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Noire takes from many terrific sources. (James Ellroy's bloody epic L.A. Confidential is a particularly clear influence.) These lovely vistas are best seen from a distance. Closer inspection reveals hard edges, plain painted-on textures, and other visual flaws that are conspicuous should you seek them out. But like many enormous games, Skyrim makes a fantastic impression not because its individual elements are sharply honed, but because they contribute to a grander whole. There's so much to do that your quest log becomes an embarrassment of pleasures, offering dozens of choices at any given time, each one as enticing as the next. You could follow the story, of course, which weaves a compelling tale that casts you as a dragonborn; that is, the soul of a dragon emanates from within you. As such, you are the key to discovering why dragons have returned to the land, terrorizing cities and potentially ending the known world. The tale has you facing dragons, of course, but also crashing fancy dress parties and scouring sewers in search of a key figure long assumed dead. It's a well-crafted tale that makes good use of those fearsome flying creatures that horrify the masses with roaring gusts of fire and ice. The new single-player mode has its share of drawbacks as well. The campaigns are something of a turnoff for newcomers because the bots are dumb. They mindlessly rush enemy locations, run around in circles jumping over the same broken-down fence, and occasionally ignore both orders and enemies. Bad guys are equally stupid, particularly when it comes to ignoring your presence, so there is a bit of a tradeoff here. Still, the two never balance out because you're usually taking the offensive against dug-in enemies and need the assistance of allies to storm these locales. Orders can be given to nudge your buddies in the right direction, at least. Regular reinforcements mean that you can eventually overcome the actions your stupid squadmates perform in the field, although in the absence of smarter squadmates, you can wind up forced into attempting suicidal one-man charges over and over again. As a result, the solo missions are only marginally entertaining and serve more as extended tutorials familiarizing players with the controls and overall flow of combat than proper new modes of play. By flinging your arm forward, you toss ninja stars. Like with the arrows, you have an infinite supply of these, which is a good thing because accuracy is tough to achieve. Trying to hit a small target far off in the distance is nigh impossible, though they come in handy when you don't have time to ready an arrow. Your last weapon is dynamite, and though this is used the least, its implementation is the cleverest. To light the fuse you have to cover the glowing ball at the top of the controller, simulating how you would shield the flame from wind in real life. Aside from using weapons, there are a couple of other motions you need to perform. Tilting the controller toward your mouth lets you drink revitalizing milk, though this takes a couple of seconds to register, which could lead to your untimely demise. Finally, by holding the controller to your belt, you activate your amulet, which makes every weapon stronger. Bafflingly, though the motion for this is quite easy to perform, it doesn't always trigger like it should, which can be infuriating when monsters are swarming around you. There's a wealth of content in Shinobi, but not all of it is stellar. A handful of levels include behind-the-back vehicle sections that have you riding on top of things into the screen. They're vis





There's a life bar to preserve, but recruited members of your army do not individually perish, instead laying dazed and out of action for a few seconds before leaping back into the fray. When down, they are unable to fuel your weaponry, forcing you to stay on the back foot until they recover. Enemies are meaty, resilient, and bountiful, sapping thick chunks out of your life bar when landing a successful hit--like many of Platinum's stylish and technical games, a good defence is integral. When you're in the remote wilderness of werewolf country, hunkering down and chopping up all manner of horrific beasts night after night doesn't seem like the smartest alternative to simply running like hell, but Canadian lumberjack brothers Jacques and Joseph are made of tougher, more stubborn stock. Their quest to save their sister from the demonic fanged beings of the night in Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves requires careful planning during the daylight hours and precise execution when the sun goes down. All of the neat ideas at play in this distinct tower defense/third-person brawler hybrid ultimately keep the rough edges at bay long enough to let the cyclical blend of strategizing and action take hold. After the tidy (or bloody) completion of Coldridge, Daud strikes out into new territory and finds himself wandering the shabby thoroughfares of Drapers Ward. In some ways, regrettably, the Drapers Ward sequence serves as a mere distraction from the final act, because Daud spends much of his time hunting down a necessary item that will get him to the last stage. Fortunately, Daud finds his path littered with run-ins with a dapper band of thugs called the

Its finest feature, though, is its Dierks Bentley 5150 Note capabilities. This pastes a note on top of the screensaver, which would be handy for people who are out of the office. The program's interface is somewhat cluttered, with lots of buttons and drop-down menus. A few minutes of exploration allows users to start to make sense of the layout. While the bulk of the interface contains a calendar with scheduled tasks in it, much of the rest is composed of options for customizing how tasks are displayed in the calendar. We appreciated that the program's buttons, which weren't entirely familiar, had tooltip descriptions. The program's features are many, and allow users to organize and view tasks by client, project, event type, and status. Each task contains a series of tabs for users to fill in detailed information, and the program even allows users to input spreadsheets, images, and embedded documents. This is not a planner for people with the occasional hair cut or dental appointment; this program is made for professionals who have a lot of projects to manage and things to keep track of. Once we got used to the interface, we found that MSD Dierks Bentley 5150 is a powerful tool for tracking just about everything. Pictomio's setup wizard prompts you to synchronize your digital camera's time setting, a one-time operation. The attractive, skinnable interface has a unique layout based on a series of tabs, expandable panes, and animated icons. Navigation is easy, with a series of tabs for browsing the file system, Pictomio's library structure, and PictoGEO, as well as other tabs for selecting image views and info, EXIF data, albums, and more. The Carousel feature is nifty; it's a 3D thumbnail display that you can rapidly spin with your mouse. The feel is natural and precise, and it's a fun way to browse through a lot of images without squinting. The interactive Map feature lets you choose between Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth. We tried both; they offer similar features and capabilities. Another feature we liked is the Globe, a built-in interactive 3D Earth view on the navigation sidebar. The image-editing functions are basic but capable, but its EXIF, geotagging, and other image data features are Pictomio's primary attraction. The program's interface is plain and intuitive, consisting of a small rectangle with three buttons and a text box. One button allows users to capture the entire screen, whereas the Capture Area button lets users select the part of the screen they want to include. This allows users to save time by cropping their screen capture at the start, instead of fiddling with cropping after the fact. Users can enter a file name and location to save the image, if desired, or the program will simply copy the image to the clipboard if nothing is entered. The program's only other feature is a button that opens Microsoft Paint, allowing users to immediately start editing their screenshot. {A