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Piracy Killed The NHL Eastside Hockey Manager Series

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager, the most prominent hockey management series (not that there's much of a competition) was buried alive - amazingly - not by EA, but actually by the "fans" who chose to download a pirated version of the last edition, instead of contributing to Sports Interactive's retirement funds. The sales registered by NHL EHM 2007 were so appalling, that the devs saw themselves forced into announcing the series' cancellation yesterday, for an indefinite - though not necessarily infinite - period of time.

The bad news was handed by Miles Jacobson (Sports Interactive MD) on the SI Games forums. The guy didn't retain from qualifying their game as being "the best Hockey management game in the history of gaming ever", in order to contrast the very low sales obtained by NHL EHM 2007. Not only were the revenues insufficient to pay for the licenses used in the game, but they couldn't even cover the development costs, which is why their only rational option was to get a coffin, some nails and a hammer, and start hammering. The sole culprits, they say, are those who freely pirated the game, to whom they dedicated the following, surprisingly diplomatic message (although a couple of rough words would have been more than enough...):

"And to those of you who pirated it, this is what happens when you steal. There are no excuses you can give that are valid for stealing - you have lead to the demise of a game that you enjoyed playing."

The good news, if you can still imagine any in this context, is that the team from Sports Interactive made a last effort to put together another Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 patch (v3.0.3). And the guys that worked on the NHL EHM series was spread around other internal projects, including "a new idea" they'll be announcing later this year.

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Along with the earlier announcement of Blazing Angels: Secret Missions, Ubisoft also sent along an updated games release schedule for this first quarter of 2007. Since BA:SM is once again listed below, we'll assume that the initial launch period set for this spring reffers to the month of March, most likely towards the end of it.

Aside from this title, another wrothy inclusion in the list below is the Wii version for Driver: Parallel Lines, that has been rumoured for a while, but only now we can be certain of its existence. So it looks like Ubi's acquisition of the Driver franchise already has something to show for - with three titles planned for release in the next couple of months (Driver: Parallel Lines on PC and Wii, and Driver 76 on PSP unveiled one week ago).

Other notable entries, aside from Ubisoft's traditional series, are Enchanted Arms for PlayStation 3, Final Fantasy XII for PS2 and, hopefull best of all, Resident Evil 4 for PC. The same Resident Evil 4 whose previous GameCube and PS2 editions were awarded average scores of 95-96%!

Games Release Schedule: January - March 2007

- Asphalt 2 (PSP)

- Blazing Angels (Wii)

- Blazing Angels: Secret Missions (PC, Xbox 360)

- Dogz 2 (GBA)

- Driver: Parallel Lines (PC, Wii)

- Driver 76 (PSP)

- Enchanted Arms (PS3)

- Final Fantasy XII (PS2, Europe)

- IL-2 1946 (PC)

- Mind Quiz (DS)

- Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 (PC, Xbox 360, PSP)

- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PC, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, DS, GC, GBA)

- Prince of Persia: Rival Swords (Wii, PSP)

- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas (PS3, PSP)

- Resident Evil 4 (PC)

- Rocky Balboa (PSP)

- Silent Hunter 4 (PC)

- The Settlers 2: 10th Anniversary (DS)

- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent (PS3)

Hopefully we'll look back in a couple of months from now with all the above titles released.

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Blazing Angels: Secret Missions Announced For PC And Xbox 360

Ubisoft's Romanian studio is currently working on a follow-up to their aerial action game Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII. This may not come as a novelty to some, however Ubi is now offering us more details about this project, which is already preparing to land in stores this spring. Its title is Blazing Angels: Secret Missions, and the only platforms confirmed so far are the PC and the Xbox 360. Should there be a PS3 and a Wii version, the recipe would be complete (although we're still waiting for the first Blazing Angels on the Wii).

As implied by the game's title, Secret Missions will focus on the lesser known aspects of the second world war (real of fictional, we'll see), giving players secret airplane prototypes armed with advanced weapons, and sending them in elite missions in the skies above Paris, Rome, Moscow, Cairo, and all the way to the peaks of Himalayas. Here's a bit more about the scenario of Blazing Angels: Secret Missions:

"Blazing Angels Secret Missions shows World War II from a different perspective - that of an elite pilot who is part of a secret team. In the game, the player will undertake some of the most dangerous missions in exotic locations all over the globe. As an elite pilot, the player goes from one great adventure to another, while battling the most lethal experimental weapons of the Third Reich. The squad's mission is to prevent the ultimate weapon from being built. To help players in this quest, they have at their disposal an assortment of highly experimental aircraft and weaponry. Blazing Angels Secret Missions comes straight out of the history books of World War II's most top secret projects."

Among the rest of the gameplay features listed in our gamespace, we note the addition of two new multiplayer modes - "Capture the Flag" and "Epic Battle" - alongside the previous options from the first part.

And speaking of which, in this first quarter of 2007 we also expect to see the release of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of (W)WII for the Wii, since it missed the post-launch period for Nintendo's new console at the end of last year.

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Hour of Victory For Xbox 360 Details And Screenshots

Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Hour of Victory, Lack of Inspiration - who cares about patterns, when it's all out war! This week Midway continued their series of announcements with a new "cinematic" WWII shooter game exclusively for the Xbox 360, titled Hour of Victory, and set for release in Summer 2007. The game is being developed by nFusion using Epic's Unreal Engine 3 technology, which, according to Matt Booty (senior vice president, worldwide studios, Midway), enables them to create "exciting, cinematic moments that allow players to feel like a hero, not just another cog in the war machine". Silly me for thinking I was a decorated war hero in all those other World War II shooters...

"Built using the powerful Unreal Engine 3.0, Hour of Victory combines authentic details from historic World War II battles and adds in frenetic and cinematic gameplay. Gamers are able to play each level in the style they choose, whether as a covert operative, specializing in stealth and sabotage; a British commando proficient in the guns-blazing frontal assault; or an Army ranger who excels in sniping and demolitions. Players will also be able to take control of any vehicle on the battlefield as they sharpen their skills to impact the key battles from the European and North African Theaters."

Along with the announcement, came the first batch of screenshots which you can view here on Playfuls. And today Midway also issued an updated fact-sheet with more detailed features. You can check them out in our Hour of Victory gamespace section. We can't help but notice that they're not saying anything about the multiplayer aspect, aside that it will be playable online over Xbox Live. Duh!

Just so you know who we're dealing with here, nFusion's past projects include titles such as Elite Warriors: Vietnam, Line of Sight: Vietnam, Deadly Dozen, and Deadly Dozen 2: Pacific Theater. In other words, don't get too excited just yet.

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Another Wednesday morning, another live maintenance 5-hours maintenance break on the European World of Warcraft realms. *sigh*... Well if we can't play WoW, at least we can always talk about WoW. Aside from the usual postings on the game's official US / EU websites, such as an inside tour of PvP Arenas, and the free character migration that opened on several European realms a couple of days ago, we also received an interesting piece of Azerothian news, from the most unexpected of places.

Via IGN, we were directed to Ron Gilbert's Grumpy Gamer website, where the creator of the classic Monkey Island adventure games posted an open invitation for anyone wishing to join his new guild, called "Threepwood". It's a Horde guild on the Quel'dorei server that promises to be more about fun than anything else. So don't expect any of that hardcore, boring instance raiding stuff: just lay back and have a good time.

The guild is of course themed aroud Money Island, so if you want to join, make sure that your character wouldn't be a stranger in the world of would-be pirates. Here's a bit from Ron's post:

"As everyone knows, Monkey Island players are laid back and just want to have fun, so don't expect much more than a good time (and honestly, I'm not sure I can even promise that).

I play in the evenings most nights, or drop me an email and we can set up a time to meet online and get you signed up. All levels and classes welcome, no time commitment necessary and I'll travel just about anywhere to meet up with you.

UPDATE: The Guild Threepwood is now official and all Horde dues have been paid. If you want to join in on the fun*, see if I'm online and send me a chat and I'll add you (proof of Monkey Island fanaticism required).

*"Fun" not guaranteed. Void where "fun" is prohibited by law. Can not be combined with any other "fun" offers. Guild members having "fun" may experience nausea."

And now, the next order of business... ah, forget about business! The EU realms are back online.

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The thing we feared most is upon us. After years of paying the consequences for using Windows XP, just when we were finally getting along with Bill Gates' company, a new operating system comes along! As they promised last autumn, Microsoft launched Windows Vista around the world, at prices ranging from 150 to 380 Euros for the different editions you can choose from (Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, Business or Enterprise). If you're seriously considering switching to the new system, you can find more or less useful information about Windows Vista on Microsoft's website.

Shortly put, Vista pretends to be the only way to enjoy the graphical wonders introduced by DirectX 10, which of course can best be seen in Crytek's upcoming exotic shooter, Crysis. Additionally, the new Windows brings features such as the Vista Games Explorer and, perhaps most important of all, the integration with the Xbox 360's online system, allowing future cross-platform multiplayer games between the two platforms, among other things. Even if they won't make exclusive use of the DirectX 10 technology, more and more PC games will be released under the "Games for Windows" brand from now on - such as Supreme Commander and Age of Conan.

Bill Gates was present at the special UK launch event held by Microsoft at the British Library yesterday, where he reminded people that it's been 12 years since the crucial release of Windows 95, and another 12 years (almost) since Microsoft released the first version of Window. Also on stage was managing director of Microsoft UK, Gordon Frazer, who began by saying that "If there's a single word that sums up today, it's 'Wow'".

We'll see about that in due time, but for now, let's pretend this to be the launch of a new platform, and thus see what games were lined-up for its debut. Well, there was Battlestations: Midway and... that's about it. Supposedly, there were also 8 casual games available at launch, 2 of which were released by MumboJumbo (remember the guys that bought Ritual?). These are "Luxor 2" - the sequel to the #1 casual game of 2005, and "7 Wonders of the Ancient World". Fascinating, isn't it?

"The 'Wow' starts now"?! No, no, I'm pretty sure the WoW started a couple of years ago.

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Deep Silver don't seem to be in any rush with launching the new hack'n'slash Silverfall, and apparently nor do they care much for data compression, since their game's demo version nonchalantly spreads over a whopping 1.5 GB (I bet that's way more than necessary). Therefore, it's pretty obvious that the final version will be delivered on DVD, and if no further delays hit the fan, this should happen at the beginning of March. Diablo fans, mark thy callendars!

Well, perhaps I'm overdoing it by comparing Silverfall with the Action-RPG by definition. And let's not forget that, in spite of countless promises thrown around by most producers, Titan Quest for instance taught us all too well what it means to place your hopes and dreams in such a game, in appearance, magnificent from all points of view... until it's finally being put to the test.

But let's not waste any more time arguing about shallow games, and just get it over with. "It" being the Silverfall demo.

"In the Silverfall single-player demo, you will experience three maps, all the characters, which includes male and female, as well as the four races from Level 1 to 15. Starting off as neutral, you will evolve in the direction of either nature or technology and recruit two companions, Morka and Danselame, to accompany you during your two quests."

That's about all there is for you in this massive archive with the demo version, which, as you can see, barely packs a few maps and a couple of quests for you to complete, with the level 15 cap darkening your horizons. Happy hacking.

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BlackSite: Area 51 Properly Announced, With Pics And Trailer

Initially unveiled during the summer of last year as Area 52, and exposed in more detail by the Game Informer magazine this month, the Area 51 sequel finally received a proper announcement, along with the first screenshots issued to the online press, and a "GD 2007" trailer. Maybe not as exciting as such a production would deserve, but... let's see what publisher Midway has to say first.

"Developed by Midway Studios - Austin, BlackSite: Area 51 is a next-generation game that will redefine the first person shooter (FPS) genre. While other FPS titles claim to feature "action-packed, highly realistic gameplay", BlackSite: Area 51 takes next-gen gaming to an all-new level integrating cutting edge technology, game design and story writing to create the ultimate entertainment experience. The player's modern-day emotions and fears are driven into a world charged with grave responsibility affecting lives hanging in the balance and eventually finding himself torn between his professional orders and his own ethical standards. In the end, only the actions of the player and his squad can shape the outcome of BlackSite: Area 51 during this potentially pivotal moment in history.

Featuring a powerful single-player campaign, along with multiple online multiplayer modes, BlackSite: Area 51 delivers vicious combat action, next generation graphics and A.I., and a plethora of powerful weapons and vehicles. Set in present day, players take the role of a decorated military veteran charged by the government to lead a squadron of "secret soldiers", each with his/her own specialty skill set, into the Rachel, Nevada area to fight off the invasion of unidentified enemy races."

As previously known / suspected, BlackSite: Area 51 will be a first-person shooter aimed at the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms, in which players will pump full of lead the most bizarre kinds of aliens, from morning 'til late at night, in the famed Area 51 and throughout its surroundings from the Nevada desert.

The screenshots we mentioned can be found in our local gallery, and the BlackSite: Area 51 trailer isn't too far away either. Midway didn't commit for any release date yet, but it wouldn't be impossible at all for it to be launched this year.

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This week's most anticipated release, according to statistics from IGN's GamerMetrics website, is the aerial, naval and underwater military action game Battlestations: Midway. Having looked like a very promising game for World War II fans since long ago (well, how much of a "fan" can you be when it comes to war), SCi / Eidos' game went through all kinds of things in the last few years: delays upon delays, the cancellation of the PS2 and Xbox versions, the move to Xbox 360, not to mention the source code theft that SCi was accused of last year, by the game's original developers from Hungary.

Although eventually we didn't get to the bottom of that story, at least Eidos got to the end of production, and today - January 30 - they are releasing the game in North America, on PC and Xbox 360.

And to wash away some of their alleged sins, they also offer us a Battlestations: Midway multiplayer demo, of 570 MB. It includes a single map called "Islands of Soloman", which can be played on LAN or Internet. The download is available locally, or on the dedicated website set up by SCi Games.

A bit earlier this month, Xbox 360 players were able to try the same demo, which was accompanied by the following description, likely valid for the PC version as well:

"The demo features the level Islands of Solomon, in which US Allied forces are pitted against the might of the Imperial Japanese Navy. 2 to 8 players will be able to control over 100 units in this battle including aircraft carriers, air bases and shipyards along with dive bombers, torpedo planes, destroyers, battleships, fighters and submarines. Players must use their arsenal to outsmart the enemy through tactical choices and blowing them away using their combined firepower."

Battlestations: Midway will invade Europe starting from February 9.

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Last summer, Activision and Splash Damage took advantage of Quake Wars' entrance into the internal beta-testing phase, in order to sneak the game's release past the 2006-2007 New Year's Eve. But we never imagined even for a single moment that the testing might be prolongued for so long, that we wouldn't see it polished with Gold even in 2007. Although it's still very far from being a certainty, we now have reasons to fear that the long-awaited multiplayer shooter could be delayed until the beginning of 2008.

The source of this fear is Activision's recent financial report, which places the release of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars during their 2008 fiscal year - which in more earthly terms means between April 2007 - March 2008. And here is the paragraph in question:

"The company believes that its fourth quarter results will be significantly impacted by higher legal expenses relating primarily to its internal review of historical stock option practices, including expenses relating to the previously announced informal SEC inquiry and derivative litigation, and its decision to move the release of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars into fiscal year 2008."

The most optimistic of you can therefore consider that the game has a 75% chance to launch this year. However, as other, just as ambitious projects have taught us (see S.T.A.L.K.E.R.), these internal "testings" can last for... ever. We certainly hope that's not the case here, of course.

Anyway, until further announcements from Activision regarding a more precise release date, we'll stick to believing it'll be out in 2007. Perhaps even on Xbox 360, although that's a whole 'nother story.

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