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Laser Squad Nemesis PC CD-ROM

Published by Just Play
Developed by Codo Technologies
Released - Out Now
Price : £12.99 (3months subscription included)
Website: http://www.justplaynow.com/

In recent times online gaming has really taken off however, with a modem, online gaming has always seemed like a second class experience. One exception to this is PBEM (Play By Email) games which enable even modem users to have a great time. PBEM games are usually deep thinking strategy games such as Chess or turn-based wargames. The beauty of PBEM games is that you can spend hours thinking of a suitable strategy before emailing your opponent with your next move. Chess aside, one of the most successful turn-based games in PC history was X-Com. Designed by the Gollop brothers the X-Com games are true classics that many people still enjoy to this day. What's this got to do with Laser Squad Nemesis? Well as luck would have it the Gollop Brothers created Laser Squad Nemesis (LSN), so it should be good.

LSN is for all intents and purposes a modern X-Com. However there is one important difference. While LSN is a PBEM game (which can also be played as a hotseat game on a single computer), the turns are simultaneous. You and your opponent will both play out your moves without having any idea of what the other has done. When you receive the response from your opponent you'll get to watch how both of your actions played out.

Each turn lasts 10 seconds. As you give commands to each of your units you'll be shown how much time has been taken up and orders that exceed 10 seconds will not be carried out until the next turn. Fortunately the game is full of commands that allow you to deal with surprises and you can set your units to retreat on spotting an enemy or to continue after spotting an enemy unit etc. If no orders are given to the contrary your units will automatically engage themselves in attack on an enemy. The game even lets you test your orders to see how your strategy might play out. This may seem a little strange but if you've played Combat Mission you'll know it's a feature that makes the game move along at a greater pace and heightens the excitement.

LSN comes with 3 races that you can control. There are the Laser Marines, the Machina and the sinister looking Spawn. Codo are soon to make a fourth race, the Greys, available for download in the near future. The Marines are comprised of typical units such as commanders, grenadiers and snipers whilst the Machina are robotic/droid like in nature and the Spawn are an evil human devouring monster race and are enough to scare any opponent. Each race has six different units although one of the units for the Marines and the Machina is a HQ where ammunition can be restocked. It's great to see that the races are equally balanced and that there isn't any one race who can steamroll the other two into submission.

Basically the gameplay revolves around you and your opponent first deploying your units (each unit costs force points and the number available is configurable at the beginning of a game), giving your orders, watching the results and then giving orders for another turn etc. Like most strategy games you can only see your immediate surroundings because of the black shroud that is over the unexplored territory. However when you throw into the mix complications such as your units running out of ammunition (ammunition can be replenished from a HQ but more often than not it will take a lot of backtracking so you have be conservative with weapon firing) and the fact that some walls and doors are destructible whilst others are not and also the fact that you can't see what your opponent is going to do whilst you're making your moves, you can understand why the gameplay is rather more exciting than usual turn-based games. It's quite easy to think you're in an advantageous position only for you to get the results of the round and to find that you made some critical mistakes. Of course this can be irritating at times but it keeps the excitement high. It's also possible to win from bad positions too which is something that's always the hallmark of a great game.

Before you start a game in LSN (either email or hotseat), you have to set the conditions for the game. There are two types of victory in LSN. Wipe Out is the victory condition when your opponent has no combat capable units left or you have the highest score at the end of the game. The HQ victory condition is when there are no combat capable units left or one side has no HQs left. HQs must be deployed if the HQ victory condition is chosen. The Queen unit counts as a HQ unit for the Spawn. Aside from the victory conditions you also have to choose the map you want to play on, the force points you'll have at the beginning of the game, the time limit and the number of days the game is to be finished within.

The game comes with a 3 month subscription that allows you to challenge players of LSN to a game. The official website runs several competitions and leagues for you to take part in as a subscriber. You can also find players in the forum who will want to challenge you. Once your subscription has ended you'll be able to renew it via the official website (at the time of writing the costs range from $7 for 1 month to $40 for 1 year which is great value compared to other online games). If you decide not to renew your subscription you won't be able to compete in the competitions but you'll still be able to play the game, although you won't be able to initiate one. You'll have to invite a subscribed player to a game via the forums and then he/she can initiate a game. Obviously this isn't as ideal as being a subscribed player but at least you'll still be able to play.

Graphically LSN looks quite good. Basically the game is an isometric 2D affair and as a result of this the system requirements are very low. You can lower all the walls and terrain obstacles using the 'P' key but in all honesty they rarely become obtrusive. You can order terrain fire on items that will explode (such as gas canisters and power cells). The explosion effects look fairly good, especially for a game of this nature. Scrolling around the map can be performed either by the cursor keys or by using the direction buttons that are placed around the edge of the screen. The map can be zoomed in or out but the units look quite jagged when zoomed in. The interface is delightfully simple and all the buttons are tool-tipped should you forget which button does what.

LSN is perfect for deaf gamers. There is no speech in the game and all the information is provided in text. There are three tutorials and all the tutorial messages are in text too. Pressing the F1 key will bring up a menu that allows you to read up on any aspect of the gameplay that you may be unsure of. The included manual is also fine and proves a useful read for the newbie. The presentation of the game overall is very impressive especially as it's only £12.99.

Laser Squad Nemesis is one of the best PBEM games of all time. The decision to make the game with simultaneous moves has really made the game exciting. Fans of X-Com can't afford to ignore LSN as it contains all of the gameplay excellence that made X-Com so great. Personally I would have liked to have seen a true single player mode in the game but as a PBEM game, and at this price, it's difficult to fault.

Overall Game Rating: 9.2/10
Brilliant turn-based action that even modem users can fully enjoy. We should have also mentioned that LSN comes with its own map editor too. Superb value for money.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Perfect for deaf gamers.