Sunday, September 30, 2007

Two More Videos Added Online to the Halo 3 - Believe Marketing Campaign

Microsoft Game Studios has put up two additional videos to their "Believe" marketing campaign for Halo 3, "Hunted" and "Enemy Weapon."

Both videos can be viewed here, and I imagine we'll see them on the Xbox Live Marketplace soon enough.

Halo Video Short

Saw over on the American Xbox site that Discovery (US) is hosting a live-action Halo video short that has some great production values.

It basically features a handful of marines and ODSTs taking on some Brutes, and there are several of the game's vehicles featured.

It's quite well done, and you can check it out right here.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

BioShock (Xbox 360) Pausing Issue Resolved (I Hope)

Earlier this week, my computer assistant at work was kind enough to look at my scratched BioShock disc. After a quick examination, he told me that the bulk of what I thought to be scratches were actually scuff marks and could be polished out.

Using a soft monitor wipe, he was able to do so, and he actually figured that since they were substantial enough, they may have been interfering with the DVD drive's ability to properly read the disc.

Since then, I've played BioShock for about 3 hours (unpatched and offline), 30 minutes in one session and about 2.5 hours the other, and the game has only paused on me once with that pause lasting for about 2 seconds. Basically the game's playing rock solid, and I'm really hoping that my problems have been solved.

My Xbox 360's DVD drive actually hasn't been sticking a lot lately either, so I'm going to take that as a good sign and I'll try to curb my paranoia and simply play on the damn thing. If I find I have additional discs becoming unplayable and it appears that they've been scratched up, then I'll send my console in for service.

Hopefully that won't happen though, and until then, I'm going to go play with my Big Daddy.

Controller Layout in Halo 3

Back during development, I remember reading that Bungie would allow players to choose a "classic" version of the controller configuration if they didn't want to use their new button mapping layout, yet sadly it seems that this was cut before release.

Personally, I simply don't like the controller layout for Halo 3 one bit. Who's bright idea was it to move Reload from "X" (where it's been in the series since late 2001) to "RB?" The Halo trilogy is one that's steeped in tradition for the Xbox label, it's the poster series for the consoles, and moving the layout around like that is annoying as hell.

Halo 3 is a shooter. A shooter in which you shoot things. Violently. With guns. Guns that need to be reloaded. Reloading which has occurred on "X" for nearly 6 years. I mean, Halo: Combat Evolved defined the bloody layout for modern console shooters!

This could all have been resolved with the simple option to remap the controller, but apparently Bungie has yet to realize that it's 2007.

Blasted heresy.

Halo 3 - Limited Edition Scratched Discs

As many of you probably know, as soon as Halo 3 was released this past Tuesday many online publications began posting about scratched discs appearing in the Halo 3 - Limited Edition. Due to a faulty design, the discs in the metal case do not clip in securely and can get loose, bouncing around and getting scratched by the metal of its very own case.

I pre-ordered my copy online with Best Buy, and of course, the package arrived with both discs loose and scratched. Thankfully since I was poking around the net on launch day, I new about this issue before hand and knowing firsthand how Canada Post deals with most of it's packages, I would have been surprised had my Halo 3 discs arrived in any reasonable condition.

I drove to my nearest Best Buy and after a mixed customer service experience, I exchanged my copy and everything appears to be working fine. Not the best way though for Microsoft to start the launch of the biggest release for their current gen console.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

BioShock Scratched Disc - Updated

As I resumed playing BioShock earlier today, I noticed that, even after my clean install and not installing the Title Update, it began to have stuttering audio and random pauses. Frustrated, when I removed the disc from the DVD drive, I noticed that the underside appeared to have several scratches on them.

I contacted 2K Support since I had not yet heard back from them, and I found that my case was still in cue with their tier 2 support team, however I did inquire regarding the scratched disc and if they have a replacement program.

The answer is yes, and the disc can be replaced for $7.75 (US). The rep also informed me that if the disc is scratched and that the Xbox 360 is at fault, than Microsoft themselves might be liable. The rep sent me the disc replacement info, and I decided to put the disc to the test.

I've rented another copy of BioShock and gave the rental disc a whirl and it played flawlessly using my existing, previously stuttering saved game. I then installed the Title Update and after a few attempts at clearing the cache, it to is playing fine with the rental disc. This tells me that the problem all along has been my BioShock disc, however after playing and then examining the rental disc, it to looked a bit more scratched than I remember from when I first started using it.

I then decided to check some other game discs that I've used recently, and while Spider-Man 3 looked perfectly fine, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which I recently played extensively and had some minor audio issues with, was scratched like BioShock in a very similar pattern. I'm going to keep on playing, and I'll inspect the rental disc after each play session. I should be able to get a few of those in before Halo 3, and if I am convinced that my Xbox 360 is scratching discs, I'll need to send it in for service.

Hopefully though I'm just being paranoid, but sadly I don't think so.

Update: My BioShock rental disc started to have minor freezing issues with the Title Update, so I deleted all BioShock content from my HDD, performed the undocumented maintenance feature to clear all cache and Title Updates, and have decided to simply play with the basic retail version offline.

While re-downloading the Title Updates for my other games, I inspected all the discs and some of them that were used a lot, like Gears of War, are perfectly fine, and others used only a little, like Prey, have some measure of scratches. They all read fine, however. So when it's all said and done, I don't know; I simply do not know. I'm just so frustrated right now. All I want is a simple and smooth gaming experience with BioShock, and I feel like I've been hit with the Enrage Plasmid.

I suppose I'll know for sure once Halo 3 is launched, as I'll be playing that a lot. I'll be able to see if it has any issues, and if the disc gets scratched at all. If it continues to access fine, than maybe something's just really, really screwed with BioShock.

Halo 3 Interactive Manual and Reviews

Microsoft Game Studios has released an interactive manual for Halo 3 which you can view right here, though you'll need to download and install their Silverlight program to do so.

Looks to me like this interactive manual is going to be what we'll see in print with the game itself, so since I've gone through it now, that means I'll be able to much more quickly jump into the game come Tuesday night.

Also, a bunch of online publications will be putting up Halo 3 reviews at noon (PDT), so look out for those as well.

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem Site and Trailer

The sequel to Alien vs Predator, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, now has a basic site up here. There's nothing really there yet, save a link to the film's first trailer which is being hosted by IGN.

While many people agree that Alien vs Predator was a good film, it was far from perfect in terms of capturing the classic Aliens vs Predator feel from the comics, games, and novels.

What I've seen via stills and the trailers for Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, however, fills me with a lot more hope. It looks like the production team is going back to the classic gory action, as well as creature designs.

I'm quite looking forward to this film, to be released on December 25th!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Halo 3 "Believe" Videos and New Vidoc on Xbox Live Marketplace - Updated

The last two videos for the Halo 3 "Believe" marketing campaign that were available online are now available via Xbox Live Marketplace.

In addition, you'll also find a brand new Vidoc that details Saved Replays and Forge editing in Multiplayer.

Only 2+ days to go!

Update: You can also download the new Vidoc, entitled Cinema Paradiso, from Bungie's web site here.

Massive Issues with BioShock (Xbox 360) Title Update - Updated

Shortly after I completed BioShock last Labour Day weekend, 2K Games released a Title Update (a patch) via Xbox Live to fix a few things in the game, including overall performance. While I was taking my time to play through a few other titles, I read about people complaining that the Title Update actually broke the game, but that this could be fixed by clearing your game's cache.

Last Sunday I loaded up BioShock to begin my second play-through, and I did download said Title Update. The result:


This is without question not only the worst Title Update I've ever experienced on an Xbox 360, but also one of the single worst patches I've ever seen on any platform period. How this game-wrecking patch ever got past QA is beyond me.

Before evening playing, I quit back to the Dashboard and rebooted the game, holding down the LB and RB to clear the game's cache as 2K Games recommends, and even with that, the game would pause itself roughly every 15 seconds, making the game near unplayable.

I ultimately deleted all BioShock content from my HDD (and backed up the Save Games to my Memory Unit), and cleared my HDD's Cache and Title Updates via an undocumented method. This fixed the pausing issue, but introduced Audio stuttering, particularly when listening to logs or being contacted via your short wave radio. I know BioShock is set in 1960, but the broken record audio issue I was experiencing was a little too much.

I tried various ways of clearing the cache and tweaked this and tested that, even called 2K Games Support, however after about 5 days of this, I ultimately decided to permanently delete all BioShock Content from my HDD, clear my HDD's cache and Title Updates via the same undocumented method, and simply not download the Title Update.

Thus far, this has corrected the issues this poor Title Update has caused at the expense of not being able to be connected to Xbox Live while I play; I minor price to pay.

So, in short, I advise that you _not_ install the BioShock Title Update, and wait for 2K Games to release an additional Title Update; you'll thank me for the lack of headaches later.

Update: Not sure if this is related or not, but as I was re-downloading all the title updates for my other games, I noticed that my Gears of War Checkpoint would no longer load, and all unlocked levels were now locked. Since I had completed the game at last play through, this wasn't such a bad thing, but what does suck is that Insane difficulty is once again locked, and I'll need to complete the game again on a lesser setting just to unlock it.

Even my backed up Checkpoint on my Memory Unit was useless, and I strongly suspect that clearing my HDD's cache and Title Updates via that undocumented maintenance feature was the cause. Not a major issue, but a slight disappointment non-the-less.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

Completely forgot that I tried the recently released demo of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Xbox 360) about midweek. Honestly though, when it's all said and done, simply see my impressions of the demo for Sonic The Hedgehog (Xbox 360) here and add in a "2" whenever you read the game's title, as my impressions are exactly the same.

Oh, and I'm sure Tails is gay. Really. It's all in the way he smiles.

The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion (Xbox 360) Completed for the Second Time

Very early this morning, I completed all the Quests I wished to do on my second play-through of The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion (Xbox 360). I played as a female Breton Night Blade, and completed the Main Quest, the Mages Guild Questline, as well as numerous side quests. The only thing I have left to do is go through a few in-game books that I'd like to read. I'd need to double check, however I think my play time was around 65 hours, just over half the length of my first play-through, and I believe I reached Level 34.

I didn't explore as much this time around, though I still did plenty of that, and I was still very sad when my Horse got killed; struck down by an Ogre while trying to help me fend the beast off. I've permanently marked the location of my horses resting place, which is near the second marker while searching for Pale Pass in the Jerall Mountains.

I mainly specialized in Swords, Destruction, and Alteration Magic, and used a lot of Cold Enchanted Weapons and Spells. I also tried my hand at Enchanting and Spell Crafting.

The province of Cyrodiil is still the largest, most detailed, and free-roaming single player video game world I have ever played in, and even on a second play-through I couldn't help but be astounded by the views from the mountains, the weather patterns, and the quality of the landscape and ruins. I would have liked to see a little more diversity in the different ruins, caves, and mines, but given the overall scope of the game, this is certainly forgivable.

Without question, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a game that I've gotten my money's worth out of based on sheer play time alone, and I still plan on going through the game at least once more. I think next I'll play a female Argonian Assassin who will ignore the Main Questline and focus on both the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood, though I have a few other titles to play through before I return to the province of Cyrodiil.

Xbox 360 DVD Drive Status

So my DVD drive has consistently been jamming when I eject it for the first time after boot up, doesn't matter if the console is positioned horizontally or vertically. I've also noticed it getting a little louder, and I've gotten the Dirty Disc Error a few times.

Yesterday I decided to do some tests to see if I could find what the problem was. I removed my Faceplate, and tried to see if I could find anything the drive might be sticking on, however there was nothing to see. Whatever the issue is, it's internal.

I've re-attached the Faceplate now, however ever since removing it, the drive seems to be sticking less, though it still does so once ever few openings or so.

Should the problem get worse, or if I ever have trouble actually getting a disc out of my Xbox 360, I'll most likely need to call Xbox Support and send my console in.

The question at that point is do I wait for them to take over a month to get my Console back to me, or do I simply go out and purchase a Core System, either keeping it after as a spare or selling my refurbished unit at reduced cost.

I certainly do not want to miss the launch of Halo 3...

Mass Effect Character Spot Light 1

GameSpot is hosting a video that showcases several characters from BioWare's upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Mass Effect.

Look at those character models! Look at the facial expressions and lip syncing! I swear, those are the most realistic video game characters I have ever seen, and I'm not even watching this on my LCD TV in 720p.

I almost jizzed my pants.

You can drool over the footage right here.

StarCraft II - Terran Gameplay Video

This week, Blizzard Entertainment released a Terran gameplay video for their upcoming RTS, StarCraft II, which you can download here.

It's downloaded via the stupid Blizzard Downloader, which is once again not working for me. I'll be trying again later, as I'm sure the footage is pretty sweet.

Spider-Man: Friend of Foe (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

Of the three demos I tried this weekend, this is the only one I actually finished in its entirety. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is aimed at a younger audience, and it's a more classic styled beat 'em up were you simply traverse a level as Spider-Man with an ally (be he/she a superhero or supervillian you convert to your cause) that can be controlled by the AI or a friend via drop in/drop out co-op.

The game is inspired by the film trilogy's characters, but don't go looking for anything canon or story-line official, as many of the characters you get to use are sort of dead, but hey, it's all simply meant for fun.

In the demo I chose my side kick to be Venom, and I mainly controlled him the whole time. Spider-Man and I moved along the rooftops of an Oscorp facility taking on some kind of robot enemies, smashing and pounding as we went. There are combo moves you can do, some air moves, throws, etc., all very classic and retro fair.

I must say I'm disappointed that you couldn't swing! One thing I loved about Spider-Man 3 was the complexity and depth of Spider-Man's web swinging, and this is completely absent from Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. Granted it's a different developer, and granted those same swinging mechanics would be death for a 5 year old, but still. Everyone knows, Spider-Man swings. It's what he does, that's why he's special.

Graphically, the game has a solid cartoony feel, and the voice acting is Saturday morning cartoon chessy to match.

While it had some nostalgia moments, I'd say Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is a rental, but it'll be a fun one at that.

Once completed with the demo, you get a code you can enter online which will tell you how to play as the New Goblin in the retail version of the game. Kind of a cool little extra should you actually go pick the game up.

TimeShift (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

Really cool concept. Time distortions were too brief. Pissed me off. Didn't play the TimeShift (Xbox 360) demo for longer than 7 minutes.

The Darkness (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

I went through a few demos yesterday, so I'll make the impressions to each one quickly. First up is The Darkness.

While certainly having it's interesting moments, the Demo for The Darkness didn't do it for me, and I think it's more related to the theme than to the actual content. I have never gotten into mafia themed media, it's just not my style. Mobsters bore me, and while it's cool to get to rip them apart with demonic little minions and Darkness Powers, the game's AI seemed pretty generic and non-challenging to make those less needed.

Basically, I found you could hunker down in an appropriate corner and simply shoot your enemies as they pop out of cover to shoot at you, or at their exposed bodies when they duck behind cover (they're not that good at using it). I found this more effective than using your Darkness Powers since it was simply faster and more efficient than using and guiding Creepers.

Graphically, the Demo's environments looked very nice. I actually though it was the Unreal Engine 3, but I was mistaken. Character models in the narration sequences look highly detailed, but the in-game character models leave a good bit to be desired, and some animations and rag doll models actually looked last gen.

The Darkness did have style, however. It adds a nice twist to conventional shooters, and the intro was unique and cool. I wouldn't rush out to buy this one, but should I ever get really, really bord, I might rent it.

Halo 3 "Believe" Marketing Campaign

This week, Microsoft has launched a new marketing campaign for Halo 3 entitled "Believe." Presently, we were treated to a new video called "Museum" earlier in the week via Xbox Live Marketplace and on the site here, and this past Friday, two additional videos, "Diorama" and "Making of," were added to the web site, as well as a Flash version of the entire diorama that you can explore.

The concept behind this ad campaign is very cool, so I won't spoil it for you, however it does include some minor spoilers to the game which I'll list at the end of this post, so if you want to be as spoiler free as possible, avoid the linked page, videos, and my summary below.

You can check out the Halo 3 "Believe" Marketing Campaign here.


One thing the "Believe" Campaign spoils for us is that we know the Master Chief will allow himself to be captured in the final battle for New Mambosa, and that he does something special with a Plasma Grenade, possibly detonating it to kill the leaser Brute holding him in the diorama, and the way the Campaign is presented, it's implied that this is where the Master Chief dies, though this is not confirmed.

If they are able to render this battle in game anywhere near as close as how the diorama looks, however... damn...

Monday, September 10, 2007

From Hell... an Update!

We, the Staff (TM) thought We'd update the masses as to how our Xbox 360-less journey through Hell is going. In a nutshell, it could be going better.

Last time, We told you about a slight bit of confusion over some mixed signals We were getting from Microsoft. Whilst their online service refused to update for a period of about 5 business days (in that it would not change from saying that the "empty shipment box has been sent to the customer"), their phone-based service, featuring the now-reviled "Max" and his cheesy I'm-a-computer-scanning-a-database sound effects, informed Us that Our unit had already been repaired and was on its way back to Us.

Lies! All of it!

Eventually, when "Max's" cheesy scanner seemed to be on the fritz, We were put through to a human operator on MS's phone support service (which, by the way, we seemed to be unable to do every time "Max" was supposedly successful in tracking down the status of our repair). What We eventually determined there, after the aforementioned homo sapiens operator had to consult with her supervisor, was that the online service was wrong, "Max" was wrong, and only Purolator's tracking system was right.

Ms. Sapiens then proceeded to advise me to check in online in about 10 to 14 days (business or non-business was not specified), at which point the repair 
should be complete.  Curiously, since We got through 
to Ms. Sapiens and her supervisor,  MS's service site 
and dumbass "Max's" automated service have been put 
on the same page.  Both now indicate that Our console 
has been received at the service center.

Now granted, the enclosed info sheet We received with the 360's repair shipment box had specified an expected overall turnaround time of 4-6 weeks.  However, the convoluted signals we received from Microsoft's two support options (online and via phone) were greatly confusing and perhaps instilled in Us some false hope.  What annoys Us most about this situation is Ms. Sapiens' casual admission of "Yeah, don't go by our system, go by our shipping company's".  Have they so little faith in their own system?

We have been sorely, sorely tempted to simply go out and buy a new Core system and be done with this mess, and perhaps keep the eventually-to-be-returned Premium 360 as a backup for the next time we have a hardware failure.  Or wait to get the Premium back and sell the Core, or vice-versa. But all that would just be against Our better judgement. And We'd be a slave to Xbox Live for any purchased content.  For now, Microsoft is not getting another $300 (plus taxes) out of Us that easily.

Until Our next update, this is The Staff, reporting from Hell.

-The Staff

Sunday, September 09, 2007

BioShock: Limited Edition (Xbox 360) Review

Like most media, the gaming industry is saturated with developers who pump out quick and dirty clones of other successful titles in an attempt to simply turn a buck. We all know it, we all deal with it, and hell, we all purchase some of those crap titles from time to time simply because there's nothing else to get. Yet on a very rare occasion, a title is released that breaks that pattern, that tries to be different, and that is very good at doing it.

Thank God for BioShock.

I've been following the development of BioShock for years now, pretty much since it was first announced, and I can honestly say I have not been this excited about a new game release in years, not since Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil (Xbox). It's been nearly two years, and while some great titles have been released in that time frame, I haven't purchased a game on its release date since then.

That's not to say that BioShock is perfect, mind you. Like any title, big or small, it has its share of problems, but I can honestly say that BioShock is presently one of the 3 "Must Have" titles for anyone with an Xbox 360.

As most of you no doubt know by now, BioShock is set in 1960, and begins with the passenger plane that you're aboard crashing into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Miraculously, you find a lighthouse nearby and being the only structure for who knows how far, you have no choice but to swim to and enter it. Thus begins the player's decent into Rapture, for in that lighthouse is a Bathysphere that takes you below the ocean to an amazing underwater city that was built by a man named Andrew Ryan, though it is very quickly apparent that all is not well in this utopia, and you become dependent on a man named Atlas to simply help you survive, as he guides and advises you through a shortwave radio that you've picked up.

BioShock is a first person shooter with role playing game and survival horror elements mixed in. It's developed by 2K Boston and 2K Australia (formerly Irrational Games), and is dubbed as the spiritual successor to the 1999 PC release, System Shock 2. 2K Games totes BioShock as being a unique, genetically enhanced first person shooter, that it's the Shooter 2.0, and while it certainly is unique from most shooters released in the last several years, those statements are clearly a marketing ploy since almost everything unique about it has been done in System Shock 2. Most gamers of today have never played System Shock 2, however, so a shooter with RPG and horror elements mixed in will be new to this generation of gamers.

Having cleared that up, BioShock is the most unique shooter you will have played in years. Built upon Epic Games' successful Unreal Engine 3, BioShock simply looks beautiful. The game is very unique with it's art deco styled underwater city, and the environments, how detailed they are and how wonderful the game's water looks, as it seeps in and floods every inch of Rapture, is a large appeal and part of the atmosphere. And like System Shock 2, atmosphere is what this game is all about.

BioShock is heavily story driven, and you piece together much of the story with various audio logs scattered throughout the city. It's not always very realistic where you find these logs lying around, but the concept unto itself is such a great one from System Shock 2, and borrowed by Doom 3. Through these logs, you slowly discover that something horribly wrong has happened in Rapture, and the citizens of this city have become twisted and insane through the use of genetic modifications. As you progress, you'll also need to modify your own body as well, using either Plasmids (like spells from an RPG), or Tonics (passive stat or ability boasters), and they'll let you do things like shoot lighting from your hands or blend in to your environment.

The presence of Plasmids adds a nice dimension to the game that isn't present in most shooters, and are a great compliment to your traditional weapons. Almost immediately you get a Wrench (which remains quite useful throughout the whole game), and you'll also pick up the standard fare of a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, etc. What's great about BioShock though is that you can upgrade your weapons later in the game using specific "Power to the People" machines, and increase ammo capacity, damage output, etc. This is a very cool concept carried over from System Shock 2, but unlike System Shock 2, you're weapons don't degrade or break with use!

Also taken from System Shock 2 is the concept of Hacking and vending machines. Scattered throughout the game world are vending machines that offer ammo, Medkits, Eve Hypos (that replenish Eve, which is like Mana, letting you cast your Plasmids), etc. You can try to hack any vending machine, or even Turrets or Security Cameras, that you find in the game, which will lower their price, or turn them friendly towards you. Hacking is achieved via a mini game where you need to quickly swap out pipes to properly direct a flow of water from point A to B. Fail and you get a shock, loosing some Health. Fail and have the flow hit an Alarm Tile, and an alarm is tripped and Security Bots fly in to try and kill you (which you can also disable and Hack, turning them to your side). Should a Hack prove too difficult, however, you can simply buy it out should you have enough Money, one of the two resources in the game.

The other resource is called Adam, which is gathered from the corpses around the world by the Little Sisters, sick looking little girls who carry around long needles. You need Adam to upgrade yourself with new Plasmids and Tonics purchased from Gatherer's Garden machines, and in order to get the Adam, you need to either Harvest or Rescue the Little Sister. In order to Harvest or Rescue her, however, you first need to deal with the Big Daddy, her protector and one of the most challenging enemies in the game. The Big Daddies come in a few different varieties, but all of them are equally tough, especially early on, and you'll often have a hard time taking one down. Once you do, however, you can Harvest (and therefore kill), the Little Sister and get a lot of Adam, or Rescue her and only retrieve a bit of Adam, It'll be more difficult if you take the moral path since you'll have less Adam, but you do get other rewards that will offset some of this difficulty.

And speaking of Difficulty, this brings me to the Vita-Chambers. One major con about BioShock is that the game is ridiculously easy. Throughout the game world there are these machines called Vita-Chambers, and should you die, you will be instantly brought back to life in one of them with some Health and Eve, and you can simply run back to where you were and continue attacking the enemies who killed you, enemies who do not heal. This means that, should you choose to, you don't need to use a single Medkit or Health Station in the entire game, and can simply let the Vita-Chambers bring you back to life all the time. Granted, while I wouldn't have been able to defeat some of the Big Daddies without them, there should at least be some kind of penalty for using a Vita-Chamber, such as a cost of Money or even Adam. In BioShock, death has no meaning, but they didn't even include a fun mini game with this system like they did in Prey.

On the Normal difficulty, at least, most of the enemies you face aren't too difficult, but it's the variety of options that you have to dispense them which makes BioShock so much fun. If you see them in water, you can cast Electro Bolt and fry them, you can set up Trap Bolts (trip wires) and snag them as they run at you, Hack a Health Station and watch them die as they try and use the Station to heal themselves, there are just so many unique ways to approach combat!

You can also take a more traditional route and simply blow them all the hell with your Shotgun, Grenades, etc., but even general combat is spiced up with different ammo types. The Pistol, for example, has standard bullets, Armour-Piercing Rounds, and Anti-Personal Rounds. Each kind of bullet is more effective on certain kinds of enemies, and you learn which by taking research photos with a Research Camera you come across a little into the game. Researching your enemies is again a nice, untraditional concept and it pays off for you to take the time to do it. Not only will you do more damage to your enemies and learn their vulnerabilities, but you'll also get rewards in the form of unique Tonics.

One of the three kinds of ammo for a weapon is also Inventible Ammo. This means that you can not purchase more via Vending Machines, but you can create more at U-Invent Machines that you find scattered throughout the levels, and you make these ammunitions with junk, nuts, wire, and casings, that you find in containers around the world or on the corpses of your enemies. Many objects in BioShock can be searched, adding a nice level of interactivity to Rapture, and you can also find goodies like Food and Alcohol to help restore a bit of Health and Eve. Just don't drink too much booze to quickly, or you'll get yourself drunk (a nice visual and audio effect).

Enemies themselves are varied and unique, with different kinds of Splicers, the former citizens of Rapture, for you to fight. While not the brightest bunch on Normal, they're certainly around aplenty and enemies do respawn, so be careful when traversing back through areas you've already been through. One thing I love about the enemies is the varied character models. While in other shooters you may have a basic enemy Grunt, and different kinds are usually denoted by a palette swapped colour scheme, in BioShock there are half a dozen plus unique character models to one kind of enemy. That means that many Thuggish Splicers, for example look different, and there's a strong mix of both male and female varieties. That really lends a great deal of believability to the world of Rapture.

Talking about the enemies also brings me to the game's sound mix. Like System Shock 2 and Doom 3, BioShock features a beautiful and immersive sound mix on all levels. The voice acting, be it from audio logs or the random mutterings of the Splicers, is superb, the classical score is touching and very fitting, and as you traverse the corridors of Rapture, it pays to _listen_ for the sounds your enemies and the environment make, as well as to be cautious on how much noise you're making. BioShock is as much an aural splendor as a visual one (I loved hearing some of the classic System Shock 2 sounds, like the Hypos).

BioShock is also a lengthy game by today's shooter standards, clocking in around 20 hours of play. One thing that disappoints me, however, is that there are a lot of back and forth FedEx type missions, and while some of them, especially later on, really enhance the story and take it in interesting new directions, a few of the earlier ones felt tacked on simply to increase the overall play time of the game, and this lead to some pacing issues around the midway mark. Once you get past those, though, and especially once you hit the game's great story revelation, it's all psychologically engrossing from then on.

My only other major gripe about the game would be with the handling of the Plasmids and Tonics themselves. Depending on how many slots you've purchased, you can only have 2 to 6 Plasmids, and 2 to 6 of the three kinds of Tonics active at any one time. This alone doesn't bother me, as it allows for player choice and customization, but in order to swap the Plasmids and Tonics you're using around, you need to find and use a Gene Bank Station, which stores all your unused Plasmids and Tonics. I don't like the Gene Bank and I often found myself too lazy to go and use one, even though they're scattered everywhere.

BioShock may have RPG elements, but there is no traditional class selection at the beginning of the game, instead having the player use these Gene Banks to decide how they want to play, but I honestly found this concept limiting as it meant you needed to do some back tracking to find a Gene Bank to customize yourself to handle a situation you just learned is around the corner. I firmly believe that the lack of a real class system and the use of Gene Banks will limit the re-playability of the game.

2K Games has been great with their community support for BioShock, and this can certainly be seen with how they approached the game's Limited Edition. 2K Games was originally going to release a standard version of the game only, however they put up an online petition asking the gamers what they wanted, and if they would get X amount of signatures by such a date, then they'd publish a Limited Edition of BioShock. They got the required number of signatures in 5 hours.

They then put up a poll and asked gamers what they wanted to see in the Limited Edition, and 2K Games included the top three items from that poll: A Big Daddy figurine, a Making Of DVD, and a Music CD. They also held a contest for a fan to create the cover art for the Limited Edition, and overall the packaging for the BioShock: Limited Edition is great; very high quality and a much nicer design than the standard release.

When it's all said and done though, personally, I've found that this is the first Limited Edition I've purchased for an Xbox console that wasn't worth it. The DVD is mainly spoiler free, but it's just a bunch of talking heads with no real game footage or development footage shown, and while some of what the developers had to say was interesting, it was actually boring. The Big Daddy figurine is cool, but it's just another figure that I really didn't need, and the music CD, 3 remixed tracks by Moby, isn't something I'm going to listen to again and again and I would have preferred the game's actual musical score (which was released for free by 2K Games online). 2K Games also released the game's concept art book for free as an online PDF, and when it's all said and done, what I consider to be the best collector content were the free downloads that everyone can get.

For the game itself though, BioShock is an amazing experience. It is a wonderfully detailed, atmospheric, and story driven game world that's both frightening and sad at the same time. The developer's spent a great deal of time developing Rapture and it's people and situations, and the sheer amount of flexibility offered to the player reflects this. While it does have it's faults, a game this engrossing and generally unique is quite the Godsend today, and it is certainly a must have title and the first great game to be released in 2007.

Words alone can not properly convey the experience that BioShock has to offer, and I strongly urge you to go out and buy BioShock. I promise you, you will not be disappointed at what it has to offer.

On a completely unrelated topic, this review is the 1000th post here on Arbiter's Judgement. I'd like to thank myself for the hard work I've put in over the years. Oh, and I guess I should also thank that lazy schmuck of a co-poster Staff whom we see once a year or so.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

StarCraft II - Protoss Mothership Revealed

Blizzard Entertainment has revealed their latest unit for StarCraft II, the Protoss Mothership. You can check out this assume weapon of war right here.

I remember Blizzard saying the Mothership was going to be so powerful, you could only have one at a time. Based on these screenshots, looks like they revised that.

BioShock (Xbox 360) Patch Released

This week, 2K Games has released a patch via Xbox Live for the Xbox 360 version of BioShock. According to the main page of The Cult of Rapture, the patch improves game stability, fixes an audio issue in the main menu, and corrects an AI issues when enemies would attempt to use a Health Station.

Simply connect to Xbox Live and insert your game disc to download this update.

It's been reported that for some players, this update is causing new stuttering and/or freezing issues in the game. 2K Games recommends that you clear the cache for BioShock by reloading the game from the Xbox 360 Dashboard and holding the Left and Right Bumpers on your Xbox 360 Controller as the game boots up.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) Coming to Retail

This week, Bethesda Softworks announced that it would be bringing The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) to retail this coming October.

Previously, you could only get this expansion set to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) via a large download over the Xbox Live Marketplace, and if your Xbox 360 broke and needed to be replaced or Xbox Support sent you a refurbished unit, then you were screwed with their copyright policy and could only play The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles if you were connected to Xbox Live.

The ability to purchase the expansion via retail will eliminate that stupid move, and with the Knights of the Nine Plug-In also being bundled in, this is the most reliable way for anyone to get The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles.

Should I decide to get the expansion, this is the route I'm gonna take.

Halo 3 Screenshots, Story Bible and Convenant Weapons Page, and Action Figure Pics

Halo 3 is roughly 2.5 weeks away now, which means everyone's scratching for as much info as they can get! This week's round up:

- TeamXbox is showcasing 3 new screenshots, one from Multiplayer and one from the Campaign, right here.

- Bungie has an interview up Robt McLees, the man who maintains the Story Bible, as well as complete details on nearly every known Covenant weapon here.

- Finally, McFarlane Toys have posted up some photo reveals of the sculpts from there Halo 3 Series One action figure line, and they've posted links to other sites that showcase additional figures.

The Master Chief figure looks bad ass, and I know I'll cave and pick one up when it's released in 2008. Regardless, when all's said and done, there's one thing we can all agree on with the reveal of these figures: We may not know exactly what the Gravemind is doing to Cortana, but it's obvious he gave her some serious breast enhancement surgery.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Halo 2 (Xbox) DVD Case Art

Noticed something interesting yesterday as I was browsing through Best Buy: Not only is Halo 2 the only Xbox title displayed alongside every single Xbox 360 title today at retail outlets, but Microsoft Game Studios has redone the back of the DVD case to much more closely resemble the PC version's case. The information is still a bit different, of course, but the current Halo 2 (Xbox) DVD Case is _not_ the one that the game retailed with nearly 3 years ago.

While searching for an image of the new case art, I came across the picture displayed left. This picture was posted on and Xbox 360 fan site back in April 2005 here, back when there were rumours going around that Halo 2 would be re-released as a "completed" version for the Xbox 360 at launch, allowing the player to "finish" the Campaign. While those rumours were most certainly false, the "doctored" pic featured here over two years ago _is_ the current Halo 2 (Xbox) case art of today, minus the Xbox 360 logo and the "Director's Cut" caption.

So does that mean that Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios were considering a Director's Cut of Halo 2 at the time? Possibly. More realistically, however, Microsoft Game Stuidos had simply designed the PC version's box art and always planned to redo the Xbox version's art, and this was an early prototype.

That's it, that's my post. You can now retire happy knowing that your life is complete.

BioShock (Xbox 360) and "Problem with my Disc"

Yesterday, roughly 3 times as I attempted to load my BioShock (Xbox 360) save game, I encountered the Dirty Disc Error for the very first time. For those unaware, the Dirty Disc Error pops up if your Xbox 360 is having issues reading a disc, and it may be caused by the disc simply being dirty or scratched, or it may be a more general hardware issue.

Being an Xbox 360, and thus having a 30 % plus possibility of hardware failure, my original reaction was mild panic that I'd need to send my console in for service, right as I was approaching the final levels of BioShock. After the first occurrence, my save game did load, however.

Later in the day I came back to BioShock, and once more the Dirty Disc Error popped up, and trying to reload failed and produced the same error. I then decided to actually listen to the message and inspect the disc, and sure enough, there's a circular smudge that must have been caused when the disc was being read or even copied. Traditionally when I get a new disc, be it a game, DVD, or CD, I immediately turn the disc over and inspect it, however for whatever reason I did not do this with BioShock, so I have no idea if my disc came this way or if my own Xbox 360 is the culprit.

Regardless, I used some toilet paper and cleaned the disc, which lightened but did not remove the smudge. Since that simple cleaning, I have not had anymore Dirty Disc Errors pop up, and I'm nearly done the game.

Should the problem return in the next few days, I'll most likely contact EB Games to see if they can do anything in terms of a replacement disc, since I bought it from them two weeks ago tomorrow.

Gears of War (Xbox 360) Hidden Fronts Map Pack Free Download

Today, Microsoft Game Studios and Epic Games have lowered the cost of the Hidden Fronts Map Pack for Gears of War (Xbox 360) to Free.

Sucks to be anyone who paid for silly Multiplayer maps.

You can download them at no cost via the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Streets of Rage 2 Demo Impressions

Last Wednesday, Streets of Rage 2 graced Xbox Live Arcade, and I downloaded and gave the Demo a try. While I was certainly having some fond memories and great flashbacks to sitting in my best friend's room and playing on his Sega Genesis, when it's all said and done that game is nothing more than a traditional '80's beat-'em up.

You can choose between 4 different characters of varying strength and speed and you keep moving to the right of the screen punching and kicking any enemy that gets in your way. You'll also get to pick up several weapons such as knives or pipes, and use them to stab and beat your enemies into submission. All in all, it's very standard far, and not much different than Golden Axe or even TMNT 1989 Arcade Game.

So in short, is it worth the 400 Microsoft Points for the full version. I'd say if your board and have nothing else to do, yes. For now though, since I'm playing through BioShock and soon Halo 3, as well as replaying Spider-Man 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I'll pass.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Hell Gets a Little Confusing

Here's the latest update from We, the Staff (TM)'s epic Xbox 360 struggle.

For the past few days, Microsoft's Xbox service site has not updated itself from stating that the "empty return box has been shipped to customer". This is odd, since Our very much not empty return box was shipped out Tuesday evening, and was signed for by a Microsoft employee Wednesday morning.

We, the Staff (TM) decided this evening to call 1-800-4MY-XBOX once again to ascertain whether or not they had confirmation of receiving Our unit. What we learned on the phone was confusing - according to the automated system at 1-800-4MY-XBOX, the repair has been complete and the 360 should be returned to Us within 5 business days. While this is fantastic news, it concerns us that the Xbox service site has not been similarly updated.

We can only hope that the unit gets returned to Us this coming week. We have catching up to do with BioShock before Halo 3 comes out!

-The Staff

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Halo 3 Gone Gold

Unless you're living under a rock, you're no doubt already in the know that Halo 3 has finally gone Gold and is on schedule for its September 25th release date.

We're that much closer to finishing the fight, and you can read the official announcement here!

Halo Wars Narrated Gameplay Video

This week, Ensemble Studios has released a narrated gameplay video of their upcoming Xbox 360 RTS exclusive, Halo Wars.

While I still doubt that a console RTS can ever have the precision of PC RTS controls, this gameplay demo certainly looks nice, and since Halo Wars is being built from the ground up specifically for a console, it is worth paying attention to, just to see if Ensemble Studios can further evolve the RTS genre.

I also liked how many of the Covenant units really reminded me of their Halo: Combat Evolved renditions, including dialogue.

You can download the video via the Xbox Live Marketplace, or view it/download it on the official Halo Wars site from their Media section here.

StarCraft II - Terran Thor Revealed

Blizzard Entertainment has revealed yet another new unit to their upcoming RTS, StarCraft II this week.

Head over here to get a glimpse of a powerful Terran unit, the Thor.

Mass Effect Release Date and New Screens

This week BioWare has revealed the full release date for their upcoming Xbox 360 Sci-Fi RPG, Mass Effect. Mark your calendars for November 20th!

To celebrate, they've also released 7 new screenshots, which you can viewin their Gallery here.