Saturday, December 29, 2007
"Make over, make over! Make over, make over! Make over, make over... for you and meeeeeeeee!"
Back in the day, I loved my Xbox, it's an excellent game console and it brought me many hours of joy, but when all is said and done, that's just what I used it for: a game console. The only "extras" I bought for it were the Advanced HD Pack and an additional Controller S.
When I got the Xbox 360 Messenger Kit yesterday, it made me realize just how many accessories for my Xbox 360 I've actually gotten, and what I use that console for.
Aside from gaming, I also use it to watch DVDs, and to keep in touch with friends via Windows Live Messenger. Since I purchased my Xbox 360 just over a year ago, I've also bought or received:
- The Play& Charge Kit
- A 512 MB Memory Unit
- The Halo Special Edition Faceplate
- An additional Controller
- The Universal Media Remote
- Messenger Kit
That's a lot of accessories, and having acquired all of them, it's really made me come to one very important conclusion: I hate clamshell packaging. Seriously, do you know how damned annoying it is opening up a bunch of clamshell packages? Once you start cutting that package, the edges are near razor sharp, and I've lost count of the number of times I've cut myself on them.
Why must every fancy toy come in adult-proof packaging?!?!?!??
And in the spirit of holiday cheer, Xbox LIVE is presently experiencing technical difficulties, and has been all week! As of this typing, according to the Xbox Support page here, you may experience the following:
Users may experience issues performing transactions dependent on Windows Live ID availability including but not limited to Xbox 360 and Zune account creation, renewal, recovery, all DMP transactions, and logging into or creating Windows Live ID accounts. Users will experience intermittent issues including but not limited to: Tournaments, Storage Downloads, Gamer Tile, Statistics through Arbitration, Match Making, and Messaging. Additionally, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 users may experience issues joining matches or posting statistics. Customer Support may also experience issues referencing customer data. We are aware of the issue and are currently working to resolve it. We apologize for any inconvenience.Now, all services have problems from time to time, it happens and that's fine. When Halo 3 was released, Xbox LIVE was really bogged down with all the new people logging in and playing.
What makes this situation funny, however, is the official Status of Xbox LIVE listed right above the above problems. According to Xbox Support, Xbox LIVE is: Up and running
Priceless. Glad I only have a free Silver Membership. If I was a paying Gold Member, I'd be pissed.
Also found this great flash animation parody of The Library entitled "Checkpoint... Done" here.
Friday, December 28, 2007
My parents surprised me today with a belated Christmas gift, an Xbox 360 Messenger Kit. The main attraction to the Messenger Kit is the Chatpad, which is a little qwerty keypad that attaches to the bottom of your Xbox 360 Controller and functions like a BlackBerry's keypad. So now, I'll be able to respond to messages from Friends on Xbox LIVE as well as my contacts from Windows Live Messenger.
The Xbox 360 Messenger Kit also comes with a new Xbox 360 Headset with a redesigned connector at a standard 2.5 mm size (original model linked) to allow it to properly connect to the bottom of the Chatpad (or another Controller). Unlike an original Headset, the volume control is no longer on the connector, but rather on an inline control. Since I don't play on Xbox LIVE, however, I've left the Headset in the packaging.
Xbox LIVE has been very spotty over the last few days, but once Microsoft gets those problems ironed out, I'll be able to really give the Chatpad a whirl.
Now, as 2007 draws to a close, its time for Arbiter's Judgement to award the top three titles on the Xbox 360 released this year, and its a difficult choice indeed. I feel, however, that quoting back from our 2005 Xbox Game of the Year Awards will help describe our selection process best:
"Now because we're not an official gaming publication, we don't get free titles for review purposes from anybody. Thus, the only way we can review and properly comment on titles is buy either purchasing, borrowing, or renting them.
In creating a "Game of the Year" list, like this one on this site, the thing to keep in mind is that since we don't get freebie titles, we're basic consumers like you, and we tell things as we see them, as regular Joe-Shmoe customers see them. Thus, the best way to make a year end award list for anything is simply to see what we, as customers, liked enough to go spend our cash on and based on those titles, which we felt were the best."
Now, on to the awards!
3) Halo 3. Being the most anticipated title for the console, and simply by being one of the most successful video games in the history of the medium, Halo 3 is bound to be on just about everyone's list. In my opinion, Halo 3 did not live up to the hype, however that doesn't mean that its not a great game. While not innovative to the level that Halo 2 was, the gameplay in Halo 3 is solid, featuring quite an enjoyable Single Player Campaign and intense, fast-paced Multiplayer. From a Single Player standpoint, there's enough variety in the Missions that Halo 3 is worth multiple play-throughs (I've already done 4) and from a Multiplayer perspective, not only is Halo 3 the most played title on Xbox LIVE, but its also going to be the LAN party title of choice for a long time to come. With Halo 3, Bungie has certainly concluded one of the most compelling and extensive video game trilogies ever made.
2) BioShock. When all was said and done, BioShock was my most anticipated game this year, and it certainly didn't disappoint. While not as RPG heavy as its spiritual predecessor, System Shock 2, BioShock is a gem among the crowded shooter genre. While most shooters today are set in the future, BioShock is set in the '60's in a unique, art deco themed underwater dystopia called Rapture. The game makes exceptional use of Unreal Engine 3 to bring Rapture to life, with exceptional water effects, lighting, and style, not to mention the wonderfully creepy and pitiable Splicers that roam the world, BioShock is truly a unique experience. The inclusion of weapon upgrades adds variety, and the Plasmids are simply fun to use, and such a great and unique way to interact with your environment that you won't find anywhere else. Also hats off to 2K Boston for the inclusion of the Little Sisters, as it took a lot of balls to include little girls and the moral option to save or murder them in our censor riddled world. Also, with a play time of about 20 hours, BioShock is an incredible Single Player game that's well worth your time, and the recent addition of new Plasmids and Tonics all for free only add to the game's appeal.
1) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition. I know that most of you were expecting me to give Game of the Year to BioShock, what with how I've always gone on about it, but when all is said and done and after careful consideration, I have to give the nod to Bethesda's masterpiece, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition. While The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released in 2006, this year we saw its expansion, The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, and a retail repackaging including both titles, and its to this compilation that I give Game of the Year. No other game in 2007 has sucked up more of my time, and no game world has been so richly detailed, so alive, so full of exploration, conflict, and wonder as the province of Cyrodiil that Bethesda Softworks has crafted for us. I've wasted over 200 hours playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and I don't even want to think about all the time I'm going to waste playing and replaying The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles. There is simply so much to do, to see, and to experience in Cyrodiil, that every play-through truly is so different, so unique, so varied, that I can not find the words to describe, to truly express, what playing through this game is like. Its simply something you need to pick up and play to believe, and even then you'll need a few hours to truly see the scoop and potential in the game, as there's just so much content here, from the NPC's, to the weather patterns, and varied Quests, I could go on and on and on. Instead, go get yourself a copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition, and prepare to loose yourself to the fantasy.
Not bad, not bad at all. Flicks in the theatre have been pretty weak as of late, and while I Am Legend isn't the most amazing post-apocalyptic film I've ever seen, I certainly found it entertaining and even disturbing at points.
The film centres around Robert Neville (Will Smith), who may very well be the last man on Earth. Set in 2012, a virus spread throughout the globe killing the majority of the population and mutating the rest into nocturnal, savage cannibals. Living in a deserted New York City, Neville spends his days seeking a cure for the plague, staving off the boredom of isolation, and looking after his dog Sam, his only companion of the last 3 years. Just thinking about what it would be like to be completely alone for 3 whole years... well, I couldn't do it, I'd go insane, and its obvious that this major stress alone has certainly gotten to Neville.
By night, however, Neville and Sam need to simply survive, as the Infected emerge from their "hives" to hunt for food. Neville has barricaded his home and sleeps pistol in hand, hoping the Infected won't find him.
What really carries the picture is Smith's performance, as so much of the film is simply him, going about his life, in deserted New York. And while its great to see a completely empty city, without Smith's uniquely energized performance to immerse you and help you believe in the world that's been created, the backdrops alone would have been meaningless, lacking context.
The Infected themselves are an interesting bunch. I Am Legend relies upon the classic horror element of creatures-in-the-dark-that-pop-out-and-go-"Boo", and this works very well (and at least Neville can use a flashlight and a weapon at the same time, unlike the Doom 3 marine), relying on a nice sound mix to enhance the tension. The noises the Infected make are down right creepy, inhuman, and I loved every second of that. Unfortunately, hearing the Infected is a lot scarier than seeing them.
Later on in the film, you start seeing the Infected much more clearly, and sound aside, they're really not that scary at all. In fact, they sort of remind me of more human like Orcs from The Lord of the Rings; the height of a man, with fangs, and pasty skin. They're entirely CG, and the effects are passable, but nothing ground breaking. In fact, they remind me a lot of pre-Gollum CG characters, good, but not up to the new bar. Despite this there are still moments that'll make you jump, but unfortunately, I Am Legend falls prey to a problem that plagues so many other films, shows, and games, a solid set up with a weak payoff.
It is too bad that the Infected themselves weren't explored more, that the social element they seemed to be building, hinted at so strongly, never really sees the light of day. The final act of the film, while not awful, is certainly a slide from the rest of the film, and becomes more of a traditional survival flick with an M Night Shyamalan intervention to end things off. Still, for the most part, I Am Legend is a more detailed take on horror survival, with a meatier script, and in my opinion it worked better than 28 Days Later of which the film reminded me of so much.
In brief, I Am Legend is entertaining and certainly worth a watch, if only to see Smith's captivating performance. Even as the film comes apart towards the end, you still feel for Neville, for the responsibility he's taken on himself, and for the life he now leads. I Am Legend has its flaws, but it's certainly one of the better films released to theatres in the last 6 months.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I've never been very good at music reviews, so I'll keep this brief.
Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist. Why? No seriously, why? Why the bloody hell is Paris Hilton pictured in the liner notes and in the damned album credits? That is wrong. That is just very, very wrong. Seriously. The Pumpkins used to mean something damn it, they used to stand for something, and that something wasn't Paris $^&*ing Hilton in the damned anywhere! I mean, for *#&%'s sake! Is this what you've brought back to us, Billy Corgan?!?!? To come back from complete obscurity since you realized your solo career stunk, only to reform the "band" with that guy you swore would never be a Pumpkin again, to feature pics of some ditz that no one in their right mind would like, and certainly no one from the frickin' rock scene! I mean, my God. What were you thinking? What are you thinking? What the freakin' crap are you thinking about putting Paris %*#%ing #$)* sucking Hilton in your bloody comeback album!?!?!??!?!?!? WHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY????????????????????
Oh, and the Pumpkins are back and the album ain't half bad. Hugs and kisses and holiday spirit.
Wasn't a bad Christmas this year. Aside from the usual cash and gift cards, I also picked up a new winter coat, an Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote, The Smashing Pumpkins Zeitgeist, and last but certainly not least, a micky of Canadian Club.
With some of that cash I purchased Marathon: Durandal (Xbox 360), and I'm thinking on getting an additional Controller for my Xbox 360, 300 if I can find it for $10.00, and I'm seriously thinking of the Halo 3: Legendary Edition...
Update: The malls today were more retarded than a special ed. class, so I didn't purchase anything, which is fine, really. Tomorrow, or at some point in the near future, I do intend to go and get an additional Xbox 360 Controller though.
Well kids, it's Boxing Day which means good luck finding a parking spot at any mall, but there are some sweet deals available. A few examples:
- Xbox 360 Halo 3 Special Edition Console for $399.99, $50.00 savings
- Select games, such as BioShock, for $39.99, $20.00 savings
- Select games, such as Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, for $19.99, $20.00 savings
- Xbox 360 Wireless Networking Adapter, $79.99, $20.00 savings
- Halo 3: Legendary Edition for $79.99, $50.00 savings
- Lots of DVDs, such as 300, for $9.99 or less. Complete list here.
If I can find 300 for $10.00, I'll take it. I swear, the Halo 3: Legendary Edition for that price is mighty tempting; it's a nice Spartan Helmet, but it depends on what I could get for my existing Halo 3: Limited Edition.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
We here at Arbiter's Judgement would like to take a moment to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, and to remind you that the holiday season is not about gifts, presents, and shopping; that's only what commercialization wants you to think.
The real meaning of Christmas can be summarized into these three important points:
1) Time off of work. Duh.
2) Swiss Chalet's Festive Special (Mmmm... chocolate and ice cream-scooped stuffing).
3) And most important of all, a solid reminder of why you only want to see your family once a year.
Have a good one everyone!
Sunday, December 23, 2007
What's Your Blog Wanted For?
Want to be a x-ray technician?
Saturday, December 22, 2007
In 2004, I finally decided that I did not like the route PC gaming was taken. I am not a fan of massive multiplayer online games and I had an unpleasant experience with Blizzard Entertainment's "tech support" during the World of Warcraft beta that turned me off of that game. I certainly did not like the tech demo that was Half-Life 2 and Valve's God-awful Steam service, and most real time strategy titles were sub-par compared to the standard that Blizzard Entertainment had set.
At my core, I am a first person shooter fan, and while solid shooters were still being released on the PC, the genre was beginning to change drastically and flow in a new direction, so I decided to follow that path. In October 2004, I bought an Xbox console from Microsoft. Sure, it was 3-year-old hardware and ironically it was slightly more powerful than my PC at the time, and I also had to get re-accustomed to a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard, but the Xbox had really shown me how far along console gaming had come where I only saw stagnation in the PC market.
The Xbox allowed me to simply play any game I bought without an install process or spending hours tweaking drivers and settings. It featured an HDD for saving games, ripping music, and downloading new content off of Xbox LIVE. Heck, console game's could now even be patched via Xbox LIVE. While unfortunately I could only play in 480i (and games only supported up to 480p), the Xbox allowed me to play my kind of games in a hassle free environment which saved me the single most important thing of all: Time.
It also saw some great exclusive titles that were not available on the PC for the longest time. Halo: Combat Evolved and its sequel Halo 2, Jade Empire, Fable, heck, the Xbox was old but powerful enough to run Doom 3, and Halo 2 was so hugely successful that it outsold it's two closest rivals of 2004, the PC versions of Half-Life 2 and Doom 3. A console shooter had tromped its PC buddies, and despite the PC fanboys' whining and trash talking even to this day, the console market had really taken a giant leap forward as the platform for the hardcore gamer.
In Novemeber 2005, Microsoft launched their successor to the Xbox, the Xbox 360. The first of the next generation consoles to hit the market, it met with solid reviews and was sold out, however like any other new tech, I decided to wait for Microsoft to work out the inevitable bugs and to also release some triple A titles that would justify the cost. I also needed to save up for a high definition television so I could properly enjoy what this new generation of consoles had to offer. I faithfully gamed on my Xbox for another year, and in Decemeber 2006, I decided to buy an LCD TV, and a few days later, I picked an Xbox 360 Pro console.
The Xbox 360 is another great leap in console gaming, not only integrating Xbox LIVE and an online community natively to the console, but also providing a unit that really is the media hub of anyone's entertainment centre should they so choose. Out of the box, the Xbox 360 not only plays its ever-growing library of Xbox 360 games as well as over over 450 Xbox games (via software emulation), but it also natively plays DVDs, CD's, and connected to Xbox LIVE, you can visit the Xbox LIVE Marketplace to download demos, trailers, extra content, themes, gamer pictures, etc. You could even download classic arcade games via Xbox LIVE Arcade. Unlike the Xbox, everyone can access Xbox LIVE with an Xbox 360 for free with a Silver Membership to get content, but you need to pay for a Gold Membership if you want to play online. I was so impressed with the new Xbox LIVE when I first booted up my Xbox 360, that I spent a solid week simply exploring it and downloading all the content I could, I didn't even touch a single game!
With Updates released over the last year, as well as additional hardware releases and revisions, you can now rent movies from the Xbox LIVE Video Store, purchase Xbox Originals, connect to Windows Live Messenger, watch HD-DVD's, and connect your Xbox 360 to an HDMI port. What you can now do on a simple "gaming" console, with a simple controller, is remarkable and really demonstrates the concept of convergence.
And then of course there is the games. Titles like Gears of War and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion wowed me at first, and this year has been solid with releases like BioShock and Halo 3. The Xbox 360 even added a new concept to game playing in the form of Achievements. With every Xbox 360 you create your Profile, and as you complete certain things in an Xbox 360 game as outlined by the game's developers, you gain Achievements and Gamer Points that go towards your Profile's overall Gamer Score. It's something extra to boast about and to be proud of, and I personally love Achievements. They are very addictive, adding some extra flare to a game, however the downside is the player can become specifically focused on getting Achievements, which would lead him/her to play the game in a fashion that he/she wouldn't normally have played it, possibly diminishing their overall fun factor. Lord knows I've cursed and sworn over some of the Achievements that I've earned. Overall, however, Achievements are a great addition and incentive for gamers to play through a title a few extra times to rack up as many Gamer Points as they can.
I've throughly enjoyed my Xbox 360 and the refinements and leading changes its made not only over its predecessor, but also in the gaming market as a whole. The only major con, and the biggest shame with the Xbox 360 would be the reliability of its hardware, or lack thereof. To date, I personally only know two people who have never had to send their brand new Xbox 360 in for service, and the reliability of the Xbox 360 was so bad for the first year and a half that Microsoft has massively extended its warranty and made various hardware revisions internally. Anyone who's had to deal with Xbox Support also knows how thorough and expedient that process is (yes, that's sarcasm), though I'm happy to say that aside from the disc tray jamming upon ejection after almost every boot up, the refurbished unit that Xbox Support sent me has been performing perfectly for 7 months, about twice the length of my brand new unit.
When its all said and done, however, the Xbox 360 is not only a great gaming console, but also a serious multimedia device and the platform of choice for the hardcore gamer, PC fanboys who are still stuck in the past aside. Console gaming has evolved a long way in this millennium, and I'm looking forward to see just where Microsoft will take gamers next. Though it gets little use, I plan on keeping my Xbox until it breaks as it's quite the solid piece of hardware, and of course until the next great thing comes along, the Xbox 360 is my platform of choice.
The replacement for the old Explorer Science Vessel is here, as Blizzard Entertainment has unveiled the Nomad, a support construction vessel.
You can read the full details about this new unit here, as well as check out some screenshots here and concept art here.
Back in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D was released and it was a damn fun shooter. Built on the old Build Engine, it introduced and furthered the concept of interaction in a level and a level's environment, and of course it also had the great personality and one liners of Duke Nukem himself.
Based on this teaser trailer, Duke Nukem Forever looks like its going to keep the same feel as its predecessor, and that's not necessarily a bad thing!
I do hope the game is groundbreaking and original enough though, 'cause if its not, it'll be slammed so hard for its development cycle...
I still think Shatner's is the funniest though.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Seriously, I just haven't had much luck this past week.
It started off well, and Wednesday evening I went to the wrap party for one of those shows my company works on. Only got to stay for about 45 minutes though, 'cause I had to get home, pack, and clean up for my Montreal trip.
You see, the company had invited me out to their Montreal Holiday Party, and they were shipping me there and back via Via, and setting me up in a very nice hotel room with two stinkin' queen beds (or was that double beds? Doesn't matter, it was more beds than I needed).
Very early Thursday morning I woke up feeling cold, and the only time I feel cold is if I'm getting sick. I knew that was bad news, and as the night wore on, I felt increasingly worse and popped a Gravol to calm my deteriorating stomach. After a predominantly sleepless night, I was determined to carry on as per normal and get to Montreal, so I went about my normal morning routine. Got up, made my breakfast, took one bite of my toast and hurled. I developed a small fever after that, thus beginning my battle with the flu and so ended my chance to go to Montreal.
The biggest challenge of the morning was pressing "Send" on my cell to call my boss and cancel the trip, since the damned thing had already been arranged for me. I also got the flu shot a month or so ago, my first time ever, but a lot of good that seems to have done me. I haven't had the flu in years, and yet I get the shot, and there it is.
So I've spent the last few days in bed sucking chicken noodle soup, napping, and playing video games. I missed out on a friend's Christmas Party last night, and was supposed to see I Am Legend today, but that didn't work out either (which ain't a bad thing given the weather).
All in all, not the best week. Dealt with nausea, fever, chills, aches, dizziness, etc . Here's hoping to a better week to come now that I'm on the mend.
As I mentioned last week, while playing through Halo 3's Meta-Game, I essentially went through the game an additional time what with the Mission replays I needed to do. When all was said and done, I had four Missions left to play to complete the game for a fourth time, and that's just what I did.
I've now played through Halo 3 thrice on Normal and once on Heroic in two and a half months, and I must say the game is damn easy on Normal now that I've adapted to the new control scheme.
At least is does have great, varied gameplay which helps to keep things fresh and fun, and killing Grunts never gets old. There really is something about that Halo feel that has mad this one of the best game trilogies of the current millennium (as short lived as that's been).
Halo 2 was still a better game though, but Halo 3 certainly is fun. Just wish we'd have gotten to see more of the Arbiter and the Elite's storyline.
Once I get through some other titles, I intend to play through the entire trilogy from beginning to end, just for the hell of it and to see how everything flows together.
What. The. Fuck. No seriously. What the fuck was that! The Golden Compass seriously has to be one of the single most craptastic films I have ever seen.
Now, I've never read the book that the film is based on, however I do know its a children's book, and I can't even see any children liking this flick, it simply goes no where. The Golden Compass is full of plot holes, indecisive narrative, and reasonable, though not stellar effects. The film has no sense of direction, no focus, and it tries to rip off too many other universes out there, like The Lord of the Rings and even Star Wars in the odd scene (go creepy Emperor guy!).
The Golden Compass is a fantasy tale set in an alternate Earth, and on this world, people don't have a traditional soul, their soul is manifest in a talking animal companion called a Daemon that follows them around for life. Kill or hurt the Daemon, you kill or hurt the person or vice-versa. That concept is rather cool, and pretty much the only interesting thing going for The Golden Compass.
The film centres around Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) who obtains the last Golden Compass which can show her the truth of any question she could ever ask. The Golden Compass has hands that point to various pictures, and if Lyra focuses on them enough, she can see an answer play out for her. In short, I was waiting for the Eye of Sauron to appear and yell at her, as the Compass sequences were a lot like Frodo obsessing over his Ring, only much more poorly done.
Basically Lyra is picked up by Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) at some dinner party at her school, 'cause all successful women pick up young girls at dinner parties, and this leads Lyra on an adventure to rescue her friends who've been captured by the Gobblers, people who steal children for evil, nefarious reasons relating to Dust. What's Dust, you ask? Couldn't tell you, as it's never properly explained. I only know it's really important, pisses the government in power off, and it's sprinkly.
Along the way, Lyra conveniently encounters a bunch of other uninteresting characters like wannabe gypsies, witches, and some creepy southerner guy who flies an airship. The only interesting character that Lyra meets would have to be Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellan), a talking polar bear. The polar bears are the only other things aside from the Daemons that The Golden Compass has going for it. They're animated well, and they smash shit, therefore Polar Bears = Yes. Iorek also has the voice of Magneto, so he's alright.
But seriously, I lost count of the number of times I cracked some joke at the film's expense, like when Lyra ask's where she is later on in the film, and is told the "Experimental Facility." You'll understand when and if you see the film, but that was just dumb and screaming for a Family Guy style gag.
Just a heads up that the ending is a crappy and unfulfilling as the rest of the flick, so if you're sitting through it waiting and hoping for answers, well, good luck with that.
I saw The Golden Compass just under a week ago, and I'm already traumatized enough remembering it for this short review, so I'm going to end off here. In short, do yourself a favour and instead of paying to see this film, go buy some nails and a hammer. Pounding them into your eyes'll be a lot less painful than watching The Golden Compass, and more entertaining too.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Like most kids, I read The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was young, and though I don't remember much of it, I do remember it with simple, childhood fondness.
After the shear ecstasy that was The Lord of the Rings, I've also been looking for the next big fantasy epic, the next genre defining film. I missed out on seeing The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when it hit theatres, however I did get to see the Extended Edition at a buddies place last night.
So, what do I think of this classic now that it's in cinematic form?
Meh. It's not The Lord of the Rings.
That's not to say that the production values of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Extended Edition weren't impressive, they certainly were. The effects and CG characters were well done, the score was touching and fun, and the actors certainly portrayed their roles well, but when all is said and done it's the actual subject matter, the base material, that I had a problem with.
Like the Harry Potter films, The Chronicles of Narnia is written for children, whereas The Lord of the Rings is for adults, and the themes and tone of the story certainly reflect this, and I simply couldn't get around it. There were too many convenient fanciful things that would delight children, but had me shaking my head, like when Father Christmas (James Cosmo) showed up giving the kids their weapons, or how said kids were immediately experts with their weapons and leading armies.
I'm not going to go into the details of the story as that's part of the fun of watching a fantasy flick like this, so I'm going to keep this review very, very brief.
If you've romanticized about seeing the books brought to life, here you go, and its done very well. If you've read the books and remember them well but have since evolved your taste, looking for a film that offers drama and conflict, well, you won't find it here. For me, it's a pass like the Harry Potter flicks, but I can see why many people would enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Silly Valve. It seems I type that a lot lately, and sadly it's true. Now, I'm not trashing The Orange Box itself, as I've certainly heard great things about it and I'll probably end up renting it one day or buying it bargain bin style, but The Orange Box - Half-Life 2: Episode 2 (Xbox 360) Demo that was recently released is without question what I've been calling Half-Life 2 since it's release in late 2004: a Tech Demo.
Originally, I had a lot of problems getting the Demo to download from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, it kept telling me that it could not retrieve information from Xbox LIVE. After a casual week of trying, I got it, and a week or so later, being yesterday, I played through it.
First off, the game's main menu is nice, very nice. It lists all 5 games that come with The Orange Box, and when you highlight one of those games, it changes the main menu's background to an actual section of that game, and plays a little gameplay trailer. Very slick.
For this Demo, only Half-Life 2: Episode Two was available, so I played that. It starts with a summary of Half-Life 2: Episode One, and then has you take control of Gordon Freeman as you escape a wrecked train with Alyx. You get to see some very nice scenery and are treated to the game's excellent use of the Havok Physics engine, both with the Gravity Gun and with the environment itself, but that's it.
What do I mean? I mean you spend the whole Demo walking around, moving wooden boards with the Gravity Gun, and listening to Alyx prattle on since your a wonderfully mute character lead.
What about combat? Well this is an FPS after all, so how could Valve even think about including any real combat in the Demo? What would be the point?
You encounter a few Zombie's and a Zombine battling some Ant Lions, and you can watch them kill each other or wipe them out quickly by hucking a few explosive canisters at them with your Gravity Gun. Oh, and you encounter one Poison Headcrab near the Demo's end. That's it. That's the extent of combat in this FPS demo. One weapon, a few enemies, and a whole lot of running around and one-sided conversation.
To say I swore at my TV once I finished the Demo would be an understatement. Valve appears as pretentious as ever, I see. At least the character models are still extremely high quality, and second only to Mass Effect in my opinion.
So is the Demo worth downloading. Sure, I'm sure you could use a good stroll. Did it make me want to run out and by The Orange Box. Hell no. As far as a Demo to show of what an FPS title can do, The Orange Box - Half-Life 2: Episode Two's Demo stunk.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
A few days ago, I finished going through the Halo 3 Meta-Game, which counts as my third completion of the game.
In English, the Meta-Game is playing through the Campaign Missions either Solo or Cooperatively as the game tracks your score. Your score is achieved by killing enemies, and certain kinds of kills, such as head shots and running an enemy over, nets you more points.
In order to achieve the proper scores per Mission to gain the Achievements, you need to activate the gold Skulls that you can collect. I mainly used the Tough Luck, Fog, and Famine Skulls, as well as the Catch and Thunderstorm Skulls when I needed an extra point boost.
I also had some fun with half of the silver Skulls, namely the Grunt Party Skull and IWHBYD Skull.
If you play on Heroic or Legendary, you get a score modifier, and the faster you complete a mission, the better your time bonus. I played through on Normal, and I used those extra gold skulls on the levels that I couldn't get the time bonus on. It should also be noted that while Checkpoints function in the Meta-Game, scoring doesn't resume mid-Mission if you've powered down your Xbox 360. If you're going to do this, you need to sit through an entire Mission in one sitting.
I actually found the Meta-Game quite challenging, and in several instances, very frustrating. That's because you're focus is not on completing the Mission, but the need to accumulate X amount of points, and you usually don't realize your going to fail until you're nearly done a Mission. This means I wasted some hours of my time, however since I had to replay so many Missions, I've nearly completed the game for a 4th time.
With the completion of Halo 3's Meta-Campaign, I've earned all but one of the game's Single Player Achievements: "Campaign Complete: Legendary". While it's worth a nice 125 Gamer Points, sadly, I don't believe I have the skill to earn this Achievement on my own.
I also tinkered around a lot more with the Theatre and taking Screenshots. Overall, a very nice feature and a lot of fun, though my Screenshots didn't upload to Bungie's web site. Odd, as I thought they would, but perhaps you need an Xbox LIVE Gold Membership for that.
BioWare said it wouldn't be coming to Canada, yet Best Buy had it and now, Future Shop has it. You can order the Mass Effect: Limited Collector's Edition online only from Future Shop here for $69.99.
That's fair, American pricing, and had I known it would have been released properly in Canada, I would have waited instead of buying the standard retail edition shortly after launch date, which I bought in-person from Future Shop.
Oh well. I've barely played the game as of this typing and it really hasn't gripped me. So far, combat's felt clunky and the characters themselves seem rather generic. I hear the game gets better though, but at this point, I don't really miss not having the Limited Collector's Edition too much; leaves me a bit more shelf space and that's an additional $10.00 that Microsoft Game Studios won't be getting from me.
Nicer box art though.
At first I didn't understand what was going on, as its free content, however after a little surfing on the web, I found this post by Xbox's MajorNelson:
"Just a reminder that if you have a Silver account, you won’t have access to free content on the the Marketplace (like demos) when they are first posted. That content will be available to Gold level exclusively for one week, after which Silver members will have access to the free content.
The Fall update has a special message (above) to reflect this as well. If you have a Silver account and you see a piece of content that has a red circle with a slash through it (like the ‘Ryan Industries Plasmids and Gene Tonics’ content above) you’ll have to wait until a week after the content is released to access it.This is not done to annoy our Silver members—limited time exclusive access to content is just one of the many benefits of having a Gold Xbox Live account."
Now, Microsoft has restricted content to Silver Members before, providing some content exclusively to Gold Members either permanently or for a limited time, but they've never standardized it with all free content before, and Gold Member exclusive content has always been announced as Gold Member only prior to being released.
While waiting another week for free content isn't so bad, I'm certainly not going to shell out the cash for a Gold Level Membership just for this, and such a quick, unannounced policy change is a real slap in the face.
With the new BioShock content, for example, PC gamers get it right away in their patch, Xbox 360 gamers with a Gold Membership get it right away, and Silver Members get shafted.
Thank you Micro$oft.
On Tues. Dec. 11th, Microsoft will be bringing the Xbox Live Video Store (formerly the Video Marketplace) to Canada.
There will be an assortment of feature films available in both SD and HD all at different costs (in Microsoft Points, of course), and television shows will follow soon afterwards.
Though I doubt I'll be using the Video Store much myself, this will only further the Xbox 360 as a central media hub for anyone's living room.
You can check out the full list of the Video Store's launch, as well as costs, right here.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Great news for BioShock fans, Xbox 360 and PC gamers alike! Taken straight from The Cult of Rapture's main page:
"Both the BioShock PC Patch and the 360 Title Update will be available next week. In addition to these fixes, we will be releasing downloadable content free on both Xbox Live and for the PC, with the DLC bundled into the PC Patch. A full list of bug fixes and everything included in the DLC will be put up on the Cult of Rapture when the downloads become available."
The rumour mill I've heard is that the new content will be a few new Plasmids, which'll add some nice replay value to the game. It also looks like a new Achievement has been added to the Xbox 360 version, a Secret Achievement worth 100 Gamer Points. It'll be interesting to see if the rumour mill is correct on this one to, as the talk is it's supposed be awarded for completing the game on Hard without using any Vitachambers.
So long as this new Title Update doesn't screw up the game like the last one, this is some really great news!
... 'cause only the Chief would be lucky enough to survive such an assault.
I was feeling tired Thursday afternoon, and instead of picking up my usual Fuelocity (go poor man's Gatorade!), I decided to try AMP Energy, the new energy drink that's being advertised everywhere and is endorsed by Microsoft Game Studios and Halo 3.
Well, if it's good enough for the Chief, it's good enough for me, right? Besides, what's the worst that could happen? Apparently a lot. I have never been this sick in a long, long time.
Shortly after chugging the tall can, it certainly hyped me up, but only for about half and hour, then I completely crashed. I could barely stand on my feet, had on and off dizzy spells, and sporadic shakes. It was like having the flu minus the fever.
What pisses me off is that I ended up missing a really great party. Got to the venue and I really wanted to wing it, but after another dizzy spell and nearly falling out of my chair, I knew I needed to go.
Got home and crashed for 11 hours, but only slept about 5. AMP Energy wired up my mind enough to keep me awake, despite the fact that I was exhausted at the exact same time.
And that's the end of my harrowing adventure. From now on, I'm going to leave such dangers to the Spartans and stick to my Fuelocity. AMP Energy is made by Mountain Dew, which in turn is owned by Pepsi, and since this was an absolutely awful experience I am going to email them a formal complaint, and I'm also going to avoid any Pepsi products in the future. The less of my cash they get, the better.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
This Tuesday, Microsoft will be releasing their 2007 Fall Dashboard Update for the Xbox 360, which will be automatically applied the next time you connect to Xbox Live after this point.
There's been a lot of talk over recent weeks about the Update's content, and now Microsoft has posted the full official details in an Overview right here.
A much more in-depth Full Features List can be found here.
Bungie Studios has released their latest Halo 3 ViDOC over the Xbox Live Marketplace. Entitled "Journey's End," the ViDOC summarizes the Campaign events leading up to Halo 3, and is a nice little retrospective watch.
I do wish, however, that they would have explained exactly why the Grunts and Hunters were magically allied with the Covenant again...
At long last, Epic Games has released a Title Update (apparently they're not calling them patches anymore) for Gears of War (PC) that greatly improves the game's performance, which will be automatically downloaded the next time you connect to Live or you can download it the old fashioned way here.
As mentioned in my review of the game, Gears of War was poorly optimized for the PC, which continually resulted in a great deal of gameplay stuttering. With this Title Update, however, this appears to have been fixed.
I did several tests and the game has run beautifully smooth on my system's default settings (mainly Medium Video Settings), and I even dared to push everything up to High just for fun. On High Video Settings, Gears of War ran well with hiccups here and there, but ironically it was much smoother than I could run the game on Low Video Settings prior to the Title Update.
Be warned however that after applying the Title Update, my father's Checkpoint was somehow messed up, and he was forced to start where it loaded him, about halfway through Act II, when he was actually halfway through Act IV.
I'm not perfectly certain if this was the result of the Title Update or just a coincidence, but its something to take note of.
Epic Games has also posted details here on how to correct the stability issues when starting the game from the DVD's splash screen.
Microsoft has released the latest update to the Xbox 360's Backward Compatibility emulator software, allowing several more Xbox titles to be played on Microsoft's latest console.
You can find the details of which titles are added here, and the instructions on how to download the update here.
About a week ago, Valve Software released a demo of Half-Life 2: Episode Two which comes with The Orange Box (Xbox 360).
You can find it on the Xbox Live Marketplace, and until yesterday, I continually got a "Could not retrieve content from Xbox Live" error message every time I tried to download it, but it finally worked.
And one of these days, I'll get around to playing it.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Without question, Gears of War (Xbox 360) is one of the top titles to own for the Xbox 360 console. It provides gamers with great gameplay built upon a cutting edge graphics engine, and is a real adrenaline rush from start to finish. Now, one year later, Gears of War has made its way onto the PC, and not only does it feature the same great game that Xbox 360 players have been enjoying these last 12 months, but it also features additional Single Player content with an extended Act V.
Since the PC version is very much identical to its Xbox 360 counterpart, reviewed here, I'm not going to rehash everything I've already said. Instead, I'm going to focus on the exclusive PC content, and the overall quality of the PC port itself.
The PC version of Gears of War uses an enhanced version of the wonderful Unreal Engine 3, and for those of you with high-end PCs, you'll be able to play Gears of War on a level of graphical beauty that is not possible on the Xbox 360. When all's said and done though, a game's overall fun factor is more important than its pretty pictures, and the real trump card for Gears of War (PC) over the Xbox 360 version is the controls and how well they've translated over to a mouse and keyboard.
Like most other shooters, the mouse and keyboard is simply more precise than the Xbox 360's controller, particularly for tracking targets and for precision shooting. One problem I often had in the Xbox 360 version was with Wretches and dealing with them when they got in close. I would have to resort to Melee attacks because they were simply too fast to get a bead on when at point blank range, but with the quick response of a mouse, I can blast those pesky bastards no matter how close they are.
Another hitch with the Xbox 360 version was that the final Act of the game, Act V, started off rather strangely; it felt like the story had jumped forward just a bit and didn't flow perfectly from Act IV. Well, as it turns out, there really was a bit of the Act missing. Not just a bit, actually, as it looks like Epic Games cut out the first two thirds of Act V, and now the Act is presented in full in this PC version.
The main focus of the new Chapters of the extended Act V is restoring power to a bridge that Delta Squad needs to cross, climaxing with a final confrontation with the Brumak, the large bipedal monster that was advertised everywhere, but that players never got to combat in the Xbox 360 version.
Having just gone toe-to-toe with the Brumak today, I can say that he is the second most challenging boss in Gears of War, and was a lot of fun to fight. The rest of the extended Act V, however, was more of the same in terms of gameplay, and while there was a few cool moments, it didn't really enhance the story that much. Basically, if you already own the Xbox 360 version, the extended Act V alone does not warrant the purchase of the PC version of the game.
The PC version also suffers from the exact same God-awful Checkpoint save system featured in the Xbox 360 version, and was once again the cause of much cursing and swearing on my part. Unlike the Xbox 360 version, however, the Checkpoint system is not the game's fatal flaw, rather the quality of the port itself holds that honour.
In this earlier post here, I describe many of the technical problems I've had with Gears of War (PC). While Live was interesting and naturally very similar to Xbox Live, I had a very difficult time getting it to recognize my Xbox Live account. Not only that, but the game itself seems very poorly optimized, and is riddled with bugs.
Gears of War (PC) has constant stuttering problems, which can make that lovely precision shooting very difficult. Load times are long, there's a known crash bug if you start the game from the DVD's splash screen, and simply being logged into Windows Live has crashed the game numerous times. I've had lock-ups, crashes simply from pressing Esc to get to the in-game menu, and I've also heard of other people having sound issues, magically loosing save games, etc.
My system meets all of the game's system requirements, and actually exceeds most of them, so I should be able to play Gears of War smoothly on all the Low settings, but no, she'll still stutter along the exact same as if she were set to Medium. For that reason, I did play through the game on the Medium Video settings, and it overall looked like the Xbox 360 version.
In truth, for such a high profile title, I simply can't believe how poorly optimized this port is, and that's a huge, huge con for the PC version of Gears of War. The bugs, crashes, and issues with general playability are so bad, actually, that I can not recommend the PC version of the game over its Xbox 360 counterpart.
I'm telling you right now, if you don't yet own Gears of War and you can purchase it for either platform, I suggest the Xbox 360 version. Though possessing a few less Chapters, the game will play smoothly and you simply need to pop the DVD into your Xbox 360 and play.
The sloppy nature of this port is such a shame though, because beyond its problems, Gears of War (PC) is one hell of a fun game. The rush it gave me several months ago is still there, the glee I get from using the Chainsaw bayonet is as fresh as it ever was, and watching a Drone's head explode after a well placed sniper shot is a bloody treat.
If you don't have an Xbox 360 and you are looking to pick up Gears of War for your PC, I'd suggest waiting for Epic to patch the game first, as it sorely needs it. If they can smoothen out it's performance, than Gears of War will be the blast it was meant to be.
With the acquisition of the last Secret Achievement in Prey, I have finally collected every single Single Player Achievement available in that game, my 4th Xbox 360 title to do so.
Now the question remains should I keep Prey to play through again on a rainy day, as it was a lot of fun, or should I sell it and free up some shelf space?
Blizzard Entertainment has released an official summary of the StarCraft storyline in anticipation of their upcoming RTS, StarCraft II.
Since most gamers today would have missed out on StarCraft around it's launch back in March 1998 (Damn I'm old), this makes a nice read, and they also included three of the classic cinematics. Haven't seen those in a long, long time.
Looks like they'll add the summary for StarCraft: Brood War soon as well, so head on over to catch up on your gaming lore.