Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant Coming This July

Here's some welcome news. This July, we'll see the second Gears of War novel published. Written by the wonderful Karen Traviss, Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant is a direct sequel to Gears of War 2 and will follow Delta Squad as they escort survivors from the ruins of Jacinto and are forced to deal with not only the remnants of the Locust Horde, but something much darker: humanity itself.

Considering how excellent her original Gears of War novel is (reviewed here), and how much it really fleshed out what was lacking from the games, I'm quite excited about this sequel. Look for a review after I get a copy and give it a read.

Fallout 3: Point Lookout Screenshots

With it's release only days away, Bethesda Game Studios has posted a few additional screenshots for their upcoming Fallout 3 DLC, "Point Lookout."

You can view them right here.

BioShock & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Bundle Coming to Xbox 360 and PC

2K Games has announced a great Single Player bundle headed our way. Beginning on July 7th, gamers will be able to pick up the BioShock & The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Bundle at retail for both the Xbox 360 and PC. The Xbox 360 version will retail for $39.99 (US) and the PC version will retail for $29.99 (US).

The official announcement can be found on Bethesda Softworks site here, and this is an excellent opportunity for gamers who missed out on these exceptional games a few years back.

Thinking a little more on this, that means we can expect the Xbox 360 version to retail for $49.99 (Canadian), and since each game now retails for $29.99 each you'd save about $10.00 by picking this bundle up. Of course, you can also find The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition for $29.99, which contains a lot more content, in which case this Bundle is overpriced for its worth. Your call.

Originally spotted at TeamXbox.

Star Wars: Order 66 - A Republic Commando Novel Review

Once again, Karen Traviss proves she is the mistress of military sci-fi with this excellent addition to her Star Wars: Republic Commando series. Not only do we get to read about the continuing exploits of Omega and Delta Squads, but we also get to see the Clone's perspective on the galaxy changing Order 66.

Sgt. Kal Skirita continues to plan for the future while working for the Grand Army of the Republic with the help of his Null Arc Troopers. Not only is he actively seeking a way to reverse the accelerated aging found in the Clone genome, but his preparations are almost complete for when the galaxy goes to hell, his safe haven for any Clone that wants to leave the Grand Army without having to do so in a body bag. Omega Squad is sent on what appears to be another pointless assassination mission that, naturally, goes to osik, while Darman is completely unaware that Kal's new grandson is actually his own Force-sensitive boy. Etain is filling the void in special operations left by Jusik's departure, and Jusik himself is loving his free Mando merc life, while doing everything he can to help Fi get back into shape.

We all know how this story's going to end: The Jedi die, the Republic falls, and Sev doesn't leave Kashyyyk, but reading how it all gets to this point, following these wonderfully written characters and their odd family mentality is just gripping. Karen Traviss knows how to write, to infuse her pages with so much style, heart, and drama that you simply don't want to put the book down.

Not only is it fascinating to read about the main characters and their further development, but taking a step back and watching the brilliance of Darth Sidious' plan unfold, and how it's all viewed as it happens by the simple rank-and-file is mesmerizing. Want to know why Jango Fett was chosen as the template for the Clones? Want to know why the Clone Troopers were elite units, yet Stormtroopers can't hit the broad side of a barn? Want to know how the Clones really feel about the Jedi Generals they've fought shoulder-to-shoulder with for over 3 years, only to find out they're declared traitors to the Republic? Read Star Wars: Order 66 - A Republic Commando novel. You won't be sorry. If you have even a passing interest in military sci-fi, Star Wars, or shooters, you'll enjoy this novel (though you'll want to read the previous three books first to really know what's going on).

This series has to be the single best military science fiction novel series I've read, very strong, and very humane. Credit to LucasArts for making the original game and allowing us to really view the galaxy from the grunt's perspective, and kudos to Traviss for really fleshing out that dark and gritty perspective to its fullest, infusing it with a fascinating look at Mando culture, and for giving the Clones so much more meaning and purpose than simply being expendable wet droids.

I'm also glad the series is _not_ coming to an end. The Jedi Order has fallen, the Clone War has ended, and the Empire has risen overnight, quick to consolidate its new power. Coming this October, the series continues with its 5th book, Star Wars: 501st - An Imperial Commando Novel. The series has been lite in showing the major characters from the saga, though they're certainly mentioned, so I wonder if we'll see Vader at all. Only time will tell.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Altered Beast (Xbox 360) Trial Impressions

The second of the 6 Sega games I tried was the trial for Altered Beast. I used to play this a lot on my friend's Sega Genesis, and loved this classic beat-'em up.

You play as a man brought back from the dead by Zeus for the purpose of rescuing his captive daughter Athena. You'll need to battle the minions of the underworld, collecting Spirit Balls as you do so to toughen up, and if you collect enough of them, you'll transform into a beast-man and really kick ass.

Altered Beast is a classic '80's beat-'em up in every sense of the word, and the controls are rather simple as you move left or right, and punch or kick your way through your enemies. You have a few varied moves in your arsenal, and these moves change when you become a beast-man.

The graphics and audio are what you'd expect from the era, which is to say poor by today's standards, but still fun, especially the primitive audio with it's low quality voices, and classic style midi-music.

Thankfully, this game allows you to take several hits before you die, and like most games of the day, you have several lives before you'd need to continue.

In brief, there's not much to Altered Beast that you haven't seen in other games of the day, but it's a great classic none-the-less. When I get bored of everything else I'm playing through, 400 Microsoft Points ($5.80) sounds like a find price for a trip down memory lane.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) Main Quest Completed for the 3rd Time

Have I mentioned how wonderful The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360) is? I've played through it so many times now, with several different characters, and it's always an amazing and unique virtual world to visit.

For this playthrough, I decided to create a male Nord named Shale who's task it will be to complete the main Quest, The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles. I'm mainly chasing the last Achievement I need to collect in the game, but decided to do everything since I haven't tackled the main Quest in 2 years.

It took me just under 30 hours to foil the plans of the Mythic Dawn, as well as to tackle the odd side Quest that came my way. Originally, I had set a goal to avoid the game's fast travel system and to close every Oblivion Gate I came across, but I encountered the bug where I was unable to grab the Sigil Stone in one such Gate. After attempting to close this Gate a few times with no luck, I decided to nix those goals (though my horse sure got a lot less use). This bug also cropped up on an optional Quest I was doing, but thankfully it didn't affect the main Quest at all.

Shale is combat oriented, a Warrior, as I recall, and I've been specializing in both Blade and Blunt. I also went through The Elder Scrolls IV: Fighter's Stronghold again, so I have a nice castle to call home.

Even after 3 years, I still consider The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to have some of the best game environments ever created, sporting excellent design. The province of Cyrodiil is a wonderful and varied land to explore, that you really need to experience it to believe it. The role playing elements of the game are also exceptionally done, enhancing the feel of this living world, and there really is just so much to do in Cyrodiil, that I'm still able to find and complete new Quests, even though I've been playing this game for over 2 years.

Now, while I go through other titles, Shale will be taking 5 before tackling The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine. If you haven't had the chance to experience The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion yet, I strongly urge you to do so, as the game really does offer so much content to explore.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Shinobi (Xbox 360) Trial Impressions

This past Wednesday, Sega released 6 classic games to the Xbox LIVE Arcade, and I downloaded the trial versions of two of them. First up was Shinobi, a classic side-scroller that I owned on my Sega Master System, though I do recall the game looking very differently.

Regardless, you play as Joe Musashi, and must stop the criminal organization "Zeed" who've kidnapped a bunch of children from what I assume to be your clan. You guide Musashi through the levels, tossing ninja stars, kicking, jumping, or using your "Ninja" power to defeat your foes. Honestly, I remember there being more special moves and weapons, though perhaps they just weren't included in the trial version. I know I am remembering the right game, because I distinctly remember the bonus levels where you must toss ninja stars at ninjas from a first-person view, and try and prevent any of them from jumping right at you.

While I enjoyed the trial of Shinobi, and certainly had some nostalgia tossed my way, one thing ruined it all for me: The one hit kill. You get hit once, you die and need to start the stage over. Man, how did I used to play games like these? Remind me of that the next time I gripe about an inferior Checkpoint save system.

So when all is said and done, I think it's best that I leave Shinobi buried in the sands of time.

Fallout 3: Point Lookout Screenshots

The next Fallout 3 DLC, entitled "Point Lookout," is nearly upon us, and Bethesda Softworks has released 3 screenshots that you can view right here.

Looks like there'll be plenty of red necks to shoot.

Halo Wars Title Update #3 Officially in the Works

Earlier this week, Robot Entertainment officially announced what we already suspected, that they're working on Title Update #3 for Halo Wars.

They haven't released full details yet, however this Title Update will focus specifically on balance changes and a few bug fixes, such as:

- Reducing the effectiveness of Warthogs
- Friendly Fire/Team Killing
- Invisible Unit's health bars will also be made invisible

You can read their post on the official site's front page here.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Halo 3: ODST Gameplay Trailer, Content and Pricing Revealed

At E3, Microsoft Game Studios and Bungie released the first gameplay trailer for their upcoming stand-alone expansion: Halo 3: ODST. Set during the events of Halo 2, Halo 3: ODST sees players stepping into the shoes of the Rookie, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper who's deployed with his squad to New Mombassa in a battle to resist Covenant occupation of the city.

Sweet, just awesome. The intro looks stellar, and the twists from the Halo norm on gameplay look invigorating. I'm also absolutely psyched for Firefight, Halo 3:ODST's own version of Horde from Gears of War 2.

With the DLC milkage train on high speed, expansion sets are a thing of the past. Gone are the days of quality add-ons, and today we're saturated with nothing but overpriced, lower quality gameplay add-ons.

Not so with Bungie. With Halo 3: ODST, we're getting a full fledged expansion set featuring the following:

- a new Campaign, about 5 hours in length
- Firefight Co-Op mode
- 3 Weapons not featured in Halo 3 (A silenced SMG, a silenced/scoped Pistol, return of the Brute Plasma Rifle)
-Every Halo 3 Multiplayer Map Pack released to date
- 3 additional Halo 3 Multiplayer Maps
- An invitation to the Halo: Reach beta in 2010

That, my friends, is one hell of a solid expansion set and should set a standard for other lazy developers. Should, sadly, is the key word here. Then comes along Microsoft Game Studios to fuck it all up.

An expansion set is not a full game, it's not a new game. Simply put, an expansion set is meant to add in an extensive amount of new content to an existing game while we wait for a proper sequel. It invigorates that title a year or so after release and, well, expands its gameplay. That's why expansion sets always retail for $10.00 to $30.00 below retail cost; they're not a full retail game.

Halo 3: ODST will retail for $69.99. There will also be a Halo 3: ODST Collector's Pack bundled with a special edition Wireless Controller for $100.00 (US).

I went completely Brute-shit when I found this out. You're telling me, Microsoft Game Studios, that you're expecting me to pay full retail price for an expansion set!?!? And one with only a 5 hour Campaign at that! I'm sorry, but no matter the quality, no matter the developer, no matter the IP, no expansion set is worth full retail cost.

This is simply an insult, a berserk punch in the face, and sadly, business. The industry is bastardized yet again. Look at any forum on the interweb, and most gamers are singing Halo 3: ODST's praise, anxiously "preparing to drop" full retail price on a product that doesn't even contain the content of a full retail game.

It's sad really, how many lemmings there are in the gaming gene pool. Heck, it's cause of lemmings that the DLC milkage machine is doing so well.

So, this means I won't be getting Halo 3: ODST at launch, though I'll rent it if I can. $49.99 is the maximum cost I'd be willing to pay for a stand-alone expansion in today's market, and that's at the extreme upper echelon. Compare the contents of Halo 3: ODST to another recent expansion, like The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles to see what I mean regarding content and cost. That expansion retailed for only $34.99, and was well worth that cost.

For those still interested, the Halo 3: ODST site has been re-launched with loads of new details here.

Wolfenstein 3D (Xbox 360) Trial Impressions

Been a while since I tried a demo off of the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and I can think of no more fitting a title to break that drought than the grandfather of the first person shooter genre, Wolfenstein 3D.

Now gracing Xbox LIVE Arcade, Wolfenstein 3D looks and feels like it did in yesteryear, which is great because it really preserves the feeling of the original classic. Set during World War II, you play as B.J. Blazkowicz, an OSA agent escaping from Castle Wolfenstein and bent on stopping the Nazi regime. You leave your cell with a Knife and Pistol, and venture out to find each area's exit while collecting treasure along the way, and thus increasing your score.

Make no mistake about it kids, Wolfenstein 3D is old school. The trial version features the first two levels of the game, and all the areas are blocky, sprite-based rooms connected to other blocky, sprite based rooms. You can get one other weapon in the trial, a Machine Gun, which shares ammo with your Pistol, and is basically just a rapid fire version of it. Careful though, as you're capped with a ammo count of 99 bullets. You'll fight Nazis who use both Pistols and Machine Guns, and also have guard dogs rush you in crazy zig-zag patterns, attempting to take a chunk out of you. Being a classic shooter, as I mentioned, each area has an exit button that you need to locate and press, and there's also several hidden areas across each map which contain extra Health, Ammo, or treasure. Secret areas are accessed by pressing the right spot on a wall, so be prepared to spend a lot of time pushing against random walls if you're going to try and find them all.

One cool little tidbit is how the game will tie in for players looking to pick up Wolfenstein, which will be releasing August 4th. As you play through Wolfenstein 3D, you'll earn Gold which you'll be able to spend on customizable weapon upgrades in the as-yet unreleased sequel. We're seeing more and more Xbox LIVE Arcade and retail game interaction these days, which is a good thing and a nice way to add incentive to the Xbox LIVE Arcade market.

Because of how dated the game is, it will _not_ be for everyone, even for me. At only 400 Microsoft Points, ($5.80), Wolfenstein 3D will not set your wallet back much, but if you don't like it's classic style or simply lack the nostalgia for the title, you'll want to try the trial version first.

Me, I missed out on Wolfenstein 3D back in the day, and will be passing on it again; it's bland-looking levels are too repetitive for me. Back in the '90's, I started off with Doom, and while Wolfenstein 3D is the genre's grandfather, Doom is id Software's masterpiece and father of the shooter, introducing the weapons and fast paced multiplayer gameplay that's made the gaming industry what it is today.

Conveniently, Doom is also available on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 400 Microsoft Points. Classic goodness for everyone!

Nintendo Developing "Help" Feature

The Wii is greatly credited for opening up gaming to a wider audience, appealing to many casual and first time gamers for its simple pick up and play gaming style, and ease of use with its motion controller. Nintendo is now looking to take that one step further with a help feature they're tentatively calling "demo play."

Demo play will be incorporated into the upcoming Super Mario Bros. game, and will allow a player to pause the game and have the game itself play the for them. The player can then unpause and resume control at any point.

Great. You know, I remember a developer commenting once, and it may have been Bungie, that they could design the game to play itself but where's the fun in that. Apparently Nintendo disagrees. The intention is for demo play to allow players to get past tough spots, but seriously, if you let the game play itself for the player, you're removing any sense of challenge or reward from your game. For any developer, it's simply good game design to present the player with a challenge and to balance its level of difficulty and frustration, which will then create a great sense of reward and accomplishment once the player passes it. Even now, we have far too many lazy developers who rely on uber-bosses or ridiculously frustrating environmental situations to "challenege" players, and if this feature takes off (Nintendo is considering it for other games), I can see sloppy, overly hard challenges becoming the norm over quality design. Why bother designing something well when we can simply have the game go through it for us!

Way to encourge development sloth Nintendo!

Original story spotted at Sync.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Xbox 360 Project Natal and Other Enhancements on the Way

Also showcased at this year's E3 was Project Natal, Microsoft's answer to motion control for the Xbox 360. Much more than a simple motion controller, Project Natal is a sensor that will, in theory, allow the user to control their Xbox 360 and supported games without the use of a controller. Project Natal is a camera, recognizes various voice commands, and can even allow you to log into Xbox LIVE via facial recognition! Sounds pretty nifty, huh. Instead of reading about it, watch this E3 promo video.

On first glance, this is really cool, a great peripheral that will work with any Xbox 360 console, and really help to bring the whole family into gaming. Except, honestly, I can't see my whole family jumping around the living room. I also want to know what happens if a dog walks by while I'm playing a supported game. Will my race car smash into a wall if it senses that motion, or will my menus go out of whack? Do I really want to model dresses on my sissy little Avatar? And how many TVs will experience death-by-shoe?

When I take a step back and really look at Project Natal, while we are getting one step closer to having our very own holodecks, it seems more like a gimmick and an attempt to appeal to the casual gamer just like the Wii. I mean, honestly, is Project Natal going to help me play Mass Effect 2 better when it launches? Doubtful. For that matter, we don't have a tentative cost or release date for this peripheral yet anyway, and while I'd like to see it succeed, I can't claim to be very excited for somethig that, at this point, looks rather useless to me.

In other news, Microsoft has also announced that both Facebook and Twitter will be integrated into Xbox LIVE, which is just awesome: now that cute girl I added to my Facebook Friends list can see even more clearly what a nerd I really am! Lord help us if it constantly updates our status to reflect what games we're playing.

We'll also see the addition of a Games on Demand channel. This Fall, you'll be able to download games in an ever growing catalogue straight to your Xbox 360's HDD, beginning with such hits as BioShock, Mass Effect, and Assassin's Creed (no doubt for those who missed out on them before the launch of their respective sequels). Again, no word on cost, but if the Video Marketplace is any indication, expect to pay for the convenience of being able to purchase games from your own home.

Microsoft has also announced their answer to the PlayStation 3's Blu-ray Disc support: Streaming of 1080p movies! Provided you have a home entertainment set up that can take advantage of this, video streaming will be an awesome feature, though I'm curious how much it will cost and how often you'll encounter buffering issues. I suppose that'll all depend on the quality of your own net connection.

There's also going to be some new Party features allowing you to view any of the 1080p movies you'll be able to stream with your Friends over Xbox LIVE. That's all well and good I guess, but honestly, what ever happened to simply, oh, I don't know, going and visitng people for real? Is it just me, or is this whole online social networking deal gone a little too far?

I'm not trying to rant on the advancement of technology here as we're living in exciting times and have more gadgets and communication methods than most retro sci-fi writers could ever have imagined, but I remember when gaming was a form of escapism. Now that anti-social is the new cool, we've got shared introversion for everyone! Yay!

Seriously though, it's getting awful crowded in my virtual world.

Star Wars: The Old Republic "Deceived" Trailer

I'm not a fan of MMO's myself, but this trailer is simply epic. Often, media from the Star Wars universe is hit and miss, depending on who's directing and what's being depicted, but without question, this has got to be one of the best cinematic trailers I've ever seen.

Set long before the films, this trailer shows the Sacking of Coruscant, setting the stage for the dark times of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Prepare to be amazed.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled Coming to Xbox LIVE Arcade

It's true, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled is coming to Xbox LIVE Arcade this summer, and unlike TMNT: 1989 Arcade, this won't be a straight port and will feature all new enhanced graphics and widescreen support!

Wet your appetite with the screenshots courtesy of TeamXbox right here. Cowabunga!

Fallout 3: Point Lookout Trailer

With its release only a few weeks away, Bethesda Softworks has released the trailer for their next Fallout 3 DLC entitled Fallout 3: Point Lookout.

You can watch it below or download it off the official site here.

Looks a little creepy, but somehow less impressive than their other trailers.

E3 2009 Media Round Up

The Electronic Entertainment Expo for 2009 has come and gone, and there's lots of great media to share.

To kick things off, Microsoft Game Studios and Bungie have announced an entirely new Halo game entitled Halo: Reach, which will be a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved and is set for a Fall 2010 release. I wonder if the Master Chief will make an appearance in this one.

Next up, Valve Software announced Left 4 Dead 2, which will be launching this November. While I'm not a fan of the original, the trailer is still chalk full of zombie goodness.

EA and BioWare have released a great gameplay trailer for Mass Effect 2 which reveals the fate of Shepard, and they've also relaunched the Mass Effect 2 site with some tasty tidbits and screenshots. The Mass Effect universe is looking darker, and the trailer features some excellent music. Really looking forward to finding out more about this one.

Sega and Rebellion's upcoming 2010 release of Aliens vs. Predator is one of my most anticipated titles right now, and they've released a Predator-themed trailer, as well as some awesome screenshots courtesy of ActionTrip right here.

Lastly, we all know that in today's day and age developers borrow and copy ideas from one another, but the upcoming PlayStation 3 exclusive entitled Quantum has gone a bit too far. Developed by Tecmo, this is a hardcore Gears of War rip-off, but sullied with Japanese style influences of which I'm not a fan. Oh Sony, will you ever learn?

Update: Forgot to include the trailer for Assassin's Creed 2, which looks simply stunning. Now if only they could add some variety to the gameplay this time so I'll actually be inspired to finish it...