Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Corpse Bride DVD out Today

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is now available on DVD, and you can pick up your copy pretty much everywhere.

I snagged the Future Shop exclusive, Collector's Cover and Illustrated Book edition, found here.

Once I get through all the special features, I'll post a review or mini-review, whatever I get around to. In the interm, feel free to check out my review of the film from its theatrical release here.

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) Officially a Platinum Hits Title

I was just at Future Shop today, and saw that Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) is now officially a Platinum Hits title with new DVD case art and everything. Halo: Combat Evolved has been selling for $29.99 for a while, but this is the first time I saw it as officially Platinum.

Note that the case art pictured is from what I believe to be the Japanese version.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Xbox 360 Dashboard Update

Saw over at TeamXbox that Microsoft has released an update for the Xbox 360 Dashboard. It's an automatic, mandatory download that'll happen the next time you connect your Xbox 360 to Xbox Live.

It includes some minor tweaks and fixes, and you can find the details here.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Halo 2, Doom 3, and Half-Life 2 (Xbox) Comparison Editorial

By the end of 2004, what many consider to be the biggest shooters of the current millenium were all released and the debates were on as to which one was king. These kind of arguements are common amongst gamers and have stretched back since the beginning of the hobby, however as anyone with any objective sense can tell you, these topics are all very subjective.

The style of gameplay or graphics I find impressive may be boring to you and vise versa. What you see as an amazing innovation may be mundane to me, and needless to say all these arguements happened with the release of (in order) Doom 3, Halo 2, and Half-Life 2. However, the one interesting thing to note is that Halo 2 was the only Xbox title while the others were PC. What this means is Halo 2 was duking it out with inferior hardware and control comparisons (and certainly holding its own if not out-right winning) and any true debator would agree that such a comparison of platforms isn't really a fair one outside of gameplay, audio, and storyline.

In 2005, however, Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 were both ported over to the big black box, which for the first time in history has given these 3 great titles a completely even and level playing field; they all have the same graphic, and controller limitations. No system tweaks, driver discrepancies, or anything of the sort, you simply pop the game in and play. In its most common form, Xbox titles tend to be played in 480i with basic stereo speakers and a Controller-S, and that's the set up that this editorial will be based on.

Because these three titles have already been debated to death, I'm not going to focus on the elements that would not change from a port, such as audio, story, etc., and instead I'll be focusing on graphics and gameplay. Please note that I will also focus solely on the out-of-the-box Single Player Campaigns, and not Multiplayer since Half-Life 2 is a Single Player only title on the Xbox. Also, while Half-Life 2 is a direct port of its PC counterpart, Doom 3 is not, and received a good bit of level re-construction to improve the game's pacing. While I personally have not been able to play the PC version of Doom 3, those who have played both versions have told me that gameplay wise, they tend to prefer the Xbox version simply because it progresses faster and is thus more action oriented; somewhat more like the Doom classics of old. I'll also be discussing these titles in Xbox release order, Halo 2, Doom 3, and Half-Life 2, so let's begin!

Halo 2 - The best selling Xbox title of all time, but how well does Bungie's latest adventure really stack up to PC gaming's best? Well, for me the biggest thing Halo 2 has going for it is gameplay. I believe IGN Xbox says it best with this quote from their Halo 2 review (found at the bottom of the second page):

"You'll find that in each level, there are several ways to beat it. Whether you want to charge in all guns blazing, jack vehicles, snipe, what have you, the weapons, vehicles, and the level designs in particular encourage multiple ways to dominate a level. And even though this is a linear game, the levels are big -- and wide -- enough so that you can traverse old terrain multiple times without it feeling stale."

This is such a perfect summary of Halo 2's gameplay, and the shear variety of its open-ended gameplay is unmatched by either of the other titles. Presently, I have played through Halo 2's Campaign five times, and only now am I starting to run out of new ways to approach all the different battles.

Not only are the levels so large and feature so many options, but the enemy AI is top-notch and offer challenges that simply aren't possible in the other titles. Try to run over enemies with vehicles and they'll dive out of the way, start to over power an enemy and they'll fall back under cover and continue to readjust their angle with yours to stay under cover. They'll flush you out, use supresive fire to pin you down, and generally find great ways to stay alive and force you to rethink those "charge-into-a-room" tactics.

Graphically, Halo 2 is a beautiful game, however I'd rank it as the last of the three in this category. While it certainly is a beautiful Xbox game and the character models seem more detailed and of higher quality (save for facial expressions), many of the backgrounds lack the depth and detail found in the other titles. There's also that damn texture pop-in that plagues the in-game cinematics, and sadly even the later levels of actual gameplay. Not that this detracts from the gameplay by any means, but it is a noticable con. One unique thing Halo 2 does accomplish is to remove the feeling that you're a "floating head and gun" that's typical of most FPSes, as you can actually see your own legs and feet when you look down. A nice touch.

Doom 3 - id Software's horror masterpiece. With Doom 3, the most important thing to consider is what id Software set out to accomplish, and that's a remake of the grandfather of the genre built on an ultra-modern graphics engine. Doom 3 does not have the cutting edge, modern gameplay of the other titles, but instead takes us through memory lane and plays like most major FPSes of the late '90's; and it certainly accomplishes this very well. Generally, you move from cramped interior room to the next corridor/room and kill any monster that spawns in or happens to be lying in wait. While this concept is pretty basic, id Software follows the classic formula well, introducing tougher monsters as you progress, as well as some basic puzzles. While the enemy AI in Doom 3 is very standard fair, the monsters themselves can usually dish out the punishment as well as receive it. I found that many people overly criticized Doom 3 on it's classic, monster closet gameplay, and exaggerated the amount of times enemies would spawn in if you grabbed a simple armour shard. While yes, this does happen, it's not to the extent that most people make it out to be, at least in the Xbox version.

Graphically, Doom 3 is beautiful, featuring a very detailed world, character models, and most importantly, lighting. id Software wanted the player to feel all alone, and the extremely dark atmosphere greatly contributes to this. They use very dark lighting along with a strong sound mix to create the horror atmosphere, and I haven't bene this impressed with a spooky FPS atmoshphere since System Shock 2. The PC version got a lot of criticism for this, and also for the design limitation preventing you from using your Flashlight with any of the game's weapons. To address this, not only does the Xbox version feature improved level pacing, it's also been brightened up to help avoid player frustration.

Being a port of a PC title, Doom 3 follows the classic convention of being able to carry several weapons at once, so to accomodate this with a controller, you can map four weapons to the D-Pad for quick selection, and you can change this at any point, even on the fly (though via the game's menu) to better suit a specific combat situation.

Half-Life 2 - Valve Software's technological masterpiece is considered by many to be the best PC game of 2004, and possibly the best game for the platform. Having been a huge fan of the original title, I had very high hopes, however I must express grave dissapointment in Valve's sequel. While it retains the immersive atmosphere of its predecessor, the gameplay lacks any form of challenge thanks to very poor enemy AI/balance. Even on Hard, Half-Life 2 is a breeze, as the game's enemies are too dumb to seek any good cover, work together, or even damage the player; in fact they often rush towards you to their death. You can easily rush into a room full of Combine Soldiers and mow them down with old style guns-blazing tactics, and unless one of them has a shotgun and is right next to you, the amount of damage you'll take is minimal. Even in vehicles, you can run enemies down with ease as they will not move out of the way or seek cover, even if you're moving towards them very slowly! Vehicle combat also has extremely poor controls with a Controller-S, and lacks the responsiveness of Halo 2. While Half-Life 2's gameplay features generic combat, vehicle combat, and puzzles, typically involving the game's ultra-realistic physics, it is simply bland, boring, and dragged out. The puzzles, while cool, generally involve stacking or simply moving something with the Gravity Gun, and the only challenge here is determining what to move.

Graphically, however, Half-Life 2 is beautiful. In fact, I consider it to be the most beautiful game available on the Xbox. While its character models lack the detail quality found in the other titles, the facial expressions are the most realistic ever seen and add a new depth of emotion to video game characters. The levels themselves are so richly detailed and so believably designed, you'll swear that you're actually there. The only downside to the game's graphics is texture pop-in, similar to Halo 2's, save that it's in all the game's levels on a very regular basis. Again, not a major gameplay problem, but it is noticable.

Half-Life 2 also features weapon mapping to the D-Pad, however you can't rearrange it because all the weapons are available there and you can quickly toggle through them. This is a vast improvement to the D-Pad system found in Doom 3 and makes selection of any of the game's weapons a snap without having to re-map them in a menu.

In the end, of course, it all comes down to the style of shooter that you prefer. Halo 2 is an open-ended, action fest, Doom 3 is a classic, corridor crawl/horror masterpiece, and Half-Life 2 is an immerisve, technological marvel.

For me, the most important thing is gameplay, and the quality of it balanced with what the developer's set out to achieve. Thus, I would hold that these three titles are ranked best to worst in their Xbox release order: Halo 2, Doom 3, and Half-Life 2. However, any of these titles are worthy additions to your Xbox library, and it'd be a shame to pass any of them up.

Serenity: Those Left Behind Review

Serenity: Those Left Behind is a comic book continuation of the ill-fated series, Firefly, which bridges the gap between it and the feature film Serenity. The comic was originally released as a three part mini-series this past summer just prior to the film, and its main purpose is to provide proper continuity from TV to film. This past week, Dark Horse Comics collected all three issues and released them in a small graphic novel.

While I must say the art and certainly the style of writing is consistent with the Serenity franchise, I found myself rather disappointed with the quality of the storyline, as it wasn't up to the usual level of depth I've come to expect from this particular band of space brigands.

I suppose my real dissapointment is that there is no big continuity bridge with this grahic novel; it's simply another episode of the show in comic form. Basically, Mal and crew have a job that goes wrong and do what they can to find another one so they can essentially eat and keep the ship fueled; nothing out of the ordinary. The only thing clarified is why Shephard Book decided to leave the ship, however it never mentions anything about Haven, where he winds up for the film.

I also found a few other things unclear about the graphic novel's story, however I don't want to discuss them as that would give away some spoilers.

Overall, Serenity: Those Left Behind is a good comic and a good read, however it's not up to par with the quality of the show and film. It also happens to be very short, so if you're not sure if you should buy it or not, you can most likely read it pretty quickly in the store.

Star Wars: Battlefront II (Xbox) Expansion Coming January 31st

On January 31st, LucasArts will be releasing the previously mentioned expansion to Star Wars: Battlefront II (Xbox) via Xbox Live. At present, there is no word if this content will be coming to the other versions of the game.

This will be considered a Premium Content download, and will cost $4.99 (US). You can find the official details here, as well as videos and screenshots of the new hero characters.

Unannounced Xbox 360 Titles

TeamXbox has a feature article up discussing some of the most anticipated unannounced Xbox 360 games. On their list, the titles I care about are Halo 3, Jade Empire 2, and Half-Life 2 with its upcoming PC expansion Aftermath.

You can read the article here.

At this point, since nothing's been officially announced, I'd treat everything on this list as speculation. For example, with Halo 3 they discuss how Bungie planned and then scrapped a release of Halo 2.5 for the Xbox 360, which would have added extra levels to the end of the game to further complete the story. However this Halo 2.5 was a rumour never officially confirmed by Bungie, as I recall.

One thing I must disagree on with TeamXbox is that they only want to play as the Master Chief in Halo 3. I thought the Arbiter was a great character. He had an interesting storyline and through him, so many details on the Covenant were revealed. His character also has more depth and certainly more conflict than the Master Chief, who is typically single-mindedly just following orders. While I like the Master Chief and agree he's a great character, I'd be very disappointed if the Arbiter was cut as being playable.

Also, for Half-Life 2, since the game's already on the Xbox and its backwards compatible, I don't see a reason to re-release it again as a special Xbox 360 version. Instead, I hope Valve released its upcoming PC expansion as a stand alone title with top-notch graphics and lighting for the Xbox 360.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

New Mass Effect Interview

Sci Fi Wire has a short interview up with Casey Hudson, the project director of Bioware's upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Mass Effect.

In it, it talks a bit about the game's design infulence and story line.

You can read the interview here.

Happy Birthday to the Staff

That idiot yutz of a staff member, Telly, celebrates his birthday today. We're not quite sure how old he is, as he can be rather cryptic in his ravings and ramblings, and we really don't even know where he is anymore.

Perhaps he's off battling galactic evil in an attempt to keep the world safe, or perhaps he's simply drunk and waking up next to a chimp. I'd say the latter is more likely.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Two New StarCraft: Ghost Screenshots

Blizzard Entertainment has updated their site with two new StarCraft: Ghost screenshots. They look like Multiplayer screens, so hopefully the game is finally nearing completion.

You can check them out (as well as the entire screenshot gallery) here.

Xbox 360 Shipments to Normalize in 2 to 3 Months

TeamXbox is reporting that Xbox 360 shipments will normalize in about 2 to 3 months, and any consumer should be able to find one for purchase just by walking into a store; a far cry from the pre-order and wait in line for 60 hours of now.

You can find more details here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for Jan. 26


Rigged I tell you. Always rigged.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Serenity: Those Left Behind

Last summer, Dark Horse Comics released a three part prequal to the then upcoming film (and Arbiter's Judgement's Film of '05), Serenity. Those three comics have been compiled and released as a graphic novel, Serenity: Those Left Behind.

You can find the details and a preview here, and you should be able to find it at most comic stores.

I found my copy at Silver Snail, and plan to go through it this weekend. Should be a good read.

Water Demo for The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (Xbox 360)

Forgot to post this yesterday. TeamXbox has a video demo up which shows the water effects for the Xbox 360 version of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II.

You can check out the pretty, pretty water right here.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Halo: Zero

I saw over at Gamespot Xbox that a small, third party development group called Dobermann has created a 2D side scroller entitled Halo: Zero. Halo: Zero is a fan made game, so please note that it is not an official Halo product and has no relation with either Bungie or Microsoft.

The game is set just prior to Halo: Combat Evolved with the Covenant siege of Reach. The Master Chief is on the planet and is ordered to escape and ultimately get to the Pillar of Autumn. Along the way, the Chief will encounter familiar Covenant enemies, Marine friendlies, and human and alien weapons.

The Master Chief can move left and right, crouch, toggle between two weapons, throw Grenades, and even somewhat "zoom" with the Sniper Rifle. Oh, and you can melee with any weapon, just like in the regular Halo FPSes.

While the story isn't the strongest, it is loosly based on the novel Halo: The Fall of Reach, features many Halo sound effects, and actually features a lot of the music from Halo: Combat Evolved and the odd track from Halo 2. The graphics are excellent sprite fare, and even features interesting things like lense flare, shown right.

If you're looking for some classic, Super Nintendo Entertainment System styled fun wrapped in a Halo theme, then go download Halo: Zero. It's free, and most importantly, it's fun. This is a PC-only title, however the requirements aren't that high (OS is Windows 95 +), so you shouldn't have much trouble running it.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gladiator: Extended Edition DVD Mini-Review

Last weekend I finished going through all the content of interest on the Gladiator: Extended Edition DVD, and I must say that it's quite impressive.

Gladiator is nearly 6 years old, however this past August an Extended Edition was released incorporating many deleted scenes into the film (as well as containing the theatrical release should the viewer prefer). The added scenes ehance the narative nicely, however the strongest ones are centred around Commodus, and were featured as deleted scenes in previous DVD releases. These consist of him hacking a bust of his father, and especially an execution scene.

The main attraction to this DVD, aside from the incorporation of the extra elements and the very nice, fold-out packaging and artwork, is a 3 hour and 20 minute documentary that takes up all of Disc 2. It covers so much, including the story development and scripting of the film, special effects, locations, and completing the final scenes of the film after the death of Oliver Reed. Truly an informative doc for anyone who really enjoyed Gladiator to view, or for anyone interested in film making and the creation of an unlikely epic in the first place.

The third and final disc contains some more generic featurettes, as well as trailers, storyboards, and other such gallaries.

So should you go and purchase Gladiator: Extended Edition? If you loved the film and you enjoy watching all the suplimental materials that are included in DVD's, abosultely. However if you already own the film and really just enjoy watching the films themselves, it'd probably be best to simply rent this one to see how all the added scenes are actually put into the feature.

Future Shop/Visa Screw Up?

So I was going over my Visa bill, matching receipts to what's listed on the summary, and it looks like either Future Shop or Visa screwed up when billing me on some DVD's I bought.

It turns out they've charged me just over 50% of what's on the receipt! Score for me!

More Xbox 360's at Future Shop

I received a Future Shop newsletter late yesterday evening informing me that once more there will be limited quantities of Xbox 360's in stores as of yesterday morning.

Most likely they're already all sold out, however if you wanna try your luck...

Lucas Action Figures

Fucking Firefox crashed on me as I was typing up this post in a witty fashion, so now I'm pissed and gonna make this quick.

Stupid Lucas has released action figures based on him and his inbred family from their cameo appearances in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

Pick up your I'm-never-gonna-get-laid toy collection here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for Jan. 19


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bungie Hiring Contract Writer, Probably for Next Halo Title

Bungie, the amazing team behind the Halo franchise, is looking to hire a contract writer for roughly 9 months. One of the requirements is that this person is knowledgeable and passionate about both Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2.

Why is that a requirement? Most likely 'cause this person's being hired to work on the next Halo title, and if they're being hired for 9 months, we're probably not gonna see a Halo 3 until 2007. This makes it a bit more likely the next Halo game will be released in tandem with the film.

Anyway, you can find the full details here.

Edit: A Halo.Bungie.Org staff member contacted me via e-mail, and informed me that the writer position is not for the next Halo title. Thanks for the correction.

Edit #2: So I've been doing some further thinking, and perhaps this contract writer is for the next Halo novel. Bungie's mentioned they might be doing, or looking into doing, more of those, so you never know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Doom 3 (PC) on a Voodoo 2!

I stummbled across this on DawgServ Development. Apparently, someone got the PC version of Doom 3 to work on an old 3DFX Voodoo 2 video card.

For those not in the know, a Voodoo 2 was a popular, cutting edge card around the mid to late '90's, and was essentially the card at the height of 3DFX's reign. 3DFX, which is now gone and bought out by nVidia, was the top graphics card maker of the time.

Doom 3 boasts one of the top game engines on the market today, and it has some hefty system requirements to boot. Considering it doesn't support any old 3DFX cards, the simple fact that someone got the game to work with there card is hillarious! Also, considering how old the card is, the screenshots don't look so bad.

You can browse through all 85 shots here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

3 New Game Related Novels on the Way

There are three new game related novels on the way, actually one has already released:

Blizzard Entertainment has released another Diablo novel, Diablo: Moon of the Spider. It's by Richard A. Knaak who wrote the best of the previous Warcraft and Diablo novels, so I have high hopes for it.

On Feb. 28th, one year after the game's release, another Star Wars: Republic Commando novel will hit the shelves, this one entitled Star Wars: Republic Commando - Triple Zero. I don't know any details on it thus far, but based on the cover I'm guessing this one's about Delta Squad, the squad of commandos you controlled in the game.

Finally, I saw over at another blog, Night Dragons Starcraft Ghost & Nova Stuff, that a new Starcraft novel is in the works, StarCraft: Ghost - Nova. Not sure on a release date and I haven't been able to find any other info anywhere else, but such a novel wouldn't surprise me at all.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Quake 4 (Xbox 360) Demo Available via Xbox Live

Microsoft and id Software have released a demo for the Xbox 360 version of Quake 4.

The demo is available to anyone with an Xbox 360 and a broadband internet connection: You must be able to connect to Xbox Live in order to download this demo from the Marketplace.

Those who have an Xbox Live Silver account will be able to play the Single Player portion of the demo featuring sections from the beginning of the game, and those with a Gold account will also be able to access the demo's multiplayer portion, featuring two maps for 1v1 and larger multiplayer battles.

You can find out full details here.

This is a great move by Microsoft, as allowing playable demos for existing and upcoming titles brings consoles that much closer to the versatility of a PC.

Xbox Live Diamond Card

I received an e-mail from Xbox Live a few days ago, and apparently Microsoft is releasing their own discount card, called the Xbox Live Diamond Card.

Essentially, it's a card that has your Xbox gamertag on it, and it grants you discounts at participating retailers, such as McDonald's.

The card is free for any Xbox Live subscribers that have a 1 year plus subscription, however the card is being offered in the United States only.

Full details can be found here.

Top DVD's of 2005

I just got through all the special features of the '05 DVD's, so I can finally post this list! Our criteria for selecting the top DVD's of the year is very similar to our Xbox Games of the Year found here. In addition, we also look at not just the film itself, but the special features and quality of the menus and packaging. So, the top 3:

3) Alien vs. Predator: The Unrated Edition. What can I say, I've got a soft spot in my heart for giant bugs that bleed acid. Not that this was an amazing film by any means, but it certainly is entertaining, and it also marks the Predator's return to the silver screen after a decade. Alien vs. Predator has a rather hokey plot, but the monster battles and special effects are well done.

The Unrated Edition is also the version that should have been released first. In addition to over 8 minutes of additional footage that enhances the character's motivations, there are comprehensive featurettes and supplimental material that take you through pre-production to release, including docs on the comics that first brought these to movie monsters together as well as many of the action figures made by McFarlane Toys. There's even a little mini-comic thrown in for everyone's reading pleasure. If you're a fan of the franchise, so long as you don't sit down with it expecting Aliens, you'll enjoy yourself just fine.

2) Gladiator: Extended Edition. Gladiator is simply an amazing film, a great journey with real focus on a single man. It has beautiful plot and character development which is enhanced nicely with this Extended Edition. Several of the added scenes were seen before as deleted scenes in other DVD releases of the film, however a few are new and they all fit in very well.

The bonus materials are simply amazing. This is a 3 disc set, with the Extended and theatrical films on disc 1, and a 3 hour 20 minute documentary covering just about anything you could ever ask about Gladiator on disc 2. The final disc sports some featurettes, concept art, costume designs, storyboards, trailers, etc. The packaging is a beautiful fold out case with excellent art work, and there also a small booklet with comments from Ridley Scott. Truly an amazing DVD to add to your collection.

1) Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. The Star Wars saga is now complete (until Lucas feels like milking it some more), and the final Star Wars DVD is Arbiter's Judgement's DVD of the year. The film itself is a Star Wars film that is actually good, entertaining, and what's more, showing off a pleasantly dark story as Anakin journeys along the final steps to becoming cinema's most famous villian. Certainly one of the best Star Wars films ever, and boasting some of series' best special effects period.

For extras, the DVD comes with a second disc with some documentaries on the making of, deleted scenes, trailers, web docs, and an Xbox demo for Star Wars: Battlefront II that lets you kill things; generally standard fair, but all interesting and informative enough to hold your interest if you watch suplimentals to begin with.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith beats out Gladiator: Extended Edition on one important point and one point alone: It is a new film. Gladiator: Extended Edition is a re-release of a film from 2000, so really the main attraction to it is the added scenes and bonus materials. While the quality of Gladiator and its suplimentals beats out Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, it has bene seen before, so the nod does go to Lucas' recent effects masterpiece.

The force is strong with this DVD of the Year.

Friday, January 13, 2006

2 New StarCraft: Ghost Screenshots

Blizzard Entertainment has released two new StarCraft: Ghost screenshots. You can begin viewing them here.

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II coming to Xbox 360

EALA's upcoming RTS, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, originally a PC exclusive, will now also be coming to the Xbox 360 this summer.

You can read the official press release here.

Hmm, this'll be interesting. Typically, PC RTSes don't come to consoles due to the lack of a keyboard and mouse; not enough command options on a controller. The console version of this title'll be interesting to watch simply to see if they can pull the control scheme off.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Winning PayDay Numbers for Thurs. Jan. 12th


Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility Issues

IGN Xbox has play tested a bunch of Xbox titles on the Xbox 360, and found many issues and bugs with various games, some of which are very new and popular games like Half-Life 2. You can check out their article here.

You see, yet another reason why you don't purchase a new console at launch. Wait for a subsequent generation for less hardware bugs, and possibly better out of the box hardware.

Sequel to The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age?

I read about this on ActionTrip and then TeamXbox a few days ago, but forgot about it until reading it again at IGN Xbox here.

Apparently, EA Games might be developing a sequel to The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age called The Lord of the Rings: The White Council. I'd welcome this, as the original title was a lot of fun in its simplicity. I'm close to two thirds of the way through for the second time, but the going is slow as the replay value has really worn out by this point.

For the sequel, they basically need to dump the movie sequences, focus on a character driven original story, and allow for more exploration and less repetative combat so damn often.

Screenshot from The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (Xbox).

TeamXbox Posts their 2005 Readers Choice Awards

TeamXbox has posted their 2005 Reader's Choice Awards, and you can find the full article here.

Notable mentions include:

Half-Life 2 for Best FPS, Jade Empire for Best RPG, Runner-up for Game of the Year, and Runner-up for Best Sound, and Doom 3 for Runner-up for Best Graphics.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Half-Life 2 (Xbox) Complete on Hard

I completed Half-Life 2 (Xbox) on Hard this evening, and for the most part it wasn't that hard. There were a couple of spots in Nova Prospekt and taking out all those Striders in Follow Freeman was challenging, but it wasn't because of stellar AI. Mostly, it was because of Turret placement, or because Striders can kill you in a matter of seconds if you're exposed.

Again, I found Half-Life 2 to be an amazing technological achievement, however the gameplay itself was, at its core, very basic, drawn out, and sporting poor replay value. I suppose another reason I'm so critical of Half-Life 2 is because of how amazing and revolutionary its predecessor was. It's hard to believe that Half-Life 2 is the sequel to the game that set the current standard for enemy FPS AI, where you could easily play it a half-dozen times and still have a challenge.

While not a bad game, Half-Life 2 isn't the game that Half-Life was, and the more's the pity that it falters on so many gameplay elements.

Aliens: Original Sin Review

Aliens: Original Sin is a new novel set in the Alien universe, and the first new Alien novel to be released in about 6 years. The novel picks up a few years after the end of Alien: Resurrection while continuing to follow the crew of the Betty. Ripley 8, Call, Johner, and Vriess all return along with some new faces as they seek to stop a shadowy organization from breeding aliens on an innocent colony.

Traditionally, stories set in the expanded Alien universe take place aboard a remote research station where some mad scientist or General is breading aliens for one insane, power hungry purpose or another. However Aliens: Original Sin differs from this set up a bit by having a lack of a visible, key villian. Much is hinted at with this new shadow organization, leaving a lot of room for expansion on their part and the potential for interesting future tales. There are even some interesting developments regarding the Pilot (Space Jockey) race.

The mood and pacing of the novel are traditionally Alien. Slow building at first leading to chaotic and dark and gory. The author, Michael Jan Friedman, has mostly borrowed themes and elements from Alien and of course Alien: Resurrection, and it's interesting to read how he's incorporated the memories of Ellen Ripley to further develop Ripley 8 and her own sense of morality. In fact, Friedman does a very good job at expanding on all of the established characters, keeping their feel right from the films, but also adding the detailed purposes needed to make the novel work.

One problem Aliens: Original Sin does have, however, and this is common in many of the expanded universe novels, is that once the story stops building and gets going the pacing is too fast. Characters are knocked off too quickly and the story, the actual crisis the characters were fighting against the aliens, feels as though it should have gone on longer.

Despite a somewhat rushed finish, however, it's good to see another Alien novel on the shelves. If you're a fan of the Alien franchise, you'll want to pick up Aliens: Original Sin. In March we'll be seeing a new Predator novel, Predator: Forever Midnight, and in April the next Alien novel, Aliens: DNA War will be released.

Let's hope these three novels are the start of many more to come.

IGN Xbox Launch Comparison of Xbox and Xbox 360

IGN Xbox has posted a new article comparing the launches of both the Xbox and the Xbox 360. They generally compare the launch line-up, online capabilities, hard drives, controllers, etc.

You can check out the full article here.

External HD DVD Drive coming for the Xbox 360

Bill Gates has announced that the Xbox 360 will soon have an external HD DVD drive, which will allow the Xbox 360 to play HD DVD movies. At present, it will not be used for games, however that'll only be a matter of time...

Really, this drive, along with a hard disk, should have been standard. Anyway, you can check out TeamXbox's article here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for Jan. 5, 2006


I didn't win. Again.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar Complete

I finished going through Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar last night. Many of the designs and concepts Valve had going were excellent, simply excellent. Sadly, the more I read the book, the more disappointed I am with Half-Life 2 (seems to be a growing trend) and how it turned out from many of the original concepts.

Originally, Half-Life 2 was to have a much lengthier, more descriptive intro bridging the gap between it and its predecessor. There was one intro idea where the Gman would be showing Gordon briefly what happened in the world on a hilltop in view of what I believe was City 17. Gordon then got on the train and the game commenced as is.

There was another intro where there was a little more exposition, but Gordon got on the train almost immediately.

Another interesting concept was the idea where Eli would explain the Portal Storms and the 7 Hours War to Gordon via a slide show. While I don't like the slide show concept, some explaination is indeed needed, as these important points are only hinted at during the game for less than 30 seconds, and they were world altering!

There was also the plan to use many more of the Xen wild life, like Bullsquids and Houndeyes featured in the original game, that are now completely absent in the sequel. Essentially, original concepts called for better continuity between the titles. Very sad that none of that happened and the title does suffer for it.

Anyway, I won't have time to do my big comparison article on the biggest shooters of '04 today, so look for it during the course of next weekend.

Movies of the Year 2005

The criteria for our top three Movies of the Year are similar to our Xbox Games of the Year found here. Essentially they're films I've actually seen released to theatres in 2005.

3) King Kong. The giant monkey movie takes third spot for some great emotional moments and excellent special effects. A touching remake of a cinema classic, Peter Jackson once again works his magic and though not as strong as The Lord of the Rings, King Kong is none-the-less a great epic film. You can read my recent review here.

2) Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. While not the most engrossing film of the year, or even the best to empathize with, it beats out King Kong on the simple fact that it didn't suck. I went into Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith expecting the worst, and I actually found myself very entertained. So entertained, in fact, that I actually found it to be the second best Star Wars film of all time. With greatly exceeded expectations, great effects, and simply pure fun, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith takes the number two spot.

1) Serenity. With the best character development and plot progression I've seen in a film for years, Serenity is a rare gem for people who actually like to be engaged mentally and emotionally in cinema. This is not a special effects feast (though it does have some good effects and a great space battle), this is screen writting, this is whit, this is the best film of the year, and with such depth behind it, easly the best film of the last few years.