Monday, July 31, 2006

Humble Howard Fired from Mix 99.9

For over a decade, I've been listening to Humble Howard on Toronto radio morning shows. Originally, he was on 102.1 The Edge with his long time friend, Fred Paterson. Then they moved to Mojo Radio (which did suck, by the way, and is now this), and finally to Mix 99.9. They were The Humble and Fred show, they were known all over Toronto, and they were good fun to listen to in the morning, with silly but not dumbass humour.

Last August, Fred mysteriously disappeared (he was let go), and the show became the Humble Howard Morning Show. Well, since Howard was still on the air, I kept listening to Mix 99.9 in the mornings.

A few weeks ago, Mix 99.9 announced the Mix Summer Vacation, where they give their DJ's a few weeks off and play listener requests to fill the void. Right when I heard this, I suspected something was up, seeing as how a) no one ever gives their entire staff a few weeks off at the same time and b) this happened around the time Humble Howard was supposed to come back from vacation.

Well, my feelings were correct, and Howard, along with his morning show staff, Judy Croon and Bingo Bob, have been fired from Mix 99.9. I found this article printed on the National Post's web site, where Howard discusses the experience, and it's an insightful read on how this sudden turn of events affected both him and his family.

Howard got the call that he was canned mid-way through his vacation, which is a real low way to let someone go. I for one am not happy with how Mix 99.9 handled this, and I have no desire to listen to their new upcoming morning show DJ's, Mad Dog and Billie, who I vaguely remember from some other radio station in the distant past. And they sucked.

I doubt he'll ever read this, but I just want to thank Humble Howard for all those years of entertainment that he provided every morning, and I hope that things work out for him in the days ahead.

Thank you Humble Howard, and it looks like it's time for me to find a new radio station to listen to in the mornings.

Quake 4 (PC) 1.3 Point Release (Patch) Now Available

Raven Software and id Software have released the 1.3 patch for the PC version of Quake 4. You can check out the details here, and download via the in-game menu, or through the links posted on id Software's main page as of the time of this posting.

All the additions in this patch seem to be purely Multiplayer focused, so it doesn't affect me at all. Saved games made from early versions of the game are apparently incompatible, so if you're playing through the Single Player Campaign like I am, you'll want to wait until you're done before you update.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (Xbox) Sold

Yesterday, I finally got around to selling my copy of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (Xbox). I went to Deja Vu Discs, and sold it along with my DVD copy of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and I sold both items for much the same reason: they're boring.

Anyone who saw Capt. Kirk's first feature film debut won't need me to elaborate on that, however some explanation might be needed for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition, which are expressed in this post I made last May.

Basically, despite all the great depth of the world itself and all the excellent exploration opportunities, there were no real characters to attach yourself to, and when completing Quests, I never got any real feeling of accomplishment. Playing the game became way too much like real-life work, and I knew that I'd never bother finishing the game. While the success of the series clearly shows that there's a ready audience for such titles, it's not for me.

So, with the $8.50 I got from selling the above items, I put that money towards my purchase of Doom 3, something I will enjoy a great deal.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ordered Doom 3 (PC)

Yesterday I ordered Doom 3 (PC) from Best Buy, along with V for Vendetta. I debated long and hard over this, the biggest issue being that I own the Xbox version of the game and have played through it 4 times, however seeing as how I really love the Doom franchise and have done so since the mid-90's, I know I'll enjoy the PC version and probably play through it a few times.

Due to both hardware limitations and a different audience, the Xbox version of Doom 3 had a lot of its levels redesigned and streamlined for faster paced gameplay. One thing that I'll find very interesting is seeing what was changed and what wasn't. Based on the Demo, the UAC facility starts off with more NPC interaction, and more exploration, both gameplay elements that I like.

Graphically, of course, the PC version will feature much higher quality visuals, and it'll be darker; which'll add to the scary atmosphere. I was able to play the demo on Extra High Detail for great image quality, and the demo also showed more windows (with a slight distortion effect) looking out at both other areas of the UAC facility and Mars itself than was featured on Xbox.

I also found that the Demo was harder on Veteran (Hard), with enemies being more accurate and doing more damage, as well as being harder to hit than on the Xbox version. Since a lot of the opening level design was different, I was caught by surprise by several Zombies and Z-Sec Zombies, so the game should still feature enough classic horror style "boo" moments to make me jump.

Actually, it'll be kind of like playing through an "extended director's cut," seeing as how about 2 hours more gameplay is in the PC version, and the PC levels were split about midway to minimize Xbox loading time. Since they are different versions, however I'll need to see if the changes are great enough or not to warrant keeping the Xbox version, or if I should sell it.

I have a few extra days off this coming long weekend, and I figure I'll be spending a lot of that time alone in the dark, killing demons.

St-Hubert Still Alive in Toronto

A few months ago, it appeared that the last St-Hubert restaurant in Toronto closed down, however last weekend I found out this was not exactly true. While yes, the 427/Queensway location is no longer a St-Hubert restaurant as all the franchises left the Toronto area, this location was able to reach some kind of agreement with the St-Hubert head office, and the place is now called The Q and they are serving the exact same food that St-Hubert does! They've also done some menu additions, but if you liked anything from St-Hubert, odds are you'll find it here.

For those unaware, St-Hubert is a Montreal-based Swiss Chalet style restaurant. In fact, I believe it was Swiss Chalet that St-Hubert lost so much ground to in Toronto, as Swiss Chalet kept on growing and growing while St-Hubert did not. However, I found St-Hubert's food to be of much better quality every time, which I why I'm so hooked on them.

I've been going to and loving St-Hubert ever since I was a child, and I can't begin to express how happy I am at finding that they're still local. The closest St-Hubert to Toronto is in Cornwall (which the staff and I do a yearly drive out to), however having The Q only 30 minutes away is great as I still get to enjoy some really great food.

Prey (PC) Demo Impressions

I while ago I downloaded the Prey (PC) Demo, and I must say I'm quite impressed with Human Head Studio's latest offering.

One of the most interesting things about Prey is that it was originally announced by 3D Realms back around 1996-ish, and then placed on hold up until a while ago. It's very rare indeed that a title shelved for so long is brought out of limbo and actually completed.

In Prey, you take on the role of Tommy, a Cherokee native American who is abducted by aliens from his girlfriend's bar along with Jen, his girlfriend, his grandfather, and the bar itself. These aliens are abducting people all over the world, and many of them seem to be meeting gruesome ends. During your "tour" of the alien mother ship, you are freed through the intervention of another character, and you begin your battle to try and save Jen.

Prey is the third game to be developed with the Doom 3 engine, and it looks as beautiful as ever. Backgrounds are crisp and realistically lit, character models are smooth, detailed, and clean, and all the effects look great. Using my new rig, I had no issue running the Demo with all the settings cranked up, and though I still prefer the character models from Quake 4, Prey is a great visual masterpiece.

The Prey demo introduces us to the innovations that the retail game brings to the genre, namely portals (something that Valve seems to be ripping for their next tech dem... er game, Portal) and non-linear gravity.

The alien mothership has portals scattered everywhere that you can walk through like a door, and end up in a completely different area; essentially teleporting you from point "A" to "B." It's done differently than basic FPS teleportation, however, and it's something you should check out (there's no loading or changing to another level, and you can see in real time through the portal before you jump through). For gravity, not only can you walk along certain "strips" across ceilings, walls, and the like, but you can also encounter rooms next to rooms that have gravity pulling in different directions, and in some areas, you can change what direction gravity pulls in. Thus far, the Demo has shown some interesting gravity puzzles that where much more amusing than Valve's "pick up brick and put it on object, repeat" physics puzzles from the Half-Life 2 series.

It's also quite refreshing to have a main FPS character who can talk, hold conversations, and swear his head off. I find it gives him a lot more depth and allows me to care about him a whole lot more. Not to mention the interactivity of the game world. You start off in the bar's washroom, and you can use the taps, flush the toilets, dispense soap, and generally have a lot of fun with environments. The interactivity of the early Prey levels where giving me some fond Duke Nukem 3D flashbacks, and a simple room has not been this interactive in a very long time (sorry, but Half-Life 2 wasn't overly interactive, it just let you bump things around with its physics).

My only gripes with the Prey demo is that it was too damn easy, and the "Spirit" powers Tommy acquires are gotten too conviently, which is rather silly.

Overall, however Prey features some nice innovations and an excellent use of the Doom 3 engine. This is a game I will pick up, however I will wait for a price drop to between $29.99 and $39.99, as many reviews are claiming the Single Player game is rather short.

The Staff breaks The Internet

We, the Staff (TM) currently have a really crappy interweb connection on our usually fancy-shmancy wireless network. This got We, the Staff (TM) thinking, and after We got over the multiple consecutive aneurysms, We got to wondering how many peoples there be out in webland who are absolutely addicted to their interweb connectivity. Maybe they have clinics for Interweb Addiction. If not, maybe We, the Staff (TM) can start one. We, the Staff's (TM) Center for Interweb Addiction (R). We'll just convince the attendees to drink beer instead.

-The Staff

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Lord of the Rings: The White Council Announced

Man, I'm really behind on my news reporting. EA has announced The Lord of the Rings: The White Council, which is an RPG for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 due out at end of 2007. You can check out the web site here and official press release here.

From the sound of things, it's an original storyline set pre-The Hobbit but still during the Third Age. It's nice to see that EA is going to explore more of this vast world instead of just the films, and I also hope it's not turn based like The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was. A much stronger emphasis on the characters and no film footage will go a long way as well.

QuickTime's Dumb

Well it is. Seriously, Apple, how dumb are you. I've had this new system for just short of a month now, and the only issue I'm having is stupid QuickTime and it's inability to stream new trailers properly. Basicaly some QuickTime 6 and any QuickTime 7 trailers will not stream correctly if at all. I've tinkered with most of the settings, tried mutliple browsers, etc. There is no reason what-so-ever that I can see as to why it won't work.

However, given the course that Apple's taken, shoddy programing doesn't surprise me. Seriously, they're as bad as if not worse than Microsoft. Why? I work with Macs all day at the Office, and there's a reason that PC's are the primary personal computer the globe over. Even with the new Intel based processors, Macs are slower, significantly more expensive, and with less inexpensive tech support options. They're less customizable and, well, very pretentious in a way. If you want to know what I mean, watch the new Mac commercials to see the BS Apple is spouting; which has no real justification at all.

Don't get me wrong, Tiger is a solid OS and Macs look nice on a desk, but performance, customizability, and cost are more important and Apple looses out over a PC on both counts.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sam Raimi Reveals Venom in Spider-Man 3

Today, Sam Raimi, the director of the Spider-Man triolgy, revealed that the film's two villians are Sandman and Venom. Some footage was shown, however to the left is the only shot I've found of Spider-Man's ultimate nemesis (and my childhood hero), Venom. You can read IGN FilmForce's article here.

Raimi also went on to say that while Harry Osborne plays a vengeful role in the upcoming film, he is not the next Green Goblin or Hobgoblin and is not a major villian.

My only major concern is with Venom and how well the character will be developed. I mean, Spider-Man will get the symbiote costume in this film, then he'll need to get rid of it. Brock will then have to be bound to it, become Venom, and become the greatest threat Spidey will ever face, all in one film with multiple romance plots, another main villian, and a sub-villian.

I'm actually quite worried that Spider-Man 3 will try to do too much and get lost in itself. If Venom is rushed and not provided the proper character background and reason for his menace, he'll be a joke.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (Xbox) Completed

I completed LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (Xbox) yesterday. Technically this was the second time, since I rented it last summer, however this is the first time I did absolutely everything. I unlocked the game's secret level, got all the playable characters, and all the Mini-Kits.

Actually, the only thing I haven't done is gone through the game via co-op mode, however this is something I do plan on doing at some point.

Anyway, as I documented in my original posts regarding the rental here, here, and here, as a Platinum Hits title, LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game is completely worth it and full of great, simple, fun moments. It's only $19.99 now, so if anyone is looking for a great title to pass a week or so, this is it.

LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game follows the course of the prequel trilogy and features many of the key sequences from those films. It is, of course, all done with LEGO, and has many comical moments, not taking itself too seriously. Aside from being very kid-friendly, it features a drop-in, drop-out co-op mode where a second player can join in at any time. Players can take control of many of the characters from the new trilogy, and also engage in certain vehicle battles, such as the Pod Race and space battle over Coruscent.

I'm not going to officially review the game, seeing as how my posts a year ago were detailed and review-like enough. Simply click the links above to read them.

Extended Trailer for Half-Life 2: Episode Two Now Available

Valve has released the extended trailer for their upcoming expansion, Half-Life 2: Episode Two. You can check it out via Steam here, or you should be able to find a downloadable version via most major PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 gaming sites.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two Heading to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

This is older news, however I never got around to posting it so here it is: Valve Software has announced that it's going to port the upcoming expansion Half-Life 2: Episode Two to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Also included in the package will be a digitally enhanced version of Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One, as well as the upcoming Team Fortress 2 and Portal. You can check out the press release here.

I certainly have no problem with Valve bringing the Half-Life 2 expansions to the next gen consoles. While the series is over-rated, it is still fun enough. My only major gripe with this announcement is the extra cost console gamers may need to pay for the extra titles. For example, if I decide to purchase Half-Life 2: Episode Two for the Xbox 360, will I have to get Portal and Team Fortress 2 with it? What if I don't want those titles? Same with Half-Life 2. I already have Half-Life 2 (Xbox), and it is backwards compatible, so if I don't want prettier visuals, do I have to buy it?

Something tells me the answer is yes, and the Xbox 360 version of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, including all the above titles, will run between $69.99 to $79.99. Overpriced for a bunch of products I wouldn't want.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Quake 4 (PC) Review

Quake 4 was released on the PC last October, and is the second game to feature the Doom 3 Engine. Quake 4 also happens to be the game I decided to use to really test my new PC out and see what it can do. After completing Quake 4 yesterday, not only can I say that I'm happy with my new PC, but that Quake 4 is one hell of a ride.

Visually, Quake 4 is one of the most beautiful PC games that I've ever played. It's not as dark as Doom 3, however there are plenty of dark areas to move through, but at least you have a Flashlight on two of your weapons. Quake 4 is an action game, and not a horror game, so you'll rarely have enemies that simply pop out and go "boo," however there certainly are some creepy, pulse racing moments.

The game is very fast paced, and features excellent indoor and outdoor areas to wage war in, and in both situations, you'll often fight alongside other soldiers, medics, and engineers. Your allies don't feature the best AI I've seen, but they're not useless either, and I saw many a team mate put the hurt on the Strogg while I was busy elsewhere. Quake 4 also sports some very nice character models, and while facial expressions aren't up to Source Engine quality yet, the overall look of the characters in Quake 4 was more pleasing to me than in Half-Life 2.

Sound wise, the game has both excellent effects and voice acting. The only problem is the two will often conflict, and many of the game's sound effects will drown out communications you may be getting, however the game is straightforward enough that you're never left wondering where to go or what to do should you not hear what an ally is trying to tell you. The game's music is also very well done, adding an extra bit of rush to a charge against Strogg forces, or hightening a tense moment when everything goes to hell.

Gameplay wise, Quake 4 doesn't offer anything you haven't done before, however what it does do is done very well. The game is one intense battle after another with a lot of scripted sequences thrown in to add to the life of the game world. While the story isn't exactly an epic masterpiece, it is a nice B-style sci-fi plot that is engaging so long as you don't take it too seriously. What does happen in the game makes sense within the world's own context, and there are even a few surprise moments that may take some players off guard. Sadly, one of the best of these was revealed with the ad campaign, and you can't help but be disappointed with what could have been a great surprise moment.

The Strogg themselves have average intelligence but pack a punch to make up for their lack of brains, and you'll have several weapons at your disposal to deal with them. The Machine Gun is arguably the most versatile in the game (similar to Halo 2's Battle Rifle), and the Shotgun's a traditional close-quarters winner. As the game went on, I found myself really appreciating the Grenade Launcher as well as the Lightning Gun, however I must say that Quake 4 lacks an effective non-explosive room clearer, such as Doom 3's Chaingun. The Nailgun was supposed to fill this role, but I found it too slow and not powerful enough, which resulted in some of the later levels close quarters battles being very frustrating. As the game goes on, however, most of your weapons will get an upgrade of some kind, such as increased clip size, increased damage, or other cool effects like target tracking or bounce shots. Once all is said and done, you'll rely mainly on a few weapons, but your entire aresenal will come into play and be useful.

To break up the non-stop action, the game has several "shooting gallery" sequences where you get to man a turret or hop in a vehicle and move from point A to B and blow the snot out of anything in your way. These sequences are by no means challenging, however the arcade nature of them is very, very fun.

It should also be noted that the Doom 3 Engine's physics have been vastly improved over Doom 3. They're still not Half-Life 2 quality, but they get the job done and don't scream "fake" like the Grenades in Doom 3 did. It was after this really clicked for me that I started using and loving the Grenade Launcher; so handy for making things that hide around corners go "boom."

Seeing as how Quake 4 is only $29.99 now, there's no reason not to snag it if you're looking for a fun, engaging, and somewhat older-school shooter to pass some time. I got about 15 hours to 17 hours of gameplay from it on Normal, and I'll be playing through the game again on Hard to see how much more of a challenge the war against the Strogg can offer.

Mass Effect E3 Demo Video

Bioware has released to the public the video that they demonstrated at this year's E3 for their upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Mass Effect. All I have to say is wow, the game looks as beautiful as it does vast. For character animation, this tops what Valve's Source Engine is capable of, and it's all truly impressive.

I also like what they've done with conversations. In their previous RPGs, you had a list of choices you could select in response to NPC dialogue, however it it looks as though you have some abreviated responses mapped to the D-Pad, and once selected, your character will actually speak more detailed versions of them. This should speed up conversation progression, as well as make dialogue more engaging and not so one sided.

To download and check out the video demo, head over here.

A Dream of Eagles: The Sorcerer Review

With the conclussion of The Sorcerer, the Dream of Eagles comes to a close, and I can honestly say that I've completed one of if not the most engaging novel series I have ever read; it's that good.

It should be noted that The Sorcerer is split into two volumes, The Fort at River's Bend and Metamorphosis. Jack Whyte, the series' author, originally intended The Sorcerer to be published in its entirety, however the publisher disagreed, and for this reason The Fort at River's Bend ends rather abruptly. Because both volumes of The Sorcerer are really one book, I decided to wait and finish both volumes and review them as one complete piece.

At the end of The Saxon Shore, Merlyn had fled north to Ravenglass with his young charge, Arthur Pendragon, to safeguard him from further assassination attempts. There, Merlyn seeks the aid of the man who killed both Arthur's father and mother, King Derek, and an understanding forms between these two great men, and the desire to see a dream fulfilled.

Much changes in The Sorcerer as Arthur grows up and begins approaching the destiny that will see him become the High King of all Britain and ultimately, in order to do what he must, Merlyn must set aside his sword and become the sorcerer that many have whispered him to be.

The Sorcerer ultimately takes a very dark turn as war once more begins to ravage Britain, and as with the rest of the series, it is all very character driven. The main perspective is, of course, Merlyn's, as ultimately this is Merlyn's tale, his hopes, dreams, and fears in the Arthurian legend.

Thus, in the end, when Merlyn does what he needs to and becomes what he must, you can't help but feel bad for him, to know that he embraced such darkness willingly to achieve that which was the greater good.

The Sorcerer will make you think and empathize as it is filled with what everyone dreams of: Purpose, love, hope, and adventure, all wrapped up in a realistic version of the legend that is everlasting. It is a beautiful rendition of such a unique period in Britain's history, and the fact that Whyte puts aside the fantasy and takes a factual approach is such a nice perspective as to be as gripping as it is refreshing.

The only shortcoming in The Sorcerer would be that it is simply too short, and there is one important thing that happens to Merlyn that, to me, wasn't explained thoroughly enough. However, that is a minor complaint for such an engrossing series.

If you've been reading A Dream of Eagles, then you know what I'm talking about, and you already know if you're going to pick up The Sorcerer or not. If you haven't begun reading the series and you have an interest in historical fiction, in military tactics and evolution, and in Rome and its effects on the world, then you should not miss this literary masterpiece.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

1 Year Anniversary!

That's right kids, Arbiter's Judgement is 1 year old as of yesterday (I suppose I should have posted this yesterday, but I got busy doing stuff).

Anyway, it's been a great year and I'd really like to thank all my readers, yes, all three of you, for supporting my insane work.

The blog's certainly seen some evolution as I've found my blogging self and what I like to type about. Mainly being a game site, as well as movie/DVD reviews and the occasional music tid-bit, Arbiter's Judgement has seen fluxuations in terms of number of hits from rather high to rather low. However the readership we've enjoyed can not be attributed to me, my beautiful self alone.

First and foremost I'd like to thank my co-poster Telly, who's usually too damn lazy to do anything useful around here, however when he has we've seen some interesting current event posts. I'd also like to thank both Halo.Bungie.Org and Planet Doom for linking to some of my posts and driving further readership my way, as well as the crazy Steam forum-goers who are always their to defend their pretencious Half-Life 2.

The most popular post on the blog was this one from late last January, where I compared the Xbox versions of Halo 2, Doom 3, and Half-Life 2. This post was linked on Halo.Bungie.Org, received a lot of comments, and generated 1, 850 hits in a single day!

Since I've had my falling out with Google Adsense, I haven't had a good way of tracking hits since early January, so I'm not sure where the readership stands these days. I suppose I should find another hit counter. Can anyone recommend one?

Regardless, you'll still be able to count on Arbiter's Judgement for all your useless, crappy needs as I continue to report on the reason why everything sucks. Due to time and life constraints, it seems I'm posting pretty much just on Sunday's now, however keep checking back as if my time frees up (and interesting stuff is going on), I'll be posting more.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Review

When I walked into the theatre to see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, I can honestly say I wasn't expecting too much. I mean, it was a film based upon an amusement park ride for cripes sack, so how much depth can you expect. Well, I was pleased to discover how wrong I was. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl featured great characters, a simple yet intriguing plot, and some excellent, humorous screenwriting. Which is why I find it rather sad to say that the sequel does not deliver in the same fashion as the original.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest truly is a sequel hoping to simply recopy the original with some changes thrown in to try and feel fresh. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest relies a great deal on coincidence and happy chance to make its plot work. The majority of the first film's characters are reunited, mostly through strange, convienent chance, and they embark on a mission that doesn't happen to have a lot of substance behind it.

Capt. Jack Sparrow is looking for a chest, however it's not filled with gold, and an evil British dude whose name I could never remember seeing as how he was the rather uninteresting drab villian type also wants said chest, so he's holding Elizabeth hostage to blackmail Will Turner into getting Jack's compass for him. Why? Because Jack's compass, which pointed to the mysterious isle in the first film, can apparently point to other places as well (such as to something to do with the above chest). The compass was a convention that made sense within the context of the first film, however the chessy way they "enhanced" it for the sequel smacks of BS to me. Ultimately Jack and Will team up again and are pitted against Davy Jones and the crew of the Flying Dutchman, and I must say that squid-faced Davy and his dumbass fish crew don't have the simple, human flaw and therefore believability of Barbossa and his humourous yet detemined undead crew from the first film.

The whole story is such a stretch, leading from one rehashed joke or chance encounter to the next, that I honestly found myself rolling my eyes at many points. Not only that, but the pacing simply keeps dragging on and on, and by the end, you know it could have been 30 minutes shorter and benefited from it.

Not that the film is truly done, mind you. As many other film trilogies are beginning to do, the sequel ends on a cliffhanger that will lead directly into the third installment. For my own part, I'll probably see it just to see how a certain plot point turns out, but I hope it flows much better than the dead-in-the-water sequel.

So, if you're expecting to find a film on par with 2003's excellent Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, you won't be finding it in the sequal. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest simply had trouble getting out of port, and then floated around going no where fast.

Warhammer 40, 000: Dawn of War Demo Impressions

Another demo I recently tried was for Warhammer 40, 000: Dawn of War, a real time strategy game that Telly used to go on about. With my previous system, I could never get it to run very well, so I never really bothered with it, but now that I've played it, it isn't that bad. At present, I won't be running out an buying it, however if I get bored and want something else to play, I may pick it up.

Warhammer 40, 000: Dawn of War is heavily influenced by Blizzard Entertainment's successful RTSes, and aside from the interface and control scheme, the game universe itself feels very much like a cross between Starcraft and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. To put it bluntly, it's Orks in Space.

Aside from the tutorial, the Demo features one Single Player mission, which is the 4th Mission of the retail product. From what Telly tells me, the Single Player Campaign is only played from the perspective of one of the four factions, the Space Marines, which is rather dissapointing, but the Demo was fun as it felt like I was controlling the Terrans from Starcraft.

The map art looks nice, featuring ruined buildings, streets and such, and the art on all the units and structures are top-notch. You have great camera control, and unlike many older RTS titles, you can create squads that are controlled like a single unit; which allows for much larger scale battles.

Controlling and upgrading armies are as simple as it ever was, and it's great to see some hero units mixed in as well. You can ehance groups with Sergeants and your troops even have moral, as well as the option to equip some troops in squads with heavy weapons, flame throwers, etc. You also get an assortment of vehicles, such as mechs and tanks.

In the Demo's Mission, you had to kill and Ork Warchief and wipe out his forces, taking over areas and "checkpoints" as you went. It was a very standard style of RTS play with no real surprises, and the simple tactic of massing a force and slowly pushing forward while stoping to hold ground and tech a bit worked well.

My only major con with the game was with the AI attack-moving. I lost count of the number of times I clicked a large group of infantry to attack move to an area, and about a quarter of them just hung back and stood there stupidly. Of course, I lost another squad or two because of this, which caused some scrambling on my part to survive.

Overall though, my impressions of Warhammer 40, 000: Dawn of War will have me looking at the retail product later on. While the Demo didn't offer me anything really new to the RTS genre, it came with a good feeling of naustalgia, a feeling I've enjoyed with many new titles recently. If I recall correctly, you can now purchase it in a bundle with its addon for only $29.99 at Best Buy, which isn't bad at all.

F.E.A.R. Single Player Demo Impressions

With my new system, I've been able to try out titles I previously could not, and one game I really wanted to try was F.E.A.R., an action/suspense FPS. It's received great reviews and critical acclaim, and after playing the demo, I'm left scratching my head wondering why.

Not that F.E.A.R.'s Single Player was overly bad, not at all, but it certainly didn't strike me as this amazing, genre re-defining shooter and I have no desire to run out and purchase the thing.

To be fair though, let's start off with what was done right: Enemy AI. This indeed was the coolest part of the demo, as the enemy soldiers I fought had some really great AI, the best AI I've see in a shooter since Halo 2. The enemy soldiers will indeed work together, unlike what Valve claims in Half-Life 2, and they'll continually move from cover to cover, advancing and falling back, flushing you with grenades, and even diving through windows to get a better vantage point or defensive position. They'll notice your Flashlight beem, call for back-up, and not charge you suicidally. Very impressive and even on the default difficulty, I found them challenging.

F.E.A.R. is powered by the Jupiter EX Engine, and visually, the game looks good, though not Doom 3 Engine or Source Engine good, and that made it all the more frustrating as I encountered a lot of framerate issues; even on the auto-detected settings. I have read that the final retail version is optimized more than the Single Player demo, but seeing as how the Demo's supposed to make me want to run out and buy the retail product, having it perform so poorly on strong hardware is not a bright selling point. I also found that weapon models looked old, and they're style, size and position, reminded me of the original Half-Life.

The game also does sport some really good physics. It uses the same physics engine as Half-Life 2, though not as refined as Valve's shooter. Objects will generally react as you'd expect them to, however I found it annoying to walk over corpses, as the bodies would often bump around slightly. Somewhat realisitic, I guess, but I honestly found that more annoying than anything.

Being a suspense game that's supposed to scare the player, it's drawn a lot of comparisons to Doom 3 (even though Doom 3 was more classic horror) in terms of it's look and lighting, and yes, the game is dark, however you have a Flashlight at any time. Now, many people praised this, complaining about Doom 3's lack of a weapon/Flashlight combo, however I'm going to slam this right now and say the simple truth: F.E.A.R.'s Flashlight is a piece of shit. Not only does it illuminate poorly, unlike Doom 3's, it's on a fucking battery that lasts around 45 seconds. Who the fuck uses a Flashlight that only lasts 45 seconds?!?!? This basically negates the bulk of its use and brings about the same problem I had in the Marine Campaign from Aliens versus Predator 2, also developed by Monolith Productions, which is I walk a bit and then stand still bored as the Flashlight recharges. Great way to kill the pacing.

I also must say the story is extremely weak, and from what I've read, a lot of stuff is not explained even by end of retail. Basically, the game starts off with a cheesy, dramatic intro where a lot of people die, and based on the tone of the music I think I was supposed to feel sad and concerened for what was going on, but instead I found it cheesy, poorly acted, and without any rhime or reason for its setup. And of course, without a good setup, the rest of the reason for the game is really shallow.

So, why exactly did the US government create a special "Ghostbuster" unit? I guess they've been having more problems with supernatural events than they care to admit. At least the few paranormal encounters that do happen in the demo are pretty cool, and a few of them did indeed make me jump.

Another gripe I had was with bullet time, or whatever they want to call it here. Basically, your character has bullet time, and yes, things slow down a lot while you use it. Now, exactly how can your character continually move and react like Neo from The Matrix, outdoing genetically enhanced supersoldiers? According to the intro, you have good reaction time. That's it. Well, I have good reaction time in real life, but I can't fucking dodge bullets, now can I? If you're going to include something as superhuman as bullet time, at least give me a plausable reason for it.

The game's audio was pretty good, nothing I found amazing but nothing to jump and shout about either (I missed Doom 3's amazing ambient sound mix though), and I imagine had I not had so many framerate issues, the game would have controlled well.

Overall, the F.E.A.R. demo wasn't bad, but it's poorly contrived plot setup, dark areas with a BS Flashlight, and poor performance hold it back as being purchase worthy. Yet another critically acclaimed title that I simply don't see what all the fuse was about, and don't understand how reviewers can praise it for doing things they slam in other titles.

Spider-Man 3 Teaser Trailer Impressions

At present, I still can not get the Spider-Man 3 Teaser Trailer to stream from Apple's own site, however I found a perfectly good QuickTime version at IGN FilmForce and I must say it's looking pretty good.

It looks like they're taking the alien costume path from the mid-'90's cartoon series; where the symbiote tries to bond with Peter Parker, and in the process it begins to affect his mood, making him more aggressive, angry, and ultimately leading to an idendity crisis between who he really is.

They show a lot of shots from a church, so I imagine the film will end with him "killing" the symbiote with the church's bell, since the symbiote is vulnerable to intense sound. Though I'm extremely happy to see the symbiote in the films, I must voice my dissatisfaction at the fact that in Spider-Man 3, it seems nothing more than a complete black and white copy of his pro-American suit, and that's bullshit. I think they should have stuck to the classic black costume look, with it being pure black with the large, white spider logo that stretches from chest to back.

The primary villians in the film seem to be Sandman and the second Green Goblin, Harry Osborne. I was never big on Sandman, though the teaser shows that he'll have some great special effects, and the villian I'm really looking forward to is the return of the Goblin. After watching the teaser closely, however, it looks like Harry doesn't even bother to wear a mask while acting out his new found role, which I must admit is quite disappointing. The Goblin just isn't the Goblin without his mask, however if the drama is there, than I should be able to overlook this.

Another major gripe I have is the presense of Gwen Stacey. In the comics, Gwen was Peter's first true love (MJ was dating Harry at the time), and it was her that the Goblin threw from the bridge (like he did with Mary Jane in the first film) and in his attempt to save her, Spider-Man killed her. This was a major, traumatic moment for the character that was not possible with the way the films developed, and to have her in the main story now just doesn't sit right. Peter got Mary Jane at the end of the last film, so why back track through the main comic story line so much? It's not like the second Goblin can throw Gwen off the same damn bridge (please, let's hope they don't rehash that), and if they're looking for a conflicting romantic interest, they should have used Felicia Hardy/Black Cat.

However, the last two films have indeed been great, and aside from some costume design gripes, I should keep faith and wait to see the final product myself. One thing's for sure, May 2007 will see the origins of Venom, so here's hoping they don't confine the Spider-Man films to a simple trilogy.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Decline of EB Games

When I first got into PC gaming over a decade ago, EB Games was _the_ place to buy games from. They often got them in a few days earlier, sold them for about $5.00 less, and you could trade in pre-played titles to get a further discount. In short, they were the ultimate video game store.

Now, a decade later, I must say EB Games has really declined compared to places like Future Shop and Best Buy. Why you ask? Well, due to industry standards, a lot of titles are only available on specific release days, meaning everyone gets them at the same time. I also find that their titles are priced higher than Best Buy. However, the main reason is continually crappy customer service.

Today, I went to EB Games looking to pick up Quake 4 (PC), and I was going to trade in two Xbox games to lower the cost (EB Games doesn't seem big on taking PC games for trade-in anymore, just consoles). When I got there, I noted they were selling Quake 4 (PC) for $5.00 more than Best Buy. I asked the sales clerk if they do price matching, and after hesitating, he said yes if I have a flier showing the reduced cost at the rival store. I asked if he had a net connection so we could check the price online, and he said no (Best Buy can do this). He told me he could call Best Buy and see if he could price match it that way.

We'll, he took 20 minutes to get through two other customers, then went to the back, presumably to check for Best Buy's number in the phone book, and literally came out 30 seconds later telling me he couldn't find it, and to use a phone book in the mall to provide him with the number.

Now, let me get this straight? After waiting over 20 minutes, you want me to run around the mall, find a phone number (and a pen to write it down, no less), so you can call Best Buy (which would have him on hold for a while), only to _see_ if he could do a price match? Yeah, right.

So I said, "Sure." and instead of going to find a phone book, I walked across the street to Best Buy and simply bought it there. Not only that, but I also found Half-Life 2 (Xbox) for only $19.99, cheaper than EB Games, which I picked up as a gift for a friend!

Seriously, this isn't the first customer service issue I've had with EB Games, as really the clerk didn't want to bother doing a price match, and why would I trade in two titles, which would get me between $5.00 to $10.00 off, which is something I'd save by going to Best Buy, thereby saving those two titles for trade in later!

Another gripe I have with EB Games is that most of their titles aren't factory sealed unless brand new (as in newly released), and if a product is returned shortly after purchase, they'll simply resell it as brand new for full price, even though you know someone else has already pawed all through it. Heck, I've even found pre-played games they were selling for higher than a new retail copy, which is also dumb.

So, like many other things from the mid to late '90's, EB Games' reign as the great game store has come to an end. If I can find a title there cheap, then I can trade a few things in to make it cheaper, otherwise, Best Buy and Future Shop tend to have better selection, costs, and service. Why would I even waste my time with a place like EB Games?

Spider-Man 3 Teaser Trailer

The Spider-Man 3 teaser trailer has been released online, and you can check it out here!

I saw bits of it briefly at work (alien costume and the return of the Green Goblin!), however I can't seem to get it to stream here at home. I'm using my new system, with Quicktime 7.1, and yet nothing will load, I just see the Quicktime logo.

Perhaps Apple is having issues or the site is being hit hard, as I can stream other things on their site (though not all trailers), and I can stream video else where. I'll have to try later, but from what I saw, this film is going to be big, big, BIG!

New PC = More Fun

I picked up my new PC this past Tuesday, and spent a few days tinkering with it, making sure everything worked. While the hardware was sound, I found I didn't like how a lot of the software was installed, so I spent Friday night learning to format a Windows XP Home Edition machine, which worked successfully.

I've set up different accounts for myself and my father who also uses the system, which is a great way to keep our stuff seperate. I've also been trying a bunch of demos to really see how my graphics card does, and so far things have been beautiful.

I re-installed and checked out Half-Life 2 for my father, which looks very nice now with its high res models, however the two titles I've tried that have really blown me away graphically are the demos for Doom 3 and Quake 4. What a beauty the Doom 3 engine is. In fact, even though I have it on Xbox, the Doom 3 demo was the first new thing I downloaded and tried once I finished formatting my system, and I still can't believe how gorgeous the visuals are.

As breath-taking as Doom 3 is, Quake 4 is even better. The character models have been refined a lot in the year plus between the titles, and people look less "rubbery" than they did in Doom 3. The game is also full of fast-paced action. It's a lot like Starship Troopers meets Call of Duty and Star Trek's Borg; some cool sci-fi military action.

Anyway, I liked the Quake 4 demo so much I went and bought the full version of the title, which I'll be playing soon. This also marks the first PC game I've purchased for myself since Call of Duty: United Offensive in September 2004.

I also checked out the Halo: Combat Evolved Demo, and the F.E.A.R. demo, however I have yet to install the latter.

With my new system, while surfing the web and blogging are what they used to be, gaming is once again possible for me. This does mean, however, that I'll be holding off on an Xbox 360, as there simply aren't any exclusive titles I'm interested in that aren't on the PC.

Happy Canada Day and PayDay Winning Numbers for June 29th

Hello everyone, and a very happy Canada Day to you! It's been a great long weekend for me, any reason, such as Canada Day, for a long weekend is a good one.

For PayDay, the winning numbers for Thursday, June 29th are 03, 40, 44, 47. It also looks like McDonald's promotion is now finished, so it's back to buying regular tickets.