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SEGA may not have much to offer in terms of massively multiplayer games (The Matrix Online should be nothing more than a painful memory from the past by now), but what little they have, they're quite eager to expand upon. Last autumn they released Phantasy Star Universe as a multi-platform combination of single-player and online multiplayer Action-RPG. And in autumn of 2007, they plan to continue it with the first expansion pack, announced over the weekend.

Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus, as they ambitiously call it, is once again headed for the PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 platforms, and users willing to pay (or continue paying) €9.99 a month for a "GUARDIANS License", will be able to enjoy a wealth of new gameplay and customisation features. The lobby areas, for instance, will be added upon with new ones, larger and filled with colourful decorations and music. Casino Voloyal will be one such addition, where roulette and slots can earn players special casino-only items.

The Phantasy Star Universe add-on draws its subtitle from a new Human Fundamentalist movement, known as the Illuminus, which disrupts the peaceful Gurhal System and throws the Gurhal Government into chaos. The new scenario introduces various new levels, such as the Ruins of Old Rozenom City and the subterranean Granigs Mines, buzzing with new and more powerful enemies. While fighting through these, however, players will also get to meet some familiar characters - like Ethan Waber from Episode 1, or GUARDIAN instructor Laia Martinez.

In terms of character and weapon customisation options, there will be a slew of new weapon types, armour, Photon Arts, and clothing. Each Guardian's individual Rooms will also be upgraded, offering a greater level of customisation, with a new grid system that allows players to decorate the walls and place new interactive items and furniture anywhere they want in the Room. See if you can spot any of these changes in the first batch of screenshots released by SEGA, available now in our PSU: Ambition of the Illuminus gallery.

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This may not be as dramatic as Hiroshi Yamauchi's retirement from Nintendo nearly five years ago (after leading the company with an iron fist for 53 years!), but when "the father of PlayStation" steps down from his executive position at Sony Computer Entertainment, it's time to start the press! As you might remember from last November (story), Ken Kutaragi had already stepped down from his position as president of SCE, taking the role of company chairman and board member. And now, Sony announces that he will completely abandon his executive management responsibility at the company's annual shareholders' meeting, on June 19, 2007.

Ken Kutaragi will still serve as Honorary Chairman of SCE afterwards, however, so his monetary future is in no danger. In his place, Kazuo "Kaz" Hirai (currently President and Group COO, SCEI), will be promoted to President and Group CEO, continuing his responsibility as the leader of the PlayStation business worldwide. The announcement also includes the following recollection of Kutaragi's achievements at Sony:

"Mr. Kutaragi, well known as the "Father of PlayStation", invented and launched the original PlayStation in 1994 and its successor, PlayStation 2, in 2000. Since the introduction of PlayStation and subsequently PlayStation 2, these platforms opened up a vast market of computer entertainment. The two platforms combined now have an installed base of more than 200 million units in homes around the world, with more than 2 billion units of PlayStation and PlayStation 2 software titles shipped worldwide. The third generation of the company's home computer entertainment system, PlayStation 3, launched in November 2006 in Japan and North America and in March 2007 in Europe, will continue to revolutionize the computer entertainment experience with its immense computational power connected to the network."

We still expect to hear more about Kutaragi in the future, though, as he pursues his dreams beyond PlayStation and accelerates his network vision:

"I am happy to graduate from Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. after introducing four platforms to the PlayStation family", said Ken Kutaragi. "It has been an exciting experience to change the world of computer entertainment by marrying cutting edge technologies with creative minds from all over the world. I'm looking forward to building on this vision in my next endeavors."

I f*cking love it, it is f*cking blue!

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F.E.A.R., TES IV: Oblivion (EU) Out On Playstation 3 // UPDATE

This week's top two releases on the PlayStation 3 are pretty much the only new PS3 releases, not counting NBA 2K7 - which has been available in the US since the console's launch in November 2006, but for some reason it's only being released today in Europe. One could argue that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is even older than that, considering that Bethesda originally launched the PC and Xbox 360 versions more than a year ago. The PS3 version, on the other hand, only arrived at the end of March 2007 in North America, and as of today, Ubisoft is also offering it to fans around Europe - or at least the UK.

"Released in March 2006 for Windows and Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, Oblivion has already earned countless awards from publications around the world including numerous Game and RPG of the Year awards", brags Ubi. " and list Oblivion as the highest rated game of all time on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and the Official PlayStation magazine in UK recently rated the game with an amazing 10/10, the first PS3 game to achieve that score in the magazine."

Although they obviously didn't point this out in yesterday's communique, keep in mind that the PlayStation 3 version of Oblivion is lacking all the extra downloads that made the PC / Xbox 360 versions (in)famous, and according to Bethesda the PS3 SIXAXIS controller's tilt function is completely useless for Oblivion.

The other major new PS3 release is of course F.E.A.R., from Vivendi / Sierra. Originally developed by Monolith Productions for the PC, the spine-chilling shooter was later ported on the Xbox 360 by Day 1 Studios, and they are the same ones behind this latest console version. To find out more about the specific changes brought by F.E.A.R. on the PlayStation 3, you can read this interview with senior producer Rob Loftus here on Playfuls.

UPDATE: Lo and behold, UK's leading retailer, GAME is refusing to stock copies of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PlayStation 3. Why would they (not) do that?! Hell if we know... but maybe will find out soon enough.

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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare To Be Announced On Saturday

The armored cat is out of the bag, and Infinity Ward is left with no choice but to confirm that their next game truly is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, as speculated many times before. They were planning to break the news on Saturday, and to some extent they still will, because that's when they are going to show the first look at the game. That's right, a trailer! Over on the IW forums, the studio's community relations manager told fans to embrace themselves for this coming Saturday, when a CoD4 trailer / ad is going to be shown on TV, and will also be made available online:

"I won't ruin the surprise, and give any details away about what you'll see, but trust me... you won't be disappointed.

This Saturday, April 28th 2007, will be the worldwide reveal and first look at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Tune into the ESPN NFL Draft during 10 AM PST / 1 PM EST to be among the first to view the trailer, which will be immediately available online afterwards with a little extra surprise for your viewing pleasure."

Older rumours claimed that Call of Duty 4 would be released on consoles as well as on the PC, but the final line-up of platforms has yet to be confirmed. It does sound like great news for PC fans, however, since their platform was very clearly hinted in another post:

"All platforms will be revealed on Saturday, but keep in mind that IW has always been a PC house."

So that about sums it up for now. Get you popcorn and sit tight, the hopefully-mind-blowing Call of Duty 4 trailer is just around the corner...

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Global Agenda, A New Spy Action-MMOG Using Unreal Engine 3

We seem to have missed this game when it was announced last month, but thanks to Blue's we can now add yet another title to the list of upcoming MMO games based on the Unreal Engine 3 technology. Called Global Agenda, this is supposed to be some sort of "spy-fi" Action-MMORPG, set on a 22nd century Earth engulfed in espionage and tactical covert operations. "A departure from the traditional online settings of high fantasy, outer space, or military", as the devs from Hi-Rez Studios like to think of it. They're at their first videogame project, by the way, and they sure couldn't have picked an easier one!

In Global Agenda, an invisible war is fought not with armies, but with elite teams of highly trained and well-equipped special agents, where technology is a race, knowledge is power, and everyone has an agenda. Players will be able to create, (extensively) customize, and develop an agent character, whose secret identity will have to be protected through covert activity, while increasing its skills and influence.

Instead of the usual guilds / corporations, the game will give players the option to establish their own secret aegncies, to compete in a technology race for advanced weaponry, and advance their own agenda. As such, some missions will even be targeted at other player-created agencies (as opposed to just NPCs), but quite frankly we have no idea how exactly they plan to pull that off. All we have to go by is the following statement:

"We want to provide players an engaging, next-generation tactical combat experience, but within the context of a single, evolving, massively multiplayer online world where actions have consequences", says Todd Harris, COO of Hi-Rez Studios. "Player-created agencies, with the right strategy and skill, can have a very real impact on each other and the world itself."

Of course, there will also be solo and co-op missions, and considering that Hi-Rez originally announced their Unreal Engine 3 licensing agreement with Epic way back in 2005, Global Agenda should be in a pretty presentable state of development by now. So we demand they present some in-game media already!

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The game formerly known as The Settlers VI is to be called The Settlers: Rise Of An Empire from now on, as Ubisoft announced this week. Along with narrowing down the release date to September 2007, the publisher also revealed quite a few gameplay details for Blue Byte's upcoming strategy game, which they still claim to be "the best The Settlers game of all time" (though it's rather hard to imagine something better than Settlers II, after all the iterations that followed until now).

Before we dig in, we'd just like to point out a couple of new screenshots that were added to the game's local gallery, showing both a zoomed-out and a down-to-earth view of a busy little medieval settlement. If you want to see it grow into a larger fort, head over to YouTube or get the new full-res trailer straight from Ubi's servers.

Those of you who are not yet familiar with the series' general concept can read about it in our The Settlers: Rise Of An Empire gamespace. And finally, if you're all set, here are some actual gameplay details for this sixth chapter:

- A very special Settlers atmosphere in a lively medieval game world!

- The primary objective of the game is to create large, lively medieval towns.

- The settlers interact with each other in a completely natural way and have wants and needs of their own.

- Female settlers appear for the first time in the series: Men and women fall in love with each other and marry.

- The lively, detailed game world is rich in animal and plant life.

- The settlers' busy life is presented in lovingly rendered animations that show what is going on in a transparent way.

- The world is divided into four climatic zones with changes of season and weather which influence expansion and resource gathering.

- The best Settlers game of all time, featuring the best from previous games and lots of gameplay innovations!

- The game's instant accessibility and gentle learning curve ensure long-lasting fun; even in advanced game missions, new features are introduced.

- All interventions by the player are reflected in the behaviour of his subjects and made transparent through the animations in the game world.

- Starting with a small settlement, the player builds up flourishing towns, maintains trade relations, and claims land and villages. This requires diplomatic skills.

- Mining, gathering resources, and food production result from wise planning and the various occupations of the settlers.

- Goods transport is optimized through skilful road planning.

- Upgrading buildings step-by-step improves the effectiveness of the economy and towns.

- By hiring travelling entertainers and organizing fairs, the player acts as a matchmaker by enabling male and female settlers to get to know each other.

- The player can build walls to protect his towns from enemy attacks. In military actions, the player must prove that he has built up his empire in such a way that it can defend itself effectively.

- Missions featuring noble knights with various skills accompany the player through the epic storyline penned by Jeff Grubb.

- Included in the game: dynamic single player campaign, freeplay mode with a multitude of maps, numerous multiplayer options via LAN and Internet, and a map editor.

Female settlers for the first time? Heh, didn't even realize this was such a misogynistic series up to now.

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As I was browsing the usual "resource for games journalists" for my daily ratio of communiques a few hours ago, I briefly caught sight of a press release titled "Excite Truck 2", accompanied by what seemed like a pack of screenshots. "Goodie!!, I playfully thought to myself. But alas, much to my disappointment, by the time I clicked them they were already gone. Having used that website for... oh, quite a few years now, and knowing it as a source of 100% official news, you can imagine my 100% perplexed face when I later found out it was all a hoax. A great hoax, I have to admit, especially since April Fool's is long overdue.

"Nintendo UK asked us to take it down. Sounds like it might have been some kind of prank", one of the press site's editors explained on their forums. And CVG also got a similar response from Nintendo today:

"Shortly after the fraudulent press release was published on an industry website, we spoke to Nintendo who made clear that the news was not genuine.

'It seems to have stemmed from an unofficial source,' said Nintendo. 'We have not announced any sequel in the Excite Truck series.'"

Curiously, some websites chose to keep the info and/or screenshots posted even after finding out they were fake, so you can still see them for yourself on WorthPlaying for instance. You might notice that whoever fabricated the screens even went through the trouble of apllying a Monster Games logo on them. Not that there would be any surprise if the supposed Excite Truck sequel was really being made by them - as was the original Wii game.

We should also notice that Nintendo didn't refute the existence of Excite Truck 2 (or whatever they would / will call it), just the validity of today's fabricated announcement. So until they come forward, we can only hope that some of the fake info will turn out to be true - that the sequel will feature online modes, with Mii display, and races on the moon, and everything...

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Tom Clancy's EndWar, Ubisoft's New... Strategy Game!

Speculation has been on the rise about a new Tom Clancy game, ever since Ubisoft began their viral marketing campaign with multiple news posts on the official websites of various Tom Clancy games, and opened an intriguing website, which redirects to a more cryptic address (which, by the way, looks nothing like it did a couple of weeks ago). The password, in case you're wondering, is "s9p1z6". Just don't ask where I got if from: I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. Oh, and if you don't feel like listening to what that lady says after you enter, here's the transcript:

"In 2014 the world finally realizes peace. The United States and a unified Europe aligned to launch the first ever global interlocking anti-ballistic missile system of its kind. 8.2 billion watch as the end of strategic nuclear war is affirmed. Missile sylos are emptied, economies are stabilized. The realization of ideal human coexistence seems to have been attained. But it is not to last. A mere 12 month later, news breaks of overstated recoverable oil reserves. The result is an increase in the price of natural resources that quadruples their value and cripples the industrialized world. Amid this planetary energy crisis, the Russian federation experiences a revitalization of wealth, reinvesting its global petrol earnings into technological and military advancement. Over the next three years, the United States and Europe secretly develop plans and counter-measures against a resurgent Russia. Planet Earth once again finds itself posessing opposing super-powers. The era that would come to be known as the militarization of space begins, when the US reveals plans to launch its first military space station into permanent orbit. Two years later, with international dissension and opposing military tension mounting, the module launch site falls victim to terrorist attack. This begins a series of reactions from which mankind may never recover. A conflict of final magnitude."

Sounds like a promising World War III scenario for a futuristic Tom Clancy's game, and as it turns out now, that's exactly what it is. Only this time you won't be playing it from a first-person or over-the-shoulder perspective, because the new project announced by Ubisoft will be a strategy game! They call it Tom Clancy's EndWar - the first in a new brand, and for the time being it's only announced for release on next-generation consoles, in fiscal year 2007 / 2008 (that would be 2008 in "real-time").

Currently in development at Ubisoft Shanghai, Tom Clancy's EndWar has been built from the ground up as a revolutionary war strategy game solely for next-generation consoles (right, no PC, like Halo Wars supposedly). The game promises to push the envelope of technology, showcasing artificial intelligence, graphics, physics and animations that were not possible prior to the launch of the new hardware systems.

So now we're waiting for Ubi to back all that up with some jaw-dropping media, because right now their words are all we have to go by.

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They may think of it as a change of corporate strategy, but the way we see it it's just another delay. In fact, two delays, as both Kane & Lynch, and Crossfire will be affected by SCi Games' change of release plans. Previously, the two games were supposed to be out on the PC and Xbox 360 by the end of SCi's 2007 fiscal year, in the worst case scenario. But somehow the scenario is now at its "worsiest", after the company announced that both titles are being shifted to its fiscal 2008.

As informs us, the reason behind this is that SCi intends to release these games on three platforms simultaneously, incidentally confirming that Kane & Lynch and Crossfire will both be released on the PlayStation 3. Even though these previously unannounced versions are "currently in advanced stages of development", the British publisher would rather wait for the PS3 to reach a large enough installed base - which SCi estimates will happen in the group's 2008 fiscal year.

The good news, however, is that this "fiscal year" we've been rambling about apparently begins a lot sooner for SCi, than for other publishers. So we'll only have to wait until Christmas 2007 for Kane & Lynch, and until early 2008 for Crossfire. And at the same time, this should also give the developers (IO Interactive and Pivotal Games, respectively) more time to polish their games.

Finally, aside from some financial implications (which we won't be bothering you with), SCi's statement also mentions that the group is "in advanced negotiations" for the Kane & Lynch movie, which they hope will be "further reinforcing and endorsing the value and long term potential of this franchise".

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Chris Taylor's Studio Working On New PC, Xbox 360, Wii Games

This story's title could have been even longer, if the folks from Gas Powered Games were also making something for the PlayStation 3; but as it turns out, they're not. GPG is, however, developing for both of the other two next-gen home consoles, the Xbox 360 and Wii, and of course for the PC - as they've been doing for the past... whoa, nine years already! Well, almost. Chris Taylor's "new" studio was founded back in May 1998, after he decided to leave Cavedog and start anew on a (spiritual) successor to the strategy game that made him famous - Total Annihilation.

It took a lot longer than we hoped for, until we finally saw Supreme Commander in stores this year, but we like to think that the wait was well worth it. With no other project officially announced, for the past couple of months we were left wondering as to what could GPG possibly be working on now... A new Dungeon Siege? An expansion for Supreme Commander? Something completely new? Or how about all of the above?

Indeed, that might just be the case, because this week Chris Taylor has confirmed in an interview with that his studio is working on no less than four internal projects, "and one extra that we're working on - so that makes five. They're across platforms, we have everything from 360 to Wii to PC, we have all kinds of stuff going on."

Don't mind if we jiggle with joy right about now! Unfortunately we still don't know anything specific about any of the four / five projects at this time, and Taylor didn't seem too eager to go into detail either. Instead, he only talked about consoles in general - and developing for consoles, which he thinks is "way easier to develop for than the PC".

They haven't actually been working on the PS3, Taylor admits, and not just because it's "an order of magnitude more complex to work on" (from what he's heard), but also because he doesn't see Sony's console to be as appealing to the masses as the Xbox 360 and the Wii. Mostly the Wii.

"If Blu-ray was not in the PS3, for example, it would probably go a long, long way to helping the PS3. It's just that extra cost is putting it a little bit over the top and just out of the range of making it a whimsical purchase. It's just a little too much."

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