Wednesday, September 30, 2009

X'09


Every year, Xbox Canada holds their X event in which the media and various community members get to check out the hottest unreleased games coming this holiday season. It's a chance for community members to get to meet one another, to chat with any developers on hand, and to admire cute marketing girls. What? All of you there were going it. Don't lie, I was watching you.

That's because this year, I was lucky enough to score an invite, Juxtapose's first X event, and I learned one very valuable tidbit while I was there: everyone I hadn't met before knew who I was 'cause I look exactly like my Avatar.

Anyway, we all lined up at This is London in the heart of downtown Toronto for the 4:00 pm start to the community event, admiring the fine, luscious curves of the Audi R8 on display in the parking lot, wetting our appetite for a little Forza Motorsport 3 action, and fans of the franchise weren't disappointed but more on that in a minute. Once we were carded, and those of us over 18 given our drink tickets, we were ushered inside, given our swag bag, and we entered the gaming goodness that was X'09.

Now, one thing I want to get off my chest right away is that I was quite excited to check out such epic games as BioShock 2, Mass Effect 2, and to a lesser extent, Aliens vs. Predator, save that none of these games were present, probably due to the fact that they're 2010 releases and not holiday 2009 releases. That was kind of a downer for me, but there was certainly plenty of gaming goodness to be had.

Forza Motorsport 3 was right in the front, central area in both tri-monitor set ups, and regular set ups. In front of that, Halo 3: ODST was set up on two sets of four monitors for some Firefight action, and on an actual stage on the right, The Beatles: Rock Band was jamming with a limited edition Beatles-themed Xbox 360 console on display. Left 4 Dead 2 was set up on the left, in the back DJ Hero was spinning, and behind some curtains, Modern Warefare 2 was deploying for combat.

So I have a confession to make: At this gaming event, I didn't play a single video game. Honest truth. I was going to try South Park Let's Go Tower Defence Play!, but then I got distracted by something and forgot. Quite probably the remembrance that I hadn't used my drink tickets yet, and a CC and Coke was calling me. Then I mingled. For me, the Xbox Canadian community is the best group of gamers I've ever met, and it's great to actually meet everyone in person. From the friends I've met before to those I've met for the first time, it was just an awesome time to kick back, relax, and talk games with some fun-loving, like-minded people.

So while I didn't bother playing anything myself, I watched a few things being played. I mainly watched Left 4 Dead 2. It has zombies in it, but I'm not really a fan of the franchise, so I wasn't compelled to pick up that controller or to put down my CC and Coke. Firefight was fun to watch of course, but seeing as how I own the expansion, I can play it whenever I want. I also didn't dare play the music games, as I can't keep musical time. You ever met anyone that just can't keep time and they're always tapping along to whatever the most prominent sound or vocal is? That's me. Dysmusica. I did try to sing once though. Orphans cried. Bad idea.

At 5:00 pm, Sinnix of 360 Prophecy began handing out his awesome Halo 3: ODST prints, autographed and free of charge. He had 100 on hand, and as I understand it the only 100 that will ever be made. A numbered collectors item and truly a work of art. Which all brings me to the rest of the swag. Xbox Canada really outdid themselves here, and I'm really impressed with the quality and the value of the items.

The X'09 re-usable bag (great for Torontonians with the $0.05 plastic bag charge) contained a great Halo 3: ODST t-shirt, and a 1250 Microsoft Point card. Jaken Bear was also handing out 1 GB X'09 Flash Drives that contained codes for between three to four Xbox LIVE Arcade games. I got Shadow Complex, Trials HD, and Lode Runner, and others also got Splosion Man or a different combination of these four titles. If you do the math, that's roughly $100.00 worth of swag, which is truly amazing. I also heard one lucky gamer got a Left 4 Dead 2 t-shirt in his bag, instead of a Halo 3: ODST one.

Without question, X'09 was a great event and an awesome time. It was a pleasure getting to finally meet everyone, to watch Jaken write on Rebelled's head with a marker, and to just be a part of the great energy and excitement that was everywhere. But, like all good things, X'09 came to an end, and after making my rounds, saying my goodbyes, and getting a Premium Hug from Sintacs (What d'ya mean I owe you 800 Microsoft Points!), I made my exit.

I'd like to thank Jade, Jaken Bear, Xbox Canada, and their marketing partners for once again organizing an awesome event, and a big thank you to Sinnix for the Halo 3: ODST print that will soon be framed and hanging on my wall. It was a pleasure, and I hope to check out many more events in the future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Xbox Canada Community Page Re-Launched


With X'09 happening today, Xbox Canada has relaunched it's Community page to better bring news and Canadian event info straight to us, the Canadian gamers.

Check out the relaunched Community page here. There's even a few pics of X'09 up already, and don't forget to check out Sinnix's 360 Prophecy comic!

Look for my own write-up of X'09 in the next few days.

Fable II: Episodes Launches on Xbox LIVE Marketplace


Today, Microsoft Game Studios and Lionhead Studios added Fable II to their Games on Demand line up on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, however unlike previous titles, this one's brought to us in Episodic format.

You can download the first Episode of Fable II here, and if you like what you play, you can download the additional episodes (5 in all, including the freebie) from within the game itself. You can also check out Lionhead Studio's press release here.

The full download is 100% compatible with the game's DLC, though at present, I don't know how much each individual Episode costs. Keep in mind the retail game now goes for $39.99, so it's likely cheaper at a store.

If that is the case, treat the first free Episode as a demo. Regardless, it is nice to see Microsoft try and do something different with Games on Demand, which has been ridiculously overpriced since it's inception, providing little incentive for gamers to actually spend their coin there.

Mass Effect 2 Subject Zero Trailer

Another Squad Member for Mass Effect 2 has been revealed in the latest trailer from BioWare and EA.

Entitled Subject Zero, she's got tattoos covering her whole body, one for each kill, and she's got one wild, nasty attitude. You can check out the trailer here or below.



Hmmm... I'm not sure about this character. She seems in contrast to what I'd expect from Mass Effect, but then again, you never know. BioWare's had odd characters before who've totally worked out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Retail Copies of Xbox Halo Titles Available at Best Buy


While normally I wouldn't consider something like this to be news-worthy, I know there's many of you out there who never owned an Xbox console and missed out on Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. I also know that many of you have been looking for new, retail copies of these games, both of which can be difficult to track down.

Well, I was visiting my local Best Buy yesterday, and they just happen to have the entire Halo franchise, new retail copies, available. This includes the Xbox classics of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, both of which are retailing for $19.99. For those unaware, both of these games are compatible with any Xbox 360 console so long as it has an HDD.

If you're looking for these two epic Platinum Hits shooters in new, retail form, you might want to give Best Buy a call. You can also download all the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Packs for free via Xbox LIVE, accessed via the in-game Xbox LIVE menu.

Enjoy!

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Review


The trailer sold me with falling food, brought to us in 3D. Yes I know, I'm easy to please. Based upon a children's book of the same name (Wait, I thought kids didn't read anymore due to video games and hip hop?), Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs follows the exploits of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), a young nerd determined to invent something useful for his island town of Swallow Falls, famous for its sardines.

All through his childhood, Flint came up with brilliant but botched experiments such as spray-on shoes (that don't come off), a Monkey Thought Transmitter (placed on his best friend, a monkey called Steve who has nothing intelligent to say),and Rat-birds that fly off and scavenge things from the town. Constantly ridiculed and watched ceaselessly by the town's police officer, Earl (Mr. T), poor old Flint never has any luck and even his father (James Caan) decides it's best to put him to work in the family sardine shop. That is until the world discovers sardines suck, and no one outside of Swallow Falls wants them anymore.

The town is then stuck with all these sardines for food, and nothing else, so Flint builds a machine that turns water into any kind of food people want, or at least, it's supposed to. By complete fluke, Flint finally gets his machine working properly by "placing it" in the sky where it manipulates the clouds to rain food. Things go great for a while with everyone singing Flint's praise, and he's even able to befriend the cute weather news intern, Sam Sparks (Anna Farris) and get on the good side of the greedy mayor (Bruce Campbell). Of course, like all his other inventions, this one ultimately goes wrong.

What follows is a silly, hilarious, and very imaginative story about Flint discovering who he really is, and how to undo the damage he's done.

Brought to us in 3D like Coraline before it, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs literally has its antics jumping off the screen, and like Coraline, this really helped enhance the film which is very light hearted to begin with. While it's hilarious watching Flint's antics, and his attempts to woo Sam, I did find the film dragged a little in the 2nd Act, but this didn't detract too much. The animation, 3D aside, works very well, and the voice acting is great. Really, it's awesome to hear both Bruce Campbell and Mr. T. Especially Mr. T.

A simple film that one can enjoy with the whole family, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will make you laugh, make you want a talking monkey, and have you craving some kind of food by the end. For me it was pasta. And a steak. But I didn't get a steak. Costs too much.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Zombie Apocalypse Trial Impressions


Being a zombie fan, I was eagerly awaiting Zombie Apocalypse. In many respects, it looks like a simplified, top-down version of Left 4 Dead, but for a significantly cheaper price. So, I downloaded the Trial this past Wednesday and set out to give it a whirl.

I couldn't even finish the Trial before turning it off. It was that poor.

Zombie Apocalypse sees you taking control of one of four survivors combating hordes of the undead. The game's levels are set up on arena like maps, and wave after wave of undead will spawn in and try to swarm you. There are several variety's of zombies to keep things fresh, and every now and again a non-player survivor will appear that you can protect until she gets picked up by a rescue helicopter. Fail to defend her and she'll become infected and attack you along with the real zombies.

At your disposal are a Rifle and Chainsaw, which is great for crowd control, and you can pick up a Shotgun power up and get a Teddy Bear item that attracts the Swarm directly to it, much like the Pipe Bomb in Left 4 Dead. This can be great for taking the heat off of you when you need a breather or to strategically protect something, like a Survivor, however note that Infected Survivors are _not_ lured by the Bear and will always attack you.

One of my largest problems with the Trial is the controls itself. Aiming and firing your Rifle/Shotgun are handled via the Right Stick: simply point it in the direction you want to fire, but personally, I've also disliked this method of control and it's an instant turn off for me. While I have no issue controlling the Camera with the Right Stick, I prefer to leave my firing controls elsewhere. Maybe it's just me, but the whole setup seems less precise and more tedious.

I also would have enjoyed the Trial a whole lot more if the zombie hordes would have started off moving more slowly instead of sprinting at you right away, giving you time to simply have some fun and get a feel for the game. Instead, you're overwhelmed quite quickly and have little time to think up any defensive plans, and I found this more frustrating than a challenge.

Graphically, the Trial looked good for an Xbox LIVE Arcade title. There was never any issue identifiying the various types of enemies, Survivors, or power ups, and the sound effects are what you'd expect from a simple zombie game.

Personally, Zombie Apocalypse was a huge let down and not my thing at all, and I certainly won't be shelling out my 800 Microsoft Points for it. I'd rather wait for an additional price drop on Left 4 Dead itself, which is coming down quickly due to the sequel's November release.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Halo 3: ODST Boot Camp Official Toronto Launch Party


At midnight this morning, stores all across Canada and the US opened to begin selling copies of Halo 3: ODST, the much anticipated stand-alone expansion for Microsoft Game Studio's smash hit IP, to eager fans. Prior to select midnight launches, however, Toronto-area gamers had a chance to score some time with the game early by "enlisting" for Boot Camp at Xbox Canada's official Halo 3: ODST Launch Party.

Officially beginning at 7:00 pm, Xbox Canada took over The Fermenting Cellar and prepared for enlistment, with no less than ODST drill sergeants standing guard inside and outside the perimeter. But like any event, fans just don't show up at 7:00 pm, oh no. Recruits lined up for hours in advance to be the first inline, however one thing many of these recruits did not know about was the leaked intel.

Last Thursday evening, a viral marketing campaign kicked off, of which you can find the full details right here. The reward for cracking the code: Early access to Boot Camp. And guess who was on the front lines for gathering this intel? That's right. Me! The squirreliest, Popeye Cigarette chewingest Marine there is.

Just after 6:00 pm, a drill sergeant barked orders for anyone who solved the puzzle, and the barcode text on their mobiles to prove it, to form an advance line, after which we were called upon in groups, about six at a time. Lined up in single file in the rain with no shelter (with the rain coincidentally providing a nice contrast for the Announcement Trailer), the drill sergeant inspected us, and gave us our two standing orders: 1) To reply with "Sir, yes sir!" when spoken to, and 2) to repsond with "Hoo-rah!" when addressed as "Recruit." Once we passed inspection, we were ushered into the building to begin processing on our way to training. Passing through a camo-net covered door, we were issued our standard uniforms (UNSC t-shirts), and ordered to quickly complete a registration via a touch screen display. Once done, we were ushered in double time to a waiting area, with drill sergeants yelling at us all the way, to stand single file and watch the awesome "We are ODST" live action ad.

Next, we were led into a field tent where we all took our seats for a mission briefing. With a Halo 3: ODST Controller layout card waiting for us, two ODST's informed us about our imminent deployment into New Mombasa to combat the invading Covenant forces. We were made clearly aware that, while as ODST's we were the best of the best that humanity has to offer, we were _not_ Spartan-II's, and as such we'd lack their armour and shields. In short, we'd need to work together, to rely on one another, and be counted upon to leave no man behind. The briefing was concluded with a screening of the second Halo 3: ODST ViDoc, "Bip. Bap. Bam. Welcome to Firefight," and then we were called up to file out and proceed into the training area.

Dimly lit and filled with mist, the training area had several hubs of Xbox 360 consoles set up waiting with the new Firefight Co-Op mode. There were two large TV's suspended from the wall showcasing one gaming booth's battle, and all around the area were VISR outlined Brutes and Grunts, demonstrating with wonderful realism what to expect from the expansion's new VISR display mode that replaces the series' traditional Flashlight.

Myself and two other Recruits took up our Controllers and started up a match, under the watchful gaze of yet another drill sergeant. He offered tips, criticism, and praise for our performance in battle, encouraging us to function together as a unit. Firefight was quite challenging, with enemies coming at different points from all directions. We began with a Sniper Rifle and the new, scoped Pistol right from the get-go, however I immediately swapped out my Sniper Rifle for the new Silenced SMG. And it's true, you're much more fragile than a Spartan, as I found out the hard way when I was looking at my own corpse in a matter of seconds. Even those silly Grunts were putting up a nice fight. After I re-spawned, I decided to take a more cautious approach, using walls as cover, flushing out targets with various Grenades (I was pleased to see your max Grenade capacity has been increased from Halo 3), and picking off stragglers while staging orderly retreats and defending choke points.

In brief, I didn't notice much of a difference with the Silenced SMG from the original one, save that you can't dual-wield and it's quieter, and the Pistol functions much as it did in Halo: Combat Evolved. Great for quick headshots. The Brute Plasma Rifle, not seen since Halo 2, functions like it did 5 years ago and is great for quick suppressive fire, but of course, I ultimately favoured my Covenant Carbine. Excellent for mid-range encounters, and quick to snipe some headshots. Thank you Jackals!

Once our training session was complete, we were provided with coupons offering us Xbox 360 accessory discounts at EB Games, and given some Maynard's candy to snack on.

I then bumped into and had a quick chat with Jade, thanking her for her hand in organizing the event, and was taken outside with Mister Switch and Jaken Bear for an interview, where I was pleased to meet the lady and gents behind the excellent viral marketing campaign. Seriously, I had a great deal of fun working on figuring this campaign out, and it really got me psyched for Halo 3: ODST itself. As Switch himself mentioned, who doesn't enjoy a good treasure hunt, and my only request for future campaigns would be to give us a little more time to solve them, seeing as how many of us all contend with conflicting schedules balancing work, relationships, family, friends, and games. A solid week would have helped a lot, but regardless, kudos to the promotional team on a job well done!

Shortly after the interview, Jade was kind enough to escort Mister Switch and I to a back press room, where we were privileged to see a Halo 3: ODST themed jeep, with a TV and an Xbox 360 Halo 3 Special Edition Console showcasing the Campaign. We were shown first hand the free-roaming gameplay unseen in the Halo franchise before, as the Rookie player character can roam and explore the ruins of Covenant controlled New Mombasa. And yeah, the Covenant Engineers look awesome, and a lot more imposing than they were described in the novels, and they certainly look uglier than they did in Halo Wars. Great to finally see them in a Halo FPS.

We also got to examine the limited edition Halo 3: ODST Xbox 360 Wireless Controller that comes with the collector's edition of the game. It's the same Olive Green as the Halo 3 Special Edition Console, however it has a lot of custom etchings and detail all over it, and it looks extremely impressive. We also learned that this Controller will truly be a limited run. Once all the collector's editions of Halo 3: ODST are sold, that's it, these Controllers will never be offered again.

After watching some more Campaign action and chatting with some additional Xbox personalities, we wondered around for a little longer, and then my time at the Boot Camp launch party itself came to a close. I had well over 2 hours of pure awesome, and I'd like to thank Jade, Jaken Bear, Xbox Canada, and their marketing partners for putting together such an awesome event. I'd also like to give a shout out to the Xbox Canada community itself, who always make these events something special with their enthusiasm and courtesy, and here's to many more solid shows!

Lastly, I know many of you are wondering about swag. Well, I'll just leave you with a few pics of what I picked up. Enjoy!











Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360) Review


Like the Dark Knight himself, I did not see this one coming, and thankfully, mistakes can be a wonderful thing. Like everyone else, I had certainly heard about Batman: Arkham Asylum, but I can't say I was psyched about the game at all. Most Batman-themed games, like most super hero games, tend to flop, and I just naturally assumed this game would fit right into that category. It didn't help that developer Rocksteady Studios has only one other game under its belt, of which I'd barely heard of and certainly never played.

This all changed when I saw my Xbox 360 Dashboard's Spotlight Channel advertising Wal*Mart's intention to sell the game for $38.83. For a brand new retail release, this cost is unheard of, and needless to say, I decided to do a little digging into the game.

No one seems to know for sure, but the general consensus is that the $38.83 price tag was a complete accident, but since it was already advertised, Wal*Mart chose to honour it for the first day of sales. Whether that's true or not, it forced other retailers to sell the game at the exact same price. EB Games matched them, and Best Buy and Future Shop matched the cost and kept it for the first three days. Each retailer also had their own specific pre-order bonuses (it's been nearly a month, and I'm still waiting for my strategy guide, Best Buy!) to try and entice gamers to give them their cash, and there was even a very unique "mix-up" with Future Shop the morning of launch day.

On August 25th, first thing in the morning, Future Shop's web site listed the game as $7.67! Observant customers quickly printed off the page, ran to Wal*Mart at 8:00 am (when that retailer opens) and got some exceptional price matching. I was not one of those lucky gamers, but Future Shop then changed the price back to $38.83 about an hour before 10:00 am, when they open, and claimed it was a typo which they would not honour.

The general speculation here is that Future Shop did this as a way to get back at Wal*Mart for forcing everyone else to take a cut in sales by having to match them. Regardless, all this corporate foolishness was good fun to watch, and benefited us, the gamers, very strongly.

In light of all this, I took a keen interest in the game and decided at the $38.83 price tag to give it a chance. Had the game turned out to be a flop, I could easily sell it for more than I bought it for, but luckily, there's no need. Batman: Arkham Asylum is the single best game of 2009 that I have yet played, plain and simple. It blends an excellent mix of gameplay styles, combined with excellent writing and voice acting to make this a strong contender for Game of the Year.

Based on the comic books themselves, Batman: Arkham Asylum is written by Paul Dini, the man behind the exceptional Batman: The Animated Series from the early '90's, and key characters are also voiced by the actors who portrayed them in that same series. Kevin Conroy voices the Dark Knight, Mark Hamill voices the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin lends her talents to Harley Quinn. The rest of the voice cast performs exceptionally, matching the wonderful tone of the script.

The game begins with Batman speeding his way to Arkham Asylum. In a brief confrontation, he apprehended his long-time nemesis, the Joker, however the caped crusader feels uneasy as Joker didn't put up much of a fight at all. Turns out Batman's concerns were justified, as Joker is able to quickly take over the Asylum, locking everyone inside. He even manged to have his henchmen from Blackgate Prison transferred over prior to his arrest, furnishing him with the muscle to keep control.

Not only does Batman have the Joker's henchmen to content with, who come in several varieties to mix things up, but many of the villains he's locked away are now free and looking for a little payback. You're introduced to Killer Croc in the game's lengthy, moody, and exceptional intro, and you'll also encounter the likes of Zasz, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and more. Of course, being a criminal mastermind, the Joker is always after more than a little traditional chaos, but just what his master plan is is something you'll need to discover on your own.

The Dark Knight, being who he is, tends to be prepared for most anything, and Batman has a host of Gadgets at his disposal. Originally, you'll just have your Batarang available to stun enemies, but as you progress through the story, you'll get some more interesting devices such as Explosive Gel, a Zip Line, and the Bat Claw. There's even more, of course, but I don't want to give it all away, and each Gadget has it's use, either in manipulating your environment, solving puzzles, or flat-out kicking ass.

And speaking of doing nasty things to random posteriors, the FreeFlow combat system kicks! The game's controls take a little getting used to, but after several minutes, you'll have most of it down and will be able to expertly tackle several enemies at once. Simply pressing "X" will attack your enemy, and as you're pounding on him, you can press the Left Stick in the direction of another foe to launch yourself at them seamlessly, stringing together a series of combos. If an enemy gets close to you and you see "Spider Sense" above his head, it means he's going to attack and you can press "Y" to Counter him instantly. You can mix in loads of moves with your combos, including Batarang tosses, Bat Claw Grabs, Ground Take-downs (to knock and enemy out), and a few special moves you earn by leveling up.

Once you earn enough XP, you can increase your Health, upgrade your tech, or maximize your combat potential. You can also get the wonderful Inverted Takedown maneuver. Batman relies a lot on fear and keeping to the shadows, and while you can often drop into the fray and kick some butt, doing so is not always advisable. Instead, Batman can move around easily on Stone Gargoyles conveniently placed all throughout Arkham Asylum's ceilings, and snatch enemies up when they get close enough, hanging them from the Gargoyle upside down. Batman can also Glide Kick into combat, swoop around, and generally pull off a lot of really amazing moves. Honestly, the developers did such a good job with how the game feels, you really _do_ feel like the capped crusader.

Powered by the Unreal Engine 3, the game simply looks amazing. It's dark, it's moody, and everything is extremely detailed. Many people have referenced a BioShock-like feeling while playing the game, and from a certain perspective, I agree. Exploring the halls of Arkham Asylum does often feel like Rapture, and that's certainly not a bad thing at all. The architecture is older, the Asylum is in disarray, and there's panic in the air. You even get to collect audio logs, patient interviews, which help you gain insight into your foes. Visually speaking, the only major flaws are that character models can look a little plastic-like up close, and the lip syncing tends to be off a lot, but honestly, these are minor compared to the overall visual splendor of the game.

Audio wise, as I already mentioned, the voice acting is spectacular. The music is ambient and quite suitable to the game, and all the sounds effects are wonderfully done and contain no hint of campy '70's cheese.

In addition to combat, stealth, and puzzle solving, there's also a lot of items to collect. 250 of them, to be exact, thanks to the Riddler, who's challenging you in his own unique way. Most games today feature a bunch of annoying collectibles, it's an easy way to toss in Achievements and most of us just grind through them because they're there, but Batman: Arkham Asylum really puts a lot of effort into its collectibles, and I found them a lot of fun to seek out and find. It certainly helped my motivation listening to the Riddler mock me, and begin to argue and express disbelief when I came close to collecting every item. For the most part too, they're not that difficult to find, you just need patience and a lot of back tracking as you'll often need to wait for a specific Gadget to gain access.

In fact, finding items and enemies is usually no chore at all, thanks to Batman's Detective Mode. Tap the Left Bumper, and Batman's vision switches to Predator style, displaying the entire world in blue. Environmental objects you can interact with show up as orange, you can see enemies as skeletons through walls if they're hidden, and you can also identify if they're armed, what their heart rate is, and if they're calm, terrified, etc. It's a great vision mode, and I spent most of the game walking around with it on, and it saved me from grief several times.

While Batman: Arkham Asylum does not feature a Multiplayer mode, it does feature Challenge Rooms in addition to the Story Mode. Challenge Rooms are maps based on Campaign levels unlocked by completing Riddler challenges, and they come in two varieties: FreeFlow Combat and Invisible Predator. FreeFlow Combat Challenge Rooms see Batman taking on about 4 waves of Henchmen, where your objective is to incapacitate them all and rack up a high score. In Invisible Predator Challenges, your task is to take out the several armed henchmen in the room as quickly as possible, while also trying to complete three bonus objectives. These can be as easy as taking a thug out with an Inverted Takedown, to as difficult as taking three henchmen out at the same time with Explosive Gel by having different walls collapse on them.

And if the Challenge Rooms weren't enough to add to the game's replay value, the Riddler Challenges also unlock 3D character models for you to view, and also Character Bios of everyone in the game, as well as other comic characters for you to read. Since I never followed the Batman comic books, I found this invaluable as there were a few enemies who I had no clue about prior to the game.

In fact, when it comes right down to it, the only major negative I found in the whole bloody game is Batman's ability to dodge. You dodge much the same way you do in the Gears of War franchise: Point in the direction you want to roll, and _double tap_ "A." Sadly, unlike Gears of War, your dodge isn't instant, as the Dark Knight takes a second to actually execute his leap. This lead to many occasions where a tougher enemy or boss smacked me around when I tried to get out of the way, and led to a lot of cursing and swearing on my part.

There was another odd bug I experience at one point where a piece of rock debris actually stuck to Batman, and followed me around where ever I went. An odd clipping/collision issue, I suppose, but this only happened once. I also had the game lock up on me once while I was loading a Challenge Room, but otherwise, Batman: Arkham Asylum is very polished; one of the single most polished and complete Single Player experiences I've enjoyed on the Xbox 360.

Without question, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a breath of fresh air in a very slow year for gaming. It's a game that manages to do just about everything right, from an engaging story, to varied and polished gameplay, to the excellent use of the technology underlying the game. And at the original $38.83 price tag, how could anyone argue? Even if you missed that great deal, you owe it to yourself to try this game out. It is, without question, one of if not the best superhero games ever made, and quite honestly one of the best Single Player experiences ever developed.

Halo 3: ODST "Prepare to Drop" Premium Theme


In celebration of the launch for Halo 3: ODST, Microsoft Game Studios has released a new Premium Theme entitled "Prepare to Drop."

Available for a limited time, this Premium Theme is free for Xbox LIVE Gold members.

To queue up your download, click here.

Note: Image is of the original Halo 3: ODST Premium Theme.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum Insane Nights Map Pack (Xbox 360) Review


That's right, I'm reviewing Batman: Arkham Asylum's first DLC before the game itself. You'll survive.

On Tuesday, Eidos Interactive released the first DLC for Batman: Arkham Asylum on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Entitled "Insane Nights," this map pack adds two Challenge Maps to the game, one FreeFlow Combat and one Invisible Predator. The FreeFlow Combat map is entitled "Totally Insane," and it sees Batman take on not only the standard henchmen Joker has to throw at him, but also several escaped lunatics adding their own world of hurt. In "Nocturnal Hunter," Batman has to take out several armed thugs while keeping to the shadows.

Generally speaking, these two new maps don't variate too much from the standard fair we've come to expect from the Challenge Rooms, save that the escaped lunatics in "Totally Insane" will annoy you if they get on you, and the only way to really take them down is to knock them out with a Ground Takedown. This can actually prove somewhat difficult, as you're vulnerable to all the normal henchmen while doing this. As of this typing, I have not yet completed "Totally Insane." Lousy lunatics.

"Nocturnal Hunter" doesn't deviate at all from the standard Invisible Predator set up. The challenges presented are to knock a henchman down once they completely climb a ladder, to perform an Inverted Takedown through glass, and to take out a lethal henchman last. Like all Invisible Predator set ups, the main trick is to avoid being seen so you don't get shot up, and to be patient waiting for the right opportunities.

Despite the fact that these are two simple maps which basically bring more of the same, it's great to see the publisher and developer supporting the game with simple, additional content less than a month after release. Want to know what's even better about this additional content? How about it's price tag of free?

That's right, you read correctly. Like the DLC of yester-year before it was ever bastardized with that buzz term, Batman : Arkham Asylum Insane Nights Map Pack is 100% free across all platforms. And for content as simple as this, that is as it should be and publishers could learn a lot from this example. You, the customer, should as well.

The Dark Knight's latest adventure just keeps getting better and better, and more content of this kind would be most welcome.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Halo in 5 Minutes

Just saw this hilarious video mentioned over at Bungie.net. Planning to pick up Halo 3: ODST on Tuesday, but have no clue what the Halo story is all about?

Watch this video to find out.

Halo 3: ODST Viral Marketing Campaign Solved


I step away for a day, and look what happens: The Halo 3: ODST viral marketing campaign has been solved!

Pictured to the right is a clean copy of the final, composited image, and with a quality like that, it's easy to see what to do. You simply need to text "UNSC" to a specific number, decoded via the "binary" throughout the sticker.

With such a high quality photo, I'd normally leave it to you to work out since it's not that hard, but since the word's already being spread around, I'll just tell you right now. Note before hand that this whole marketing campaign relates to the upcoming Halo 3: ODST Canadian launch party in _Toronto_. If you are NOT able to go, do NOT bother texting as you will NOT gain anything.

Simply text "UNSC" to 534847, and wait to see if you get chosen. How did they figure out 534847? Look at the "binary," and add up the number of ones per column. There's your number. So simple, and a high quality image was all that was needed.

I've sent a text myself, but it's entirely possible I'm too late; not sure yet. Regardless, it sure was fun working on this first hand, and a shout out to Mister Switch and the others he was working with, as well as the fans on the official Halo 3: ODST forum at Bungie.net.

This campaign sure has me psyched for the expansion, and I can't wait for the party! Less than 2 days!

BioShock 2 Release Date Announced


Over at the Cult of Rapture, the official release date for BioShock 2 has been announced. Prepare to return to Rapture on Feb. 9th, 2010.

This could very well be my first purchase of 2010. While I'm less interested in the Multiplayer aspect of the game, I really, really want to try out the Campaign! Very exciting!

Halo 3: ODST ViDoc "Terra Incognita"

With only a few days left until launch, Bungie has released the final ViDoc for Halo 3: ODST. Entitled "Terra Incognita," it goes into detail about how the concept behind the Campaign evolved from a simple expansion, to a full fledged city to explore.

You can watch it below, here, or download it to your Xbox 360 here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Halo 3: ODST Viral Videos


With Halo 3: ODST's launch only days away, Xbox Canada has started up some viral marketing for the game. For details, check out this thread on the Xbox Canada General Discussion forum.

Mister Switch and myself work right by the King/Spadina area, and we happened to bump into one another while "looking east and up." After a little searching, we found the attached image, taken with the poor camera on my BlackBerry Curve 8310.

For those who can't make it out, the image is a sticker of a partially completed UNSC Logo with what appears to be binary underneath.

Looks like: 1,0,0,1,0,0,0,1,0 followed by 0,0,0,1,1,0,1,1,0

The camera's pretty poor, so I hope I got that right.

My guess, the other locations likely hold similar stickers that either reveal something when put together, or give another set of coordinates via translating the binary.

UPDATE 1: Higher quality image added.

UPDATE 2: The other three images were snapped and posted, and combined, they look like the following (image courtesy of Mister Switch and Ohmpage).

That's 6 columns, 9 rows of what appears to be binary, but there appears to be lines at the bottom of each column, possibly indicating that each line should be read from top to bottom and translated somehow into a character.

My current theory is that it's a postal code, which will reveal the final part of the puzzle: the last location to look for something. How to translate this code though, well, still working on that one.

UPDATE 3: I spent yesterday evening working on the code. I tried translating it into latitude and longitude (and somehow I doubt the next step will be in the middle of Saudi Arabia), letters, numbers, I tried addition, subtraction, and in the end... nadda. I'm stumped.

Many of us are now thinking we need higher resolution screenshots, and the answer to decoding this puzzle may lie in the UNSC logo itself, or the odd symbol in the bottom left, though to know for certain, we need better pics. To that end, I've taken several additional images, and sent them along to Mister Switch for compilation. I've attached a sample image of a close up of the partial UNSC logo for your viewing pleasure.

More updates as they develop.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fable II (Xbox 360) Review


Fable was a game many people enjoyed, but considered a let down as it didn't live up to the huge hype surrounding it. I personally didn't follow the hype, and only picked the game up later as a Platinum Hits title for about $19.99, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Taking the positive from this experience, I was very excited at the announcement of Fable II for the Xbox 360 back in 2006.

Originally set for a late 2008 release, the game actually came out earlier than most of us thought it would, but with some problems attached to it. The promised items in the Fable II: Limited Collector's Edition were mainly nixed, and the Co-Op game mode would not ship with the retail game, but rather was added in via a Title Update at launch. Shifty things like this made me pause, and I decided to hold off on buying a copy. While the press really liked the game, I had begun hearing from my peers and fellow gamers that Fable II wasn't exactly up to snuff, and that it could have been a whole lot more. This furthered my resolve to either rent before buying, or to wait for a solid deal.

This past May, I found a store that was getting out of the games business, and was selling all new games for 40% off, which allowed me to pick up Fable II for $35.99. Now, months later, I'm glad that's all I paid. Fable II is not a bad game, but it's nothing spectacular either, and I found it significantly less enjoyable than its predecessor.

Set 500 years after Fable: The Lost Chapters, the land of Albion has changed greatly. With Jack of Blades defeated, many Heroes began to abuse their station and oppress the citizens of the world, and finally the common folk had had enough and revolted, succeeding in wiping out the Guild of Heroes and for all intents and purposes, all Heroes everywhere. This allowed humanity to more or less develop unaffected by most higher powers, and thus we come to the larger world of Fable II.

Fable II sees you taking the role of a young boy or girl in Bowerstone who ultimately travels the path of vengeance. You see, the game's main villain tries to kill you, rather unsuccessfully, but he did take something of great value away from you and you're looking for a little payback. Like the original game, Fable II allows you to progress through most of your Hero's life, growing from childhood to young adulthood to later adulthood. What's really cool this time around is that as you age, the world around you changes as well, and many decisions you make will have drastic effects on the game world later on. That's one of several aspects and gameplay mechanics from Fable: The Lost Chapters that have been improved upon, and there's a host of new features to play with as well, but sadly, not all's as fleshed out as it could be.

One of my most beloved aspects of the original game was simply the world itself. Albion was such a hilarious place to visit and to explore, and really, the game didn't take itself that seriously. In many respects, I thought of it as a mature Shrek, and this holds true for the sequel but on a larger scale. Albion is now a very, very complex place, and as I mentioned, one that changes based upon how you play. Not only does the world grow and evolve, but people react to your reputation, be it good or evil, in an expanded way from the first game. I played as a Good Hero, so people would follow me around clapping and cheering and eagerly looking forward to my gifts and Expressions.

New to the sequel are jobs that you can take in the various towns, such as a smith, bartender, or wood cutter, and you can also take up contract jobs such as bounty hunting or assassination, all for Gold. Like the original, you can buy properties and rent them out or sell them, but this time you can adjust the amount of rent, and what's really awesome is that the game collects money even when you're not playing. That's right, buy and rent a place out, turn off the game, and when you log back in later, the amount of Gold you would have earned had you been playing will drop into your inventory. This makes owning property the best way to earn cash in the game over a long period of time. Also like in the first game, you can get married, this time to either gender (hetero or homosexual relations) and now you can even have kids if applicable. If you have unprotected sex with your spouse, pop, there comes a baby. Your baby will stay a babe until you reach a certain point in the game, then after a few days, your child will become a, well, child. Honestly, they're much more annoying at this point, as they mainly just complain that you're never around. The wife too, actually.

The game sends you alerts regarding various things, such as sales or jobs that are available, or any needs of your family. One time, I was battling a swarm of Hollowmen when I got a message from my wife. I checked it out and it plainly told me, "Wants Sex." Um, okay. I'm a little busy dispatching a horde of undead, dear. Can't it wait a minute! Honestly, I found the family was a cool concept, but generally more trouble than it was worth. I mean, I'm out saving the bloody world here, so if I'm gone for a week or so, you'd think the family would understand.

Like the original game, you can have multiple spouses (I ended up marrying three women. One related to a Quest, one for the Bigamist Achievement, and the third because she was an awesome unique character.), and you can actually take people out on dates to their favourite places. Be careful if you choose to sleep around though, as you can contract STDs. This doesn't have any gameplay effect, save that you know you're now diseased. Ewwww.

One of my favourite pass times from the original game, fishing, was completely removed and this made me sad, but at least you can now dive and swim all about water. Instead, you have another great pass time and a faithful companion: a very long-lived dog who follows you around everywhere. You can play fetch with him, give him treats (to heal him up), praise him, scold him, and dig up any treasure he finds. The dog will also help in battles and attack anyone you knock down, and he can learn tricks to compliment your own Expressions. You can't control the dog directly, he has his own scripted AI and can be a bit random at times, which is completely awesome. Honestly, I loved the dog and got really attached to him and the whole concept behind him. I think he's wonderfully implemented and would love to see more games with a pet like him.

One aspect of the game that I really wasn't impressed with was combat; a rather important aspect at that. Unlike the original game, I found the combat in Fable II to be ridiculously clunky. This time around, Lionhead Studios tried to place everything per category on one button. So if you're using a melee weapon, you use "X" to attack, hold it to block, etc. If you press "Y," you'll fire your ranged weapon or hold it to zoom in on your target. "B" selects and charges up your spells, and you can use the left stick to determine whether you'll use it as a direct attack or an area effect spell.

Honestly though, the combat system needed a whole lot more refinement. It was far to easy to Block when you wanted to Flourish with a melee weapon, and heaven help you if you wanted to do some precision tracking with your ranged weapon. I'm also not a fan of the charge-up spell system at all. If I want to use a Level 5 Force Push, I want to use it NOW and not wait several seconds while it charges and I get smacked around. I know that was a design decision, and just something I'm not overly used to, but combined with the rest of the horrible combat system, it just served to have me spending more time playing in towns or taking odd jobs instead of fighting or Questing.

"A" is used to run and dodge once you acquire that Skill, but unlike most games that let you roll out of the way at any time, you need to have your weapon drawn to dodge. What genius came up with that idea? So many times I wanted to dodge, only to find my Hero had automatically holstered their weapon, forcing me to take some punishment instead of rolling out of the way. You also can't dodge if you were casting spells, since you're not using a weapon. At least the games enemies aren't that bright, so you really don't need to dodge too much, but still.

The story for the main Quest is pretty poor, and while the game doesn't take itself very seriously, there's no masking the fact that the main villain has horribly developed motivation, enough so that's it's actually quite laughable. In fact, I felt the main Quest so tediously boring that I often took week-long or more breaks in-between the major life phases of my Hero, as I just couldn't keep going without loosing interest. Don't get me wrong, I certainly got my play time out of the game, coming in at about 33 hours, but really, it was a struggle at many points just to keep going.

Graphically, Fable II looks good. The land is very rich and detailed, and character models look solid until you get real close or zoom in. Audio wise, the music features new and old tracks, and the voice acting is spot on for the stupid villagers and sarcastic bandits; right in line with the game's humour. Surprisingly though, there's no real map. On the main screen, you're presented with a glowing trail to follow to your next objective, but in the menus, I'd of hoped for a map that I could zoom in and really examine, but your only presented with a simple map that's all cluttered about. Very unimpressive, and not that useful, actually. I understand the developers were trying to clear up the main interface, but again, it just didn't work out.

From a technical standpoint, I was disappointed that I couldn't copy my save game to a Memory Unit, thus backing it up in case of HDD failure. While not a huge deal, it is worth mentioning, and rather odd since most games allow you to do so.

Thanks to a very friendly forum goer at the Xbox Canada General Discussion forum, I was given a code for the Limited Edition content of the game, which includes Hal's armour and weapon (a Fable version of the Master Chief's armour and Energy Sword from the Halo franchise), as well as a special dungeon with a unique sword. While the Energy Sword was rather disappointing, cool but overall weak compared to many other weapons in the game, Hal's Armour was most useful, and it was absolutely hilarious to watch my Hero, dressed as the Master Chief, serving drinks, chopping wood, and getting chewed out by my wife (or wives as the case may be). The bonus dungeon wasn't anything really special, and the unique sword wasn't as good as my current weapon by the time I got it, however I can see it being useful to an Evil character.

Speaking of bonus content, Fable II has some rather unique integration where any Gold or items you accumulated via the Fable II: Pub Games Xbox LIVE Arcade game would transfer over to your account, and any items you won by playing "A Hero's Tale" on the Fable II website would be available in a Treasure Chest in your actual game. This is very, very cool, as it allows you to earn things for the game from outside of the actual game. It'll be interesting to see where developers take this concept in the future, if anywhere at all.

Moving onto the game's Multiplayer, Co-Op, I was honestly disappointed here as well. In Co-Op, you join a game as the host player's henchman, not as your own Hero. This allows the two of you to Quest together with the Henchman in an "assistant" role. As a Henchman, any experience and Gold you earn will be applied to your own Hero, so there is benefit to you, and you can also earn Achievements by watching your Friend's Hero complete various objectives, and do joint Expressions, etc. Overall, it's not a bad concept and certainly has it's fun moments, but for some odd reason, you can't control the camera! In Co-Op, the game switches to a fixed camera that moves around with both of you, and it often is in a horrible position. I can understand this limitation in split screen, but over Xbox LIVE, why can't we reposition the camera each to ourselves? Another very odd design decision that needs to be placed in the negative column.

So is Fable II the revelation that it was touted as? No, it's not. Albion's a wonderful world to visit with a lot of detail and plenty to do, and overall, Fable II's a solid game with some exceptional concepts, but many of these are poorly implemented or relied on the oddest design decisions. This makes much of the game plain frustrating and tedious, and while there's a lot of potential in it, Fable II simply needed more polishing time. I most certainly couldn't recommend the game at full retail cost, but once it finally hits Platinum Hits status, I'd say give it a whirl. With any luck, Lionhead will have learned from their mistakes to greatly improve Fable III, but I have a strong feeling it'd be best to wait for a sale on that game to.

Halo 3: ODST Pre-Ordered


Yeah, so I've gone and pre-ordered Halo 3: ODST. Now I know what you're thinking, and you're right to do it: "But Juxtapose, doesn't this make you a hypocritical bastard for pre-ordering a product you've been ranting about being overpriced for months now?" Well, the answer's going to be a yes or a no, depending on your point of view. You see, there's a few different factors involved:

1) I wanted to clear some space off of my game shelf and sell some titles, and while I could get a better amount on private sales, I'm usually too busy/lazy to bother so I tend to sell them to stores. While I often use smaller places, like Deja Vu Discs and take cash, this time I decided to go to EB Games and trade them in towards the pre-order.

2) In all fairness to Bungie, they haven't let me down with a Halo title yet. While Halo 3 wasn't the epic conclusion I was hoping for, it's still an excellent game. Now with Curtis Creamer stating that the Campaign for Halo 3: ODST is the length of any other Halo game's Campaign, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

3) If all my pessimism turns out to be right and Halo 3: ODST is a huge let-down, it's covered by EB Games Gaming Guarantee, which means I have one week to return it for a full in-store credit. This way, I can safely play the expansion and if I love it, there's no major harm done. If I don't, then I get credit for another new game later.

So, let's break it all down. I traded in 3 titles to EB Games. Fable: The Lost Chapters (Xbox), which I bought for about $19.99 new and got $1.75 credit for. Fable II (Xbox 360), which I bought new for $35.99 and got $37.00 credit, and Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Xbox 360) which I bought new for $43.99 and got $27.00 credit for.

This means I've purchased Halo 3: ODST for $4.24 once all the credit is deducted from the $69.99 retail cost. So why do I say there's no major harm done, instead of no harm at all? Well, even though I'm trading titles in and getting the expansion for dirt cheap, I'm still technically purchasing it for full retail price, which I still believe is overpriced, which means I'm contributing to an example that it's alright to overcharge for such items. That's the harm done.

So am I a hypocrite? I've used credit wisely and gotten a solid deal here, but I've also contributed to potential standardized overpricing for the future. You tell me.

On a related topic, as most of you know, I'm not a fan of EB Games, and I did the above to take advantage of the Gaming Guarantee. I've usually found EB Games to conduct their business poorly and to grossly try and take advantage of their customers, so I rarely deal with them. For today's transaction, I first called the one EB Games I've never had any issues with. The rep I spoke to told me they were no longer accepting pre-orders for Halo 3: ODST, however I could certainly trade-in titles on launch day. Buying without a pre-order would not qualify me for the Gaming Guarantee or for the Sgt. Johnson pre-order bonus, but he recommended I try Best Buy or Wal*Mart to see if they offer the same guarantee and if so, to pre-order from them. Based on the actual conversation, I do believe this rep was trying to help me out, and not chase me away, so I just want to give credit where credit is due.

I then called another EB Games I've never shopped at before, and they were still accepting pre-orders, had the Johnson pre-order bonus, and were offering the Gaming Guarantee, so that's where I went. I still refuse to shop at the 3 other EB Games that have tried to rook me and others in the past.

Gears of War 2: All Fronts Collection (Xbox 360) Review


The current trend in the video game industry is no longer to released quality expansion sets for successful games, thus tiding us over with some additional single player and multiplayer goodness before the next sequel, instead it's to release a host of DLC add-ons that are often greatly overpriced for their worth. Any major title on the Xbox 360 has seen this, and many shooters, such as Gears of War 2, are presented with a host of Multiplayer Map Packs for gamers to download.

For my own part, I've seen the current DLC trend in a very negative light, as it often allows developers to produce a simple amount of content at little time and effort to themselves, while allowing publishers to jack up the price and maximize profits while short-changing us, the gamers, on quality. For Gears of War 2, there are presently 4 different Multiplayer Map Packs available, containing 3, 4, or 7 maps and ranging in price from 400 to 1200 Microsoft Points ($5.80 to $17.40). From my perspective, this is a rip off and save for the Flashback Map Pack which came free with the retail game, I have not purchased any of these.

At the end of this past July, Epic Games and Microsoft Game Studios released the Gears of War 2: All Fronts Collection, which is a compilation of all the Multiplayer Map Packs, including the "Road to Ruin" deleted Campaign Chapter featured in the Dark Corners Map Pack. The total cost: 1600 Microsoft Points ($23.20).

I have to admit it. This DLC is fairly priced based on traditional expansion set standards. Make no mistake, Gears of War 2: All Fronts Collection is _not_ a traditional expansion set. The Campaign content is very, very brief and relatively simply, however you get 19 Multiplayer Maps not featured via the retail game, which is quite a healthy offering, and generally speaking, the cost is about half that of a real expansion set. Seeing as how Gears of War 2: All Fronts Collection is really a Multiplayer add-on, the price is fare.

All the maps from the Flashback Map Pack, Combustable Map Pack, Snowblind Map Pack, and Dark Corners Map Pack are here, and they're all well designed for the most part offering more variety for your Multiplayer arenas. Some maps have environmental dangers, such as rising Imulsion, and others are standard fair. Generally speaking, since they are just new maps and not new game modes, your play experiences will be mainly the same as they were on the maps that shipped with the retail game, save that you now have pretty new backgrounds to Curb Stomp your enemies on, or to take on wave after wave of Locust in Horde, my preferred Multiplayer game mode.

The Deleted Chapter, "Road to Ruin," is very short, and takes place during Act IV from the Campaign. After that tragic event about midway through, Dom and Marcus begin their battle to penetrate into Nexus by killing anything that gets into their way. In "Road to Ruin," an alternate telling of those events is presented, and while you can choose to go in guns blazing, you can also take a covert route. If you choose to go quietly, Marcus and Dom will dress up as Theron Guards to help avoid detection, and you'll need to sneak past all the enemies in your way. I actually found this method very easy in Single Player, simply because AI controlled Dom knows exactly where to go and at what time, so you just follow him.

Regardless of the path you choose, the enemies are placed very nicely and there's a good variety. You'll take on Drones, Boomers, Flamers, Grenadiers, Beast Riders and Blood Mounts, Reavers, and even a Brumak. While short, "Road to Ruin" is intense and a good bit of fun. It'll take you about 30 minutes to complete, and you can play Co-Op with a buddy via Xbox LIVE or Split Screen.

Like all premium add-ons, there's a host of new Achievements to earn with Gears of War 2: All Fronts Collection, some related to public and private Multiplayer matches, many related to Horde, and three related to "Road to Ruin." Some of these Achievements are very easy to earn, and you'll earn them simply by playing the game, and others will take skill, planning, and help from your Friends.

Overall, if Multiplayer Gears of War 2 is something you really enjoy, be it Versus or Horde, Gears of War 2: All Fronts Collection is a solid investment, adding some additional variety to your matches, and giving you a little bit of Single Player content to boot. If, however, you're primarily a Single Player gamer, I'd recommend avoiding this DLC as there's very little to offer you.

Now, if only other publishers/game would adopt this collection method, offering those gamers with patience a chance to get all this extra content at an actually fair price for a change. If Gears of War 2: All Fronts Collection does rack up some good sales, perhaps we will see this become a more common trend.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions


Honestly, I expected better. Much of my experience with the demo smacked of sloppy. The writing style is in the tradition of the show, which is a plus seeing as how the game bridges the gap between seasons 1 and 2 of the series, and the voice acting was also consistent, but the rest of the package leaves a lot to be desired.

The demo features a level played from the Clone's perspective, and a level played from the Jedi's perspective. The Clone level sees you taking on the role of a technician clone who's name I can't recall, traveling with Commander Cody while trying to get everyone off a space station before it blows. The Jedi level sees you taking charge of Anakin Skywalker while Ashoka accompanies you in taking on Battle Droids of various sorts on a Separatist occupied world. There's also a Databank detailing the characters, weapons, and vehicles in the game, as well as a Store in which you can buy upgrades and bonus items, with the currency being the points you earn by progressing through the levels. I had Anakin running around with Leia's hair buns, for example.

Graphically, I found the game lacking. The current generation of consoles, most notably the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, are capable of pulling off some really great visuals, but the demo for Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes (Xbox 360) really looked last-gen to me. While it's clear the developers were working on capturing the look of the animated series, honestly, they fell short; the character models look far too clunky, lower polygons I suppose, and to make matters worse the camera angles almost always work against you. You also can _not_ control the camera.

Control wise, the game just feels sloppy and something as simple as aiming is a chore. In brief, the left stick moves you around like most games, and as a Clone, Right Trigger fires, but you can also use the Right Stick to aim and Fire at the same time. Any direction you push that stick, your Clone will Fire his weapon. Left Trigger Crouches, "X" Melees or interacts with consoles, "A" Rolls or Vaults, and "Y" is an Alternate Fire, Detonators in the case of the Demo, which are also hard to aim correctly. Again, you can't control the camera, but thankfully the enemies are not that challenging, and you can't even die. If you do run out of life, you just respawn at a pre-determined point while the game carries on, no having to redo anything.

I also found it a step backward in game design that many areas are blocked off by invisible walls. I'm not talking about out-of-the-way locations, I mean a door opens up right beside you and a Super Battle Droid walks through. You dispatch the Droid and the door is completely ajar, but you can't enter.

For the Jedi Controls, the Right Trigger Blocks, "X" Attacks with your Lightsabre, "Y" uses Force Push or allows Jedi to interact with highlighted objects, and "A" Jumps. Very simple. You can double jump onto Spider Droids and Super Battle Droids and jam your Lightsabre into them, allowing you to control the Droid, moving it and using it's primary weapon. You can also use the Force to push rockets back at enemies, but good luck doing that, as aiming is a nightmare. For those of you who thought the aiming was poor in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, this Demo will make you re-evaluate that opinion! Even with a enemy Rocket clearly highlighted, you'll often miss and take the impact. Really, really sloppy.

From one perspective, I can see the game being designed more for kids, but even then, I can see lots of kids screaming at mommy and daddy over the frustrating controls. While I am a fan of the series, personally, based on this Demo, I'd recommend a rental at best. Realistically though, I'm going to completely pass on Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes and simply read a synopsis of the plot before watching season 2 of the show.