Casual Friday: An Online Olympics

The original plan: Go interactive and challenge you--yes, you, the one who just clicked on PC World's weekly column dedicated to goofing off. Then I realized that I'd get my butt kicked. But I digress. For the past couple of days, I've been playing Reset Generation--the most cleverly designed, most addictive, and most hard-to-quickly-describe puzzle game in ages.

Reset Generation is an online turn-based puzzle strategy game that's both nostalgic and highly original. Play as a Plumber, a Hedgehog, or any of a number of other classic gaming icons. Your mission is rescue the princess (of course), which you accomplish by dropping Tetris blocks and grabbing various power-ups. Whew! You get all that? It's time to go toe-to-toe.

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Casual Friday: Obama vs. McCain--FIGHT!

Normally, I try to keep it casual with PC World's weekly slothfest--and this week was to be no different. The original plan was to dig into the megaton fighting game, Soul Calibur IV , which launched this week for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It looks fantastic, is amazingly replayable, and lets you beat up frenemies over the Internet. Then I flip on the news. Senator McCain jabs at Senator Obama, saying that Barack is akin to Paris Hilton (minus the estrogen and X-rated videos). Obama fires back about GOP tactics. There has to be a more civil way for these two to hash out differences. That's when it hits me: You can create your own custom fighters in Soul Calibur. Yeah, I think you can see where this is going...

White House Calibur

OK, so they barely resemble the real candidates. But I did spend close to an hour trying to get the perfect look for these two.
Barack always struck me as a Jeet Kun Do master: nimble, deadly with his words--and with a pair of nunchucks. McCain? This guy's tough as nails. I don't know if I could've made it through half the stuff he did, so, of course, I have to equip him with the biggest mallet available. (Disclaimer: The author denies any knowledge of martial arts training on the part of either presidential candidate and avers that this game in no way replaces real political discourse.) Ready? FIGHT!

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Casual Friday: The Episodic Game Guide

So many games ask you to shell out 50 or 60 bucks, and for what? Thirty or so hours of playtime? Great, but what if you don't want to spend a whole week in fantasy land? That's where episodic gaming comes in: smaller games selling for less and offered up on a more frequent basis. Y'know, like Heroes or Battlestar Galactica--shows that keep you glued to the set from one week to the next. Well, the new TV season may be a couple months out, but that doesn't mean PC World's slack celebration can't pay its own tribute. Here's a quick list of new (and old) episodes to try.

Siren: Blood Curse--a creepy, episodic action game? Sign me up!
Siren: Blood Curse
Season Starts: July 24
Network: PS3
Episodiness: 12 episodes; in a set, or in smaller packs
The Deal: Bloody zombie-ish things? Check. Creepy puzzle-solving mysteries while you (literally) have to beat back said demons? Double check. Siren: Blood Curse really gets under your skin as a thriller (Think The Ring meets Silent Hill), and it's also Sony's first experiment in episodic gaming on the PS3. Some talk a good game about episodes, but this release really sells the idea. Each chapter closes on a cliffhanger. Start a new chapter, and it might as well say, "Last time on Siren...."

As for how they are dishing out content, you can buy the game in three separate packs (each containing four chapters) for 15 bucks each, or you can purchase the bundle for $40. My advice: Download the demo before buying. I enjoyed it, but some people might be turned off by the gore (this game ain't for kiddies), the slightly twitchy controls, or the way that the moody lighting effects make things tough to see on some sets.

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Casual Friday: Top 10 Free Games

I'm all for celebrating slack on a weekly basis here at PC World, but there's something more tangible that I like just as much: free games. Now a little confession before I go any further. In my past life as a video-gaming journalist, I was a bit of a freeloader--that is, I'd be ferreting out freebies that were just addictive fun. And today, I'm giving you my personal Top 10 free games that I'm playing right now--with a bonus eleventh game, to boot--and links to hundreds of others).

The Best Free Games (This Week)

One of last year's hits, Portal, had a simple concept: Shoot a warp hole in one wall and create the exit point in another. Easily one of my favorite puzzle-solving games in years, it was brilliant, but waaaaay too brief. To keep me going, I've played Portal: The Flash Version on lunch breaks but that still isn't enough. Ready for another 40 levels of brain-bending puzzles? These days, I'm making my way through P:TFV Mappack, which plugs into the original PC version of Portal.

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Casual Friday: The Guitar Hero Rock Band

For PC World's latest  celebration of slack, we're taking another rocking look at an ever-increasing trend in the video-game scene: music-based games. Guitar Hero kicked it off here in the states a few years back (evolving more with every update); meanwhile, Electronic Arts and MTV blaze ahead with a September release of Rock Band 2. I've brought this up in a couple different Casual Friday columns already, but we simply need to accept that games are the new MTV. And Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which launched just this week, could be the next step in that direction.

The Interactive Box Set

The mini-interviews are cut together as though you're watching a Behind The Music episode.
Initially, I made a couple cracks about how GH:A should be like some VH1 Behind the Music special. Playing some less-than-"G-rated" moments in Steven Tyler / Joe Perry's career sounds fan-tastic (like a battle mode while chasing the dragon, maybe?), but a deep dive into the band members' lives, this isn't. It's an interactive box set. Need proof? There's a collector's edition bundle that ships with an Aerosmith guitar, an 18-page "Tour Book," and, oh, yeah, the game.

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Casual Friday: Virtual Vacationing

Welcome back to PC World's weekly celebration of slack. And nothing screams "slack" like summertime. Problem is, with gas prices rising and dollar values dropping, taking a vacation is tough on the wallet. So, what are you going to do with your spare time?

The Great Indoors

Staycation (stay-kay-shun, noun). "A vacation that is spent at one's home enjoying all that home and one's home environs have to offer." --Urban Dictionary

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Casual Friday: Stream Crysis on an Eee PC

Welcome back to PC World's weekly celebration of slack. So get your geek on as we examine remote-access gaming, playing Crysis in odd places, and the future of online games. (Melodramatic enough for you?) 

Disclaimer: Hey, I was due for a remotely serious column. I can always go back to something screwy for next week.

Nevermind that PricewaterhouseCoopers's "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2008-2012" report says that online games will explode--from $6.6 billion last year to $14.4 billion in 2012. (Hot damn, that's a lot of gold farming.) You want a piece of the future? Keep an eye on companies looking to stream games to your computer.

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