Sunday, September 28, 2008

Xbox LIVE and Xbox Web Site Scheduled Maintenance

Beginning at 12:01 am on Mon. Sept. 29th (about 3.5 hours as of this typing), both Xbox LIVE and I believe the Xbox website will be down for scheduled maintenance as Microsoft gears up for the launch of the Fall 2008 Dashboard update, also known as the New Xbox Experience.

This scheduled maintenance will last approximately 24 hours, and you can read the official message in the top right (under Xbox LIVE Service Status) here.

No release date has yet been announced for the New Xbox Experience, but we're clearly getting closer!

The End Has Come. I Bought a PSP

Yeah, yeah, I know, I bought a Sony product. Crazy, huh, especially 'cause I'm a huge Xbox fan and I generally harp on Sony at every chance I get. So allow me to sum it up for you:

October and November are going to be pyscho-crazy months for me at work, and I'm fully expecting to be working many 15 and possibly even 20 hour days. This will include both weekdays _and_ weekends, and I'll likely be spending time either traveling to and fro in cabs or staying in hotel rooms.

Aside from no sleep and free pizza and beer, I'm also not going to have a lot of time for gaming. I'm going to miss the launches of Fallout 3, Fable II, and possibly even Gears of War 2, which has me the slightest bit grumpy, and what can I say, I need my gaming fix.

Since I've known this was coming for a while, I really started to think about buying a portable gaming platform, something I hadn't touched since the original Game Boy. Can't say I'm a fan of Nintendo's new kiddie-centric style, what with me being a hardcore gamer and all, so the DS certainly doesn't appeal to me, and unfortunately, Microsoft has not released an "Xbox portable," which means my only real alternative is Sony's PSP.

So I've done my research and really looked into the product, and I've decided to give it a whirl, both as a portable gaming console and also as a multimedia device. In general, I don't expect I'll own too many games for it, and I figure I'll stick to exclusive titles.

To that end, I picked up the Limited Edition God of War PSP Entertainment Pack, which at this point was very difficult to find brand-new. After looking over the PSP game library, God of War: Chains of Olympus does look rather cool and I'm hoping it'll fit my gaming style.

While I know Sony will be releasing a newer model PSP (the PSP-3000) on October 14th, which includes an improved LCD screen and a built-in microphone, I didn't have an issue with the LCD screen on the PSP-1000 models I demoed, and I don't need a built-in mic since I have no plans to play Multiplayer or use it as a communication device.

Thus, I had no issue picking up this pack with it's limited edition deep red PSP-2000 model and silk screen image of Kratos on the back. Considering this bundle is selling for about $180.00 on Kijiji used, if I find I don't like it and I made a mistake, I know I'll be able to re-sell it soon for anywhere between 50% to 75% of what I paid; the limited edition status has made sure of that (never hurts to plan ahead).

So once I finally get around to opening the box and tinkering with my new PSP, I'll let you know what I think. I'm actually excited because it does seem like a really cool little handheld.

I do still want to go on the record as saying that Sony indeed dropped the ball with their PlayStation 3 platform, my thougts on that haven't changed one bit. So blah!

Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360) Sold

So I sold my copy of Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360) today. I really had no motivation to play through it what-so-ever, and it's too bad the game turned out that way; it really had potential.

I'll just Wiki it later to see how the story ended, as the game's story was okay (though nothing too spectacular).

You can read my impressions of Alone in the Dark here.

Oh well. It was free, and I got enough cash to buy me lunch for a week. Yay pizza!

The Elder Scrolls IV: Fighter's Stronghold (Xbox 360) Review

The Elder Scrolls IV: Fighter's Stronghold is a very short and simple piece of downloadable content available for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and is the last piece of DLC that Bethesda Softworks released for this game.

Does it offer enough to be worth your 150 Microsoft Points (about $2.18) if you happened to miss its two week initial promotional price of Free? In my opinion, no, it doesn't.

While I love The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and consider it to be one of the best games available for the Xbox 360, there really isn't anything overly new or special about The Elder Scrolls IV: Fighter's Stronghold to warrant a purchase.

The DLC features a nice castle located near Chorrol that's under siege by marauders, and by a siege of marauders I mean just over half a dozen push-overs, and once you kill them the castle is yours. To complete the quest, you'll simply need to head to a specific NPC in the Imperial City and purchase all the furniture to outfit Battlehorn Castle itself; basically, this is a simple and grandious house purchase.

What is new, aside from the odd book, are some of the servants you can hire, such as a taxidermist who will create stuffed trophies of creatures for you, a maid for your bedroom, guards who you can take with you throughout the game world, and an Orc trainer who you can actually spar with. Overall though, it's really nothing exciting or game-defining, and when I played through it last night (it's short), I couldn't help but shake the been-there-done-that feel.

There is also a hidden Quest in which you can explore an underground grotto, but it takes all of 5 minutes to do and again is nothing you haven't done before.

The main appeal to this DLC is the castle itself, and simply being able to own this really cool location, but the truth is there's so many other housing options available, that I couldn't recommend paying for this content.

My advice, spring for The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine instead. You pay a little more, but you get almost everything featured in The Elder Scrolls IV: Fighter's Stronghold and then some (read my full review of The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine here).

You get what you pay for, I suppose.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Halo Wars Flamethrower Revealed

The official Halo Wars site has once again been updated with the reveal of a new unit, the UNSC Flamethrower.

You can read all about this two man anti-infantry squad right here.

New Xbox Experience: Themes and Friends Channel

Saw over at Xbox LIVE's Major Nelson another update regarding the upcoming New Xbox Experience, in which they detail how existing and new Themes will look on the new Dashboard, as well as how the Friends Channel will look.

Everything is supposed to be subtly animated and dynamic, and the concept itself does sound really cool. We'll see soon enough!

Gears of War 2 - Delta Blues ViDoc

Another ViDoc has been released for Gears of War 2, entitled "Making Gears 2: Delta Blues," in which the Development Team at Epic Games goes into the details of how they make the boys of Delta tick. It'll also introduce us to some of the new characters in the game, and is a cool look at the mentality behind the Squad (I though Carmine was dead!).

It's another great watch, and you can view it on the official site right here (top left), or below. Haven't spotted this one on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace yet, but I'm sure it's coming soon enough.

Duke Nukem 3D (Xbox 360) Trial Impressions

It's classic Duke Nukem 3D, alright. I enjoyed playing through the trial version this past Wednesday, however since it truly was the exact same thing as the PC version I still own, I didn't find myself compelled to purchase it right away. Duke Nukem 3D is a long single player game by today's standards, after all, and I'm finding myself shorter on time these days.

When I first fired up the trial version, I found myself simply watching the several demos played during the game's main menu, which really brought back a great feeling of nostalgia. However when I started playing, I did find that the lack of any widescreen, higher resolution graphics, remastered audio, etc. hurt the game a bit. It's not that Duke Nukem 3D was a bad game at all, it was excellent back in 1996, but there was nothing really extra to make me say "Wow, I want to buy this again!"

One thing I really want to praise 3D Realms for in their port of this game, even in just the trial version, is the complete ability to re-map the controller! I didn't like the default set-up at all, but thankfully, unlike most thick-headed console developers, you can actually rebind all the controls, which really made it accessible.

The trial contains the first two levels of the game's first episode, and it's completely faithful to the original. All the item and weapon placements are the same as they were in 1996, and in fact, really, there's nothing all that new to write home about that wasn't around in the game's original release oh-so-long ago.

I tinkered with the game's "Time Line," in which you can rewind on death and such, and it was pretty cool, but not a deal-breaker since you can easily save at any point ( Hear late modern day developers) which really prevents a lot of frustration anyway.

So basically, it's 800 Microsoft Points for a great classic that can net you some nice Achievements. Since I still own the PC version, however, and can fire up that version anytime I want via DOSBox, I really got to thinking if it was worth the cost, and at this point I answered myself no. Achievements are certainly fun, but they're not worth 800 Microsoft Points for.

So at this point, I'll pass on Duke Nukem 3D, and if I feel like a trip down memo
ry lane, my good ol' PC version will do me just fine.

Halo 3: Keep It Clean Expansion Revealed

On Monday, Bungie further added another mysterious page to their site, this one entitled "Pardon Our Dust." It's a fascinating conversation between a UNSC Admiral and an ONI Section 1 operative.

On Thursday, September 25th, the one year anniversary for the launch of Halo 3, Bungie released this teaser trailer for Halo 3: Keep It Clean, a single player Campaign expansion for Halo 3!

There's very little real information right now, and Halo 3: Keep It Clean may not even be the actual title, just a tag line, but it's what I'll call the expansion for now.

After watching the teaser, my expectations are:

- Play as an ODST
- 4 player Co-Op as a squad of ODSTs
- A parallel storyline to either Halo 2 or Halo 3
- Depending on placement in the timeline, combat against Elites, and Brutes later on
- Further development of the Covenant civil war and the UNSC/Elite alliance
- Potentially the first Halo game without a Spartan

Wish list items I'd like to see:

- New weapons
- New enemies
- New equipment
- New vehicles
- A Flood infested Earth city
- And most importantly, an explanation of how the Arbiter, Keyes, and Johnson arrived back on Earth prior to the Master Chief when he arrived on Truth's Forerunner Dreadnought at the same time they were still on Delta Halo!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360) Review

What a rush. That sentence alone best describes the fun and action with using the over-the-top Force powers featured in LucasArts' latest and first non-LEGO Star Wars title for the current generation of consoles, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Ever since I first saw that teaser where Starkiller pulls a Star Destroyer out of the sky, I've been hooked and I've anxiously awaited this title. Imagine my disappointment when I saw it receiving average reviews just prior to last week's launch. Imagine my joy when I found most of those reviewers were full of it.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a game that built up a lot of hype over the last few months, and unfortunately, that seems to have gotten all the fanboys in a huge masturbatory session over how this game would redefine the existence of human kind itself. Which just goes to show that the average reviewer and fan boy is a weak-minded fool (yeah that's right, prepare for a bunch more nerd quotes in this review!).

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed casts you in the role of Darth Vader's (sort of) secret apprentice, known only as Starkiller. Found as a small boy by Vader himself on a mission to Kashyyyk during the game's tutorial (in which you play as Vader and butcher a lot of Wookies), the Dark Lord takes and twists this child into a servant of the dark side, and sets Starkiller loose hunting down the last of the Jedi.

In a word, the game is dark, and much truer to the classic Star Wars formula we all new and loved pre-Jar Jar. Set between trilogies, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed reveals a lot of never before known facts regarding Star Wars canon, and proves that Vader truly is a badass instead of a crybaby sissy. From the get-go, LucasArts wanted to offer players use of the Force that they had never experienced before; Force powers that are so over-the-top that they'll blow you're mind, and the game certainly delivers.

The game is an action/adventure hack and slash, and as Starkiller, you begin with a small variety of Force powers and combos to dispatch your enemies, and as you level up, you can upgrade to more powerful Force powers, unlock new ones, add new Combos, and buff your Talents. You can also upgrade your Lightsabre with a few different effects, as well as a bunch of different sabre colours.

This provides players with a great deal of customizability and variety when dispatching the hordes of enemies that will come against you. Starkiller can do amazing things like channel Force Lightning through his Sabre for added damage, you can pick up and hurl so many different objects (or enemies) at each other, you can Force push through entire doors, tear down parts of walls, or punt Jawas into mid-air! For a simple hack and slash, there's lots of ways to crush, kill, destroy, and it never gets boring cutting down enemies foolish enough to get in your way.

Bosses are often fun to fight and require cunning, patience, and timing to best, and tough enemies can often be finished with a button pressing Finishing Move that's always an excellent and entertaining sequence.

Graphically, the game looks great. Character models are crisp and clean, and while not up to Mass Effect's standards, certainly get the job done. The levels' art design is often breathtaking as you visit Star Wars locations both new and old, and thanks to the game's use of Havok Physics and Digital Molecular Matter, the levels are more destructible than those found in your average game. In fact, the only major con I found with the game's graphics are there's a good bit of texture tearing (I'm guessing the game doesn't have v-sync on due to hardware limitations), and the default camera angles aren't always the best, but these can often be adjusted easily with the Right Stick.

Audio wise, the game sounds spectacular. The full library of Star Wars sound effects and music from the entire saga have been used, and it's just mesmerizing. The game's voice actors also do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life, and I'm not going to take much of your time speaking about the audio because it's that good, there's nothing really more to say.

Control wise, Starkiller does take a little bit of getting used to, but it's nothing too crazy. He does have a tendency to take large steps, and certain combos can drop you right off a cliff if you're not careful, but once you get used to that, you'll be able to execute some amazing combos without feeling like you're just mashing buttons. The only real hiccup with the controls would be aiming an object to throw when you pick it up with Force Grip. Precision aiming can be difficult, and a lot of professional reviewers ripped into Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for this, siting the lack of a targeting system. Well I guess they were too busy rushing through the game to get that first exclusive review out, as they clearly didn't notice that a) Right Bumper is target lock and b) you can adjust Target Lock to be either a hold button or toggle via the game's Option menu. Suffice it to say, with proper use of Target Lock and a little practice, you won't have too many issues tossing stuff to their doom.

Speaking of the Options menu, the game comes with a complete Database that updates as you play, giving you full details and background on Characters, Locations, and Vehicles. The complete Database is very detailed, and if you read it all, you'll be spending a bit of time in there. The con to most of the Options menus is that when you go into them, it actually takes a minute for the game to load them. That's a bit of a turn off, but it certainly wasn't game breaking.

Another thing I've spoken rarely about, and won't speak much of, is the game's story. It's good. It's real good. Like probably the best Star Wars story consisting of the movie's characters put together since The Empire Strikes Back. Not only is Vader mesmerizing, but Starkiller and his relationship with his pilot Juno Eclipse, his protocol droid PROXY, and the other characters, Jedi, senators, imperials, etc. that he encounters, it's all beautifully put together. Granted, while not up to the depth and pacing found in most RPGs, as an action/adventure game, it's easily agreed that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed's greatest strength is its story. And for that reason I'll say no more on it, you'll just have to play it for yourself.

Now, on to the bad. Unfortunately, the game has bugs, and while all software has bugs, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has a few glaring issues that should never have escaped quality assurance. The most notable and widely experienced bug is Save Game corruption, which happens very easily through regular play, and while most people seem to experience it on the game's final level, some, like myself, experienced it about two thirds of the way through.

When a save becomes corrupt, you'll notice your Mission Objective will no longer list your Bonus Objective, and instead will say "* default text", and it will no longer count your Experience earned or how many Holocrons you've found (Holocrons can grant extra Experience, or provide you with new Lightsabre Crystals or Force Orbs for upgrades). Thankfully, a corrupt save game in this manner will not prevent you from leveling or completing those objectives, it just won't track them as an overall tally. In English, this really will only prevent your ability to earn certain Achievements, like the Holocron Collector Achievement.

Once a save is corrupt, there's no way to repair it, and thanks to most developer's love of the classic and inferior console checkpoint/single save slot save system that should have been banned from existence back in 1993 , each game played only has one stinking save slot. Basically, the Force is strong with corrupting your save game.

I also experienced an odd issue where a boss character got stuck and then feel through the floor, making him no longer reachable and forcing me to load my last save, however that only happened once and was possibly an isolated incident, but is worth mentioning.

Other professional reviewers have experienced things such as sound sync issues in cut scenes, game crashes, bosses becoming randomly invincible, and a few other oddities. I'm not sure how many of these are accurate or not, but I can confirm save game corruption, which is the most serious bug I experienced. Again though, it wasn't game breaking, and only prevented me from earning a few Achievements. Suffice it to say, a Title Update should hopefully be out soon.

When all is said and done, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is an excellent game. It delivers exactly what was advertised, a hack and slash with awesome over-the-top Force powers, and I really have to wonder what all those pro-reviewers were complaining about; what were they expecting from this game? In my opinion, it's worth the price of admission. If you're an Achievement whore, you'll want to wait for a Title Update first, and if you're on the fence, I'd say give it a rent. While most reviewers have also ripped into it for being short, on the Sith Warrior difficulty (Normal), it took me just over 10 hours to complete, and the game has two endings to experience, so there's certainly some added replay value.

I consider Star Wars: The Force Unleashed to be an excellent addition to the Star Wars game library, and the first must-have Xbox 360 title of the year.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tricia Helfer to Voice Black Cat in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

Activision has revealed that Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica fame will supply the voice to Black Cat in their upcoming game, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows due out this fall.

Check out the video with some cool gameplay footage below.

Spotted at ActionTrip. Keep It Clean

It's back. Bungie has posted up an interesting page entitled Keep It Clean of the exact same style as their withheld new game announcement from this years E3.

Will we soon learn what Bungie's next game will be? Only time will tell.

One things for certain, after reading the conversation, it does sound like it's set in the Halo universe!

Please remain calm.

Xbox 360 Gears of War and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Deal at Future Shop

Future Shop has a great deal on where if you purchase an Xbox 360 Pro or an Xbox 360 Arcade console, you'll get copies of Gears of War and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for free.

Not sure how long this deal lasts for, but these are both excellent games and a great added value.

Jenny Grant Found Dead

As some of you may have noticed under the Misc. Links section on the right side bar, I have a link to Page 3. While I was admiring those fine British feminine forms last night, I noticed this page: a tribute to Jenny Grant, 19 year old Page 3 Idol winner who was found dead after her tragic suicide just over a week ago.

According to the article: "Tragic Jenny is feared to have committed suicide hours after rowing with close friends on a night out.

The beauty - this year's winner of The Sun's Page 3 Idol contest - was found hanged after her worried boyfriend raised the alarm at 4am on Saturday.

Cops discovered the brunette's body when they broke into the family home in Wallasey, Merseyside.

This really makes you stop and think: Why would a beautiful young woman with the world in front of her kill herself like this? Jenny was ridiculously gorgeous, so what demons could have driven her to do such a thing? What made her life so unbearable that she had to sign out forever?

I don't have the answer myself, however whenever I hear about anyone, celebrity, model or average Joe, dying in such a fashion, it does give me a healthy dose of added respect for my simple little civilian life.

Regardless, my sympathies to both her family and friends.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Orange Box: Half-Life 2 (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.

Half-Life 2 is a game that needs no introduction. It's won critical acclaim and is presently rated as the highest scoring PC game of all time (according to Metacritic here). It's also a complete let down when compared to the revolutionary genius that was Half-Life.

However, since it's release in November 2004, I've ranted and raved about Half-Life 2 enough. Despite how I feel regarding it's inability to live up to its predecessor, the fact remains that Half-Life 2 is a good game in its own right.

The Orange Box contains every Half-Life 2 game released to date, and little has changed since Half-Life 2's launch, or from the November 2005 Xbox release, for that matter. You can read my very detailed review of the Xbox version of Half-Life 2 here as everything I wrote then still applies now; this is the same game, after all. For the purpose of this Xbox 360 review, I'll simple go over what has changed.

The major revisions I've noted is full use of HDR lighting, in addition to high resolution textures and wide screen support, which has really enhanced the overall look of the game. The Source Engine is capable of some really beautiful stuff, and this version of Half-Life 2 clearly demonstrates that. There's also been a slight enhancement to enemy AI. While most enemies in Half-Life 2 are still rather dumb and will plod along to their deaths with little effort needed on the players part (aside from pointing and shooting, that is), I did note Combine Soliders making better use of cover, and they seemed to have a little more depth in terms of self preservation; actually trying to avoid my fire from time to time, and making more frequent use of Grenades.

Of course, there's also a smattering of Achievements to be earned, many of which are simple enough to get, but some, like Zombie Chopper in which you need to play through all of Ravenholm using only your Gravity Gun, are down right challenging. In fact, even on Normal Difficulty, that was one of the most difficult Achievements I've ever earned.

Otherwise, Half-Life 2 is still Half-Life 2, and it's the same game I love to hate, even on my 4th overall playthrough. The story is still non-existent, character models still look exceptional, and the Air Boat is still a piece of junk (I. Hate. Water Hazard). But when all is said and done, Half-Life 2 is a solid shooter with some simple puzzle elements tossed in, and a great addition to The Orange Box.

Templar Trilogy - Standard of Honour Review

What is honour? That's one question amongst others that author Jack Whyte puts to us in the second book of his Templar Trilogy, Standard of Honour. Honestly, what is honour? Can you define it? Most people can't, not really, and as Whyte describes, they'll instead try to use synonyms, looking for words that we don't often hear anymore. Words like integrity and morality, for the problem with honour is that it's different for every single person; each of us aspires to high standards and ideals, or we don't.

In Standard of Honour, we begin some time after the end of Knights of the Black and White at the end of the Second Crusade in which the Saracens, led by Saladin, ultimately defeat the Christian army of Jerusalem and reclaim the Holy Land. The Knights Templar have grown into one of the most elite orders in the world, and they fanatically uphold the Christian faith, proudly and arrogantly taking the fight to the "infidel" at every opportunity.

During a key battle that would ultimately lead to the defeat of Christian Jerusalem, a Scots Templar Knight, Alexander Sinclair, kinsman of Stephen St. Clair, one of the original members of the Templar Knights, is taken captive by a Saracen captain and held for ransom. During his captivity, Sinclair learns that Saladin considers the Templar Knights to be the greatest threat to Islam, and that any discovered are to be killed immediately.

It was a pleasure to read about this particular battle as it coincides with Ridley Scott's recent historical epic, Kingdom of Heaven, which also dealt with the end of the Second Crusade. While many of the key characters from that film are mentioned in Standard of Honour, it's fascinating to read Whyte's take on them as he presents them with a greater look at historical accuracy.

Flash forward a few years, and Richard the Lionheart prepares his Christian armies for the Third Crusade: To free the Holy Land from Saracen rule. Within his army is Sinclair's younger cousin and knight, Andre St. Clair and his own father Henry St. Clair, an aged master-at-arms. Manipulated by Richard to enter this coming conflict, Andre will travel to war and witness the horrors of what faith has become.

Standard of Honour truly examines the politics of the time, the power of the Church and it's corruption within, and casts light upon the reasons many of these legendary historical figures chose to partake in these great conflicts. Whyte also educates us on the Islamic perspective of the same wars, and tries to show that, even though Christian and Muslim are of different faiths, there are many similarities between the two peoples.

And all throughout the novel, the question of honour is ever present. Rarely in the forefront, many actions and many motives are questioned by Sinclair and St. Clair, and they will ultimately be faced with asking themselves in what they believe; what does their honour hold.

Cleverly crafted drama woven amongst historical fact always sucks me in, and Standard of Honour is filled with camaraderie, conflict, and conviction. While not a traditional sequel to Knights of the Black and White since the same characters are not involved, Standard of Honour is a wonderful continuation of the same ideals that came before. The evolution of the Order of the Temple is clearly depicted throughout these pages as they've become much more, for better or worse, than the simple Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ. The Order now stretches throughout all of Christendom, and while they still cling to high ideals, the Templars are clearly more arrogant and hotheaded than their founder, Hugh de Paynes, would have condoned.

Whyte, as always, is a master story teller, and Standard of Honour is one of his best works to date. A lengthy and fascinating read, this novel's excellent portrayal of such a rich and significant part of history should not be missed.

New Fallout 3 Micro Site

Bethesda Softworks has launched a great new micro-site for their upcoming post-apocalyptic RPG, Fallout 3, entitled Prepare for the Future.

Gather around your Radiation King, and watch several great retro-style videos that show off the unique style that Fallout 3 will offer! One of my personal favourites? The below video featuring little Jimmy of course!

Also don't forget to take your G.O.A.T. My G.O.A.T. tells me I'm going to be a Waste Management Specialist! Yippee!

Halo Wars UNSC Field Manual Updated

Ensemble Studios has updated their UNSC Field Manual for their upcoming Xbox 360 RTS, Halo Wars, with two new units and two new structures.

You can now check out all the wonderful details on the Marine and Hornet, and the Barracks and Airpad.

Avatars in the New Xbox Experience

The Xbox 360's upcoming Fall 2008 Dashboard Update, otherwise known as the New Xbox Experience, will add Avatars to the Xbox 360's mix, as well as some other neat new features.

Today, Major Nelson released a video in which he details the creation of an Avatar, which you can view below or on his own site here.

<a href=";playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:af0e0dcd-5cff-43a2-bd32-4841fe6a89d1&amp;showPlaylist=true&amp;from=msnvideo" target="_new" title="Avatars in the new Xbox experience">Video: Avatars in the new Xbox experience</a>

Diablo III Dune Thresher and Screenshots

Blizzard Entertainment has updated their Diablo III Bestiary with a new monster, the savage Dune Thresher, which you can read all about here.

They've also added additional screenshots to the site's Media section here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Halo 3 Title Update 2 Release Date, Upgrades

Bungie has released their Weekly Update a day early, and they've announced that the second Title Update for Halo 3 will be released on September 23rd, just before Halo 3's one year anniversary.

The rest of the Weekly Update goes into the details of the upgrades coming to or already in effect at, mainly of the stat tracking and comparison variety.

Stats are fun and crunchy.

Official Duke Nukem 3D (Xbox 360) Page Live

3D Realms has launched their official (old style) page for the upcoming Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Duke Nukem 3D, which you can find right here.

The page details the features of the game, has the trailer, screenshots, and lists all the Achievements available.

Still no word on cost though, but the game will be released this Wednesday!

Halo Wars Brute Concept Images

Ensemble Studios has updated the official Halo Wars site with images of the Covenant Brutes. Dressed out in full battle armour (of a different style than what we saw in Halo 3), and wielding their Gravity Hammers, the Brutes look very imposing indeed.

You can check the two images out right here (scroll down to Unit Concepts).

Gears of War 2 Weapons ViDoc and E-Day Phone Calls

A new ViDoc for Gears of War 2 has been put up on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace as well as on the official site right here. It's entitled "Every Gun has a Story," and it goes into several of the new weapons you'll find in the game, as well as cool details on executions, chainsaw duals, and character model disfigurement.

Epic Games and Microsoft Game Studios are also giving you a chance to be a part of Emergence Day by leaving a panic stricken voice mail at the following number:

"Call 1-800-598-6379 and leave your message as a terrified Seran on Emergence Day. Get your friends to help and let loose."

Full details here. Remember to keep it clean.

Dragon Age: Origins Developer Walkthrough and Game Videos

A while back, BioWare posted up some developer walkthrough videos for their upcoming PC RPG, Dragon Age: Origins, which I missed reporting on.

You'll find those videos below, as well as a basic gameplay trailer.

Overall, the game thus far doesn't look too bad, but I must admit I'm not seeing anything to make it stand out from the horde of other fantasy themed games.

It is BioWare, however, so I'll keep faith and patiently wait to see more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Weta Collectibles Halo 3 Master Chief and Flood Statue Available for Pre-Order

Weta Collectibles has announced today that their Halo 3 Collectible Statue, Master Chief and Flood, is now available for pre-order for $297.00 (US).

That's a little pricier than the previous statues they've placed up for pre-order, but if you have $300.00 (US) to toss around, this would make an awesome addition to any collection!

Like the others, it'll be available during the second quarter of 2009.

10, 000 Gamer Points Achieved

I breached the 10, 000 Gamer Point mark yesterday evening when I got the "Payback" Achievement from The Orange Box's Half-Life 2: Episode Two (Xbox 360).

My next major milestone to shoot for? I suppose beating the Staff's Gamer Score since he's in the UK for a year without an Xbox 360, and can't saturate his own Gamer Score with rentals for a while.

At least until he caves and buys an Xbox 360 over there. Yay!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Duke Nukem 3D (Xbox 360) Trailer and Release Date

"Hail to the king baby!" Duke Nukem 3D will hit Xbox LIVE Arcade on Wednesday, September 24th, as officially announced by 3D Realms here. They've also launched a cool little launch trailer, which you can view below.

No official Microsoft Point cost has yet been released, however those details will emerge soon. My expectation is 800 Microsoft Points.

Gears of War 2 ViDoc - Making Gears 2: Touch the Sound

Now available on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and the official Gears of War site is an excellent ViDoc going into the sound design of Gears of War 2.

It's a great watch, and I really liked the visual set up they had going in the background to really spruce up some simple talking heads.

You can check the video out on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, or online right here.

Oh So Beautiful Halo 3 Edition

In the most recent Bungie Weekly Update, they linked to a rather intriguing machinima video entitled Oh So Beautiful Halo 3 Edition.

The video is just over 8 minutes long, and is a montage of shots taken from Halo 3 showing off the beauty and detail of the game's environments.

I thought the video was very well done, and really shows how good the graphics featured in Halo 3 are. Hats off to the environment artists, and thanks to Bungie for making such a beautiful game.

BioShock (PlayStation 3) Playable Demo Dated

PlayStation 3 gamers actually have something to look forward to for a change! Yay!

BioShock, one of the highest rated games on the Xbox 360 (based on Metacritic here), will arrive on the PlayStation 3 in late October, and a playable demo of the game will be released to the PlayStation Store on October 2nd.

For any PlayStation 3 fans who missed out on the Xbox 360 or PC versions of this masterpiece, I strongly recommend it.

New Xbox Experience Games Played Update

Xbox LIVE's Major Nelson was updated late last week with a small preview of the upcoming New Xbox Experience, showing the Games Played section of the new Dashboard.

Further details can be found here.

In truth, aside from the sissy Avatar, it doesn't look too bad at all.

Ensemble Studios Closing, the Future of Halo Wars

Earlier this week, it was confirmed that Microsoft will be closing Ensemble Studios, the developers of the upcoming Xbox 360 RTS Halo Wars, after the game's release. Of course, this has raised many questions and concerns regarding the future of Halo Wars, and what kind of post-release support the game will receive.

To address these concerns, David Pottinger, the lead designer of Halo Wars, has chimed in on the game's site's front page, and he's assured us that the new company which will be formed after Ensembles dissolve will support the title via Title Updates and downloadbale content.

"Halo Wars is going to ship. We want Halo Wars to be awesome. If you’ve read any of the E3 or Leipzig press coverage, you know the game is good. Plus, the new company will support Halo Wars via title updates and DLC. "

You can read his full post on the official sites front page right here.

McFarlane Toys Announces Halo Wars Action Figures

Looks like McFarlane Toys really enjoys the Halo universe, as they've now announced a series of Halo Wars figures that will be released in March 2009, theoretically around the same time as the game.

What can I say, I love Spartans, and McFarlane Toys produces some really excellent figures. That often have problems standing up :(.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Commercials

Two commercials were released last week for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and both can be viewed on the official site under Media Gallery>Web Docs/Videos (scroll down past the Producer Walkthroughs, which are also cool even though they're not the next-gen platforms).

My favourite is the Reverse TV Spot, which I've put up a low resolution version below.

Tomorrow after 10:00 am, the Force will blow my mind!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360) Impressions

An exercise in patience and frustration. That's my big impression of Alone in the Dark (Xbox 360). I've been playing it on and off for about 3.5 weeks now, and I'm only just short of the game's half-way mark simply because almost every play session is fraught with dealing with frustrating design decisions.

I'm going to have to go and agree with most of the professional reviews that I've read: Alone in the Dark is a very ambitious game that brings some very innovative features to light, but gets bogged down over an identity crisis of not being able to decide on what genre it wants to be.

At it's core, I know Alone in the Dark is supposed to be a survival horror game, which of course dictates a slower pace than, say, a first person shooter, but it often forgets that. In fact, much of the exploration and puzzle solving sections of the game thus far have been enjoyable, but those sections are often interupted with combat that's completely unrefined and simply annoying as hell.

This is really amplified by the game's sluggish controls. They're not the worst I've ever seen, but they're certainly not the best either. The control's nuances are easier to forgive in exploration, but when it comes to combat, Alone in the Dark generally likes to toss aggressive enemies at you, and it simply becomes frustrating dealing with them.

Not that you seem to have any lack of ways to kill the Humanz and other nasties that come at you. One thing Alone in the Dark has is a great and complex inventory system in which you can collect and combine so many items to form new kinds of weapons. Press "Down" on the D-Pad, and you open up your jacket, revealing everything you've got on you, and you can mix and match items to create sticky booms, fire bullets, flame throwers, etc. The problem is that when you access your inventory, the game doesn't pause!

Because the Xbox 360 version uses the game's Controller (naturally), navigating and interacting with such an inventory can be very tedious and time consuming, and if Humanz are still attacking you, well, this system doesn't work so well. On a PC, where you could quickly drag and drop items, I could see the system working, but it just falls flat on a console controller.

I also found melee combat very annoying. You use the Right Thumbstick to swing your weapon and attack, and I personally hate using the Right Thumbstick for this. This is one of the big reasons I couldn't get into Too Human, and I consider it another bad decision for Alone in the Dark. What happens is when you're using a melee weapon, you don't have any decent camera control, which really proves irritating.

One thing I really like is the game's DVD style presentation, in which each Chapter is presented as an episode to a series, and you can actually skip back and forth to different sections as if you were watching a TV show. This is very cool, and really innovative, but what's sad is that you'll often use this feature simply to by-pass horribly designed sections of a level because you're too frustrated to try and complete it! This great, innovative feature is marred because it looks more like Eden Games knew they had a flawed creation here and instead of trying to fix it, simply added in a "skip" feature so you could rush through their own game!

And you'll certainly be skipping Alone in the Dark's horrible driving sequences. The vehicles handle very much like those of Grand Theft Auto IV's (which was not a good thing in my opinion), but they're actually worse on the physics side. While this could normally be forgiven, the major driving sequences I've experienced thus far do not allow any forgiveness on the player. Take a second too long or accidently get flipped around; no time to correct yourself as the streets collapse, or Vampirz fly you away, etc. Then you're bumped back right to the beginning of the same annoying sequence again and again! Which again is a real shame, as the first driving sequence, when you're racing a car to central park, has some exceptional scripted sequences of the streets being torn up and buildings collapsing. It was spectacular, and yet it was all ruined by the horrible gameplay design of the sequence.

The game seems to have some measure of a checkpoint system, which works okay in the regular gameplay moments, but it doesn't seem to be used at all in the driving sections, and I seriously wonder how something this frustrating could ever have gotten past QA.

Visually, the game looks good. Character models are not cutting edge, but they're certainly not horrible either. A little rubbery, but nicely detailed. The environments are nice though. A lot of work and detail has gone into recreating a devestated Central Park, and it certainly shows. Kudos to the Eden Games team for their environment layout. In fact, I must say that despite it's flaws Alone in the Dark has proven to be the scarriest game I've played to date on the Xbox 360. I have jumped at several moments throughout the game, and this is something all other titles have failed to do.

Story wise, the game seems alright thus far. I'm on the fourth "Episode," and it's nicely set up providing me with just enough tidbits to keep me interested just like a TV show. The dialogue and script writting, on the other hand, are really bad. Honestly, why does everyone swear so much? I mean, I'm no angel, I curse a blue-streak every day and typically when I open my mouth orphans cry, but all the characters in Alone in the Dark swear so excessively so often that it's simply laughable and quite honestly, not very believeable. I've actually find that more than anything is killing my attachment to the game's story.

So, at this point, nearly half-way through the game, what do I think? Well, Alone in the Dark is a game that gets some things right, but gets a whole lot more wrong. It could have been an excellent exploration game focused around dark mystery and puzzles, but Eden Games decided to through in some poorly paced combat and horendous driving sequences. It seems to be a game that does some things others have never done before, but these achievements are swallowed up and completely overshadowed by the mixed-and-matched design that covers almost every aspect of gameplay.

You explore a bit and then enter into some annoying combat. You explore some more, than get annoyed by driving around. You explore some more, then struggle with your inventory while trying not to die. I haven't finished the game yet, and at this rate, it'll take me a while to motivate myself to really even try.

If I do get through it, I'll do a full and proper review, but at this point, if you're thinking of Alone in the Dark, I'd recommend a rental at best.

Xbox LIVE Marketplace Extended Play Download Days

Select items have now been discounted via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace until the end of October. This includes Bring Down the Sky gameplay module for Mass Effect reduced to 300 Microsoft Points from the original 400, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, reduced to 1600 Microsoft Points to the original 2400.

These are some decent deals, and this brings the digital copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, when purchased with The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine, roughly on par with the retail copy, save that you're still bogged down by DRM (digital rights management) and need to perform a lengthy download.

Better some savings than none though!

Spotted at Xbox LIVE's Major Nelson.

Fable II Hero Screenshots

Lionhead Studios has released some new screenshots showing the customizable options available to us when creating and playing as our own unique hero in their upcoming action RPG, Fable II.

Crazy cross dressing heroes.

New Halo 3 Achievements

In Friday's Bungie Weekly Update, Bungie has confirmed the upcoming addition of more Achievements to Halo 3, which we'll see in the soon-to-be released second Title Update for the game.
  • Vidmaster Challenge: Lightswitch (0 points) – Get to the rank of Lieutenant in any playlist in the new EXP progression system.
  • Vidmaster Challenge: 7 on 7 (0 points) – Enter into any ranked or social playlist with 7 EXP on the 7th of the month.
  • Vidmaster Challenge: Annual (0 points) – After 9/25/08, complete Halo on 4-player Legendary LIVE co-op, with Iron, and everyone in Ghosts.
  • Double Double (25 points) – On a Legendary map, get two Double Kills during any ranked or social match.
  • Poor Yorick (25 points) – On a Legendary map, get 3 Oddball melee kills during any ranked or social match.
  • Came…From…Behind (50 points) – On a Legendary map, get 3 assassinations during any ranked or social match.
  • Defend This (50 points) – On a Legendary map, get a flag melee kill during any ranked or social match.
  • Flag Dropped (25 points) – On a Legendary map, get 2 flag carrier kills during any ranked or social match.
  • Road Rage (25 points) – On a Legendary map, get 5 Warthog chaingun kills during any ranked or social match.
  • Look Both Ways (50 points) – On a Legendary map, get a Splatter Spree during any ranked or social match.
What's also interesting to note is that Bungie confirms they'll be releasing more Achievements than these, however with the current list, they'll reach the limit of 1250 possible Gamer Points for the game. This means we'll either see more 0 Point Achievements, or Halo 3 may be the first game allowed to break the 1250 cap impossed by Microsoft.

I also find it rather sad that most of these listed Achievements require the Legendary Map Pack. In other words, Bungie and Microsoft Game Stuidos are trying to scam you into spending more money.


Diablo III Official Site Updates

Blizzard Entertainment has updated their official Diablo III site with a timeline detailing the major events of the game universe, some new artwork, and a few new screenshots.

The time line is a cool read if you're new to the series, and the screenshots are looking nice as always!

Xbox 360 Price Drop

As of this past Friday, the Xbox 360 has received another price drop. You can now pick up an Xbox 360 Arcade for $199.99, an Xbox 360 Pro for $299.99, and an Xbox 360 Elite for $399.99.

This is an excellent cost to pick up a new Xbox 360 console, and I'd personally recommend the Xbox 360 Pro since it has a nice new 60 GB HDD.

Weta Collectibles Master Chief and Arbiter Statue Available for Pre-Order, Halo 3 Experience of a Lifetime

Weta Collectibles has placed their Halo 3 Collectibles Master Chief and Arbiter statue up for pre-order, selling at $225.00 (US), and it will be available the second quarter of 2009.

They also have a contest running where you can win the Halo 3 Experience of a lifetime. If you pre-order any Halo 3 Collectible statue by September 30th, you could win a trip to New Zealand, a ride in the Warthog and a chance to try the props made for the short films, as well as an Xbox 360 and a copy of Halo 3. Full details here.

For the statues themselves, this is the one that I'd want. I've always been a huge fan of the Arbiter, and he looks great here.