Past Entertainment Articles.

Article for the week of 8/29/06

Muse- Black Holes and Revelations

By, Cozmic

A friend once asked me what Muse sounded like. To compare them to other bands. I was stumped, and so were the other two friends who liked Muse. Muse is simply quite hard to place, and when Black Holes and Revelations started to be finished, hopes were high.
The album starts with “Take a Bow”, a seemingly slow song that builds up more and more. It is almost perfect as an intro, and sets the tune for a lot of the album. Basically, it is a declaration of war against a certain president, and while it is obvious which one, it is also written well enough that it will fit in on future ones as well.
Next up is the second single, “Starlight”. This is where it becomes obvious Matthew Bellamy seems to prefer his keyboards to his “Mattocasters”, with a nice and soft rhythm, a bit cheery, yet not, and the line “Black holes and revelations” in it. All in all, this is damn catchy and very pleasant to listen to, and as such probably a smart choice for a single. It also has a bit of the Muse touch the next track seemed to miss.
“Supermassive Black Hole” was the first single to be heard in Europe, and to be honest I wondered what the hell Muse was doing the first time I heard it. The vocals are weird, it has a very poppy feel to it, while having a slow going rhythm, and is generally just very, very strange. It does grow on you, however, and is easily the most experimental track on the entire album.
Next up is “Map of the Problematique”, a song completely devoid of the rocking guitar riffs that drove me to Muse in the first place, instead sounding more like a British electronica band with drums in the background. They manage to pull it off extremely well however, and while it is not the best Muse song by far, it is definitely not a bad one.
After this is yet another fairly odd song (well, for other bands, Muse are always odd), “Soldier's Poem”. Yes, it is about Iraq. Yes, it is calm and melodical. Yes, it is stinging criticism. Yes, I really like it despite the fact that it feels a bit like an interlude, being comparatively short and very calm.
And it wouldn't be a Muse album without a song about how you have the power to change the world, so cue “Invincible”, another fairly calm song that takes on an edge towards the end without ever getting out of bounds. “Invincible” also manages to chase what might be the two halves of the record together, from the more electronic first half to the more rock-oriented second one.
Rock oriented.. Yes, the second half kicks off with a song that has the same acoustic legacy of Absolution's “Stockholm Syndrome”. It is called “Assassin” and is fast,, aggressive and pure bliss on the ears when the fast drums, bass and guitar mix with the sweet, soothing voice of Matt Bellamy. And yes, the lyrics are about shooting your leaders down. This is easily my favourite track on the album, and, in case you haven't got it yet, yes, I quite like this album.
“Exo Politics” shows us more of Matt's fear of technology developing too fast, with nice riffs, solid drums, and clever lyrics, while “City of Delusion” brings in a trumpet and a string ensemble to spice up the already solid sound of the three-piece band that is Muse. Anyone wanting their share of rocking out on this album will have had their fill by these three tracks, who then get stopped by the calm and soothing “Hoodoo”, a song that I can't quite seem to figure out. This feels like the sort of song Muse would end an album with, calm, soothing, and a bit hard to put your finger on.
However, instead we get yet another track, the American single “Knights of Cydonia”! Dominic Howard's drums really stand out in this one, and the mind immediately thinks of knights out on a mission. And of course the lyrics are about rebellion and the wrong people in power. I simply wish there were more to it lyrics-wise, otherwise it is a solid 6 minute way to end the record.
All in all, Muse have proven once again why they are so incredibly hard to compare to other bands, and Black Holes and Revelations might be the second best Muse album to date (After Absolution). And finally, finally, a Muse album goes out with a bang!

To hear Muse music, go to

"Company of Heroes" pre-release Beta

By, Eric "Dino Power!" Allen

Alright, I'm cheating. I'm not reviewing a game, but a demo of a game. Please, do not take what I write as my review for the completed game which is not even out yet. That said: GET THIS DEMO! No, really, get this demo. I'm not kidding: Get. This. Demo. Now! The version I played, I downloaded off the internet, but the demo (I presume the exact same one) is also available on the October demo DVD of the magazine PC Gamer if you can't handle the frikkin-huge 1.5 GB (!) download. Anyway, my review:
"Company of Heroes" is an upcoming release being published by THQ and being made by Relic (makers of the revolutionary "Homeworld"). It is a World War II real-time strategy game (RTS) about to be unleashed on a market already flooded with WWII RTS games (and turn-based strategy games, and squad-based games, and first-person shooters.). However, "Company of Heroes” sets itself apart in one critical aspect: technology.

Game play is pretty much the same as many other RTS games, such as "Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War" or countless others. You build a base (some missions provide you with one, or the start of one), recruit troops, order said troops around, call in off-map
support like artillery and air strikes, and generally open a can of Whoop-Ass on your opponents. But, what I found enjoyable is the way the game handles these traditional RTS elements. Your troops are important, and as such you have a very low "population cap," thus preventing players from simply amassing huge numbers of troops in short order. Recruiting troops (coming in squads of normally 3 to 6 men) and constructing buildings (base buildings, defensive structures, etc.) requires resources, of which there are three. However, unlike in most other RTS games, these resources are NOT "harvested" or otherwise gathered from the map. Instead, they automatically replenish
themselves, and you can increase the rate at which they accumulate for your disposal by capturing strategic control points scattered around the map (the map is broken into regions, each with a flag-capture the flag and control the region, thus increasing that resource). To keep your supply lines open, areas under your control must be contiguous in order to get
the resource accumulation bonus. This means that you can cut off your opponent's resource-enhancing ability by attacking other, less defended areas-and your opponent can do the same to you. All in all, the game feels a bit like a mixture between a real-time tactics game like "Ground Control" mixed with a more traditional control-point based RTS like "Dawn of War." An enjoyable combination. That's all well and good, but it’s only half the picture, and the other half is, well, the picture; what happens on the screen. The environment is completely destructible: large shells leave craters, trees lose limbs, buildings crumble, and walls are crushed under tank treads. You can physically alter the
landscape. Besides being pretty (and FUN!) to watch, it also serves a tactical purpose with can alter game play. The tactical AI of the troopers is vastly improved from other games. Now, when you order a squad into position, they move from cover-to-cover,
and when they come under attack, soldiers visibly seek the nearest shelter they can find (remember those craters your artillery left behind?). In my opinion, this AI at the individual level really improves the game-it just wouldn't be the same if troopers just
stood there and died. One of the first times I really noticed this AI in action was in the tutorial when my tank opened fire on an enemy rifle squad. One of the troopers dashed foreword to hide behind a vehicle barrier while the others scattered left and right to
hide behind what rubble they could find. It’s really cool to watch, and minimized the babysitting necessary to keep your troops safe. A rag doll physics engine is also included, so artillery strikes blow guys into the air and sends rubble flying. On the topic of looking cool, the graphics in this demo are pretty damn cool themselves. The demo has awfully steep system requirements (3 GHz processor, 1GB ram, 128 MB video card). My computer exceeds the first two (3.2 GHz and 1.5 GB respectively), but my video card is now of a lower end (a 128 Mb ATI Radeon 9600). (Don't worry, THQ states that this demo has not yet been optimized, and the requirements of the
completed game will be lower). I cannot run the game at more than low to low-medium settings, but even at that level, I'm suitably impressed. Camera controls are intuitive, and the camera can zoom all the way in to eye-level with your soldiers. I can only imagine
how awesome it would look on a higher-end system if it already looks as good as it does on my lower-end rig. The few cut scenes included in the demo look nice, and
come in three varieties: the cinematic high-quality CGI videos, the slightly animated watercolor-esque animations (very reminiscent of the style used in Homeworld), and the in-game cut-scenes (which look almost as good as the high-quality ones, and on highest graphics settings, I wouldn't be surprised if the two were nearly indistinguishable). The
cut-scenes using the game engine even involve realistic movements and lip-syncing!
Game play AND graphics? I anxiously await final release. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play it again.

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