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With 30 cars and great graphics the latest installment of the need for speed underground series is superb.

9.0

Editors' Choice

Summary

With 30 cars and great graphics the latest installment of the need for speed underground series is superb. The best part of the game in my opinion is customizing cars, with body kits, performance parts, spinners, rims , window tints, hoods, doors and hundreds of paints decals and multi-layer vinyls, the options are limitless.

In career mode you start out as a newbie coming to Bayview, the mythical city which seems to be part Hollywood, part New York City, part Los Vegas, for the racing scene. You gradually move up in the ranks and build a supercar. Along the way you get on DVD covers and Magazines for extra "bank". You sign with sponsors compete in the underground racing league and much more.

Besides career mode there's 2-player split screen, if you have an extra controller, that is. You use your customized cars on tracks you've unlock in Career Mode to see who's top dog, (very fun to have a tournament).

Need For Speed Underground 2 clearly tops its predecessor in every aspect.




One of the few good Need for Speed games.

9.0

Editors' Choice
Difficulty:
Easy
Time Spent:
100 or More Hours
The Bottom Line:
"Just plain fun"

Summary

I'm not a "classic" gamer, whatever that is. Truth is, I'm the generation sandwiched between the new generation of twitch-frenzy teens and the old generation of meaningful quality games. What my generation got was a game filled to the brim with quality, yet fast-paced enough to appeal to the masses. And the result of that is Need for Speed: Underground 2.

A successor to the last installment, Underground, the story continues off with the Player finishing a race, getting ambushed, totaling his car, and for some odd reason, moves to another city instead of staying in the same place. Overall, the game is light on story, and when it does try to showcase it, it just doesn't make sense. But, that's never been what a Need for Speed's about. It's about the high-octane racing that keeps you on your toes.

The gameplay itself is a step-up from Underground. You get this massive city to explore, although not particularly interesting. You don't get too many hidden collectibles to go searching for, and there's really no point in the free-roaming. Whereas Grand Theft Auto had a reason for exploring the city (hidden collectibles, stunt jumps, rampages, killing innocents, etc.) there was almost no incentive to roam the city. You got a few cash bonuses and tips here and there, but the vast majority of your time spent touring the city is to get from race to race. The only other reason I'd actually roam around is to find other racers to engage in possibly the most exciting race mode yet: Outrun. Basically, it's you against another racer. You need to try and take the lead and then extend it for 200 meters. It becomes tense as your next crash could mean a loss. And we all hate losing. However, it's only fun when going on the freeway at 180+ mph.

The racing AI itself is not very good. During Outrun races, they'll oftentimes "juke" you and then you end up taking the wrong turn. Other than that, however, they're not exactly challenging. On higher difficulties, you can see they take the suggested racing line, but they never have the same speed as you. You can draft a bit, and then pass the car and use your nitrous to boost past the rest. Or playing dirty and wiping out the competition. Either way, it's rather easy to get the lead. And since they rarely use nitrous out of the beginning of the race, it's rather easy to maintain the lead. I would've appreciated more aggressive driving, like attempting to spin me out, or pushing me into oncoming traffic. However, it becomes a challenge every once in a while when you enter an Outrun race and it transforms into this 7 minute challenge. You've spent all this time trying to lose this sucker and you're not going to take a loss. Every turn is a possible location for a crash, and one mistake equals a total loss. At which point I'd throw my controller at the TV, smash my PS2, throw it out, run it over, burn it, throw it into a meat grinder, and then feed them to a shark.

Which brings me to my next point. The overall layout of the city is rather good. It's not overly complicated, but you still get plenty of shortcuts and roads to take. It becomes easy to memorize once you take the time. But the real pleasure come from the turns. You can take the turns, but you need to be careful, especially late into the game when the cars are fast, because it's almost always a blind turn and without quick thinking, you can oftentimes end up in an accident and therefore lose massive ground between you and the competition.

Graphics are also good as well. The 30 or so cars are pretty detailed, and the game has an amazing draw distance. You can see the entire city from virtually anywhere. It's not exactly a massive improvement over what we saw in Underground. I'm actually glad they got rid of a lot of the blur, because it became really hard to drive in Underground, but it's there when you begin to reach the 200 mph mark or use nitrous.

But, the main draw of the Underground series is the customization. And oh boy does Underground 2 have plenty of that. You have the standard performance upgrades, which are split into different categories such as Engine, ECU, Transmission, Suspension, Turbo, Nitrous, Tires, Brakes, and Weight Reduction. You can choose to buy individual parts or buy packages. There's no reason to buy individual parts since you get a discount if you buy in packages, but I guess it's there to emphasize that it's an underground racing scene. You also get standard body customizations, such as front bumper, rear bumper, side skirts, spoilers, and rims, but additional options such as mirrors, wide body kits, roof scoops, hoods, head lights, tail lights, and carbon fiber parts. But it doesn't stop. You get to add in custom gauges, window tints, neon (underglow, trunk, and engine), hydraulics, spinners, doors, hoods, nitrous purge, and trunk contents. And then you've got the paint jobs, the vinyls, and decals, all to create a car that fits your personality. So, it's a pretty in-depth system. And it goes the extra mile for car enthusiasts so they can enter the Dyno Lab, test the performance of your car for a specific race type, and then tune the specific settings like the stiffness of your shocks, your brake bias, how much grip the front/rear tires have, steering response, as well as gauge how much torque is applied at which RPM, how much turbo is needed at which RPM, and whether or not you have more nitrous or more powerful nitrous. It's a very in-depth system that lets you tweak the settings and become unstoppable in most race types.

+ Great customization
+ Great race types
+ Lots of racing, 20 hours approx. to complete FULLY
- No cops, no fun
- Weak story
- No free-roaming incentive




This intoxicating tactical strategy game is polished, unique and stuffed with content.

8.0

Superb
Difficulty:
Hard
Time Spent:
10 Hours or Less
The Bottom Line:
"Rocks"

Summary

Taking one glance at Frozen Synapse will immediately reveal the focus of this indie-developed title. This is clearly a deep and challenging top-down turn-based strategy game that's all about finess, wit and the ability to predict your opponents next move, all before the outcome of your choices are played back right before your very eyes. Though it may look overly subdued and complicated, rest assure that this strategy gem is an absolutely intoxicating experience that will continuously wow you with its incredible intricacies and ridiculously addictive gameplay. So if you have a spare twenty dollars and even the slightest interest in strategy games, then you should download Frozen Synapse whenever the possibility arises.

So, what makes this game such an intricate and enjoyable experience? Well for starters, it's both a real-time and turn-based strategy game infused with cyberpunk aesthetics all at once, letting you que up moves and tactics in a frozen state and then watch the consequences unfold in the form of a brief video snippet. What makes Frozen Synapse so different, is the fact that you can simulate all of your choices and see what might happen, and from there on, try to figure out what your opponent will do in the coming turns and once you're satisfied, hit the prime button, watch the outcome, prep yourself for the next turn and continue to experiment and uncover new ways to emerge victorious. Yeah, it's incredibly deep but it caters well to newcomers, as the game features a smooth interface and tactics that are easy to employ as well as a bevy of tutorials to get you going. Frozen Synapse is a game that will make you think on a level rarely seen in most strategy games, putting you into a mindset you'd normaly find yourself in when playing a tense game of chess.

In Frozen Synapse, you control a small squad of soldiers in a procedurally generated map with each unit wielding a different weapon and the goal is to simply decimate the opposing team. You then simulate various approaches in tandem with your enemy and then execute those moves with battles taking place in real-time. From the outset, you have five different commands to give to your units, like telling them where to go with the use of waypoints, or ordering them to aim at a designated spot or enemy. It's crucial that you weave these simple orders and produce game-changing tactics as you can never be completely sure what your enemy will do next, which creates an unparalleled amount of tension. Being cunning and patient will meet you with success, so dont you dare attempt any brain dead schemes.

Frozen Synapse features some truly robust multiplayer options, with integrated chat and friends-list options and replays of matches can even be exported to Youtube. However, if you're type of person who's into fast multiplayer action then the hours upon hours and then some it can take just to finish one match will seem absolutetly ridiculous. You're actually meant to play multiple matches at a time, and whenever your opponent has primed his move, you'll receive an email notification and then the result of those moves will be played out. It may all sound superficial, but if you can cope with it, you'll find the multiplayer action in Frozen Synapse to be loads of fun and there are plentiful leaderboards to build some incentive.

But of course, most will start with the single-player campaign which spans a whopping 55 missions that are all varied and demanding. You'll escort V.I.P's, extract intel, defend areas, sneak past security systems and much more. The problem is that the difficulty often ranges from challenging to downright absurd, as missions involving enemies that you cant see lest they are in your line of sight can be particularly frustrating. There is also a fairly irreverent story tying things together--involving corporations, conspiracies and lots of jargon-heavy dialogue. It's a bit campy but it does help establish a personality to the game and the characters do have a good sense of humour. Also, words alone cannot fully explain how incredibly good the soundtrack is in this game. Your ears will constantly be filled with gleeful techno beats that never become tedious and it suits the cyberpunk atmosphere just perfectly.

Frozen Synapse is one of the coolest strategy games i have played in a long time. It's so sophisticated and meticulously well designed that even the biggest strategy enthusiast will be impressed. So go ahead and pay the price to experience this awesome, awesome game--it will be worth your time and money and some of the previously mentioned gripes probably won't ruin your fun.

Pros:
+Intricate and tactical turn-based strategy gameplay
+Lengthy campaign with plenty of different mission types
+Smooth online gameplay, complete with leaderboards and replay systems
+Incredible soundtrack.

Cons:
-A few frustrating campaign scenarios
-Multiplayer sessions can take a long time to finish.

Game Emblems -The Good:
Innovative
Unique
Strong Competitive Multiplayer
Variety
Great Original Soundtrack




Frozen Synapse is a rarity nowadays - a game that relies on a brilliant combat system to shine.

8.5

Superb
Difficulty:
Just Right
Time Spent:
10 to 20 Hours
The Bottom Line:
"Innovative"

Summary

I'll start off by saying what you'll notice once you see Frozen Synapse running - the game is not ugly, it simply sports pretty much no graphics at all. It's like they designed a terrific combat system but had no graphics engine to match it's quality, so they didn't bother creating some lame graphics to taint it.

The amazing part is - it works. Of course, I'd prefer great graphics, but considering those where so improbable in an indie game, I think they made the right choice.

Now that the graphics are out of the way, I'll talk about the game. FS is all about the combat. The story, while decent, it pretty much just an excuse for the shootouts (I mean, tactical encounters), and the single player game is nowere near the fun of the multiplayer.

If this game was SP only, I would like it, but the shortcomings (graphics, story) would force me to give it a low average. But the multiplayer is completely different.

Thing is, multiplayer is not only smart, addictive and other adjectives we usually think when we're talking about videogames. FS is a great game, a great Ludo. It's some kind of chess with luck that keeps your brain working and your heart pounding to see if the mart choice will succeed or if bad luck (or a preemptive opponent) will give you swift defeat. The ability to understand the most obvious approach to a given situation usually leads to layers of educated guesses, sometimes with hilarious results.

I feel FS will become a cult favorite, a game played by few enthusiasts and never dropped. It succeeds doing something so many games tried befofe with the implement of two simple things - the turn based combat is the preparation stage, but the action is simultaneous; and refusing to take tools from the players for the sake of turning the game more appealing to the casual crowd.

It doesn't mean the game is hard - it's just not shallow to avoid the IMPRESSION of a steep learning curve.

I recommend you play this game if you have any interest for tactical gameplay, turn based games, spec ops simulators or competitive mind games, like chess. I'd even give it a try if I didn't like those, because there's some quality to be found here you don't see in games anymore, something deeper than pretty graphics in a decent shooter engine.

Frozen Synapse is lovingly crafted from homo ludens, for homo ludens.

Breakdown:

Graphics: 5.0 (all function, not pretty tough)

Sound: 7.5 (decent music, adequate sound effects, not enough voice acting)

Gameplay: 9.5 (small interface refinements from perfect)

Replayability: 9.0 (you'll not play it every day, but you can probably play it for years without being tiresome - just like chess)

Average: 8.5. A very good game, but not for players that are all about graphics and twitchy gameplay.




Frozen Synapse combines depth, complexity, and intuitiveness to create a deeply satisfying tactical experience.

9.0

Editors' Choice
Difficulty:
Just Right
Time Spent:
20 to 40 Hours
The Bottom Line:
"Amazing"

Summary

The plan's perfect. You've run your units through it a thousand times, checking for any openings your opponent could use to dismantle your attack. There's nothing more to do -- nothing except prime your turn and watch the events unfold. In the seconds between, anxiety starts building. What if you missed something? That rocket launcher might be able to get a rocket off before that shot-gunner of yours is able to reach him. And what of the sniper? Are you sure you set your units up to stay out of his sights? The wait becoming all the more agonizing as doubt begins to settle in.

Then the game finishes assimilating the data, and the turn plays out.

It's those moments -- the suspense of whether or not you're carefully laid plans succeed or fail -- that embody the experience Frozen Synapse harbors. A turn-based strategy game from developer Mode 7, Frozen Synapse delivers a fantastically deep and intuitive game of tactical warfare. This is turn-based strategy at its best: immensely challenging and unforgiving while retaining a low barrier-of-entry thanks to an easy-to-understand user-interface.

In strategy games, the UI is everything. Information needs to be displayed upfront and with as little complexity as possible. Frozen Synapse, despite looking almost inscrutable at first glance, does this splendidly. The first point of interest lies at the bottom of the screen. A rectangular window, which contains video player controls and an archive of all the turns as well as a way of swapping between units, rests there. It's the game's most important tool, for its employment in strategizing is invaluable. By right clicking anywhere on the map after selecting a unit, you can bring up a command list. The game presents a wealthy suite of options to command your troops with, ranging from simple actions like moving, attacking, and crouching or standing, to more nuanced maneuvers like delaying actions for a few seconds, ignoring or focusing on certain enemies or areas, or setting units to attack on sight or not. A handy tutorial gets you acquainted with the basics quickly, but you could easily figure out how to work all its systems without it if you so choose. (The names of the actions say it all, really.) With the basics down, learning the advanced stuff is easy. From there you can focus your efforts squarely on scheming.

When laying down your plan, the player controls are key. With them, you're able to preview your actions and adjust them as necessary. What makes this stand out is that you can see the results of your strike before you submit them, allowing you to more easily detect errors than you would were you simply imagining the outcome. Setting down a plan for the enemy units is the key to using this feature advantageously, for like a game of Chess, a lack of foresight is all it takes to be quickly defeated. Attempting to divine what your opponent's actions are allows you to create more near-bulletproof strategies by opening your mind to previously unseen avenues of attack. Examining the situation from both sides is a necessity to play effectively.

A quick side-note: The game has an underlying rock-paper-scissors system at play that determines who wins in any given conflict. So, say you set a unit of yours to aim toward an enemy unit mid-movement. In that scenario, the enemy will win because standing units always win against moving units. When two moving units engage each other, however, the winner is determined by who sees whom first.

Most of your time will be spent in the campaign. Here you work with a resistance dubbed Petrov's Shard to take down a corrupt corporation called Enyo:Nomad, who has managed to quietly seize control over the settlements of Markov Geist, the stage for which this all takes place. You are Tactics -- an expert tactician who is called in to lend your particular brand of strategic prowess to aide the resistance. The story is told primarily between missions through conversations and dossiers; the former serving to advance the proceedings while the latter expounds upon the back-story. It takes place in a near future type setting, where a communications network turned virtual reality known as "The Shape" pervades every aspect of life. It's through The Shape that you interact with the inhabitants of Markov, it's landscape presented to you as a sea of electric blue, lighter shades signifying walls and other architecture, punctuated by silhouettes of red and green, representing the units you command and fight against. (Green being you, red being the enemies.)

The campaign takes you through 50 missions, each a wholly unique encounter thanks to the randomly generated maps. Your goals remain the same -- neutralize all foes, defend or capture a certain spot of the map, collect data keys, or escort someone to safety -- but the means through which you meet them are never the same. So if you happen to get stuck on a certain mission, you can't just reference a guide and succeed instantly; you need to do the work yourself, keep at it until you've finally figured out the correct approach. This makes each battle hugely rewarding, as it is your own abilities that bring you to victory. To craft a perfectly executed plan, achieving your objective in just a few turns, grants enormous satisfaction. Never does anything you achieve feel like it was a result of luck. It's always a result of having the superior strategy.

That especially applies to the multiplayer. Though it's far from the most active player-base out there, Frozen Synapse has a healthy, dedicated community to compete against online. The modes available are the same game-types from the campaign, meaning you'll already be familiar with them all to some degree if you play through the single-player portion. Each mode has a light and dark variant as well; dark variants preventing you from seeing your opponents until they're withing your units' line of sight, and light letting you see those actions at all times as usual. Dark variants force you to employ a much greater degree of caution, for any slip up can (and probably will) result in your immediate failure.

Most impressive about Frozen Synapse is its atmosphere. The music lends an appropriate level of tensity to the action, making you feel the weight of every move you dictate. Its electric, synth-heavy tracks capture the mood perfectly: slow and calculated, with enough bombast reserved for the more fierce moments. Frozen Synapse moves between compositions without much thought, simply queuing up the next track as the last one finishes, but each one is suitable for whatever stage of battle it is you're engaged. Whether you're just starting a new skirmish or are in the final throes of battle, the music always achieves its desired effect: to make you feel the pressure of combat. Subtle changes in tone between them instill it to varying degrees, but they're all designed with the intent of driving home the pressure of commanding a small unit of soldiers against unfavorable odds.

One track in particular stands out. Titled "Concentrate," it epitomizes the feelings and thought processes of planning perfectly. Beginning with a low hum, punctuated by the sounds of a piano-like instrument before working in the percussion along with a few light beeps and boops, aiding the slow, calculating procedure of a tactician. It eases you into the coming battle, lulling you into a relaxed, clear-minded state to instill the right mind-set to rationally approach a situation. After suffering losses, its sudden wind up immediately calms the nerves and prepares you to make a comeback. It's not uncommon for a game to be well scored; composing a soundtrack that correlates the entire theme, setting, and aesthetic, however, isn't.

Frozen Synapse is an achievement. It pushes the turn-based subset of strategy games forward by balancing complexity and simplicity, accessibility and depth. It's a game that strategists both amateur and veteran alike can enjoy. With the sheer quality it displays, it's almost hard to believe it was made by a small indie developer. And yet, there it is. Frozen Synapse is without a doubt one of the best strategy games to come out in years, one that you owe yourself to try.
8.5

Superb
8.5
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