The original SpellForce spawned two expansion packs, and this first add-on for the sequel probably won't be the last either. Developer Phenomic is playing the RPG trump card here: dragons. The big fat scaley fire-breathing loot-hoarding lizards which are everyone's favourite beastie. But is Phenomic merely milking the dragon? Indeed, can a dragon be milked? And (perhaps the most important question of all), will they still include the obligatory mage who sounds like a German version of Julian Clary, but a touch camper?
Murder on the Orient Express is, of course, a famous novel by Agatha Christie. Probably her most famous, in fact. As with many acclaimed authors, everyone knows the big name stories, and yet there are often more obscure books penned which can be the true classics. I'll bet you've never read the lesser known GBH on the Gatwick Express, or experienced the powerfully woven narrative of Attempted Fare Dodging on the Stirling to Glasgow Sprinter.
It's not every week you get to play a horror adventure set in the Cornish wilderness. As the movie-style ratings blurb didn't say: "Contains disturbing images, sustained levels of suspense and very thick clotted cream teas." Nothing quite so tasty, I'm afraid.
The key question for an RTS developer these days is: what can be done that's different to the norm? Their answers have varied, though lately they've tended towards bolting a strategic framework on top of the missions, as seen in the likes of Empire at War or Rise of Legends, where the player marshals his resources and directs the war on the campaign map as well as in the real-time battles. So what does ParaWorld do differently? It has DINOSAURS! That's what. The cavalry don't just have long faces here - they've got really long necks too.
Boot camp. It's where every good shooter begins, the obligatory training tutorial in which a fifty-something bloke with more stars on his uniform than Cat Deeley has in her eyes barks obscenities as I run across planks of wood and through concrete pipes. Then my DEA special agent arse has to negotiate the shooting range, where cardboard villains pop up at windows, waiting to be shot. Afterwards, it's time to polish my boots, then catch the next flight to South America, home of the drug cartels. My job - to stop them carting. I am... El Matador... (Cue brief burst of Spanish guitar). Stop that sniggering.
It's not easy being a dwarf. Spending all day mining and grumbling and tripping over your beard. Coming home to a wife with a hairy chest; and I'm not talking wispy strands here, but two thick welcome mats (or not-so-welcome mats as the case may be). It's no wonder they drink skullsplitter mead by the dozen every night. For my first outing into the lands of Mage Knight, I chose the stereotype - the race, sorry - of the dwarf. The idea of a ruddy-cheeked roaring drunk with a shotgun (yes, these are gunpowder dwarves) was just too appealing - obviously I was a farmer in a previous life. Striding, or indeed stumbling off into the world, a couple of things quickly became clear.
Eighteen wheels of steel. Greasy spoons. Air brakes. Tattoos. Grrr! Yorkie bars. Pro-plus inspired twenty-hour shifts. Overtaking another lorry on a hill because you're going 3mph faster than them and can't possibly brake, thereby blocking up the dual carriageway for ten minutes. All things associated with truckers. Apocalypse isn't one of them; you can blame them for traffic jams but not for global thermonuclear war.
Dan Brown. Love him or hate him, you've got to admire the skill with which he's managed to write a clutch of successful novels which are practically bloody identical. Take some pathetically simple cryptography, one twist, a lemon - usually the lead character - and a bunch of two-page long chapters and voila, one Brown book. The best-seller of these templates, The Da Vinci Code, has spawned a film, a court case, and now the inevitable computer games, of which this isn't one. Well, it's obviously cashing in on the impending Hollywood blockbuster, but unlike Take-Two's official Da Vinci Code console license, this has absolutely nothing to do with murder in the Louvre.
It's not the best name ever, SpellForce. It sounds like some sort of educational spelling challenge, given a trendy edge to appeal to the kids. And indeed, when the original SpellForce was released, the name plus the concept - an RTS and RPG combination - left you with a sense of impending dread. But, as it turned out, this was misplaced. Surprisingly, the RPG element wasn't just tacked on as a gimmick, and the game was packed with sub-quests, proper character development and Diablo-style loot-hauling. It did have its problems, sure, but what's really impressive is that the developer seems to have listened to reviewers' and players' moans alike, and fixed most of these issues for the sequel. It sounds like a fairytale, doesn't it?
Excerpt from the Diary of a Russian Spy. April 1949.
The SAS are a scary bunch of lads. Truly. However, in todayís climate of fear and terror, we could use something a little more shocking and awing. Something like the SCS: The Special Clown Service. Look, thereís nothing scarier than a clown - except for a clown with a Heckler & Koch MP5. Forget flashbangs, just try and shoot a hostage after youíve had a custard pie flung in your face. Banana skins for booby traps, itís anti-terrorist gold for chrissakes.