PC gaming blog
By Rich Brown
Associate editor, CNET Reviews
FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005 One MMORPG to rule them all
One prerequisite for any massive, multiplayer, online role-playing game is a sprawling, epic setting with its own unique environments, characters, and enemies. So what better basis for online gaming than the granddaddy of 'em all, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings? Turbine Entertainment, of Asheron's Call fame, will launch The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar on September 1 in hopes that Tolkien's universe will stand out amid what has become an increasingly crowded field. But with the ability to play as a human, an orc, a dwarf, or a hobbit and to explore such areas as the Shire and Rivendell while fighting off evil Uruk-hai, Shadows of Angmar may prove difficult for fans of the saga to resist. Still, it would have been cool for players to be able to control evil characters on Sauron's side of the battle; even though that option won't be available come September, there's always hope for an expansion.
Shadows of Angmar
Posted at 4:54 p.m. ET
The Matrix: The Path of Neo
Atari demo'd only an early PS2 build of the latest Wachowski-inspired gaming title at the show, but The Matrix: The Path of Neo looks like it has the potential to succeed as a fun action game. The third-person fighter has you control Neo (with computer-controlled assistance from Trinity, Morpheus, and a full closet's worth of leather trench coats) through such notable movie moments as the first film's lobby shoot-out and The Matrix: Reloaded's stair fight, among others. All of the movie's principal actors also return to lend their voices. It might be of some concern that developer Shiny holds the development reins again (remember 2003's disappointing Enter
the Matrix?), but with the movies finished, there's less hype-machine pressure this time around.
Follow the path of Neo
Posted at 4:11 p.m. ET
Razer Tarantula keyboard
We didn't actually see the Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard on the floor this year, but its spec sheet is awfully attractive. Razer claims that the Tarantula's 109 low-profile, laptop-style keys make for nearly silent typing, and the keyboard's software supports as many as six different gaming profiles; in addition, the unit boasts adjustable stereo-component-style feet and customizable jog dials on either side. (Razer CEO Robert Krakoff told us he's left-handed and, thus, a strong proponent of ambidextrous peripherals.)
Although this is the first keyboard from the high-end mouse vendor, if Razer brings the attention to detail it applied to last year's Diamondback
mouse, gamers are in for a treat. Pricing and a release date for the Tarantula are still to be determined.
Posted at 3:41 p.m. ET
Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach
Turning the granddaddy of all role-playing games into an EverQuest-style, subscription-based, online persistent world seems completely natural, but it also makes us wonder: just how many games can this genre support? It seems to us that there's a finite number of people willing to pay a monthly gaming fee, and with a number of high-profile, heavily populated titles out there already (especially with fantastic/medieval themes), we wonder how many more pay-to-play online games the customer base is willing to tolerate. Still, Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach looked great when we saw it demo'd at the show, though not significantly better than any of the other online RPGs. Maybe the license is all it needs.
Posted at 3:10 p.m. ET
Saitek's budget 1,600dpi mouse
Saitek's sub-$25, 1,600dpi PC Gaming mouse might not be as customizable as Creative's forthcoming high-end offering, nor as carefully tuned to its intended purpose as Razer's Diamondback. What it can brag about, though, is that it's the lowest-priced 1,600dpi mouse on the market. Whether the gaming masses need or would even notice that much sensitivity is perhaps questionable, but then again, would it hurt to run Excel with sniperlike precision?
1,600 dpi for under $25
Posted at 12:55 p.m. ET
Creative's high-end gaming mouse
Creative's partnership with pro gamer Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel may lend its to-be-named high-end mouse (which should hit sometime this year at $69.95) some credibility, but we're more interested in the mouse's customizable weighting mechanism. Sniper types generally prefer a heavier, more precise mouse for aiming, while run-and-gunners like them lighter. We saw only a plastic mockup at the show, but the eventual plan is to include small, removable metal weights in the mouse's hollow palm rest. Let's hope Creative also develops a good way to keep you from losing the weights you don't use.
Posted at 12:02 p.m. ET
THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2005 Who needs next-gen graphics? Certainly not Civilization IV
Though it might not have the same graphical firepower as many other titles on the show floor, the Civilization series has always been proof positive that strong gameplay will reel 'em in every time. Civilization IV does have a new 3D look and feel, but it's the slate of revamped gameplay mechanics that will ultimately make or break this update. Exportable religions, playable historic figures, and other features hope to lend a fresh taste to this long-running and beloved strategy series.
Posted at 4:27pm ET
Best imitation of myself: Prince of Persia 3
The popular 3D puzzle and fighting series is back for the PC in late 2006, this time with two playable characters. The premise of Prince of Persia 3: Kindred Blades is that all of the Prince's past time traveling has created an alternate version of himself, a Dark Prince who's much more violent and prone to random acts of kicking butt. While the latest in what has been an assembly line of Prince of Persia sequels might not push any technical boundaries, the addition of such new gameplay wrinkles as a stealth element and chariot races will likely make Kindred Blades a worthy continuation of the series.
Prince of Persia 3: Kindred Blades
Posted at 4:18pm ET
Oblivion has never looked better
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion brings the long-running open-ended role playing series into the next generation of PC graphics (as well as the X-Box 360). The screenshots we've seen so far are amazing: the game's near-realistic visuals give the expansive kingdom of Tamriel an even more immersive feeling than in the past. It remains to be seen whether the complaints of an underdeveloped combat system and repetitive gameplay in Oblivion's predecessor have been completely addressed, though Bethesda does claim to have overhauled the new game's fighting mechanics and AI in response to fan concerns.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Posted at 4:07pm ET
Black and White 2 gets ambitious
The original Black and White made some bold claims about revolutionizing artificial intelligence and the entire "god game" genre, and though the game was indeed great, gaming AI has clearly come a long way since 2001. So naturally, we have high hopes for Lionhead Studios' ambitious sequel; the development team has stated that they're rebuilding Black and White 2 from the ground up. It's hard to tell just how Lionhead has improved the experience without playing deep into the game, but we'll give them points for keeping their ambitions high. Expect more giant trained creature mayhem, with an increased emphasis on large scale combat.
Black and White 2
Posted at 3:56pm ET
First-person shooters, back on top
It's been a while since we've seen so many high profile first-person shooters at an E3. But between 2K Games' Prey, Vivendi Universal's F.E.A.R., Epic's Unreal Tournament 2007, Activision's Quake 4, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and Call of Duty 2, and Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 3, PC gamers can look forward to a whole new era of fast-paced single and multi-player gaming, with next-generation graphics to boot. Prey looked especially creative, showing off a unique level design, cinematic story line, and sharp-looking DirectX 9 3D visuals.
Left: Prey, middle: Quake 4, right: Unreal Tournament 2007
Posted at 3:43pm ET
PCs vs. consoles: Nvidia weighs in
Nvidia shined some interesting light for us on the PCs vs. consoles value proposition--namely, why a consumer should spend upward of $1,200 on the most cutting-edge graphics for their gaming PC (two high-end 3D cards and a motherboard that supports them) when a console costing roughly $500 (say, Sony's PlayStation 3) will have what could be a better-looking image. A member of Nvidia's PR team kindly mapped out a general answer to our query. If next-generation consoles represent the best that Nvidia and ATI can do at the time when those consoles launch, you'll still be able to count on PC hardware surpassing the PS3 and the Xbox 360 within a few years. Based on the relatively high rate at which both Nvidia and ATI have released new cutting-edge cards over the past few years, we'd say that's a good bet, though it doesn't exactly answer the question in the short term. None of this is to say that visual quality is the be-all and end-all of a system's overall worth, but it does remain a significant factor in people's buying decisions.
Nvidia's "cutting-edge" card
Posted at 11:59am ET
City of Villains ready to conquer the world
We got a sneak peek at the first expansion for City of Heroes, the runaway hit comic book-inspired online role-playing game. City of Villains will introduce player-controlled bad guys into the equation, bringing player vs. player combat to the City of Heroes universe for the first time. The character creation screens look as fun to play with as the game itself, giving you as many options to tweak your arch villain as the original did. Throw in a new headquarters-building feature, and City of Villains looks primed to bring a whole new level of gameplay to an already successful franchise.
City of Villains
Posted at 11:46am ET
The legacy of Diablo
Another game that impressed us on the show floor was Flagship Studio's Hellgate: London. Designed by a bunch of refugees from Blizzard North (makers of the Diablo games), Hellgate: London takes the sword-swinging, dungeon-crawl formula and transplants it into a modern-day London that's been overrun by demons. Instead of Diablo's fixed third-person overhead view, Hellgate: London gives you a close-up of the action from a first-person perspective. But it also looks much more complex than your average Doom-style shooter, with the added dimension of RPG-style statistical number crunching.
Posted at 11:15am ET
WEDNESDAY, MAY 18, 2005 Age of Empires III: Yowza!
One of our GameSpot brethren quoted Age of Empires III's lead programmer, Dave Pottinger, as saying that the comany is trying to make this title "the best-looking PC game ever." Having had a chance to see the game for myself, I can't help but think that it's well on its way: the graphics on this game are simply incredible, with insane levels of minute detail throughout. Even so, I've heard rumblings that Ensemble is trying to make the title playable on as many systems as possible when it hits stores this fall, so if your PC isn't bleeding-edge, you may still have a fighting chance to get in on what AOE III has to offer.
Age of Empires III
Posted at 5:40pm ET
RoboBlitz takes advantage of dual-core CPUs