Sunday, October 29, 2006

Star Wars: Republic Commando (PC) Demo Impressions

I got bored earlier today and decided to download the PC demo for Star Wars: Republic Commando. I own the Xbox version and have played through it four times, so I have no intention of going out and buying the PC version, however I felt like seeing what the enhanced graphics would look like.

Looks nice.

As is to be expected, the PC version of the game definitely looks nicer than its console counter-part. Character models are crisper and more detailed, there's better lighting and fog effects, and I'm not sure if it's due to the smaller monitor size as opposed to a TV or the closer proximity of the player to the PC monitor, but the HUD, even though looking identical in terms of layout, actually gave a much stronger feel of actually "being" in Boss' helmet; the helmet effect was great and even slightly claustrophobic.

Generally speaking, with the exception of faster aiming with a keyboard and mouse, I found the Xbox controller actually handled the game better, however that could also be just because I'm so bloody used to it now.

The PC demo takes place towards the end of the game and is the beginning of the Kashyyyk campaign in which Delta Squad is sent to locate and rescue the Wookie's leader Tarrful. You must infiltrate a Trandoshen slaver camp while effectively using your squad to achieve your objectives.

Star Wars: Republic Commando is a really fun, intense shooter, and I recommend you give it a shot if you haven't tried it out yet.

Mystery Package

When I got home Friday night, I found a package waiting for me, and I opened it up to discover it was a copy of X-Men III: The Last Stand - Stan Lee Collector's Edition.

I recently ordered this for my mum from Best Buy for her birthday, however that was long since delivered and any guess at it being Best Buy mis-shipping another copy was put to rest with the Future Shop packing slip I found inside.

I logged onto my Future Shop account to make sure they didn't somehow magically order me a copy, but it was clear. In a nut shell, I have a gift that was sent to me and I have no idea who to thank!

I checked all the usual suspects and none of them ordered me the DVD. So basically, if you're the one who got me X-Men III: The Last Stand - Stan Lee Collector's Edition, I'd like to take a moment to thank you mystery gifter, that was very kind of you.

The Death of my Childhood

When I was a child, my family and I would often go to St-Hubert for some excellent chicken. It still remains one of my favourite restaurants and one of my favourite childhood places to eat.

Over the last few years, St-Hubert encountered some trouble competing in the Toronto area with Swiss Chalet and about 6 months ago they pulled all of their restaurants out of the GTA. I was quite sad when I discovered this, however I found out one restaurant remained open, renaming itself The Q.

The food was generally the same and pretty much the only difference was the name, and I was content.

Recently, however, even the food has changed. I used to always love their chicken tenders, however they've changed the batter the chicken is wrapped in and it tastes just awful! I was quite distressed over this as they're the best chicken strips I've ever had. This past week I decided to give The Q another try but with a different main course. I got the hot chicken sandwich (bits of chicken on two slices of white bread covered with gravy and topped with peas) and while it wasn't awful, it wasn't anything to write home about. In fact, the server didn't know exactly what beers they had on hand because she said it was constantly changing.

In a nut shell, there isn't any reason for me to travel across the city to hit The Q anymore; it's just another chicken restaurant. And so, another part of my childhood is now dead and gone; nothing more than memory.

The closest St-Hubert is all the way out in Cornwall, and while the Staff and I do a yearly drive there to get some amazing chicken, it just isn't the same.

Star Wars: Dark Lord - The Rise of Darth Vader Review

After going through Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil, I then moved on to the novelized sequel of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Dark Lord - The Rise of Darth Vader (and why must all these Star Wars titles have such long names?).

In a word, this novel is great. Not only does it deal with the further solidification of the Empire and the beginnings of its oppression across the galaxy, but it also deals with a great many psychological fronts, both Jedi and Sith.

It appears that Vader is not as focused and calculating as we thought he was at the end of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, in fact he is quite the opposite. Vader is lost and confused. He hates the remaining Jedi, loathes Palpatine for using him as a tool, and is grieved by the loss of his wife. With the new cybernetic attachments to his body he no longer feels fully human, fully alive, and when it comes right down to it, Vader does not know who he is anymore. As he is further manipulated by Palpatine and ultimately tasked with hunting down a group of surviving Jedi, what little is left of Anakin Skywalker becomes consumed by the cold purpose of Lord Vader.

On the flip-side we have these surviving Jedi. The novel starts out at the end of the Clone Wars as Jedi Master Shryne and several other Jedi lead an assault on the Separatist world of Murkhana. Shortly after the invasion begins, Order 66 is given and most of the Jedi are whipped out by the Clone Troopers aside from Shryne, Jedi Master Chatak, and Padawan Starstone. Shortly afterwards Vader appears as the Emperor's agent, and not only are the Jedi faced with the immensely difficult task of survival, but also of trying to unravel the mystery of who Darth Vader is.

The novel also contains a great deal of military sci-fi action with the clone troopers (ultimately re-named Stormtroopers) as well as some Republic Commandos. Oh, and there's a shit-load of Wookies as well and Wookies go "rawarrrrr...." 'cause that's what Wookies do.

Star Wars: Dark Lord - The Rise of Darth Vader is an excellent continuation of the last film, and it really goes into the mentality of Vader and the psychological changes he goes through as he rediscovers and reinvents his own identity. You don't have to be a hardcore Star Wars fan to enjoy the novel. If you have a passing interest in Darth Vader, I recommend you pick this one up.

Halo 3 Details Leaked

Some details about Halo 3 have been leaked to the public, mostly Multiplayer details, and you can check them out here on ActionTrip.

The info's from a Swedish mag., and there are some scans of the pages which include screenshots (lookin' nice). Highlights also include new weapons, a new vechile, and details about the Collector's Edition.

LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (Xbox) Completed for the 3rd Time... in About 3 Hours!

The next title I binge-gamed with was LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (Xbox), but the unique part about this play through was that I started and won the entire game in about 3 hours!

LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game was never a very long game, but I never thought I'd get through it that fast. What I found was that if you're not bothering to collect all the Studs you can find, and when you know where you're going and the tricks needed to defeat certain challenging enemies, the game is just real short.

It was still some great fun for a quick playthrough, but it's reasons like that which have held me off from picking up the sequal at full retail price.

Anyway, aside from the quick time completion, there isn't anything extra or special to mention about this play through; just some good, relaxing fun.

New Concept Art for The Lord of the Rings: The White Council

In a recent newsletter, EA has released some new concept art and the visual target (shown) for the Goblin Marauder character in their upcoming RPG, The Lord of the Rings: The White Council.

Their web site will be updated with the new images soon, and the web site itself should undergo a proper redesign in the coming months.

Half-Life 2 (Xbox) Completed for the 3rd Time

Last weekend I finished up a long work week on Saturday and decided to spend the rest of it binge-gaming, and the first title I finished off was Half-Life 2 (Xbox). I ended up playing, I think, the last four Chapters pretty much in one sitting, and overall had a good time.

Half-Life 2 is still vastly over-rated game, but on its own merits it is fun to play. I do find it unfortunate that my own father showed me a way to total neuter the first of the only two challenging spots I found in the game by totally exploiting the game's shoddy AI, but hey, that's Valve for you.

Basically, in "Entanglement," there a section where you drop down into a prison cell area and while waiting for Alyx to meet up with you a bunch of Combine Soldiers keep rushing in and attacking you. You can set up three Combine Turrets to help defend you, but it gets tough because for some reason the Combine Soldiers with Shotguns actually hurt at point blank range (where they didn't before).

Anyway, my father showed me that all you need to do is block up the four force field doors (that they come from but you can't pass through) with the boxes and barrels in the area, stacking them up, and the Soliders will be too dumb to get past that most basic of obsticles... and he was right.

Only one of those blocked force field doors was breached and another I ran out of boxes and it was only partially blocked; though with the turrets and such this area was now a breeze.

Anyway, the mindless shooting and simplistic puzzles were enjoyable enough, so I'll check out the continuing Half-Life 2 Episodes either on PC when they drop in price or on the Xbox 360 when it drops in price.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

28 Days Later Review

The last film I checked out in my little zombie marathon was 28 Days Later. I heard a lot of praise for this film when it hit theatres, however after watching it I'm left scratching my head as to what all the fuss was about. That's not to say that 28 Days Later was bad, but you really don't miss anything if you don't bother with it.

Heralded as a masterful re-invention of the zombie genre, 28 Days Later begins with a small group of animal rights activists attempting to free imprisoned monkeys from a research facility where they're being experimented on. Unfortunately the monkeys are infected and one of them attacks one of the activists, spreading its disease of "pure rage" to her.

Cut to 28 days later and Jim, the film's main character, awakens from a coma in a deserted hospital. As he begins exploring the streets of London, England, everything seems deserted until he stumbles upon a group of infected. Luckily he meets up with a few other survivors who save his life.

Now, generally speaking, zombies are the living dead; it's kind of a contract stipulation. However in 28 Days Later, the "zombies" are infected people that essentially act like zombies: insanely aggressive, cannibalistic, and single-minded. Thus enters the plot holes. The concept of a disease that spreads quickly through blood and saliva and turns people into savage predators is actually quite a great one, however I find the film executes the concept rather poorly.

Basically the disease is pure rage. Great. Now, let's say for sake of argument that I buy the concept of scientists being able to invent "pure rage" and that it can infect someone by simply getting a single drop of infected blood into their system. If an infected person is so insanely angry that all they do is rend, destroy, and eat any living being near them, then why aren't the infected ripping into each other? No, really? Zombies don't attack one another because they're all dead and they want to devour the living, but based on how the pure rage in 28 Days Later is described, how it affects a person, the infected should be killing one another as much as they do regular folk.

Another gripe with the film is that it really isn't scary at all. I mean, if this is supposed to be an amazing re-invention, then shouldn't I be going through a box of Depends just watching it? Ultimately Jim, and a few other survivors find some soldiers who are trying to start civilization over, and I honestly found those same soldier significantly more frightening than the infected.

Anyway, the character interaction between the main survivors, Jim, Selena, Hannah, and Frank is quite believable. They all hope, fear, despair, and rejoice as different events happen, but you can really see those same qualities in the characters of any decent zombie flick. Also, most films are shot with, well, film, however 28 Days Later was shot all on DV. While this does help provide a more "home video" and "regular joe" look to the film, it ultimately comes off looking cheap as the film quality itself just looks bland and poor.

Overall, go rent 28 Days Later if you want to kill a few hours with an interesting concept film, but don't cry if you pass this one up.

X-Men: The Last Stand Review

Along with watching a bunch of zombie flicks last week, I also checked out X-Men: The Last Stand. Unfortunately, I missed seeing this one in theatres and since people were telling me it was awful I didn't really care. Now that I've seen it, I can say that the film is by no means as bad as many people told me it was, but it is the lesser of the trilogy.

X-Men: The Last Stand focuses on a new "cure" that has been developed for the mutant gene and while some mutants are overjoyed at being offered the chance to become "normal," others are outraged and essentially launch an all out assault on the cure's developers. This assault is lead by Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants while the X-Men defend not the cure, but the right for one to choose which path they want.

Tied into this storyline is the Dark Phoenix saga. At the end of X2: X-Men United, Jean Grey was believed to have sacrificed herself to save everyone from a massive flood, however it appears she wasn't killed after all. Jean Grey returns and she's a very, very angry woman.

Without giving more of the plot away, X-Men: The Last Stand is much more an action flick than a character driven piece, and less of a blend of the two that the previous films were. It basically assumes that you know who the characters are (including the new characters introduced, of which there are many) and cuts right to the meat of things. Along with Professor X, Wolverine, Magneto, Mystique, Storm, and the other usual prominante film cast, characters like Beast, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, and Angel are introduced/more featured in the spotlight.

One of the great things about the X-Men films is the characters: Their personalities, dynamics, and relations with one another. The loss of exploiting this strength hurts X-Men: The Last Stand, and contributes to a lack of cohession in the two different plot lines. As I watched the film, while I certainly felt the mutant cure plot to be interesting, I really felt the focus should have been on the Dark Phoenix storyline. This was a huge point in the comics, a series everyone knows about even if they have just a passing interest in classic X-Men and it was overall rather downplayed in the film. While they couldn't have done the Dark Phoenix saga like it was done in the comics, they could have taken the set-up they did use and ran with that.

Such a path would have brought a great deal of stronger emotional ties out of the film, and I believe it would have been more well received. As is though, X-Men: The Last Stand is an enjoyable film with some large scale battles and great fight sequences. Just don't expect a masterful conclusion to the trilogy.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rome First Season Review

TV Sucks. Now let me repeat that for those of you who are reeling in shock and/or anger: TV Sucks. Dominated by retarded reality TV or law/medical drama clones too numerous to count, there's very little I've cared for on TV in the last several years save for the odd animated sitcom.

This vacation, however, I decided to rent the first season of Rome, and I must say that I was plesently surprised; I actually found a television show that doesn't suck moose nuts.

Rome is set in 52 BC, and starts at the conclusion of Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul. This initiates a power struggle and ultimately a war between his friend and rival, Pompey Magnus, for control of the Roman Empire. While the clash between these two titans as they plot and scheme sets the backdrop for the series, the show truly follows two simple legionares: Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo.

Vorenus is the honest and loyal soldier who returns home after the war in Gaul to a wife and family he hasn't seen in 8 years. Pullo is a drunken, violent man who loves drinking, fucking, and killing. In the first episode, the two are paired together to find Caesar's stolen standard, and though at odds with one another they ultimately develop trust and as the serie goes on, a deep and loyal friendship.

Being a television series, the show didn't have a huge budget for massive infantry battles like one would see on the silver screen. Typically battles are shown quickly with fast cuts, or the show simply cuts right to the aftermath. While this may sound like a crime to some, it honestly doesn't hurt the show that much as Rome is all about the characters and their interactions with one another. Whether it's Vorenus trying to understand his wife Niobe or Atia of the Julii attempting to manipulate another political situation, all the characters of the show are intertwined with one another in some form or another.

I only have two gripes with Rome, though each is ultimately so minor as to be hardly worth mentioning: 1) The series does start up slow. It takes it's time introducing and fleshing out the motives of the characters, and you need to watch the first few episodes to get into it. 2) The passage of time. Simply put, Rome may jump you ahead several months after a commercial break, and since all the actors still look the same (since they haven't aged), the only way you know is when a character mentions in passing an event you recently saw as having happened months prior. Despite this the series does still flow very well and maintains a strong sense of continuity.

Over the years I've found it difficult to find a strong, character driven show, and that's the main reason I'm so pleased with Rome. A great deal of credit should also go out to the set designers, costume and make-up artists, prop masters, etc. for creating such a historically accurate setting. It truly is fascinating to sit there and watch a society that is so like us and yet not like us at all. One word to the wise, however, is to keep this one away from the kiddies. It is graphic in the gore it shows, but there's also a great deal of nudity (both male and female) through most of the episodes. However such instances are used not just for wantan sex, but to display the base motives of the characters as well as the values of Roman society at the time.

The first season of Rome is only 12 episodes, and thankfully it has done well enough to be re-newed. As I type this, the second season is filming and I greatly look forward to the season premeire, though I don't have a date for that yet.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut Review

Next on the list of zombie films I recently checked out is Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut. A re-imagining of the classic from the '70's film of the same name, Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut follows the story of several survivors of a global zombie outbreak as they take refuge in a shopping mall.

Overall, Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut is one of the best zombie flicks that I've seen. The film is paced very well, and there's no time wasted in getting to the meat of things. The film's main character is Ana, a nurse, and while she wraps up a long work day you hear talk of a strange sickness aflicting people. There are also hints of radio broadcasts and news emergencies, however going about her day-to-day affairs, Ana ignores all of them.

Literally between the 5 to 10 minute mark of the film, the first zombies start to appear and all hell breaks loose. As Ana flees for her life, she ultimately encounters other survivors, and together they take refuge in a shopping mall.

Everyone of the survivors has a very human personality, and they all work together and clash with one another in a believable manner which helps heighten the film's empathy. You have the cop, the Best Buy salesman, some mall cops, a former criminal, a pregnant woman, etc. They all must come to terms with that fact that everyone they know is dead (or dead-ish) and that the world they knew is gone.

From an effects and make-up standpoint, everything is kept with traditional zombie flare. For the zombie's themselves, the make-up department went between 3 stages of zombies: fresh zombies who essentially look like emergency room patients, slightly decayed zombies, and finally full out rotting corpses.

The one change from traditional zombie tradition that I'm aware of is that the zombies are _fast_, and I mean they can really sprint after their intended prey. I suppose rigamortous isn't a big thing for these undead, however their speed helps add to their ferosity and a sense of suspense.

With that in mind, I didn't find Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut to be overly scary, I actually found it to be more satirical and simply amusing. The film is still great fun though, however if you're hoping to be freaked out I wouldn't hold my breath.

Dawn of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut is a great modern day zombie flick. It blends all it's different aspects well, as gore and satire are used to create an entertaining package that any horror fan shouldn't miss.

Third Family Guy: Video Game Cinematic Trailer

I realized yesterday that though I posted the fourth of the Family Guy: Video Game teasers, I forgot to post the third! Thus, you can view the third teaser at TeamXbox here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Doom: Unrated Extended Edition Review

For the last week, I've been on vacation, and with my original vacation plans getting scrapped, I've had a lot of free time. So what better thing to do than rent and watch a bunch of cheap zombie flicks. What?

Anyway, we'll start with Doom: Unrated Extended Edition. When Doom was released to theatres, I had heard that it was rather bad and thus decided not to bother paying theatre fees to see it. I caught a bit of it on TMN the other night, and found myself entertained by it's cheesiness, so I decided to give it a rent.

First and foremost, Doom: Unrated Extended Edition is a film that's loosely based on Doom 3. Experiments where being conducted on a UAC research facility on Mars, and when contact with the base is lost a rapid response team is sent to investigate. The team is lead by Sarge, who is similar to the game character of the same name, and the Doom Guy is portrayed by Reaper, who's sister works in the UAC facility. You'll also get to see Zombies, Imps, a Pinky, and some Hell Knights. The big difference between the film and the game is that in the film, the monsters are not actual demons, they're humans who have been genetically altered/mutated. You'll also get to see the Chainsaw, Machine Gun, Chaingun, BFG, Pistol, and Grenades, so the general Doom arsenal is present (no Shotgun?!?).

Keeping in mind this is a film loosely based on a video game, don't go in expecting it to have an epic plot or deep character development. It is fast paced and extremely cheesy, but I honestly found that therein lies Doom: Unrated Extended Edition's fun. Based on some of the inside jokes and events, you can tell that the film doesn't take itself too seriously as well, and that just adds to the humour.

Actually, like many reviewers said around the film's theatrical release, it reminded me a lot of Resident Evil, which I suppose isn't a bad thing since Resident Evil was cheesy fun all to itself and one of the more successful video game flicks. Generally, Doom: Unrated Extended Edition is all about running around and killing or being killed by monsters, there's not much else to it, and if a basic run and gun monster flick with cheesy jokes is your thing, than Doom: Unrated Extended Edition will be right up your alley.

Towards the end of the film, there is something that is completely unique and deserves mention: the FPS sequence. There is an entire 5 minute scene where Reaper wakes up in first person perspective, and starts going through the base killing anything in his path just like a video game FPS. After watching the featurette on the making of this sequence, credit must be given as it was not easy to do and the FPS sequence did turn out very well. As far as I know no other feature film has ever done a video game FPS style sequence, so if you're interested in camera work, effects, and simply different styles of shot set-ups, then this alone may warrant the rental of Doom: Unrated Extended Edition.

The DVD also comes with a demo (2 levels) for the Xbox version of Doom 3. It's the Mars Underground section at the beginning of the game, and if you have an Xbox and haven't tried Doom 3 yet this should give you a good taste of what the game's all about. For those who have played either the PC or Xbox versions, it's worth a go through since there's obviously level design changes from the PC version and different enemy placement from the retail Xbox version.

Yet Another Family Guy: Video Game Cinematic Trailer

2K Games has released a fourth cinematic trailer for their upcoming Family Guy: Video Game, which you can check out right here at TeamXbox.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

BioShock (Xbox 360) Gameplay Walkthrough Impressions

Yesterday I decided to download the Gameplay Walkthrough for Irrational Games upcoming FPS/RPG, BioShock. The Gameplay Walkthrough appears to be from the Xbox 360 version, and aside from the fact that its audio left/right balance was reversed by default, the Walkthrough is quite impressive and makes me want the title even more.

The Walkthrough gives a few more details on the creation of the under water city of Rapture, however it's main purpose is to detail the features that will help set BioShock apart from the regular run-and-gun shooters.

In it, they showcase the game's enemy AI and the varying differences it has with different enemies. The Big Daddies, for example, will simply walk around looking to protect Little Sisters, and they've leave you alone if you leave them alone. Splicers, on the other hand, seem to attack you on sight, and they can come at you directly or leap around, including clinging to ceilings.

The gameplay mechanics demonstrated are very reminiscent of System Shock 2, which in my opinion is a great design decision. It shows how you can do ability modification via a wall panel, you have boosters, modifiable weapons, you can search corpses, hack security systems and bots, etc. The designers want to give the player lots of options in how they approach situations, and the Walkthrough shows that they're on the right track.

Audio seems to play a large part in the game as well. You can hear many enemies before you see them, such as Big Daddies stomping around or Splicers muttering about people watching them. Little Sisters are also quite cute, with there innocent "Look Mr. Bubbles! Adam!" In this instance, Mr. Bubbles is a Big Daddy, and Adam is the "money" of the game. It appears Little Sisters harvest Adam from corpses, and you'll be able to kill them for it or apparently protect them and find a way to get it from them.

The BioShock Gameplay Walkthrough is a large download, however it shows off some actual gameplay from one of gaming's most anticipated titles. Worth a watch.

Second Family Guy Video Game Cinematic

2k Games has released the second in-game cinematic from their upcoming Family Guy Video Game. You can check it out at TeamXbox here.

Evanescence - The Open Door Review

Back in February of 2003, some friends and I decided to check out Daredevil, and while the film itself was nothing too amazing, I heard a few tracks that I simply couldn't get out of my head. After doing a little searching around, I discovered these tracks, "Bring Me to Life" and "My Immortal," where by a new American band entitled Evanescence.

Unfortunately, their debut album had yet to be released here in Canada and was actually slated for release a few months after the American release date. Finally, at long last, Fallen hit shelves, however I suppose the band was still unknown here as the HMV guy gave me a weird "are you serious" look when I bought the disc. Well, based on the huge success Evanescence has enjoyed, I can safely say "nuts to you" HMV guy.

Fallen, while not possessing the strongest instrumentals I've ever heard, is an aural treat. Amy Lee's voice is simply intoxicating, there's no better way to put it. Her voice simply flows from track to track in such an eerie and riveting fashion, the strings on the disc are strong, and I simply couldn't set aside the fact that I was listening to a Yank band that was actually putting forth what amounted to effort; their angst wasn't pre-packaged.

Needless to say, Evanescence was the first band in a long, long time to impress me. Their sound was pure, marketable yet not commercial, and they actually had real, honest to God feeling in each of their tracks.

Flash forward 3.5 years and we now have their follow up album, The Open Door. Does it hold a torch to Fallen and is it an evolution for the band? Well, yes and no. If I recall right, during the tour for Fallen, Moody (guitarist and song writer) had a falling out with Amy, and his departure has hurt a certain creative aspect for the band, however that forced Amy to truly do her own thing, and the result is very strong. While Fallen featured tracks of varying theme, from loud and hard to softer, piano melodies, The Open Door is more one-track minded with a bit of variation thrown in for good measure.

Amy's voice is as captivating and enthralling in The Open Door as it was in Fallen; it is simply beautiful and there's no other way to put it. The tracks themselves are generally strong, though unlike Fallen a few are weaker than others, however they still flow very well.

Even with Moody's departure, I find The Open Door still suffers from the same weakness, in that the strings are strong, but the rest of the instrumental is a bit weak. Nothing awful, mind you, but it is a noticeable soft spot. The tracks themselves also seem a little more commercial and radio friendly than the tracks of Fallen, but again the album doesn't suffer from it.

Throughout its career, a band is ever changing and evolving. Sometimes the band changes with the market/target audience, sometimes they'll have creative issues, and other times key sources of inspiration will up and leave. The latter's where Evanescence stands right now. They're re-discovering themselves after the loss of a key member, and while the end result doesn't have the same impact as their debut disc, The Open Door is a great album and worthy of a spot in any fan's CD collection.

In my personal opinion, strong CDs (like most media) are few and far between these days, however The Open Door thankfully offers us some relief. The disc is everywhere so go pick it up.

Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil Review

Early last week I finished reading Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil, which is a novelized prequel to Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

The novel begins towards the end of the Clone Wars, and follows Obi-Wan and Anakin at the siege of Kato Neimoidia. There, they hope to capture Viseroy Gunray, but instead stumble upon an important clue that could very well lead them to the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Sidious. This foul-up accelarates Sidious' plans and forces the War towards its ending points.

Overall, Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil is well written and succeeds in linking with the film. It demonstrates the anger and fear that lead to Anakin's downfall, the complaciant weakness of the Jedi, and the machinations of the Dark Lord playing all sides. It's also interesting reading about more Clone Troopers in action, as I have a soft spot for those grunts.

A few other important questions answered are the origins of General Grievous as well as how the Seperatists manage to launch its assault on Corescant.

A lengthy review for this novel is by no means required. Simply put, it's prequal Star Wars with all the strengths and faults that the new trilogy entail. If you enjoyed Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, then odds are you'll enjoy Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil. While not required to enjoy the film, it does help flesh out some of the back story and provide the reader with a much more complete picture.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

New Mass Effect Web Site

Bioware has done an overhall on their Mass Effect web site, including story and feature information, screenshots, etc.

Definitely looking forward to this one. The universe already seems rich and detailed, the animation and art are crisp and clean, and there's just going to be so much to explore and enjoy.

Still no official release date given on the site, or confirmation of a 1st quarter '07 release.

Cinematic Teaser for Family Guy Video Game

2k Games has released the first in-game cinematic teaser for their upcoming Family Guy Video Game. You can view it at TeamXbox here, and a release date of October 2006 is also given.

The teaser looks good. The animation looks deliberatly crappier than that of the actual show, but it'll give it it's own sense of style while retaining the spirit of the series. The humour and jokes seem spot on already.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Ultimate Doom Available via Xbox Live Arcade

Microsoft and id Software have released their classic shooter, The Ultimate Doom, via Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360. It costs 800 points to download, and unlike the version included with the Limited Collector's Edition of Doom 3 and Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil for the classic Xbox, it features online co-op and deathmatch as well as support for up to 1080i and 5.1 surround.

If you're looking to play the game that revolutionized gaming, this is the one to play.

System Shock 2 Complete

This past Saturday morning, I finished off System Shock 2. Since I haven't played through it since college, I don't know how many times I've gone through the game, but I think it's somewhere around eight times.

Released in August of 1999, System Shock 2 is still a great and addictive game today, which is another reason I'm looking forward to BioShock, to see if Irrational Games can once more create that magic.

System Shock 2 is an FPS/RPG focused on horror/survival. You are a soldier serving aboard Earth's first faster-than-light vessel, the Van Braun, and you awake from cryo with cybernetic implants through out your body and no recollection of what's happened since you boarded the vessel. You quickly come to learn that things aren't good at all, and that the Van Braun has been taken over by some kind of alien force.

Hybrids (Zombies) now roam the halls of the ship wielding pipes and Shotguns, lab Monkeys run loose with psionic abilities, and the ship's AI, Xerxes, has been corrupted and is attempted to defeat you at every turn.

In the beginning of the game, you can choose to be a Marine (combat focused), a Navy recruit (tech focused), or an OSA operative (psionic focused), and as the game progresses in true RPG fashion, you can enhance the stats and skills of your character and purchase items from Replicators. For this play through, I joined the navy and focused on Hacking computer equipment and security systems, while also becoming an expert in Standard weapons with a medium prificancy in Energy weapons.

Right from the start you're contacted by Dr. Polito, another survivor, and she sends you on a series of missions to weaken the enemy and attempt to meet up with her. As you traverse the several decks of the Van Braun, you come across PDAs where you can listen to crew logs, find security codes, etc. Your PDA also tracks your own objectives, but your menu screen (viewed in real time) also tracks your inventory, stats, Items being Researched, your Nanites (money) and Cyber Modules (used to upgrade stats and skills). The game is very in-depth without being too overwhelming.

There are different ammo types that work best on certain kinds of enemies, your weapons can be modified and enhanced, and they also break down with use and need to be maintained. You can learn Psi skills to attack foes with your mind, become invisible, resist toxins, etc. The many different ways that you can approach the game simply adds to the shear fun and replay value.

It also features some of the best atmosphere I've seen in a PC game, with moody lighting and excellent use of sound. The horrors on the Van Braun walk around mumbling and talking with themselves, if you smack a wrench against the wall they'll come running to investigate, and every quiet moment fills the player with a sense of dread.

System Shock 2 is not a long game if you know where you're going. On Hard, it took me around 12 or so hours to complete, but what a joy it was to play through. It has a deep, evolving story with a fair amount of twists and turns to keep the player on his/her toes.

If you can find System Shock 2 in the bargain bin and don't mind tinkering with some work-around for a Windows XP system, I highly recommend you experience this classic, as most regular FPSes of today still have yet to surpass it's quality, mood, and attention to detail.

BioShock Teaser Site Launched

The official teaser site for BioShock has launched, with the full site on its way soon. On the teaser site, you can check out an overview, features, screenshots, links to an Xbox 360 trailer, etc.

View the teaser site here.

One interesting thing to note is the PC logo at the bottom, it looks like the game will be DVD-Rom only and not on CD. I'm also in the process of downloading the trailer, and I'll post my impressions at some point.