Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shallow Hal Review

Before Christmas, a friend lent me her DVD copy of Shallow Hal (is she trying to tell me something...) and I finally got around to watching it last night. I must say that it was an enjoyable, cheesy little film.

Hal (Jack Black), following the advice of his late father (Bruce McGill), only chases after drop-dead gorgeous women, desiring them only for superficial means. An obnoxious and selfish man, he and his partner in crime, Mauricio (Jason Alexander) continually hit the club scene failing to pick up time after time again.

After being passed up for a promotion at work, Hal finds himself trapped in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins (Anthony Robbins) who hypnotizes him to see a woman's inner beauty. Unbeknown to himself, any nice woman Hal now sees looks like a super model, which allows him to get to know the real woman behind the body.

This leads him to meet and begin dating Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), a women who really weighs 200 lbs, but to Hal looks like, well, Gwyneth Paltrow. Rosemary also happens to be the daughter of his company's big cheese (Joe Viterelli), but this doesn't deter Hal from dating her and enjoying Rosemary for who she really is, which leads to Hal falling in love for the first time. But what happens when jealous Mauricio, who just wants his old bud back, attempts to break the hypnosis?

Shallow Hal is a very simple film in both it's conception and delivery, relying on Jack Black's style of humour to keep the audience laughing, and it often works. That, and every one's reactions to what Hal clearly can't see. The jokes, direct and inferred, are silly and stretched, but they're all in good fun, and Jason Alexander's hair piece is a work of art.

There are several very touching moments in the film and Hal's understanding of true love, and I genuinely felt sad for those children in the hospital, but it's all part and parcel with Hal's journey of self-discovery and maturity.

Shallow Hal won't redefine your standard for comedy films, nor will it change your dating habits, but it will make you laugh, it will make you smile, and even though I found the ending unrealistic, it will make you feel good in the end.

I give the film a solid, simple rental.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2 Review

The second and first full-length season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has come to a close, and sadly, it looks like the series itself may be finished. As of this typing, the rumours I hear are that the series will not be renewed for a third season, which is really too bad because of how interesting the overall plot's gotten.

The second season addressed a lot of the issues I had with the first season, mainly by the fact that it's much more focused and the character development is a lot stronger. The first season focused on Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), John Connor (Thomas Dekker), and Cameron (Summer Glau) going off on odd-job missions in an attempt to prevent the creation of Skynet and Judgement Day. The season ended with Sarah and John held captive in their own home and Cameron apparently damaged after the vehicle she was in exploded due to sabotage. It wasn't the strongest of seasons, but as I originally commented, it had potential.

That potential was, in my opinion, realized in the second season. The general plot line left over after Season 1 was quickly wrapped up with a few lingering psychological elements left in play, however Sarah, John, Cameron, and Derek (Brian Austin Green) quickly gained a much more rational and cohesive outlook on their war against Skynet, while balancing protecting John from any additional threats, machine or otherwise.

Sarah became more OCD on her task, shouldering the burden of what was to come and trying anything to prevent it. John rebels against the constraints placed against him, but slowly begins to grow up and become the man and leader humanity will need him to be. Cameron continues to be an oddity and an outcast, fulfilling her primary function but expanding at the same time.

A new key character, Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson) is also introduced, the CEO of a high-tech corporation who is actually a T-1001 with questionable motives. Also of import is Jesse Flores (Stephanie Jacobsen), a resistance fighter who happens to be Derek Reese's girlfriend and who plays critical influence between the developing relationship of John and Riley Dawson (Leven Rambin).

The relations and complexities of the characters are all much more complex than the first season, and a large number of issues and themes carry from episode to episode, creating a much more engaging viewing experience. Characters who you assumed to be good, bad, or who were trying to stick to the middle line turned out to be other than expected, or they're forced or manipulated into situations they didn't want to be in.

In fact, I must say that by season's end, the show was clearly reaching an excellent climax where the whole world is once again turned upside down, which is why I dearly hope the show is renewed for a third season. I don't want to give too much away in case some of you are waiting to view the season on DVD, but I'm very curious as to what could happen between the dynamics of John and Cameron and what role John Henry (Garret Dillahunt), a rather unique T-888, really has to play.

There's a great deal more that can be explored in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, even greater character dynamics and plot lines that can be expanded upon, and it'd be a shame if these weren't pursued in some form or another.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Halo Wars Strategic Options DLC Announced

This afternoon, Robot Entertainment announced the first official DLC for their console exclusive real time strategy game, Halo Wars. Titled the "Strategic Options DLC," Halo Wars will receive three additional game modes and four new Achievements.

The additional game modes, available in both Multiplayer and Skirmish are:

- Keepaway Mode. A variation of Capture the Flag, be the first to capture three of the five free-roaming Forerunner Sentinels to win.

- Tug of War Mode. Revolves around being constantly stronger than your opponent(s) by not only killing units, but also by having a larger army, more resources, and more buildings by game's end.

- Reinforcement Mode. Instead of training units, you're supplied them in waves by the game itself.

The four new Achievements are all related to the new game modes, and no date or cost for the Strategic Options DLC has yet been announced.

For full details, head over to the official Halo Wars site.

BioShock 2 Official Screenshots Released

I just saw over at TeamXbox that 2K Games has released the first ever official screenshots of BioShock 2, which you can check out right here!

They've also released some details about the game:

- You can dual wield both weapons and Plasmids (which we knew already)
- The game is a true sequel, set 10 years after BioShock and again taking place as Rapture where you play as a Big Daddy.
- You will get to explore the ocean floor itself

All very exciting stuff, and I can't wait to get my mitts on BioShock 2!

Resistance: Retribution (PSP) Impressions

Though I sold my own PSP at the end of 2008, this past Easter weekend I got to briefly check out the new shooter, Resistance: Retribution on my kid cousin's PSP. Even though I only got to play for about 15 minutes, I must say that I was duly impressed given the limitations of the PSP hardware.

Graphically, the game looked solid on the small screen. The cinematics were of excellent quality and featured some solid character models and lighting effects, and the actual in-game graphics, though no where near as polished as the cinematics, were still reasonably sharp and actually reminded me of playing Halo 2 on my original Xbox (similar low resolution).

I can't comment on audio or story, as there was too much noise up at the cottage for me to hear what was going on. I know the basics of the story, however, that you play as former British marine James Grayson who set out to destroy every Chimaran conversion centre after the loss of his brother, only to end up in jail and released to join the remnants of the European resistance as they try to take back the continent.

Control wise, lacking a second Analogue Stick, the PSP makes use of it's face buttons for looking around, and the D-Pad is used to switch weapons, take cover, etc. Resistance: Retribution is presented from a third person perspective and makes significant use of auto-aiming (with this control set-up, it needs to), however overall I found the game quite enjoyable for the 15 minute run I had with it. It was simple and intuitive, and you could easily take cover and pop shots out at Chimera as you went.

In fact, in terms of general style, both in art direction and, to a point, in gameplay, I found it very reminiscent of Gears of War, though based on what I've seen of the Resistance franchise, I've always drawn this comparison.

If I still owned my PSP, I'd certainly give the full demo for Resistance: Retribution a whirl, and I could easily see myself picking the game up for some simple shooter action on-the-go.

Fallout 3: Broken Steel Details

The third and possibly final DLC for Fallout 3, entitled "Broken Steel," will be launching on May 5th and will cost 800 Microsoft Points ($11.60).

Fallout 3: Broken Steel will completely invalidate the retail game's ending, allowing players to continue exploring the Capital Wasteland after the final Quest is completed. The game's Level cap will also be increased from 20 to 30, and the DLC's major focus will be aiding the Brotherhood of Steel in removing the last remnants of the Enclave from the D.C. area.

Fallout 3: Broken Steel will feature several new enemies, Perks, Items, and Quests, and it looks to be the most complete and well-rounded of the Fallout 3 DLC to date.

You can check out several screenshots over at Actiontrip right here, and this news originally spotted here.

Halo Wars Title Update Sneak Peak #2

Over at the main Halo Wars site, Robot Entertainment has released a few more balance details that we'll be able to expect from the upcoming Title Update.

- Covenant Vampire will receive a 15% damage bonus with each Upgrade.
- UNSC Leader Professor Anders will have the cost of her Super Unit, the Hawk, increased from 900 to 1350 Supplies and her Cryo Bomb Upgrades are also seeing a cost increase of 50%.

More updates are sure to follow, so keep checking the official Halo Wars site!

Fallout: New Vegas Announced

A new game set in the Fallout universe has been announced, though it's not a direct sequel to Fallout 3.

Developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Bethesda Softworks, Fallout: New Vegas is scheduled for release in 2010 on the Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 platforms.

No further details have been revealed, however you can read the official word from Obsidian Entertainment right here.

Originally spotted at ActionTrip.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Halo Wars Title Update in the Works

The fine folks at Robot Entertainment are hard at work on the first Title Update for Halo Wars, which will feature fixes to some matchmaking bugs, some balance changes, and add in a new feature to the game.

So what's the full details? Well, they haven't all been revealed just yet. Over the coming weeks the official Halo Wars site will be updated with more info, but to get started, Robot Entertainment has revealed one balance change: The Prophet of Regret's speed on land has been reduced to that of the other Covenant Leaders, which will help slow down the Honour Guard rush that has frustrated many gamers.

Keep your eyes on the official Halo Wars site for more details as they emerge.

Xbox 360 Warranty Extension Covers E74

Some excellent news. Many gamers have been experiencing the dreaded E74 with their Xbox 360's, an issue that renders the console useless and has become so prevalent that many now compare it to the three flashing red lights.

After months of increased E74 reports, Xbox Support is taking action, as Major Nelson reports that the three year general hardware failure warranty, which originally only covered the three flashing red lights, now also covers E74.

What's even better is that this covers any Xbox 360 still under 3 years old, so if you've paid for an E74 repair, you'll receive a refund in 4 to 12 weeks! If you don't get your refund by July 1st, go to prior to November 1st of this year to put in a claim.

Additional details on the warranty extension can be found here.

BioShock 2 Gameplay Footage

On April 9th, GameTrailers hosted the first ever in-game footage of BioShock 2, which you can view right here or below.

Looks like you have a Flashlight this time around, and the scripted events look as strong as every, however I'm not sure whether I like the concept of being able to use Plasmids and weapons at the same time, but I can't deny how psyched for BioShock 2 I am! I just hope 2K Marin can keep the same atmosphere without Ken Levine at the helm...

Fable II: See The Future Announced

About two weeks ago, Lionhead Studios and Microsoft Game Studios announced the second Fable II DLC in the works.

Entitled "See the Future," this new DLC will allow Heroes to aid Murgo the Trader and lift the curse of three items in his possession. Those who succeed will be rewarded with a glimpse into Albion's future!

Like the previous Fable II DLC, an additional free update will be released to all containing new unique items, and will also allow for Co-Op play between those who purchase and those who do not purchase the new content.

Full details can be gleaned in the official announcement here, and Fable II - See the Future will be headed to the Xbox LIVE Marketplace this May for 560 Microsoft Points ($8.12).

Halo Encyclopedia to be Published

Catching up on some older news, Microsoft and DK Publishing have officially announced a Halo Encyclopedia to be published this coming November.

The book will be a comprehensive guide to all things Halo, including the characters, locations, and weapons found throughout all the Halo games we know about thus far.

I'll be keeping my eye on this one. Sounds like a great nerdy coffee table book!

News Spotted at TeamXbox.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Review

As some of you may recall, We, the Staff (TM) became fans of Relic Entertainment’s Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series upon the original game’s release back in 2004. Four and a half years and 3 expansions later, a full sequel has arrived. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (herein simply referred to as DOW II) was released back in mid-February, and We’ve spent a fair bit of time with the game since. On the whole, We must say that Relic has provided another excellent effort, while also challenging many of the norms of the real-time strategy genre.

First, a bit of a history of the franchise. The original Dawn of War was released in the Fall of 2004. It was the first truly successful video game translation of Games Workshop’s tabletop-based Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game, and promoted fast-paced gameplay that didn’t focus a great deal on resource management. The first expansion, Winter Assault, followed a year later, and it attempted to focus more on the single-player experience, while adding one new playable race. Dark Crusade, the second expansion, was released in September 2006, and introduced several new gameplay concepts, such as taking control of an entire planet map-by-map. It also introduced an additional two races. Lastly, a third expansion, Soulstorm, was released in March 2008. Its development was left to another studio (now-defunct Iron Lore Entertainment), presumably while Relic was already working on DOW II. Soulstorm didn’t really offer anything new, aside from two seemingly-underdeveloped new races and the concept of campaigning across multiple worlds. It largely felt like a recycled version of Dark Crusade.

So, all that brings us to the here and now, and DOW II. All told, DOW II is a sensible evolution for the franchise. It blends most of the positive aspects from the best of the original and its expansions: reasonably well-developed characters, like in the original; a persistent campaign, most successfully executed in Dark Crusade; and a very fast-paced, intense play style. DOW II takes the traditional RTS formula, tears it down, and builds something new. Instead of fielding massive armies of dozens or hundreds of units, in DOW II you’ll generally be working with no more than 4 squads of 1-4 units each, especially in the single-player campaign. However, each of the units are quite powerful in their own right. Also, there is no base-building to speak of, either in the campaign or in skirmish mode. In skirmish mode, you only have a single HQ building, which serves as your primary spawn point for new units. In the campaign, your squads are inserted on the map from orbit and then must carry out their objectives. Reinforcements are made possible via strategic points scattered about the map which must be captured. These innovations really challenge the traditional RTS paradigm, and make the game’s focus more tactical than strategic.

Like the first game, DOW II’s single-player campaign is told from the point of view of the Space Marines, superhuman soldiers who defend the galaxy-spanning Imperium of Man from threats both internal and external. The Space Marine commanders from the original Dawn of War and Dark Crusade (Gabriel Angelos and Davian Thule, respectively) reprise their roles during the campaign, although your own ‘hero’ character is one whom you name yourself. Throughout the course of your campaign, your hero character and all the squads you work with gain experience, level up, and earn new equipment and abilities. This provides a very RPG-ish element to the campaign, and it’s done quite effectively. It really adds an element of progression & reward. This also helps because some of the advanced-stage campaign missions get a little on the repetitive side. On the second-hardest difficulty setting, the late campaign had Us defending the same strategic assets (objectives that you capture on the various maps) repeatedly. The experience and reward system helped make this task a little less tedious. However, once all your squads reach Level 20, there is nowhere further to go, so that’s pretty much the point where you want to wrap things up with the campaign.

Throughout the campaign you’ll encounter the game’s three other races – The Orks (go Orks in space!), the Eldar (Elves in space), and the Tyranids. The Orks and Eldar were both featured in the original Dawn of War, and their respective play styles seem to have been adapted well to DOW II’s new format. All four races are playable in the skirmish and multiplayer modes. The Tyranids stand out among the races the most. Given the Warhammer 40,000 franchise’s longevity, it’s easy to surmise that the Tyranid race provided some of the Blizzard Entertainment's inspiration for Starcraft’s Zerg. Like the Zerg, they are a race of nasty-looking creatures who are governed by a hive mind. More so than the other three races, the Tyranids deal with larger masses of units. However, as far as We’ve played thus far, Relic has done a decent job of balancing the Tyranids more numerous forces against the other races’ units.

Some of the design decisions made throughout the campaign had us rather puzzled. Unlike most RTS games, individual missions in DOW II tend to be quite short, owing to the game’s focus on a quick pace. For some gods-forsaken reason, Relic removed ANY option to save your progress mid-mission. That is to say, you can’t save manually, and there are no autosaves either. Furthermore, should you fail a mission, anything that happens elsewhere on the persistent campaign map proceeds (i.e. the enemy may advance on another position). The only save system that is in place is effectively an autosave system on the level of the campaign map. While it didn’t pose that great of a problem during Our playthrough, it still defies logical sense as to why a standard save system was omitted – especially on a PC-based RTS, not a console shooter!

Presentation has typically been a strong point of all Relic’s offerings. Graphically, DOW II is quite a pleasure to look at. The environments on the three different planets you’ll visit all have unique and detailed characteristics, from the deserts and shantytowns of Calderis, to the lush jungles of Typhon Primaris, and the city-spires of Meridian. Textures of the various units are all engaging to look at, and each race has their own clear aesthetic. Visual effects are also quite well done. Weapons fire and the destructible environments are effectual in demonstrating the devastation you can wreak. Each map is shown at various times of day, from dawn, midday, to the middle of the night. Perhaps more importantly than all this however, is the fact that DOW II runs quite smoothly with most options set to high, even on what is now a mid-range gaming laptop such as Ours.

Audio presentation, also true to Relic form, stands out. The voice acting is believable, although perhaps a few lines of dialog from your squad leaders come across as being a little over the top. Sound effects fit well with each of the units, from the visceral buzz of a Space Marine’s chainsword to the rumbling growl of a massive Tyranid Carnifex. The music, similar to that provided in the original Dawn of War, is very atmospheric and epic-sounding. We were impressed to observe that one of the main menu’s pieces of background music is actually played in an odd time signature (music geeks will know what We’re talking about) – something you don’t hear often in game music.

Like a few other titles under the Games for Windows Live banner, DOW II features a full achievement list. While this is great for Gamerscore fiends such as Us, We find that Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live (GFWL) service still leaves much to be desired. Some achievements (namely, the ones given for completing the campaign on various difficulties) simply do not trigger. It’s a little frustrating to work through a campaign, hoping for the typically higher-valued completion achievements, only to see them not go through. While Relic and MS are evidently working on this issue, they’ve also openly stated that it’s not a high priority – balance and other multiplayer issues are taking precedence. Similar to some of the issues We had with Fallout 3 PC, it seems GFWL is still far from perfect, and seems to leave something to be desired in comparison to its X-Box 360 equivalent.

Overall, DOW II makes for a very enjoyable RTS experience. It introduces a wealth of new ideas to the sometimes-stagnating genre, and successfully challenges the status quo. This is assisted by top-notch production values, for which Relic has earned something of a reputation. However, a few seemingly nonsensical gameplay decisions, combined with disappointing performance from Games for Windows Live, mars the experience a little. Nevertheless, if you’re either an RTS or Warhammer 40,000 fan (or both), you owe it to yourself to check Dawn of War II out.

-The Staff

Moving on Easter Weekend

Next weekend I'll be moving to my new home as well as spending time with family for Easter. This means I'm gonna be busier than a rabbit in heat so don't expect much in the way of updates for roughly a two week period.

I expect to resume rotting your brain with my regularily scheduled crap the weekend of April 18th. Try not to miss me too much, and stop Googling horny rabbits.

Poll of the Week Now Closed

Well it was worth a shot, but the Poll of the Week isn't taking off with just 2 votes happening on this past week's poll. So after a month trial, I've decided to shut them down. If there's enough requests, I'll bring the polls back, but otherwise, I'll simply continue to post the quality news and reviews you've come to expect from Arbiter's Judgement.

For the results of last week's poll: "How Do You Feel About Achievements?"

Achievements are amazing, and I gotta catch 'em all! 0 Votes, 0%
Achievements add some solid replay value to my game. 2 Votes, 100%
Achievements are alright, but I don't need them for my experience. 0 Votes, O%
They're a novelty to try and boast sales. 0 Votes, O%

Total Votes: 2

Well, it's pretty easy to guess what I voted for. Generally speaking, I have enjoyed collecting Achievements, and I find they really do add replay value to my games as I keep coming back to try and collect those last few and pump up my Gamerscore. They add something extra to collect and to do in a game, which overall, is a good thing, but they don't replace the sole focus of playing and enjoying the game.

To all those who voted in the polls over the last month, thanks for your support!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion DLC (Xbox 360) 50% Off, Except for Horse Armour

In celebration of April Fool's Day, until April 7th, all The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion DLC for the Xbox 360 version of the game is on sale for half-price via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

What's the catch? This excludes the infamous Horse Armour Pack, which is actually double the price!

What is an exceptional deal is that this also includes the expansion pack, The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, which you can now get for 1200 Microsoft Points. Unlike the piddly little add-ons most publishers and developers release today to milk you out of your cash, this is a real expansion set and given the amount of extra content featured, is a steal at this cost.

For the full list of DLC for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, step right this way.

Diablo III User Interface

With some recently released screenshots, Blizzard Entertainment is finally showing us our first look at the user interface (work in progress) that will be featured in Diablo III.

It's looking slick, and matching the new art style quite well. That conversation wheel is a little confusing, but at least it looks like there'll be a much larger range of conversation options than what we've previously seen in the franchise.

You can check out the screenshot gallery here, and some additional screenshots hosted by ActionTrip right here.