Saturday, August 29, 2009

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes Official Site Launched

The official site for LucasArts' television show tie-in game, Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes, has now launched. It contains additional videos and game info, and you can view it right here.

I've really enjoyed the television series, which started off very weak but got a lot better, and this game will bridge the gap between the first and upcoming second season. Realistically though, this game will be a rental at best, but I'll be keeping an eye on it.

The official release date has also been moved to Oct. 6th.

Mass Effect: Pinnacle Station DLC Released

This past Tuesday, EA and BioWare quietly released a second DLC for their excellent RPG, Mass Effect. I say quietly because although there were rumours about additional DLC coming, there was no official word, marketing campaign, or smoke signals to give us any advance notice. In fact, I noticed it by complete accident while browsing the Xbox LIVE Marketplace that day.

Anyway, the new DLC is entitled Pinnacle Station, and sees Commander Shepard and the crew of the Normandy board an Alliance space station where they get to compete in several combat arenas to prove they're the best of the best.

The running word is that the DLC contains 2 to 3 hours of additional gameplay, and you can download it for the Xbox 360 here and for the PC here. The going rate is 400 Microsoft Points ($5.80) or $5.00 US.

Halo 3: ODST "Bip. Bap. Bam. Welcome to Firefight" ViDoc

The second ViDoc for Bungie's stand-alone expansion, Halo 3: ODST, has been released, and it stars everyone's favourite Sergeant Major: Avery Johnson.

The ViDoc is Johnson's way of introducing us to the upcoming Firefight cooperative multiplayer mode, and you can view it below, here, or download it via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum on Sale

The news has been all over, but in case you hadn't heard: Batman: Arkham Asylum will be at a greatly discounted cost on launch day, and some retailers will carry the discounted price for three days.

Just how discounted is discounted? Try $38.83. That's right, $38.83 for a brand new, current gen video game! Keep in mind this is for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, not the PC version.

You'll find Batman: Arkham Asylum at this great cost at Wal*Mart and EB Games on Tuesday, and for three days at Best Buy and Future Shop. There's also different pre-order bonuses at some retailers, so do some poking around to find the right store for you.

I tried out the demo this weekend, and was really impressed, so at this cost, I'll be picking up the game for sure.

Shadow Complex Trial Impressions

Developed by Chair Entertainment and published by Epic Games, Shadow Complex is the extremely hyped Xbox LIVE Arcade title of the summer that uses Epic Game's Unreal Engine 3.0. So of course, given the hype and great reviews, I decided to download and try out its Trial version.

Shadow Complex is a sidescroller that takes its influence from classic titles and adds some modern game design to spice things up. You still move from left to right and can maneuver along walls like the games of old, and you'll also take on massive boss enemies, but you can also now fire in limited three dimensions. When I began playing the Trial, I was immediately blown away by how awesome the game looks (for an Xbox LIVE Arcade game); the visuals truly are stunning. For gameplay, the influence of the Metroid franchise is clearly obvious, and even the game's map uses the same classic "grid" structure that I came to love back in Super Metroid.

In fact, aside from the different setting and the modern design, it really felt like I was playing a better looking version of Super Metroid, so much so that even after 15 years I was still reaching for "X" to fire my weapon. Which ultimately led to a lot of frustration for me, as again I need to ask my long standing question to developers: Why can't I remap the controller? It's 2009, for crying out loud! I also found I wasn't so keen on the extra three dimensions, as they just didn't feel right to me with the style of game, but I know that's just me and my old-school ways.

I wasn't impressed at all with the story though. You play as Jason Fleming, and you need to rescue your new girl, Claire, who stumbled upon the secret lair of some bad-guy soldiers. I don't remember what their called. Apparently, Shadow Complex is set in Orson Scott Card's Empire universe, which I haven't read, but the exposition and dialogue were pretty poor by my current standards. Perhaps there's more exposition later on, but in the trial, aside from "Not letting Claire down," I had no real clue as to what was going on.

Of course, taking into account that this is an Xbox LIVE Arcade title, it does go above and beyond most of what the label offers, which is a great thing. Right now, I wouldn't spring for Shadow Complex myself, too many other things to play, but someday if I get bored, or if there's a price cut from the current 1200 Microsoft Points, I just might bite and try to get used to the new spin on this genre from yester-year.

Diablo III Monk Class Revealed

This sure was a week for announcements, which is quite a nice change of pace. Continuing with the trend, Blizzard Entertainment has unveiled the fourth playable class in their upcoming action RPG, Diablo III.

Players will be able to use the spiritual and martial talents of the Monk, who's speed and skill is constantly honed and tested, to crush the legions of the Burning Hells.

For full details, check out the Monk's page on the official site here, and you can also find a gameplay trailer and trailer, here, here and below.

Fable III Announced

Coming exclusively to the Xbox 360 Holiday 2010, Microsoft Game Studios and Lionhead Studios have announced Fable III.

Set 50 years after the events of Fable II, players will take on the role of the their previous Hero's child as they compete to win the crown of Albion.

You can read the full press release here, and view the teaser trailer here or below.

Zombie Apocalypse Would be the End According to Study

I found this very amusing. A group of University of Ottawa mathematics students did an exercise to track the spread of a fictional pandemic and in this case, they used a zombie outbreak as the disease. Their results: that unless the infection is eliminated with ruthless efficiency early on, we would not survive an outbreak.

You can find their official report here, though I couldn't get through it myself. Too many numbers. Head hurt from think. The concept is entertaining though non-the-less.

Mass Effect 2 "Omega" Trailer

Like Coruscant and Nar Shaddaa, there's a corrupted counterpart to the Citadel in the Mass Effect, and we'll get to visit it in Mass Effect 2. Called Omega, it's a mercenary-run asteroid base home to some rather colourful characters, characters such as Grunt, a Krogan who looks to be an upcoming part of Commander Shepard's suicide team.

EA and BioWare are showing off Omega and Grunt in their latest trailer, which you can view on the main page here or below.

PlayStation 3 120 GB Console Unveiled

Earlier this week, Sony unveiled the much rumoured PlayStation 3 Slim, taking the form of the PlayStation 3 120GB System.

Available at retailers on September 1st, the PlayStation 3 120GB System is lighter, smaller, and uses less power than current PlayStation 3 consoles and will retail for $299.99. It also contains all the current features of the existing PlayStation 3 SKUs, save that it will _not_ support additional OS installs. Sadly, this also means it will not support backwards compatibility with PlayStation 2 titles.

Speaking of the other SKUs, they've seen a price drop. The PlayStation 3 80GB System is now available for $299.99, and the Limited Edition PlayStation 3 Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Bundle is currently selling for $399.99.

This news has seriously got me thinking about picking up a PlayStation 3 System, but I'm still debating. I'd want to really field test some of the platform's exclusives first so I don't make the same mistake I made with the PlayStation Portable. I'll likely just hold off in the end.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Karen Traviss to Pen Halo Short

While writing my review for Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant, I took a peak at Karen Traviss' site and discovered something that falls in the awesome category: The best military sci-fi author is dropping feet first into the Halo universe. This is the best Halo-related announcement to come my way since the launch of Halo Wars.

Entitled Halo: Evolutions, the book will feature a collection of shorts written by such authors as Karen Traviss, Eric Nylund, and others. Look for it on shelves this November, and look for a full fledged Halo trilogy of novels, written by Greg Bear, to begin releasing in 2010.

Details on Halo: Evolutions can be found here.

Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant Review

For a game not known for having much of a story, Karen Traviss sure knows how to pull out the substance. The Gears of War franchise focuses on the genocidal war between what remains of humanity and the Locust Horde, monsters from below the surface of the plant Sera who've all but wiped humanity out over the last 15 years. The only thing that stands in the Horde's destructive path is the Coalition of Ordered Governments and their Gears (soldiers). One squad of Gears is Delta Squad, the focus of the games and subsequently, the novels.

Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant is Karen Traviss' second foray into the Gears of War universe, and it's a direct sequel to Gears of War 2. For this reason, there will be HEAVY SPOILERS in the below review from Gear of War 2. So if you haven't completed the game's Campaign and want to avoid things being ruined for you, stop reading now. You've been warned.

Jacinto is sinking, and the COG is pulling out. The novel begins right where the game ends off, with Cole staring out of the crew bay of the King Raven he, Hoffman, and Anya are on. With comms down, he watches Jacinto fall, and is quite relieved to find Marcus, Dom, and Baird alive and well on another King Raven. Then he learns about Dom's wife.

Like with all her other military sci-fi, Traviss excels at injecting the fiction with raw human spirit and emotion. She digs deep into the inner workings of her characters, really showing us what makes them tick. She did this in the previous novel, really developing Hoffman, Cole, and the overall history of the Pendulum Wars, and she does it here again. Not only has Dom lost Maria, but he's the guy who had to pull the trigger. To murder one's own wife, even to put her out of that kind of misery, well, now that the war appears to really be over, the man is barely holding it together.

Humanity evacuates to the nearest relative-safe harbour, and Delta Squad and the rest of the Gears will have their hands full maintaining order. Without a common enemy, humanity does what it does best: Finding something and someone else to call an enemy, and the ties that bound the COG together are fading. Turns out flooding and sinking Jacinto really did a number on the Locust, and humanity might actually have them beat, but at an extreme cost. Jacinto was the COG's last bastion of hope, and with it gone, the COG are nothing but refugees, encroaching on Stranded turf.

Think the stranded are all a bunch of bums like we've seen in the games? Think again. To survive on Locust turf, pretty much anywhere non-Jacinto, you had to be tough. You had to be organized. You had to be brutal. And that's what the real Stranded are. The world has, once again, been changed forever and nothing will ever be the same. When did something this drastic happen before? E-Day? Close, but no. One year after E-Day, when the COG unleashed it's newly acquired satellite weapon, the Hammer of Dawn, upon the entire world of Sera.

Like Gears of War: Aspho Fields, Traviss relies on flashback chapters to contrast past and present events. Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant not only details the challenges the COG must now face in becoming refugees, in trying to rebuild civilization, but also show us the horror of when the sky rained fire.

One year after E-Day, the Horde has been so successful at exterminating humanity that entire nations are beginning to crumble, prepping for a last stand as the Grubs rip them apart. The COG itself is fragmenting and the world leaders refuse to cooperate with the young new chairman, Richard Prescott. So what choice does he have? What choice does he ask of his senior command, such as Hoffman. So much of the flashbacks are played out between these two, such a mirror of their current tense relationship, that you really get to understand what motivates Prescott, and I find myself even more sympathetic to Hoffman and all he must endure.

So many questions are answered in this novel, and so many relationships expanded, and some excellent novel-only characters, such as Mataki, Michaelson, and Pad make a return. Want to know what happened to Dizzy after he and Tai took on Scourge in Gears of War 2? You'll find it here. Want to know how the Chainsaw bayonet came to be conceived? Yup, you'll find that here to. Want to know more about the hinted at relationship between Marcus and Anya? See previous answer.

Substance, depth, and soul, that's what Traviss does with her characters, and that's what she brings to the Gears of War universe; traits that are strongly needed. If you're a fan of Gears of War, you owe it to yourself to pick up this novel. Not only does Traviss expand upon what we already know, but she takes the universe in a very startling direction, one that I won't ruin here. Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant contrasts the desperate times of the past with the uncertainty of the future, and it does it so well that you'll find it hard to put the novel down. So go read a book kids, and expand your mind while learning how to clean carcasses, police refugee camps, and deal with a smart ass like Baird.

Doom II Announced for Xbox LIVE Arcade

At this year's QuakeCon, id Software announced and showcased a port of their classic shooter, Doom II, for Xbox LIVE Arcade.

No word on a release date or cost, but I'll certainly update you once I know.

Doom II was my least favourite of the franchise, so cost will dictate whether I buy it or not. I loved the first third of the game, but really didn't care for the level design after that.

Mass Effect Screenshots and Box Art

New allies are a must in any sequel, and desperate times call for desperate measures. In his quest to assemble the best team possible, it looks like Commander Shepard will turn to Thane, a notorious assassin, to aid his suicide run. You can check out the screenshots of this alien ally on the Medi page here.

BioWare's also released images of Mass Effect 2's box art, so you'll know just what to look for next year on launch day.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time - Re-Shelled (Xbox 360) Review

You've heard me say that Ghostbusters: The Video Game is my childhood in HD, well Ubisoft's latest Xbox LIVE Arcade offering, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time - Re-Shelled, is literally a game from my childhood, now in HD.

The last time I played this game in an arcade, I was a kid visiting Marineland, and I only got to play it a few times. Its predecessor, however I played to death and loved both in the arcade, on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and a few years back, on Xbox LIVE Arcade (reviewed here). Needless to say, I wanted to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time follow suit, and just over two years later, my prayers were answered.

While watching the evening news reported by their favourite lady, April O'Neil, Super Krang steals the Statue of Liberty and Shredder immediately hijacks the airwaves to taunt the turtles. Splinter, naturally, sends the heroes in a half shell into action, and the turtles set out to get the Statue back. So, why did Shredder and Super Krang steal the Statue of Liberty? How was Shredder able to send the turtles back in time? Um, yeah. Like the original Arcade game, not really big on plot here, but great on fun and classic arcade action!

First things first though, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time - Re-Shelled is a port of the arcade game, and not a port of the port of the arcade game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Still following me? No? What this means in English is there's no Technodrome level about midway through the game, some of the bosses are different (No Slash or Bebop and Rocksteady), and a few other things as well. So if you're looking forward to the same game you played back on your Super Nintendo Entertainment System, you're going to be disappointed, as this port is a little shorter with less content, but if you're looking for the arcade classic itself, well, here it is, but with an upgrade.

Ubisoft Singapore, the developers of the game, redid all the graphics in HD, so these turtles are brought to you in full 1080p wide screen if your TV supports it, and I must say I really enjoyed the game's updated visuals. The other change from yester-year is that instead of simply being able to attack enemies on the same 2D line like in most classic beat 'em ups, you can now attack, and be attacked, diagonally. This adds a somewhat different dimension to the game play, particularly boss battles, but this isn't a drastic change and the gameplay is pretty much as you remember it.

All four turtles play very similar to one another, but there are a few more differences than last time around, and you can compare their strengths and weaknesses prior to selecting which turtle to play as. You can also execute each turtle's special move by pressing "Y" instead of pressing jump and attack together, which is a handy plus, and if you lose sight of your turtle in the melee, you can press Left Trigger to bring up a bubble to locate him.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time - Re-Shelled features full 4-player Co-Op either from your couch or via Xbox LIVE, and the game's a blast to play with a bunch of buddies. Overall, the game is not very difficult, nor is it very long (took me about an hour on my own), but it is more fun when you have friends to chat with. The gameplay itself is generally repetitive, seeing you battle more or less the same enemies throughout the entire game, so once you get their patterns down, you won't have much trouble. I personally found the "surfing" levels to be the hardest, simply because of the traps and stuff zipping by so fast, but these levels also annoyed me in the arcade as well, so I knew what I was in for.

There are the standard fair of difficulty settings, which dictates how many lives each turtle gets before he needs to continue, and there's also a new Survival Mode which sees you having one and only one life. This is challenging, especially on the harder difficulties, and completing this mode is something I have not yet been able to accomplish.

One minor gripe that I have is while I did greatly enjoy the new HD graphics, I do wish there was an option to play with the classic, 80's cartoon graphical style simply for nostalgia's sake. Sure, it wouldn't look as good, but it would've been a nice added bonus, though I suppose the diagonal attacking wouldn't have been possible then.

Originally slotted to sell for 1200 Microsoft Points ($17.40), thankfully, Ubisoft lowered the cost prior to launch and you can purchase the game for 800 Microsoft Points ($11.60). That's significantly more reasonable for a linear, short arcade brawler that's been given a great face-lift, and kudos to Ubisoft for not milking us so hard.

So is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time - Re-Shelled worth your hard earned coin? I'd say yes, it sure is. It offers more than the first arcade game did, and is a great and simple game to play with friends. It was the focus of my housewarming yesterday, and was intuitive and enjoyable enough for anyone at any skill level to jump in and kick some shell.

Left 4 Dead: Crash Course Campaign DLC Announced

This September, new DLC will be released for Valve's popular Co-Op shooter, Left 4 Dead. Entitled "Crash Course," the DLC will feature a whole new Campaign set between the "No Mercy" and "Death Toll" Campaigns from the retail game.

Left 4 Dead: Crash Course will run you 560 Microsoft Points ($8.12) for the Xbox 360 version of the game, and it'll be released for free for the PC version. That's right, you read correctly. Free on the PC, but "premium" for the Xbox 360.

So DLC fanboys, defend how this isn't a complete and utter rip-off. Same content. Same release date. Same developer. Yet one's free and the other costs. Milkage.

You can read the official announcement here.

Idiocracy Review

Society's dumb. No really, people keep getting stupider all the time, and if you don't believe me, surf the interwebz. Corporate crap is also everywhere, and you can't do anything without being spammed for ads for products you'll never need. Don't believe me. Um, well, surf the interwebz some more. So, what happens when stupider people and corporate crap keeps multiplying and multiplying? Idiocracy, of course.

Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) is the all around average American, which is just one of the reasons why he was selected to participate in the army's cryo experiments. The objective is to prove that cryogenics works, and that people can be frozen for an extended period of time; 1 year for the purpose of this test. Unfortunately the army wasn't able to find a suitable woman for the experiment, so they hired Rita (Maya Rudolph), a prostitute, instead. Joe and Rita are successfully frozen, but they're kind of forgotten about when the program goes under, and they awaken 500 years later to find the world populated by nothing but idiots.

You see, intelligent man failed to breed, and the morons propagated like rabbits and over time, the smart simply ceased to exist. Not only that, but corporate propaganda is also everywhere and over everything, because it's quite easy to take advantage of dumb people. Energy drinks have replaced water, Starbuck's now has women servicing clients instead of selling coffee, and tacos and fries are the norm for food. Yes, the world's become a sad, sorry place, but dumb folk are happy seeing as how not much gets to them, so no one really seems to care.

Except for poor ol' Joe who now finds himself the smartest person on the planet, and all he wants to do is go home. So, being the future, Joe goes in search of a fabled time machine to get both Rita and himself back home.

Idiocracy is not a long film, clocking in at around 84 minutes. Idiocracy is not a complicated film, since most folk in it are morons. It is a rather silly film that is quite disturbing because it really makes you wonder how long it'll be before the average person does become that dumb, and before corporations can really begin pulling off the things they do because we'll let them. That latter part is the most disturbing and realistically possible, and the film, "evolves" several well known corporations into twisted versions of themselves. It pokes a lot of fun at Capitalist America in so many ways, and does one fine job of doing it. People don't like to think for themselves anymore, people like to be told what to do, what to think, and this is a worst case scenario possibility of what could happen if we keep going down that track.

As an entertaining film itself, Idiocracy does provide the laughs. You just can't help but place yourself in Joe's shoes and really look at this bold new world through intelligent eyes, and then want to smash your head on your coffee table.

If you enjoy complaining about the stupidity of modern day society and corporate greed (I know I do!), rent Idiocracy. I wouldn't go so far as to buy it, but it certainly makes for an entertaining and enlightening afternoon.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Halo 3: ODST Nathan Fillion Interview

While I was poking around YouTube, I came across this msnbc interview with Nathan Fillion, who'll be voicing Sgt. Buck in Bungie's upcoming stand-alone expansion, Halo 3: ODST.

It's an awesome interview, and Fillion's an awesome actor, so you should watch this. Right now.

Halo 3: ODST ViDoc "Desperate Measures"

While leading up to it's release, Bungie began releasing some excellent and informative ViDocs for Halo 3, and they're following suit for it's stand-alone Expansion, Halo 3: ODST.

The first ViDoc, entitled "Desperate Measures," can be viewed below or here, and it takes a look at the Helljumpers under the command of Sgt. Buck.

Bungie has a history of releasing poorer looking (compared to other games) character models, but the faces on the ODST's are really looking good. Sgt. Buck actually looks a good bit like Nathan Fillion.

Digital Art Gallery: Callad Impressions

While browsing the Xbox LIVE Marketplace's new additions last night, I noticed an Indie Game (formerly called Community Games) entitled Digital Art Gallery: Callad, which had a scantly clad woman on the "box" art. I like girls. Girls are neat. So I downloaded the trial.

My impressions of this, my first foray into Indie Games? Well, Digital Art Gallery: Callad, is exactly that: A digital art gallery. It's simply a few dozen pictures of digitally created women, often in very revealing attire.

Don't get me wrong, some of the art is really good and would make some interesting desktop wallpapers (or a Theme), but would the full art gallery be worth the going price of 80 Microsoft Points? Considering you can find pics for free of real women in interesting poses with little to nothing on, I'd say no.


Xbox LIVE Update Preview Impressions

Set to launch on August 11th, the Xbox 360 will be receiving an additional System Update which they're simply referring to this time around as an Xbox LIVE Update.

While the Xbox LIVE Update has not gone, um, Live, yet, Microsoft is hosting a Preview Program, a Beta, allowing many lucky gamers the chance to experience the Xbox LIVE Update early and collecting feedback. One such lucky gamer is yours truly, and like I did with the New Xbox Experience, you can find my impressions of the Xbox LIVE Update below.

Unlike the New Xbox Experience, I was selected in the first wave of the Xbox LIVE Update Preview Program, and the update process went smoothly and without incident. You're first prompted to download an Update like with any old System Update, which takes less than a minute and your console will restart. Next, like with the New Xbox Experience, an installer will launch, performing another download and installation, after which your console will restart yet again. I did experience a little hick-up here, where after the first restart, I received the message "Could not download update," however I'm assuming this is because I do not have Auto Sign-In enabled, and once I manually signed in to Xbox LIVE, all was well. The second download took about 2 minutes, and the overall Update time took about 4 minutes.

Now, unlike the New Xbox Experience, the Xbox LIVE Update is nothing near
as large or revolutionary. Don't expect to find Facebook or Twitter integration just yet, and really, aside from the Avatar Marketplace, the majority of the changes are mainly improvements or optimizations to existing features.

If you hide your Dashboard's Welcome Channel it's back, however you can imme
diately perma-hide it again, and you'll now find a Preview Channel with details and FAQs about the Preview right above the My Xbox Channel, however I assume the Preview Channel will be removed after the Beta is complete.

Otherwise, all the other Channels are there. Various Game Marketplace sub-channels have renamed as I'm sure you've read elsewhere, however at present, there is nothing new in the Games on Demand Channel; it's still all Xbox Originals. You can, however, now Rate all content featured on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, which I did with Gears of War 2 as a test. Presently, the game has an overall 4 out of 5 Star rating, but you can also go and Rate all the Map Packs, Themes, Trailers, etc. individually if you'd like.

The My Xbox Channel has seen some changes, the most notable being the Achievement sorting as well as the addition of a Solution sub-channel to the left of System Settings. In it, you'll find answers about common questions to account management, LIVE Connectivity, and Controller set up. While this likely wouldn't help you out in the event of hardware failure, it is nice to have a help option right there on the Dashboard for simpler things. You can also eject a game disc via your Controller by pressing "X" when the Game Disc panel is highlighted.

For Achiev
ements, there's now a master panel that shows your total Gamer Score earned compared to your total possible Gamer Score, as well as your total number of Achievements earned compared to the total possible there. It also shows you how many games you've gotten all the Achievements for, but keep in mind this takes into account any new DLC launched as well. So if you've gotten every Achievement for Fallout 3, as an example, the game would no longer be "complete" until you purchase and collect every Achievement in Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta. For each individual game, the Achievements are sorted better as well, but I didn't find it anything too world-altering.

For System
Settings, I use a Component connection, so I couldn't tinker with the new HDMI options, but your items under Memory are all time and date stamped, which I can see coming in handy, and you'll also find an actual option to Clear your Cache, no more button code required.

For the Xbox 360 Guide, I'm happy to say the Friends list loads up faster now by a good bit, and it also boasts additional sorting options. They changed a few of the buttons around because of this, which took a little getting used to, and I'm happy to say I only accidentally invited one of my Friends to a Party once.

As mentioned, the Avatar Marketplace is the biggest new addition with the Xbo
x LIVE Update. Accessed from your Avatar Customization screen, you can now buy a bunch of clothes or Props for your Avatar. Most of the clothes, including shirts and hats from Halo 3, Fable II, and some other places that I think might be American retail chains, run for roughly 80 Microsoft Points a piece, but the props range from roughly 350 Microsoft Points to 400 Microsoft Points. The props so far have ranged from a Halo RC Warthog to a giant cotton swap. If you select one of these items, you Avatar will preview them for you. Thus far, no items that I can see are offered for free to Preview members, and there's also a section for "Earned Items," of which I have none thus far. Not sure what I need to do and what games support this either.

Now, the Xbox LIVE Update Preview has moved on to it's third wave of members, and with the addition of this third wave, an additional Beta Update has been released containi
ng fixes and such for bugs that were found. Sadly, with this additional Beta Update, I experienced one heart-stopping issue.

The Beta Update downloaded and my console restarted as expected, but it re-booted with some very series video distortion; it almost looked like old style cable scrambling.

I could see the updater though, and it downloaded and installed the new Beta Update, and then my console restarted yet again with the same distortion. I could tell I was at the Xbox 360 Dashboard, so I pressed the Guide Button, and the
n my TV's display would cut out to the default blue no-signal background, displaying an "Unusable Signal" message. After several seconds, it'd drop back to a distorted Dashboard.

I then pressed and held to Console's power button to force it to shut down, counted to 10, and booted it up again. To clarify, this was my first manual reboot. My Xbox 360 console booted up fine, and I have not had any issues since. I've tested games, streaming and download video, tinkered with menus, changed settings, etc. and thankfully there's been no further distortion. Honestly, I feared the Beta Update triggered E74 or another video card issue, and I have no idea at all what exactly happened. Since I'm using a Component connection, it shouldn't be using any of the new HDMI features, but perhaps there was a glitch there?

Regardless, the only change I've noticed since this Beta Update is that installed games to your HDD generally take up less space. Not automatically, mind you, you'll need to delete any currently installed ones and then re-install them, but I first noticed this when I installed BioShock and it only came to 4.7 GB, which seemed rather small to me. I re-installed Gears of War 2, which was 6.7 GB, and it's now 6.3 GB I believe. Overall, any space saved is a plus in my book.

So there you have it, my impressions and details on the upcoming Xbox LIVE Update. Really nothing too crazy, but definitely steps in the right direction. Personally though, if I may, there are a few additional features and options that I would like to see added to the Xbox 360 Dashboard. The first being an option to select the My Xbox Channel as your starting Channel. The second being when you select any ad for a specific piece of Marketplace Content, that you immediately go to just that content to begin downloading it like with the original Dashboard. I never liked how the New Xbox Experience forces you to go to that game's overall download page, thus forcing me to select the item I wanted yet again.

And finally, I'd love to see an option to homicide Avatars. I really hate those cute little fuckers, and if I wanted a Wii, I'd go buy a Wii. If I could buy a Gears of War Lancer Assault Rifle as an Avatar Prop, and use it to butcher other Avatars, I'd pay whatever cost they wanted. Provided all the gore would be included, that is.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled Re-Priced

Finally, some good news on the DLC front for a change. Ubisoft has confirmed that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, which launches via Xbox LIVE Arcade this Wednesday, will no longer sell for the originally planned 1200 Microsoft Points ($17.40), but will instead carry an 800 Microsoft Point ($11.60) price tag.

At this cost, I will now be purchasing the game.

News spotted at Joystiq here.

Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta Trailer and Screenshots

Available today, Bethesda Softworks has now released the last of the announced DLC for Fallout 3 entitled "Mothership Zeta" for both the Xbox 360 and PC. The PlayStation 3 version is coming at a later date.

You can check out the trailer for Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta below or here, and you can check out additional screenshots here.

Aliens vs. Predator "Marine" Trailer

Bloody hell, does this take me back. Sega has released a trailer showcasing the Marine for Aliens vs. Predator, and it perfectly captures the feel of Aliens; so much so that I feel like popping the flick in and giving it a watch. For about the 100+ time.

The part where the xenomorph is right on the Marine, hissing and open it's mouth... priceless.

Halo Wars Leaderboards Reset

Earlier this week, due to human error, the Leaderboards for Halo Wars was reset and those stats are unrecoverable. This includes the Leaderboards for Campaign, Skirmish, and Trueskill Matchmaking.

Any of the statistics recorded by your Xbox 360 console itself are still intact, but prior to end of July, those stats are gone from Xbox LIVE and can not be uploaded. I do not know if this affects the progress of anyone going for the Running the Show Achievement or not.

Robot Entertainment and Xbox LIVE apologies for any "frustration" Halo Wars players have experienced, and you can read all about it on Major Nelson's site here.

Well, this sure makes me happy I haven't excessively played Halo Wars Multiplayer yet, 'cause I'd be pissed. That's potentially 5 months of hard work down the crapper, just like that.

You know, I used to excessively play Blizzard Entertainment's RTSes back in the day, which was a free service, and they never, ever had an issue like this. So here we are, paying for an Xbox LIVE Gold membership, and what exactly are we getting for this paid service again?

I truly do feel sorry for any hardcore Halo Wars players, and in my opinion, an apology simply doesn't cut it. Xbox LIVE dropped the ball on a paid, subscription based service, and as a "premium" service, a certain level of assurance is expected. If the data is unrecoverable, then Microsoft Game Studios should compensate players in another way, like giving away the DLC for free and refunding everyone else who bought Halo Wars' DLC in the first place. Or release a new Halo Wars Map Pack free of charge.