Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Staff (TM)'s Editorial: PC gaming Re-entry

All right, here we go.  It's been a while, but like the proverbial prodigal son, We, the Staff (TM) have decided to make a meaningful post.

We, the Staff (TM) are currently without an Xbox 360 for at least the next several months.  As Fearless Leader may have mentioned, We've moved to the UK, and We'll be damned if we're going to make the investment in a new TV, a TV license, and a PAL-specific Xbox 360.  Yes, that's right, one needs a gods-forsaken licence to own a TV here in the UK!  Anyway, since our current source of gaming goodness once again is in the form of a PC, We thought We'd report what We could about the state of PC gaming.

Since our re-introduction to the world of PC, We have ran through Universe At War:  Earth Assault, Star Wars:  Empire at War and its expansion, Forces of Corruption, and begun playing through the more-recent RTS World in Conflict and the CPU/GPU-hogging FPS Crysis.  We have also run through several demos of more independently-produced games.

Put simply, it is fairly easy for Us to see why (monetarily, at least) the PC is losing ground against its Console rivals, i.e. the X360 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the PS3.  The PC still suffers from many of the problems that it has always had to contend with.  Being forced to provide support for multiple hardware conditions, PC games more often than naught wind up being overall buggy products, whereas the consoles have the advantage of universal hardware.

Maintaining a top-notch gaming PC is something of a task in and of itself.  A console, barring any manufacturing defects (as both Fearless Leader and We, the Staff (TM) have chronicled in the past), is ready to play its array of games off the shelf.  A PC can often require endless tinkering by means of installing drivers, troubleshooting hardware issues, tweaking settings to attain the optimal performance (usually at the cost of quality), etc.   Also, the consoles have an emerging advantage in their online service networks (Xbox Live and the Playstation Network), which provide excellent integration of news, demos, and content updates to the user.  Yes, the PC has a long-standing internet-based support network, but XBL and PSN provide significant ease of access to new content.  The flip side to this is the effect that console-based networks have had on the distribution of new content.  Sadly, what was once always considered free content in the glory days of PC gaming (multiplayer maps, new levels, and various other add-ons) now comes at a price in the world of the console network.

More specifically than all this, We have noticed a different tendency among recent PC games.  It occurs to Us that production values for PC-specific games have generally dropped in recent years.  Either that, or the console-specific games had their production values continually increase, while PC-specific titles' values plateaued.  Such production values include voice acting, cutscene production, and storyline and character development.  Many of the console games had their production values reach more of a level commonly held by feature films.  Examples of this include the first Gears of War, which premiered on the 360, the Halo series, and Mass Effect (another 360 premiere later followed up with a PC release).  There are notable PC-exclusive exceptions to this rule, of course, such as the aforementioned World in Conflict and Crysis.  However, they are more the exception, rather than the rule.  Granted, the latest-generation consoles have been "graced" with their own share of poorly-produced material, but there seems to be a greater proportion of well-produced material on the consoles compared to what occurs on the PC.

At the end of the day, what We observe is that the PC is increasingly becoming the platform choice of the Gearhead, rather than the Gamer.  Of course there is some overlap between the two, but the "Gearhead" market is a very specific and limited one.  This is likely reflected by the increasing disparity between the financial performance of the respective platforms.

And thus concludes our long-overdue rant about stuff.

-The Staff

Sunday, October 26, 2008

PlayStation Portable 5.01 System Software Update

Earlier this week, Sony released System Software Update 5.01 for the PlayStation Portable. Nothing too major this time around, just some minor bug fixes from 5.00:

- New for 5.01: When downloading content (as a purchase or for free) from PlayStation®Store using a PSP™ system with 8 GB or 16 GB Memory Stick Duo™ media inserted, you may see a message indicating that the media does not have enough free space, even when sufficient space exists. The version 5.01 update resolves this issue.

- The feature for outputting video from PlayStation® format software to a TV has been improved.

  • You can now output video from PlayStation® format software to a TV in full-screen size.
  • You can now use video output cables that do not support video in progressive mode to output video from PlayStation® format software to a TV.
You can snag the System Software Update here.

Troy: Fall of Kings Review

The Troy trilogy comes to a close with Troy: Fall of Kings, and while the Age of Heroes dies, so does someone closer to the book itself. David Gemmell, the writer of the series, passed away, and his wife completed and published the novel for him. And it's for this reason that I wonder about the way the story wraps up.

The war between the kings of the West and East of the Great Green is in full force. Helikaon, devastated by the loss of his wife, seeks vengeance against his Mykene adversaries and terrorizes them at sea aboard his flagship, the Xanathos. His young foster son, Dex, is now safely in Troy under the care of Andromache as she looks after both him, and her son, the heir to the throne of Troy, Astyanax. Hektor is briefly back in Troy, and concerned with the deteriorating mental condition of his father, King Priam, but is then sent away with the Trojan Horse to hold the lines to the south of Troy. Meanwhile in the north, holding the line in Dardanos, Banokles, a reluctant General of Troy, is assisted by his sword brother Kalliades, when all he longs for is his wife and the contentment he found with her.

On the other side of the conflict, Odysseus, though reluctantly an ally of the Mykene, is becoming fast friends with the legendary Achilles, and Agamemnon, king of the Mykene, launches a daring surprise assault that enables him to begin the fabled siege of Troy.

Troy: Fall of Kings continues the strong character development the series is known for, and the complex personal and political relations there-in. Some characters mainly absent from the last novel, such as Xander and Khalkeus, make a very important return.

In brief, if you enjoyed the previous novels, you will be picking this one up to complete the series. It is an excellent telling of the fall of this once great city, and puts some nice twists on events that we thought we knew. My only real complaint is with how it all comes together and closes in the end.

Overall, while the novel is of the same high quality as it's predecessors right up until the end, in the last few chapters it gets rather anti-climactic, and I wonder if it was always planned this way or if this is the result of Gemmell's death and his wife completing the project. Not that she did a bad job or that the novel's ending is horrible, but I felt several very key characters did not have the departure that they deserved.

Regardless, the key events are well written and very memorable. The siege itself, the dual between Hektor and Achilles, the last stand of the Trojans, the naval battles, are wonderfully and powerfully presented. While the ending itself isn't the most satisfying, the journey is a wonderful ride, and I'd like to thank the late David Gemmell for writing one of the most compelling tales I've read this year. Hats off to him.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gears of War 2 "Last Day" TV Ad and Gears of War Flashback Top 5 Weapons Video

Epic Games has released two new videos. The first and by far the coolest is the TV Ad for Gears of War 2 entitled "Last Day," which is done entirely in-game engine. You can check it out below, here, or via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

Secondly, we have another in the Gears Flashback Series, this one entitled "Top-5 Weapons," which you can also view below or here.

BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams Teaser Trailer Officially Released

The teaser trailer for BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams which was originally only available via the PlayStation 3 version of BioShock or via "bootleg" (such as the video reported here), has now been officially released.

You can view it below, on the official Cult of Rapture site here, or via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Announced

Well the rumours were true, and the massive multiplayer online roleplaying game that BioWare and LucasArts have teamed up to develop is indeed set in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic franchise. BioWare and LucasArts have officially announced Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Set 300 years after the end of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords, BioWare appears to be basically abandoning the awesome story of the originals and jumping ahead to a time when the galaxy is recovering from the war with the true Sith menace that was forshadowed by the previous games.

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not excitied by this at all, and I won't be following the game at this point. The fact that MMOs are not my genre aside, I was really hoping to see a wrap-up to the previous storyline, basically to have a Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic III that deals with the war this game takes place after, or at least the start of it.

I also can't say I'm very impressed with the graphical style of the game, nor with BioWare's other current work, Dragon Age: Origins. Both titles look like a massive graphical step backward. Well, at least we know they're working on Mass Effect 2. Hopefully they won't screw that one up.

Yeah, I know...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Best Buy Gaming Invasion 08 Round Up

This weekend, Best Buy hosted Gaming Invasion 08 at Yonge-Dundas Square in Downtown Toronto, and myself and two friends, Cookie and EV, checked the show out Friday night.

Now, before I get into the details of the show and the great games that were present, let me tell you a little story. As a Best Buy Rewards Zone member, I received and email from Best Buy not only notifying me about the show weeks in advance, but also granting me VIP access! No lines, no waiting, and me and 50 others (plus one guest each) could have the gaming times of our lives!

The only catch was I needed to be there at noon on Friday, and all the VIP stuff was before the show actually opened at 2:00 pm.

I work for a living.

So the VIP bit didn't happen for me, but just before we left for the show after work, I got an email from Best Buy informing me that they hoped I enjoyed my VIP access, and that they're mailing me a $100.00 gift card to add to my gaming collection. Since I just got Gears of War 2 and then some for free, even though I lost out on actually using my VIP status, I call this a win! Now, on to the show!

The amazing thing was admission was free for everyone, so Gaming Invasion 08 was completely accessible to hardcore and casual gamers alike, and all the major platforms were present. The show was set up in a large tent, and right as you walked in, the first thing you see is Gears of War 2, right there by the door. The line was short, and very quickly we got to try out the new Horde mode in two player Splitscreen.

Overall, it was fun and challenging, and the graphics for Gears of War 2 were really crisp over the original game, no simple matter seeing as how Gears of War is one of the most beautiful games on the Xbox 360. They seemed to be a little more colourful, and the characters were more clearly defined. A lot of nice, new little touches were added as well, such as the Lancer's barrel turning bright red from heat after running empty, and the new Boomers were certainly intimidating as they come bearing down on you. Sadly, a lot of the game's options were grayed out, and the Right Stick was inverted, so I couldn't look properly and didn't play well, but I still got a great taste of what's to come on Novemeber 7th, and I want more. Lots more!

I couldn't tell you what the game sounded like though. We got there just as Mobile was playing on stage, and while the tunes were cool, they were _loud_, and my friends and I had to lean into each other and shout just to hear ourselves. That was too bad, because audio plays just as large a part in games today as graphics, and it would have been nice to, oh I don't know, hear things.

That aside, we still got to check out some really awesome titles, some new, others not yet released. Cookie really wanted to check out LEGO Batman: The Video Game, so we found that towards the back and she had a great time knocking countless crook's blocks off in the Xbox 360 version. EV had a great time playing Mario Kart DS (DS), coming in 1st or 2nd on her races, and we also checked out Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (Wii), BioShock (PlayStation 3) and Kirby Super Star Ultra (DS).

What really impressed me on the Nintendo side was Wario Land: Shake It (Wii), which Cookie was playing. I really liked the art style, and simply using the Wii Remote to smash things by literally shaking it was really cool and innovative. The Wii isn't my style of console, but seriously, hats off to Nintendo for something completely different and original.

I was a bit dissapointed on the Xbox 360 front, though, as Fable II didn't seem to be present, which I would of expected given it launchs this Tuesday. I would have loved to have tested it out quickly, but sadly it was not to be. I also was hoping that Fallout 3 would have made an appearance, either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version, but again, if it was there, I couldn't find it, and the lack of these higher profile titles, some of the most anticipated games for October not being there, was a bit of a let-down.

We then made our way back towards the front where I noted Dead Space was present on a PlayStation 3, but it was quite crowded around that section so we kept moving right up to the other side of the front where I got to check out Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PSP), which only allowed dual mode, but the game handled nicely on the small platform and looked pretty good to.

There was also a part in the PlayStation 3 section where a large TV and a couch were set up, but I didn't stop to really check this one out, so perhaps someone else can fill me in on what was playing there. I think it was Resistance 2, but I could be wrong. Again, with the crowds, we were pushing through to find and play what we really wanted to see.

Which lead us into an off-shoot: the tent branched off to another section specifically for the upcoming PlayStation 3 title, Little Big Planet, which allowed 4 player co-op, so we all gave it a try together. I personally thought the game looked gorgeous, and the art style and animation are very unique. The characters are quite cute, and at this part of the tent, sound from the stage was more muted so you could actually hear things as the characters made their interesting little noises.

The bigest problem we had with Little Big Planet was simply the lack of knowledge on how to play, and while a PlayStation rep was kind enough to tell us the gist of it, his quick crash-course couldn't replace a solid in-game tutorial, which we sadly weren't able to try, so the game was more an exercise in frustration as we simply tried to figure out what to do.

After we gave up on Little Big Planet, we decided to head out. Like any show though, we couldn't leave without some kind of loot. EV got a LEGO Robin keychain (which she gave to Cookie), Cookie got a white PlayStation baseball cap, and I got a free World of Warcraft 14-Day Trial Edition DVD-Rom (yay for digital crack!).

And there you have it, our experience from Best Buy's Gaming Invasion 08. A lot of great games glimpsed, and a lot of fun had. Here's hoping for a repeat show next year!

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Completed for the 2nd Time

And this time without any Save Game corruption!

I replayed Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360) on Sith Warrior again, and I took the time to find absolutely everything: Every Holocron, every Costume, and the Database Completed properly on this run. I also found and unlocked every single Lightsabre Crystal (love that Black Crystal).

The only thing I didn't actually finish this time was the Training Room. I left the Force Push Challenge alone, because as I recall, my last Save corruption happened around the time I completed all the Training Rooms. It may have been coincidence, but I decided to play it safe.

I also relied almost soley on the automated Checkpoint save system, just in case mass-saving also led to corruption.

This playthrough went more quickly than my first run simply because I had a solid understanding of the Combos and Force Powers, and I knew where to go through the Missions, so there was less overall exploring.

Still, the combat is just so much fun. I mixed up my Force Powers more and used some abilites that I didn't bother much with last time which helped keep things fresh. The game's story was just as great the second time around, and it was cool to see the canon Light Side ending, which of course I won't spoil here, and how it really influenced the Star Wars universe. It's also nice to see a Star Wars title that's mature, unlike many of the recent films.

Can I just say how much harder the final boss is on the Light Side ending. Again, I can't give it away here, but I had to try for about 45 whooping minutes to take him down, nealy three times as long as it took me to win the Dark Side ending. Talk about the quick and easy path...

Regardless, I've enjoyed this additional playthrough of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Now I just need to start acquiring those Mastery Achivements...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gears of War 2 "A Pixel is Worth 1,000 Words" ViDoc and Top 5 Gears of War Achievements Video

Epic Games has released two new ViDocs for their Gears of War franchise.

The first, viewable via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace or here, is a ViDoc for Gears of War 2 entitled "A Pixel is Worth a 1,000 Words," and it really discusses Epic's point of view on gaming as an art form. I really like this video, as gaming has evolved into art, and anyone who tells you otherwise should go look at sculptures of naked pregnant women or something.

It goes into great detail regarind the art design behind the environments and characters, and incorporates some truly beautiful looking scenes.

The second video is a continuation of the Gears of War Top 5 series, this one counting down the top 5 Gears of War Achievements. It can also be viewed on the Gears of War 2 site's video page here.

PSP Firmware Update 5.00 Released

Sony has released Firmware Update 5.00 for the PSP. The major feature of this update is the addition of the PlayStation Store to the PlayStation Portable itself, so you no longer need to use a PC and connect your PSP via a USB cable so long as you have access to a wireless connection.

Full details regarding the firmware update, including how to obtain it, can be found here.

The Art of Halo 3

New book of pretty pictures coming. Thank you Bungie. Pretty, pretty Bungie.

The Art of Halo 3 reveal courtesy of this week's Bungie Weekly Update.

Fable II Launch Trailer

Lionhead Studios has released their launch trailer for Fable II which you can watch via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace or here.

We've also got some new screenshots right here.

Not bad, but I'm still going to wait to pick this one up. Too many other titles to play through right now, and I'm in no rush. I also want to make sure that Lionhead delivers a solid game first.

Dragon Age: Origins Coming to Consoles, Creatures Page Updated

According to TeamXbox, Dragon Age: Origins is a PC exclusive RPG no longer, and will arrive on consoles after the PC version ships sometime in 2009.

BioWare has also updated their official site with several new Creatures here.

BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams Teaser Trailer

Upon completion of the PlayStation 3 version of BioShock, gamers will be treated to a teaser trailer for the upcoming sequel, BioShock 2: Sea of Dreams.

I'm really looking forward to seeing a high quality copy of this teaser trailer, but for now, all I've found is the one below recorded with an actual camera.

Still, I wonder now if the game is a true sequel or a prequel. If a prequel, it could focus on the original founding of Rapture, thus the title and the symbolic city being built. If a sequel, potentially indicated by the young woman holding a Big Daddy Bouncer doll, well, perhaps Rapture will be reborn?

We'll just have to wait for more details before we know for sure!

Originally spotted at ActionTrip.

BioShock (PlayStation 3) Launch Trailer

2K Games has released their launch trailer for the PlayStation 3 version of BioShock. It's a well done trailer that really focuses on the Little Sisters, and you can check it out below or right here.

Xbox 360 Memory Upgrade Program

The upcoming New Xbox Experience will require 128 MB of storage space, and for some Xbox 360 owners, this will take up all the storage space they have available.

To address this potential issue, Microsoft has begun the Xbox 360 Memory Upgrade program.

If you own an Xbox 360 Core console, you'll be eligible for a 512 MB Memory Unit, or a refurbished 20 GB HDD for $19.99 (US). If you own an Xbox 360 Arcade console, you may be eligible for a refurbished 20 GB HDD and a 3 Month Xbox LIVE Gold membership for $29.99 (US).

I'm not certain if this offer is available in Canada, however it certainly is in the United States.

Spotted at TeamXbox.

Dead Space RIG Downloads

For a limited time, players can download an exclusive RIG for Dead Space depending on the console they pick up the game for.

Xbox 360 gamers can download the Elite RIG, which is themed off the Xbox 360's colours, and PlayStation 3 gamers can download the Obsidian RIG, based off the PlayStation 3's colour scheme.

As far as I know, both RIGS have the same stats and characteristics with the only difference being cosmetic to each platform. They're Level 5 RIGs, start with 90 seconds of Air, 10% Armour, and additional inventory slots.

Both RIGs are free and will only be available for 2 weeks after Dead Space's launch, which was October 14th.

Originally spotted via Wikipedia here.

Players can also download the Scorpion RIG off the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 200 Microsoft Points, or via the PlayStation Store for $2.49. The Scorpion RIG is mainly red in colour, and is a Level 5 RIG, 90 seconds of Air, 25% armour, and all inventory slots.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Appointed an Xbox Ambassador

Recently, all existing Xbox Ambassadors were asked to nominate additional candidates to expand the program and bolster their ranks, and one Ambassador took notice of my activities in the Canadian General Forum and nominated me.

Today, I have been officially appointed an Xbox Ambassador. So what does this all mean, exactly?

Well, in the grand scheme of things, not only will I continue to offer the help and support around the official Xbox Forums that I always have, but I'm also now accessible via Xbox LIVE to help people out if needed.

New gamers to Xbox LIVE are welcome to add me to their Xbox LIVE Friend's list, and I can show them the ropes and answer their questions if needed.

To this end, I've gone out and purchased an Xbox LIVE Gold membership. While I still don't agree with paying for Multiplayer, this membership will now give me the ability to help people out and be part of a larger community overall, and those are all things I'm looking forward to.

Granted, I'm not much of a Multiplayer gamer, but I'm certainly looking forward to meeting some great new people and working towards building a better Xbox LIVE community!

PlayStation Portable Impressions

As many of you now know, I've purchased a PSP. Now that I've had it for a little bit, I'll share with you my impressions.

I first purchased my Limited Edition God of War PSP Entertainment Pack on Sunday, September 28th, but I got caught up in a game of Halo 3 that night and didn't even get to open the box. On Monday, September 29th, I finally opened it up, awed over the deep red colour of the unit, and read all the manuals. The PSP's battery does not shipped charged, so I was going to juice it up over night, but first I wanted to remove the protective image of Krato bashing evil ass that was packaged overtop the PSP's LCD screen.

When I carefully removed it, the protective image left nothing but sticky adesive residue in it's wake. Needless to say, I wasn't too thrilled.

I quickly checked the manual on how to clean the LCD screen, and I was advised to use a soft, dry cloth and rub gently, so that's what I did using the cloth that came with my LCD TV. Well I got the sticky adhesive off, but I also left several fine scratches on the screen. My coworker wasn't kidding when he told me the PSP's screen is the easiest LCD to scratch that he's ever seen.

After this, even though I juiced up the battery anyway, I never turned the unit on and I resolved to take this "defective" PSP back to HMV and exchange it, which I did successfully on Wednesday, October 1st. The HMV staff were cool and put up no arguement, and I opened my replacement in store to make sure all was well.

Finally, I've been able to play my PSP, and thus far I'm liking the little console. I find it overall to be fairly light, and resonably compact given it's elongated size, and God of War: Chains of Olympus simply kicks ass!

The controls handle fairly smoothly, and whoever came up with the PSP's analogue stick is a genius; it allows for such fluid movement. So much so, I'm wondering why Sony didn't provide a second analogue stick, which would have been great for shooters.

The LCD screen is crisp and sharp, and the graphics displayed thus far are quite impressive for a portable unit. The audio is good over the internal speakers, but the PSP actually sounds better via stereo headphones; it seems to balance left and right a little better this way and just has more presence.

I've tinkered with the PlayStation Store and downloaded some content, mainly videos that all play nicely, and I've customized my PSP with a nice God of War: Chains of Olympus Theme.

I also tried to rip a DVD to my PSP using some third party software, but that didn't work stating I didn't have the correct codec, so I'll need to tinker with that a little later.

Overall though, as a portable gaming platform, I'm pretty pleased with my PSP. I'm going to pick up a microfibre soft cloth for future cleaning of the screen this weekend, as it does need a cleaning now, and I don't want to scratch it again. After searching the web, caring for the PSP's screen the same way one cares for prescription glasses is apparently the way to go.

Despite the ridiculously easy to scratch screen, I'm impressed with the hardware's capability thus far, and I think I made a sound purchase here.

Dead Space

Up until the beginning of this month, Dead Space wasn't even on my radar, but after watching the IGN Strategize video featured in Inside Xbox (featured via the Xbox 360 Dashboard) on October 3rd, I was completely psyched!

In brief, the game looks like a solid cross between System Shock 2 and Doom 3, and it's getting solid reviews. I've decided to blind-buy it, and I can't wait to piss myself in shear terror!

Dead Space has a US release date of Oct. 14th, however it appears that it'll hit Canadian shelves on Oct. 16th.

Only a few more days for what may be the sleeper hit of the year!

The Orange Box: Half-Life 2 - Episode Two (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.

Despite the huge success of Portal, The big ticket item of The Orange Box is the most recent installment to the Half-Life franchise, Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

Having escaped from City 17, Gordon and Alyx must now race to White Forest where the rebels have a key base set up, and warn of a pending Combine counter attack. The ruins of the Citadel have also begun to form a massive portal, which would allow for another Combine invasion, and the hope is that the scientists at White Forest can find a way to stop this as well.

Now, I played through Half-Life 2: Episode Two in chunks, playing roughly half the game when I rented The Orange Box late last June, and then I played some more levels prior to the release of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360), and most of the remaining levels about three weeks or so ago, with the final battle being completed this past week.

So why did it take me so long? Well, in truth, Half-Life 2: Episode Two never really grabbed me in the way a great game should. The beginning is certainly alright, and I loved the massive battles with the Antlions and the new Acid Antlion Worker, and the game has a lot of Zombies, which I loved. Despite it's flaws and my gripes about the series, the Half-Life 2 franchise generally does have above average gameplay, with a healthy mix of mundane to brilliant puzzles mixed in with solid shooting action. This is demonstrated very well in Half-Life 2: Episode Two's first half as you begin to fight your way through to White Forest and ultimately raid an Ant Lion hive for story reasons I can't go into, but once you get that damn car near the game's half-way mark, well, it's pretty much all downhill from there as the car becomes integral to the game's progression.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Valve can not design a proper vehicle. Period. So many times when I needed to quickly turn and zoom ahead, the car would still be going in reverse when I moved the Left Stick forward, or it would turn in the wrong direction, etc. This made handling it an exercise in frustration over what should have been a simple matter of movement, much like the Airboat in Half-Life 2. I cursed and swore over the game's final battle for situations like this, and I had to set the game down for a week simply to cool off; I was that angry!

Absolutely horrible, and the subsequent interspersed sections on foot simply weren't exhilerating enough to really grip me or excite me enough to fanatically play onwards, and the feeling of a solid game that was well designed from the first half was completely and utterly lost.

Once you reach the base at White Forest, things started to pick up with several sequences very reminicent of the orginal Half-Life (except that the Combine Soliders are the same low quality opponents they always were), but then you're tossed back into the car for the game's final battle, and the last hope of salvaging Half-Life 2: Episode Two for me was completely crushed.

The Hunters, however, where quite a nice challenge. Finally seeing fit to gift us with a real new monster, Valve did do a good job with them. They are very durable, fast, and deadly, and , their AI was actually advanced enough to try and get out of the way if I went to ram them with the car. They still weren't the best at it, but at least they tried, which is a huge leap forward for Valve's circa 2000 proprietary AI technology!

You also get some kind of a new, situational specific weapon in Half-Life 2: Episode Two: The Matheson Bomb! They're actually fairly neat, but story specific, so I don't want to ruin it for you.

And speaking of story, you finally get a little bit of exposition. I know! I actually dropped my Controller in shock as Valve finally provided an actual little bit of story to their bland franchise, and put a few points in perspective. Granted, what they did reveal wasn't anything overlly mamoth and was still a little vague, and it should have been done three years earlier with the release of Half-Life 2, but I suppose it's better late than never. Don't worry though, Valve tosses in a whole lot of new vague BS to completetly tip the scales into obscurity once again.

So, there you have it. Half-Life 2: Episode Two is a mixed bag, with a solid if traditional introduction that entertains, only to be lost with a poorly designed second half. Many are going to disagree with me, but I still don't see what all the fuss over Valve is. They constanly prove themselves to be very overrated in my eyes, deliverying titles that could have been such much more but constantly fall short due to their own design decisions.

Still, Half-Life 2: Episode Two is above average when compared to the crowded shooter camp, and at the current cost of $29.99 for The Orange Box, there's enough bang for your buck in there to be worth the cost of admission. Just be prepared to be annoyed as well.

Happy Birthday, Fearless Leader

Today is the date of Fearless Leader's birth.  We, the Staff (TM) thought we would come out of exile purely for the purposes of this momentous occasion.  Happy Birthday, Fearless Leader.  May you have many more years of attempting to dumb down the interweb's populace as part of your scheme of eventual global dominance.

Oh, and please simply accept the birthday cupcake that the cat's offering you.  Don't kill the cat.  He's being nice to you for once, okay?

-The Staff

Saturday, October 11, 2008

StarCraft II to be a Trilogy

Yes, you read correctly. Blizzard Entertainment is now planning to release StarCraft II as a trilogy; three completely separate games, all stand-alone titles.

The decision came about as Blizzard felt they needed more missions to tell the game's story respectively for each Species, so they're now going to release each Campaign as it's own game.

The first will be the Terran Campaign, entitled "Wings of Liberty," followed by the Zerg Campaign, "Heart of the Swarm," and lastly the Protoss Campaign, "Legacy of the Void."

This is not to be confused with episodic content that some other developers are trying out, each of these games will be stand-alone titles.

While the details are still being finalized, each Campaign will have a different flavour (aside from the unique feel of each Species) and weigh in at more than 30 missions each. From a Multiplayer standpoint, each StarCraft II title will ship will a fully featured Multiplayer game with all three Species intact, and each subsequent game will add extra, as yet undecided additions.

So what does all this mean for us, the consumer? Well, it's a little early to tell, but it looks like there will be a lot of StarCraft II to go around, and also what seems to me a clever plan to drain our wallets.

Call me a pessimist, 'cause I am one, but this means if you want the complete StarCraft II experience, you're going to be shelling out around $149.97 for the game, but spread out around roughly three years. Granted, the overall Campaigns will be epic in size, and who knows how this multi-release will affect Multiplayer (what if someone purchases the Terran Campaign, but another person purchases the Zerg Campaign? Since the Zerg release will have extra stuff added, can they play together?), but my first association with this announcement was a cash grab under the veil of giving us more content and choice.

I do hope I'm wrong.

Details from IGN PC here, and originally spotted at ActionTrip here.

The New Xbox Experience Dated

On November 19th, the Fall Dashboard update for the Xbox 360, otherwise known as the New Xbox Experience, will go live.

To get an interactive preview of what's to come, check out's new page dedicated to the New Xbox Experience here.

Halo 3: Recon Q and A

To clear up many of the rumours and false information floating around the interwebs regarding their recently announced expansion, Halo 3: Recon, Bungie has dedicated this week's Weekly Update to a question and answer session.

The major highlights:

- Halo 3: Recon will be a standalone, disc based expansion
- You play as an ODST
- The game is set during the events of Halo 2 _after_ the Prophet of Regret fled to Delta Halo
- It is a traditional FPS
- The as yet unreleased Mythic Map Pack will be released for Halo 3 early in 2009, and will also be bundled with Halo 3: Recon
- Halo 3: Recon will feature a full set of Achievements for a total 1000 Gamer Score Points
- Production on the expansion began during Spring 2008

And there you have it, the official details so far. Being an expansion set, even a stand-alone version, it is likely that Halo 3: Recon will be priced a little bit cheaper than a traditional new game. My guess will be around $49.99 at launch (but I could be completely wrong, of course).

What I'm most curious about is to learn how the Elites will play into the game. We've clearly seen that Brutes are involved, but I'm not certain if the Covenant Civil War has started yet. Still, according to the Halo 3 Bestiarium, Brutes were used as occupational forces on conqured worlds, so even if the Elites are still part of the Covenant that would explain the giant apes presence.

Only time will tell!

Diablo III - Wizard Class Announced

Blizzard Entertainment has revealed the third character class players can choose to play as in Diablo III: The Wizard.

Young, arrogant, and rebellious, Wizards are not traditional magic practitioners, and delight in the study of forbidden arts, such as magics centered around the primal forces that reality itself is constructed from, like time itself!

You can check out the Wizard's introductory video below or here, read the character class' page here, and check our some screenshots here and concept art here.

Quite the exciting new class, the most interesting of the three revealed thus far in my opinion.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Launch Trailer and S.H.I.E.L.D. Trailer

Two new trailers have been added to the Spider-Man: Web of Shadows official site. The first is a hilarious public service announcement regarding the symbiote invasion from S.H.I.E.L.D., and the second is the game's launch trailer.

I really like the launch trailer, with it's music in stark contrast to the chaos and doubt that Spidey finds himself surrounded in.

You can watch both trailers below or here.

The game launches across all major platforms on October 21st.

Next Halo Novel Release Date and Cover Revealed

The next novel set in the Halo universe, Halo: The Cole Protocol, will be released on November 25th.

I'm very curious to learn who this Spartan is, and what the deal is with his/her armour, as it's not a traditional Mark V or VI.

News spotted at TeamXbox.

New Gears of War 2 Screenshots

ActionTrip is hosting some new screenshots for Gears of War 2 right here.

The game is looking simply awesome, at this point, and I can't wait for November 7th!

Halo Wars Cinematic and New UNSC Cobra Revealed

Ensemble Studios have released a new cinematic for their upcoming Xbox 360 RTS, Halo Wars. Entitled "Five Long Years Part 2," this cinematic can be viewed below, here, or via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

It's an excellent piece that's both beautifully animated and introduces us to some great characters, including this time period's Arbiter. A completely different character than that featured in the Halo trilogy, this Arbiter seems to be a rather nasty one.

The UNSC Field Manual has also been updated to reveal the UNSC Cobra, an new anti-armour vehicle. It also doubles as an anti-building vehicle that needs to root itself in place. Looks like a complete rip of the Arclite Siege Tank from Starcraft, but on wheels instead of treads.

You can read all about it here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Halo 3: Recon Details and Trailer Released

Bungie has released some real details on the stand-alone Halo 3 expansion entitled Halo 3: Recon (originally announced as Halo 3: Keep It Clean here).

Firstly, you can check out the trailer below, here, or via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Secondly, it's coming Fall 2009. Thirdly, it does star a new hero, what appears to be an ODST, and takes place in-between Halo 2 and Halo 3, the second battle for Earth (so Brutes will be the primary Covenant enemy, not Elites).

Very exciting!

Stand-alone release details found on ActionTrip here.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2008

Yesterday into today Nuit Blanche was once again held along the streets of downtown Toronto. Sponsored by Scotiabank, Nuit Blanche features contemporary art installations and performances around key sections of the city from 6:52 pm to sunrise, and there's no admission fee required; you simply show up, walk around, and enjoy the sites.

So of course, one question that needs to be asked is what is art? Art, like many things, is subjective, and it means many things to different people. For me, art is something that mimics reality, that helps me loose myself in the recreation of a moment, the experience of that moment, and I certainly found this at Nuit Blanche, though not through the installations.

I was out for about 2 hours and I walked all over downtown. The light displays at City Hall mimicking Pong and a Space Invaders style game were pretty cool (though I'm sure murder for the city's electric bill), and the city was alive with a very vibrant feel. I was also very entertained by some drummer named Mike who was at the corner of Yonge and Dundas, but apparently he's been coming there for 25 years and had nothing to do with the show. Too bad, as he was bloody awesome.

I saw a few installation films (that were pretty bad so I ran out), some kind of cocoon installation in a small park, and a waterfall made of recycled plastic, all of which failed to move me; I was pretty disappointed with the bulk of the show itself.

There were a bunch of people getting painted up like zombies, but this was also rather underwhelming as well, as zombies should smell more like brains and less like weed. Sadly, being a modern art show, the smell of marijuana was everywhere, and I never could stand that smell. At all.

No, I can't say that I was too keen on Nuit Blanche itself. So what did I enjoy so much about the show? In truth, I found the most enjoyable aspect simply to be walking around the streets of Toronto with my friends, laughing, talking, and joking (One Timbit!), as we never get to see each other often enough. The art show itself was little more than an excuse to hang out and have some fun, and I'll remember that moment long after I've forgotten some silly projection of someone doing ballet.

The show helped me to remember the importance of the people in my life and what they mean to me, and that's how Nuit Blanche helped me to think outside a box.

25% Off Select Video Game Accessories at Toys "R" Us

Toys "R" Us is having an excellent sale featuring 25% off select video game accessories until October 10th, including Xbox LIVE Gold membership pre-paid cards, Microsoft Points cards, controllers, etc.

I was able to pick up some great deals via this sale, but unfortunately my local Toys "R" Us was sold out of both 1400 and 2800 Microsoft Point cards.

Oh well, I still picked up Sony's PSP Headphones with Remote Control for a great price.

Troy: Shield of Thunder Review

The second book of David Gemmell's Troy trilogy, Troy: Shield of Thunder, is every bit as engaging and entertaining as it's predecessor.

Having failed to take the palace of Troy by subterfuge, the Mykene king Agamemnon sets into motion his plans for the beginning of a great war between the forces of the west and east of the Great Green.

Kalliades and Banokles, two former Mykene warriors who survived the foiled attempt in Troy, are now declared failures and traitors by Agamemnon and fugitives from their own land. Fleeing to the unknown, they encounter a beautiful young runaway, Piria, and the three form an unlikely pair who travel to the Golden City seeking fate and fortune.

Meanwhile, the Dardanian king Helikaon has wed Queen Halysia while the true woman of his heart, the Princess Andromache, is due to wed his long time friend and ally Hektor, prince of Troy. King Priam of Troy announces a grand wedding feast and games in which all the kings of the Great Green are welcome to attend and witness the occasion, however with the shadow of open war looming, both Priam and Agamemnon use the gathering to forge new alliances and insult future enemies alike, including the storytelling king of Ithaka, Odysseus, once known as the Sacker of Cities.

Troy: Shield of Thunder is another epic of historical fiction, filled with drama, character, and action, and it takes the story begun in the first novel and moves it in directions both difficult to predict and captivating to read.

The characters are very deep and evolving, and as the war looms, those who are friends are forced to make very difficult choices as to where their allegiances will lie. Not only does Troy: Shield of Thunder strongly expand upon the characters introduced in Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow, but the new (or relatively new in the case of Kalliades and Banokles) characters add another lair of complexity and intrigue to the already great cast of flawed heroes.

So much so, that the bulk of the first third of the novel focuses almost exclusively on the silent and cunning Kalliades, the simple and loyal Banokles, and the fiery and dedicated Piria, and is a stronger read for it. For these newcomers are swept up in the great events of their time, and become an integral part of Gemmell's tale, and for the grand war to come.

Troy: Shield of Thunder is historical fiction at its finest and should not be missed.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Series Premieres Tonight

The premiere of the series Star Wars: The Clone Wars airs tonight at 7:00 pm EST on CTV.

The film was supposed to be bad, but the show is a) free to watch and b) only 30 minutes per episode, so I'll give it a chance.

Halo 3 Master Chief Bobble Head

The title of this post says it all. Details here.

Surprisingly, I found this advertised on Facebook of all places.


Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Gameplay Trailer

ActionTrip is hosting a new gameplay video of Spider-Man: Web of Shadows in which Spider-Man helps S.H.I.E.L.D. with the evacuation of a building.

The combat takes place on the side of a building, and features instant transition from his red and blue suit to his black suit. It also shows off some combat moves clearly evolved from previous titles, but the style seems much more fast-paced and aggresive.

The game, at this point, is looking very exciting. I wonder how easy it will be to control Spider-Man?


BioShock (PlayStation 3) Demo Live

The demo for the PlayStation 3 version of BioShock is now live on the PlayStation Store.

If you have a PlayStation 3 and have not yet had the chance to play the other releases of BioShock, I urge you to download this and give it a whirl.

One of the best single player shooters ever made.

Diablo III - Scavenger Revealed

A new monster has been added to the official Diablo III bestiary, the Scavenger.

Blizzard Entertainment
has also added additional concept art and screenshots, some related to the Scavenger, others not.

Gears of War 2 "Making Gears 2: Enter the Horde" ViDoc, Gears Flashback Series "Top-5 Locust" Video, "Last Day" COG Tag Microsite Launched

Several Gears of War 2 updates to post about this week.

The first is a new ViDoc entitled "Enter the Horde," which details many of the new enemies you'll face in Gears of War 2's campaign (I'm really excited about a few of these), and you can view it below or on the official site's media page here.

Next is another Top-5 video, narrated by Baird, in which he counts down the top 5 deadliest Locust from the Campaign of Gears of War. You can watch it below or via the link here.

Finally, a new microsite entitled "Last Day" has been added in which you can enter various COG tag codes to find out some more details about the game. I haven't bothered looking yet since that takes effort, but you can find out the details here, and the microsite here.

New Xbox Experience - Games Marketplace

Xbox LIVE's Major Nelson's site has been updated with more details regarding the upcoming New Xbox Experience (the Fall 2008 Dashboard update), this time highlighting the Games Marketplace.

Just looking at the screenshots, honestly, this looks so much more slick and organized. Aside from the sissy Avatars, I'm quite excited about the New Xbox Experience now.

Best Buy's Gaming Invasion 08

From Friday October 17th to Sunday October 19th, Best Buy will be hosting Gaming Invasion 08 at Yonge-Dundas Square where gamers will have the opportunity to play new games, such as Gears of War 2, prior to release, compete in tournaments, and play against Ubisoft's all girl gaming team, the Frag Dolls.

Admission is free, and full details, include a list of games, tournaments, and celebs, can be found here.

Xbox 360 Pro (20 GB HDD) Console for $199.99 at Best Buy

Until October 9th, if you can find an Xbox 360 Pro console (20 GB HDD) at Best Buy, it'll only set you back $199.99, a savings of $70.00.

Going for the same cost as an Xbox 360 Arcade console, this is a great deal if you're looking for a brand new Xbox 360 console at low cost.

Good luck finding one though!

New Fallout 3 Screenshots

ActionTrip is hosting some new Fallout 3 screenshots right here.

Too bad I'm going to miss this game's launch :(.

Fable II: Limited Collector's Edition Revision, No Online Co-Op at Launch, and New Developer Diary

Microsoft Game Studios has announced a change to the Fable II: Limited Collector's Edition due out later this month.

The Fable II: Limited Collector's Edition will now cost $10.00 less, priced at $69.99 (US), however most of original bonus content has been removed. Now, it will only contain:

- Bonus DVD with new "Making of Feature"
- Bonus In-Game content, The Hall of the Dead Dungeon, The Wreckager Legendary Cutlass Weapon, Spartan Armour and Energy Sword.

Aside from the premium box that's now gone, the remaining content is the best of the original package in my opinion, with the bonus in-game content being the main draw. Honestly though, I don't think it's worth an extra $10.00.

The more I think about Fable II, the less excited I am by it, and this change in the Limited Collector's Edition clearly re-enforces the stigma surrounding Lionhead Studios of not delivering what they promise and brag about. This is also demonstrated by the lack of on-line co-op, something that was greatly bragged about, which will no longer be available at launch, but will arrive via a Title Update afterwards.

Honestly, I think I'll pass on Fable II for now, and wait for it to become a Platinum Hits title. With any luck, I'll score like last time by waiting with Fable: The Lost Chapters (Xbox); more content at a much cheaper cost than at launch.

News spotted at TeamXbox.

Lionhead Studios has also released their seventh Developer Diary for Fable II, which you can view below, on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, or via this link.

Downloadable Content Announced for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)

LucasArts has announced two upcoming pieces of downloadable content that will be available for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed this fall.

The first will contain extra costumes and skins for the player character, such as Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the second will feature a new mission set within the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.

No word yet on what the pricing for each piece of content will be.

The first one sounds lame to me, and the second sounds cool so long as it's cheap, however it's sad to know that other versions of the game, such as the PlayStation 2 version, as I recall, shipped with the Coruscant level. No idea if this upcoming version will be different though.

In truth, I just want a Title Update to fix the *Deafult Text bug.

Spotted at TeamXbox.