Monday, June 30, 2008

Happy Canada Day!

Hey kids! I'm out for Canada Day, and likely won't be doing any updates until this weekend.

Have a safe and happy Canada Day, and remember not to stand over a firework, staring at it's lovely sparkle just before it launches, or you could spend your day in a hospital instead of on a beech with someone like her.

Words to live by my friend. Words to live by. Beer.

The Orange Box: Portal (Xbox 360) Review

Last fall, Valve Software released The Orange Box to the PC, Xbox 360, and later the PlayStation 3 to critical acclaim, quickly earning top scores across the board rating it as one of the best titles on all the above platforms.

While that itself is an excellent achievement, the thing about The Orange Box is that it’s a compilation of games, not one game unto itself. For that reason, I personally can not justify reviewing The Orange Box itself, as it’s simply not a fair assessment when compared to other titles that truly are one game only. Thus, I will be reviewing the different titles of The Orange Box individually, rating them on their own merits.

The second title I played through from The Orange Box would be Portal. As I understand it, Portal has come out as the most popular title The Orange Box has to offer, and is largely praised for its original design and style.

Though presented in a first person perspective, and featuring a mute character lead as is Valve's tradition, Portal is not a shooter but rather a puzzle game. You play as Chell and find yourself mysteriously waking up in the Aperture Science Laboratories from stasis. You are immediately guided by the facility's AI, GLaDOS, to begin going through a serious of tests related to portal technology.

I need to come clean with you: I am not a puzzle fan, and I much prefer to shoot the crap out of things. While I don't mind puzzles here or there, and I found myself enjoying the beginning and mid sections of Portal, the later test chambers were severely pissing me off (especially Chamber 18!). I can honestly say I don't have the patience for these sort of things, and for that reason, I am not the best person to review Portal. Thus, I'll keep this review short and sweet.

Generally speaking, Portal focuses on you using the Handheld Portal Device to create an entry and exit portal in a test chamber to navigate obstacles and hazards and solve challenging environmental puzzles. The concept of portals is nothing new, and was done successfully by Prey nearly two years ago, however what's unique about Portal is that it let's you place your portal's pretty much anywhere you want. I say almost because there are certain metal surfaces that you can not create a portal on, and the game makes frequent use of these walls later on in the game, much to my frustration.

Aside from that, you can drop portals all over the place, and use them to reach otherwise out of the way platforms, boost your own velocity, and avoid hazardous water. The level design is usually quite cleaver, but again, due to my lack of patience, I had issues with the later levels of the game.

Like all of Valve's titles, Portal is built upon the Source Engine and features excellent use of physics. The game's environments are generally the same repetitive lab built differently from room to room, which makes perfect sense of course since you are confined to a specific location. Audio wise, you pretty much only hear from GLaDOS, who is absolutely hilarious in her cold, caring way. The game's ending track is also quite funny.

I can't deny that Portal is one of the more original games that I've played lately, and it can certainly be fun navigating the environments and outwitting GLaDOS, but again, I'm not a puzzle fan, so Portal isn't the selling point of The Orange Box for me.

Firefox 3.0 Released

Mozilla has recently released Firefox 3.0, which you can snag right here.

I've been testing it out on my company MacBook for the last hour, and so far so good.

On an unrelated topic, I'm finding nothing but pics of hot chicks advertising nerdy products today, just by searching for simple images like "Firefox 3.0." I love the internet.

The Unofficial Xbox Support/Service Centre Canadian FAQ

I've been frequenting the official Xbox Forums over the last while, specifically the Canadian General Forum, and one thing I noticed was the surge of threads dealing with the same basic Support and Service issues over and over.

To that end, I've created this basic FAQ to hopefully help a few people out.

Disclaimer: This FAQ is unofficial and has not been approved by Microsoft. All the questions and answers are as up-to-date as the writer can make them, and all official policies and procedures are subject to change without notice.

Comments, suggestions, and updates are more than welcome.

1) Q: How can I get in touch with Xbox Support?

A: You can reach them by calling 1-800-4MY-XBOX, or by going to their official Support site here. There's also a very handy trouble shooting tool for three flashing red lights here and for screen freezing here.

If you speak French, I recommend selecting the French option when you call, as you're guaranteed to speak with someone from Quebec. If you take the English option, you'll likely end up speaking with someone overseas who, unfortunately, may be difficult to understand.

2) Q: I'm having an issue with my Xbox 360. How do I know if it's covered under warranty?

A: The Xbox 360 has a 1 year general warranty, and a 3 year general hardware failure (three flashing red lights and E74) warranty. Full warranty details can be found here.

If you purchased your Xbox 360 console used, it is not covered by the warranty; the warranty applies to the original purchaser of the retail product only.

3) Q: How does the repair process work in Canada?

A: After contacting Xbox Support at 1-800-4MY-XBOX, you will be able to create a service order with them. Alternatively you can place a service order via the official Support web site and its Repair Agent here, however I hear it tends to have issues with Postal Codes, leaving you with little option but to call (though you're certainly welcome to try the online method). When you do call, follow the instructions of the automated agent until you get to speak to a customer service representative.

You will be emailed a UPS label in approximately 24 hours and can ship your console via a box that you provide and once you drop off or have your defective console picked up by UPS, you will receive your replacement Xbox 360 console in approximately 10 to 15 business days.

To the best of my knowledge, there is only one Service Centre in Canada, located in Toronto, Ontario. Shipping times can vary based on your distance from Toronto.

4) Q: What's a business day?

A: Business days are work days, typically Monday to Friday, excluding holidays such as Canada Day, Labour Day, etc. Weekends are not considered business days.

5) Q: I've waited for over 10 to 15 business days respectively, and I haven't received my Xbox 360 replacement console!

A: Shipping times are approximate and there are several factors that can delay (or speed up) service. If at the end of your 10 to 15 business days you have not yet received your replacement Xbox 360 console, call Xbox Support at 1-800-4MY-XBOX to inquire on the status. You can also check the status via the Repair Agent here, and once you have a UPS or Purolator Tracking number, you can track the package via UPS' site here, or Purolator's site here.

It's important not to let your service order go stale. If Xbox Support has not gotten things to you in the specified time frame, follow up!

6) Q: Do they really send us refurbished consoles? I thought it was brand new.

A: Originally for the Xbox 360 Pro, Arcade, and Core consoles, the policy in Canada was that Xbox Support would replace your defective unit with a refurbished console, however there have now been many reports with people receiving brand new, factory sealed Xbox 360 consoles manufactured in June or July 2008.

Whether you will receive a new console or a refurbished console seems to be completely random and at the discretion of Xbox Support. Keep your fingers crossed.

I am not certain on the process for Xbox 360 Elite, Xbox 360 Resident Evil 5 Special Edition Consoles, or Xbox 360 Halo 3 Special Edition Consoles, though I've heard Xbox 360 Elite consoles are often replaced with refurbished units.

7) Q: I've heard that refurbished Xbox 360 consoles are prone to breaking quickly. Is this true?

A: It is certainly possible that your refurbished Xbox 360 console will break on you, just as your new Xbox 360 console did. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 is well documented for having a host of hardware issues, so there is no "perfect" or "problem free" unit.

Once you receive your replacement console, make sure to test every function and port that you can to ensure the entire console is working correctly. If you do find something wrong, you'll likely need to re-contact Xbox Support.

8) Q: What kind of a warranty does a refurbished Xbox 360 console have?

A: Full details here.

9) Q: What are the repair costs they mention for post-warranty service?

A: You'll need to contact Xbox Support to find out the current cost. I've heard anything from $110.00 to $150.00, and I've also heard the cost will be cheaper if you place your service order online. For the latest official information, Xbox Support is your best bet at 1-800-4MY-XBOX.

10) Q: What is the real hardware failure rate of the Xbox 360 console?

A: Official statistics have never been released to my knowledge. The unofficial number is anywhere between 16% to 33%. Suffice it to say, it was high enough for Microsoft to extend the original 3 month warranty to 1 year, and to add the 3 year general hardware failure warranty (three flashing red lights and E74).

11) Q: I've heard that the newer Xbox 360 consoles are fixed and never break. Is this true?

A: Every Xbox 360 console, like any other piece of hardware, has the potential to fail. The rumour is that newly manufactured consoles have a lower chance for hardware failure, but this has not been officially proven.

12) Q: I've decided to purchase a brand new console instead of going through Xbox Support. Is there anything I should know?

A: Your existing HDD can be moved to any other Xbox 360 console. This makes purchasing an Xbox 360 Arcade the cheapest new console alternative. If you intend to use your downloaded content Offline, you'll need to transfer the licenses of that content. Details can be found here.

13) Q: If I do go through Xbox Support, do I need to transfer my content licenses?

A: No, Xbox Support will do this for you. This process can take up to 30 days. It's also a good idea to call Xbox Support after you receive your replacement console to make sure the ball is rolling, as they often seem to "forget" otherwise.

14) Q: Xbox Support has lost my order/they're taking forever/I hate them.

A: Like most customer service centres, Xbox Support can make mistakes. If you are having issues, ask to speak to a manager and make sure you have your reference number handy. Remember to be polite. The person you are speaking to is a human being. They did not break your Xbox 360, and they likely are not the person who lost your order or messed things up. Treat people like how you want to be treated.

15) Q: I went through management and I'm still not getting any results. This service is horrible and I want results.

A: If you've exhausted all options of officially going through Xbox Support, you may wish to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Many customers, including myself, have had success sorting out Support horrors this way.

16) Q: What kind of compensation will Xbox Support give me for my trouble?

A: Xbox Support will send everyone a complimentary Xbox LIVE 1 month Gold Membership card with their replacement console. If you do not receive your card, please call Xbox Support at 1-800-4MY-XBOX.

17) Q: I'm very angry at Mircrosoft and I want more than a simple 1 month of Xbox LIVE Gold!

A: Call Xbox Support at 1-800-4MY-XBOX and ask to speak to a manager. Make sure you have your reference number handy. Explain the situation to him/her, and see if you can get anything else. Some customers have gotten free games and accessories as additional compensation, but keep in mind these "extras" are at the discretion of Xbox Support, and tend to only be given out in extreme cases.

18) Q: I hate Microsoft. I hate the Xbox 360. I hate you.

A: Thanks. Now I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The Xbox 360 has lots of hardware issues that are well documented, and they have a very good warranty to support this. Unfortunately, they are far from perfect and most of us have had issues with Xbox Support and many of us are on multiple refurbished consoles. There is nothing we can do but go through the official process and leave feedback with the Service reps, hoping the quality of service will be improved.

Please do not post hateful comments in this post or attack other posters simply because they like the Xbox 360 and/or are trying to help you. You will not gain any sympathy this way, and you will likely have your posts deleted.

If you're that angry with Microsoft and Xbox, I suggest you sell you're Xbox 360 and go here.

19) Q: I bought an extended warranty from a retailer, and my Xbox 360 has died. What do I do?

A: Since this is a private agreement between yourself and the retailer, you will need to first go through them before contacting Xbox Support. Please refer to the details of your private retail warranty.

20) Q: I don't want to ever see the three flashing red lights again. What can I do?

A: While hardware issues will happen to many of us no matter what we do, the best precautions are to simply treat the console correctly.

Make sure your Xbox 360 is in a well ventilated area and do not move the console while it is powered on and a disc is in the tray. Follow the operation instructions found in your manual for the best results.

You can view my own set-up as an example here.

Also, do not attempt to open up your Xbox 360 console or tamper with it in any other way unless directly advised by an Xbox Support customer service representative. Doing so otherwise will void your warranty.

I hope this little FAQ helps a few people out. If you have any additional questions I may have missed, or have constructive information to add, please feel free to comment and I'll do what I can to address them.

Updated: Sun. May. 30, 2010

LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

This week, LucasArts released a playable demo of LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures on the Xbox 360 Marketplace, and having enjoyed LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, I decided to give it a try.

The good news is in terms of style and gameplay, it’s almost exactly like LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game. The bad news is that in terms of style and gameplay, it’s almost exactly like LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game.

Based on the demo at any rate, aside from the fact that I was controlling Indiana Jones instead of Anakin Skywalker and exploring a jungle instead of a Droid Factory, there really wasn’t anything to set LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures apart from what I’ve played before.

Not that this is a bad thing, as the demo for LEGO Indian Jones: The Original Adventures was great fun, but the lack of innovation shown didn’t do anything to spur me to go buy the title. You still collect LEGO studs to try and fill that metre, you still have 4 hearts for health and collect hearts to refill them, you die the same way, fight and build the same way, etc.

Now considering this is really a kids game, that’ll make it nice, easy, and consistent for children to simply pick up and play. For more mature gamers, however, I’d advise a rental instead of full retail price.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Diablo III Announced

It’s been 7 years since the release of the Diablo II Expansion Set: Lord of Destruction, and finally Blizzard Entertainment has announced Diablo III!

This will be the first game in the serious to use a 3D engine, and aside from enhanced animations, character models, lighting, etc., the game will also feature destructible terrain.

Set 20 years after the events of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, players will be able to choose from one of 5 character classes, some new, some returning, each possessing a host of skills and abilities. Thus far, Blizzard Entertainment has shown off the return of the Barbarian, a fan favourite from Diablo II, and showed us one of the new classes, the Witch Doctor, who appears to be somewhat of a cross between a Necromancer and a Druid. Players will also be able to choose their character’s gender (which likely means the Amazon is out).

I could go on and on about what’s been revealed, but you're better of checking the official site here for all the news, updates, and gorgeous trailers. The cinematic boys at Blizzard have outdone themselves once again, as you can see below.

I’m really looking forward to this one, even though it’s likely a few years away.

The Orange Box: Half-Life 2 - Episode One (Xbox 360) Review

Last fall, Valve Software released The Orange Box to the PC, Xbox 360, and later the PlayStation 3 to critical acclaim, quickly earning top scores across the board rating it as one of the best titles on all the above platforms.

While that itself is an excellent achievement, the thing about The Orange Box is that it’s a compilation of games, not one game unto itself. For that reason, I personally can not justify reviewing The Orange Box itself, as it’s simply not a fair assessment when compared to other titles that truly are one game only. Thus, I will be reviewing the different titles of The Orange Box individually, rating them on their own merits.

The first title I played from The Orange Box was Half-Life 2: Episode One. My first proper play through of Half-Life 2 was the Xbox version, which I reviewed here. For those of you who know me or have been following this site for the last few years, you’ll no doubt know that I’m highly critical of Valve for Half-Life 2. As my original review shows, I generally thought positively of the gameplay, but I had serious issues with the story, or lack thereof, and the game's lackluster AI. It did not live up to the hype, and it certainly failed to live up to the revolutionary genius that was Half-Life. In fact, I consider Half-Life 2 to be one of the most overrated games in history.

Having said all that, I’m happy to say that though it‘s not perfect, Half-Life 2: Episode One has redeemed the franchise in my eyes, addressing many of the issues I had with its predecessor.

The great strength of Half-Life’s story was its simplicity. You play as Gordon Freeman, a research scientist in the Black Mesa research facility trying to survive a catastrophic alien invasion. Nice, simple, and effective. Many questions were raised and anticipation for the sequel, for some answers, was high. When Valve finally released Half-Life 2, we got some drivel of a “story” in an alien occupied Earth that made no sense and focused in Gordon running around from point A to B with no realistic motivation what-so-ever. Worst of all, it answered no questions from the original game, and simply raised a bunch more.

Thankfully, Half-Life 2: Episode One went back to the basics, and focuses on Gordon and Alyx simply trying to escape City 17 before the Citadel explodes and destroys the city. Simple, focused, and without the BS that dripped from Half-Life 2. Even better, Valve did away with the long winded, one-sided conversations that everyone had with Gordon in Half-Life 2, which only served to alienate any character attachment, and kept things short and sweet. Now, even important characters like Alyx simply talk _to_ Gordon instead of with him. As a mute character lead, this is how conversations should be handled.

So yeah, I approve of the story set up in Half-Life 2: Episode One. I also really enjoyed the level design. The Half-Life series has always featured puzzles, but once again, Half-Life 2 mucked all that up by forcing players to simply use the Gravity Gun to drop bricks or whatever into baskets. Thank you Valve, but I wanted to play a game with Half-Life 2, not a physics tech demo. Once again, Half-Life 2: Episode One brought a lot of the puzzles back to the series’ roots, and focused on tricky situations to open doors, navigate around trip wires, and to actually do more with your environment.

They also seemed to have beefed up the shoddy enemy AI. Half-Life featured excellent enemy AI for its time with the Soldiers, who remained challenging many years after. Half-Life 2, on the other hand, featured AI akin to Goombas and was a joke; no challenge what-so-ever. In Half-Life 2: Episode One, enemies did seem to put up more of a fight, even on Normal. Now, this may have been because I was trying for the One Free Bullet Achievement, in which you can only fire one bullet in the whole game, but it was fun relying on the Gravity Gun and grenades to see things through. I also loved the excellent use of zombies through the game, with suitably dark, Doom 3-ish atmospheres.

Half-Life 2: Episode One features only two new kinds of enemies, the Zombines, zombified Combine Soldiers who carry grenades, and Stalkers, humans turned slave workers by the Combine, as well as no new weapons, however I can overlook this simply due to the high quality gameplay the title offers over its predecessor.

Another great feature is Alyx herself. She follows you for the whole game and actually proves to be a useful companion instead of the usual dumb AI sidekick. Alyx will effectively kill enemies and deal with situations, and she’ll also offer good puzzle solving advise. I do wish they could have enhanced her path-finding AI, however. Often times in tight areas she’ll get in your way like the citizens did in Half-Life 2, and I also had a bug happen in the hospital where she got stuck on a cabinet door which prevented her from following me for the rest of the level.

From a technical standpoint, the Source engine is showing it’s age, but it still does the trick. Character models look great and offer a full range of facial expressions. The environments are wonderfully detailed, gritty, lived in, and thoroughly smashed up from the civil war, though a bit lacking in texture quality. There’s also great use of HDR lighting everywhere.

Now, being an episode, Half-Life 2: Episode One is the first installment of what Valve themselves admits they should have called Half-Life 3, and because it’s only the first third of this story-arc, you can expect a short amount of game time compared to your average shooter. For me, it took me 4.5 hours to play through the episode, which isn’t bad considering many full games are between 8 to 10 hours.

Still, it has done well for setting the stage for more to come. As I mentioned earlier, Valve lost me with Half-Life 2, as they did just about everything wrong in so many key areas of that game. Half-Life 2: Episode One, however, sets the stage for a lot of potential for the remainder of the series, and if Half-Life 2: Episode Two can continue on this level of quality, gameplay, and design, I just might have to take back a lot of those things I've said about Valve over the last few years.

Exclusive Videos of The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is shaping up to be one of this summer's most anticipated blockbusters, and the good folks over at Rocket XL have let me know that the Comcast site for The Dark Knight is hosting some exclusive, behind the scenes clips of the film.

You can view them in all their glory here, and remember to put a smile on your face >:).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dawn of the Dead (US Theatrical Release) (1978) DVD Review

I'm a zombie whore. I think we all know that by now. Thus I figured it high time I got around to watching the cult classic George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. After getting through about a third of the film, I really just have one thing to ask: How?

How did this end up being revered as one of the best zombie films ever made? How did this score 97% on Rotten Tomatoes? How is this even considered horror?

I'm not talking about the low budget special effects, or the really cheesy '70's sound track, or anything to do with it being a 30 year old film, I'm talking about it's lack of horror and believable characters from the get-go.

Perhaps I'm just desensitised or jaded or whatever, but let me start by saying that Dawn of the Dead is _not_ scary. At all. In fact, watching an episode of Barney & Friends is fraught with more horror than Dawn of the Dead is.

The zombies themselves are completely pathetic and fail to inspire anything but cheesy jokes at their expense. Again, I'm not talking about the lame grey face paint or the bright red "blood," I'm talking about the fact that a horde of zombies can surround one of the survivors, and he'll be just fine because they can't be bothered to properly grab hold of him, and even if they do grab him, they'll take forever to try and bite him! Where's the fear of the zombified masses if you can run through a crowd of them with no risk what-so-ever? Perhaps the zombie genre really evolved from this film, but these early renditions are so far from the zombie lore I know that they were simply laughable.

I suppose I should get in to the film's premise. There's an unexplained zombie uprising, as there always is, and 4 survivors fly off in a news station helicopter and ultimately barricade themselves in a suburban shopping mall. David Emge plays Stephen, the news station's pilot, who's in the thick of things with his co-worker and girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross) and two deserting SWAT officers, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger). Together, they try to hold off the undead horde that's pursuing them by using what supplies and weapons the mall has to offer. It's a great concept that has been mirrored in other films and games, and the criticisms of materialism evident throughout the film are certainly powerful, but such subtle critiques are lost with the poor scripting and characters.

I just couldn't buy any of the characters, who's actions are so ridiculous you find yourself hoping that they'll get eating just so you don't have to watch them anymore. They just don't act believably. Instead of looking out for each other and _planning_ at first, they're simply doing their own thing. Now, I can understand that while facing the apocalypse, they may end up winging a thing or two and basically be flying by luck, but it's common sense to have someone watching your back at all times, to properly work together for mutual survival. Though survival really isn't that hard with the quality of the zombies stumbling after them.

I don't know, perhaps I am simply desensitized. I mean, I am the guy who considers The Exorcist to be the greatest comedy ever made, but as a horror film I simply can not recommend Dawn of the Dead. Instead, go watch its modern re-imagining from a few years back, reviewed here. While the new Dawn of the Dead's not scary either, more of an action flick, at least it's a lot more, well, plausible. You can read my review of it here.

For the DVD itself, there really isn't anything in the way of extras to speak of. Some old trailers and a written bio of George A. Romero, but otherwise nothing special. While there are certainly parts of the film that are so bad it's good, I recommend leaving this one to rot at the mall.

Free Copy of Alone in the Dark with Xbox 360 Pro

Best Buy is having a sale where they're including a free copy of Alone in the Dark with each Xbox 360 Pro console purchased. I'm not sure how long this sale lasts for, but if it appeals to you, you can order the console here or simply go to your nearest Best Buy.

Get Smart Review

Nostalgia is a big selling factor these days, and Hollywood's gotten quite good at remaking those classic shows from yester-year into feature films, and they're even better at messing them up.

Which is why I'm happy to say that Get Smart is an enjoyable film. I can't personally comment on how close they got it to the show, as I never watched it as a kid, but the film itself had just the right amount of whit, satire, and goofs to carry it along.

Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) works as an analyst for CONTROL, a secret anti-terrorist organization who's old enemy organization, CHAOS, has returned. Longing to become an actual agent and follow in the footsteps of his idol, Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson), Max finally gets his chance when the identities of CONTROL's agents are made known leading to a series of assassinations. Paired with the beautiful Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), Max must unravel the mystery and foil CHAOS' nefarious plans.

Even though I never watched the show, I know a bit about it and some of its classic gags, and thought it was hilarious to see many old props from the series displayed in a museum, and for certain gimmicks, like the cone of silence, to return in a re-worked fashion. The great thing about Get Smart is that you don't need to have seen the show to enjoy the film. The trailer sums it up nicely: the film is a cheesy spy-spoof with silly gags set in a plausible world. I'm not talking Naked Gun silly, Get Smart is more mature than that, but the satire will leave you laughing through out the picture.

I was actually surprised with the quality performance portrayed by Dwayne Johnson. Used to seeing him in tough-guy rolls, Johnson fits perfectly as Agent 23, the successful spy trying to adjust to a simple desk job. While all of the supporting cast do a great job, the main performance is the synergy between Carell and Hathaway. The rivalry between Max and 99 works exceptionally well as the newbie tries to prove himself to the veteran. With new gadgets, silly one liners, and a healthy does of naivety, they carry the show. Might I also add the Hathaway is simply gorgeous, a fact the film exploits quite nicely.

In a summer full of action and comic book themed blockbuters, it's a refreshing change to have a spy-spoof that's come off so well as an alternative. Silly and enjoyable, Get Smart may not be the best film of the summer, but it's a laugh that shouldn't be missed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Theatrical Trailer #2

Forgot to post this last weekend. Lucasfilm has released the second trailer for their upcoming 3D animated feature, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

You can check it out on the official Star Wars site right here.

I've always loved Stormtroopers and Clone Troopers. They have such shiny, shiny armour.

Xbox 360 Content License Transferring

At long last, Microsoft has finally lightened up on their digital rights management for the Xbox 360 and now allows users to transfer their content licenses between consoles. It's a two-step process, the first done via a computer, and the second via the new Xbox 360 console itself.

The catch: Each user can only transfer their content licenses once every 12 months.

Full details, including an instructional video, can be found here, and an FAQ can be found here.

If you've gone through Xbox Support for a service order, they will transfer your licenses for you, so user license transferring will only be needed should you go and purchase a new Xbox 360 console yourself.

Original story spotted at TeamXbox.

PlayStation 3 Has Lost 3.3 Billion Dollars Since Launch

I chanced across this article last night on IGN PS3, and it made me chuckle. Sony's underachieving console has cost them 3.3 billion in sales since it's launch in Novemeber 2006.

This is apparently the result of selling the PlayStation 3 console under it's production costs, so Sony is taking a hit with each console sold. According to the same article, both Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots have failed to increase sales of the PlayStation 3 by any significant means (even though both these games are bundled with the console in specific countries), which sadly means Sony will be waiting a long time to see a profit from the PlayStation 3, if they ever see one at all.

Now, Microsoft took a hit and lost money on every original Xbox sold, but they did this to establish a foothold in the market and build a console name for themselves, and judging by the success of the Xbox 360, it worked. Sony, on the other hand, has the best selling console in history with the PlayStation 2, but has made blunder after blunder with the PlayStation 3 and has to sell the console under-cost just so people will buy it, and even at that reduced price it's third in hardware sales.

So, by "Play B3yond," is Sony talking about faltering beyond their own limits? Seems so.

Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm Trial Version Impressions

The text said that it's based on a violent web comic with cutsey animals, so I decided to download the recently released trial version of Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm from the Xbox LIVE Arcade, and after giving it a go, I have only one question to ask.

What the hell was that?

First Screenshots from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

Midway has released the first ever screenshots from their upcoming fighter, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which you can check out at TeamXbox right here.

And despite speculation to the contrary, the game will feature Fatalities, however the super heroes from DC Universe will use some kind of brutality that doesn't kill their opponent instead.

Three New Fallout 3 Screenshots

Bethesda Softworks has released some new screenshots for their upcoming RPG, Fallout 3. You can check them out right here.

Original story spotted at ActionTrip.

I need to post this shot on my office wall!

Gears of War 2 Screenshots and Concept Art

Epic Games has released a host of new screenshots and concept art for their upcoming third person shooter, Gears of War 2.

You can check out an initial batch of shots and artwork on TeamXbox right here, and some more great screenshots at ActionTrip here.

Look, a lady! So there is more than one woman in the Gears of War universe...

Refurbished Xbox 360 Console's Warranty Reduced to 1 Year

This past April when I received my second refurbished Xbox 360 console from Xbox Support, I reported that instead of giving me the standard 1 year warranty, they had actually given me about 13.5 months, with the warranty expiring at the end of May 2009.

Unfortunately, it looks like they caught their mistake, and have adjusted my warranty to expire in early April 2009 as it always should have.

Oh well. 1 year coverage for a refurbished unit is still very good.

Fable II Developer Diary #6

Lionhead Studios has released their 6th Developer Diary for Fable II, which you can download off of the Xbox 360 Marketplace or check out on their site right here.

This developer diary delves into the game's art work, and also asks the very important question of "What would you do if you were a woman for a day?"

If your as twisted as I am, then I don't want to know your answer as much you wouldn't want to know mine. We'll get along fine.

Alone in the Dark in Stores, New Videos

Alone in the Dark is now in stores everywhere. Unfortunately it hasn't been getting the best reviews with the general concensus being that it really tries to break new ground with some exceptional ideas, but falls really short due to frustrating controls, a lackluster plot, and poor voice acting.

My own Xbox 360 review copy has been delayed by about a week, but once I do get it in hands and have a chance to play the game, expect my honest opinions to be posted shortly after.

In celebration of Alone in the Dark's launch, the Alone in the Dark Assets site has been updated with 4 additional videos that you can view here. The Wii trailer is actually pretty cool.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Combat Redefined Video

There's a brand new video up at the Spider-Man: Web of Shadows site showcasing the redesign of Spider-Man's combat in both the red and blue and black suits. Assuming they can make this intuitive to control, we'll be able to fight and control as Spider-Man like never before.

You can view the video on the official site's front page, or simply play it below.

Original story spotted at TeamXbox.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Battlefield: Bad Company (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

Having never been a fan of the series, I decided to give the Xbox 360 demo of Battlefield: Bad Company a try simply because I was curious to see what kind of humour the game would offer.

The demo sees you and your squad clearing out a town of hostiles, defending it from enemy re-inforcements, disabling some kind of jamming devices, and then confirming the removal of additional enemy forces.

A fair bit to do and a good sized demo, and while it offered up a nice bit of FPS action, the demo for Battlefield: Bad Company didn't stike me as anything innovative or revolutionary. Sure you can drive vehicles, swap out weapons, heal yourself, etc., but nothing in it screamed new, unique, or exciting to me. Thus, I felt no real pull, challenge, or draw to the game, and no reason to recommend it to you. Quite literally everything I did in that demo I've already done elsewhere.

I also didn't find anything special about the humour I saw; a few good lines, but nothing to LOL about.

And those are my simple impressions. Absolutely nothing special or remarkable, like the demo itself.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Low Down on the Battle Rifle

A few years back, the Staff and I played a lot of splitscreen Slayer matches of Halo 2 (Xbox), and while the games were close, I often griped about his excessive use of the Battle Rifle, calling it cheap. Of course, he'd counter by commenting on how it took skill to shoot me in the head all the way across the map, and I couldn't really come up with any kind of a counter-argument.

Now, years later and after the launch of Halo 3, Bungie has discussed the Battle Rifle in detail in yesterday's Weekly Update, and they've confirmed what I said all along: That the Battle Rifle was "Arguably too lethal."

So I was right, and the Staff really is a no-skill cheap lamer (but that's okay Telly, we still wuves you, even though you suxorz!!!!!1111!!!111!!!1!1!!1).

In simplified terms, in Halo 2, all you needed to do was get your reticule on your target, and if you fired when it was red, you'd instantly hit your opponent, no matter how far away they were; there was no actual bullet traveling or target tracking involved. Instant hit, near instant kill.

For Halo 3, the Battle Rifle has been revised where beyond a certain distance, it will no longer instant hit and you do need to track and "lead" your target, and the second and third bullets in the three shot burst are no longer as accurate. What this has done is changed the Battle Rifle from the all purpose, over-powered killer to an excellent medium range weapon and long range anti-sniper weapon (since hitting the sniper will prevent him/her from using their scope). Up close, you'll want to use another weapon like the Assault Rifle, and at long ranges, you'll want to use something like the Sniper Rifle.

For a very detailed assessment of the Staff's L337 cheapness, you can read the full article here.


Buy some Xbox 360 Accessories, Get a Free Game

Got an email from Xbox earlier this week, and basically if you purchase $100.00 or more (before tax) on any Xbox 360 accessories, you can mail away for one of four free games, including Halo 3!

If I didn't already own every accessory for the Xbox 360 that I care about, I'd likely take advantage of this offer.

If you've been thinking about picking up another Controller, Universal Media Remote, Memory Unit, or whatever, now'd be the time to do it.

Full details can be found here.

Q107 Show Us Your Guitar Face Contest

Q107 Classic Rock is hosting a contest with the grand prize being an Xbox 360, a copy of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and an Microsoft Points Card.

All you need to do is send them in a pic of your very own guitar face.

Full details and some funny pics right here.

StarCraft II - Planet Char Bio

Blizzard Entertainment has released a bio on the primary Zerg world in StarCraft II, Char. You can check it out along with some new concept art and a screenshot right here.

PlayStation 3 Trophies on the Way

Sony is getting ready to launch their version of Achievements for the PlayStation 3 console, calling them Trophies.

According to this post on PlayStation.Blog, the upcoming 2.40 firmware update for the PlayStation 3 will introduce this feature, with more details following in the near future.

Achievements have certainly been a huge draw on the Xbox 360, providing gamers with additional goals to aim for and spawning a whole subculture within the Xbox community. Heck, both the Staff and I are Achievement whores and proud of it, and it looks like PlayStation 3 gamers will finally get a taste of that same kind of addiction.

Original story spotted here at ActionTrip.

Alone in the Dark Videos and Screens

Alone in the Dark launches this coming Tuesday, and the Xbox LIVE Marketplace has two new Making of Videos up that really go into the game's structure and characters, and I must say it's looking very impressive. I'm quite curious to see how the episodic television set up is going to play out.

The Alone in the Dark Assets site also has a new batch of screenshots up showing off more fire effects and the characters as well. You can check them out here.

Gears of War Price Drop

When I originally saw this news item on the official Gears of War site, I thought it was going to be US only, but with a recent video I saw on Xbox LIVE, I was apparently wrong.

Both the Xbox 360 and PC versions of Gears of War are receiving a price drop, retailing at $39.99 and $29.99 (US) respectively. With prices very close between Canada and the US, we'll likely see the same costs or near enough shortly.

I also heard rumour that there's going to be a re-release of the Xbox 360 version which will include both Multiplayer Map Packs presently available via Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

Regardless, if you missed out on Gears of War, now would be a great time to pick it up.

Halo: The Cole Protocol

Earlier this week, Bungie officially announced the next Halo novel, entitled Halo: The Cole Protocol. The novel is being penned by Tobias S. Buckell (I don't know either...), and will reveal the location of a new Spartan team, Grey team.

You can read the limited details here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Halo 3 Multiplayer Impressions

I've long since played Halo 2 (Xbox) and Halo 3 Multiplayer with friends via split-screen, but I've never played Halo 3 over Xbox LIVE before. That is until now. I have two 48 Hour Xbox LIVE Trial cards, and two 1 Month Xbox LIVE Gold Membership cards, and I finally got around to activating them (my last 48 Hour Trial card expires tomorrow around noon).

I come from a PC gaming background, and have played _a lot_ of first person shooters, and I love the genre, but from a Single Player standpoint. Aside from a brief romance with Deathmatch Classic, I've never really cared for shooters from the Multiplayer front, and also concluded last summer that Gears of War was fun in Multiplayer, but not worth a $59.99/year fee for.

So hats off to Bungie. Halo 3 is a blast to play online, and I'm enjoying every second of it. With the 48 Hour Trial cards, I can only play social matches, but thus far every single Rumble Pit and Social Team Slayer match I've played has been a lot of fun. I'm nearly at Corporal rank, and of this typing have a 1.46 kill/death ratio. I've competed very well against players ranked above me, and am really looking forward to Lone Wolves and some of those Multiplayer Achievements.

I haven't played with any friends yet, just random people in matchmaking, and I've found most of them to be very quite, not much chatter, and fun to play with/against. Makes me wish I would have taken better advantage of those 1 Month Xbox LIVE trial cards I had with the original Xbox and given Halo 2 Multiplayer a try, but my network setup wasn't so great back then, so I didn't bother.

With all the fun I'm having, does this mean I'll pay for an Xbox LIVE Gold Membership when all is said and done? Well, it's too soon to tell. I want to make sure that it will really be worth the cost of $59.99 a year to simply play Halo 3 online, as there isn't much else I'd care to play over Xbox LIVE. Regardless, I have two free months coming up, so I figure that should be enough of a trial period to help me make my decision.

Dead Rising Impressions

What is it with sandbox games and their shitty save systems and crappy combat controls? I will freely admit that sandbox games are not my typical style of game, so I haven't played too many of them, but I find it completely ironic that I dump Grand Theft Auto IV, which featured a poor save system and combat controls, for Dead Rising, which turns out to have an even shittier save system and horrendous fire arm controls.

I just can't win, which is too bad because the demo for Dead Rising was so bloody promising, pun intended. Ripping apart the zombies in the game, and the variety of ways that you can do it, is sheer joy. Love it, absolutely love it. The character models featured in the game, considering it was released in 2006, are excellent. Very detailed skin textures and character animations: from the subtle movement of hair, to facial expressions, to the slight (and over-exaggerated) bounce of Jessica's breasts. Very well done models, and excellent examples of the game's high production values.

Wait at the Main Menu, and you'll be treated to a great cinematic, gorgeously animated with solid voice acting, of a mother and daughter attempting to flee the city. That really set the tone of the game for me, and raised my expectations ten-fold. The game's actual intro is very well done, giving you a nice and detailed fly-by of the city itself and a few, unfortunate survivors. The mall itself, the sections I've seen that is, are beautifully designed with a great variety of shops, decor, and items that you can use to beat the undead.

Being a zombie-whore, you'd think I'd be in heaven, but then, sadly, enters the game's save system.
You can only save your game at the couch in the Security Office (your safe house), or at washrooms that are sparsely scattered about the mall. This means that you can spend an hour playing without saving your game, die, and have to start from your last save or right from scratch.

Now, the g
ame only lets you have one character on your Storage Device at any one time, and if you die, you can save him and start from scratch with the stats, Level, and abilities that you've already earned. In fact, everywhere I read recommends you do this several times until you're about Level 15, otherwise the game will be too hard. So my question is, who came up with that genius idea? Thanks, C(r)apcom. So basically, you want me to fail in frustration several times just to get to the character Level that the game _should_ have started me at? Wonderful design. And yes, there's lots of frustration to be had in Dead Rising.

Pull out
your Pistol and press Right Trigger. You zoom in, and can adjust your aim with the Left Stick. Awesome. Now, point your gun at an upwards angle and zoom in. That's right, it immediately centres your view. How wonderful and precise for tracking a moving target! And yes, that was sarcasm. The combat controls specifically to do with firearms in this game are horrible, and have left me cursing a blue streak several times already. Against zombies, melee is fine and its controls are quite good, though not perfect, but against psychos, you want accurate firearms.

I could go on about what frustrates me, such as the survivor AI, Otis' transmitter calls, those convicts in the park who target only you when you're around, etc., but suffice it to say, I'm very disappointed indeed. Sandbox games, I've decided, are not for me; not if developers keep insisting on creating them with sub-par standards.

I'm going to try going through the main plot line only in Dead Rising, and if that pisses me off too much, I'll simply sell the game. Too bad, as Dead Rising could have been a real gem. Oh well, lesson learned, and at least there's some simple Achievements to milk.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

BioShock (PlayStation 3) Screenshots and Interface

The Cult of Rapture is showing off a four new screenshots for the PlayStation 3 port of BioShock, this time highlighting the game's interface. You can check them out right here.

Again, I really don't notice much of a difference between these screenshots and the original Xbox 360 release of the game, well, save for the PlayStation 3 controller's button icons, of course.

New Fable II Screenshots

Lionhead Stuidos has released three new screenshots for their upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Fable II. You can check them out right here.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Web Doc and Screenshots

LucasArts has released a new Web Doc detailing the story of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, which you can check out on their main site here (click Media Gallery at the top). This Web Doc does contain minor spoilers, so if that sort of things bothers you, well, you've been warned.

A bunch of new screenshots have also been released, and you can check them out at ActionTrip right here. Not sure I like how colourful the game's become, but damn, does the game itself look awesome.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Preview and Screenshots

The real black suit is back! TeamXbox has a preview up of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows as well as a bunch of tasty new screenshots. Things confirmed:

- The game centres around a symbiote invasion
- You have the alien costume (black-suit) and can change into it at will
- Playing as either the hero or the vigilante will affect the course of the game
- Spider-Man can be customized based on your preferred play style
- Based on the traditional Marvel Universe and not the film trilogy, the black suit actually looks like the real alien costume!
- I like the alien costume
- A lot

More stuff is confirmed and revealed, such as a few details on the combat system, which you can real all about in the preview here.

Black suit!

Alone in the Dark Gold, New Screens and Trailer

Alone in the Dark has officially gone gold on all supported platforms save the PlayStation 3, which will see its launch this fall. The game will be available on store shelves on Tuesday, June, 24th, and I'm expecting my Xbox 360 review copy as early as a week before then, or as late as just after launch.

The Alone in the Dark Insider site has also been updated with a few new screenshots showing the inventory, as well as a short little trailer revolving around Central Park.

You can view the screen shots here, and the trailer here (it's the last in the list).

Gold announcement spotted at TeamXbox.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Ah, Summer's Here...

You wake up in the morning, walk outside to get the Saturday paper, only to step right into a brick wall. At least it sure felt like a brick wall, but actually, it's a disgusting wave of humidity that leaves you dripping buckets of sweat after 1.6 seconds of exposure. You can barely breath, your eyes hurt, allergies are acting up, and you're miserable, grumpy, and ready to punch the first person who looks at you.

Yeah, summer's here. We're having our first real heatwave in Toronto. It started yesterday, and it's supposed to last until tomorrow. Imagine my joy. I don't know, summer sounds a lot like PMS to me, which I guess is why women like this season so much.

Speaking of the fairer sex, the only redeeming quality of this farce of a season is female attire. Short skirts, dresses, tight tops... yeah... I'm drooling to.

Keeping that in mind, I have to ask: Why the hell aren't any women walking around topless!?!?!?!? I mean, it's legal here, and they fought hard in that court battle that lasted until 1996 to make it legal, yet no women walk around bare-chested. Damn sexually repressed North America.

Mark my words, this world _would_ be a better place if North America wasn't so Victorian about its sexuality. I mean, boobs are lumps of fat covered by skin with a nipple roughly in the centre. The only reason breasts are so sexualized is because of the taboo we've placed upon them as a society. We all have nipples, so what's the big deal?

Quit staring at my nipples.