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Sims studio earns mixed reaction with Darkspore

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Darkspore [PC]

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Maxis -- the studio behind massive hits like Sim City and The Sims -- has been on something of a downward trend over the last few years.
Mind you, when you've created the top-selling PC game of all time, down's the only way to go. And although Maxis's most recent release, 2008's Spore, attracted massive hype during its development, the game eventually turned out to
be a bit of a disappointment.

Undaunted, they're back this week with Darkspore, which trades the original Spore's epoch-spanning, amoeba-to-astronauts scale for a much tighter focus and a whole lot more action. Rather than designing your own species, your gene-bending activities only go as far as customizing the appearance and abilities of a cast of around 25 warriors, then taking teams of three into battle against the game's foes, the Darkspore -- super-evolved
aliens responsible for wiping out most of the life in your particular corner of
the galaxy.

Despite its name, it's not being compared to Spore so much as to the classic action-RPG Diablo. And seeing as Diablo fans haven't seen a game in that series since 2000 -- and likely won't for some months to come -- Darkspore could be well placed to capitalize on a definite gap in the PC market. If it's any good, that is.

So what's the word? A qualified thumbs-up, according to early critical reactions.

"Darkspore isn't great," says Games Radar, "but it's not bad either." Calling the story "absolutely forgettable," and the level design "boring," writer Michael Yavish nevertheless
liked Darkspore's gameplay and "copious" quantities of loot enough to give it a 6/10.

Other critics are more impressed. Game Informer calls Darkspore "Pokemon meets Diablo," and clearly enjoyed the game's approach to character development. Rather than gradually levelling up one main hero, you'll end up switching out your creatures and constantly tweaking your party for maximum efficiency.

An 8.5 is Game Informer's healthy verdict, saying "it may not do anything particularly new, but the way it polishes and riffs on known gaming conventions should leave you happily clicking on bad guys and collecting new body parts late into the night." If you've got that sort of itch to scratch -- and let's face it, a lot of us have -- Darkspore sounds like it might tide you over until Blizzard gets around to releasing Diablo III. Whenever that is.

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Lost Chronicles: Salem [Yahoo! Games]

Doubtless there were nice places to be in 1692. Madagascar,
perhaps. Paris, maybe. Relaxing on the Mediterranean coast, in all likelihood.
One thing's for sure, though: Salem, Massachussets wasn't one of them,
especially if you were female and could conceivably be described as "a bit
odd." This hidden-object game, nevertheless, will transport you back to
colonial New England and task you with saving your mother from a baying mob.
Good luck with that.

More Info: (Download Now | Search)

Man vs. Wild [Wii, X360, PS3]

Bear Grylls: once an ursine dental augmentation, then a
television adventurer and celebrity, and now a star of a cross-platform video
game based on his Discovery Channel hit. It promises five authentic Grylls
encounters presented in a role-playing game fashion; we'd suggest checking out
the critics' take later in the week before jumping in, as most reality TV-video
game crossovers are the sort of games you'd want to drag out into the
wilderness and abandon.

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Jar of Marbles [Yahoo! Games]

Some games have complex, clever titles. Others, not so much.
And a precious few do away with ornate epithets altogether, opting instead to
play it completely straight. Here's one of the latter, Jar of Marbles, which
does exactly what it says on the can. Or jar. At its heart a match-three game
inspired by Bejeweled and its ilk, Jar of Marbles adds realistic physics, so
you'll have to judge your marble-placement with extra care.

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Outland [X360]

Also out this week, cleverly designed downloadable Xbox 360
release Outland has already been catching plenty of eyes. Blending Prince of
Persia-style platforming action with shooter elements reminiscent of retro
classic Ikaruga, it's a colorful, graceful offering, boasting single player and
co-op modes -- and at a bargain price, too.

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