Review: Online casino games (seriously)

May 16, 2009
Sexy womens not included

Sexy womens not included

First off, quick update on the next Battle Report: it’ll come tomorrow, I promise and pinky-swear on it. But first — the titular review!

If you’re ever stuck on a business trip somewhere with just a laptop and wi-fi (though these days you’ve got a slew of other options like smart phones and PSPs), whaddya do to pass the time?

You can’t play COH, or any other serious RTS. You’re left with a wide assortment of Flash, Shockwave or Java-powered games. Here’s my recommendation: get your blood pumping with some online Blackjack or roulette.

Feelin' like Vegas yet?

Feelin' like Vegas yet?

You can find an entire lineup of applet-powered casino games at www.888.com, though my favorite offerings are free roulette and free Blackjack.

888-logoThere’s an awful lot of free, applet-powered casino games, but 888 separates itself from the pack by pretty much the slickest, quickest and most ad-free. There’s an awful lot of smart phones, but none can match Apple’s iPhone in terms design elegance and pure slickness. There’s a whole lot of hack & slash RPGs and overhead RTS games, but Blizzard continues to stand out by having the best-of-class titles in both genres. And the same applies to 888.

And let’s underline the second-best thing. It’s all ad-free. That’s right, ADVERTISEMENT-FREE. No spam, pop-ups or adware or spyware. Just look at that little angelic stick figure!

888_adwarepolicy

I support this movement and so should you!

Having played through these games quite a few times, I can assure you it is indeed true. And this from a guy who has Windows Defender and AVG running 24/7 in the background.

Every game is easy to play and very straight-forward; the graphics are crisp and clean the sound effects are simple and remind you of the casino. All you need is a sexy blond in a slinky dress on your arm, and a martini in your hand, and you’re practically James Bond in Casino Royale.

That could be real money if you were a bettin' man.

That could be real money if you were a bettin' man.

Rest easy: If you don’t have Bond’s skills with the dice, or if you’re totally clueless, 888.com has an entire section dedicated to tutorials for each game. It’s a great way to learn them.

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Review: Tales of Valor

April 17, 2009
Gold lettering is cool.

Gold lettering is cool.

REVIEW SUMMARY
Overall score: 7/10
Graphical/audio proficiency: 9/10
New content: 9/10
Game balance: 5/10
Technical polish: 5/10
Price: 7/100
Value: 7/10

The U.S. Postal Service was on point this week, delivering my copy of COH: Tales of Valor a full day earlier than expected. Of course, they took an extra week to deliver my collector’s edition of Street Fighter IV, but that’s neither the here nor there.

TOV is essentially a lazy man’s add-on to the Company of Heroes pantheon, but that’s not to say it’s worthless. In fact, TOV is a lot of fun and feels almost like a deliberate attempt by Relic to get gamers away from the deadly serious issue of “balancing” highly competitive ranked play and back into blowing up Krauts and Yanks. My take on that? They blow up real good. If you don’t own either the original COH or COH: Opposing Fronts, TOV is a great buy for the money. Go get it now, you rookie. If you’re a COH veteran, keep reading.

TOV adds three short campaigns to the single player game, representing the Wehrmacht, Panzer Elite and Americans. Each of the campaigns — Tiger Ace, The Causeway and The Falaise Pocket — consist of three story-driven missions featuring wildly modded units and gameplay mechanics. You’ll encounter a Tiger that can fire smoke bombs and fire artillery shells, plus American Paratroopers sporting Kraut-mowing Thompsons and as they say in show biz, much, much more. These units have an absurd amount of health and their slew of overpowered abilities make every single mission relatively easy. As a result, each campaign — or “tale of valor” as Relic somewhat fancifully puts it — won’t take you longer than two or three hours.

Original artwork is always nice.

Original artwork is always nice.

Each campaign really shows how Relic is stretching the existing game engine to its limits. It smacks of the flavor that DotA (Defense of the Ancients) added to Warcraft III, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. Of course, that depends on how much you like DotA versus the original game.

The much-hyped “direct fire” mode is somewhat underwhelming, and usable only in single player and in the new multiplayer modes — you won’t be able to use it in regular skirmishes or ranked games of any kind. This video gives you a sense of how it works. With a human controlling the cannon, you’ll rarely miss even moving targets, but in general it’s not a major improvement over letting the AI fire by itself. It’s pretty entertaining to lead targets though — watch how I smack that T17 Armored Car right in the ass late in this clip:

 
Keep reading for a full explanation of my score, which essentially amounts to a low C — not exactly the kinda test score that’ll get you into Harvard.

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Tales of Valor on its way

April 7, 2009

tov_smallMy copy of COH: Tales of Valor will soon be speeding to my house (as quickly as free Amazon.com shipping moves, that is). And so you may expect, dear readers, a comprehensive, unbiased review of the expansion right here on Rifles Ready! I really don’t know what to expect with this expansion. There aren’t any real “new” units, so to speak. There are units that replace existing ones and feel slightly different in flavor. But I withhold final judgement until I play the game, of course.

Also to come later this week will be the next installment of Surprise‘s WCG series. I know, you all have been beside yourselves to hear more from that grand old sensei of COH.


Review: Black Book (DVD)

October 27, 2008

Photobucket I’m no movie critic, neither am I qualified to give opinionated advice on the tricks of the trade on movie-making (even though I minored in documentary film-making back in university days). But if there’s one art house war flick you need to watch before 2008 starts stirring in its grave, do yourself a favour and go rent Black Book.

It was one of those cold winter nights not three months ago when I was channel surfing on my cable network. This might be a gross understatement but I’m assuming anyone who plays COH has a remote interest in all things war-related. Or more specifically, events in the last Great War. The Black Book had just started and I sat through it because of several premises (which I’ll use as my brief review as I am no Roger Ebert):

Firstly, the plot. A Jewish lady survives a botched escape attempt from Nazi-occupied Netherlands and starts working with Dutch resistance fighters. She infiltrates the Gestapo HQ and starts a relationship with a high-ranking German officer. What happens next? Now if this hasn’t gotten you excited and driving down to Blockbusters, I don’t know what will.

Secondly, most WW2-related movies we’re aware of are churned out by the mega-production factory that is Hollywood. That means a whole load of pro-USA movies. The Black Book barely makes any reference to the Americans, and the story is told from the Dutch point of view. If I dare add, half the movie’s focused within the confinements of the Gestapo HQ. Great eye candy.

Thirdly, the Black Book was Carice van Houten’s big break. An established actress in the European circles, it was this performance as Rachel Stein that caught director Bryan Singer’s attention as he casted Carice opposite Tom Cruise in this American summer’s blockbuster Valkyrie. Coincidentally, Valkyrie’s plot is set against the backdrop of WW2.

Oddly enough, I could not find a copy of Black Book at my local dvd store. A great movie like this needs to be part of my dvd collection.

Go check it out guys.


Review: Band of Brothers (DVD set)

October 24, 2008
Which one of these actors is actually British?

Which one of these actors is actually British?

Nothing quite shouts “World War II epic!” as loudly as HBO’s now-legendary television miniseries, “Band of Brothers.” Based on historian Steven Ambrose’s nonfiction novel of the same name, “Band of Brothers” is probably the finest 12 hours of World War II cinema you’ll ever watch. It’s based on the actual historical exploits of Easy Company, a paratrooper outfit that was part of the 101st Airborne. What makes this series stand out is the very deliberate attempt to avoid cliche and Hollywood histrionics. It’s not Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore (Hanks is involved in a producer/director role) storming the beaches to save Private Matt Damon — it’s a bunch of no-name actors who act like real men fighting a real war, not actors quivering with heroism. Don’t get me wrong, Saving Private Ryan is a great film that avoids plenty of cliches itself, but the limitations of a two or three-hour film up against a 12-hour mini-series are very apparent when you compare the two.

For the record, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg helmed both Ryan and “Brothers,” but it’s clear they saw what the former lacked and used the latter to complete their tribute to the soldiers that liberated a continent and gave America its claim to being a beacon on a hill.

“Brothers” manages to highlight America’s contribution to history by never mentioning it in a blatant manner. There are no speeches about freedom, justice and the American way — instead there are a bunch of guys who complain about having to go on patrols. Guys who recognize that at least 50% of the war involved small, pointless skirmishes that cost many lives for no real gain. Guys who have to dig foxholes in the snow, shit in them, sleep in them, then wake up the next morning to charge into a deafening maw of fire from Flak 88s, mortars, MG42s and Tiger tanks.

That’s what happens in this 10-minute clip of “Brothers” — and I guarantee you’ll want to read the rest of this review.

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Review: Citizen Soldiers

October 10, 2008
Citizens for COH.

Citizens for COH.

Everyone knows who Steven Ambrose is. No? Well, he’s the historian and author behind critically acclaimed World War II books like Band of Brothers, which inspired the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg TV miniseries of the same name. Ambrose also wrote Citizen Soldiers, a book which focused on the experiences of the Americans on the ground and in the trenches in the European theater. My father bought me this book nearly 10 years ago, and while I read it as a child, playing COH brought everything in the book back fresh as the morning dew. In fact, I reread it recently and just couldn’t put it down. That’s what happens with great WWII books and COH — one builds off the other, and it’s a testament to the fundamental truthfulness and authenticity of COH, a combination that has assured this game a place in gaming history. It doesn’t excuse Relic from any of their stumbles, but COH were less wonderful, we the fans wouldn’t care as much about it, nor would we be so impassioned by its imperfections.

But as usual, I digress. To understand why Citizen Soldiers is so unstoppably good for a COH player to read, just check out this excerpt: “Attack teams consisted of one tank, an engineer team, a squad of riflemen, plus a light machine gun and a 60mm mortar. The Sherman opened the action. It  plowed … into the hedgerow, stuck the cannon through, and opened fire with a white phosphorus round into the corners of the opposite hedgerow, intended to knock out German dug-in machine-gun pits.”

You can picture precisely what this looks like in COH, and the game versions of such units are not far from the real deal.

Read on to learn about what white phosphorus is, and why Ambrose describes it as “horror.”

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Review: The Art of Learning

September 30, 2008

Reading is learning.

Reading is learning.

“The Art of Learning” is a book I recently picked up, it was written by Josh Waitzkin. Some of you may recognize his name as he was the subject of the book and movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer. The book is part autobiography, as Josh describes his journey from chess prodigy (he was only 8 years old) to the World Chess Championships, and finally to the 2004 World Tai-Chi Championship — which he won. The book also covers performance psychology, where it really shines. Josh has become a master of the mental side of competition, and shares all of his secrets. From teaching readers how to slow down their perception of time to building a reliable trigger to get “in the zone,” the book is loaded with mental tricks. I have said it before and I will say it again: COH is not about the micro or even really the macro, both are important but at an advanced level, the game is about mind games, baiting and trapping and staying focused. More than anything getting good at COH requires you to get good at learning, and that’s a discipline that will take you far in life, period.

Without becoming overly profound or dramatic, allow me to heartily recommend this book, available for purchase from the Rifles Ready! Store via Amazon.com. If you actually want to buy this book, do it from our store so we get a little love. It costs you nothing to support the blog in this way.

For a sense of the man, Josh Waitzkin himself, check out this 10-minute interview with him on YouTube.

A true must read for everybody that wants to take their game to the next level, I would even go so far as to say this book is my secret weapon for the WCG USA Nationals, albeit in C&C 3 and not COH.