Monday, January 28, 2008

Super Mario Fusion - Mario Meets Halo

Saw the below over at ActionTrip. It may be fan made, but its still awesome!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Expert" Retracts Comments Made of Mass Effect

Cooper Lawrence, the so-called psychology "expert" who criticized Mass Effect this past Monday on Fox News Live Desk for depicting scenes of graphic nudity and sex, has officially retracted her comments yesterday on The New York Times.

"In an interview on Friday, Ms. Lawrence said that since the controversy over her remarks erupted she had watched someone play the game for about two and a half hours. “I recognize that I misspoke,” she said. “I really regret saying that, and now that I’ve seen the game and seen the sex scenes it’s kind of a joke. "

That's all well and good, but what bugs me is that she has _not_ apologized, and we all know she's only now saying what she now is simply because she's stirred up the hornet's nest with the entire Internet gaming community slamming her new book, and rightly so.

"“Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography,” she added. “But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of ‘Lost’ that are more sexually explicit.” "

Now, let's say for the sake of argument that we forgive her, and let's look at the facts of this "expert." The above quote illustrates the kind of "research" that she does, so honestly, would you trust anything she writes or talks about? Personally, I feel her book should continue to be attacked simply on the basis that she is a proven fraud; it does not deserve to sell.

I mean, my God, this is the woman who's the monthly columnist for Dating and Relationships in CosmoGIRL!, and a lot of girls do read that magazine (which now explains a lot, actually), which means they're simply being fed, and modelling themselves around, nothing but misinformation. Very disturbing.

I also think the matter should not be laid to rest until Fox News issues a retraction, though I'm not going to hold my breath.

Original story spotted at ActionTrip.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Preview and Web Documentary

Its been a while since I've heard anything about it, but there's finally some real news on LucasArts highly anticipated title, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

TeamXbox has a three page preview of the game, including screenshots, here, and the official site has a new web documentary entitled "The Technology of The Force Unleashed" featuring some very nice gameplay footage that you can view here, or via You Tube below.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is slated for a cross-platform release during Summer 2008.

Xbox LIVE Arcade Awards 2007

Microsoft Game Stuidos is hosting the first ever Xbox LIVE Arcade Awards, and you can now cast your votes right here if you're so inclined.

Microsoft will announce the winners during the 2007 Game Developer Conference.

EA Ignoring Fox's Request to Appear on Live Desk

Continuing the Fox News/Mass Effect Drama, saw over at ActionTrip that Fox has apparently asked EA to appear on Live Desk several times to discuss Monday's episode in which Live Desk falsely reported on full graphic sex and nudity in Mass Effect.

Apparently, EA has not replied to Fox on the invitations.

This isn't really a bad move by EA as what would they accomplish going onto Fox's biased show, a property that Fox has complete control over. If Fox is so eager to discuss it with EA, they should do so in a properly moderated setting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

EA Responds to Fox News Live

EA, the parent company of BioWare, has responded to Fox News' ignorant, unsubstantiated, and false editorial about full graphic nudity and sex within the recent Xbox 360 RPG blockbuster, Mass Effect.

In a letter sent to Fox News, EA's vice president of communications, Jeff Brown, asks Fox to clarify the serious errors they made, siting several excellent examples.

Your headline above the televised story read: "New videogame shows full digital nudity and sex."
Fact: Mass Effect does not include explicit or frontal nudity. Love scenes in non-interactive sequences include side and profile shots - a vantage frequently used in many prime-time television shows. It's also worth noting that the game requires players to develop complex relationships before characters can become intimate and players can chose to avoid the love scenes altogether.

FNC voice-over reporter says: "You'll see full digital nudity and the ability for players to engage in graphic sex."
Fact: Sex scenes in Mass Effect are not graphic. These scenes are very similar to sex sequences frequently seen on network television in prime time.

FNC reporter says: "Critics say Mass Effect is being marketed to kids and teenagers."
Fact: That is flat out false. Mass Effect and all related marketing has been reviewed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and rated Mature - appropriate for players 17-years and older. ESRB routinely counsels retailers on requesting proof of age in selling M-rated titles and the system has been lauded by members of Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. In practical terms, the ratings work as well or better than those used for warning viewers about television content.

Though I'm not a huge fan of Electronic Arts, their stance is well justified and I'd love to see Fox broadcast a retraction, though I doubt they'll actually bother.

Original story spotted at ActionTrip.

Undertow Free Download

Due to Xbox LIVE's poor holiday performance, Microsoft has re-released Undertow as a free download to all until 11:59 PM PST this Sunday.

You can go and grab it for free right now from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and I also heard that if you already purchased the game prior to today, you can get a re-imbursement of some sort by calling Xbox Support, however I sadly don't have a link to this.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gears of War Action Figures Revealed

Saw over at TeamXbox that NECA has officially unveiled their upcoming Gears of War action figures due to hit this Spring.

They certainly look nice, and you can check them out right here.

Fox News Live Desk Mass Effect False Editorial

I'm not going to insult any of you by going into detail here about how ignorant this broadcast regarding Mass Effect is, just watch it and see:

If you have half a brain and any sort of familiarity with the technology and the subject matter, you don't need me to tell you that this is all a pile of crap. I just love how quickly Fox News brushes off the Spike TV Expert (and I can't believe I'm rooting for someone from Spike TV) when he right away asks them the simple, honest question of "Have you even played the game."

Ignorance, people: a guiding force of power.

Thanks ActionTrip, for the original article here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Halo Movie Props

Bungie's Weekly Update this week has the Bungie boys and girls playing around with some of the props built by Weta Workshop for the now defunct Halo movie.

I only have one questions: Does she come with the Convenant Carbine?

You can check out all the nerdy goodness here.

The Last Man on Earth Review

The Last Man on Earth, is the first film adaptation of I Am Legend, and it follows the novel very closely, much more closely than the last two adaptations. Its Wikipedia page actually linked to where you can watch it for free on the web, so last night I got around to doing just that.

The film is presented in black and white, stars Vincent Price, and runs at just under an hour and a half. While I certainly admire how true to the book it was in terms of content, The Last Man on Earth sadly lacks the feeling of isolation and despair that the book has, or even the book's most recent adaptation: I Am Legend.

Not only that, but the vampires in The Last Man on Earth are simply laughable. Granted, it's a low budget film released in 1964, but still, they were really, really bad and completely unbelievable; more akin to really bad B-flick zombies than vampires.

The Last Man on Earth begins with Robert Morgan waking up to begin his daily routine, approximately 3 years after a deadly germ has swept through the world, infecting and turning the population into blood-thirsty vampires. Morgan, spends his days scavenging for supplies and hunting the vampires as they sleep, and his nights are spent barricaded in his home as the vampires constantly try to find a way in through his shoddy fortifications that couldn't even keep a 4-year-old girl scout out, but somehow works on the undead.

Seriously, Morgan's boarded-up windows have to be the single worst fortification I've ever seen, with large spaces and holes everywhere, but granted, since most of the vampires simply spend their time hucking small rocks at his house or standing out by the door lightly tapping wooden clubs ever so slowly against his door and walls, well, let's just say these vampires sure ain't trying anymore.

In fact, in once instance when Morgan is caught outside at night and surrounded, he simple pushes and shoves his way through the crowd of blood-sucking monsters unharmed. It was so bad it was hilarious. Granted, the vampires in I Am Legend weren't anything to jump and shout about either, and they were really a means to an end, the cause of Neville's isolationist self-loathing, sexual frustration, and alcoholism. Sadly, this depth and complexity is completely lost with Morgan.

His character is very generic, actually, and it was more interesting to watch his bland "I'm a professional scientist" performance magically switch to an over-the-top aggressive personality in the flashback sequence that shows the beginnings of the plague. Oh, and being a film from the '60's, men like to grab women by their shoulders and shake them violently a lot. It was apparently the style of the time needed to really drive a point home, 'cause you know, all women from the '60's have ADD or something.

If you are looking for a laugh, you can watch The Last Man on Earth for free here. If you're looking for a decent flick, you can go watch I Am Legend. If your looking for an excellent read that's both captivating and influential and better than both the above, go read I Am Legend, it's actually engaging instead of cheesy.

BioShock Completed for the 3rd Time, New Content

What an amazing game. Seriously, if you own an Xbox 360 and you have not yet played through BioShock, you are completely denying yourself the most engrossing and unique single player shooter experience on the platform.

I could go on and on about how deep the game is, how atmospheric, but that's what my review was for, and overall I think it did a pretty good job. Right now, I'm going to discuss my recent play-through of the game, specifically because it featured the game's third Title Update as well as some new content.

The first Title Update for BioShock was the single worst software patch I'd ever experienced period. It horribly broke the game and put me into a world of grief and panic that my Xbox 360's DVD drive was breaking down just prior to the release of Halo 3. I had to perform maintenance on my HDD to remove it, and was forced to play-through BioShock offline for my second play-through.

At some point there must have been a second Title Update which I missed, however I'm glad to say that this third Title Update has corrected the horrible caching issues the first Title Update introduced to the game. Not only did it fix that travesty, but it also added true wide screen support, which looked so much nicer (you can compare the wide screen the game shipped with to true wide screen with the switch of an Option), and since it carried over the bug fixes from the previous Title Updates, Splicers now made proper use of Health Stations, which I wasn't prepared for at first (Damn you Steinman!). Needless to say, I quickly began hacking any and all Health Stations on sight.

The huge addition to the world of BioShock, however, is the free Ryan Industries Plasmids and Tonic pack that was released for free over in early December via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. This extra content adds 1 new Plasmid and 3 new Tonics, a new Secret Achievement worth 100 Gamer Points (for a total of 1100 GP for the game), and most importantly of all, an option to disable Vita-Chambers. Finally, my biggest criticism of BioShock has been dealt with; without Vita-Chambers, the game is actually challenging and so much more fun.

This play-through, I actually decided to add to that new challenge. I played on Hard with Vita-Chambers disabled, I rescued every Little Sister, and I never once used the overpowered Chemical Thrower. I also made little use of Hypnotize Big Daddy and Incinerate, and I didn't even purchase Enrage until the very end.

Since I could no longer whittle enemies down by abusing Vita-Chambers (My God were Big Daddies ever a real fight now), I needed to play smart. This meant making excellent use of Hacking and Security Bulls Eye (this Plasmid is one of the best Big Daddy killers ever if you have the patience), hucking everything and anything at enemies, including corpses, with Telekinesis (heck, corpses worked great at disabling enemy Trip Wires), and taking excellent advantage of the new Plasmid, Sonic Boom. Like all the new Tonics in the Ryan Industries Plasmids and Tonic pack, Sonic Boom only costs 1 Adam. That's right, it's all but free, and Sonic Boom 2 is one of _the_ most powerful mid-game Plasmids available. Simply put, it's Force Push from Star Wars, and you will be knocking Splicers back against walls and off balconies, and often killing them outright in a single attack. It's raw power is balanced by its cost in Eve, and you only get about 2 shots before you need to use an Eve Hypo. If you purchase the great new Eve Saver Tonic for 1 Adam, however, you can get three shots.

The other new Tonics are Vending Expert, which automatically reduces the cost of items at Vending Machines, and Machine Buster, which allows you to deal more damage to Turrets, Security Cameras, and Bots. Since Money is so plentiful and Bots are not _that_ difficult to deal with (I prefer to Hack them), I did not touch these two new Tonics, however I suppose for a 4th play-through I can limit myself by not Hacking Bots and such, in which case Machine Buster would come in handy.

Weapon wise, I really played strategically, placing Trap Bolts and sniping with the Crossbow, placing Proximity Mines, and I also found that I _love_ Exploding Buck. I also really needed to use First Aid Kits and to continually keep one eye on my Health, as carelessness would have me sent back to the game's main menu and loading my last Save. I was actually able to play up to Neptune's Bounty, and my first death occurred in the post office because a Hacked Bot got stuck behind me preventing me from moving, which let a Spider Splicer kill me.

Without exaggeration, with the 3rd Title Update and the Ryan Industries Plasmids and Tonic pack, BioShock is one of the best games on the Xbox 360, more so than before. Not only is BioShock an amazing game, but it is the single best example I've ever experienced to demonstrate how far video games have come, to truly show how games can be a compelling and immersive story telling medium. BioShock is not only the future of first-person single player shooters, but also a solid look at where interactive media can go if developers and publishers really work to create something of substance, instead of just throwing together a blast-fest for a quick buck.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sci vs. Fi Mass Effect Episode Available on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace

The entire episode of Sci vs Fi Mass Effect, which aired on Mass Effect's release date, is now availabe in HD for free on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

Not a bad look at the game, and certainly worth the viewing. It's just under 1 GB in size though, so you'll likely need to wait a bit for it to download.

Death Star Canteen

A friend of mine sent me this wicked LEGO Stopframe animation: Death Star Canteen. Aside from the fact that its bloody awesome, Death Star Canteen brings back a lot of memories of my high school video class...

Undertow Free Download this Wednesday

Saw over at TeamXbox that Microsoft Game Studios has revealed Undertow to be their free download "we-done-bad" Xbox LIVE Arcade game to try and make up for Xbox LIVE's craptastic performance this past holiday season.

Starting this Wednesday at 2:00 am PST going through Sun. Jan. 27 11:59 pm PST, Undertow will be free for everyone to download from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

The game got good reviews, so I guess this is alright. Still though, I would have expected something new. There's also the fact that Xbox LIVE is still unstable (had connectivity issues earlier today, as well as this past Thursday), so no Gold Membership for me yet, and I'm glad I'm not paying for the (lack of) service right now.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pills for Gamers

No, this pill is not to help with a gaming addiction. I saw this at ActionTrip today, and I must say that I actually find it a bit disturbing: FpsBrain, a pill specifically designed for professional gamers that "heightens perception and capacity of reaction and concentration."

Basically, it's a pep-pill for gamers, and should give you that "edge" to crush your competition.

Considering the reaction I had to a simple energy drink, I don't even want to know what this crap would do to me. What ever happened to simply drinking beer to improve ones aim?

Xbox LIVE Gold Membership? Maybe...

One of my best friends has begun playing Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 via Xbox LIVE, and that's prompted me to think about getting a Gold Membership as well so I can join him; at least for Halo 3.

My main hesitation is not the cost, I'd sign up for one month to see if I like it, but the current stability issues that Xbox LIVE keeps having. Ever since the holidays, Xbox LIVE has been rather unstable, difficult to connect to, and unreliable for those two games in particular. I just don't want to spend the $8.99 and then get screwed out by an unprepared service.

The $8.99 itself is nothing mind you, but it's the principle. If Xbox LIVE remains stable into Saturday morning, I'll probably sign up this weekend. If not, than I'll wait longer.

I'll be able to see if I still suck at Gears of War. That was fun last summer.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Impressions

Not bad. Not great, but not bad either. There's certainly potential here in what's the first television series to catch my attention since Rome. That's not surprising though since I've been a fan of the franchise ever since I was a kid.

Airing on CTV, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles begins after the conclusion of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and finds Sarah (Lena Heady) and John (Thomas Dekker) still on the run from the law. As we saw in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, those crafty cyborgs aren't so easily defeated, especially when there's still a franchise to milk from its proverbial teet.

While that last statement is a little harsh but true, the pilot episode was entertaining. It had pacing issues and felt more like it was rushing to set everything up than to tell a smooth story, but in the end I got what I wanted: cyborgs smashing the snot out of each other. It looks like the series is going to make heavy use of time travel, and while this will allow the writer's to completely bypass and re-invent whatever they'd like, it also brings about a strong cheese element as time travel has been completely done to death. It _is_ cheesy that yet another T-800 has been sent to kill John, and yet another re-programmed Terminator has been sent to protect him, but then again I'm not watching the show for excessive amounts of drama, and at least the protector isn't another Arnold.

John's protector this time around is Cameron (Summer Glau), an unknown Terminator model who appears to be able to emulate emotion much more convincingly than any of her predecessors. Though similar to a T-800 (she's not liquid metal), she's certainly no Arnold, as Cameron is much more soft spoken and, well, feminine, even when using her cyborg strength, taking bullets, and generally kicking ass.

I'm also just going to say that Summer Glau is bloody hot, and I swear her cleavage has gotten larger since Serenity. She's actually TV-safe nude for a reasonable length of time in the pilot episode, which is just fine by me. In fact, I predict, using my uncanny powers of deduction, that John will form some kind of romantic relationship with her and ultimately loose his virginity to a cyborg. There is no fate but what the ratings make for themselves.

The next episode airs tomorrow at 9:00 pm. If the character development can be beefed up a bit, I think the series will have a solid chance of doing the impossible, being a television show that actually holds my attention. Only time will tell, unless they go back in time and change things. They can do that you know, but only if Cameron's naked. It's a new time travel rule to get guys like me to watch TV.

I Am Legend (Novel) Review

After watching I Am Legend, which you can read my review of here, I decided to do a little research on the original book knowing that the film was very different. What fascinated me was that I Am Legend is credited as being a huge influence on the modern day zombie genre, a genre I'm quite the fan of.

So of course, this means I had to go pick up the novel and read it for myself.

I Am Legend was first published in 1954 and written by Richard Matheson. Thought short (159 pages in the 2007 edition I purchased), I must say I have not been this gripped by a novel since A Dream of Eagles; I read almost all of it in one night.

I Am Legend begins in January 1976 (excluding flashbacks), and follows the life of Robert Neville. Less than a year earlier, an unknown sickness spread throughout the national, and likely global, population, infecting people and turning them into vampires. Now, Neville may very well be the last human alive on Earth. By day, he travels throughout Los Angeles slaying the comatose creatures where he finds them, gathering supplies, and preparing his own defences. By night, Neville remains barricaded inside his home as the infected and true undead continually search for a way inside to feast upon his blood.

Like the film, the power of the novel is not in the creatures themselves, but the isolation and psychology of Neville himself. Seriously, if you were the last man on Earth, what kind of mental state would you be in? I know I'd crack, and Neville proves he's just as human as myself. He goes through his fair share of despair, loneliness, and alcoholism, and the novel also immediately brings up a real and important issue that was neglected in the film: Sex. Being the last man alive, Neville will never be able to satisfy his own biological urges with another living partner ever again, and its tormenting him. The infected have also clued in on this, as many of the female infected will remove their dresses and strike suggestive poses whenever Neville peaks outside, and he's in such a state that its an internal struggle not to even try.

While certain aspects of the novel are, of course, cheesy like all "zombie flicks," its the simple, plausible humanity that is so alluring, and the easy identification that readers will have with Neville. The flashbacks also provide an interesting perspective on society's own initial reaction to the sickness, and its failure to react properly.

Due to the short length of I Am Legend, and the publisher's desire to be able to sell the novel at full price, they also added several short stories previously published by Matheson. They were published between 1951 and 1989 respectively, and range from great to smeh, but its certainly interesting to see the other influences that Matheson's works have had.

When all is said and done, like most novel adaptations, I Am Legend was of a much higher calibre than its recent film rendition, and is certainly worth a read for anyone who's a fan of post apocalyptic tales. To see and read the kind of influence this novel has had over the years, well, it truly is legend.

Star Wars: Republic Commando - True Colours Review

You see, this is why I enjoy the expanded Star Wars universe. Lucas hasn't directly touched it, so its, you know, good.

Star Wars: Republic Commando - True Colours is the latest Star Wars novel I've read, and it is an excellent piece of military science fiction.

Picking up almost exactly where Star Wars: Republic Commando - Triple Zero left off, it continues to follow the exploits of Omega Squad and the rest of Kal Skirata's growing "family."

As always, I find it very difficult to do proper novel reviews, at least to the depth and extent that I review games and movies since a novel is all plot, and I certainly don't want to give away any spoilers. To that end, this review will be short.

Skirata and his Null Arc's are very close to tracking down Ko Sai, the Kaminoan who may very well be able to stop the Clone's advanced aging process, allowing the Clones to have a normal life span. Meanwhile Delta Squad are on a rather shady mission with Vau when all goes to pot, and Omega Squad are sent to assist a bunch of lizard people retake their world from Separatist sympathizers.

Darman thinks constantly of Etain, who is on Qiilura performing the forced evacuation of the human colonists there while hiding her pregnancy from the Jedi Order and Darman, the child's clone father.

Like the previous novels, Star Wars: Republic Commando - True Colours shows the real gritty side of war, and the heavy Mando influence in the Clone ranks that are sadly absent from the films. Their concept of honour, loyalty, and family is fascinating, and the character development in the series is solid.

Its also quite interesting to see the Clone perspective on the war and its politics, and in this novel, the fact that all is not well withing the Republic itself truly begins to come to light.

Star Wars: Republic Commando - True Colours is a great addition to the Star Wars saga, and with it being set up for another sequel, I certainly hope we get to read more of author Karen Traviss' Mando boys.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lionhead Video Diary Episode 4 Now Available

Lionhead Studios has released its 4th Video Diary, this one detailing the world design we'll find in Fable 2.

Not a bad little video documentary, more informative than their last one as I recall.

You can watch Lionhead Video Diary Episode 4 - World Design in Fable 2 here, and it should also be available for download from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace soon if it isn't already.

Halo 3 Series 2 Action Figures

With the release of Series 1 only a few months away, McFarlane Toys has unveiled its line up for their Halo 3 Series 2 action figures.

You can check out the announcement here, and the official page here.

I like how the Master Chief from Series 2 comes with a Shotgun _and_ a Spartan Laser; a few extra additions over his standard Assault Rifle. It also says his helmet is removable, so I wonder if that means we'll be able to finally see the Chief's face?

The Arbiter's looking quite nice as well.

StarCraft II - Terran Crucio Siege Tank Revealed

Blizzard Entertainment has updated their StarCraft II page with a old favourite re-invented, the Terran Crucio Siege Tank.

Gamers may remember the common site of the Terran Arclite Siege Tank in Starcraft and Starcraft: Brood War, and the necessecity of almost every Terran Commander to revolve their strategy around its slow but devestating advance.

The Terran Crudcio Siege Tank is an overhaul for StarCraft II in which the unit has better close range defences, but also an increased cost to balance it out.

You can check out the unit's page here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mass Effect Review

Having been a huge fan of BioWare's console RPGs since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, I can honestly say that I have been waiting with a great deal of anticipation to play their first next generation console offering, the Xbox 360 exclusive Mass Effect. Lord knows I've mentioned it enough times on this very blog, and the reason I purchased my Xbox 360 when I did was for a previously incorrect Mass Effect expected release date.

Now that Mass Effect has been out for a month and a half, I've finally completed my first play-through last weekend and am now faced with the task of reviewing BioWare's latest epic. All I can say is wow, though not necessarily in the way you'd expect. The best way for me to describe it is that Mass Effect is a perfect example of what can make a great game and what can get in the way to make it fall short of its true potential. Mass Effect is an excellent example of why I'd love to sit in on a developer's internal meeting and simply ask them "Why?" Why the heck are you doing what your doing.

Firstly, however, a brief overview about the game's setting: Mass Effect is a brand new science fiction universe created by BioWare themselves complete with different races, cultures, and worlds all fleshed out with the game's lovely Codex. Players take on the role of Commander Shepard, who can either be male or female, and he/she must lead the crew of the star ship Normandy to uncover and foil the plans of the rogue Spectre Agent Saren.

Like BioWare's previous console RPGs, Mass Effect is very story heavy and the game world itself is rich, detailed, and beautiful. To summarize it best, the universe of Mass Effect reminds me very much of Star Wars if Lucas would never have touched it; that is to say it's actually, you know, good.

The game uses Epic's amazing Unreal Engine 3, and I have to say that without question Mass Effect is the single greatest looking game I have ever seen. Not just the environments, but the digital actors and the full range of facial expressions; it's all awe-inspiring. The characters of Mass Effect, be they human or alien, look almost photo realistic. In fact, my only major gripe with the digital actors would have to be the shadows often seen on them. I can't perfectly articulate it, but much of the shadowing simply looks wrong. Think almost like retro-'70's comic book dot shading. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but I really don't like it. The game also defaults with the video options of Motion Blur and Film Grain on, and I honestly find that both effects look plain bad. The Motion Blur is too excessive whenever you pan the camera that I found it distracting, and I can tell you right now that Film Grain does not look like film grain (I work in television production kids). If you disable these options, the only major graphical issue with the game would be a significant amount of texture pop-in. The texture pop-in in Mass Effect is constant and its everywhere, on every screen, ever menu, everything, and while every Unreal Engine 3 game to date has featured some level of texture pop-in, it's the worst in Mass Effect. I must admit however that this flaw didn't really bother me so much as, like many, I've played Halo 2 on the Xbox, and at least in Mass Effect we don't have digital actors magically popping into a scene after the scene's started, instead we just have their texture details popping in.

Audio wise the game is solid. Mass Effect is dialogue heavy in traditional BioWare fashion, however instead of reading and then selecting a conversation response like in past titles, BioWare has introduced the new conversation wheel in which you can select a quick response while the other conversation member is still talking, such as "Get to the Point.", "Who wants to know?", or "Sure I'll help." Once the speaker is done talking, Shepard will chime in with a fully detailed, fully spoken response that elaborates on the short answer you selected. This new system allows for very fluid, dynamic conversations, and the camera angles chosen by the development team are exceptionally cinematic. The voice acting itself is simply excellent, and the development team really made the most of those solid performances in tandem with the digital actors. The only voice acting I found plain old average would actually have been the male Commander Shepard himself. His voice acting fluctuated from great to sub-par, depending on what he was saying. Sometimes he'd sound too excited or too low key, and I found he could fluctuate rather unbelievably with no real warning or provocation.

The musical score of the game was great, and a lot of the tunes reminded me of retro-'80's sci-fi flicks (especially the main menu's), and one track in-particular reminded me of some of the music from Jade Empire, though unfortunately I don't know the track's name.

Gameplay wise, this is where we enter the mixed bag. Everything certainly starts off well enough, with you having heavy customization options over your Commander Shepard, including gender, background, service history, appearance, etc. Shepard's face is actually so customizable that I spent a full 45 minutes seeing just how close I could get him to look like me, and while I did a rather good job, I couldn't help but feel he looks more like the neighbour's kid than myself (should I be disturbed by this?). You then get to explore the Normandy a bit and you get to experience the game's amazing dialogue system and very soon, you're dropped onto a besieged planet for a taste of combat.

Mass Effect's combat is handled in real time, and it's a third person tactical shooter, however much to my dismay unlike the smooth interface of Gears of War of which the preview videos reminded me so much, the combat in Mass Effect is clunky, tedious, and unrefined; so much so that it took me over a week to simply motivate myself to play through and finish the game's first "tutorial" world.

Let me sum it up for you: While you and all your Squad Members have Shields, the game relies heavily on taking cover, just like in Gears of War. However unlike Gears of War, you do not press "A" to "attach" to cover, you move up to it and simply press Up on the Left Stick. Sounds simple right? Well, the problem is that Shepard is notorious for _not_ properly affixing himself to a wall, and if you want to take cover on a low object, one where you'll need to be crouched, you have to manually crouch first, then move into it. Also, if you move to the right or left just a hair too far from cover, instead of peaking around you'll actually pop out exposing yourself. The whole cover system is tedious and could have been streamlined a whole lot better, and while you do get used to it after several hours of play, you shouldn't need several hours to do so; it should be smooth and intuitive from the get go.

You're Squad control is also really bad and generally next to useless. You can have two Squad Members with you at any one point, and you can order them to Target, Move, Rally, or Take Cover, however these options, accessed via the D-Pad, don't always work out so well. For example, I found that if you order them to Take Cover they'd sometimes just stand there stupidly. Rallying and Targeting (an enemy) tend to work fine and will be your most used commands, but Move is problematic since you can't order each Squad Member individually; you can only move both or none to a specific location. Ultimately, you'll just end up giving up and letting your friendly AI do its own thing, reviving Squad mates with the Unity Talent should they get incapacitated. The game's AI, friendly and enemy, isn't awful, but it's also nothing to write home about. I often found that my Squad would kill things well enough on their own, so long as I equipped them with some good weapons, but often enemies wouldn't kill me due to smarts, they'd kill me due to my struggling with clunky controls, with overwhelming firepower, or because I was screwing around.

Speaking of equipment, let's talk about the game's many items and Equipment management. There's a variety of Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Pistols, and Sniper Rifles to use, each with varying levels and stats, and you can also get different Omni-tools that allow you and certain Squad Members to use their Tech Talents and Tech Grenades. Your Biotic characters can get Bio-amps to help boast there native Biotic "Force" Talents, and as the player character you can use conventional Grenades, as well as Medi-gel for Healing and Omni-gel for hacking or repairing the Mako (More on the Mako later). Swapping items around is generally very easy, though you have to manually exit the Equipment Menu and toggle between your Squad Member's lockers if you want to do a massive re-equip on everyone which can be very tedious. I also found that the game likes to saturate you with so many upgrades for your weapons, especially if you've brought the right Squad Members with you to allow you to hack every single container, locker, etc. Some of these upgrades are useful, while some are less so, but when it comes time to sell the large amounts of excess upgrades that'll clutter up your inventory, the inventory list does a really poor sorting job which can make things frustrating. I also found the cap at having 150 items to be rather small for the amount of upgrades your always hit with, forcing me to spend the time re-equipping my Squad and hardcore managing my inventory much more than I would have liked.

Now, let's talk about the Mako. Mass Effect features this really amazing and detailed Galaxy Map aboard the Normandy which allows you to travel to any number of Clusters which hold several Systems which in turn holds several Uncharted Worlds for you to poke around in. Typically, you can Scan most of them to try to find resources or artifacts, and you can usually land on one of these Uncharted Worlds per System, which is where extra exploration and side quests, called Assignments, often occur. The problem with these Uncharted Worlds is that unlike the game's main worlds, they tend to be very repetitive and barren. Oh, they're often detailed enough in terms of an art direction standpoint, but for actual exploring, you spent most of the time driving around in your little rover vehicle, the Mako, simply getting from point A to B. This wouldn't be so bad if the Mako handled like a Warthog, but instead the Mako is one of the single worst video game vehicles I have ever had the frustration of driving. The controls and physics on the Mako are awful, there is no other word to describe it, and why such a poorly polished component was even included in the retail game is beyond me. Often times, when trying to maneuver quickly, I'd end up going backwards when I was pressing forwards on the Left Stick or vise-versa, and getting away from a Thresher Maw can be a hassle simply because you won't be able to drive in the direction you're trying to go. From a physics standpoint, the Mako seems to have the magical ability to almost stick vertically to mountains as it moves along, and yet it can have great difficulty climbing certain slight ridges. If the Mako falls and tips over, it'll stop itself, again by magic, just before completely tipping and right itself. I swear, if this weren't so bad it would be laughable, and though this may sound harsh, I honestly feel justified in saying that whoever designed the Mako should never, ever, be allowed to design another video game vehicle again. EVER. It was that bad, that frustrating, and I would welcome a Title Update that would remove the Mako from the game permanently.

In fact, the Mako and the Uncharted Worlds are an excellent example of why Mass Effect is a good game and not a great game. Given the blandness of the Uncharted Worlds and the ridiculous nature of the Mako, it would have been to BioWare's benefit to scrap them entirely and focus on polishing up the clunky combat system and adding even more content to the beautifully designed primary worlds.

And there you have it, the good, and the bad. Mass Effect is a game that does so much right, and sadly so much wrong. It is the closest I have ever come to starring in my own sci-fi film, with an excellent main story and the most convincing digital actors I've ever seen in a game. Without giving away any spoilers, the game's climax is one of the best I've ever had the privilege to play bar none, and I'm looking forward to seeing how things turn out on subsequent playthroughs. Unfortunately, however, the game also really blunders up with the lackluster Uncharted Worlds and the Mako vehicle that should never have seen the light of day. The combat of which you partake so much in is clunky but playable, and Equipment management could have been streamlined a little more. When all's said and done, Mass Effect is a game that no one should miss, but it's also a game that needed more development time, more polish time specifically, and it's a damn shame at that. When I finished playing Mass Effect last weekend, I set my Controller down and thought to myself, "Wow. What this could have been had they had a few more months." Here's hoping the inevitable Mass Effect 2 can deliver a more refined experience.

Somewhat separate from the actual review, I'd also like to comment on the Mass Effect: Limited Collector's Edition. I own the standard retail version of the game, which is too bad as I would have loved to have owned the Limited Collector's Edition. Why don't I own the Limited Collector's Edition? Only because it is the most poorly handled/distributed Limited Edition I've ever seen in gaming.

This fault can not be laid upon BioWare, but rather Mass Effect's publisher, Microsoft Game Studios. Originally, it was reported that the Mass Effect: Limited Edition would be available via online orders only within Canada, however that was quickly changed to unavailable period. Firstly, I think its inexcusable that a Limited Edition would be unavailable in the developer's home country, and the publisher's home continent, but if its not going to be made available then its not available and there's nothing I can do.

So what did I see on release day, but online availability at Best Buy, and a few days later, online availability at Future Shop. I thought it wasn't available in Canada? And what did I see this week past, but the Limited Edition for retail sale at Future Shop, and an associate of mine has seen it at Best Buy as well. What happened to online only?

Seriously, the distribution of the Mass Effect: Limited Edition was plagued with so much miscommunication that it smacks of nothing but sloppy, and again begs the question of "Why?"

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Halo 2 - Spartan Coffee

'Cause even cybernetically enhanced super soliders have problems getting up in the morning...

Halo 2 - Flood Juggernaut

A long while ago, I heard about a Flood Form that was cut from Halo 2 back in the day, but I never really researched it.

Today for one reason or another I was looking for Flood Screenshots online, and I came across a shot of the Juggernaut. I also found a page on it here which has a video at Halopedia.

The Juggernaut's actually quite interesting, and I think it's unfortunate it was nixed from the game. At least it made it into Halo 3 as the Pure Form Tank, but the Juggernaut looks like it would have been much tougher based on the video.

I found the original screenshot on the blog Zeitgeist and Ethosis, and the post is actually an interesting read about Halo and lines of thinking. Check it out.

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom Demo Impressions

Why do I do this to myself? Why do I play Japanese inspired games when a) I know I don't like them, b) they have no concept of western fantasy, c) nothing makes sense aside from the fact that you get to horribly dismember waves of enemies without taking a scratch.

Not that I have a problem with the dismembering part mind you; ripping through hordes of dumbass monsters is fun as anything and gore simply builds character, but I just can't bring myself to like the general over-the-top everything of Japanese media. It smacks of hardcore cheese when I like my media to be a lot more, well, realistic with a touch of flare.

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is one such title coming to the Xbox 360 and the Demo has been released over Xbox LIVE Marketplace. I downloaded the demo the other day and gave it a go today. There are several playable characters in this fantasy game but only one available for the Demo, an assassin, who's great with Katanas and really tears enemies apart.

In typical Japanese media fashion, the intro to the demo makes no bloody sense at all and your saturated with heavy guitar rock music, 'cause, you know, fantasy titles are so much more believeable with electric guitars. You start off with a quick tutorial learning to control your character and inventory and then you set out on a linear path and battle hordes (and I do mean hordes) of monsters who are conveniently standing along various points in the road and butcher them.

I pretty much have to stop here, as I can't write about this anymore. Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is a game that goes so against my style, so against what I think gaming should be... it's the kind of game I'd expect to find on the PlayStation 3.

Pretty visuals though, but too damn Japanese for its own good.

Xbox 360 Games and DVD Sold

I decided to clean off my Game/DVD shelf a bit today, and went and sold a few old titles to Deja Vu Discs.

I sold my copy of Superman Returns (Xbox 360) that came free with Mass Effect, and I also sold Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (Xbox 360) which I got as a gift this past summer.

I was also able to unload my DVD copy of Signs, and after re-looking through my shelf, there's a bunch more titles I think I may sell in the near future.

A buddy of mine is right. Selling stuff actually feels kind of good. Want to sell me your sister? What?

Free Xbox LIVE Arcade Game Coming

Microsoft's done bad. You may recall that Xbox LIVE was about as stable as Windows Vista over the holiday break as indicated in this post here, and Microsoft has officially commented on their craptastic performance in an open letter here.

To make ammends, an upcoming Xbox LIVE Aracade game will be released for free to all! Now, hopefully said free game is a) actually good and worth our time and b) available for free right away for everyone and not just Gold Members, but that's a lot to ask for now isn't it.

Halo Wars Screenshots

Some new screenshots for the upcoming Xbox 360 RTS Halo Wars have been released, which you can view at TeamXbox here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Night Elf Mohawk? How about a Dark Elf.

By now, most of you have seen the World of Warcraft commercial with Mr. T in which he plays as a Night Elf Mohawk (below), the joke of course being that there is no "Mohawk" class in the game.

Well, I was just thinking, and while I don't play World of Warcraft, I do play The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a game in which I can create Custom Classes, such as "Mohawk," and while there are no Night Elves, there sure are Dark Elves, and you can actually give them mohawks.

So, I could actually create a Dark Elf Mohawk in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Take that Blizzard!

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem Review

I'm going to lay it out nice and plain for you, when paying to see a film like Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, you're not paying to see drama or character development, you're paying to watch two retro '80's movie monsters smash the snot out of each other while butchering a bunch of dumb yokels in the process. To that end, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem succeeds in spades.

If you're a fan of the Alien and Predator franchises, specifically the monsters themselves, see this movie. If you've never cared for them, or can not stand intense gore (this film is definitely _not_ PG-13 like Alien vs Predator was), or were looking for something along the lines of a real plot, then don't see this film. It's that simple people; mindless entertainment at its best.

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem picks up right where Alien vs Predator left off. Literally. In fact, they quickly reshow the birth of the PredAlien, and like the xenomorphs in the first Alien vs Predator, it matures fast. Very fast. Fast enough to surprise and butcher the Predators on board and crash the ship back on earth. This all happens in under the first 5 minutes of the film, and right away some humans get loved by a pair of Facehuggers, which begins that infestation of Gunnison, Colorado.

Before the ship crashed, however, a Predator onboard managed to send a transmission to another Predator on their homeworld. This is significant to the franchise because we finally get to glimpse what very well may be the Predator homeworld after 20 years! This Predator, nicknamed "Wolf" (according to the credits), suits up and sets off for Earth to clean up the mess and avenge the fallen.

The human cast is played mainly by small screen actors who have appeared in a variety of hit shows. I'm not going to list them all, you can look them up on IMDB yourselves, you lazy bum. Dallas (Steven Pasquale) has just returned from serving break-and-enter-time in prison, and reunites with his brother Ricky (Johnny Lewis) and the town's Sheriff, Morales (John Oritz). Kelly (Reiko Aylesworth) also returns from her time in the military to be reunited with her husband and daughter (Ariel Gade). Every Alien and Predator film that has come before has at least attempted to build up their characters, to develop them with some kind of backstory, even Alien vs Predator. Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, on the other hand, really does away with this and you can instantly recognize who is what. Dallas is the responsible anti-hero, Morales is the by-the-book-guy, Ricky's the underachieving teenage yutz, etc. Not much depth, and all the human characters really serve as is fodder for the monsters.

For the monsters themselves, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem sticks to the majority of the traditional formulas better than its predecessor. Wolf is like what we've seen in Predator and Predator 2, save that he's got some new toys to play with (love those trip wires) that really make sense with the Predator mythos, unlike those oversized novelty blades from Alien vs Predator. He's also very focused in stoping the Aliens, its just that those dumb humans keep getting in his way.

The bugs themselves are modelled more after the look of Aliens, except there's no Queen this time, and thus no eggs (though there's a bunch of Facehuggers from the crashed Predator ship). Instead, we have the PredAlien, and it introduces some changes to the established Alien lifecycle. Without going into detail, let's just say if you have an issue with bad things happening to children and pregnant women, stear clear of this film, as it's actually quite disturbing.

This really doesn't need to be a long review. Its Aliens. Its Predator. They kill each other, and they kill a bunch of hick rednecks. That's it; that's the film. Is it movie of the year? Hell no. Is it sadistically gory, brain-dead entertainment? Absolutely. Makes me feel like I'm 10 again. What?

Happy New Year!

We here at Arbiter's Judgement would like to take a moment to wish you all a very happy New Year! 2007 was an insane but ultimately solid and fruitful year for me, so here's hoping to more of the same in 2008. Well, minus the insane part. That wasn't fun.

We saw some great releases on both the Xbox 360 as well as the silver screen, some great books were published, and the Staff slacked off as usual. Lazy bum.

Anyway, all the best everyone, now go play BioShock or something!