Hero Academy

My pick this week is Hero Academy from Robot Entertainment, a light weight alternative to chess with great graphics and some strategic depth that isn’t obvious on your first few games. It is a universal app for iOS only and is free with in-app purchases to allow you to play with other teams within the game.

Hero Academy - I'm in trouble!

The aim of the game is to destroy your opponents crystals or knock out all of your opponents team. The game is entirely multiplayer against friends or randoms. Each player has a round, with a round made up of five turns. In that turn you can deploy units, move units, upgrade or heal units or attack your opponents. The game will randomly give you units and upgrades which you can place on the board, upgrade, use to heal your troops or hurt the enemy or alternatively swap out for another random unit.

There are a number of board layouts and there are some strategic tiles on the board which can really turn the game if used correctly. Stand on the crystal to weaken your opponents crystal, stand on the sword or shield to increase your defence or attack power. One critiscism with Hero Academy is at first it can feel like much of the game is hidden from you – what does this character do, how best to use them etc but play the game more and you will unlock it’s secrets. It’s a shame there isn’t a single player game as I found my first few games were mostly me being the whipping boy – think Call of Duty if you start playing a couple of weeks after everybody has started and your weapons suck and you don’t know the maps – Hero Academy can feel like that at first but stick with it.

To Help this, Robot Entertainment have put together a Hero Academy game guide thats well worth reading. Alternatively the staff at Tap magazine uploaded a good strategy guide video thats worth watching (embedded below).

As I’ve said, Hero Academy is free to play but only comes with the Council team playable. There are another three teams that you have to pay to unlock (£1.49 per team) and I was worried at first that the teams had purely cosmetic differences but each teams has different units and strengths/weaknesses so it extends the gameplay massively.

Hero Academy - In App Purchases

I’d suggest though sticking with the free Council team initially and once you understand how best to play with Council then move on and purchase a new team. One negative with Hero Academy though is that it is fairly aggressive serving out advert’s. These disappear with one in-app purchase so it might be worth your while buying a new team just to kill the ad’s – that’s what I did. It’s also worth noting that the in-app purchases don’t make it easier to win or play – a good move by the developers as I hate games that give you pay options to make it easier especially

Great audio and graphics coupled with hidden depth makes for a really fun game. The latest update also made Hero Academy a universal app so full support for the iPad is now included. Well worth playing but don’t blame me when Hero Academy starts eating up all your spare time.

360Live

For 360 gamers and iPhone owners there’s finally an app that allows you to easily browse your complete friends list – 360Live.

Previous app’s have always been pretty disappointing as you had to manually add friends to your list on the iPhone which to be honest is a pain in the backside. 360Live connects to your Live account and shows you all your friends including those offline. In fact it groups your friends neatly into Online, Away and Offline. It also does this quite quickly, more so than other app’s I’ve tried.

360Live allows you to select a friend and view their profile, their Gamercard and delve into the games they have played. You can also message them directly from the app.

One tip – on the friends list rotate your iPhone and you can swipe through your friends gamercards. A nice feature but in practice it’s a little bit slow.

As well as messaging your friends you can also pick up your own messages via the app. This only includes text messages – to hear audio messages you need to be connected to Live on the 360 or PC. You do however get a message on 360Live alerting you to a voice message. Another neat feature is you can make friends requests from 360Live.

The latest version of 360Live has added a games catalogue that allows you to search through 100’s of 360 games and see some stats about the game – screenshot, features etc. This is a bit limited and feels tacked on although if there was links to FAQ’s, community forums etc for each game then this would be a nice way of getting to that kind of information quickly. It would also be nice to tag the game as being owned but again that doesn’t feature in the app.

Overall a nice app that’s free and very useful for 360 and iPhone owners. There has been some server issues over the last few days but hopefully they will settle down in the new year.

Canabalt

Canabalt is a simple but addictive game for the iPhone. The aim is to escape by running across randomly generated city rooftops. All you can do is jump by touching the screen. Sounds simple, and it is to play, but it’s got that ‘just one more go’ appeal that’s hard to resist.

Canabalt

The graphics are stylish and fast and the music is awesome. As the game suggests, play with headphones. If you want to try before you buy there is no lite version but you can play the flash game online. So can anyone beat my high score?

scores

Halo 3:ODST

Halo 3:ODST is my most obvious DigitalOutbox pick so far. I loved the original Halo and played countless hours of split screen multiplayer. Halo 2 was a massive step forward due to the multiplayer – simply the best available at the time. Halo 3 took it one step further with improved graphics and the variety of map’s and gameplay that it had to offer. One thing that’s consistent with all those games – I’ve yet to complete the campaign (also called single player) mode in any of them. The campaign’s are good but I put the blame on one thing – The Flood. Quite possibly the worst aspect of the Halo universe is the flood and thankfully they are part of campaign only. Anytime I see The Flood I just yawn – so boring. Anyway, Halo 3:ODST.

odst

This release is probably Halo’s most controversial so far. ODST started off as an extension pack and over the last year has grown into a full campaign story, and a full priced game at the same time. Alongside the campaign you get a new Firefight multiplayer mode (think horde mode from Gears of War 2) and on a second disk every multiplayer map for Halo 3 plus three new multiplayer map’s. I say full price but I paid just over £30 for ODST which is less than most other releases. However, was it good value?

The campaign mode in ODST is rather different than the usual Halo fare. No master chief, instead you play the role of a rookie ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper). The game is set a few hours after you have dropped on to New Mombassa and is set around the same timeline as Halo 2. What’s unique is that the missions (8 in total) are accessed as flashbacks as you roam the streets of New Mombassa. The gameplay in Mombassa is also quite different – almost stealth like. You can avoid combat if you like and in some cases you probably need to. Your trooper is not like master chief and some of the enemies are very tough for your character. No dual wielding or running for your smaller and weaker trooper and watch out for heights – no more jumping from tall buildings in ODST! There’s also no vehicles in New Mombassa – better get used to walking. However the missions you access are more standard Halo – lot’s of enemies to fight, warthogs missions a plenty and some amazing set piece moments.

odst_carnage

The best way to play campaign is definitely in co-op. Up to four players can play campaign this way and it is far more enjoyable. As for the story itself – usual pap that isn’t worth bothering about in my opinion although something to note is the story makes no account for co-op gamers. it’s told as if one rookie is playing the game, not four which can be jarring. The graphic style in ODST is also quite different. Using the Halo 3 engine, the New Mombassa parts are set at night and in a very neon lit environment that are very atmospheric. This is enhanced when you enable night vision (only in ODST, not Halo 3 multiplayer) which draws a nice red outline around enemies. One thing to note – compared to other games the Halo 3 engine is starting to show it’s age. Compare it to Modern Warfare 2 and it looks quite dated in some ways. Back to the value question – we’ve played through almost all of ODST and it’s take 6-8 hours. We’ve not got stuck apart from a very repetitive last level. And yes, thats without the flood!

The other brand new addition is Firefight mode. If you’ve played the Horde mode in Gears of War 2 then you’ve played Firefight. Select from a choice of 10 maps and fight wave after wave of Halo bad guys. They increase in volume and difficulty after each wave. Again you can play this mode with up to three other friends. I think it’s this mode more than any other so far in Halo that emphasises team work. There are 5 waves to each set and each set shares a number of lives between all players. So one good player won’t get your team through the game if a couple of others keep dying. You need to work together, use weapons wisely and share out the limited health. Another great feature is that if your down to one guy and he manages to survive and get your team through to the next set, all team mates get back into the game and he gets a hero award. It’s a great, tense addition and one we’ve loved playing over the last week, especially listening to Chris singing about being a hero.

Firefight

Firefight’s biggest problems are a lack of pause function and an inability to invite people in mid game. It’s also a friends only game. No random multiplayer support which is a bit annoying if you’ve only got one or two friends online playing ODST. Sticking to the value theme – I love this mode. A game can last anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours and it’s action packed. Also, every game has felt different so far and the map design has been excellent. That leaves us with disk 2 and Halo 3 multiplayer.

Whether this is good value or not is down to how much you played Halo 3. If you’ve bought all the maps so far then your only getting three new maps. If you didn’t play Halo 3, or didn’t pay for any of the new maps then there are 12 new maps for your enjoyment. In total there are 23 multiplayer maps across the various playlists and custom games that you know and love from Halo 3 multiplayer. For me it was three new maps so not brilliant, but then I still play Halo 3 every week so new maps are good and getting a larger community onto the newer map’s should see some better playlist variety.

[flash url=”http://www.digitaloutbox.com/movies/halo3_multi.swf” w=”500″ h=”282″]

First map I tried was Longshore. Quite large, and has multiple entry and exit points for flag and bomb planting. The movie above was from my first game. We were defending and the blues attacked perfectly. They activated a bridge to drop right on to the bomb plant spot while invisible ‘shotgun guy’ took out out gunner. Round over. Awesome. Really enjoyed this new map. I think it will become a favourite over time. Next new map was Citadel which is a pretty small map with not much cover. At first I was getting picked off with ease as I didn’t expect it to be so open or to be shot from a distance. Expect lot’s of 4vs4 capture the flag on this map. Two or three games already in this mode and it was very enjoyable as the game ebbed and flowed. Well, it was more enjoyable as I started to capture some flags.

citadel

Onto the third new map, Heretic. I say new – it’s really the classic Midship from Halo 2. I’ve lost count of the number of games I’ve played on this map. It’s superb for bomb and flag games and a welcome addition to Halo 3. In fact, I’d love a few more map’s from Halo 2 to make the move into 3 but I doubt we’ll see anymore now.

heretic

So that’s it, Halo 3:ODST. Oh, almost forgot. You also get exclusive access to the multiplayer demo of Halo Reach, out next year. If you like FPS and haven’t picked up some of the multiplayer map’s then this is a no brainer. If you like Halo and already have the map’s then it’s still a worthwhile purchase. If your not into multiplayer gaming then I’d stay away from ODST. Our co-op games have been good with Firefight standing out as a really good addition. Just remember that Firefight needs friends willing to play as you can’t invite randoms into those games. On that note, it’s back online for me.

Madden NFL 10 For The iPhone

I had my doubts about Madden’s appearance on the iPhone but I shouldn’t have worried. The usual slick EA presentation is transferred to the iPhone as well as some nice, clear graphics. It also moves at a good speed so there is no worries with frame rates, although the flat crowd graphics are pretty nasty.

Madden
The game is fully licensed so all 32 NFL teams are present and correct. The current version is single player only but according to the blurb on the iTunes store, multiplayer will be added in a future update. EA finally enhance a game without having to pay for it? I’ll believe it when I see it. You can choose between a single game or a full season. I was surprised at the depth in the season mode – make roster changes, trade players. Far more options than I was expecting.

There are a couple of control issues though. Firstly, the virtual control buttons can be awkward. It’s easy for your left thumb to move away from the virtual thumbstick, so your player stops and is quickly tackled or sacked. There are also a variety of buttons on the right hand side that are close together and can be difficult to find in the heat of a play. One addition that EA have made is a slow motion button which slows time, allowing you to pick out a pass or run and find the correct button. On my first few games I was using this all the time but as I’ve got used to the game I’ve used the option less. Another great addition that takes advantage of the touch screen is hot routes.

Hot Routes
Hot routes for any receivers can be made on any of the plays in Madden. Simply draw the run for the receiver. It’s an awesome feature and really add’s to the feeling that you are in control of the play. Speaking of plays, the playbook isn’t as full as the console Madden’s but still has around 300 plays which is more than enough for a handheld game. Add in full commentary and you’ve got a great game that doesn’t feel like a cut down console version. Considering this costs £5.99 and has a multiplayer update in the works I think it’s great value and a strong addition to the iPhone.