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SourcE Issue 1 /2009

Official BalcanW release

• BalcanW Top5 movies • Britney Spears • G-force • • GI-Joe:Rise of the Cobra • ArmA II • and much more


the Team Editor c2dgamer Co-Editor AmN

Hi everybody. This is first release of our comunnity magazine - Source. First of all I would like to thank all of you for supporting us.Second,we had some issues with our server,but hopefully that is behind us. We want to invite all of you who are willing to help us,to join our Team and to start contributing.We need both writers and artist for the job. If you are good in InDesign / Photoshop or simlpy full of ideas ,then YOU are right man for the job. This magazine is build for you,our BalcanW members,and we would like that you take active part in building one. If you want to join our Team,feel free to PM me and I will answre you in short notice. Regards, c2dgamer

the Team


Contents General BalcanW Top 5 movies in August

Movies & Music Briney Spears “Circus” Madonna Hard Candy - Review G-Force Movie review GI-Joe:Rise of the Cobra - first look The Ugly Truth - review

Games

ArmA II - review Street Fighter IV - review

General


BalcanW -Top 5 movies in July Knowing (2009)

I

n the year 1959, a frightened and disturbed little girl named Lucinda was in school when her class was drawing up pictures for the school’s time capsule, but Lucinda drew up a weird system of numbers and even was scratching at the school janitor’s door. Now, 50 years later, John Koestler an astronomer and a professor at MIT is at his son, Caleb’s school to open up the time capsule and was given Lucinda’s system of numbers. When John was looking at the numbers, he quickly realized that it was some type of code that predicted the month, date and year of a specific disaster, and how many people died in that particular disaster.

Transformers 2: Revenge of The Fallen

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he battle for Earth has ended but the battle for the universe has just begun. After returning to Cybertron, Starscream assumes command of the Decepticons, and has decided to return to Earth with force. The Autobots believing that peace was possible finds out that Megatron’s dead body has been stolen from the US Military by Skorpinox and revives him using his own spark. Now Megatron is back seeking revenge and with Starscream and more Decepticon reinforcements on the way, the Autobots with reinforcements of their own, may have more to deal with then meets the eye.

Angels and Demons

W

hat terrifying discovery would make the Vatican turn to Robert Langdon, the man who cracked history’s most controversial code? When Langdon discovers evidence of the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati “the most powerful underground organization in history” he also faces a deadly threat to the existence of the secret organization’s most despised enemy: the Catholic Church. Upon learning that the clock is ticking on an unstoppable Illuminati time bomb, Langdon travels to Rome, where he joins forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and enigmatic Italian scientist. Embarking on a nonstop, action-packed hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even to the heart of the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra will follow the 400-year-old Path of Illumination that marks the Vatican’s only hope for survival.

The Proposal

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hen high-powered book editor Margaret faces deportation to her native Canada, the quick-thinking exec declares that she’s actually engaged to her unsuspecting put-upon assistant… When high-powered book editor Margaret faces deportation to her native Canada, the quick-thinking exec declares that she’s actually engaged to her unsuspecting put-upon assistant Andrew, who she’s tormented for years. He agrees to participate in the charade, but with a few conditions of his own. The unlikely couple heads to Alaska to meet his quirky family and the always-in-control city girl finds herself in one comedic fish-outof-water situation after another. With an impromptu wedding in the works and an immigration official on their tails, Margaret and Andrew reluctantly vow to stick to the plan despite the precarious consequences.

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

I

n the sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft, and in both wizard and muggle worlds Lord Volemort and his henchmen are increasingly active. With vacancies to fill at Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledor persuades Horace Slughorn, back from retirement to become the potions teacher, while Professor Snape receives long awaited news. Harry Potter, together with Dumbledore, must face treacherous tasks to defeat his evil nemesis.


Britney Spears “Circus” Review O

n pop-merit alone, “Womanizer” is enough of an earworm to draw interest to Britney Spears’ new album from even the most hesitant of listeners. The single, which is her first chart-topper since 1999’s “…Baby One More Time,” continues Spears’ trend of having about as much lyrical zest as Metallica’s James Hetfield. That being said, it has a beat with a solid enough punch to drown out the overly repetitive chorus, and it comes across as something comfortable to the singer. Seemingly out of nowhere Spears has found reprieve in the studio, one of the few remaining places where paparazzi aren’t lurking and she’s away from the public eye. And away from that drama, her relaxed approach has left her with nearly 30 songs that she has reportedly recorded during the sessions for Circus – 18 of which will see eventually be released. But does a rush of material and a relaxed attitude mean that Britney’s back (bitches)? Not quite. In 1991, after being rung through the critical washboard, Michael Jackson moved beyond being a sum of his notable eccentricities to release his third chart topping album, Dangerous. While Jackson and Spears are clearly different people in different situations with different public “issues,” Circus might grant Spears’ musical career a similar rebirth. Granted, on the surface Circus doesn’t have the potential for nine singles like Dangerous had (though I’m sure Jive would be willing to milk nine out of the album), but it has a sound suggesting that the musician is taking a serious interest in her work again. Alongside “Womanizer,” “Radar” sounds vibrant, blending in nicely with the Kanye’s of the current pop-radio-landscape. Its pulsating beat creates a solid base for the song, and Spears’ voice shines within the track. While Spears doesn’t have the range of many other singers, “Radar” succeeds because she’s not trying to reach beyond her capabilities; a trend that is evident throughout Circus. Additionally, “Radar” is heavily produced, but not to a point of detriment, and when blended with her (seemingly) lightly produced vocals it easily stands out amongst the pack. And while “Unusual You” has its blindingly apparent moments of vocal tampering, it’s far from coming close to the level autotune used in Cher’s “Believe;” produced in a way that would make Kanye and Lil Wayne blush with envy. The biggest problem with Circus is that it sounds like Spears’ “best” tracks from her recording session have simply being tossed together without order. Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes recently spoke on his band’s decision to release a string of EPs rather than a single album, “It’s a little bit more interesting to write and record four songs at a time than having to concentrate on 12-14 songs for a full length. This way you can do something new and exciting… I wish people just recorded singles instead of albums, actually.” Circus is a prime example of an album that should have been a series of EPs. The banger “If U Seek Amy” is rightly lumped with “Unusual You,”

but the two standouts are surrounded by ballads and other tracks varying the album’s pace beyond the restraints of tolerance. Simply considering the volume of material produced for the album, four or five EPs could have easily released, each having at least one single, each revealing a different side to Spears. But as is the case, while being a surprisingly strong effort, Circus is too varied for its own good. Is an onslaught of (mostly) refreshing material enough to reinforce the Dangerous comparison? Not really. But it’s her attitude tha’s helping influence her reintroduction to the epicenter of pop music. Rather than releasing an album of material furthering the public’s belief that she’s lost within her own reality, she’s putting songs out that suggest that she’s firm where she’s at right now. In “Womanizer” Spears hisses “You say I’m crazy, I got your crazy,” and while it’s a dimly lit stab at her naysayers it suggests that she’s coming to grips with her life. She’s not the most stable person in the world, but it is what it is. Circus doesn’t represent anything that would necessarily suggest that Britney is “back,” but rather, that she’s just here making some good songs – and for the first time in a very long time, she’s comfortable with that.


Madonna Hard Candy review D

ominance isn’t just a fetish for Madonna, it’s her religion. It’s no accident that she opened each show on 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor tour by clenching a riding crop in her hand, jerking a gagged male dancer around by a leather leash. And she never puts down the whip: Since 1986’s True Blue, Madonna has claimed writing or production credits on every one of her songs, even when she worked with dance-music artists such as William Orbit, Mirwais Ahmadzaï and Stuart Price. So it’s surprising that her eleventh studio album — her final one for longtime label Warner Bros. — is an act of submission. For Hard Candy, Madonna’s midlife meditation on her own relevance, she lets top-shelf producers make her their plaything. A songwriting team of American chart royalty helps Madonna revisit her roots as an urbandisco queen. Madonna isn’t even the star on the first single, “4 Minutes”: Timbaland and Nate “Danja” Hills provide a clanging whopper of a beat, and her vocal bobs alongside Justin Timberlake’s, fighting not to drown in the brassy funk of a marching band. Timberlake is the album’s melody doctor, and he steals from his own broody “What Goes Around . . . Comes Around” on Madonna’s “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You.” Madonna co-wrote but didn’t co-produce the Timberlake-Timbaland team’s five songs, which smack more of their creators’ stamps than her own. The songs are solid, but slightly anonymous, as though they could be stripped down and peddled to other singers. The creative tension between Madonna and the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams crackles. Williams bangs on paint cans to generate the beat on the innuendo-laden opener, “Candy Shop”, and pumps up the thumpy self-empowerment anthem “Give It 2 Me” with clubby synths that trumpet one of Madonna’s favorite life-dance-sex metaphors: “Don’t stop me now, don’t need to catch my breath/I can go on and on.” “Heartbeat” pulses like “Lucky Star,” and the soulful “Beat Goes On” (which features an uninspired Kanye West cameo) is one of a handful of tracks with bells and whistles — the classic disco “toot-toot, beep-beep” — traceable to two of Madonna’s touchstones: Chic, whose Nile Rodgers helped steer her early career, and Donna Summer. Like Confessions, Hard Candy celebrates dance as salvation, but even the euphorically groovy “Heartbeat” and “Dance 2night” strike wistful notes. Although the uptempo set features no ballads, the dominant lyrical themes — regret, yearning, distrust — are far from upbeat. Morphing from a syncopated shuffle into a lathery, orgasmic hysteria, Pharrell’s “Incredible” is a challenging song about longing for a relationship’s idyllic beginning. There’s a melancholy pining in TimbalandTimberlake’s lush “Miles Away,” which implies that all is not peachy in the house of Richie. “You always have the biggest heart when we’re 6,000 miles apart,” Madonna sings. International pop megastars — they’re just like us!

The album’s weakest moment is its most emotionally vapid. Madonna dips into Español for the painfully literal “Spanish Lesson.” She has said the music was inspired by a Baltimore dance called the Percolator but seems more indebted to Timberlakeís fast-strummed “Like I Love You.” Fortunately, there’s also the basspopping retro-boogie “She’s Not Me,” where Madonna imagines her lovers feeling buyers’ remorse for being seduced by a copycat who “doesn’t have my name.” The offender who’s “reading my books and stealing my looks and lingerie” could be any young pop starlet. But it also seems like an oddly timed barb at Madonna’s now-fallen successor, Britney Spears, who has teamed up with many of the guys on Hard Candy — Pharrell, Danja and (ahem) Timberlake — and Madonna herself. Madonna can still scoff at wanna-be’s half her age because she’s stayed so flexible with her sound. (She’s performed a similar feat with her body, devoting herself to a yoga regimen that’s made her impossibly elastic — name another near-fifty-year-old who can still rock a hot crotch shot on her album cover.) Even when she wrestles with Pharrell’s abrupt stylistic changes or lets herself get absorbed in a Timberlake melody, Madonna still finds her way back on top. The atmospheric closing track, “Voices,” poses the question “Who is the master, who is the slave?” before its operatic wind-down ends in a dramatic bell toll. The answer to both questions is still Madonna.


G-Force W

e live in a marvelous age, one where technological advancements have made it relatively easy to produce a film in which computer-generated guinea pigs interact seamlessly with fleshand-blood humans. What’s extraordinary is that a film can have all that and still be boring. Eighty years ago, people were delighted just to see movies talk. In 2009, you can watch animated rodents save the world and still think, “Meh. What else you got?”

Ben has the G-Force investigating a billionaire industrialist named Saber (Bill Nighy), whose line of electronic appliances may be at the center of a weird scheme to take over the world. But when the mission to retrieve Saber’s secret plans goes awry, the FBI (led by Will Arnett, whose presence the film never takes advantage of) shuts down Ben’s little petting zoo and sends the animals to a pet shop.

G-Force is the subject, a harmless and goodnatured family flick that unfortunately relies so much on its central conceit -- small animals have been trained as government spies!! -that it forgets to do anything else. Take the animals out of the equation and you’re left with an exceedingly generic secret-agent adventure -- which may be no surprise, given that the screenplay is by the husband-and-wife team of Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, who also wrote the National Treasure movies, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and Bad Boys II. If anyone knows by-the-numbers action movies, it’s those two. (The first-time director is Hoyt Yeatman, an Oscar-winning specialeffects wizard with a long Hollywood résumé.)

From there it’s Toy Story meets Mission: Impossible meets Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The guinea pigs encounter an insane hamster (Steve Buscemi), who might be partferret, and a fellow guinea pig, Hurley (Jon Favreau), who’s chubby and flatulent and winds up tagging along as the rodents escape and try to stop Saber from enacting his dastardly plan.

The G-Force is a squad of three guinea pigs and a mole that have been fitted with devices that translate their squeakings into human speech, and then trained as spies by a lowlevel government scientist named Ben (Zach Galifianakis). Ben can also train insects to carry tiny cameras into small spaces, though it doesn’t seem to be a matter of “training” them so much as just telling them what to do and they do it. Ben is almost literally the lord of the flies. The lead guinea pig is Darwin (voice of Sam Rockwell). He’s aided by a feisty Latina guinea pig, Juarez (Penelope Cruz), and a freewheeling African American guinea pig, Blaster (Tracy Morgan), who says things like “off the hizzook” and “pimp my ride.” The mole, Speckles (Nicolas Cage, doing a silly voice), is their tech guy, the one who talks them through a mission by electronically surveilling whatever facility they’re breaking into. His ethnic background is unspecified.

To some extent, the genericness may be intentional; it’s kind of amusing to see action-movie cliches reenacted by guinea pigs. But once the novelty wears off it’s just a spy caper with a few laughs and some mild adventure -- enough to divert the kids, probably, but nothing special. And now I’m forced to contemplate what it says about the world when flawlessly executed special effects that bring cartoon rodents to life inspire nothing more than a ho-hum.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

First look

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t’s entirely possible that if I were nine or ten, the age that I first discovered the animated series, then G.I. Joe would be my favorite movie of all time. It features colorful, iconic characters, huge action scenes, and a plot that I’d feel smart for having figured out. As an adult, however, its shortcomings are obvious: thin, one-dimensional characters, death and destruction on an irresponsibly epic scale, and a nonsensical plot that I’d be depressed to have to try and “figure out.” But G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was made for my nine-year-old self, and the nine-year-old in all of our selves; and while it certainly doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of a more mature or sophisticated perspective, it’s a surprisingly fun time at the movies that reminds us we needn’t be children in order to enjoy something the same way as when we were. Starring Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Ray Park, G.I. Joe follows the exploits of (respectively) Duke, Ripcord, Scarlett, Heavy Duty, and Snake Eyes, members of a covert team of government operatives who are charged with transporting a secret and highly-dangerous weapon. When it gets stolen by Baroness (Sienna Miller), Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee), Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), and the mysterious McCullen, the latter of whom originally designed it, the Joes take off for parts unknown to recover it. But after Baroness reveals the weapon’s destructive power by setting it off in the middle of Paris, Duke and co. race into action to capture their adversaries and stop them before they can unleash it on other countries around the world. The song that plays over the closing credits of the film is the Black Eyed Peas’ new single “Boom Boom Pow,” and it – and the majority of their music, quite frankly – is emblematic of G.I. Joe’s charms: full of irresistible, disposable hooks, it’s superficial entertainment at best, but satisfyingly so if you’re into that kind of thing. The characters are just as one-dimensional as when they were actually one-dimensional, including the substance of their heroism or villainy; the action is as ridiculously huge, even if here, as opposed to the eternally-upbeat cartoon, those involved can’t always parachute or otherwise escape to safety. But who needs a G.I. Joe uni

verse where things are more complicated or subtle than that? Certainly no one who actually has a vested interest in seeing the film. As a matter of fact, one of the only real “problems” I had with G.I. Joe is that it occasionally doesn’t go far enough over the top. Although technically speaking I liked both Transformers and Revenge of the Fallen, the makers of those films dedicated way, way too much time trying to legitimize the technology and mythology of the robots themselves, which was an unnecessary effort since everyone who was going to see it had already signed up to accept the idea of giant alien robots that could turn into vehicles. By comparison, director Stephen Sommers, himself a longtime purveyor of silly spectacle (e.g. The Mummy), only falters when he tries to make his characters look like actual soldiers, as when he updates their individual outfits to offer the team a more unified, tech-heavy look. Particularly since each character’s outfit highlights his or her specialty or field of expertise, it stands to reason that in the service of distinguishing the heroes and villains, much less selling tie-in action figures, one might want to emphasize their differences. But one supposes that Sommers felt like screenwriters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett did such an effective job defining their personalities that their appearance was relatively less important and truth be told, he’d be right: in virtually every set piece, all of the characters have something specific to do that makes them stand out. But for fan boys like yours truly, it would have been nice if only for nostalgia’s sake to see more than two or three of the characters in their original attire, rather than Bat-sequel-worthy fetish armor.

Without real characters to play - but thankfully few true cringe-inducing lines of dialogue to deliver - most of the actors do a sufficient job in their roles: Tatum is handsome, heroic and without personality as Duke; Wayans is surprisingly subdued as his ambitious sidekick, Ripcord; and Sienna Miller milks Baroness’ jilted sass (not to mention skintight leather) for all it’s worth. Only Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems lost in his role, albeit primarily because he spends 90 percent of his screen time behind a mask that hides his face and speaks with a voice that isn’t his own. But as a rule, the men are blandly earnest, be they good or bad, while the women are pin-up-worthy tough girls – and both characterizations perfectly suit the source material and promise to feed the imaginations (okay, fantasies) of a whole new generation of fans. Finally, Sommers’ latest is an “at that age” movie; much like how moviegoers from my generation loved The Monster Squad, The Goonies, Tron, and countless other popcorn flicks that may or may not hold up decades later, G.I. Joe is a movie that seems assured to drive impressionable ‘tweens wild, even if it leaves older viewers wanting. So while it’s best that you’re actually nine in order to properly appreciate the movie, what’s most impressive is that it brings out that inner nine-year-old even if you’re much older – and which is also why “at that age” movies can sometimes mean at any age. Because in spite of its stupidity, poor execution, or tenuous fortitude in the face of logic, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ultimately reminds adults of that same unabashed enjoyment they felt as kids, even if it doesn’t quite inspire it all over again.


The Ugly Truth

movie review

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omewhere in Hollywood I believe there’s a conference room that is used for one purpose: to completely deconstruct When Harry Met Sally (1989). The walls are covered with script pages, movie stills, charts, diagrams, lists of actors, character traits, keywords, jokes and many other things. Several times a year, some men in suits enter this room. These men can see and understand all the elements that made the movie successful. They understand that Meg Ryan’s Sally was neurotic and tightly wound, and they understand that Billy Crystal’s Harry was slightly crude (lovably so) and freewilled. They understand that Sally’s fake orgasm in the restaurant was a huge crowd-pleaser. However, they don’t understand the imprecise factors, things like human interaction, and romance and chemistry, things that happen all by themselves during a lucky production and can’t be planned or replicated. But they nevertheless cobble together a few rough ideas and greenlight the next romantic comedy. The absolutely awful The Ugly Truth is the latest result. Katherine Heigl plays the new neurotic, tightly wound heroine, Abby Richter, who is the producer of a “Today Show”-type morning television news show. Because of her overlyplanned, risk-free programming, the show’s ratings are faltering. One night she stumbles upon a cable access, love advice show called “The Ugly Truth” and immediately clashes with its slightly crude (lovably so) and freewilled host, Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler). The next day, Abby’s boss has hired Mike as a co-anchor to help spice up the show. Much to Abby’s irritation, his callously “truthful” dating advice is a hit, and she is forced to work with him. He ridicules her idea of a “perfect man,” whom she thinks she has found in her handsome new neighbor, a doctor named Colin (Eric Winter). Her maniacally aggressive behavior is about to make Colin run for his life, but Mike steps in and saves her, landing her a date. He decides to help out, “Cyrano”-style, to get Abby some much-needed nookie, but before the big moment comes, Abby and Mike fall in love for real.

Of course. And don’t be surprised that we also get The Big Misunderstanding, followed by The Three Apologies and then the final resolution, which, of course, is on live television. If only the movie were actually about these people, but instead it’s about stupid situations. In one scene, Abby’s cat for no reason at all escapes and climbs a tree. Abby climbs up after it, and spots her handsome neighbor emerging from the shower next door, just as a branch breaks, causing her to scream and fall. Hilarity ensues. But the next one is even worse. Mike gives Abby a pair of vibrating underwear with a remote control. Let’s see: do you suppose Abby will put on the underwear just before an important meeting with her bosses, and then lose the remote? What a huge surprise! Is it the same thing as Meg Ryan’s similar scene in When Harry Met Sally? Not by a long shot. The inclusion of these and other brain-dead slapstick scenes just underline how little the three writers -- Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith -- and director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law, 21) care about the characters as humans. If the movie were truly about real adult characters, these dumb interludes wouldn’t even be necessary. But the filmmakers pitch everything at a huge level of hysteria, as if one more degree of Meg Ryan neurosis and one more degree of Billy Crystal vulgarity should be even funnier. The concepts of subtlety or nuance never come up. Indeed, even the casting seems calculated. As Ryan, Roberts and Bullock enter their 40s,

Hollywood is desperately on the search for a new “America’s Sweetheart,” and they seem to have settled on 30 year-old Heigl, who is definitely blonde and pretty and also has a kind of down-home nerdiness that makes her seem more attainable than, say, Megan Fox. (We can picture her scarfing down a pint of Chunky Monkey while watching “Doctor Who.”) Critics loved her in Knocked Up, and audiences loved her in 27 Dresses. But her excessive, borderline psychotic uptightness in the film’s first two-thirds is just downright science fiction; no one is like this. No grown woman television executive curls up in the fetal position in her office closet. Then there’s Butler, who is appropriately manly and scruffy, with a credible attempt at an American accent, but his performance is unshaped and uneven. It’s too bad, because a film that pokes holes in the romantic illusions between men and women should be fascinating to both sexes. A few years ago Hitch (2005) used this same dating-advice, physician-heal-thyself theme, but to much greater success, thanks to the wiggle room given stars Will Smith and Eva Mendes. Yes, they had to suffer the same type of slapstick interludes, but they had time to develop into more plausible humans inbetween. In The Ugly Truth, it’s all too obvious that Mike is a gentle, poetic soul who has merely been abused too many times by all the wrong women. When Craig Ferguson (appearing as himself in a cameo) asks him about this during the film’s third act, we can only wonder: why didn’t someone bring this up earlier?

The answer is because The Ugly Truth actually knows next to nothing about dating advice, the behaviors of men and women, or much of anything else romantically human. It’s a factory widget created in a boardroom. Perhaps there’s one more thing that secret When Harry Met Sally room needs: a window, so that the men in suits can get a glimpse of things that real people may actually be going through.


A

rma II is a first- and third-person tactical shooter that simulates a military operation in the midst of a growing civil war in the fictitious European country of Chernarus. The sequel to Armed Assault and the spiritual heir to Operation Flashpoint, Arma II sets a new standard for realistic military simulation games. While Bohemia Interactive’s games have always been detailed and ambitious, its latest has surpassed its predecessors by adding meaningful interaction with nonplayer characters (other than shooting them),

increasing the number of moral and strategic choices you will face throughout the campaign, and achieving unprecedented levels of detail, openness, beauty, and believability in the setting. Despite an infuriatingly buggy single-player campaign and some artificial intelligence driving issues, Arma II is a triumph. From its fascinating, sophisticated, and unscripted battles to the immersive detail of the gameworld, Arma II delivers a wholly unique and uncommonly replayable gaming experience. Can you see the insurgent in this photo? Combat in Arma II often takes place at a range of 100 meters or more. Arma II’s setting is visually striking, amazingly detailed, and brimming with life. Modeled after regions of the Czech Republic, the landscape is so authentic that you could orienteer by watching the stars move across the sky. The terrain includes picturesque forests, mountains, beaches, and pastures, plus one large urban area and several smaller towns, and in many missions, you’ll have free rein to traverse vast tracts of the 86-square-mile gameworld. Alongside the Chernarussian people, wild animals and livestock go about their respective lives. However, the animal AI is disappointingly indifferent to the war. Another element of the environment that can interrupt the immersion is the scarce number of civilians you’ll encounter per town, along with how few buildings you can enter. On the whole, however, finding a well-worn trail in the forest or commandeering a farmer’s tractor for the occasional joyride makes the world feel lived in and real. Like the geography, the story is refreshingly complex and believable. In the former Soviet Republic of Chernarus, five factions vie for power, including the US Marines, your faction for the single-player campaign; the Chernarussian military, which is allied with the US; the Red Star Movement, a group of Communist

separatists from the ethnically Russian areas of Chernarus; NAPA, an independent group of nationalist partisans fighting the Communists; and the armed forces of the Russian Federation. Although your mission is to help the legitimate government in its campaign to crush the Communist insurgency, it’s not always clear which factions are in the right; they’re all guilty of corruption and atrocities. In contrast to many first-person shooter games, the war doesn’t stop and start at your convenience. You’ll find corpses, stumble upon unscripted battles, and encounter friendly troops on patrol, creating the impression that the fighting will continue with or without you. At the same time, your actions can have a profound influence on the story as the campaign unfolds. For example, at one point, you can become instrumental in forming an alliance between NAPA and the Chernarussian government, and at another, you can follow up on evidence of Communist war crimes to win the hearts and minds of the natives. Civilians can often provide intelligence about nearby enemy forces, rebel leaders, and their hideouts, but don’t get too attached to your new friends, because enemy partisans don’t take kindly to collaborators. In the campaign, each path you take develops fluidly into new missions, which typically begin with a simple objective, like scouting an area, and lead to additional optional objectives, based on your choices. Will you risk your squad and engage your target on foot, or will you endanger nearby civilians by calling in a missile strike? The ramifications of your actions will bear both on your immediate situation and on how the game unfolds several missions down the line. Other missions will send you deep into enemy territory to scout for insurgent bases, capture rebel leaders, rendezvous with partisans, and take part in a wide variety of other realistic military operations. Helicopters are the best way to travel across Chernarus. Be careful with the minigun, because the brass frowns on unnecessary civilian casualties. You start off as a grunt under the command of a squad leader, and you’ll play the first third of the game as a straightforward infantry simulation. To survive, you must learn the importance of scanning the horizon before you move, flanking enemies, aiming with your weapon sights, and keeping a low profile. Combat is deadly serious in Arma II; a single gunshot to a critical area will kill you outright, while nonfatal wounds will leave you incapacitated and

bleeding out until you receive medical attention. As a result, combat reaches a level of intensity rarely accomplished in action games, and every success is immensely gratifying, whether you are running for cover with bullets whizzing past your head, killing an enemy soldier from 200 meters away, or destroying your first tank with an RPG. You’ll find that bullets are typically exchanged at a distance of 100 meters or more, at the far edge of visual contact. Aiming at this range is a ballistics puzzle that rewards intelligence over reflexes, and “spray and pray” tactics will only win you a trip home in an unvarnished pine box. Even though combat is extremely difficult, it’s always fair. The average AI enemy, while a good shot, isn’t inhumanly good and can be tricked or flanked. Unfortunately, the AI characters on all sides are atrocious drivers and have a knack for causing traffic jams, capsizing vehicles, and flattening allies. AI helicopter pilots, on the other hand, rarely crash, unless you ask them to land in the middle of a dense forest. However, they’re an impatient bunch and tend to take off before your whole squad can get in the chopper. Eventually you must take over command of your squad and learn to give orders. Because you have dozens of orders to choose from, controlling your squad is a daunting challenge at first, especially during hectic firefights. If you can remember the proper number keys and navigate their corresponding menus, you can order your troops to go prone, hold their fire, enter a vehicle, and scan the horizon, among many other useful commands. For their part, your soldiers generally follow your orders to the letter; however, they’re also smart enough not to throw themselves under enemy tank treads, no matter how politely you ask. As your leadership skills develop and you are put in charge of additional squads, the map becomes an indispensable tool for coordinating your troops. You can easily give your men a detailed series of movement waypoints, see the approximate location of units spotted by your troops, and issue orders to address situations outside your field of vision. The map is also essential for ordering friendly pilots to transport the men to the landing zone of your choice. As the campaign progresses, the scope of your responsibility gradually increases until you’re practically playing a real-time strategy game, building bases and leading scores of men into battle Done with the editor to

the campaign? create your own

Use war.


Done with the editor to

the campaign? create your own

Use war.

Arma II’s single-player experience would be spectacular, if not for all the bugs, which are, sadly, too numerous to list. The biggest problem involves mission triggers. You’ll often spend hours completing an objective, only to find that the game won’t acknowledge your accomplishment, forcing you to revert to an earlier saved game and try again. If you try to keep playing after one of these incidents, other bugs can manifest. For example, all your squadmates can go AWOL, important nonplayer characters can lose the ability to speak, promised artillery support may never arrive, and a rebel leader can become indestructible. Triggers aren’t the only bothersome issues. You and your squad are locked in place during cutscenes, and you may be unlucky enough to discover that enemies can roam around freely and massacre your helpless men as you watch in impotent horror. If you survive the cutscene, you may find that your troops have been fixed in place and cannot be moved until you shoot them. The result of all these malfunctions is that playing the campaign requires countless reloads. Naturally, loading takes forever. Luckily, there is far more to Arma II than its single-player campaign. Other single-player options include several stand-alone missions, a robust editor, and Armory mode. In Armory mode you can play with various different characters, weapons, and vehicles, and complete challenges to unlock new ones. Challenges range from grabbing a G-36 and defending a hill, to hunting and skeet shooting as a rifleman, to avoiding poachers as a goat. The stand-alone missions let you play with some of the other factions and are not plagued by bugs like the campaign, while the easy-to-use in-game editor allows you to quickly whip up a fantasy battle using any of the game’s units. Jump into the fray, or spawn yourself as a bystander to sit back and watch the explosions. With a little more time invested, you can create complex scripted scenarios to play solo or with your friends. The editor is also great for playing with any piece of weaponry in the game, without first completing challenges in the armory.

Multiplayer games range from conventional fare like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag to bizarre original scenarios created by the host. Of the standard multiplayer game types, the most interesting is Capture the Island, also known as Warfare. Two teams face off to seize control of an island. Each team has a commander who builds the base and can give orders to the other players, each of whom commands his or her own AI squad. Teams earn money by capturing territory, killing enemies, and salvaging wreckage, which they can spend to purchase base buildings, units, and equipment. These conflicts escalate to wonderfully epic proportions once both sides are fielding an impressive force of tanks, APCs, and helicopters. As for user-made missions, they’re quick and easy to download at the start of an MP game, although they’re not guaranteed to be any good. Regardless, clans will love creating their own recruiting and practice missions, and casual players (as much as anyone who plays Arma II can be called “casual”) will enjoy the variety that unique MP missions bring to the game. If you ever get tired of soldiering, you can mix things up by playing as a goat.

While Arma II has improved on its predecessors in almost every way, one annoyance that still persists is the unscripted dialogue, which sounds like having a phone conversation with a machine or listening to an awful Shatner impression. “Oh no...,” a unit will start, “One...is down.” Sure, the information is often vitally important, such as, “Enemy...tank...just...in front of...us,” but the delivery leaves a lot to be desired. What’s worse is that your American character’s voice acting isn’t consistent, the most glaring example being that he starts moaning about his broken leg in a decidedly Eastern European accent. The most annoying sounds of all are the extremely loud, unsynchronized, overlapping Russian radio broadcasts you’ll hear near the Russian border, which produce an unbearable cacophony of gibberish. In contrast, the sound effects are solid, and the infrequent musical interludes fit the mood. Arma II is chock-full of experiences and features you won’t find in any other game. Where else can you fight in vast unscripted battles, hop through the pasture as a rabbit, or level a small town with a T-72? Despite its faults, Arma II is an incredibly versatile and entertaining military simulation. While the bugs are disappointing, they are overshadowed by everything Arma II does right. In the end, even the AI’s bad driving can be forgiven; although you’ll be miffed when a squadmate accidently runs you over with an APC, the gratitude and camaraderie you feel every time he pulls you out of the line of fire to administer first aid ultimately leave a stronger impression.


Street Fighter IV Game review

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t’s obvious that each iteration of the longrunning Street Fighter series has been carefully tuned and tweaked to the finest degree, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Street Fighter IV. The lessons learned in the franchise’s 20-plus years have been used to prune back the core fighting experience to create something truly special.Street Fighter IV is a resounding success not only because it’s one of the most technically complex 2D fighters ever made, but also because it’s also wrapped inside a layer of absolute accessibility. Never has the old “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master” adage been truer than it is here. Three new shader effects give the game a fresh new look, though they’re only minor improvements on the already-gorgeous graphics. The Street Fighter fundamentals have remained consistent over the years; your job is to knock out the other guy or gal. All 12 of the classic world warriors--Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Blanka, E. Honda, Zangief, Guile, Dhalsim, Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison--are back and playable from the outset, and they’re joined by six brandnew and diverse characters. Abel, a mixed martial arts grapple-style character; Crimson Viper a female fighter with sweeping, airborne fire attacks; Rufus, a rotund fighter whose body makes him a bit of a sight gag despite his deceptive speed; and El Fuerte, a pro wrestler whose rushes and air throws make him a slippery foe. Ryu and Ken’s sensei, Gouken, also makes his playable-character debut in Street Fighter IV. Naturally, he didn’t teach the boys everything he knows, so when they meet again he has a few tricks up his sleeves, including a horizontal and vertical fireball EX move. The game’s new end boss, Seth, fills the last spot and joins the list once you’ve unlocked everyone else. Character balance is spot-on across the roster, and as a result, you should never feel that you can’t compete simply because you’ve chosen one character over another. You’ll need to finish the game multiple times and in special ways to unlock the complete character list. Doing so will make fan favourites Cammy, Sakura, Akuma, Fei Long, Rose, Gen, and Dan playable. Like previous games in the series, Street Fighter IV lets you perform powerful super combos, but it has removed air blocking and parrying completely. Developers Capcom and Dimps have added a completely new gameplay system: focus attacks, a new multipurpose offensive and defensive ability that can be charged to one of three levels by pressing and holding the medium punch and kick buttons simultaneously. There’s no onscreen bar to show how charged your attack is, so you’ll need to rely on the progressively darkening ink splashes surrounding your character model. Each character features a unique focus animation, so you shouldn’t have any trouble working it out after a few rounds with each. Focus attacks make you vulnerable to damage because you need to be standing still to charge them (though you can dash forward

or backward to cancel them), but the tradeoff is that you’ll absorb the first hit without the penalty of an animation reset, allowing for an instant counterattack if you land it. They can also act as armour-breaking moves, shutting down more-powerful attacks. Successfully landing a fully charged focus attack will deal damage and crumple your opponent to the ground, giving you the chance to follow up with an unblockable hit as he or she falls. The new mechanic also lets you use part of your EX power-meter charge to exit animations early and chain bigger combos together. They take a little getting used to and some serious thumb dexterity, but once they’re mastered, you can perform moves such as dragon-punch stalls directly into super moves or use them to juggle players in midair with multiple hits. Your revenge meter builds as you take damage, whereas the EX meter fills as you dish it out. EX power rolls over to the next round, but revenge must be built from scratch each time. This becomes a crucial risk-versus-reward mechanic. Do you take hits to build revenge and power up an ultra attack, or do you deal damage to burn your EX on improved moves, cancels, or save it for a super finisher? The flexibility of this system means that you’re free to play according to your strengths and style. But just like reversals, EX power-ups, and ultra combo attacks, focus attacks serve to mix up the experience only for veteran players; such is the game’s balance that they have never been required to win a match, and they act more as an additional weapon in the arsenal of a skilled player. They’re waiting for you when you want to take a step up and learn how they work, but well-timed basic punches and kicks are just as effective. Championship mode pits you against similar skill-level online fighters in a pseudo tournament setting. The single-player mode is robust and has a lot to offer across several components. Arcade mode pits you against a set number of fighters from your unlocked-character roster and culminates in a showdown with Seth. Along the way to your goal, you’ll always encounter a rival fight. These are regular fights accompanied by an in-engine exchange with your opponent. They’re a welcome mix-up but often add nothing to the character’s storyline because some fighters clearly don’t even know why they hate one another. Each character’s adventure is bookended by an anime-style cinematic movie that explains his or her motivations for attending the tournament. They’re quite short and keep story to an absolute minimum, but they get the message across and do a reasonable-enough job of filling in the gaps. Given the amount of additional content shoehorned into this game, we were slightly disappointed to find that no bonus levels have been included, especially since we had high hopes of reliving our car and barrel smashing from Street Fighter II.

Regardless of whether you’re down with busting out a tatsumaki senpukyaku at will or think it’s some kind of egg-noodle dish, there’s a difficulty mode here for you. Eight levels ranging from very easy to hardest are available, so you’re sure to find one appropriate for your skill level. That said, even at the gentler difficulties, Street Fighter IV is no cakewalk because your opponents will occasionally mix things up with surprise super and ultra combos. First-timers will have no trouble picking up, playing, and learning as they go. Playing on the medium or above difficulty will also enable score tracking, letting you submit and compare to other players on the game’s online leaderboards. Street Fighter IV’s training mode will challenge even experienced brawlers to improve. Given that SFIV straddles the line between classic SFII and SFIII gameplay, there’s bound to be some confusion about which of your old mainstay combos work and the timing that you’ll need to pull them off. The training mode is an excellent resource and is one of the biggest jewels in the SFIV crown. Once you’ve chosen your character and your sparring partner, you’ll be able to pose them in various positions, toggle CPU control (and adjust its intensity), or give player two control of the action. There’s even the ability to switch to your opponent’s character, record up to 10 seconds of custom moves, and loop their replay. It’s a great way to practice your evasion, attack timing, and counters without requiring another player or needing to search for online games. There are plenty of switches to fiddle with here, including changing your target’s block mode, stun frequency, ultra and super power-bar start, and regeneration levels. Live attack data can be enabled to show how much damage your moves are dealing, whereas input display can show you which way you’re pushing the sticks and mashing the buttons. Training mode aside, one of the single best features of Street Fighter IV is the Challenge mode, which is made up of several sub-modes. Old faithfuls such as Time Attack and Survival mode make an appearance and see you completing fight after fight to best your rival before the timer runs out or you empty your vitality bar. The new addition to Challenge mode is Trial mode, a multitiered training tool that will teach you not only how to perform moves, but also how to string them together to best deal damage. Although the Training mode gives you the full arsenal and space to try it out, in Trial mode you’ll need to perform a specific manoeuvre or combo to continue. The five normal difficulty levels cover basic character-specific moves such as dragon punches, charge moves, and throws, but they get significantly tougher as you progress to cover specials, cancelling attacks with focus, and stringing multipart combinations together. If you can get through these and feel up to the challenge, there are an extra five levels of bonecrushing general-purpose moves designed to help you improve your competitive play.


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treet Fighter IV supports both online and offline multiplayer modes, though cross-platform play with consoles is not available. In offline play, you’ll be able to go head-to-head with a second player using your unlocked characters. Online is handled through the Games For Windows LIVE service and registers and runs without a hitch. For matches you’ll be given the choice between friendly player matches, ranked games, or Championship mode. Winning ranked matches awards you battle points, which are used to both show off your prowess and help with the matchmaking process. Patched in after the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Street Fighter IV shipped (and also available on those platforms), Championship mode adds online play with a tournament-style knockout system. The ranking system means you’ll only fight against players of roughly the same skill level as you accrue points and progress through a mock round system on the way to a final showdown. If you’re after the true arcade experience, you can toggle online competitive challenge mode on and off to work with single-player. Just as you would expect in an arcade, if you’re battling the CPU and someone issues a challenge, your game will pause and you’ll automatically accept the invitation. Once the game has finished and you leave the multiplayer lobby, you’ll restart your offline game where you were. You can set it to Player, Ranked or Championship matches as per your preference. We played online against opponents with both strong and weak connections, and even at slightly less than full connection strength, you’ll receive an offlinelike, seamless fighting experience. Poorer connections are more akin to a slide show, although we did manage to find games with supposedly poor connections that played quite well. Street Fighter IV’s visual presentation is outstanding. The art style appears a lot more adult this time around, swapping the bright Saturday-morning kids’ cartoon looks of previous games for large, menacing characters with bulging muscles and environments with more muted colour palettes. The game’s pseudocel-shaded character-art style uses thick black borders and splattered ink to great effect, while fast, fluid animation sees your favourite fighters dance across the screen with grace. Long hair flows and trails, facial expressions contort and grimace as you deal blows, and eyes bulge as opponents see an ultra attack successfully executed. We observed a few minor character-model clipping errors during play, such as legs passing through each other and the odd missed sweep when we were sure that we should have landed a hit, but these are small quibbles because they appeared few and far between. Battle environments are a mix of old and new, reinventing favourites such as Guile’s airbase tarmac (complete with destructible plane wings), Blanka’s jungle walkways, and Chun-Li’s marketplace alleyway. New environments include a secret science laboratory, a highway underpass, a classic mar-

tial-arts dojo, and the rim of an active volcano. Dhalsim’s flames aren’t nearly as frightening when you’re fighting alongside a lava flow. The PC version of SFIV manages to ratchet up the already-gorgeous visuals a couple of notches over its console counterparts by offering resolutions up to 1920x1200, as well as selectable shader and antialiasing options to suit your PC’s capabilities. Three new “extra touch” visuals-ink, watercolour, and posterization--add visual effects to your character and the environment. This includes the ability to add thicker borders, though it’s purely cosmetic and doesn’t alter gameplay. These settings aside, the visuals are almost indistinguishable from those on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, and the frame rate is solid even during the most frenetic battles. Audio is a particular high point in SFIV, and though the J-pop soundtrack and cheesy intro theme will be driven into your head within minutes, it’s also worth mentioning the subtle environmental effects that go otherwise unheard in the heat of battle. The cheers of crowds, the rattle of old trains, and the barking of dogs in alleys all help create a genuine sense of immersion. Purists are even given the option to choose between Japanese and English voice-overs during cutscenes and as characters enter the ring. Unsurprisingly, the PC game includes support for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controllers and handles identically to its console brethren. The analog sticks are easy to use for performing ultra moves, though the Microsoft controller’s D pad leaves plenty to be desired. Keyboard play or a mixture of keyboard and pad are supported, and while serviceable in a pinch, it’s certainly not our preference for serious play. Button layouts for pad and keyboard can both be mapped to your tastes. Your best bet, of course, is to invest in a good arcade stick or one of the controllers designed specifically for this game. While not available in all territories, bundles with gamepads and a copy of the game are available from many retailers. Street Fighter IV will welcome you with open arms, whether you’re a lapsed fan concerned that you’ve been out of the loop for too long or you’re dipping your toes for the first time. Amazing presentation, intricate and enjoyable fighting gameplay, and long-term appeal with online play make this a must-have. Street Fighter IV is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of the fighting genre in this generation.


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