for 10 levels, you get the Whitestar, which is quite a bit more powerful than the Starfury.
There really is no more to this game, other than the enemy occasionally pulls off special manuevers, like coming back UP the screen from the bottom instead of only go down, then reappear from the top. You just keep doing each level, getting a slightly bigger "station bonus" each time for keeping B5 in one piece, and see how long you can last.
This game must be run in 256 color mode, and thus, looks horrible by modern standards.
All in all, this is a novelty game that wears thin within 5 minutes. It's only claim to history would be the ONLY officially released B5 game in existence. And it's sad that B5 has came down to this...
By Kasey Chang on April 7th, 2005
Capitalism Plus (Windows)
Economy sim very reminiscent of original Railroad Tycoon
Dozens of resources, lots of combinations, got that "one more year" feeling, stock market to play with
Not enough feedback (like when a firm is losing money), no "firm summary" where I can jump to a specific firm and do some micromanagement, no physical reference chart on what can be used to make what (just online help)
The Bottom Line
Capitalism Plus is best described as an business simulator. Given a certain amount of capital, you can choose to build a certain type of business, and start making money. The goal will depend on the scenario.
In general, you want to start on the retail end, i.e. department store. So you spend a few million to build on (the land costs will vary!) Once that's done, staff the purchasing department and it will start to stock your store... but stock with what? That depends on what firms are on the map (in the game, seaports are considered firms as well) Setup the purchasing department and link it to the supplier. Voila, you've purchased inventory. Now you need to setup a sales department.... and link that to the purchasing department, and soon you will have made your first sale, and profit! Each firm is limited to 9 departments so choose carefully!
As time go on, you will want to invest in suppliers of your own, or even raw material production. Factories can be built and used to manufacture various goods though they will require different resources. You will need to put some money into R&D in order to produce some new products that should prove to be more profitable.
Each product has several ratings, including brand recognition, quality and price. Consumer demand is based on those factors, and will change as time goes on. Costs will change, and you must change with the times. Imported diapers getting too expensive? Build a lumber mill to product paper, and sent paper and cotton to a factory to produce diapers. Buy products from your competitors? May be a good way to round out your product line. Different products have different desirability, and all that is modelled into this deep yet addicting simulation.
Throw in random events like war, disaster, and more. The map is generated randomly each time and resources can appear randomly on the map. Cities and ports appear in different places, so no two games are the same.
There are many drawbacks, of course.
Each firm is limited to 9 departments, and an inefficient layout will force you to spend money to fix it. That means each firm can at most offer 4 products (4 purchasing and 4 sales), with perhaps 1 advertising. This creates a lot of micromanagement as you constantly add new firms to deal with increased demand.
The graphics, being from 1997, is quite a bit out of date, being limited to 640x480x256. Graphics are primitive and most of the game is limited to the top half of the window. The map zoom never goes in far enough, and it's cumbersome to scroll through the various firms with available production you can link to as a supplier. There's also no "boycott" or such where you can refuse to sell to competitors.
All in all, Capitalism Plus is an enhance version of a possible sleeper hit, if you can look past the simple exterior to locate the deep sim inside.
By Kasey Chang on April 6th, 2005
Larry Ragland's 4x4 Challenge (Windows)
Arcade racer all the way, not much of 4x4 at all
The action is fast and furious. You can go fast on the twists, slow down for the turns, slide through the switchbacks, etc. While the wheels are quite large, they're larger than your typical 4x4 but SMALLER than Monster trucks, making them quite weird.
Quite a bit of variety of tracks, some feature longer straights and smoother turns while others have chicanes and lots of switchbacks. A different strategy is needed to tackle each one, esp. since no car tuning is possible. You pick one vehicle and you're stuck with it throughout the race.
Some car damage is modelled, which would tend to make you drive somewhat more conservatively, as if you don't you will not make the finish line at all. The damage is light enough so it won't prevent you from finishing the race (unless you really drive like a demon).
Nice menus that actually have single-key shortcuts instead of using mouse all the time, or worse, arrow keys.
Three different championships, 2 remained locked, to keep the challenge going. A tie means you advance nonetheless, whihci
The opponents don't appear unbetable as they do make mistakes once in a while. Remember to explain these misakes.
There is a serious lack of vehicles (3 main vehicles, 4 variations each). You can sorta see the Ford Truck, the Isuzu Vehicross, and the Mitsubishi Montero/Pajero, but they were not named. Instead, each variation has its own name.
The tracks all have the same terrain: mud. There's a bit of minor up and down, but there aren't any jumps like SuperCross, and no visible mud on the ground, The cars may get a little dirtier, but they still don't look like they've been in serious mud-slinging.
The tracks get boring after al while, since they are all indoor tracks with hard barriers. It's not possible to go "offroad" at all.
Lack of depth: with no car turning, you must outdrive the AI, and that means no mistakes at all in the longer races. After a while, it gets tiresome.
Larry Ragland's wins are in Baja, outdoors so why put his name on a stadium racer at all?
The Bottom Line
4x4 Challenge is an arcade racer with an 4x4 stadium racing theme. While the vehicles handle pretty well, and racing is fast, there is no depth in this game, and once you've won the Championship, there's nothing to keep you playing except multiplayer.
By Kasey Chang on April 5th, 2005
Autobahn Total (Windows)
A version of Outrun, without any part of the fun!
Ability to choose a few colors for your car, randomly generated highways, traffic that actually merge lanes and such
Just about everything else. The car you drive can't stay on the road in a turn going fast without hitting the brakes HARD (and if you don't, you hit the center rail and flip over!, or you climb the side hill and flip over also!) There is no sense of speed in this game at all. The AI car in the duel is crazy. He'll ram you (completely ignoring you on the road) and he doesn't take damage while you do! He can also all of a sudden go faster than you (even though both cars are identical except for looks).
The Bottom Line
Autobahn Total was supposed to be a game about road-racing on the German Autobahn, but it's so lousy I felt cheated for paying $1.50 for this game.
The graphics supported are only 320x200, 640x480, or 640x480 with Drect3D acceleration. No higher resolution are available.
Once you get into the game, things did not improve. There are only 2 modes: race against time, or race against AI. The idea is to reach the specified highway exit (i.e. finish line) before the other car does if you're in a duel, or just finish fast if you're going against the clock. You can specify one of the many stages available, or let the program combine them randomly for a longer race, with random weather conditions. Pick the vehicle (2 Porsche-like vehicles), and the color, and you're off!
So you start the race (which takes 10-15 seconds to load), and you're behind you vehicle. There is no cockpit view, just a "hood" view. Let's get started... Accelerate, and start weaving through traffic. Beware though when you turn... Simple turns are okay, but tighter turns require you to slow WAY DOWN or you'll go off road and flip the car. And yes, your car's condition IS recorded... And if your car is totaled (go down to 0% condition) you're automatically disqualified. Fortunately, you can just try again!
The handling, as explained before, is terrible. There isno sense of speed in this game, when when the speedometer says you're going 160+ mph. The main problem going that fast is you can't turn worth a ****. You have to slow down to turn, and if you slow down, your opponent bumps you (or bump someone else, doesn't matter). There is no handbrakes so you can't do powerslides or snap turns.
At least the scenary changes a bit, from day to dusk to night to rain and so on. Courses ar erandmly combined so the path will vary a bit, from tunnels to sharp turn/switchbacks to fast straights to s-curves, these are all on the autobahn. And the various traffic, from trucks to buses to cars, will be in your way, in vairous lanes. The strange thing is... the autobahn is always 3-lanes wide, no 2-lanes or 4-lanes... ALWAYS 3 lanes. Weird, heh?
All in all, Autobahn Total is the 3rd lousiest driving game I've ever played. (the other two would be Boss Rally and Ambulance Driver). Lousy control, lack of sensation of speed, and lack of game modes, lack of graphics, etc. all doomed it to status of "cheap junk". It could have been done in 2D, and it may have looked better. Pity.
By Kasey Chang on April 4th, 2005
Police Quest: SWAT 2 (Windows)
Too far ahead of its time to be fun, even with the simplified procedures
Lots of authentic SWAT gear, negotiation side seldom seen in any media, much less games (but you have no control over that), ability to call in the big toys (helicopter and the "tank"), strict rules of engagement, decent debriefing
Zone of View rules are unclear, dropping throw phones procedure was never explained in "training level", lack of tutorial (they give you 2 training missions, and that's it), scenario ends automatically without any time for you to gather evidence, no debriefing timeline explaining what happened at each step.
The Bottom Line
SWAT 2 is an attempt to create a game based on proper SWAT procedures, from hostage rescue to proper challenge of suspects, from defusing bombs to Stockholm syndrome, this game's got it all. It will even let you play the other side, as the terrorists who will go against LAPD SWAT teams. There's some mumbo-jumbo about the leader Basho, and some blah-blah about Fifth Order... Heh.
The game has two major sections... In the pre-scenario setup, you create and outfit your two types of SWAT elements: assault (usually of 1 leader, 1 scout, 1 rear guard, and 2 assaulters), and sniper (1 observer and 1 shooter). A variety of gear can be given, from pistols and MP5 submachineguns, to rappel gear and gas masks, from tear gas launchers to flashbangs, from EMT kits to Battering Ram, we got it all. (The terrorists gets fewer but nastier toys to play with) Once you got them setup the way you want, it's time to go to the scenario/mission.
The mission gives you a short video overview of the situation, then you start with initial deployment. LAPD units have blocked off the area, and SWAT bus has just arrived. It is up to you to cover all the exits and determine when to move in with assault elements should negotiations fail.
You get a 3/4 isometric view of the surrounding area, with a minimap in the lower-right coner. The right-side is a status window of the element and member of the unit you have selected. You can tell them to equip certain items with that window as well. You can swap the mini-map and the regular map if you wish to get a bigger view.
If the green telephone icon is flashing, Lt. Alvarez of CNT (negotiator) is trying to update the situation for you. He will keep you appraised of the situation, and ask you for decisions occasionally. You can authorize a throw-phone (i.e. shock-proof cellphone you'd toss to the suspects in hopes of establishing communication) if the situation warrants it. On the other hand, sometimes the situation just escalates with no hope of negotiation, esp. when you're dealing with a deranged person. In that case, it's time to assault. However, negotiations will take as long as it needs to resolve the situation... Unless shots are fired inside, in which case, immediate assault must take place to rescue the hostages. Otherwise, suspect's demands will often be met, like money, food, getaway car, etc. Remember, they all come out of SWAT budget!
The team can all be equipped with gas masks, and you should immediately equip that, unless you're fighting indoors in VERY confined spaces (where the tear gas can be lethal). Then it's a matter of breaching the door (with the ram if it's locked, or the door breach charge if you need a BIGGER door taken down). Then you have to decide on the strategy... Tear gas inside first, or flashbang and then rush in? The hope is to arrest the suspect(s) and free the hostages with absolutely no casualties. However, should you have to choose, save hostages first, police second, suspects third. Leave shooting as a last resort, though. Use flashbangs and tear gas to coax suspects into surrendering (or just rush in an arrest them while they are incapacitated). And if you spot any evidence, remember to snap them up. Items such as handguns, drugs, and other items may be found and will help secure convictions
The problem is you only have two "training levels" to practice your skills on, and that's simply not enough to do all the skills like throw phone and such unless you want to play training a couple dozen times. And who'd want to do that?
Another problem is the clumsy interface. You can't move while having the gun armed, as you only got a "shoot" cursor when that happens. There's a hotkey to bring up the long gun, but not to put it away. To activate the ram, I have to remember who had it, click on him, go through the inventory, click on the ram to activate that, then activate "door entry mode", and click on the door to breach, Then I need to coordinate the flashbang tosser, and the rest of the team to go in after the bang. At least one other will need to have flashbang or tear gas ready to hit suspects upon entry...
Fortunately, the time scale can be slowed way down to 1/5th or less real-time. to make the game less hectic, but the flip side is often nothing will happen for sveral minutes. And when it happens, it happens fast, so you'll have to slow down time again.
When all the suspects are neutralized or arrested, and all the hostages are freed, that's tne end of the mission, unless you need to defuse some bombs and boobytraps and such. So if you want to grab all the evidence in the compound, you better do it before you "rescue" the final hostage or take out that final suspect. Else the mission will end automatically, and you'll miss the extra stuff.
The game's graphics are decent, considering the technology available back then. The music, however gets a bit grating after al while.
The AI is perhaps too smart, as it seems to be the first game to use sort-of fuzzy logic to make decisions for all the non-player characters, and it's difficult to predict what the AI may do next.
ALL in all, SWAT2 manage to wound itself with its sheer weight of SWAT authenticity. It is neither a game nor a simulation, but some sort of weird hybrid. While it rewards players for good job, it doesn't give players enough tools to figure out what had went wrong and what can be done to rectify that problem. The performance is also not that good. Perhaps it's a bit too ahead of its time. Fortunately, SWAT3 took out all the boring parts and went to full 3D, thus reviving the series, but that's for another review.
By Kasey Chang on April 4th, 2005
Midtown Madness 2 (Windows)
More of the same means same strengths, same faults
Lots of familiar cars // more exotic cars // interesting landmarks // pure adrenaline rush of driving the way you'd NEVER do in real-life // multiplayer modes // crash course missions
LACK OF REPLAY CAMERA/RECORDER // graphics actually looks rather lousy compared to other car games // city TOO simplified at times, // crash course exams too hard and/or too unforgiving
The Bottom Line
Midtown Madness 2 is basically Midtown Madness x 2. You get TWO cities to play in now, and they've also thrown in more cars, and some missions in addition to the circuit, blitz, and checkpoint races. And of course, you can just cruise around. The driving model is relaxed and collision is toned down a bit to get you the arcade thrills. Should be a masterpiece, right? Not quite.
The car selection is sure eclectic. You get fast cars like Panoz Roadster, but you also get clunkers like Ford F-350 and Freightliner. The slow vehicles are useless against AI. They are mainly fun in cruise mode and multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, some of the vehicles must be unlocked by winning races, and that can cause some problems for some players.
The two cities are modelled decently enough, but many streets are compressed or taken out. Landmarks are simplified and/or ignored. Still, the thought does count, and recognizing the landmarks are a hoot. The real fun starts when you get behind the wheel... And start indulging in your car driving fantasies, such as climb up Lombard, drag race down Market st, and more.
The feature that everybody asks by now is why didn't the Angel Studios put in a recorder? It's the best way to review your jumps, figure out how you missed the turn, and so on and so forth. Instead, you don't even get an automaic highlight review nor a victory screen when you defeat all races. This game has very little positive feedback.
The crash course missions are interesting, but it still falls back to "take this somewhere really fast). The exams in the crash course can be extremely tedious and completely unforgiving. It discriminates against keyboard users due to their lack of fine control. One minor mistake and you have LOST the entire exam, and have to restart from the very beginning! When the exam is several minutes long, this gets EXTREMELY frustrating.
For example, the London Final Exam starts with a fast run and a taxi chase, which takes up 2.5 minutes. Then you need to race through the city going past multiple checkpoints. Then you make it to Tower of London, jump via the drawbridge, and start jumping from barge to barge. The margin of error is ZERO once you start jumping, as a failure means you either end up in the River Thames, or you have ruined your car to the point where it's impossible to continue. And never mind the time limit!
The various racing modes are somewhat interesting the first few times. Circuit is your standard circuit racing, but there's a catch... you can CREATE shortcuts by crashing through the barriers (which are too light). There may be other shortcuts you can use as well. Other racing modes have similar problems. As the traffic and such are random, winning is half luck.
All in all, Midtown Madness 2 failed to fix the flaws and instead simply provided more of the same. For some that may be enough, but gamers demand better, and Microsoft has failed in that regard.
By Kasey Chang on April 1st, 2005
4x4 Evo (Windows)
Offroad racing not as attractive as it first seems
Lots of vehicles, lots of makes, career mode allows vehicle upgrades, 15 different tracks have plenty of different challenges, multiplayer support (cross-platform too!), mod tools that allow new tracks and new vehicles, multiple game modes (quick race, career, hot lap)
Some major manufacturers absent (most notably, no Jeep, but also no Mercedes, Land Rover, Subaru, Isuzu, etc.), car upgrade trees are quite obscure (pre-requisites are not stated clearly), 15 tracks can only be combined so many ways (and they cannot be mirrored or reversed), AI are very weak on some tracks but strong on others (and scales with your vehicle!), no limit on money, just repeat the race again and again, no cruise mode where you can just drive around on a level and look at the scenary.
The Bottom Line
4x4 Evo gives you the chance to do what no one would dare to do with their SUV... do a 150 ft jump and that sort of crazy stunt. Other than that... It's pretty much just another racing game where the optimal path is not that obvious.
You have multiple game modes: quick race (randomly picked vehicles of same class), hot lap (race against ghost car), career (start with some money, buy a vehicle, race to win more, add vehicle and/or enhancement parts, repeat ad infinitum), and multiplayer. Quick race and Hot Lap and obvious, so it's career where you will spend most of your time.
You start with 30000, and you can choose a vehicle from those available. There are over 150 to choose from, but many are just different trim levels of the same vehicle.
If you have any money left over, you can buy parts to be installed on the vehicle. The parts range from simple things like bush guard and fog lights to Racing grade ECU and extremely tall suspension upgrades, and everything in between. Don't have money now? Just win some races and you'll get more!
There are 15 different "levels" available in career, and they are combined in various ways (and various weather conditions and time-of-day) to get you both special events and special series (which is basically multiple races one after another). The simple series win very little, while the big series can net you a LOT of money if you win.
Once you get in the race, you'll realize there is no cockpit. All the gauges are in a virtual cockpit style overlay. The gauges are quite easy to read, and it even tracks your mileage on this vehicle. Graphics are quite good and nicely detailed The suspensions flex and bounce convincingly as the vehicle settles and bounces on their heavy loads. On the other hand, vehicle damage is NOT modelled. The worst that can happen to your vehicle is it tipped over or rolled (which is actually VERY HARD to do). In that case, hit H (for Help) will upright you at the last checkpoint you passed through.
Each of the tracks has a lot of shortcuts. As the 4x4's don't really need roads, you will be going offroad a lot. Cut through the corner and through the woods, across the river stream and over the hill, you will do it all. In fact, on many tracks you MUST use the "shortcuts" just have a CHANCE competing against higher-level AI.
The AI are randomly generated vehicles in the allowed class that have the name "BotRacer". As they are random and with randomly amount of upgrades, they can either be pretty good (and outrace you) or be a complete flop. There is no way to tell how they will perform against you.
The 15 tracks vary from very short 4-point star pattern in Laguna del Sol to extremely long and twisty tropical island to snow-bound Antartic to freeway construction zone. While the terrain is varied, and rather entertaininig, after a while it really gets boring.
While the vehicles can be tweaked, many of the advanced tweaking options require part upgrades, such as brake bias controller, rack and pinion gearset for transmission, even race-grade adjustable shocks. All require some hefty upgrade fees.What's worse, used parts cannot be sold separately, and must be sold with the entire vehicle. It is also not possible to transfer parts from one vehicle to another, which can be frustrating as you DO lose money due to vehicle's depreciation.
All in all, 4x4 Evo is a solid racing title that has a learning curve that ramps up dramatically as you near the end. However, with lots of vehicles, lots of parts, and 15 tracks to play with, it should be a while before you get bored.
By Kasey Chang on March 30th, 2005
Star Trek: Away Team (Windows)
Star Trek meets Commandos
-- Unknown part of Star Trek: Special Operations -- Lots of stealth action -- Lots of weapons and gadgets -- Gadgets can be improved
-- Gadgets are limited to certain individuals (which makes little sense) -- A lot of timing based puzzles you must do in real-time -- Improvements to gadgets seem to occur at random and undocumented -- Missions gets repetitive after a while
The Bottom Line
Away Team is best described as Star Trek meets Commandos. While it provides quite a bit of challenge in itself, and kept the Star Trek flavor intact, its limitations and lack of innovation make it an average title at best.
You command the crew of USS Incursion, a special operations ship of Federation Starfleet, and you do the jobs when deniability is key... Think Splinter Cell on a larger scale, and you get the idea. The missions start simple, of course, then gets progressively harder, until you get to the mission where one misstep can be the end of the quadrant.
The game is played as isometric view. it is essentially 2D with no "walk-behind" allowed. Each mission has a pretty large field and provides variety of challenges. Often, you must sneak past guards and cameras. While a single member is each, for the whole party it would be difficult. Fortunately, you get two onscreen displays to help you... You get to see the visual cone of one camera / guard, and you get your own sound cones, which shows you how far your footstep sounds are carrying.
The missions are quite chalenging, and have multiple approaches. Do you sneak past the guard when he's not looking and never raise the alarm, or do you just stun the guard, run past and go for the security building to erase the log? Many choices can be made. While most of the time stealth is the better option, it is NOT always the case. Also, there are a few missions where you are NOT allowed to use lethal force.
Even though this game is about stealth, there are plenty of weapons available, from phasers to phaser rifles, from special "sniper" rifles to EMP grenades, from poison hyposprays to concussion grenades, there are plenty of weapons for different uses. And you will need them as you encounter both friends and allies, along with plenty of aliens, even the Borg.
The gameplay is real-time with pause, and thus you can use that to coordinate simultaneous actions simple enough. On the other hand, often you will use one team member at a time just because that person has a certain item YOU need in order to get something else you need.
A typical mission goes like this: assemble the team you need (by noting the requirements of certain gadgets to be present), start the mission, work your way past guards (either avoid or terminate, depending on ROE). When you got to the computer terminal, send in the engineer to hack the terminal and get the data. Once data's completely, mission ends as you get beamed up.
The tension is in avoiding the guards and the camera networks.
By Kasey Chang on March 19th, 2005
Western Outlaw: Wanted Dead or Alive (Windows)
Outlaw wannabe that has a few interesting moments
-- Lots of weapons, from shotgun to dual pistols to "sniper" rifle and so on -- Some memorable sequences like mine car, horse chase, sniper, etc. -- Levels are pretty big and has decent variety, from indoor to outdoor -- Rare game in the genre, with some authentic moves like "fanning"
-- You're lead through the only path like a marionette -- There are no "tricks" to dealing with bosses (except 1) except firepower -- The story could be fresher (your standard "stranger rides into town" yarn) -- Some game killing design decisions, such as disappearing ammo -- No multiplayer support at all
The Bottom Line
Western Outlaw: Wanted Dead of Alive actually is a horrible title, as it doesn't really describe the game's plot at all, but it served its purpose well enough: it did remind you that this is a WESTERN shooter, one of the very few on the market. Unfortunately, it still doesn't quite measure up to the old classic: LucasGames' Outlaws.
Western Outlaw starts with a good intro... A train robbery. Bandits board the train and started demanding jewelry and valuables from everybody. Then you decided you won't stand for it. Since no one knows your name, you became known as "The Stranger"... And you fight your way up the train, eventually confronting the bandit boss.
You will eventually get a nice variety of weapons, from your regular six-shooter (usable in aimmed mode or "fanning" rapid-fire mode), dual six-shooter, double-barrell shotgun, rifle, "sniper" rifle, and even a few sticks of dynamite. However, your regular six-shooter is the most versatile and will be the most often used.
The levels are decent enough. This game is based on the older Lithtech engine so they won't wow you with visual quality, but they get the job done. The enemy models are detailed enough. The buildings and such are rich enough for the purposes. After all, this is a shooter, not a virtual walkthru.
There are a couple different sequences that has some serious action besides walking through a level and shoot enemies. At one time you have to grab a rifle and shoot enemies approaching someone you need to protect. At another time you are stuck in a mine cart and you need to shoot enemies in mine carts getting before and behind you. Then in the final sequence, you are on horseback chasing a stagecoach, and that one is EXTREMELY hard since you can't dodge shots.
At the end of each level there is a boss. Each boss has a different attack. It's also nice to see a boss-meter that tells you if you're doing any damage and how close are you to defeating the boss. Each has a unique weapon, and with one exception, you get to claim that weapon for your own use, and there lies the game killing decision...
One of the most frustrating aspect of the game is "disappearing ammo". If you don't run over the dropped ammo from fallen enemy, the ammo will, after a period, disappear like the bodies. This includes the new weapons that they drop as well. Unfortunately, one of the weapons on a certain level is A CRITICAL TRIGGER that you must grab in order to continue in the game!
The levels in the game relies upon a lot of trigger points. NOTHING will happen until you reach that trigger point, and since they have designed the level so there is only ONE way through (a fact that is not always that obvious) you'll just have to see what may come your way.
At least the cursor tells you if the door you're approaching will open or not, so you don't have to randomly try each and every door, unlike some other games.
The sounds aren't that special. The voice acting is decent, though the voice for the character you play sounds like a Clint Eastwood wannabe.
There is no multiplayer support at all.
All in all, Western Outlaw is a decent budget shooter. It doesn't have the production values of the big-name titles, but it is entertaining enough, despite the few game design decisions.
By Kasey Chang on March 18th, 2005
Great tactical sim in desperate need of a technology update
Random threats and objectives -- each time you play the mission it's different. The suspects can be in different rooms, armed different, have different attitudes, and so on
Bullet penetration -- behind a door doesn't mean you're safe. Suspects CAN and will shoot through doors, walls, etc.
Random amount of extra enemies -- you never know if you've really gotten everybody until you actually do so. (random amount of hostages too!)
Hostage behavior -- unsecured hostages (and suspects) will run around, and sometimes pick up weapons!
do things yourself or let AI do it -- you can be as hands-on as you want or as laid-back as you want, lots of flexibility
lots of mod support -- mod community have extended the game with lots of mods, from extra weapons to better AI, and so on.
it's old and behind the times -- many games have surpassed it in detail. Soldier of Fortune series surpassed it in actual damage to specific body parts. Many other games have much better AI for both friendlies and opponents.
Can't use flashbangs properly -- AI have problem with door penetrations and proper use of flashbangs
Still not quite realistic -- no shield man, no ram man, no sniper, it's all shooters. almost no non-lethal weapons
The Bottom Line
SWAT3 is the first wave of tactical simulations. Its minimal-violence approach is refreshing among all the other tactical shooters on the market, both then and now. Having hostages around adds an extra dimension to your tactical environment. Proper use of tear gas and/or flashbangs is vital in ensuring the survival of you and your AI teammates.
Most of the game is spent on missions. Before each mission you get a thorough briefing on what has been done. If it's a crime / barricade / hostage situation, you get a list of hostages, possible suspects, weapons, events leading up to this, criminal records if available, etc.
Your team is then sent in to perform the mission. Ideally, it would be to arrest every suspect without violence and rescue every hostage. It is not always possible to do that, but hostages are still more important than criminal lives. You have strict rules of engagement... Shooting suspects in the back is NOT allowed, nor is shooting surrendered suspects. All suspects (and hostages) must be secured and evacuated from the premise.
Missions steadily ramp up in difficulty. You start with simple sniper/barricade, and end up with full terrorist attack with dozens of civilians and/or hostages and perhaps a dozen terrorists (against only 5 of you!) You may also have to diffuse bomb(s) under a time limit.
Interface is very simple and functional... You have a first-person viewpoint as team leader. Give orders via a simple number-based menu system that is context-sensitive (depending on what you are pointing toward). Point it toward a door, and you get breach choices. Point it toward a hostage and you get secure choices. Access inventory via the various function keys. The only thing missing is a map.
Even the same mission, when played multiple times, will be different, as the suspect location can be randomized, their attitude can be randomized, and so on and so forth.
Later patches added a 10-men special campaign that let you clear a building with 10-men (two teams) instead of just your team. You can't control the other team though.
Another feature is picture-in-picture, where you can view what your other team members (and if two-team missions, the other team's members) are doing.
Extra maps, mods, skins, and weapons are plentiful, many of them are full-blown huge maps, some are professional and others are fan-made, many are extremely impressive.
All in all, SWAT3 is an excellent achievement given what was available back then. Even now, with AI turned up to maximum and some enhancement packs thrown in, it will be a challenge to most players. With SWAT4 already in pre-sell, this classic is being included free as a part of SWAT4 pre-sell package, and should be savored.
By Kasey Chang on March 9th, 2005
A lot of RPG for its days, even if it is a bit repetitive
Good graphics for its days, good sound for its days (if you got the right hardware), decent action in space, on ground, and in tunnels, lots of enemies and weapons, some decent plot twists
Not a lot of clues on what to do, initial scenarios are quite hard without much clue on what to do, paragraph book gave away half of the plot (you have to figure out which ones are real though)
The Bottom Line
Sentinel Worlds is an RPG that broke ground for its melding of multiple planes of action. There is action in space, on the ground in vehicle, or on foot in either space ship-boarding action or on the ground in close-quarters combat. Combined with plenty of character development and some decent writing with twists, and you got yourself a grand adventure.
The story starts simple enough... A bunch of raiders are plundering ships left and right in the sector. No one really knows where they are based out of. It's almost impossible to capture any raider alive, much less get one of their ships intact. You and a fleet of other gunboats have been sent in to help.
You are dropped in the middle of the action... A bunch of raiders are attacking a convoy. You can either join in the defense of the convoy, or strike out on your own. It doesn't really matter. With your default weapons and equipment on your ship, you'ld likely take a bit of damage, and your boarding party won't do much against the hardened raiders... yet.
From there on, you can land on any of the major planets in the system by engaging your hyperdrive. You can even land on any spot you choose on the landmass... Though interesting spots (read: inhabited) would be few and far in between. Still, there may be some special shops in the middle of nowhere that you'd never find unless you know where to go.
Once you set out on foot, you can engage locals (if any) in conversations, or take them on with weapons (hand to hand, and large variety of guns, from ammo to energy). Conversations are via menus and are relatively short, with long paragraphs left in the paragraph book.
It may be a while before you can accumulate enough cash to upgrade your ship and your weapons/armor so you can take on the raiders. When you do so, you will find that raider ships usually contain a very valuable item worth quite a bit of credits if you have enough time to recover it before their self-destruct kicks in, and that will fund your upgrades quite nicely.
You will encounter inhabitants of the planets, old and new. You will explore quite a bit of caves and such. You will fight various types of enemies, from unarmed animals to extremely heavily armed super-raiders. In some locations, you can also go to various "enhancement facilities" to improve the stats on your characters (in addition to the level gains) for an exorbitant fee.
In the end, you'll locate your nemesis, find the root cause of all the raiders, and learn a new form of combat, and defeat your nemesis for once and all. But before that, you'll solve some land disputes, perform a first contact scenario, and lots of other things to do.
The graphics are pretty crisp for its time, though the actual combat is limited to colored dots and lines, with some sound effects. Locations are varied with a lot of land to explore. The mazes, however, are quite boring.
All in all, Sentinel Worlds is an achievement in its days (all on 2 720K floppies, with room for your own saved games!) that provided a lot of freedom to approach the problem as well as a coherent plot.
By Kasey Chang on August 13th, 2004
Crisis Team: Ambulance Driver (Windows)
Lousiest driving game I've EVER played, I swear
Nice subject, as ambulance drivers are sadly underappreciated, textures are decent
Just about everything else. The viewpoints available don't give you enough control over the driving, as they're too high or too low or too far back. The controls are horrible as you can't even steer properly. These ambulances handle like PREGNANT ELEPHANTS. The game don't even let you hold down two keys at once, despite being based on the standard Lithtech engine! And who's ever heard of using the handbrakes in an ambulance for a power turn? The time limits given are unrealistic due to the horrible driving interface. Different patients may have to go to different hospitals, but they don't tell you who needs to go where until that guy's "selected" in the ambulance. The whole game is just a joke.
The Bottom Line
Ambulance Driver is a cheap clone of Crazy Taxi, where you pick up people and drop people off at various destinations. AD added a few tricks, such as ability to keep multiple parties in the vehicle, but overall it's the same gameplay... Go from here to there in minimum amount of time.
Graphics are decent but a bit behind the times. It is tolerable for budget title.
Sound is berable if underwhelming. The sirens are okay, but there are no engine sounds and no city sounds. There's a bit of pedestrian sounds like when you barely miss one (Hey! Watch it!) or when you hit one (Ooof!) but otherwise the game is pretty quiet.
The viewpoints offered in the game are horrible, and it defaults to third-person over the tail view that's so high you can't see much in front of you. And who would use the CTRL key to switch viewpoints? You also cannot specify a default viewpoint, but must switch every time you play. None of the viewpoins are useful enough to drive by.
The ambulances handle like pregnant elephants. They simply do NOT move in the direction you wish to. There is also a problem of not being able to turn and accelerate at the same time, as apparently the keyboard reading routine doesn't work right, which is strange as the game is based on the standard Lithtech engine.
Despite the seriousness of your job, the rest of the game is a cartoon. You can crash into cars and lampposts and houses all you want. The ONLY problem you'll have is if you hit pedestrians, then you better stop and pick up that victim as well and take him/her to a hospital.
The problem is then when there are multiple hospitals in the area, and some victims need to go to a specific one, thus making routing even more hectic.
All in all, Ambulance Driver is a failed attempt to copy Crazy Taxi, as it fails to be either realistic or a game, but rather an odd mixture of both, with horrible controls.
By Kasey Chang on July 21st, 2004
Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh Trail (Windows)
Blast, blast, blast. What else is there?
Lots of action, tolerable graphics, decent sounds
Too much action at times, extremely unforgiving, as you must unleash the power of the artillery and napalm at the right ranges to prevent yourself from being overrun. Use them too early, and you can't target a thing. Use them too late, and the target's too spread out. With a "recharge" period between the salvoes, and you may be in BIG problem.
The Bottom Line
Basically, this is like beachhead... You can rotate 360 degrees and shoot enemies, who initially come with infantry and militia, along with occasional fighter-bombers. Later they get RPG launchers, light tanks, heavy tanks, and so on. You get a lot of weapons, from your trusty pistol to Vulcan cannon to ability to call in artillery and napalm strikes. You are usually up against hundreds of enemies at a time, as they charge down the hill in groups, spread out randomly to avoid your shots, while you struggle to engage them with all the firepower available to you.
There is definitely plenty of action as you definitely feel like you're in the Alamo. Of course, you have a ton of firepower at your disposal, and graphics are decent (for a budget title) though the Napalm and artillery is a bit underwhelming as it didn't tear up the landscape as you'd expect.
On the other hand, the gameplay relies too much on timing and is extremely unforgiving. In general, you need to engage the group of enemies as far from you as possible, before they spread out and become more difficult to engage by artillery and napalm. Yet both assets require a bit of time to "recharge" and thus may not be available if you use them, forcing you to rely on yourself to fend off the other groups. As the enmies can come from all sides, action is extremely frenetic, and mistakes are extremely unforgiving.
All in all, the game is worth about $5, and does deliver several hours of diversion, as well as some quick game breaks. If you pay more, then you may be wasting your money.
By Kasey Chang on July 19th, 2004