Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance – 15th Anniversary

It’s been fifteen years since Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance. It’s one of those things that make you feel utterly old. Not as old as a child playing Sonic with fond nostalgia, but of being almost an adult, at the end of adolescence and realising how long ago it was.

For some more perspective, the third Harry Potter book came out at the same time, and both the first Potter movie and Lord of The Rings were released only two years later.

star_wars_x-wing_alliance-frontalBut I digress. X-Wing Alliance was not only a game released by the now defunct LucasArts and Totally Games. It was not only the third single player game in the series following from the critically lauded X-Wing and TIE Fighter, but it was also the last. It was quite possibly the last great licensed dog-fighting game on a PC.

You take the part of Ace Azzameen (or whatever you name him, although you’ll always be called Ace), a young hothead from a family of freighter pilots, who becomes a member of the Rebel Alliance, mostly because the Imperials don’t take kindly to you being sympathetic to the Rebellion.

Your constant companion throughout this is a rather feisty, battle hungry and (after a while) frankly annoying droid called Emkay. You get to fly, pick up missions until battle ensues and get caught up delivering Alliance supplies after the Battle of Hoth. So starts a journey that leads the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi.

Eventually you get to the obligatory Death Star level, stealing an Imperial Shuttle and collecting all sorts of medals and token souvenirs on the way. Oh, did I mention you spend a lot of time flying a Millennium Falcon class ship? No? That happens. Which is, if I remember rightly, one of the biggest draws of the game.

star wars x-wing alliance 2I mention that because its hard to imagine now, in a world where the Rogue Squadron series came along, how big a thing it was to have that craft as a playable entity. It fulfilled so many dreams that we had been unable to fully satisfy before, and with the newer episodes being released it seemed a bit optimistic to think any games would look back to the original universe.

And as fans, we would have been right. Other than the Rouge Squadron series, there was practically no dog-fighting in the Star Wars games from the original era until Lego Star Wars: The Original Saga. Arguably the ones that followed with the new extension to the universe were never as satisfying as those that came before it.

The game forced a few updates that previous players had to adapt to. Firstly, things became much, much larger. The ships were bigger and more cumbersome, the battles more epic, the detail a lot more intricate and system straining than the previous outings. You couldn’t just zip around and pelt things, you had to properly avoid collisions and look after your craft’s speed and manoeuvrability in flight and combat. Nowadays it does look incredibly dated. Even playing it again recently, I couldn’t find a resolution that would allow the text to display properly or a suitable graphical set up. Suffice to say that up close, it hasn’t aged too well compared to other games of the era that were less graphically dependent.

One of the key improvements though, and one of the great things about the series as a whole, was the enemy AI. It was so good it could fly your ship for you whilst you manned the gunners’ turret in the Falcon-style ship. It certainly made this game challenging and instantly reminded me of the hours I spent furiously throwing my mouse around trying to find a target or violently forcing the joystick to do the same… I realise that’s a very euphemism heavy sentence… You kids and your “joypads” don’t know you’re born.

When we look back at the legacy of the Star Wars games, it was LucasArts who revolutionised gaming using the franchise, and TIE Fighter is still probably the stand out title of the series. There have been a few space dog-fighting games since, including a few Star Trek ones, but none of them, even with their graphical superiority, ever have truly lived up to the standard set by these three games.

star wars x-wing alliance 1

Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance was the technically superior of course and is still very playable, which is probably a good thing as this type of game seemingly disappeared after this time. Flight Sims went out of fashion and world events certainly saw them becoming more of a taboo genre. Even warfare itself had changed significantly enough for military based plane games to evolve and lose mainstream appeal, paving the way for the now dominant FPS market.

The final game of this trilogy, if you don’t count the multiplayer X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter game, is certainly a great legacy to leave. It was a series that was the first to simplify space dog-fighting combat in this particular era of gaming. Not since Elite was combat so easy to pick up and in the PC market, it arguably hasn’t been since. EVE of course has it, as did Star Wars Galaxies and Star Trek Online, but the MMO’s of today really don’t capture that ‘cockpit euphoria’ of tracking down a TIE Fighter, getting her in the sights and letting rip with the lasers, draining the power in the most satisfying way possible.

Maybe the upcoming Kickstarter funded sequel of Elite might invoke some nostalgia and requirement for games such as this, but it is a testament to these games that they still stand as the benchmark of how this genre should be made, played and enjoyed.



TheIndieJar: Toast Time Review

toast time feat

There’s some really neat things about playing games on the iOS/Android platforms. It’s that they have the three things that consoles and PC’s can only dream of: An easy intuitive control system, mobility/accessibility and the ability to keep things wonderfully simple.

Toast Time, from Force of Habit is a proper game. By that I don’t mean that it’s an award winning story epic, a graphical wonder or a massively multiplayer game. I mean it’s a proper game that you can take anywhere, play by yourself, have fun and enjoy.

toast time 2Here’s the idea. You are a piece of toast named Terry and you must stop enemies from reaching your alarm clock that explodes if they touch it. Your weapons are pieces of bread related ammunition, which not only kills things but also propels you around the area over a multitude of different platform based levels. Simple and easy yet also sufficiently challenging.

One thing that sings to my heart is how it replicates the golden age of British game programming, the 1980s. In this age, Spectrums and Commodores ruled the living room. The home programming market and the rise of the independent developer out of a bedroom (something we are seeing a repeat of now arguably) was a treasure trove of brilliant ideas using not very much.

Toast time harks back to that with many different angles. Firstly: graphics. Graphically this is a very simple, mostly two tone affair. The 8-Bit reminiscing echoes throughout the game but it visually affects memories of games that it is actually better than. The quick and sometimes frantic nature of the game is complimented by how simple it is graphically. Colourful explosions are normally quite distracting and the 8-Bit nostalgia actually aids the gameplay. It’s smooth, quick and has one control, your finger. Simplicity at its best.

Secondly: music. Here is where I try to be as unbiased as possible as my love for 8-Bit music is quite well known. But the music is excellent and, again, arguably better than the games of the age. It is simple and changes with the different levels without ever feeling repetitive or over the top. It’s enjoyable, almost funfair like at times and it can’t help but allow you to enjoy the game your playing without ever patronising you if you’re having a tough time. I’m sure we’ve all had frustrating platformers where the music of a level we get stuck on slowly boils us with rage. This does not boil anything except the tea.

toast time 5Thirdly, and most importantly: Humour. One of the great things about the age this game is heavily inspired by is humour. You will probably find many people who developed AAA games, even GTA (especially the first two), that will cite the crazy humour of the Brit indie scene. This has some great little touches, from jokey forfeits if you die to many customisable Terry additions like the “Gamesmaster” monocle and a top hat – admittedly my favourite combo. Plus what isn’t to like about a baguette that fires off into multiple pieces and kills egg like enemies? There are enough of these to keep you occupied for a short while but if, like me you become addicted to this game, you could run out of levels quite quickly.

This game costs a few pounds and has the added bonus of all DLC being completely free. It supports indie gaming, in a market that’s quite dominated by big studio cash-ins and knock offs. Money aside you are probably going to be playing the most enjoyable casual game I’ve played on a mobile since Game Dev Story by Kairosoft, and that is an accolade you cannot ignore.



[tab title=”Summary”]

Toast Time is an enjoyable game in its own right, even if you can’t disassociate it from the 8-Bit nostalgia it evokes. But with the simplest gameplay, easy visuals and infectious music, you’ll have a hard time putting this down.[/tab]

[tab title=”Good Points”]- Glorious 8-Bit nostalgia
– Enjoyable gameplay
– The epitome of a casual game[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Maybe slightly too short for how addictive it is
– It’s addictive[/tab]
[tab title=”Why a 9?”]Because it is a simple fun and encouraging game in a time where mobile markets seem to be completely missing the point. This game has found it perfectly.[/tab]





toast time 1 toast time 5 toast time 4

toast time 3 toast time 2


Missing the Obvious: Strategically Console

I can list the amount of strategy games that worked on a console this past generation on one hand. Shall I list them for you? OK, I will, and just so you know whilst this is also my opinion, it is complete irrefutable fact… Honest:

  • Halo Wars
  • Civilization Revolution
  • Tropico (Series)

Suffice to say that it has not been a popular genre. I am also aware that I’ve missed things that are classed as strategy games like R.U.S.E and XCOM. I’m on about the proper classic strategy games, those isometric games that rob you of several months and – if you’re lucky – several years of your life. Civilization, Black & White, Theme Park/Hospital, Dungeon Keeper, Command & Conquer, Caesar, Anno 1602, Heroes of Might and Magic… Just so it doesn’t look like a Molyneux rap sheet of course.

Civilization Revolution 1I mentioned on a recent review that console gamers, in the least insulting way possible, don’t particularly have an aptitude for strategy in gaming. Maybe patience should be a better word. But to be honest, this has been well known by gaming developers and publishers. Hence why we haven’t really had that many strategy games on console platforms. Even the most recent iteration of Command & Conquer, that 90s powerhouse of strategy gaming, was cancelled.

But it isn’t because the games aren’t popular anymore. Look at the success of Tropico, Civilization V, new indie game Banished and even SimCity. These games are not only successful but still raise the bar in what is considered to be good for the genre, especially in the PC market.

The problem is that developers have never found a way to engage with the console audience with strategy games. It sounds crazy that in this world when SimCity has been released and Transport Tycoon has been remade for iOS that the console market has no way to allow the strategy market to gain a foot hold in the living room/gaming den of your console owner.

That’s because publishers can be quite dumb. Yes, I said it. But they have had, at least for one console, a way to make intelligent forward thinking strategy game with a control method that will suit every Next Gen owner. One of the big problems with this of course is the control method for strategy games being rather elaborate compared to the capabilities of the control pad. Not graphics, audience, IP or anything else except that there isn’t a suitable control method that will allow a console gamer to play a game.

WRONG! There is one. There has been one for the past three and a half years and it has been improved greatly and re-released since. I am of course talking about Project Natal, or as you know it, Kinect.

xbox one kinect feat

Kinect has been utilized in the poorest way possible in the development of games. Its use as a semi-alternative controller or voice command unit in some games is a start, but the controller has basically been used for fitness/dance/sport game tracking and occasional camera use. If we’re honest, that’s it, right?

WRONG! The Kinect has been used for one thing, specifically non-gaming, and the idea and ethos behind it would be perfect for strategy games. That particular thing is the Xbox dashboard. It’s simple. Hand controls on squares to move things select things and now intuitive voice commands that can tell the Xbox what to do.

Let me immediately evoke for you the picture of Tom Cruise from Minority Report. This is exactly how a strategy game could work. If you will, imagine the future world of Command & Conquer on your screen. This time with seven translucent boxes displayed, four each side of your screen except one side which would have three with a mini-map as well, and your isometric view of the world in the middle of your screen showing you the world.

Minority ReportSimple controls: everything you need building wise is in these boxes, you can use iOS style controls to zoom in and out of the world (parting your hands across or bringing them in), movement can be controlled by a hand in one direction and voice controls can tell your squads what to do. You can use your voice to “select all” or “attack” or even “special function”… Do you see where I’m coming from? It’s the most immersive thing to happen to this genre and exactly what it needs to “Kinect” with gamers… PR teams may steal that line if needed.

What I’m saying is that the platforms and tools are there for strategy games to work but they must be based around the controller rather than the controller be adapted to the game. Which is why Halo Wars and Civ Rev especially were so good at what they did. They developed a game around the controller. And with Kinect, people have the most intuitive and free-controlling system around.

Admittedly if you developed a game or pitched such a thing it would not be an easy sell. But as long as you made a good enough game and succeeded in making the controller a vitally useful part of the game, rather than the quirk that it has been marketed as since inception, then there is no holding back.

Not convinced? Imagine playing Black & White or such style of game using a Kinect controller. If you aren’t playing it out in your mind and getting excited by it, then visit your local GP.


World of Tanks – Xbox 360 Review

World of tanks feat

The title says it all really. World of Tanks is now on the Xbox 360. The MMO action game, which allows you to join other players around the world in rolling around in tanks and blowing each other up, is now a part of your console set up and it’s free., the developer of this series, are beginning to branch out a lot with their franchises. The already successful World of Tanks on PC is being accompanied by sister titles involving Warplanes and Warships. But if you’re new to this, let me give you a run down of the game.

World of Tanks is a MMO that gives you multiple arenas to roll tanks around and engage in team deathmatch and/or objective games. You can choose from a multiple of different tanks from a multitude of different countries around the World War II era. You can select from British, German, Soviet, American or Japanese tanks (to name a few) and also different classes of these from light mobile scout tanks to big heavy marauding beauties.

The PC version of this has been around for four years and has had over 75 million subscribers (although that term is slightly redundant as it’s free) and aim to make the Xbox 360 version just as successful by aiming for the 48 million Xbox Live users. Can they do this though, realistically in a FPS heavy online environment?

World of tanks 2To start, World of Tanks is very, very good graphically and in its content. The historical accuracy of these tanks is wonderful and it really gives an air of confidence in the game that it can deliver. The game actually transposes to the console with relative ease. The control system is very easy and quick to master and the online play is smooth and fluid. Anyone who has played Battlefield 1943 will instantly be able to pick up and enjoy this game.

It does look absolutely wonderful on a big screen and with a decent sound system you will hear and feel every jolt that a firing tank has to offer. It is incredibly immersive and as that was one of their primary objectives in making this game, they have definitely succeeded.

The game is still completely and utterly free. There are different add-ons and customisations that you can pay money for but you would get these anyway with enough level grinding. World of Tanks 360 is a “free AAA game” in the words of and you can’t refute that it is AAA. But there are some reservations in my eyes.

Firstly: the maps. The maps in World of Tanks 360 are great and very well detailed. The Mediterranean war torn villages, the snowy icy areas and such typical WW2 areas are all extremely well presented. Whilst you don’t expect there to be many at a launch, you will find yourself losing the challenging terrain aspect of this game pretty quickly as you grow very accustomed to the areas. This presents a secondary problem that they are, for a console game, too big.

This becomes a problem because of the audience you are aiming for. One of the benefits of PC online play is that people will play a bit more tactically. They will learn a map, develop strategies and utilise cover in creating a big open tank battle from a distance. Console gamers don’t care as much and mostly will run headlong into melee battling, which quite obviously does not exist here. The result, especially in the games I’ve played, is that I die very quickly in the initial rush, or spend ages looking for someone to kill because everyone died very quickly in the initial rush. It unfortunately becomes repetitive a bit too soon. There is very little team or strategic nuance in the console gamer (not to be insulting but there really isn’t outside of extremely hardcore FPS clans or dedicated players) and whilst the game accommodates them, it doesn’t really suit their kind of style. This is no fault of at all, that’s just an honest appraisal of the market and the niche of the genre against the FPS gaming arena.

World of Tanks, though is certainly a big step forward in console MMO terms and whilst it may seem a backward move to release a new game on an older console, the Xbox live market will be there for a long, long time before the now current-gen becomes available en masse. I don’t honestly think it will pry enough people away from their already very accessible and paid for FPS multiplayer gaming, but it is a nice diversion for gamers and should survive.


[tab title=”Summary”]

World of Tanks 360 is a very enjoyable and encouraging MMO, completely free (bar the Xbox Live subscription cost) and accessible to all. But it does lack some longevity and might be a bit too demanding of tactics to keep a sufficiently large console fan base.

[tab title=”Good Points”]- Free. Enough said.
– Visually well presented.
– Enough options and customisations to keep you happy.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Maps a bit too big for Console gaming
– Might have a short life span for some players
– Possibly a bit too niche.[/tab]
[tab title=”Why a 7?”]It’s a free AAA game that is visually good with plenty of options and is enjoyable to play for a while, but big repetitive maps and gung-ho players might put you off too quickly.[/tab]





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World of Tanks Interview with Marvin Hall

World of Tanks 360 launched on Wednesday 12th February for the Xbox 360, funnily enough. The PC MMO war game comes to the console, keeping the free to play model so it doesn’t cost a thing.

We sent Sean Cleaver to check it out and speak with Marvin Hall, the EU Community Product Specialist for developers, Wargaming.


World of Tanks for 360 game launched yesterday, how has it gone so far?

It’s gone really, really well. I can’t speak enough about our EU community right now – we hit a CCU of around 35,000 on our first day so it’s really, really good.


world of tanks xbox 360 1Have you seen any dip in the PC because you’ve gone on to console or is it still very steady?

The PC is a completely different element. We’re not expecting people to drop their PC version of WoT and jump on Xbox. The whole point of this project is to catch people who we haven’t caught yet.

This is just on the Xbox 360 at the moment. Do you have any plans to go on to other consoles in the future?

Not for the moment.


So what’s different between the 360 and the PC versions if anything?

The 360 version is a real console experience. It’s in your living room, you have your wireless control pad, if you have a big TV or a really good sound system it really immerses you in to the game more.


I’ve already played a bit and its controls are really easy and intuitive, have you had to adapt the gameplay to make it more console friendly?

Yeah definitely, our development team went out of their way to really make it its own title. The game is inspired by WoT (PC) but it’s its own title. For the control scheme we use, we really went out of our way to make it console friendly. Everybody from experience console gamers to people that maybe play Call of Duty once or twice a week can get the controls and play it straight away.


world of tanks xbox 360 2One of the biggest benefits of this is its free to play, like the PC version. How do you expect that to carry on? Obviously Xbox Live is charged and you can’t avoid that element, and there are extras inside the game too. How realistic do you think it is to keep it free on the Xbox Live Arcade?

It’s going to continue to be free, that’s our business model and we’re going to stick to it. The Xbox Live gold thing is a requirement that Microsoft has so we respect that. But for free users you can get a seven-day trial of the game. So if you want to upgrade after trying the game for seven days then you can.


With this, you have the opportunity to expand the game as well. I know you have World of Warships and World of Warplanes planned to come out, is there plans for these to come on console as well?

There’s no plan, no. We went with World of Tanks, as is it our flagship title. Everything else is in the future.


The biggest question is probably Next Gen. As you said there’s no other console plans at the moment, how are you looking to Next Gen with this kind of model?

It’s a very attractive prospect right now, but we’re very focused on the 360 and our current player base. One of the reasons we didn’t go over to next gen to begin with is because the 360 has a player base of over 48million Xbox live users and that’s why we went with the 360.


It’s already been said that you’re looking to capture as many people with the target being 48 million. Do you think it’s a realistically achievable thing to get that many people involved in the game like this?

I think it’s realistic. If something is available and it is free then people will try it. With Microsoft backing us, with the correct promotions, why not!


world of tanks xbox 360 3Playing it myself I found a lot of comparisons to Battlefield 1943. How do you feel you’re going to compare against very established online gaming with games like Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty? Do you think you’ll be able to take some of those players away from that and bring them in to your fold?

Possibly. I think players are always looking for something new and with this coming on to the Xbox I think it’s quite refreshing because it’s AAA and it’s free to play. So I think users will find that very attractive.


What’s your favourite part of this game?

Probably just playing with medium tanks. It’s my favourite type of tank and you can get everything. You can shoot scouts you can kill enemies easily… It’s very versatile.


Anything you want to add?

Just basically thank you to all of the community. We’re going to continue to push more in game content in the near future so eventually we’ll have all of the content that the PC version has so there’s a very long lifespan to this title.


Dungeon Keeper iOS Review

… I should have seen it coming.

Those of you that have read a few articles of mine already will already note a certain cynical tone. But let it be said that I am not without my optimism. One such optimism was when EA announced that Dungeon Keeper was coming to iOS.

For those who don’t know, Dungeon Keeper was one of the best of the isometric God Sim-Strategy-Comedy romps that Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog Productions gave us towards the end of the 90s. You take over a dungeon and build up a sinister enough army to destroy the realm, alone with guidance from the silky smooth voiceover of Richard Ridings. Whilst being as objective and unbiased as possible, it was one of my favourite PC games and will regularly feature in any top 10 list I produce.

Now my alarm bells should have been ringing when I downloaded the “free” app (to purchase this game from the App Store, you impart no money) because I suddenly realised that I had heard nothing about it since that announcement. Not a screenshot, not a video, not a release date, nothing. So I should have sensed disaster.

To be fair, it is visually very nice and colourful. With some brilliantly realised character animations, remembering that these creatures looked really cool back in the original game. However within three seconds it becomes very busy on your screen. What are these meters all over my eye line? Gold of course is needed, which in this version is mined from an actual mine, as opposed to your imps taking it from the wall. But there is suddenly a “Stone Mine” and the need to harvest gems from the wall. Which also allow the speeding up of tasks… If you can see where I’m heading, skip two paragraphs.

If you haven’t skipped, you start a tutorial by having your devilish imps appear. You remember those little cute things you could slap and chuck around who’d make loads of noise? They are your workforce for this game and do your bidding. They start getting to work by clearing out some wall space for rooms. Once they start, they then get this little green icon with a timer and a gem in it. These gems will allow you to speed up the time it takes for the task to be done. All of these gems are occasionally found but are mostly available as an in-app purchase. Digging out the outer wall to expand your dungeon and acquire these gems takes approximately 4 hours per tile, real time. All of the fun and humour of these creatures and indeed the game is now apparent by its complete absence.

Now all the rooms cost Gold and/or stone, each has its own minion much like the original game to help you conquer, and gives you a little extra bonus. However the time it would take to save the resources will force the less patient/casual gamer into buying the extras. Added are the various traps you can lay to stop people raiding your dungeon. The slight multiplayer aspect is that you can raid other dungeons and yours can be raided, essentially turning the game from the hilarity it was before into a tower defence game. Everything you do slowly levels your dungeon up from its heart and of course, costs more purchase-renewable resource.

If you have skipped, I’m sorry to report that they’ve bastardised the concept of Bullfrog’s excellent achievement and turned it in to a skin of Farmville. This is basically Dungeonville to coin a probably already used phrase. It is very hard to review a free casual game that by design takes four hours to bust a certain wall down. You may think I’m being unfair and not seeing it for what it is, a casual game, designed to be played on lunch breaks, that utilises the nostalgia of players of the original to create a cash-in… Oh. That’s what it is.

I’d like to think that as a reviewer of video games, we all want something good. We don’t want to trash something that we love, no matter how easy it is to do so. But I think the luxury of writing for TheGameJar and through non-official print medium allows me to be a bit more open and honest as to what a game can be, especially when it is so blatant and shameless in conforming to a gaming stereotype that started five years ago with Plants Vs Zombies and the aforementioned Farmville. Casual mobile gaming has always swayed massively to a lot easier and simpler pick-up-and-play formats like Candy Crush, Bejeweled and Angry Birds. To me, Dungeon Keeper iOS is in gaming terms purely a backward and outdated move, completely misjudging its audience and far and away wasting a prime opportunity that the iOS platform allows. Just look at how good a job has been made of Lego Star Wars/Lord of The Rings, Sonic, Grand Theft Auto 3/Vice City/San Andreas, Minecraft, Transport Tycoon, Baldur’s Gate, Monkey Island, et al.

This is not the isometric game of nostalgia’s past and I was wrong to even hope that it might be. But given the obvious comparisons that other publishers have created, EA are severely lacking in the mobile department. It does make me worry because when you look at the plethora of isometric strategy games they could release, it makes you shiver to ponder that they could ruin them: Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Black & White, Theme Hospital. Then I remember what they did to Theme Park a few years ago… I should have seen it coming.


Dungeon Keeper in name, voiceover and licence alone. Free to play, but in the same way that condoms are free in sexual health clinics for birth control, the latter being a concept that should have been exercised here.

Good Points

– Casual gaming at its most familiar, so an easy learning curve.
– Visually very nice, new slightly less adult animations and designs
– Runs very smoothly, as smooth as Richard Ridings voice.

Bad Points

– Surgically removed all fun and humour.
– Completely different concept to its original namesake
– Even by casual games standards, very limited appeal and quick to lose interest in.

Why a 3?

Because there are enough games like this around, and the opportunity to do something great and resurrect a brilliant game, era and style of gaming has been completely missed. But somewhere a team of people has spent time designing and making cool looking little evil minions and they should be credited for their efforts.