Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kinect Gold Subscriber Preview Night - Toronto

Set to change the way we play, Kinect launches for the Xbox 360 this coming Thurs. Nov. 4th. This past Tuesday, Xbox Canada held a preview event in downtown Toronto where Xbox LIVE Gold members could come by, try out Kinect, and compete for awesome prize packs!

The Gold Subscriber Preview Night was my first experience with Kinect, and like many of you I've read both good and bad about the new technology from various media sources. Personally, I wasn't expecting too much going in besides a gimmicky new peripheral for my console, and I'm happy to say that Kinect was much more impressive than I first suspected.

The venue is a rented location right across from the Eaton Centre at 207 Yonge Street (and you can actually still go there now for about another month to play whenever you like, no RSVP or Gold membership required!) and the ground floor has several booths set up with consoles, Kinect sensors, and Kinect games for the general public to try. The Gold Subscriber Preview Night was held on the second level, and after signing in at the front desk, I was permitted to walk upstairs and take in the relaxed setup that Xbox Canada provided.

With IKEA couches and Kinect themed decorations everywhere, as well as free snacks and drinks for all ages, the Preview Night not only encouraged guests to interact with the half-dozen booths set up with Kinect, but to also relax and socialize with the wonderful Canadian community members who could attend. The basic design of the venue was very well done, as Kinect is all about the social experience of getting off the couch and playing with friends and the location's layout certainly encouraged this!

Promotional staff were walking around the entire floor helping people learn about Kinect, answering questions, and of course, regulating the competitions for some sweet prize packs! The prize packs were of high quality, consisting of copies of Crackdown 2, Halo: Reach, Fable III, Xbox 360 Fable III Limited Edition Controllers, etc. I'm not talking individually either, I mean all of these things were part of one prize pack and were awarded several times throughout the night! Talk about promotion!

Now one very important thing to note about Kinect at this event is that the games were still beta versions as Microsoft is developing the hardware and software right up until launch, so while most of the launch titles were present they didn't have all their features, and for Kinect itself, facial and voice recognition was not used.

Having said that, I was quite surprised by how well the technology actually worked. All one had to do was simply approach a booth and stand a few feet back from the sensor, wave to assume control, and begin playing! I watched many people play Kinect Adventures!, and the ease at which people could control their raft and move their Avatar to collect coins around the game levels was most impressive. Regrettably I didn't get to try Kinect Adventures! myself, but I did experience several other titles.

First up was Kinect Sports where I tried for a prize pack. Bowling was the game being played when I tried, and the promo staff set the ground rules of requiring multiple strikes to continue. This was my very first attempt with connect, and I did not score a strike and was disqualified, but that's alright. Next up was Kinect Joy Ride, where Jeff, Xbox Canada's product manager, took me through how to play the game.

Like most Kinect titles, once the sensor is tracking you the cursor simply moves with your hand-guided motions. Stop the cursor over an option and a circle draws around it in a clockwise direction. This gives you a few seconds to move the cursor or, once the circle is complete, to select that option. For Kinect Joy Ride itself, once you're in-game you simply position your hands like you're holding a steering wheel and turn that wheel to drive your vehicle. Bring your hands close to your chest and you begin charging a Turbo Boost, and once you've built enough charge, thrust your hands forward to really launch your vehicle!

Personally, I found the sensor could be a little too sensitive while steering, and one promo staff member pointed out that while playing, I had also been moving my body and not just the "steering wheel," which in this case throws the sensor off a bit. It's something apparently a lot of new players have trouble with in Kinect Joy Ride, but once you get past that the game handles very smoothly. If you actually get some air time you can even spin around to cause your vehicle to spin!

The next and final game I tried was Kinectimals, in which I got to play and interact with a lion cub. I was able to throw Frisbees or Mexican hats at targets to score points, and the cub would run out and fetch used Frisbees for me. What was pretty cool was that leaning your body would actually tilt the camera angle, allowing you another way to adjust your aim. If you threw too fast though, the sensor might not properly track you, but if you used fluid, steady hand motions, you could often hit targets rather easily.

When I was done, the next person who stepped up for Kinectimals was a child. He was about 5 years old and being me, I spent some time helping him, assisting a promo staff member in instructing him on how to play the game. Sometimes he'd move too close and fall outside of the sensor's field of view, or he'd move too fast and not be tracked properly, but he was having a great time. He actually played a game with the cub itself, teaching it tricks by standing up, rolling around on the floor, or doing hand motions. The child was having a great time, laughing and telling his mom about everything he was doing, and this above any other experience that night really showed me Kinect's potential: that anyone, of any age, really can just jump right into a Kinect game and even if they aren't doing things quite right, they can still have a wonderful and entertaining experience.

Visually, I was quite impressed with the various game's graphics. While not Unreal Engine quality, they certainly looked very nice, and textures were crisp, fluid, and detailed, as were the various character animations, particularly that of the cub from Kinectimals. The environments of Kinect Adventures! also looked very well done.

I must confess I was certainly impressed with my Kinect experience. I only got to spend about 30 minutes overall trying out the various above games, but the tech was quite easy to use. I'm still not 100% sold on it though, as I think the motion tracking tech could be improved to be a little less or a little more sensitive depending on the title, but the potential is certainly there in spades. At this point, the target audience for Kinect is different than my personal style of gaming. After a long day at the office, do I want to come home and jump around my living room annoying my neighbours, or do I want to sit on my butt, drink and beer, and play some Halo: Reach?

If you guessed the latter then you've been paying attention, but that's certainly not to say Kinect won't be a great accessory to parties and casual living room gaming environments. Kinect is certainly something I will be keeping a close eye on in the months to come, and depending on how Microsoft improves and supports Kinect post-launch and if more mature or innovative games are made available that suit my tastes better, we'll, my neighbours just might be telling me to stop banging around after all.

Halo Wars Leaderboard Reset Coming, No New Posters for Official Forums

Wow. Halo Waypoint finally updated the Halo Wars website with some actual news. Not that they weren't updating it with unactual news before, they just weren't updating it for the last 7 months period.

Way to roll out those "big plans for Halo Wars" guys! But I digest...

The Halo Wars leaderboards will be reset due to popular demand this coming Fri. Nov. 5th. Your rank, of course, will be unaffected.

You can check out the main page of the official site for the good word.

Some disturbing news though. I just saw that if you register on the official site, you can not post on the official forums! That's right, the official Halo Wars forums no longer allows new members to post as of October 27th, and posters are instead encouraged to go to the official Xbox Forums. Not that there's a problem with the Xbox Forums, but seriously, talk about killing community growth...

Halo: Reach Noble Map Pack Trailer

Last week, Bungie released the trailer for their upcoming Halo: Reach map pack, the Noble Map Pack.

The Noble Map Pack releases over Xbox LIVE Marketplace on Tues. Nov. 30th for 800 Microsoft Points.

Personally, I just don't understood the concept of paying money for small collections of multiplayer maps, and I'll happily pass.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Diablo III - Demon Hunter Class Revealed

The fifth and final player class for Diablo III has been revealed: The Demon Hunter. Her cloaked look and Fan of Knives ability actually reminds me of the Warden from Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, but you know, I guess there's only so many skills and abilities they can create.

The Demon Hunter appears to be an all female class, and she wields crossbows, often dual-wielding, to devastate the hordes of the burning hells. You can check out her page on the official site here, including some great amour-progression concept art, and her reveal trailer here or below.

I'm really liking the backstory and character set up, as she seems to be a rather interesting twist on the Amazon from Diablo II (the previous ranged combatant). I'm not impressed, however, with the reveal trailer; at least the narrative part of it.

I tend to prefer my fiction to be dark, gritty, and grounded in a measure of reality to enhance suspension of disbelief. The narrative aspects of this trailer are far too over the top for my liking; no real sense of danger and very, well, anime-influenced.

She can also continually fire while dual-wielding her crossbows without reloading.

Regardless, she looks like an awesome class, and I'll likely be using either her or the Monk for my first character.

Diablo III PVP System Revealed

Blizzard Entertainment has revealed their PVP settings for their upcoming hack and slash action RPG, Diablo III. For those too young to remember, launched with Diablo back in 1996 (crushing paid-to-play services, might I add, until gamers allowed such silly things to come back. I'm looking at you, Xbox LIVE.), and allowed players to journey together into the dungeons of Tristram to face off against the Lord of Terror himself.

Unless some jerk decided to back-stab you instead. They kill you unexpectedly, and all your items and Gold were theirs, just like that. Infuriating, let me tell you.

As I recall in Diablo II (it's been nearly a decade, so bear with me as I rack the ol' brain), you could actually specify whether your character was able to take place in PvP matches or not. This was awesome as it allowed safety for those players who didn't want their gaming experience ruined by some sleazy online jerk.

In Diablo III, however, it looks like Blizzard Entertainment is going to officialize PvP by having actual arenas scattered throughout the world of Sanctuary where players and their friends can square off in different ways.

Personally, I think this is an exceptional idea. It allows PvP to become an optional yet organized function of the game. Those who want to Quest and loot can do that, those who want to PvP have the proper places to do that, and of course players can partake in both in their proper places.

For full details, step right this way.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Social Network Review

Like most people, I have a Facebook profile. I signed up back in January 2007 and used it as an extra means of communication between friends and colleagues, to chat with them as an alternative to email, to plan various events, and yes, to check if that random cute girl was listed as "single." With the way online culture was (and still is) rapidly evolving, a social networking site the likes of Facebook simply made sense. One thing I never bothered looking into, however, was the origin of the site.

Now, about three and a half years after signing up, The Social Network has been released to theatres. Directed by David Fincher, The Social Network dramatically tells the tale of how the most successful social networking site in the world came to be.

It's 2003 and Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) has just broken up with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara). Pissed off and getting just a little drunk, he hacks into several Harvard databases and creates a site called FaceMash where students can go and rate between different girls as to which is hotter. The site is a success and crashes Harvard's servers, all in the same night, and while this generated a great deal of on-campus notoriety for Zuckerberg, it brought him to the attention of the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) and their friend and business partner Divya (Max Minghella). They enlist Zuckerberg's aid in creating a Harvard dating site, which Zuckerberg agrees to but continually delays, creating his own site on the side with help from his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).

As Thefacebook launches and instantly becomes successful on campus, the boys look to grow the site, and interestingly enough Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the inventor of Napster, becomes involved as an adviser and ultimately plays a role in forcing Saverin out.

The Winklevoss twins accuse Zuckerberg of theft of intellectual property and Saverin sues for damages, and Fincher uses these lawsuits as the means for telling the story of The Social Network. Multiple lawsuits are contrasted with the telling of the sites origins and Zuckerberg's interactions with everyone involved.

The Social Network is based on the book The Accidental Billionaires and the real Zuckerberg, nor anyone from Facebook itself, were consulted. With that in mind, I've taken the drama presented in the film with a grain of salt as, let's face it, it's a movie and movies are meant to entertain. Zuckerberg is portrayed as a completely insensitive jerk who uses, and to a degree, is used during the creation and success of Facebook. Having never looked into the site's history before, I admit I found it rather interesting that the guy who made Napster was involved, but I must admit that I found the film very powerful in the portrayal of the dynamics of the people and the way that business screwed them all. Loyalties are divided, friendships ruined, and so much of the problems faced are petty and juvenile and I found myself easily empathizing with this (thanks corporate world!).

Without question I found the acting in the film very, very strong. Given the culture and people I typically associate with, Zuckerberg was very identifiable for me, an easy character to understand and to a certain measure, relate to. Same goes for Saverin, and I felt quite sorry for him and what he went through. The cast overall did an excellent job fleshing out the dramatic humanity of the characters, and The Social Network is the single most character driven film I recall watching this year.

Without hesitation I can easily recommend The Social Network, as given its content it's a film that just about anyone can enjoy. And for me, here and now in October 2010, I barely use Facebook anymore and haven't used it extensively for several months. Why? Because I find that instead of accessorizing the social process it began to replace it, which I don't agree with, and the irony of the greatest social networking site in the world destroying the friendship of it's original founders was not lost on me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mass Effect 2: Overlord (Xbox 360) Review

Also on sale as part of Xbox LIVE's Deal of the Week is the Mass Effect 2 DLC "Overlord." Offering four new assignments, a new star system, two new Achievements, and the M-44 Hammerhead (added if players didn't already download the free "Firewalker Pack"), this DLC has a fair bit on offer.

Once installed, players will receive a message from the Illusive Man at their private terminal informing them that a Cerberus research station has gone silent and should be investigated. Upon arrival, players enter a facility where a battle has clearly been fought, bodies and destruction littered everywhere. After a brief bit of exploration, players are contacted by Chief Scientist Archer, possibly the only survivor in the facility, who explains that an experimental VI has gone berserk and is trying to use the station's satellite to get off world.

This VI is rather unique as it can take control of almost any electronic devise, including the Geth that appear to already be on this world (thankfully Legion seems immune). It's up to Shepard and crew to prevent the VI from escaping and to stop the compromised Geth and Mechs through a total of four Cerberus facilities.

The fifth area featured is a beautifully detailed exterior area in which players travel in the Hammerhead, moving from facility to facility. Along the way players can explore the map looking for six Data Packets, collections of research that Cerberus can later use to analyze what went wrong.

I'm not perfectly sure if the controlled Geth and Mechs are tougher than their traditional counterparts, but I must confess I found they hit harder than I remembered. I also want to congratulate BioWare for adding in a great horror element that was lacking from the core game. While this VI is no S.H.O.D.A.N., traveling through the empty halls of the Cerberus facilities with bodies everywhere and having the VI just pop up and scream at you, well, let's just say I literally jumped the first few times.

With aspects like this, I found that "Overlord" provided a nice change to the Mass Effect 2 feel, giving it a more survival-themed element that created a great experience. I also found the DLC's story very well written, ultimately coming together with strong morality and a very sad human element. Honestly, I felt really sorry by the DLC's conclusion. The music, which I also believed to be new, was also a great touch.

I've encountered two odd but minor bugs with "Overlord" that you should be aware of. The first, during the conclusion of the first Cerberus base, had Shepard randomly get locked into facing and firing in a certain direction. No matter which way I walked or moved, he continued to face a specific direction (which was comical since I wasn't in combat), and the issue resolved itself when I touched a stairwell. Another little quirk is with the Mass Effect 2 icon on my Xbox 360's HDD, under System Settings>Memory>Games. Installing Mass Effect 2: Overlord changes the core Mass Effect 2 icon in this part of my console to the Batarian face of the Mass Effect: Bring Down the Sky DLC! While having no effect other than cosmetic, it's an odd little bug.

On Normal difficulty, Mass Effect 2: Overlord took me about three and a half hours, and I must admit, I'm very, very impressed with this DLC add-on. Strongly written with great gameplay, a cool System Shock 2-ish end sequence that I will not spoil, and a survival horror feel unique to the game, this is one premium add-on that I can recommend in good faith.

Mass Effect 2: Kasumi - Stolen Memory (Xbox 360) Review

Mass Effect 2: Kasumi - Stolen Memory was the first premium DLC to be released for the game, and with it being part of this week's Xbox LIVE Deal of the Week, I decided to bite to see if BioWare could turn out a decent add-on.

Very similar to the previous free DLC, "Zaeed - The Price of Revenge," this premium add-on introduces the twelfth and final member to Shepard's crew. Kasumi Goto, an exceptional Japanese thief, has been contracted by Cerberus to assist Shepard for a large sum. Once the DLC is downloaded and installed, players can travel to the Citadel to recruit Kasumi's services.

Just like with Zaeed, you will be able to recruit her right from your disembarkment point, and the way you go about doing it is rather quite amusing. Suffice it to say, recruitment is guaranteed and the real additional content, aside from the character of Kasumi herself of course, comes in the form of her loyalty mission; accessible at any point after you recruit her.

This loyalty mission is a rather unique departure from the rest of the Mass Effect 2 norm. A wealthy criminal named Donovan Hock, who has a rather interesting Scottish accent, has stolen something very precious to Kasumi, and her and Shepard aim to take it back. The unique twist of this mission? You get to go to a party!

Shepard and Kasumi travel to Hock's mansion as he's hosting a rather lavish party, and Shepard gets to wear a dashing suit or dress, depending on the player's gender, to blend in with the crowd as he/she tries to gain access to Hock's vault.

Without giving too much away, Kasumi's loyalty mission is well designed, visually appealing, and adds some nice changes of pace to the gameplay, but it's quite short. I didn't rush, took my time exploring, and I completed the DLC on Normal difficulty in about two hours.

Kasumi herself is an interesting character. She uses Submachine Guns and Pistols, and her abilities include a Shadow Strike (a cloaked attack), Overload, Master Thief, and once her loyalty is gained, Flashbang Grenade. She's essentially a tech specialist, and your only squad mate focusing on stealth, making her handy if you already have a strong combat or biotic character in your current squad.

The greatest disappointment with Kasumi herself, like with Zaeed, is the lack of a true conversation wheel. On the Normandy, she resides in the previously inaccessible Port Observation deck, and clicking on her will have her comment on various things, but there's no way for Shepard to properly converse with her outside of her recruitment and loyalty mission. Very sad, as she actually has some interesting things to say and takes note of the details of your crew.

When all is said and done, I did enjoy "Kasumi - Stolen Memory" and I really liked Kasumi Goto herself. She's a strong addition to Shepard's crew, but honestly, I can't see any reason why this DLC wasn't released for free via the Cerberus Network (save for EA and BioWare wanting to make a profit). Due to its short length, I find it hard to recommend at full asking price, as there are certainly enough crew members for Shepard to choose from. Kasumi is a fun diversion, but far from an essential experience, and here's hoping that Kasumi has a full and proper role in Mass Effect 3.

Halo: Reach Noble Map Pack Announced

The first official map pack for Halo: Reach has been announced and will be released on Tues. Nov. 30 for 800 Microsoft Points.

The Noble Map Pack contains three new multiplayer maps: Anchor 9, Tempest, and Breakpoint.

You can check out full details as well as several screenshots via Bungie's announcement here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Am a Monument to All Your Sins

That's right boys and girls, two days ago I completed Halo: Reach's Campaign for the third time, a solo Legendary Difficulty run. This of course netted me the coveted "Monument to All Your Sins" Achievement, which according to Bungie's Weekly Update, just over 5% of the Halo: Reach player base (online aware) has thus far earned. Apparently that means I'm part of an elite club. Yay!

It was challenging though, make no mistake about that, but it was easier (relatively speaking) than I thought it would be. Overall, each Chapter took me between one to two hours, and a lot of patience, persistence, and profanities saw me through. For those of you presently or planning to attempt a solo Legendary run, here's some tips you may find helpful:

- Patience is key. Do not rush and take your time lining up your shots and picking off your enemies. You are fragile, they are not.

- At almost all times, you should be carrying a precision weapon (DMR, Needle Rifle, Pistol) and a Plasma Pistol. Headshots are your lifeline on Legendary, and even the new and improved Elites still go down with the classic overcharged Plasma Pistol/headshot combo. With a Needle Rifle, even if you miss their head, so long as their Shields are down three Needles will result in a Supercombine and one dead Elite.

- Hunters are scary. No really, this is the first Halo game in which these walking tanks have actually terrified me. Tough, fast, and dealing a lot of damage, hopefully you can swap out your Plasma Pistol for a stronger weapon before encountering them. This would be a Rocket Launcher, Spartan Laser, or Fuel Rod Canon. You'll either want Hologram or Sprint as your Armour Ability. The use of Hologram is obvious, and Sprint is the _only_ way you're avoiding them in close quarters when they charge. Thankfully in this battle, Chapter III as I recall, there's Shotguns right there, which work well with Frag Grenades. In Chapter IV there is a battle with four Hunters. Stay back, take precision shots (there's DMR ammo in the area), and let Jun take a beating. He's invulnerable and can't be knocked unconscious like all your Spartan AI allies, and you'll likely be pissed off with his pathetic AI by this point anyway.

- Brutes are a lot like their Halo 2 original appearance, which means they're actually tough. You'll want to fight them in a similar fashion as well. Two to three headshots will result in a kill (look for when you knock their Helmet off), or better yet, use a Needler. A few seconds of sustained fire and a Supercombine equals an instant kill. With a Needler, even Brute Chieftains will _not_ touch you! Towards the end of Chapter X, you face a lot of Brutes with no Needlers around. DMR for headshots and an Assault Rifle plus a final melee kill are your best bet so long as you keep _mobile_! Let a pack come at you and you'll die here a lot.

- Melee weapons are a bad idea. Elite and Brutes melee so hard and their accuracy and damage are so great, you're not going to land any Energy Sword kills. In one spot the Gravity Hammer helped me, but stick to distance combat. Long distance. You'll still be able to pull of some great Assassinations though, and in Chapter X, a quick Melee can drop a Brute if you've sunk in enough Assault Rifle fire.

- Of the game's several Armour Abilities, you'll want Sprint or Drop Shield. Sprint lets you get to cover, advance or retreat very, very quickly which is a life saver. Drop Shield won't do much for you as a damage sponge, but it _is_ a portable Medkit. Use it to keep yourself at full health; works wonders so long as you're playing smart and keeping your distance. Hologram is useful against Hunters, and there's some sections you need the Jetpack to advance. Active Camouflage is a must at the end of Chapter VII, where you need to activate some AA defences to end the Chapter. You do _not_ have to kill all the Brutes, which is time consuming and challenging. Simply use Active Camo, sneak into the control room past the Chieftains and press the button. Mission complete. Armour Lock is absolutely useless on Legendary and you shouldn't touch it. Period.

- When driving a Warthog, give a Trooper ally a powerful weapon, like the Concussion Rifle or Rocket Launcher, which will help a lot when they ride shotgun. Revenants are also great vehicles to commandeer. Ghosts are a pain to fight and worthless to pilot, so don't bother with them.

- Very important, _use_ your AI Spartan allies! While you can't swap weapons with them (sadly), Carter, Kat, and Jorge not only are great damage sponges/distractions, they actually excel at killing enemies! Let them advance to draw fire and start thinning out numbers while you find a good sniping spot. Jun and Emile though, they're useless twits and I wish I could kill them myself. Emile has a Shotgun and loves to hang back doing nothing. Idiot. Guess he can't see through his scratched helmet...

- Turn on the Grunt Birthday Party Skull. Not only is it amusing to hear the pop, cheers, and watch the confetti fly when you land headshots on the little bastards, they actually give a slight explosion which can help.

- For "Tank Beats Everything," you _must_ bring the tank nearly as far as it'll go in the level to unlock the Achievement; you can not leave it behind or even just a bit back. I found this out the hard way. You can get out and pick enemies off with your DMR (which I strongly advise), but make sure you bring that tank to the finish!

Hopefully the above tips help you out on your Legendary run. Keep a level head, think outside the box, and play _smart_. Do this, and you'll hopefully be able to unlock one of the hardest Halo: Reach Achievements there is to earn.

Good luck!

Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller

If you've been following along, you know that I recently sold my Xbox 360 Wireless Controller, which was the one that came with my original Xbox 360 Pro console in December 2006. While I have an Xbox 360 Controller (wired) and have been using that since, you always want to have two Controllers on hand for when guests come over, and the wired model is perfect for that since you don't have to worry about battery power.

So this past Saturday I used $50.00 Best Buy gift card that work got me for my birthday and purchased the Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller.

First and foremost, thank you Microsoft for _finally_ doing away with the annoying and hazardous clam shell packaging with your current re-branding to the Xbox 360 S console and associated hardware. The Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller is wonderfully packaged, easy to remove, and no scissors, cut hands, and profanities are required to open her up!

On to the Controller itself, it looks very, very slick. Sporting a silver colour with custom Halo: Reach themed artwork, the Controller is quite literally the most cosmetically pleasing Xbox 360 Controller I've ever seen. The Thumbsticks and D-Pad are a slick black colour like the new branded Xbox 360 Wirless Controllers, and the Guide button is chrome instead of the traditional dull silver. The Triggers, Bumpers and corresponding top plate, as well as the battery case and underside are also the same slick black colour. Because the Controller is Silver as its primary colour, my white Chatpad doesn't contrast sharply with it either, which is a big plus!

In addition to coming with two AA batteries, the Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller also comes with a downloadable token for a Banshee Prop for your Xbox 360 Avatar. Similar to the UNSC Falcon Prop that game with the Halo: Reach Limited and Legendary Editions, the Banshee Prop has your Avatar summon the Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller and use it to control and fly around a model Covenant Banshee for several seconds. The Banshee is actually larger than the UNSC Falcon model, and in my opinion, looks nicer.

Performance wise, the Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller functions just like any other Xbox 360 Wirless Controller and to clarify, it does _not_ feature the upcoming revised D-Pad.

If you're looking for a new Wireless Controller for your Xbox 360 console and you're not waiting for the model with the new D-Pad, I'd highly recommend the Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller simply because of how great it looks. Best Buy is selling it for $59.99, the same as any other Wireless Controller, so you're not being marked up on the custom artwork, which is quite the fair deal.

Forerunner Trilogy's First Entry Title and Cover Art Revealed

This past weekend, Tor Books revealed the title and cover art of the first book in Greg Bear's Forerunner trilogy: Halo: Cryptum.

Coming January 2011, this will definitely be a first day purchase for me (unless it's a hardcover title, then I'll need to wait). So much of the Halo franchise revolves around what the Forerunners left behind, yet we know so little about them and we've never even been privileged to see a Forerunner until Halo: Legends, and there they were in full armour!

It will be very interesting to read what kind of a picture Greg Bear paints for this ancient race, and of course, how they ultimately deal with and fail to contain the Flood.

You can check out the full press release below.



Science fiction legend GREG BEAR to publish first in a new Halo® trilogy set in the time of the Forerunners.

Coming January 2011!

New York, NY - Friday October 8, 2010 - Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC—the largest publisher of science fiction in the world—is pleased to reveal the title, cover art, and release month of Halo: Cryptum, the first in a trilogy of novels by Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Greg Bear in the New York Times bestselling “Halo®” series based on the hugely successful “Halo” video games franchise for the Xbox 360. Halo: Cryptum will be published in January 2011. An unabridged audio book edition will publish simultaneously with the new novel.

Halo: Cryptum will begin the first deep exploration into the time of the Forerunners, the creators and builders of the Halos. Almost nothing is known for sure about this ancient race. Worshipped by the Covenant as gods, their engineering relics pepper the galaxy, and their connection to humanity remains unanswered. Devoted fans of both the books and games will finally get to delve deep into the era of these enigmatic beings, and discover for themselves the epic story behind one of the great mysteries of the “Halo” universe: the complete disappearance of the Forerunners from existence.

"The enigma of the Forerunners is really at the heart of the drama and mystery of the Halo universe," says Frank O'Connor, Franchise Development Director for 343 Industries. "In all the games and the books so far we've only scratched the surface of the terrible events that engulfed the Forerunners and the Galaxy they protected 100,000 years ago, and we're very lucky to have a writer with Greg's experience and creativity to help us finally shed some light on why the Halos are really here."

An icon in the science fiction community, Greg Bear has penned such critically celebrated international bestsellers as Eon and The Forge of God. His work has covered such heavy themes as galactic conflict, artificial universes, consciousness and cultural practices, and accelerated evolution. Bear’s talent for taut narratives, intellectually rigorous themes, and realistic, appealing characters make him the most qualified author writing today to extend this blockbuster franchise.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Halo is one of the quintessential science fiction offerings of our time,” says Tor senior editor Eric Raab. “What Greg Bear has done with the deep lore of this extremely epic and complex story will definitely emphasize to science fiction fans just how amazing this universe really is. It powerfully lives beyond the games.”

Along with this new trilogy, Tor Books has also recently announced a “Halo” novel series that will take fans into the post-“Halo 3” universe to be penned by Karen Traviss. Earlier this year saw the release of the new editions of earlier “Halo” novels written by Eric Nylund and William C. Dietz.

“Halo” has emerged from the videogame world as a global entertainment phenomenon. To date, more than 34 million copies of “Halo” games have been sold worldwide, driving more than 3.3 billion hours of game play by people connected to Xbox LIVE. In 2007, the “Halo 3” launch broke all previous sales records for a videogame launch and also became the biggest day-one entertainment launch in history. In September, the “Halo” video game franchise made history once again when “Halo: Reach” generated more than $200 million in sales in the United States and Europe in the first 24 hours of its release, making it the largest U.S. entertainment launch of the year.With a fully fleshed-out universe of heroes, villains and epic scenarios in place, the novels will continue to expand the “Halo” universe and offer a grander view of the places and characters fans have learned about from the games.

About Tor Books

Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is a New York-based publisher of hardcover and softcover books, founded in 1980 and committed (although not limited) to SF and fantasy literature. Between an extensive hardcover and trade-softcover line, an Orb backlist program, and a stronghold in mass-market paperback, Tor annually publishes what is arguably the largest and most diverse line of science fiction and fantasy ever produced by a single English-language publisher. Books from Tor have won every major award in the SF and fantasy fields, and for the last twenty-two years in a row the company has been named Best Publisher in the Locus Poll, the largest consumer poll in SF.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fallout 3: Broken Steel (Xbox 360) Review

Fallout 3: Broken Steel is the last of Fallout 3's DLC that I've played through, and it's a rather different offering than the four other add-ons. Whereas the previous additions were Quests with new enemies, items, and Perks available as soon as the player leaves Vault 101, Fallout 3: Broken Steel continues the game's main Quest line. This means that in order to experience the new Quests you have to finish "Take it Back" first. Of course, anyone who's completed Fallout 3 knows that once you complete the main Quest line, you kind of die, making a continuation rather tricky.

For those players who begin Fallout 3: Broken Steel with an existing save, your character will wake up in the Citadel recovering from severe radiation poisoning two weeks after the Brotherhood of Steel took Project Purity back from the Enclave. In a nutshell, you survived somehow. For those players who install the DLC and then play through the game, you can still sacrifice your character in "Take it Back" and have the game continue into the DLC rather unbelievably, or you can actually send certain Followers, like Fawkes or RL-3 who're immune to radiation, in to activate the Purifier. If you take this route, both yourself and Sentinel Lyons are knocked unconscious in a resulting explosion, and this path makes much more sense when you awaken two weeks later.

Though dealt a serious blow with the loss of Eden, Autumn, and the Purifier, the Enclave is far from defeated and the Brotherhood of Steel could use your aid once again to go on the offensive, and yes, Liberty Prime is back to kick butt giant robot style! Since you're once again alive in this free roaming world, you can help the Brotherhood take the fight to the Enclave remnants scattered across the Wasteland or you can strike out to keep working on other side Quests you didn't finish.

Fallout 3: Broken Steel adds three new main Quests and three new side Quests, and while the main Quests are all focused on ending the Enclave's reign once and for all (and these Quests take place in both familiar and new locations), the side quests all revolve around Project Purity and the sudden availability of clean water for all. Well, it would be for all if the shipments the Brotherhood are sending out were actually getting to their destinations. In addition to the normal Trade Caravans that you're familiar with, the Brotherhood is sending Water Caravans out to the settlements of the wastes, and not only is it a logistical challenge, but of course things are going wrong with the shipments. That's where you come in as you get to participate in three non-linked side Quests, all of which are interesting but rather simple and predictable.

In terms of the quality of the Quests, both main and side, they're alright but nothing that I was overly impressed with. The first of the main Quests was definitely my favourite and the large battle in the finale is rather cool, but overall the new Quests featured in Fallout 3: Broken Steel feel more like Bethesda's trying to force the story further when it simply isn't required. Sure, it opens the game up so it no longer "finishes" and there's new high level weapons and enemies to use and fight respectively (many of which are quite well done), but it honestly felt like more of the same and I really had to grind through the last few Quests.

One gripe players had with Fallout 3 was the Level cap at 20, which many gamers hit before they were even finished the core game. This took away from further reward and character building later on, and Fallout 3: Broken Steel addresses this by raising the Level cap to 30 and adding a host of new perks to boot. The great part is the Level cap is raised right from the get-go, you don't actually have to start the new Quests to gain access. In fact, with the character I used, who started the main Quest and all the DLC from scratch, he had already reached Level 30 by the time the "Broken Steel" Quests began.

While this sounds good in theory, Bethesda didn't seem to pay much attention in balancing to the new Level cap. By the time you hit Level 30, you will have maxed out nearly every S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Stat and Skill, meaning you can do pretty much anything. You're so powerful, in fact, that new and supposedly imposing enemies, like the Super Mutant Overlord or the dreaded Feral Ghoul Reaver are push-overs. Granted, these enemies begin appearing as you're reaching Level 20 and are hard then, but it doesn't take too long to go from 20 to 30 and with powerful new weapons like the Tri-Beam Laser Rile or the Heavy Incinerator, they're a cakewalk. So much for careful character building and Skill specialization.

Regrettably, Fallout 3: Broken Steel introduces a host of new bugs as well. I encountered my first Enclave Soldier in a random encounter in the Wastes around Level 6 or 8, and this was before I had advanced the main Quest to the point where the Enclave were supposed to start appearing. Three Dog also started talking about how Project Purity was liberated and that clean water was flowing for all even before I had advanced the story far enough to reveal that Project Purity existed. I also noticed a sharp increase in texture flickering game-wide after installing the DLC and by the time I was wrapping up the last of Fallout 3: Broken Steel's Quests, I was having some rather unpleasant frame rate drops in random areas. Sloppy.

I can't complain about playtime, however, and fully exploring all of what Fallout 3: Broken Steel has to offer took me about 11 hours, which is solid. That's about a grand total of 186 hours I've spent in the Capital Wasteland and beyond spread between three characters, so I do need to thank Bethesda for putting together such an immersive and detailed world to explore. Having said that, however, I personally didn't find Fallout 3: Broken Steel to be anything invigorating, and the unbalanced raising of the Level cap actually hurts the game by allowing the player to experience pretty much every Skill no matter how they play.

If you are looking to continue your character or simply looking for more Fallout 3 to tide you over until Fallout: New Vegas launches, you can certainly give Fallout 3: Broken Steel a whirl, but there are more innovative DLC add-ons available for the game that will leave a much more positive impression with you. Really, when it comes down to it, Fallout 3: Broken Steel is simply more of the same, and I can't help but wonder if it would have been more polished had it been included in the retail package and original development cycle instead of being released as an add-on about half a year after launch.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Original Xbox 360 Wirless Controller and Rechargable Battery Pack Sold

For about a year now, I've noticed that the Right Stick on my Xbox 360 Wireless Controller would no longer centre properly, and when left at rest it would actually be drifting slightly to the top left. As you can imagine, this has made precision aiming a tad difficult, so I've finally decided to sell the old girl.

This is the Controller that came with my original console in December 2006, and I sold it today to EB Games for $20.00. That's actually a good bit more than I expected, so I'm quite happy.

I also sold my first Rechargeable Battery Pack, purchased in January 2007, for $2.25. Considering it only lasts about 5 hours at best and I replaced it and haven't touched it for well over a year, I'm content.

For now, I'll use my Xbox 360 Controller (wired), and this long weekend coming, I'll pick up the Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller.

Gears of War 3 Delayed

Epic Games' upcoming Xbox 360 exclusive third person shooter, Gears of War 3, has been delayed from its Spring 2011 release to Fall 2011.

The reason? Purely business. It looks like Epic Games and Microsoft Game Studios want Gears of War 3 to be the killer app for next year's holidays, and that's why it's being pushed.

That's somewhat disappointing, but not the end of the world. Hopefully Epic Games uses the time productively to refine the game's content, specifically its network code.

I'm looking at you, Gears of War 2!

You can read the official announcement right here.