Sunday, October 28, 2007

If BioShock had been Developed by Valve...

Over the years, I've done a lot of Valve slamming on Half-Life 2. Simply do a search on this blog for Half-Life 2, and you'll come across a dozen posts were I really call out its many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many flaws (did I mention it has a flaw or two?).

Of course, the fanboys that you are, many of you have slammed me right back, stating that Valve and Half-Life 2 are works of genius, sophisticated storytelling, quintessential gameplay, etc.

Well, I'm now going to present you with another look at why Valve simply _doesn't_ "Raise the Bar." Gabe Newell has stated that he loves BioShock, and that he thinks 2K Games did a spectacular job with it and copies of BioShock were going to be given to his employees for successful completion of The Orange Box (sorry, I don't have a link to this quote. Do a search you lazy bums).

Most of you, as well as the press, also agree that BioShock is an amazing game, one of the best titles released this year and beyond. And with that in mind, with how much everyone loves BioShock and also Valve, I'm putting it to you "What if Valve had developed BioShock?"

I'll tell you what would have happened had Valve developed BioShock:

- The game's intro plane crash would never have been explained.
- You'd be forced to use Telekinesis about every 5 minutes.
- There would be no audio logs, and you'd be expected to figure out the back story without them.
- There would be no Vending Machines, Inventing, or even Hacking.
- You'd have spent several battles fighting with random, AI controlled allies who would only serve to get in your way and block your progress. Think that Little Sister at the end only much worse and much more often.
- Characters would try and talk _with_ you and not _to_ you. I can't stress how important this one is being a mute character lead.
- The game would only have been about 10 hours long, or broken up into several episodic releases and still having lengthy development times.
- BioShock would still be in development.
- The game wouldn't have Vita Chambers, as even on Hard the game's enemy AI would be so poor, BioShock's own major flaw would have been made obsolete.

There's more I could list, but I think that's enough. If Valve had developed BioShock, if Valve had made it like they make their Half-Life titles, BioShock would have been a stripped down shell of what it is with generic gameplay and a muddled, unengaging storyline. It would certainly _not_ have been a spiritual successor to System Shock 2, and would have been tossed aside as another mundane shooter with a few "magic" powers thrown in.

Now I'm sure most of you are already in an uproar for my audacity to slam the developers of The Orange Box, and I'm sorry you think that, and while there's no question as to the influence that Valve has had over the development industry, they are sorely overrated as developers and thinking about what BioShock would have been had they touched it only re-enforces my belief.

Flame away.

Halo 3 Completed on Heroic

Early last week, I completed Halo 3 for the second time, this time on Heroic and finding all the Gold and Silver Skulls, as well as nabbing all the minor Single Player Achievements.

While I enjoyed this playthrough for the most part, there were some sections of the game, specifically early on (Can I just saw how horribly designed the first Chapter is?), that seriously pissed me off, though those were greatly amplified by the fact that I wasn't just playing the game, I was also trying to do specific things to nab some Achievements.

Generally speaking, Halo 3 is a solid title and I'll certainly playthrough it again (need to do the Meta Campaign Achievements), but its not the second coming of Christ that everyone made it out to be.

Some of the storyline issues still irked me, and I really don't understand why Bungie couldn't allow a) Controller remapping and b) a real save-game system to accompany the Checkpoint system. It is the 21st century after all.

While the game certainly packs in some great battles and intense moments, it really makes me sigh when I think of what Halo 3 could have been, and how the trilogy could have ended. Perhaps my expectations where too high, or perhaps I'm just thinking far clearer than the development team who was also bogged down by corporate marketing politics forcing them to do things a certain way and at a certain speed so Microsoft could turn a huge profit and secure some market share for Christmas.

Spider-Man 3 (Xbox 360) New Goblin Downloadable Content

Late last week, Treyarch released the New Goblin as a playable character for Spider-Man 3 via the Xbox Live Marketplace for 240 Microsoft Points.

You can select the New Goblin from the Playable Characters menu _after_ you defeat him in game as Spider-Man, and from what I understand, there's no new Missions or Achievements, and you can pretty much only use him for random city missions and races.

Considering the lack of new content to go with New Goblin, and the fact that his controls are needlessly difficult, I'd say pass and just play around as Black-Suited Spider-Man.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Platinum Hits

As I was browsing through Best Buy yesterday (and I still can't find a single copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) anywhere save on HMV's web site), I found a Platinum Hits version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the Xbox 360.

I had heard that it was admitted to the Platinum Hits ranks, but this is the first visual confirmation I've had, with the silver case and different box art and all.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) now retails for $39.99. I'd still say buy the Game of the Year Edition over it, but otherwise it's quite a bargain for a title with such lengthy play value.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Halo: Landfall Download - UPDATED

In today's Weekly Update, Bungie has released in multiple formats and several resolutions the complete compilation of Halo: Landfall, originally 3 live action shorts directed by the ill-fated Halo film's director, Neill Blomkamp.

"Director Neill Blomkamp explores the lives of Marines and ODSTs on a last, desperate mission in a post-invasion Earth – a mission that may secure the salvation, or usher the destruction of the entire galaxy. Edited together as a standalone piece for the first time, these three shorts are the first glimpse at what a live-action Halo could look like and a must-see for Halo fans of every stripe."

You can download this cool video from Bungie's Weekly Update here.

UPDATE: The Halo: Landfall video is also available for download via the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Mass Effect - Limited Collector's Edition Availability

I did some forum trolling tonight, trying to find any details on the availability of the Mass Effect - Limited Edition here in Canada, and found them I have right from the official source.

The Limited Collector's Edition of Mass Effect will be available in Canada as an online only purchase through select retailers such as Best Buy, Amazon, and EB Games.

The only catch thus far is that both Best Buy and Amazon make no mention of it, and EB Games does not allow online orders via their Canadian site. Right now, the only place I can see that we can get it from is through the American EB Games site.

Another interesting point to think about is what kind of metal case will the game come in, and if it comes in the exact same kind as what the Halo 3: Limited Edition came in, what will we do with those scratched discs if we can't exchange them in store?

Somewhat of a frustrating situation for those of us who like to collect a little extra with our games.

Gears of War (PC) has Gone Gold

A bit of old news, but I was waiting for the official announcement: Gears of War (PC) has gone gold, and it will hit retailers on November 6th.

You can find the release on the official site's main page here, and more details regarding the game, including system requirements, can be found on the official PC page here.

My system meets or exceeds all of the recommended requirements, so I'll probably pick this up as a gift for my father for Christmas. I'll get to go through the extra content at some point then.

StarCraft II - Sensor Tower and New Artwork Added

Blizzard Entertainment has added a new Terran Structure to their StarCraft II site, the Sensor Tower.

They've also added several new pieces of artwork that you can check out here.

Xbox 360 Arcade Officially Announced

Earlier this week, Microsoft officially announced the replacement to their Xbox 360 Core console, the Xbox 360 Arcade.

It's the same console as the former Core unit, except it comes with a Wireless Controller, a 256 MB Memory Unit, and the Xbox Live Arcade Compilation Disc which contains 5 Xbox Live Arcade games.

You can check out its happy fun details here.

For the same cost, it is a much better buy than the Core was, however the Xbox 360 Pro is still a better buy for any real gamer. Should your Xbox 360 crap out though, and you're past your warranty period, this would be the system to go with if you want a new replacement.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Get a Free Copy of Halo 3 by Signing Up for Sympatico

Until November 30th, if you sign up for Bell Sympatico's Total Internet Performance Package you can get an Xbox 360 Elite, as well as a free copy of Halo 3.

The cost is $59.95/month, which includes the net connection and the cost of the Xbox 360 Elite (read the fine print for the breakdown here). Looks like you need to wait about a week for shipping after you place the order, but if your looking for a net connection or were thinking of getting an Xbox 360, this might be the deal for you.

Full details can be found here.

Mass Effect Limited Collector's Edition Officially Revealed, Bonus Disc for US Pre-Order

Today, Microsoft Game Studios and BioWare officially unveiled the Limited Collector's Edition of Mass Effect, as well as an Exclusive Pre-Order Bonus Disc (US Only).

No word on the actual cost or which retailers are participating, but I'd imagine the usual suspects would be in.

You can check out all the details here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Transformers (Single Disc Edition) DVD Review

There's not much I can say about the Single Disc Edition of Transformers, as it just contains the film itself with no special features what-so-ever. This isn't a bad thing at all though, considering Transformers is my favourite film of the summer, chalk full of cheesy retro-'80's themed memories. In fact, you're better off reading my original detailed review of the film here.

It does come in a nice translucent DVD case with a sleeve, and there's an entry card for a sweepstakes to win a Bumblebee themed Camaro, though it won't come equipped with energy weapons or transform into an 18' tall robot. The disclaimer says so. Lousy disclaimer.

Oh, and the DVD itself has pretty menus and Megan Fox's cleavage is still wicked fictitious.

Xbox Live Arcade Unplugged Volume 1 Sold

Decided to clear some shelf space today and went to sell a few things to Deja Vu Discs. They were only able to accept one item, Xbox Live Arcade Unplugged Volume 1 which came with my Xbox 360, so it didn't cost me a thing and I made $4.95 off it.

Considering the only game on that disc I ever played was Texas Hold'em, it wasn't a great loss at all.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mass Effect Character Spotlight Video #3 and Character Profile

We're exactly one month away from the release of Mass Effect, Bioware's highly anticipated RPG for the Xbox 360.

This week, the third Character Spotlight video was released, showcasing many characters whom I believe can be your party members. You can view the video at TeamXbox here.

The official site also has a new character profile up, Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. You can check it out here.

The strange thing about Mass Effect is that I know I've seen coverage of a collector's edition, yet I can't find a single store that says they'll be carrying it. Weird.

Canadian Retailers Beginning to Lower Prices

As many of my Canadian readers no doubt know, the Canadian dollar has been doing amazing lately, and is presently valued more than the US dollar. According to the Bank of Canada at the time of this posting, $1.00 (Can) is the equivalent of $1.0376 (US), and every Canadian's biggest gripe is that retailers were not matching/lowering prices, and we've essentially been getting ripped off.

In today's Saturday Star newspaper, the front page has an article entitled "Retailers put a price on parity," and in it, the article describes that both Zellers and Wal-Mart are lowering and matching prices. While Zellers has lowered costs on everything from diapers to digital cameras, more than 250 items, Wal-Mart has higher profile items, like video games, priced at US cost or less.

For example, Halo 3, originally selling for $69.99, is now selling for $59.83, slightly cheaper than the US cost of $59.99. I visited a Wal-Mart today and confirmed that the Saturday Star's article is indeed correct.

This is great news as more stores will ultimately be forced to drop prices to compete, and we, the Canadian consumer, will be able to purchase great products for even less, which will in turn mean that we're all richer than we thought!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

PlayStation 3 80 GB HDD on Sale - Actually a Price a Normal Human Can Afford! - UPDATED

As most of you know, I am _not_ a fan of Sony and certainly not of their PlayStation 3 console, thus the fact that I never post any PlayStation 3 news; however this was so suitably shocking that I had to post it right now, at work:

Best Buy is selling the PlayStation 3 80 GB HDD with MotorStorm for $499.99! That's the same cost as the Xbox 360 Elite, and Best Buy is presently selling the PlayStation 3 60 GB HDD for more, $549.99.

If you're a Sony fanboy and always wanted a PlayStation 3 but could never afford the ridiculous cost, this is a deal you won't want to miss. I have no idea how much stock they have or how long this sale will last for, so hurry-hurry!

UPDATE: Future Shop is also selling the PlayStation 3 80 GB HDD with Motor Storm for $499.99, and they're also throwing in a free copy of Enchanted Arms with it. This sale lasts until Thurs. Oct. 25th.

They're also selling the PlayStation 3 60 GB HDD for $479.99 until Mon. Oct. 22nd, however for only $20.00 more, the 80 GB HDD deal is the better one. Future Shop certainly has the leg up on their parent company here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

EB Games, a Bunch of Thieves - UPDATED

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was going to go to EB Games, trade in some old games and DVDs, and pre-order The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) which is coming out this Tuesday.

Thieves. EB Games is full of thieves and there's a reason I've gone on about how crappy their establishment is.

The American EB Games web site shows The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles retailing for $29.99 (US). With Canadian currency stronger than American currency now, a straight conversion would place it at $29.21 (Can), however no retailer is properly matching prices on anything and everything we Canadians buy we're now ripped off on. That being said, I'd expect it to retail for about $34.99 (Can).

The clerk at EB Games told me it was selling for $49.99 (Can), and then suggested I just buy The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition which retailed for around $20.00 more. So The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is selling for $49.99, nearly $21.00 over it's actual worth. I can't blame this particular instance on the clerk, as he's simply informing me of the cost laid out by his head office, but of course I'm not going to buy it for that cost when I can purchase it via the Xbox Live Marketplace for significantly less.

What I did decide to try, however, was going to a second EB Games just to see if their cost was the same, and guess what, it wasn't! Instead, they were selling it for more!

The clerk at the second EB Games first denied any existence of the retail version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, and tried to get me to buy The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition. Finally he agreed to check and found The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles in his release binder, but again tried to convince me to buy The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition. Once I refused again and pressed a little more, he told me the retail price for The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles was $59.99, $10.00 more than the first store I visited, and he again told me to just buy The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition.

Thieves. I'm going to wait until this coming weekend, and then I'll check my local Best Buy. Odds are I'll find it at the most for $39.99 there, and even if I don't, I'll download it for 2400 Microsoft Points when I feel like it.

EB Games has really, really fallen from it's high place as an electronic entertainment retailer, and unless there's some exclusive deal where I need to visit them to get a product, I'm renewing my pledge to not provide them with any of my business. There's many other competitive establishments out there.

UPDATE: Bingo. HMV is selling The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles for $34.99, which means I'll find it for the same price at Best Buy or Future Shop. Take that EB Games. $49.99 to $59.99 my ass.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) Retail Disc Release Date

According to EB Games, the retail version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) will be released this coming Tues. Oct. 16th. Since I consider The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to be the best game available on the Xbox 360, I'm actually quite psyched about playing through its expansion the more I think about it.

I've also been looking to clear out some space on my shelf, and I have some old games and DVDs that I've been looking to dump, so I think I'm going to go to a nearby EB Games, trade in some titles, and pre-order the game.

I'll tackle the new content with a new character, I'm thinking a male Orc. Who knows, maybe I'll also do one of the two remaining Guild Quest Lines while I'm at it, but I think I'll save them for a female Argonian character.

I don't expect to play through the Knights of the Nine content right away, might save that for a character to do in conjunction with the new Fighter's Stronghold content being released for free tomorrow.

Free $10.00 at Best Buy!

On Sept. 25th, in addition to my pre-order of Halo 3, I ordered it a second time for an in-store pick up in case my online pre-order didn't ship in time. My second order cost me nothing, but because I was expected to spend over "X" amount of dollars, Best Buy rewarded me with a $10.00 gift card that came this past Friday.

So basically, since I canceled the order, Best Buy gave me a $10.00 Gift Card for free. Score!

Mass Effect Alien Races Profiled

TeamXbox has an article up that profiles and provides some new screenshots on many of the alien races that will be featured in Mass Effect.

You can read it all here.

New FREE Downloadable Content for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Tomorrow

Early last week, Bethesda Softworks announced the upcoming release of the final Downloadable Content for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game, and it will be made available for free for one week.

The Fighter's Stronghold will be made available on Mon. Oct. 15th, and you can read all the details right here.

Finally, some Downloadable Content that I'll be getting since it's bloody free, as all such content should be.

BioShock (Xbox 360) First Game for Full Achievements

Tuesday evening I completed BioShock (Xbox 360) for the 2nd time, and it also has the honour of being the first game ever on the Xbox 360 where I gained all its Achievements, earning a full 1000/1000 Gamer Points.

Aside from all the issues I had with the Title Update and my scuffed disc, BioShock _is_ a great game. While it has a few hick ups here and there, I must say that my only real gripe is that even on Hard, the game is way too easy, and this is all due to the Vita Chambers.

Right from the get go, you are completely immortal. Granted, you can die, but you're brought back at 50% Health at the nearest Vita Chamber at absolutely no cost to you. Because of this, I actually stopped using Medkits or First Aid Stations except in rare circumstances, simply because there was no point in using them. Why, when I can just come back for free, and that takes away any form of penalty for your actions and makes all challenges a complete breeze.

Honestly, what they should have done, was charged you Money for every time you revive at a Vita Chamber. I'd say $50.00 on Easy, $100.00 on Normal, and $150.00 on Hard. That would certainly have had players playing more cautiously.

I'd also have greatly limited the amount of ammo scattered around the levels, as well as the amounts of Money. Also reducing the amount of Adam you get from either Harvesting or Rescuing on the higher difficulties would have been much more interesting.

These are all handicaps that System Shock 2 employed on its harder settings, and it was a much better game for it. The lack of any challenge in BioShock is what's going to seriously hurt its replay value.

Regardless though, BioShock is still a great game with one of the deepest, most immersive stories I've ever had the privilege to play through, though honestly there's not that huge of a difference between the game's moral choices/paths. Still a rare jewel in a sea of clone games.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fable 2 Video Diary Episode 3

Earlier this week, Lionhead Studios released their 3rd Video Diary for Fable 2, which discusses the guys who make the tools the developers use to make the game.

Not the most exciting Diary, but you can download it on the Xbox Live Marketplace or view it here.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mass Effect Character Spotlight 2

GameSpot is hosting the second character spotlight for BioWare's upcoming RPG, Mass Effect.

You can check out the most realistic digital actors I've ever seen right here.

Roughly a month and a half left!

Friday, October 05, 2007

StarCraft II - Protoss Carrier Revealed

Blizzard Entertainment has revealed the return of the Protoss Carrier for StarCraft II, and you can read all about this capital ship right here.

Looks like the Carrier has received a complete graphical makeover from the original game. Now start singing the Makeover Song!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

What Would the Chief Do?

This past Tuesday night, that company I work for had at a great launch party for one of those shows that they do, and since all the alcohol was free, I went a little overboard.

As I was cabbing it home, while my head was spinning, I couldn't help but ask myself: What would the Master Chief do?

Gears of War (PC) Media - UPDATED

TeamXbox is hosting a bunch of new screenshots and a few gameplay videos of the new content that will be featured in Gears of War (PC), both Campaign and Multiplayer.

For the Campaign gameplay footage, I've seen a lot of it before on YouTube, however TeamXbox has it in crystal clear quality. The game's character models look crisper and a bit more detailed, if I'm not mistaken.

You can check out their coverage here.

I figure I'll be picking up Gears of War (PC) for my father this Christmas, and if I do, I'll get to go through the game, check out the new Campaign content, and pad my Gamer Score.

UPDATE: TeamXbox is hosting a full Impressions Article on Gears of War (PC) right here. Interesting read for the most part, and it's too bad they're not bringing that extra content to the Xbox 360. Seriously, I still think that they should.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Halo 3: Limited Edition Review

Halo 3 is a game that needs no introduction. Simply put, if you're reading this review than you probably already own a copy of the game or will be getting one between now and Christmas. Heck, the main reason you own an Xbox 360 is probably in part if not completely for Halo 3.

That being said, now that Halo 3 is finally here and we can finish the fight that was begun nearly 6 years ago, I'm finding it a very difficult game to review. Simply put, I love the Halo franchise. As a trilogy, I believe it's the most entertaining, successful, and innovative FPS series of this millennium to date, and its impossible for me to not like Halo 3. As I mentioned in my review for Gears of War however, I'm not a professional reviewer, I don't get copies of games for free, and I'm an average Joe consumer. This means that whatever game I play, no matter how huge or small a release, I need to call them as I see them, and based on that principle, I'm finding it difficult to write about everything I both like and am disappointed about with Halo 3. Perhaps the best way for me to do this is to give you a quick summary of how I perceive the entire series:

In November of 2001, Bungie released Halo: Combat Evolved at launch with the Xbox, and it was an instant hit; the Xbox's highest rated game (as per Metacritic here) period. Not only was Halo: Combat Evolved filled with great, fast paced FPS gameplay, a compelling storyline, and great presentation, but it also proved that a console could have a solid, no-nonsense FPS title; much to the dismay of PC fanboys everywhere. Halo: Combat Evolved wasn't just a traditional corridor crawl, it mixed vehicles into an FPS better than any other shooter before it, had indoor/outdoor areas on the same maps without any loading, and introduced a more realistic two weapon limit to the genre. Halo: Combat Evolved was a great innovation and rightly carried the Xbox forward.

In November of 2004, Bungie released Halo 2 to the Xbox, and it quickly became the fastest selling video game in history. Halo 2 built upon the great gameplay of its predecessor, and added vehicle boarding, new weapons, enemies, and vehicles, and of course dual-wielding. While dual-wielding wasn't new to the genre, if you look back it was usually only done in a limited fashion in other shooters. The freedom Bungie gave to players with dual-wielding as well as with the variety and choice of vehicles throughout the levels, well they not only enhanced general FPS gameplay, but they also allowed for interesting player choices that literally would change how players could approach different battles, greatly adding to the Campaign's replay value. What weapons you took or what vehicles you chose to use, or not to use for that matter, completely changed how every battle was fought. That is a feet that very few shooters have accomplished to this day. Halo 2 also took players in a different story direction with the Arbiter. Halo 2 is much more narrative than Halo: Combat Evolved, and it really explored Covenant politics, what they were trying to achieve, and Halo 2 gave personality and purpose to humanity's great enemy.

Halo 2 ended on that well known cliffhanger that left many players screaming in rage, and at long last Halo 3 is here, the end of the trilogy, and yet as I began playing the Campaign, I found myself frustrated with the game. Not with it's difficulty or even the gameplay, but with the story I've come to love so much and how it was progressing forward.

Halo 3 is comprised of 9 Chapters, and now that I've completed the Campaign, I can't help but feel that the first 4 Chapters of the game, nearly half of Halo 3 itself, should have been the end levels for Halo 2. Granted, we would have missed out on that really nice large battle I can't get into for spoiler reasons, but plot wise, the end of Chapter 4 would have made a great ending to Halo 2. So much of Halo 3 felt like it should have been in its predecessor, and that is an overall feeling that Halo 3 conveys throughout.

Unlike its predecessors, Halo 3 is not an innovative title. It takes the tried and true gameplay of Halo 2, mixes in some new weapons and vehicles, brings back some artistic design and themes from Halo: Combat Evolved, and launches on a next gen console. Sure, it adds in Equipment, but Equipment has been done before in so many other shooters for the last decade that its hardly an innovative concept.

Let's also quickly talk about the game's graphics engine. Halo 3 looks nice, certainly better than Halo 2 and it makes great use of HDR lighting, but its no Unreal Engine 3. According to Bungie in their most recent Weekly Update, Halo 3's native resolution is actually less than 720p, so it's not even a proper HD title. That unto itself I can live with thanks to upscaling, but Halo 3 is already showing it's visual age and it's only a week old. While many of the effects and graphical scale of the battles could not have been accomplished on an Xbox, it still feels very much like an Xbox title.

Even the wonderful musical score feels old. The majority of the music are remixes of previous tracks from the series and there's very few new tunes in Halo 3. While I still love the soundtrack, most of those new songs are forgettable and if you look at how many great new tracks Halo 2 added to the series, you'll see why I'm not overly impressed with Halo 3's soundtrack. At least they didn't include any annoying sell-out tunes this time.

In a nutshell, my major gripe with Halo 3 is that it feels like a game that's stuck in between the last gen and this one, and it simply concludes what mainly should have been done in Halo 2. Hypothetically speaking, if Bungie would have put the first 4 Chapters into Halo 2, what else could Halo 3 have featured story and Chapter wise? Oh, perhaps that Arbiter storyline that was such a huge part of Halo 2. Remember how you spent just under half of Halo 2 starting that wonderful civil war in the Covenant, and how the Arbiter was a nice, deep character with a lot of inner conflict. Well, in Halo 3, his storyline, and that of the Elites, has been given a back seat with little further exposition, and the Arbiter himself has been rendered into a low quality AI sidekick. Considering how much I loved the Arbiter and his levels from Halo 2, I was very, very disappointed at this exclusion.

Now that I've gotten all that out of the way, let's talk about the good. This is a Halo title, after all, and despite it's innovative shortcomings, it's still a blast to play. The battles are fun and it looks like there's going to be as much choice and replay value as what we saw in Halo 2. They're going to be multiple ways to play through each of the 9 Chapters, and while the Normal AI wasn't anything special, thus far the game is proving more challenging and fun on Heroic (damn Jackals).

There are some plot holes that still irk me (like how did Johnson and the Arbiter arrive on Earth before the Chief, who was entering Earth's orbit at the end of Halo 2 while they were still on Delta Halo? And why are the Hunters and Grunts back with the Covenant when they sided with the Elites in the civil war? Were the Elites offering a poor benefits plan or something?), but once you get past the fact that most of the game should have been released 3 years ago, it is a solid, touching story that finishes things off nicely. I really did feel a strong emotional connection with the Chief at the end, and such a connection is evidence of strong storytelling.

As I've mentioned, the battles themselves are larger by far than what we've seen before, and things can get really intense. The Brutes have taken the place of the Elites in the Covenant, and they've really added and expanded upon their own themes and identity from Halo 2. Many of the game's new weapons and vehicles are of Brute origin, and while I didn't much care for the Chopper, I did love the Spiker, and the Gravity Hammer is hilarious to wield. My only gripe with the Brutes is that Bungie basically dumbed them down and made them clones of the previous game's Elites, as the Brutes in Halo 2 were more savage and bullet sponges. In Halo 2 they were much more intimidating, especially when they berserked.

In terms of the other additions, I simply love the Mongoose. I find it tricky to handle because it's so fast, but its sheer speed is what makes it so much fun to drive, and what makes it so useful in some of those large battles that I can't mention. I also really like the Spartan Laser, which is pretty much an anti-anything weapon so long as you've got good aim, and I also love how you can detach turrets and walk around with them in third person.

Now, onto the Limited Edition content. The metal case is very nice, though that whole faulty design flaw and subsequent scratched discs is a real downer. I really wish they could have just gone with a nice case like what they had in the Halo 2: Collector's Edition. Best case ever, in my opinion. Case issues aside, the rest of the bonus content is well worth the coin. The Beastiarium is a nice source of extra story info on the game's races, and the content on the Essentials DVD is very thorough, much better than what was on the Halo 2 Bonus disc, and this time the documentary doesn't make Bungie look like a bunch of slackers. It comes with some extra Themes and Gamer Pics for your console, and Warthog Launcher is one of the best inefficient uses of time I'll ever find. So long as you're discs don't come scratched, I fully endorse picking up the Halo 3: Limited Edition.

Now, I know my review has focused mainly on the negative of Halo 3, and many of you may be thinking that I've been to critical, however as I've mentioned, I love the Halo franchise, and I simply want it to be the best that it can be. While the time for such changes has past, I still feel it important to point out its shortcomings because I do want to like it so much, because I had such high expectations for the game that were not met.

In the end, does Halo 3 live up to the hype? No. Is it the definitive next gen shooter? No. Is it Halo and a lot of fun to play. Yes. As I mentioned in opening this review, if you don't already own the game, you will. Despite it's flaws, it is Halo, it's the end to a 6 year journey we've all been part of, and it is a new media global success. Just keep in mind that Halo 3 is not perfect, but that its still fun to play. Now go finish the fight.

New Mass Effect Character Profile and Collector's Edition Contents

BioWare has released a new character profile for one of your party members in their upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Mass Effect. The character is named Nihlus Kryik, a turian and a Spectre agent for the Citadel Council.

You can check his profile here and a few screenshots here.

TeamXbox is also reporting the contents of the Mass Effect Limited Collector's Edition here. Not a bad list of contents at all.

Clive Barker's Jericho (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

What can I say except the demo simply didn't do it for me. I've been hearing a good bit of hype for this game, and while it certainly looks nice and Church has some great bouncy boobs, I couldn't get into the gameplay or even the concept of Jericho squad; random paranormal people with special powers who have formed an elite government squad always come of as hokey to me.

In the demo, you take control of 3 members of Jericho squad roughly mid-way through the game as you need to fight your way through the lower levels of an ancient castle. Clive Barker's Jericho looks very nice and it actually reminds me of Unreal Engine 3, though it does use another graphics engine. Character animations are crisp and sharp, and the game's presentation values are quite high, however I found the gameplay generally uninspired and not really scary. The game does have some really nice gore, but gore unto itself is not horror unless its presented in a psychologically disturbing way (think BioShock) and the demo generally boiled down to simply killing anything that got in your way, or letting your squad do that kind of work.

One interesting thing to note is that it has some button pressing sequences, similar to those found in Spider-Man 3. Basically as your character is performing a certain action, a button may quickly appear on screen and you need to press the corresponding button quickly to prevent your character from dying. I didn't have a huge problem with this, and it'll be interesting to see how the press reacts as they slammed this feature in Spider-Man 3.

If I get bored and have some free time, I'd give Clive Barker's Jericho a rent, but based on the demo, it's not a title that screams "buy me."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Top Xbox 360 Games

I was browsing around the web last night, and decided to check out Metacritic to see what the top scoring games are for the Xbox 360. What I immediately noticed was, through no influence save my own, I own 4 of the top 5 titles on their list.

Metacritic's overall list can be found here, and I can't help but smile seeing that BioShock, a single player only title, is the highest rated game on the system.

I also find it funny that if you look at the PlayStation 3's list here, 3 of their top 5 scoring games are available on the Xbox 360, two of which were on the system long before their port to the PlayStation 3.