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There are two types of food-producing buildings, one that increases population, and one for harvesting wood. They can be instantly demolished for a full refund of workers and wood and almost as quickly rebuilt, so there are never any shortages, and no long-term consequences for poor planning. Likewise, there are but four defensive structures: melee barracks, ranged archery towers, a laser-shooting magical hut, and a crowd-controlling bomb-shack. After all, the demons are so monomaniacally fixated on snuffing out your central bonfire that they march right past all your other vulnerable structures.

This allows players to forget their measly four tactical options, or the range-, damage-, and speed-amplifying dwellings. You can win simply by lining the road with archery towers. For even less of a challenge, players can divinely intervene, using Helios to summon thunderbolts and sun spirits. Some structures are introduced with a one-note mechanic, like wells, which you can build in every level but are only required for the Sekh Desert, where they turn inhospitable sands into arable farmland.

This same redundancy spills over into the combat sections of SolSeraph. You climb the trees of the Plains of Widhu as you do the cliffs of Mount Agnir, and every area has some kind of spider, flying bat, and club-wielding monster. Two of the bosses—a snowy owl and fiery dragon—fly about, but you can otherwise just stand next to all of them, hacking away.

Where the game goes in-depth, and where it clearly feels most comfortable, is in its omnipresent brawls. W ith Judgment , the developers at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio turn their gaze elsewhere in Kamurocho, the fictional red-light district that serves as the stomping ground for their Yakuza series. In his hunt for an eye-gouging serial killer, Yagami tails or chases suspects, questions witnesses, and even searches crime scenes for clues in a first-person spot-the-object sort of game mechanic. Throughout the game, chase scenes are just auto-runners where you do things like press the triangle button to hop over a fallen bicycle, and the sluggish tailing segments prominently highlight whatever objects the player is supposed to hide behind.

It seems perfectly capable of taking these mechanics a step further, which makes it all the more frustrating to see Judgment so rigidly affixed to its investigative rails. If the detective kicks off a wall, he can catch some unfortunate soul between his thighs and propel them with a devastating throw, perhaps into a store window or a nearby koi pond. But Judgment is simply far too fond of its gooey-hearted crime boys to ever dwell on the depths of despair and moral compromise inherent to noir storytelling. Foregrounding detective work over the power struggles of crime families which do still figure into the plot does, however, lead the series to rely less on a xenophobic fear of thinly characterized outsiders, even if stepping beyond its favored patriarchal organizations has done little to change the largely peripheral inclusion of women in the story beyond punching bags or objects to be ogled.

If the detective angle is little more than a mild seasoning sprinkled over the usual Yakuza beats, the two at least naturally complement one another in a thematic sense.

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Another mechanic encourages players to befriend various characters around town by performing small favors or just visiting them, and you get a little boost when greeting a friend on the street. But Judgment is also a longer game than either of its immediate predecessors, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and remake Yakuza Kiwami 2 , which also have second open-world locations.

It all grows a little stale after a while, not just from repetition but from the knowledge that you can now interact or are supposed to be able to interact with the game in ways beyond simply throwing punches at a gaggle of yakuza goons. Judgment suggests plenty of compelling new directions for the series to go, as well as an ultimate reticence to totally follow any of them. As varied and intriguing as the game can get on a conceptual level, it outdoes itself in the minutiae of traversal and combat. And make no mistake: This is a Koji Igarashi Castlevania title through and through.

But Bloodstained still has its own envelope-pushing identity. Bloodstained distances itself from Castlevania most in its characters and narrative. The story involves alchemists rebelling against forced obsolescence due to the Industrial Revolution by unleashing arcane horrors upon the world using demonic crystal shards. Gebel, an orphan, was supposed to be a ritual sacrifice to Hell itself, but he survives and, in his rage, leads the charge from an eldritch castle.

Fortunately, what largely takes its place is enthralling in its own right. And it does that without every losing its sense of play. This is the type of game that will stun you by throwing indescribable behemoths at you in one room, then have you chuckling at the flying pigs puttering their way around the next.

The castle is wide open for players to explore until they come across dead ends requiring as-yet-discovered abilities. The only new aspect early on is that Miriam is able to wield guns. Before long, it becomes clear that the player has never had more freedom to choose how to play this type of game. The initial Kickstarter campaign had Igarashi asking his audience via a website whether players preferred to use a sword or a whip in their Castlevania games, cleverly concealing the enormous number of options available to them in the final game. At one point, while fighting a two-headed dragon, each head wrapped around the outside of a clocktower, I ended up pausing the game just to marvel at the sheer lunacy that had just been playing out on screen.

Miriam was calling up columns of hellfire against the dragon with one hand, slicing at it with a steam-powered greatsword with the other, while occasionally turning into a bunny woman devastating the beast with lightning fast kung-fu kicks. All these things are slotted to shortcuts in a shoulder-trigger menu, accessible at the push of a button. But that freedom comes at a price. But the system is forgiving and highly versatile, and it encourages experimentation, both through the ease of accessibility and a tough-but-fair difficulty curve that has no intention of letting players simply traipse through as unscathed as quite a few Igavania titles have in the past.

Less welcome is a certain lack of technical finesse that riddles the game with performance stutters, stops, occasional tanking framerates and unexpected load times. Still, those hitches feel like the cost of freedom for Igarashi and his ArtPlay team. That is, compromised in the way that weak-sauce multiplayer experiment Harmony of Despair felt compromised. The occasional two-second load screen is a paltry price for experiencing a near-masterwork.

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T he life of a s private investigator is hardly a convenient or particularly romantic one, at least to hear The Sinking City tell it. Reed is on his own, tramping through the dilapidated streets of Oakmont, Massachusetts to the university library, the hospital, or some such place, combing through newspaper archives or police records based on scant clues. With the right information, he digs up addresses that must be manually marked on the map after consulting the labeled city streets.

Developer Frogwares is best known for a long-running series of Sherlock Holmes games, and that influence is clear in their latest adaptation, which is based on the works of H. Lovecraft and his overarching Cthulhu mythos.

Reed has arrived in Oakmont due to disturbing visions only to find the place devastated by a flood all but biblical in its proportions. And that disaster is decidedly ongoing; some ships have run so far aground that they block off parts of the city, and so many of the streets are underwater that citizens often travel by boat or on crude, makeshift wooden walkways. Thick crusts of barnacles seem to cake every surface, while hasty barricades wall off areas where the monsters are.

Oakmont is a truly fascinating backdrop, where Lovecraftian horror has essentially become the new normal. Reed that its journeying into race relations feels more like a perfunctory disclaimer. You will, perhaps, take some of the in-game prejudice into account when you make your deductions.

Review: Hidden Agenda - Slant Magazine

Is their cult, for example, really up to no good, or is the man opposing them just a racist? Based on such context, as well as other factors like your knowledge of the city itself or the personalities of involved characters derived from evidence, you piece together your own conclusions and make story decisions as a result. And although these investigations can feel a bit guided and simplified since there are only ever two real conclusions, they always leave a nagging sense that perhaps you were wrong.

Most of The Sinking City , though, is spent putting boots to ruined pavement in what feels like little more than busywork. Despite the presence of fast travel points, the process of running between crime scenes, archives, and the various characters grows tedious; for as interesting as the city can be beneath the surface, its grim, gray ruination makes for a rather homogeneous sight. Despite so much investigation, the game seems reticent to leave players alone with their thoughts for too long, opting to fill the spaces in between investigations with menial combat just in case you were getting bored finding clues.

Loading screen tips advise that you flee when the opportunity presents itself, but the cramped environments and rudimentary stealth all but force you to make a stand over and over again. With pistol in one hand, eldritch relic in the other, and fedora comfortably shading his white, stubbled face, Charles Reed looks and feels more like a mentally tormented Indiana Jones. Each level of the game is presented as a 2D platformer, and there are unbounded thrills to be had in making it through each area, from ramming through a plate-glass wall into a room to gliding down from an overhead cable to the story below.

Every shootout is an opportunity to execute a thoroughly balletic performance of sorts. How you carry out all these stunts is dependent on your creativity and skill, with players equipped with an arsenal of Bollywood-esque combat techniques. Among these is a nifty trick called split aiming, which lets you wield a pair of guns and shoot two targets at the same time.

You can also perform an elaborate somersault in midair, all while raining bullets down on the targets below you. Even conveniently placed objects, like a frying pan laying on the ground, can be used to pull off even more outrageous stunts. The pan, for instance, is an especially useful weapon against hard-to-reach mobsters: Kick it into the air and fire at it and your bullets will ricochet off its surface and right into nearby enemies.

Later chapters even see the game breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at you. T he Electronic Entertainment Expo presented an industry in transition.

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As the current console generation winds down and new hardware is still in development, the subject of how games will be played going forward has come into question, as the technology to stream games via the cloud supplants the need for consoles or PCs. There was no greater sign of the shake up than the absence of one of the three major console makers: Sony.

The company eschewed not only their usual press conference, but any showing at all. EA also elected not to host their customary press conference , instead opting for a streamed video presentation similar to the Nintendo Direct broadcast. As one live service game in an ocean, and created by a company with little experience making such games, Anthem was always destined to face an uphill battle; at this point, some four months after its release, turning the game around would require faith in the product and an evolving cycle of new content, both of which EA could have presented to the world here.

Alas, not even a mention across the entire show. Though the somnolent minute video that capped the presentation seems to promise a cross between Uncharted and The Force Unleashed , hands-on time with the game reveals that its closest analogue is Dark Souls , given that it takes place across large open areas with bonfire equivalents the protagonist can meditate at, which inexplicably revives all enemies.

The combat feels like that of Dark Souls , with the fast-paced lightsaber duels of something like Jedi Academy replaced by slower, more precise one-on-one battles where you must manoeuver around enemies to fight them individually, and in a manner that recalls other From Software games.

Whether Jedi: Fallen Order will be as difficult as the Soulsborne titles remains to be seen, though one would assume EA would want the title to be accessible as possible, especially considering their recent and lousy track record with the franchise. The first official E3 press conference was presented by Microsoft, which had a stellar showing of new games and announcements.

New titles demonstrated include Outer Worlds , a Fallout -esque sci-fi action adventure game, a new Battletoads game featuring bright and colourful cartoonish graphics, the latest iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator , the next chapter in the Gears of War series simply titled Gears 5 , and survival horror outing Blair Witch. If Google, or any streaming service, pulls the plug, purchased products simply go away. Which is why Microsoft is working toward a hybrid of cloud streaming services with traditional ownership models, where gamers will own their console and their games, but can also stream them to other devices to play games on the go using the cloud.

Nuclear Winter is a surprising amount of fun, a squad-based battle royale allowing players to choose where they spawn on the map and then take advantage of classic Fallout devices while fighting to become the only survivor. For example, becoming invisible with a Stealth Boy offers a fleeting chance to get the drop on enemies or flee an area teeming with overpowered opponents, or jumping into a set of Power Armor gives more health but impedes player speed and is loud enough to give away player location.

At time of writing, Bethesda have made Nuclear Winter an indefinite add-on for Fallout 76 , which gives the populace at large a reason to try Fallout More notable, though buried within the conference, was the announcement of Dying Light 2 , which looks to be an ambitious and sprawling follow-up to the original game. It boasts expanded parkour gameplay in a new environment that changes with player choice, promising to give fans a unique experience with each playthrough.

Nintendo Direct closed out the conferences, announcing two new Super Smash Bros. Finally, a new Animal Crossing was revealed, with a fresh island setting, new crafting gameplay, and the inclusion of fruit stacking. After sideline missteps like Pocket Camp , Amiibo Festival , and Happy Home Designer , a new Switch entry seems to be exactly the shot in the arm that this beloved series needs to get back on track. Despite the removal of the Noriega regime, the money laundering infrastructure remains largely in place, and credible reports indicate that some banks in Panama and the Colon Free Zone continue to accept large cash deposits and launder drug money.

Endara said he was unaware of the true owners of those corporations, and handled all their business through a Miami-based friend who had the misfortune to be murdered by Colombian assassins in Endara soon came under attack from his former allies in the Christian Democratic Party as well. On April 11, , Panama and the United States finally settled on a legal assistance treaty targeting money laundering in drug cases.

Although superficially a victory for Washington, the treaty left banks relatively untouched in cases involving tax evasion and other non-drug-related crimes. The agreement also did nothing to lift the veil on shell companies that hid their true owners behind nominees, typically corporate lawyers like Endara and his partners. Nor did the treaty cover deposits via wire and computer transfers.

Attorney General Cruz was said to be notably unresponsive to Spanish requests to examine their local bank accounts. Panamanian reformers gave vent to frustration and disillusionment over the growth of corruption. Miguel Antonio Bernal, a law professor and activist for human rights and democracy in Panama, charged that in the 18 months since the U. Under the American-installed government of President Guillermo Endara, Panama is reeling backwards so fast that it is on the verge of disintegrating.

Street crime has quadrupled. Murders are up 50 percent. Drugs are more plentiful than ever. Inside government, corruption and nepotism rule. After all this, even Vice President Arias was too disgusted to defend the regime. Popular depictions of Operation Just Cause at the time resembled some s Westerns, with their depictions of virtuous lawmen bringing murderous villains to justice usually at the end of a noose, not in an air conditioned jail cell.

But even as the United States was congratulating itself on winning the war on drugs in Panama, cocaine continued pouring through the country toward North America.

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In retrospect, Just Cause was a hollow victory for law enforcement. The signing of a mutual legal assistance treaty in solved nothing, either. The world drug market is far too pluralistic to be shut down in the face of strong market demand.


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To its credit, the DEA itself warned within days of Operation Just Cause against any unrealistic expectation that the change of regime would noticeably curb the drug traffic. Drug traffickers are very flexible in their ability to move their money. They will no doubt exploit whatever markets they are able to. Events in post-Noriega Panama also cast further doubt on the sincerity of the U. The yawning gap between words and reality affirmed that drug issues rarely trump other strategic and political interests when it comes to foreign policy.

For the Reagan administration, the future of the Panama Canal and U. But as we have seen, once the spotlight receded, the Bush White House embraced the new pro-American government, drug ties and all, as readily as previous administrations had accommodated themselves to Noriega. Without the glare of political and media attention that forced action against Noriega, the White House shifted its primary focus away from drugs to dramatic events in the former Soviet bloc and the Persian Gulf that strategists deemed far more important to national security.

But its interest was ambivalent at best. These connections were no secret; the administration simply chose to ignore them. Trumping that issue, apparently, was the reliably pro-U. Richard Gregorie, the former assistant U. More haunting than such reactions in the United States, however, was the sense of betrayal felt by many opponents of the Noriega regime who had risked their livelihoods and even their lives for the cause of democracy and the rule of law.

A bitter new joke began making the rounds in Panama, recited by journalists and academics. William O. The Panama invasion force totaled almost 28, U. It was accompanied by militant pronouncements by President Reagan; see William N. In August President Bush approved NSDD 18, which authorized additional military aid and limited counterinsurgency-type operations, and gave the U.

See William L. Invasion of Panama, The U. Most histories say little or nothing about these issues, including Robert C. That said, there were many important exceptions, and I am grateful to the diligent reporters whose work I cite. The global drug trade has never resembled a true economic cartel. Copies of official letters from the Reagan administration thanking Noriega for his cooperation were published by his regime in Panama: 16 Years of Struggle Against Drug Traffic Panama: Editora Renovacion, Government Printing Office, , 11, Drawing support for various sectors of society, they were organized by leaders of the business and financial community under the umbrella of the National Civic Crusade, which was headquartered at the Chamber of Commerce.

Noriega reacted by declaring a state of emergency, suspending portions of the constitution, imposing press censorship, and using force against rioters. See Washington Post , 4 and 48 Nov. See United States of America v. Manuel Antonio Noriega, cases and , U. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, 7 July For other doubts about the testimony of Ricardo Bilonick, see Newsday , 14 Feb.

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He never trusted this guy. No matter what, he is dead. See Michael R. Watson and Peter G. Tsouras, eds. Martz, ed. Azrael and Emil A. Payin, eds. The United Nations General Assembly voted 75 to 20 to condemn the invasion. Goldman and E. On the planning debacle, see Richard H. Shultz, Jr. Attorney General Rogelio Cruz subsequently froze some accounts, but all were associated with colleagues of Noriega.

See Miami Herald , 18 Jan. There is no evidence that Ford or Rodriguez knew of this money laundering, and neither faced criminal charges for it.