Sunday, May 27, 2007

BioShock Little Sister Podcast and Concept Art

The Cult of Rapture has a podcast up detailing the origins and specifics of the Little Sister, as well as some new concept art.

There's also a written synopsis of the podcast which removes some of the spoilers (and also is quicker to read if you don't want to hear the podcast), and you can check it all out here.

BioShock Limited Edition Big Daddy Figurine First Look

The Cult of Rapture has several first look images of the Big Daddy figurine that will be included with the Limited Edition of BioShock.

You can check them out here.

Please note that this is a prototype and the colour scheme is not final.

Refurbished Xbox 360 Update

As I mentioned in the last update of my continuing Xbox 360 saga (I'm pitching the movie rights to Fox as we speak), I experienced some jamming of the DVD drive with the refurbished console that Xbox Support sent me. At the time of that post, the drive jammed on me the first three times I attempted to open it from a vertical position.

I've now been playing on that refurbished console for close to a week (including an 8 hour binge-session with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion yesterday), and I'm happy to say that the DVD drive only jammed on me one more time, and this was when I went to truly play on it for the first time about half a week ago. The drive got stuck, so I attempted to open it a second time and tapped it as I did so, and thus far it's opened spot-on every time since.

Aside from that, the console has been working very well. I've noticed that the console's fan is a bit louder than my original unit, but I believe that the DVD drive is a bit quieter, save for a clicking sound it can make when accessing data. Overall, the general noise factor between my original and refurbished unit is roughly the same.

I have noticed that the refurbished unit can take about 5 to 10 seconds longer to properly turn on, however this is negligible and certainly not worth complaining about. I'm also still waiting for the delivery of my copy of Perfect Dark Zero, which I'm expecting sometime this week.

At this point, I think the console will work out fine, so I've filled out and sent off the survey that came with the unit to Microsoft to provide my feedback.

Now the only thing that's screwed me over is actually something to do with the Xbox Live Marketplace and Microsoft's security policy. Whenever you purchase content via the Xbox Live Marketplace, that content is tied to two things: 1) Your Xbox Live Account, and 2) Your console's serial number or unit number, I'm not sure which (or if its both).

What does this mean in English? This means if you buy a new console or receive a refurbished console as I did and use your original HDD, you will _only_ be able to use any purchased content while connected to Xbox Live. Even after connecting to Xbox Live, you still can not use said content offline, and re-downloading the content does not seem to resolve the issue.

This means that every Xbox Live Arcade game I legally purchased will only work as a demo version if I'm offline, and I can not access any of the Themes I bought unless I'm connected. Overall, this is not a huge deal, as I'm online 99% of the time anyway, but had I purchased something significant, like The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, I would have been pissed. Again, I'd mainly be able to play it, but its the principle of the thing: I should be able to play offline content offline if I've legally purchased it.

After surfing the forums, the only solution is to go through Support and you'll hopefully get a refund of your Microsoft Points to repurchase the content. What I'm going to do is email that rep who called me a week ago and see what he says.

I've also read that Microsoft is working on a solution to this "issue," however from what I've read said solution will only be effective for anyone encountering the problem after its implemented, the rest of us will still be out of luck.

Anyways, I'll see what the rep says.

Fable 2 Video Diary

Lionhead Studios has released the first of its video diaries for Fable 2, which you can view here or download and check out on the Xbox Live Marketplace. The focus of this video diary is on Love and Emotion within the game world.

The video diary features some cool in-game footage, which shows how well the art team is keeping that classic Fable look with the new and improved game engine.

The main Fable 2 site is also showing a general release date of 2008, which is good news since there's just too damn many great titles coming late summer to early fall right now.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Refurbished Xbox 360 Console Arrived

After 11 business days, 2 lost repair orders, and another 2 delays, I finally have the refurbished Xbox 360 console from Xbox Support. After hugging it, taking it to a romantic candle-lit dinner at Chuck E. Cheese's, and promising never to fight again, I decided to inspect the unit, plug it in, and of course make sure it works.

After opening the box the first thing that was there was a form instructing me how to connect my Wireless Controller to the refurbished console. Next was a letter from Xbox Support telling me that they'd register this unit to me and remove my prior unit's registration. They also apologized for any issues and provided me with the one month Xbox Live Gold Membership I was originally promised. Under that letter was a survey which I'll fill out later (to bad I'll need to pay for postage since I don't live in the US), and finally, there was the bag-wrapped console itself.

I took the console out of the bag and inspected it. The unit is in fairly good condition. There's a nice sized scratch on the bottom of the left panel of the console (when standing vertically), some residual adhesive from some kind of label on the top of the right panel, and a small pen or marker mark on the faceplate. It is a Pro console, however, so I still have the nice chrome finish on the DVD drive. The console itself was also manufactured about 2 weeks or so after my original unit, and it looks like it has the Samsung DVD Drive instead of a Hitachi one.

I connected the unit, stood it up vertically, turned it on, and reconnected my Wireless Controller. The first thing I noticed is that the fan(s) seem a bit louder than what I remember from my previous units, but if they help keep the console cooler I can deal with that.

It detected my HDD and let me load my Profile, connected to Xbox Live, and downloaded an update. The console then rebooted and went through the initial run set up process. After that, everything was looking good. All my HDD content was there, my Theme loaded up, etc.

I then decided to open the disc tray via the Dashboard open option and the tray opened about a quarter of a millimeter, sputtered for a second, then pulled back in. I attempted this twice more with no success; the tray would not open. After a good bit of grumbling, I turned off my console, put it in it's horizontal position, and tried again. This time, the drive opened no problem. I opened and closed it both via the Dashboard and the eject button a few times to be sure. I then powered down the console, put it back in its vertical position, and tried again. This time it worked, opening and closing about a dozen times while using both the Dashboard and the eject button (For those who don't know, never, ever move your Xbox 360 from a horizontal to a vertical position or vice versa while its powered up and a disc is in the drive unless you want to get your disc scratched and ruined. It's a known issue with the console's design and you've been warned).

A bit concerned but generally satisfied that the drive wouldn't kill me, I threw in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter to see if it would a) read the disc and b) eject it properly. Everything worked fine, though I noticed this Samsung drive has different disc reading noises than the Hitachi model I previously had. I also read that the Samsung drive is supposed to be noticeably quieter, but I honestly didn't notice a difference.

So there you have it. I am a little concerned with that DVD drive, as having it jam while trying to open from the get-go ain't the best sign, however the only way to truly see if the console is in good shape or not is to use it. My classic Xbox, which has been going strong since Oct. 2004 when I bought it, also has a Samsung drive and it's never given me a spot of trouble, so I'm going to lean on an optimistic side for once. I intend to put this refurbished Xbox 360 through it's paces with as many marathon sessions of crack... I mean The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, that I can between now and the end of the coming weekend. If it all holds together fine, I'll fill out that survey and send it in, use some rubbing alcohol to get rid of that bit of adhesive, and if that pen mark really bothers me, I might just go buy that Halo Faceplate.

Even if the console does break on me, this refurbished unit falls under my original warranty, so its covered for the next 7 months and change, but I really don't want to go through that process again.

As always, I'll let you know if something goes boom.

Monday, May 21, 2007

StarCraft II Gameplay Video Thoughts

Now I'm more excited about StarCraft II. Not enough to run out and by the game on a whim, but I'm much more optimistic than I was two days ago.

The new gameplay video shows off a bunch of new units, as well as Blizzard's current process on the balance and counter system.

First off though, the game does look good; grittier than the screenshots reflect. It looks like StarCraft II truly is a game that looks better in motion than with stills.

The video had the player taking control of a Protoss force as he did battle on an orbital platform with Terrans and also a bit of Zerg.

We got to see some interesting new Protoss, Terran, and Zerg units, including the Protoss Colossus and Mothership, Terran Reaper, and Zerg Nydus Worm.

At present, the game looks like it'll be very big on a rock/paper/scissors counter system like Starcraft, and not a soft-counter system like Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.

I could go on and on, describing the individual battles, the units and counters used, but in truth you're better off just watching it for yourself. StarCraft II is a title I will be watching, and we'll see how it turns out.

I will say the video brought me a strong feeling of nostalgia. Nuclear launch detected.

Mass Effect Emergency Transmission

BioWare has released a new video featuring the distress call from Eden Prime as it's ravaged by an unknown enemy.

Looks like one of the game's intro movies, and you can check it out here.

They'd best not release Mass Effect around Halo 3, as I want to be able to enjoy this epic RPG with the time and care that it'll deserve!

Unexpected Call from Microsoft

Well this was interesting. I just got off the phone with a rep. from Microsoft (US) who contacted me himself, this call was not initiated by me.

Apparently the gentleman's boss saw my post(s) here on Arbiter's Judgement related to the problems I've been having with Xbox Support and my broken Xbox 360, and he asked him to give me a call.

Microsoft's rep. took a moment to apologize for the issues I've been having, confirmed with me that my refurbished unit has been shipped as of this past Friday (and that I should be receiving it shortly), and that they'd be happy to send me a free bonus game. He went over the list of games he'd be able to send me, and the title from said list that best suits my gaming tastes is Perfect Dark Zero, so I'll be receiving that in roughly half a week to two weeks, depending on the post office (its sent via snail mail instead of Purolator).

The rep. also took a moment to go over a few things I didn't know, such as Canada having overnight shipping as a standard due to how Purolator works here.

I don't know if this call has anything directly to do with the complaint I lodged with the Better Business Bureau, however I must say that I am quite impressed and surprised to have received said call.

The rep. has also provided me with his email address, and asked me to contact him in two weeks should Perfect Dark Zero not arrive, and also to give him a heads up (as well as calling Support) should there be an issue with the functionality of the refurbished unit itself.

I'll continue to keep you posted in the days ahead.

BioShock Concept Art and Limited Edition Box Art

The Cult of Rapture has released various pieces of concept art for BioShock, as well as announced the winner to their Limited Edition box art contest.

You can check out the concept art here, and see what the Limited Edition box will look like here.

StarCraft II Statue and New Gameplay Trailer

With the recent announcement of StarCraft II, Blizzard Entertainment has also announced an upcoming special collectible Marine statue of Tychus Findlay (the convict from the announcement trailer), standing over a dead Hydralisk. You can check out the details here.

Blizzard Entertainment has also released a gameplay video to their movies section of the StarCraft II site. I'm presently downloading it now with the ever annoying Blizzard Downloader.

28 Weeks Later Review

I have never walked out of a movie before, and I've seen some pretty bad flicks, but 28 Weeks Later just smacked of so much crap, I couldn't help but not get out of there. I'm also going to deviate from my standard major spoiler free review policy for this review, so if you do feel like throwing your money away on seeing this film, stop reading now.

28 Weeks Later actually starts off well. It begins during the original outbreak of infection in England and follows two parents (sorry, I couldn't be bothered to remember character names) who are hiding with other survivors on a farm house. You learn their kids are safe, having left the country prior to the outbreak on some kind of trip. The farm house is, of course, attacked by infected and only the husband survives, barely escaping after abandoning his wife and some misc. kid to die.

This entire sequence was done very well. There was tension, drama, and several good jumps, as well as a nice amount of gore. At this point, you can up and leave, 'cause the rest of the film is crap from here on.

Flash forward 28 weeks later. All the infected have starved to death, and the US sends over a military presence to begin the rebuilding process. They clean up and sterilize a part of one city, not sure which one (London, I guess), and start filtering survivors and residents who were out of the country at the time. Civilians are set up in this large high rise with decent rooms, or in camps of sorts (you don't see those), and a guarded sense of normality is slowly returning to the UK.

Apparently the husband survived, and is reunited with his kids, who are quite distraught with the apparent death of their mother. The kids are able to escape the safe "Green Zone" and flee to their old house to try and find a picture of mom to remember her by. Well they actually find mom herself. The military arrives, rescues the kids, and places mom in quarantine. Apparently she is infected, but cause she has one eye that's blue and one that's brown (as does her son), she's a carrier of the Rage virus but immune to it herself (makes perfect sense).

Now, the whole concept of the Rage virus, a virus that essentially turns people into living zombies in a matter of minutes of exposure to infected blood or saliva, is a stretch of a concept, however it was original enough and certainly shocking enough to work well in the first film. This whole immunity concept, however, was just too much.

Anyway, when the husband learns his wife is alive, he uses his all access card ('cause apparently civilian maintenance techs have access to secure military containment areas) to sneak in to see her. She forgives him for abandoning her, they kiss, and he contracts the Rage virus, killing her in an extremely disturbing scene.

Now, I'm all for gore in films, especially zombie-like films, but the level of gore here and what follows was disturbing even to me. I'm not going to go into detail, but suffice it to say I found it to be overkill.

The Rage virus starts spreading once more. Infected husband gets out, and the military, in its infinite wisdom, gathers and quarantines the entire civilian population in a large, warehouse like room, locking and sealing the door for the civies own protection. Apparently, however, the military forgot to secure the back door. Infected husband gets in through the back and all hell breaks loose. The soldiers scramble to start killing the Infected while sparring the civies, but are ultimately overwhelmed.

Another thing that really pissed me off with 28 Weeks Later is the sound scape. Now, being a horror film, the sound effects are loud for the purpose of scarring the audience, trying to make everyone jump, but just like the gore, I found the film did this in overkill and instead of freaking me out, it plain annoyed the hell out of me.

Finally tired of the hokey plot and overly loud snarls of the Infected, I walked out, went to a small convenience store, snagged a root beer, and explored the mall for about 30 minutes. I then came back and saw the final 5 minutes or so of the film (if there's a third installment, we're going to see French Infected. Le joy.), so I guess I did sit through over half of it. I asked my friend if I had missed anything, and aside from a sequence involving a helicopter used to decapitate a bunch of Infected, all I missed was shaky, hand held camera movements and excessive gore.

What crap.

28 Days Later had a cool concept, a twist on traditional zombie flicks that focused on the drama and tension with a band of survivors as they bonded in the face of despair. It wasn't a perfect film, but in many respects it worked. 28 Weeks Later, save for its beginning, has no plot, no drama, and just plain gore with little purpose.

Unless you're looking to see how not to make a film, or if you do want to see an excessive amount of needless gore, I can not in anyway recommend spending money to see 28 Weeks Later. If you really must see it for whatever reason, I recommend waiting for it to hit TMN or something, at least that way it won't cost you anything but time.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

StarCraft II Announced

Today, Blizzard Entertainment officially announced StarCraft II, which will be released for the PC and Mac at an unspecified date. The game will be an RTS, and you can read the announcement press release here.

Starcraft, released in 1998, is one of the greatest real time strategy games of all time. It chronicled the war between the Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss races along the Galactic Rim, and as a video game, was one of the first RTSes to feature truly distinct yet well balanced races.

In my personal opinion, the only great RTSes ever made are from Blizzard Entertainment, so you'd think I'd be more excited about the announcement of the sequel to one of my favourite games of all time.

Why aren't I then? Well, though this is just the initial announcement, as others have commented, there's not much in the way of innovation to the genre that seems to be totted. There are no new playable races (that we know of), and it looks like Blizzard Entertainment is going for the classic style of gameplay, trying to mimic the fast-paced action of the retro-classic. While that's good from one perspective, personally, I want something that's not just going to be a carbon copy clone.

I also find that the graphics aren't impressive. Sure, we're only seeing early build screenshots and footage, but those early shots should wow me, not make me think that it already looks 3 to 4 years old. Starcraft was also dark and gritty in its visual themes, but what I've seen of StarCraft II thus far looks much more cartoony, more exaggerated and I don't like it one bit.

There's a cinematic and concept art trailer available respectively, and both of them feature exceptional music. The cinematic trailer, though being some of the single most beautiful CG cinematics I've seen to date, lacks any dramatic build up or real military sci-fi action to get me hyped; it looks pretty but doesn't have much substance. Take a look at the Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos announcement cinematic (1999 ECTS Trailer) to see what I mean. That trailer made you want to find out about the story and experience the perceived action that was to come.

Now, of course I could be wrong, and doubtless, whether good or bad, StarCraft II will sell great, but I think I'm going to wait and try a demo before rushing out and buying this one. I just can't shake the feeling that Blizzard Entertainment has gone the way of many other developers, simply looking to milk cash.

I do hope I'm wrong.

Mass Effect: Revelation Review

Mass Effect is the much anticipated, upcoming RPG exclusive for the Xbox 360 that's being developed by Canadian developer BioWare. While the game itself is rumoured to be pushed to a fall release date, the prequel novel has been released on schedule.

Mass Effect: Revelation is written by the game's own writer, Drew Karpyshyn, and it's a solid if predictable piece of military science fiction. I will say the single most interesting aspect of the novel is that the reader is exploring a brand new video game universe before the game itself even comes out, allowing the reader to examine and envision the different species, worlds, and political set-up without having any other preconceived notions. That alone lends an air of freshness to Mass Effect: Revelation.

Beyond that though, the story is fairly generic. Humanity is the newcomer on the galactic stage and doing everything it can to stand out among the other races of Citadel Space. The story mainly follows the investigation of Lt. Anderson as he attempts to unravel what happened to the human Alliance research base on Sidon, and to find the lone survivor who is also the primary suspect for the base's destruction, Kahlee Sanders.

The dynamics of the races really stands out, since not every species likes the other, even though they are all allied, and there are a lot of undertones, especially between the humans and the turians. Humanity's first encounter with alien life was a conflict that escalated into a full on war, the First Contact War, which the Citadel Council intervened in and ended, ultimately forcing the turians to back down and brining humanity into the fold. Needless to say, many turians weren't pleased with this outcome, and that tension is ever present between the two species.

The novel is much less action oriented and more plot heavy than the traditional military sci-fi I read, and it really does a nice job of perking interest for the game. Should the game's storyline be this strong, especially since it'll be interactive, BioWare will have another winner on its hands. And thus, unless you're interested in the game itself, I'd give the novel a pass as you can find better sci-fi elsewhere.

If you are interested in BioWare and specifically Mass Effect, then you will want to check Mass Effect: Revelation out to tide you over until the game's actual release.

Refurbished Xbox 360 On Its Way

Yesterday I checked Purolator and my broken console had arrived at the service centre. I also received an email towards the end of the business day stating that my refurbished unit has been shipped, and I should expect it within 2 to 5 days (they didn't specify business days).

If this is true, then the refurbished Xbox 360 should arrive at my door between Monday and Wednesday (I'm going to assume Tuesday'll be the delivery date since Monday's a stat. holiday).

Now let's just hope the refurbished unit works. Assuming it works just fine, I'll contact Xbox Support a few days later and see if they'll give me that bonus game.

I've also gotten an email from the Better Business Bureau stating that they have filed an official complaint on my behalf with Microsoft as of this past Thursday, so I think it's logical to assume they had nothing to do with my repair box arriving on the same day.

We'll see how that one plays out.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Xbox 360 Return Box has Arrived

Yesterday, I got an email reply from the Better Business Bureau, and all they wanted was my home address, which I provided.

Not sure if it's related at all or just coincidence, but the return box for my Xbox 360 finally arrived towards end of business day today.

It basically looks like a crappy, undecorated version of the box you buy it in, which is fine. Following the instructions, you remove your HDD, put your console in the provided bag, place the foam pieces on the console's ends, and place it in the box.

You then seal the box with the provided tape (and only the provided tape or else may God have mercy on your soul), and then you affix the shipping label.

I brought the package to my Purolator shipping centre 10 minutes before their domestic cut off period, so if I'm lucky, the repair centre will receive it tomorrow. Now all I need to do is wait about 8 to 10 business days and I should have a refurbished console that's probably break in a few days of playing.

Oh, and the kicker? I MapQuest-ed where my console's being shipped to, and it's an 18 minute drive from my place. I could have bloody well driven it there weeks ago!!!!!!!!

Lousy Microsoft.

Halo 3 Release Date Announcement on

The official Xbox website has posted a press release regarding the announcement of Halo 3's release date, which you can read right here.

But I want it now...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Halo 3 Release Date Announced

Today, Bungie has revealed that Halo 3 will be hitting store shelves on Tuesday, September 25th in North America.

That pretty much means I'm going to be sick on the 26th, and maybe the 27th. You know, that is if Xbox Support gets me my replacement console by then.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Xbox Support is Screwing me Over

At last check, I was told I would receive the return package to send my broken Xbox 360 to the Xbox service centre between yesterday and tomorrow. At end of business day today, no package arrived and I decided to contact Xbox Support once more for an update.

At present, nothing further has been done and apparently Xbox Support is migrating all their data to another system. I've been told to expect a delay of another 5 business days. That means, assuming nothing else screws up, I need to wait 5 days for a return package, and then another 8 to 10 business days for my refurbished unit.

I told the rep that I was not pleased with this level of service, and asked if something could be done. She informed me they'd give me a free 1 month trial of Xbox Live Gold, to which I informed her I'd already been promised that twice.

I asked if they could do overnight shipping for me, they said no. I asked if they could credit my credit card for a new console at the return of my broken one, and of course they said no.

What Xbox Support might do is, once I finally have my refurbished console, they _may_ provide me with a free bonus game.

Unacceptable. My repair order has been lost twice and now delayed due to a system transfer, and all I'm getting for compensation is 1 month of Xbox Live Gold and maybe a free bonus game of who knows what game.

At this point, there's nothing I can do with Xbox Support, so I have officially filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. I doubt they'll do anything either, however at least I feel like I'm doing something.

All I can say to any of you with an Xbox 360 is hope to God your console doesn't break, and hope you don't have to deal with Xbox Support.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spider-Man 3 Review

When I was growing up and reading Spider-Man comics, the black costume storyline, and the resulting character of Venom, was _the_ storyline. So when it was announced that Spider-Man 3, apparently the final film in the Spider-Man saga, was going to feature the alien costume, you can imagine how excited I was. And then after finding out all the other crap they wanted to cover at the same time, well, you can imagine how distraught I was, worried that Sam Raimi would be trying to cover too much in one film.

After the events of Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker is finally able to enjoy the romance with Mary Jane Watson that he's so long desired, but his life becomes even more complicated when his best friend Harry Osborne, who knows that Peter is Spider-Man and blames him for the death of his father Norman, takes up the mantle of the Goblin and intends to kill Parker. Throw into the mix the Sandman, and escaped convict who stumbles into a test facility and becomes crossed with sand. Sandman is essentially made of the stuff, which allows him to become virtually unkillable (how do you kill sand?), and Sandman also just so happens to be the man truly responsible for the death of Peter's uncle, Ben, in the first film.

When Parker learns this, he obsesses over finding and defeating Sandman, however the villain is just too much for Spider-Man to handle alone, and that's when the black costume comes into play. Crash landing to earth in a small meteor, the alien costume ultimately finds its way in Parker's apartment (and then takes 5 for a long while as other plot elements play out) and bonds with him, mimicking the look of his Spider-Man costume save all in black, and gives him the strength he needs to ultimately overthrow his enemies.

Taking a page from the retro-'90's animated series, the black costume increases Parker's aggression as well as his powers, turning him into a jerk who begins to pursue another woman, Gwen Stacy, over his true love Mary Jane. Make no mistake, the final Spider-Man film is the darkest of the trilogy with less gags and tongue-in-cheek humour than the previous two.

Overall though, the above is fine and would have made a great plot for the film, except Sam Raimi got it into his head to do the Venom storyline as well. So enter Eddie Brock, a rival photographer at the Bugle who clashes with Parker, and once Spider-Man attempts to kill and get rid of his black alien costume, it of course bonds with Brock to create Venom. Overall Venom was handled well and was a brief but formidable enemy for Spidey to overcome, however I really felt more time should have been spent with the black costume on Spidey himself.

If I were writing the script, I would have had Parker get rid of the black suit at the end of the film and set up Venom to be the primary villain of a fourth installment should one be made. The black costume was too important to the central theme of the film, the darker nature of it, to be cast away so lightly, but the church sequence where it takes place (symbolizing an exorcism of one's inner demons of course), was handled very well; I could feel Parker's pain as he ripped the costume from himself.

So there you have it, a plot that's more convoluted than the first two films that also happens to really feel like a comic book. Given all the material that Raimi wanted to cover, many points are handled well enough, but some explanations are never given among the characters themselves (Spidey keeps the nature of the black costume very secret from pretty much everyone, even Mary Jane) which takes away from the character focus the original films did so well.

Spider-Man 3 is big on effects and great battles, however. Parker's clash with new Goblin, black Spider-Man's battle with Sandman, and the final confrontation with Venom at the end are all beautifully shot and executed, dripping with comic style action and over-the-top effects. Danny Elfman returns with a strong soundtrack that expands on many of the musical themes established in the first two films, and I was quite pleased with the changes to the Goblin theme from father to son.

In the end, Spider-Man 3 is certainly worth the watch, and the film is entertaining as a whole (Bruce Campbell's cameo is hilarious as always), but don't expect the narrative splendour that you've come to expect from the series. Still, Spider-Man 3 is a strong send-off to everyone's favourite wall crawling hero.

BlackSite Area 51 (Xbox 360) Teaser Demo Impressions

With my Xbox 360's DVD drive being broke and all, I decided to browse the Marketplace yesterday to see what Demos and such there might be to download, and I came across a short teaser demo for an upcoming FPS entitled BlackSite Area 51.

BlackSite Area 51 is developed by Midway, though I'm not sure if its a sequal to their previous titles or not. Since I had never even heard of this game before, I went in with a completely open mind, and though the teaser demo is only about 6 minutes long and obviously a work in progress, it was a good taste of FPS fun.

Your take control of Aeran Pierce, a former special forces assassin now in command of a small special forces team sent to the town of Rachel, Nevada to investigate the disappearance of another military unit there. What you discover is that the entire town has been overrun by aliens and what appear to be modified/mutilated humans. From what I've seen, the plot itself isn't going to be the game's strong point, very generic, but the rest of the demo was very nice.

BlackSite Area 51 uses the Unreal Engine 3, the same graphics engine that powers Gears of War, and it looks superb. It keeps the same dull grey colour tones that Gears of War is famous for, and the demo takes place at night in the pouring rain. Not only does BlackSite Area 51 show off the wet surfaces and concrete that looked so nice in Gears of War, but it also has rain bouncing off your weapon and squad mates, something I've never seen in a video game before. That alone was a nice visual treat.

The demo takes places in a realistic, modern town and takes you through a convenience store, gas station, and towards a strip mall before it ends, all nicely detailed with a solid "lived in" look. The environments themselves are also very destructible adding to that level of realism, and they're some of the nicest I've seen since Half-Life 2. And yes, shoot those gas pumps and they certainly go "boom."

The only drag I noticed visually is that there are V-Sync issues and I also had several frame rate jumps, but again, it is a teaser demo for a work in progress so its very easy to forgive the development team as they still have months to optimize the title.

In the demo, you have 2 squad mates whom you control easily with the Right Bumper. Use the RB on the ground and they'll move there. Use it on a door and they'll open it or if it's locked, blow it open. Using your squad is very simple and they'll engage enemies on their own and fight well. BlackSite Area 51 also introduces a new concept to FPS squad mates, and that's morale. If you're doing well they'll be more aggressive and fight better, if you're getting your ass kicked or a squad mate goes down they'll perform more poorly and be more defensive. The morale system is handled on a battle-to-battle basis and is never permanent, and this will be an interesting feature to watch.

The enemies are standard fair for the most part. You first encounter a Reborn Scout in a nice scripted sequence, and then go on to fight several Scouts and Reborn Soldiers. Nothing too fancy but a solid FPS battle. You also end up fighting some Drudge Grunts who remind me very much of pure-land based Ant Lions from Half-Life 2. The final sequence of the demo is a great special effect that literally blew me away, you'll know it when you see it and I fully expect your jaw to drop like mine did. Very nice, very impressive.

Weapon wise, you have an M4 Assault Rifle and a Mark 23 Handgun at your disposal, and also some classic Frags which work very well in that first battle. You're able to refill on ammo a few minutes in, so go nuts and enjoy killing the enemies and tinkering with the destructible environments.

The controls are very traditional, with the Left Thumbstick moving you around, click for Crouch, and the Right Thumbstick adjusting where you look. "A" is jump, "B" is Melee, "Y" is switch Weapon, and "X" is Reload. The Left Bumper throws a Frag, Left Trigger zooms in, and of course, the Right Trigger fires your weapon. As previously mentioned, the Right Bumper issues your squad commands, and apparently "Up" on the D-Pad will use a FlashLight, but that wasn't working in the demo. Anyone who's handled a console FPS before will be instantly at home with the game's control scheme.

Based on this teaser demo, I would certainly say that BlackSite Area 51 is on the right track. It's got my attention to say the least, and while I wouldn't run out and buy it based on this demo alone, I'm opening we'll see a longer demo prior to the September release date. At a size of roughly 250 MB though, the BlackSite Area 51 Teaser Demo is one you should download and check out immediately.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (Xbox 360) Review

Back in the early to mid-90's fighting games ruled at the arcade. There were several different franchises that vied for the top spot, some held to be successful, others that flopped. The series that I loved was Mortal Kombat.

The Mortal Kombat series featured full motion actors that were captured and digitized for the game's graphics, a simple combo system, and most notably, an excessive amount of gore and violence.

Some time ago Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was released over the Xbox Live Marketplace, and it is a faithful port of its classic arcade predecessor, with both its pros and flaws.

One thing I had forgotten about the Mortal Kombat series is how bloody cheap the computer's AI always was. After a few short matches, since the designers want you to die so you'd have to keep feeding the machine quarters, the AI will start to robotically counter everything you do, which includes extremely cheap throws. I've lost count of the number of times the computer has magically thrown me when I was smacking them, or when they've jumped and my hit failed to connect even though I was clearly touching my opponent. Granted, you have infinite continues now, however it still makes for some very frustrating gameplay.

It is nice to be able to play with classic characters like Scorpion and Reptile who were noticeably absent from Mortal Kombat 3, and Fatalities (when you can perform them due to such limited time) are still a hilarious, gory blast.

So is Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 worth your Microsoft Points? If you're only going to use it for a Single Player game, I'd have to say no. The AI is too cheap and frustrating to make it enjoyable. However if you have an Xbox Live Gold Membership and plan to play online, I would expect that you'll be able to have a lot more fun than facing a stream of cheap robot opponents.

New BioShock Screenshots and Concept Art

2K Games has released several more screenshots for BioShock, as well as some additional concept art.

You can check them out at TeamXbox right here.

Bungie Officially Announced Next Halo Novel to be Released this Fall

Joseph Statan, the main man behind the Halo storyline, is penning the next Halo novel coming this Fall: Halo: Contact Harvest.

The novel's title says it all, that this is the story of how the humans and Covenant first encountered one another and how the war began. Given the novel's timeline, there won't be any Spartans or the Master Chief, but we will get to see lots of Sgt. Johnson!

You can read the full release here.

So, if Johnson is the main star of the novel, does that mean we'll see his platoon using two sticks and a rock, where they have to share the rock?

Double Dragon (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

When I was a kid, I loved Double Dragon on my Sega Master System, so you can imagine how excited I was that the side-scrolling beat-em up was coming out on the Xbox Live Marketplace.

You can also imagine my disappointment at how much it sucked.

Personally, I found that the controls were crap, taking away from any enjoyment in the game. I found I was getting too easily beat all over the place, and even taking down a few simple enemies was frustrating.

In short, Double Dragon (Xbox 360) is a game I won't be purchasing the full version of, even though it's only 400 Microsoft Points. You're money would also be best spent elsewhere.

Xbox 360 May '07 Update Impressions

This week, Microsoft released their big spring update for the Xbox 360, the May '07 update. Key features include:

- Windows Live Messenger Integration
- Enhanced Achievement Notification
- Marketplace Blade

Some enhancements have also been made to Xbox Live Arcade.

In general, since I don't use Windows Live Messenger, the other updates are what's important to me.

I like the new Marketplace Blade, and the way the Marketplace has been redesigned and streamlined. Very nice.

I also like how it tells you what Achievement you've unlocked, and how many Gamer Points you get from it in game.

In brief, the May '07 update is a nice update, and it's free to anyone with a Broadband connection. Microsoft is also working on a way to get it to people without a net connection.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Xbox Support is Slow

Last night I called Xbox Support to find out the status of my console's repair, or rather, if they'd shipped the return box out to me yet so I could send my console in. For whatever reason they hadn't, and they've now replaced my original order and told me to call them back today to get an updated Reference Number. They also told me that I would receive the return box by late Friday to early Monday.

I called back today, and the new rep told me that it'll actually be as early as Monday or as late as next week Wednesday that I'd receive my return box. This means that, assuming everything takes up to the maximum time that Xbox Support has told me it'll take, I'm not going to have my refurbished console until the very end of this month, and if they happen to ship me a dud...

Also, the rep I spoke with tonight said that there are service centres in Canada, unlike what the first rep told me last Saturday, the thing is they don't do repairs in Canada and simply send out refurbished units.

I really hope things don't take that long though, as I want to get back to playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Broken Xbox 360 Vertical Test

Over the last quarter year or so, I kept my Xbox 360 horizontally in my TV's stand where I used to have my DVD player (since my Xbox 360 replaced that to, the slot freed up). It was in this spot and angle that my DVD drive decided to go kaput, so I decided to put my Xbox 360 on the top of the stand next to the TV and have it vertical; see if that would kick start the drive back into gear.

After quickly hooking it up, I popped in a game disc, it spun for a second, and then stopped even though the on screen display kept saying "Reading..." I ultimately got tired of waiting and ejected the drive, only to have it jam on me. It came out about a quarter of the way, stuck, and then pulled itself back in.

I then tried again after about 30 seconds, and it ejected properly.

So the results of the vertical test: My Xbox 360 no longer tells me "Unplayable Disc," instead it tells me it's perma-reading and jams. So yeah, my DVD drive truly is screwed.

When Microsoft sends me that refurbished unit, I think I'm going to keep it in that vertical spot. Better ventilation there.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Xbox 360 DVD Drive Broken

On Thursday, I popped in my game disc for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360), and though everything worked, my Xbox 360's DVD drive made some rather unpleasant grinding noises.

I've heard noises like those before on old PC CD-Rom drives, and they usually indicate the drive is breaking down.

Well today I popped in my game disc once again for the first time since Thursday, and not only did it make an extremely loud grinding noise the likes of which I've never heard before, but my Xbox 360 was stuck perpetually trying to read the disc.

I manually forced it to eject and had to close the drive to get it to display "Insert Disc" again on the screen.

Thankfully, my The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion disc was undamaged.

I then shut down and rebooted my Xbox 360 and tried a few other game discs as well as a regular DVD, and every time it'll try to read it, grind mildly for a second, and then state that the disc is unplayable.

I contacted Xbox Support at 1-800-4MY-XBOX, and after a short troubleshoot session (where they simply asked me to remove my HDD and try playing a disc again), the representative declared that my console needed to go into service, to which I completely agreed. However, since I'm Canadian and not located in the United States, my console can't exactly go for service as there are no service centres in my fair country. Here's the deal:

- My Xbox 360 console is under warranty, so the cost to me, including shipping, is nothing. The entire process will be free. That's great, and the only major thing I'll be loosing (in theory) is time.

- In 3 to 5 business days, I will be sent a return package in which I need to send my console in. I am not to include anything else, including the HDD (which is fine by me), and Microsoft will be using Purolator for fast delivery and return.

- After receiving my console, Microsoft will courier me back a refurbished unit. This is the only part of the process I have a real problem with, which I'll touch on in a second.

- Microsoft will provide me with a 1 month free trial Xbox Live Gold Membership.

Now, overall, the process seems really good. Microsoft will receive my defective console in approximately one business week, and I should see my replacement in about another business week and a half. Basically, I'm looking at 2 to 3 weeks without my Xbox 360, and that's not so bad. The fact that this is all free to me and that I'm also being given a free month of Xbox Live Gold is a nice touch.

The only problem I have is the fact that I'll be getting a refurbished unit. I've only had my Xbox 360 for 3 months, it broke, and I'm going to be sent a refurbished unit instead of a brand new one. Also, they might send me a Core system instead of a Pro system (though the rep did specify I'd like a Pro in the work order). Hardware wise there's no difference between the two since I'm retaining my HDD, but if they send me a Core system I won't have that nice chrome finish.

As an honest consumer, the way I see it, I purchased for full retail price their console and its still brand-spanking new, so I should receive a new unit instead of what could be someone else's garbage. Since it's refurbished, who knows what's been done to it, how well it's been repaired, and frankly how long it'll last. I'll apparently be given the option to extend my warranty period from beyond the base year to two or even three years, but that'll cost me an additional fee.

I will wait and see the condition of the refurbished unit before I complain, however. If it truly is in good condition and working fine, I'll be happy. If it arrives and has scratches on the casing, weird noises or glitches, or does not have the chrome finished DVD drive, I will be back on the phone with Xbox Support immediately.

I'll keep you all posted on the process.

Microsoft's Halo 3 Promotional Site Updated

Microsoft has updated their Halo 3 promotional site with story, character, vehicle, and weapon information. There's also the usual assortment of desktops and screenshots.

Most of the info up there is stuff we already knew, though it's nice to have confirmation that the Elites really are now allied with humanity.

Check out the site for more info.