Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mass Effect 2: Firewalker Pack Announced

Coming to the Cerberus Network at the end of March, the Firewalker Pack will feature 5 all new missions and best of all, a fully drivable hover vehicle, the Hammerhead! So long as it doesn't handle like the Mako, this is all good.

A new Heavy Weapon will also be made available via the Cerberus Network shortly, and BioWare will release more details soon.

Seriously kids, Mass Effect 2 and the Cerberus Network are doing DLC right.

BioShock 2 DLC Announced

DLC is a hot commodity on today's market, so it's no surprise that 2K Games will be releasing some for BioShock 2. Several packages are planned encompassing both Multiplayer and Single Player, however the first will feature Multiplayer-only content.

Coming this March to all platforms, the Sinclair Solutions Tester Pack will raise the level cap, feature new trials, upgrades, playable characters, and more. The price point is 400 Microsoft Points or $4.99 (US) via the PlayStation Network.

Details and a few screenshots can be found at The Cult of Rapture here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Halo: Legends Two-Disc Special Edition (DVD) Review

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know what Halo is. Since the original launch of Halo: Combat Evolved on the Xbox in 2001, the franchise has been breaking and setting all kinds of records, and its excellent gameplay, engaging sci-fi story, and phenomenal soundtrack have attracted a legion of fans always looking for more.

Like any franchise this large, it simply can't be contained to its original medium, and so we have Halo novels (got them all!), action figures (got one of these too!), and even pajamas (um, no comment), but this Tuesday, Halo will go to previously uncharted territory that has fans all abuzz: Halo: Legends will launch on Tues. Feb. 16, 2010. So for the two of you who don't know, what exactly is Halo: Legends? It's a collection of several short films set within the Halo universe, each created by a premiere Japanese anime studio. Each episode is done in either traditional anime or CG, and all but one are canon to Halo lore.

Make no mistake that this crossing into another video medium is an important move for Microsoft's juggernaut, but when all is said and done, is it just a quick cash-in or can it deliver? Well, you're talking to the right guy, or, well, reading the right guy's review. Why? Because I love Halo, and I've absorbed every bit of juicy Halo goodness faster than the Flood takes over a city. I'm also a cynical bastard, very quick to call out something's flaws plainly, bluntly, and brutally, even if that something is that which I love and hold dear. I also hate anime with a passion. It's creepy and features far too many innocent looking school girls with big eyes, so when I first heard about Halo: Legends, you can imagine my negative reaction. Now that I've actually sat down and watched it in its entirety a couple of times, however, I must say with all honesty that I'm not only impressed, but that I've enjoyed this compilation.

It opens with parts one and two of "Origins," a story set after Halo 3 in which Cortana reflects upon all that she's learned, chronicling the desperate war between the Forerunner and the Flood over 100,000 years ago. Cortana details the tragedy of that conflict, its culmination with the creation of the Halo array, and the ultimate sacrifice the Forerunner's made for the galaxy. And yes, we actually get to see the Forerunners for the first time in all their power and glory. The second part to "Origins" details the rise and violence of humanity, and our ultimate conflict with the Covenant and the re-emergence of the Flood threat. For those new to the Halo universe or simply looking for a nice summary to put it all together, "Origins"are the episodes for you.

We next move on to one of my personal favourites, "The Duel." I'm a huge fan of the Elites, and this episode deals with what appears to be the original Arbiter and his rejection of the teachings of the Prophets. This of course leads to conflict and one of the most fascinating points of the story is that it shows us exactly how the rank of Arbiter came to be the mark of shame that it is in the Halo trilogy. "The Duel" is a tale very heavily inspired by traditional Japanese story telling, and its visual style is quite unique, designed to look like a moving painting. It's also worth mentioning that this is the first time we've ever gotten to see the Sangheili home world.

Next up is "Homecoming," which follows the reflections of Daisey-023 (Gah, innocent looking school girl with big eyes!) during a pitched battle, as she remembers the darker history of the Spartan-II program. For those unaware, each of the 75 Spartan-II candidates were children abducted by the UNSC and forcefully conscripted, yet as several young escaping Spartan-II's discover, there's a good reason why their parents never asked any questions about where their children's whereabouts.

Halo: Legends then takes a pause from the more serious canonical stories and shows us "Odd One Out," where Spartan-1337 takes on a new Covenant bio-weapon, with a little help from some new friends. "Odd One Out" is so off the wall, so ridiculously silly, and pokes fun at the franchise in just the right way that you have to laugh, and love it for the parody that it is. Definitely a crowd pleasure with its awesome heroism.

We then come to a very interesting tie-in episode entitled "Prototype," which details the salvation of a solider known only by his callsign, Ghost, and a new prototype UNSC weapon. Already read "Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian" from Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe? Well, watch "Prototype" to know what the experimental weapon was. Kind of gives me Voltron flashbacks from when I was a kid.

The second last episode, "The Babysitter," would have to be my least favourite. A squad of four ODSTs under the command of a Spartan-II are sent to assassinate a Covenant Prophet, and this episode is designed to show fans of the games who have not read the novels a glimpse at the true rivalry and feelings between both UNSC special forces branches. However the main ODST character, O'Brien, is a whiny crybaby who just needs to shut up and get a hair cut. I couldn't stand him and if he's the best humanity has to offer in this war, it's no wonder we're getting our asses kicked. The episode turns this darker, brooding rivalry so well depicted in the novels into a grade school playground whine-fest that it actually hurts to watch. So much potential depth lost to juvenile behaviour. At least we get to see Dutch of Halo 3: ODST fame.

Lastly, we finish off with "The Package," a CG animated short featuring many of the Spartan-II's we've read about in the novels, and also another very important character to the Halo universe. In this episode, the Covenant have captured a valuable UNSC asset, and the Master Chief and Blue Team are sent on a retrieval operation. Featuring action-packed space battles, inner ship combat, and sword duals, "The Package" is a wild ride and visual treat, and without a doubt the gem of the collection. The lethal efficiency of the Spartan-II's is well demonstrated in this episode, but they're also not invincible. Excellent production values, and the space battles has a very Star Wars feel to it.

Underlying ever episode is the phenomenal Halo:Legends Original Soundtrack, featuring wonderful tracks from the entire franchise performed by a full German orchestra as well as unique pieces composed specifically for this compilation, this is the Halo soundtrack like you've never heard it before, rich in both presence and emotion. This powerful performance alone helps to underscore every aspect of each episode, and even elevates and carries some of the weaker episodes when they would have otherwise faltered utterly.

Halo: Legends will be available in three flavours: Blu-ray Disc, featuring hours upon hours of bonus content not featured in any other version. There's a Two-Disc Special Edition DVD which I own and who's second disc features a "Making of" Documentary as well as an overview of the Halo universe up until the end of the Halo trilogy, all of which are excellent compliments to this fine collection and really help to take you through the creation process and laying out what the teams created for your viewing pleasure. Lastly, there's a Single Disc DVD edition featuring simply the Halo: Legends episodes with their respective commentaries. The core material itself runs for 119 minutes.

So which version is right for you? Well if you have a proper HD set up then the Blu-ray Disc version is the obvious choice. If not and you still want to delve deeper into the fiction and love additional documentaries like me, the Two-Disc Special Edition is your version of choice, and if you simply want two hours of animated Halo goodness, you'll do just fine and save some cash with the Single Disc edition. Keep in mind however that the DVD versions come in those annoying and flimsy new environmental DVD cases that can break easily, so be careful when handling. Halo: Legends will also be available On Demand for those looking to avoid the physical medium entirely, though which services aside from Xbox LIVE Marketplace will carry the collection and what their pricing structure will be I don't presently know, so do your research first.

So is Halo: Legends worth your investment? For the hardcore Halo fan, yes, it most certainly will be. I can't tell you how exciting it was to simply see the Halo universe come alive in rich new ways, it's a wonderful new addition to the expanded fiction and Halo lore, and there really is something here, a different kind of story for everyone. Some of the suggested retail prices are a little steep, but careful research shows that many retailers will carry Halo: Legends at greatly reduced prices on launch day and a little after, so buy this one while it's hot!

Halo: Legends Advanced Screening

On Tues. Feb. 16th, the next legendary entry into the iconic Halo franchise is set to launch to eager fans, only this time it's not a game that we're all waiting for. No, you see this Tuesday marks the launch of Halo: Legends, the franchise's first foray into the realm of anime and the home video market proper. The compilation effort of 343 Studios as well as several Japanese anime studios, Halo: Legends is a collection of several shorts set within the Halo universe, expanding on the lore that has captured the imagination of millions the globe over.

On Thurs. Feb. 11th, a few dozen lucky fans, including yours truly, was privileged to attend Warner Home Video's and Xbox Canada's advanced screening. Held at the Hazelton Hotel in downtown Toronto, guests were immediately taken down an elevator (requiring security card access to reach, no less) to await the screening. We were greeted by a promotional poster of Halo: Legends, as well as the Master Chief statue used during the promotion of Halo 2 (which I always wanted for my living room!). Off to one side was a gaming station set up with an Xbox 360 and Halo 3: ODST, and on the other side the same setup featuring Halo 3.

The atmosphere was light as we all mingled, enjoying the free mini-burgers, beer, and other tasty culinary assortments, playing some games in anticipation of the evening's events. Friends who've met at past community events renewed their acquaintance, exchanging thoughts on life, Halo, and any other number of odds an ends. At roughly 8:00 pm, the show was set to start and we were shown into "Mom and Dad's basement," as one promo rep called it. The screening area blew me away, with a very large screen projecting the Blu-ray Disc version of Halo: Legends in full 1080p and surround sound glory. Now normally at these community events we all walk around and mingle for the duration, but having just gotten that out of our systems I must say it was a pleasant change of pace to sit back in such a comfortable seat, enjoy as much white chocolate popcorn as we could shovel, and watch that which we have never seen before: The Halo franchise on the big screen.

Needless to say, it was epic, showing the vastness, care, and scope that these studios poured into their work. The soundtrack, the Halo score we've come to know and love sounded simply breathtaking in surround sound, having been remastered and performed by a full orchestra for this compilation. Without question this was some of the best two hours I've spent in a "theatre" in years, watching these characters that I know and love fully animated and alive.

Containing eight episodes, half of which were already previewed via Halo Waypoint, it was quite the experience to view the complete package in its entirety, and crowd response was definitely the highest for the episode entitled "Odd One Out" and the exploits of Spartan-1337. "The Package," already seen via Waypoint, seemed to come in as the second favourite of the collection with its wonderful CG animation and action-packed firefights. The only problem with watching something this engrossing is how fast the evening flew by.

Of course, it wouldn't be a community event without a nod to the great Xbox Canada Community that these events are held for, and Warner Home Video and Xbox Canada once again paid tribute with a quick prize raffle in which one lucky guest won a framed piece of Halo 3: ODST concept art. Very slick, and yet another fan was able to take home the Halo: Legends poster from the entry way ('cause you never know if you don't ask!).

Each guest also received a wonderful press kit featuring:

- a copy of Halo: Legends (your choice for the Blu-ray Disc or Two-Disc Special Edition DVD)
- a copy of the Halo: Legends - Original Soundtrack
- 2 x Halo 3: ODST Vancouver Boot Camp T-shirts (one was S, the other XL)
- 1 x Halo 3: ODST button
- 1 x Halo 3: ODST lanyard- 2 x Halo 3: ODST stickers

Needless to say, this was one awesome grab bag, and a big thank you to Warner Home Video and Xbox Canada not only for the loot, but also for holding and continuing to hold these great events that not only let us experience these great mediums in ways we normally couldn't, but that also bring the community closer together, letting us place faces to the Gamertags!

Look for a full review of Halo: Legends - Two-Disc DVD Special Edition soon.

Dead or Alive: Paradise Trailer = Breast Physics 2.0

As we all know, developing today's triple A video games is a daunting task requiring the best design, the best engine, and the best "under the hood" elements, like physics, and it looks like Team Ninja has come through with a new breakthrough that will surely give Havok a run for it's money.

Behold, Breast Physics 2.0!

Seriously though, Dead or Alive: Paradise? I just cracked myself up with this like I do every time I see the franchise.

Thanks, ActionTrip.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Halo: Reach Media Updates

At X10, a plethora of new info has been released regarding one of the year's most anticipated titles, Halo: Reach.

First up the multiplayer beta we've all been waiting for will kick off on May 3rd. In order to gain access, you'll need an Xbox LIVE Gold membership and a copy of Halo 3: ODST, as the beta will be accessed via this expansi... er, game's... main menu.

Next up, the official box art for Halo: Reach has been revealed (pictured left).

But wait, there's more! The first ViDoc has also been set loose. Entitled "Once More Unto the Breach," the ViDoc showcases some really nice looking alpha-build gameplay. You can view it here, below, or download it via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace right here.

Finally, some very tasty screenshots can be drooled over on the official site here.

Fable III ViDoc "Episode 1 - X10" and Screenshots

At this year's X10, Lionhead Studios has released new details about their upcoming Xbox 360 exclusive RPG, Fable III. You can find the game's first ViDoc entitled "Episode 1 - X10" here or below.

Once you're done watching that, you can check out the first six screenshots on the offiical page right here.

Aliens vs Predator Gameplay Videos

Time to catch up on the several videos recently released for Aliens vs Predator, which launches this Tuesday.

First up, here's some Campaign gameplay for the Alien.

Not bad. Next up, here's a slew of Multiplayer based videos, showcasing various game modes.

Though I'm a huge fan of the franchise, I'm still not sold on this title at full retail value. I'll wait to see some more reviews before I drop my cash on it. Not really interested in multiplayer at all, only single player. If they really do capture the spirit of the original games as well as the films, then I'll be all over this.

Two New Mass Effect 2 Items Now Available

This past Tuesday, two additional items for Mass Effect 2 where released: Cerberus Assault Armour detailed here, as well as the M-22a Eviscerator Shotgun.

Both are free to those with access to the Cerberus Network, so go and download them now if you haven't already.

Glad to see some Cerberus Armour added, as I always found it odd that Cerberus had a shiny new set of Alliance N7 armour waiting for Shepard.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mass Effect 2: Normandy Crash Pack (Xbox 360) Review

It's very rare that I end up reviewing a game add-on prior to the game itself, but such is the case with Mass Effect 2's "Normandy Crash Pack." Released for free on launch day via the Cerberus Network (well, free for anyone who purchases a new copy of Mass Effect 2), the "Normandy Crash Pack" is a very short side mission which sees Shepard discover and return to the location of the ruined SSV Normandy SR-1.

Accessible as soon as you're able to explore the Galaxy, you receive a message on your private terminal from good old Admiral Hackett who knows you're alive somehow, and who asks you to place a monument at the crash site and to retrieve the dog tags of the 20 crew members who went down with the ship. Simply select the corresponding Cluster in your Galaxy Map, head on over, scan the world, and land to begin your investigation.

There is absolutely no combat in the Normandy Crash Pack what-so-ever. The ground team consists of Shepard alone, and for those of us who played through the original game, well, this DLC will mean the most to you. Through multiple playthroughs, I spent roughly 120 hours with the first Normandy and to watch it go boom in the opening of the sequel is sad to say the least. And now, well now Shepard gets to explore the resting place of his first command.

The music is sombre, the tone muted, and when you approach a recognizable piece of the ruin, an image will flash of what it originally looked like or of the crew member who used to man that station. You'll see some old faces, some old places, and one of the worst video game vehicles ever designed, the Mako. But it's ruined, the piece of junk, which brought a single tear to my eye. May whoever designed it be banned from video game vehicle design forever more.

Almost immediately you'll find the spot to place the monument, then you just need to walk around and find the 20 dog tags, which aren't too difficult to locate as you'll see them in advance since they are marked by little balls of light. You'll also come across some Refined Element Zero as well as two other unique items, one being a little trophy for your Captain's Quarters.

Overall, "Normandy Crash Pack" will take you about 10 to 15 minutes or so to go through, which is all the time you'll need to experience what the DLC is meant to offer: A reflection of what came before, and for a story-driven RPG, content like this at the price point that it's at, is an excellent little addition to an otherwise epic experience.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Aliens vs Predator Marine Gameplay Trailer

In only a few weeks, Aliens vs Predator will be released, and SEGA has given us a trailer showcasing Marine gameplay to tide us over. Stuck in an infested club (which explains the music), this marine must hold out against deadly aliens while awaiting evac.

I haven't bothered with the recently released Multiplayer demo simply because I'm interested in the Campaign and the story elements, being a big fan of the franchise. I've been hearing mixed about the game thus far though, so I'm waiting to see more before I decide to buy or not.

Xbox LIVE Support for Original Xbox to End

In 2002, Xbox LIVE first launched on the original Xbox console and since then, it's become one of the most successful online gaming networks in history. This past week, Microsoft has announced that as of April 15th, 2010, support for Xbox LIVE on the original Xbox will be coming to a close.

This means that should you own an original Xbox, it will no longer be able to connect to the service and should you be playing an original Xbox game in your Xbox 360, it likewise will not be able to connect to Xbox LIVE.

Single Player, system link, and split screen games are all unaffected.

Personally, I never played an original Xbox game over Xbox LIVE, however I did download some additional game add-ons before they were know by that bastard term, DLC. Even though this change really doesn't affect me, I must admit it makes me kind of sad as an era of sorts is ending.

On April 14th, it would be a good idea to pop in all your original Xbox games with Xbox LIVE functionality to make sure they've got the latest Title Updates, since this'll be your last chance to do so.

Full details, including what will happen if you only game on an original Xbox console, can be found in this forum post here.

Fallout: New Vegas Teaser Trailer

Coming later in 2010, Bethesda Softworks has released the teaser trailer for Fallout: New Vegas, the next installment in the legendary franchise.

You can watch the trailer on the official site here or below.

BioShock 2 Launch Trailer

On Tuesday, BioShock 2 will be released everywhere, and 2K Games has released the game's launch trailer.

Though the trailer is CG, it's the best media for BioShock 2 that I've seen to date. Very impressive, though I'm still not sold on the game and it's ability to capture the spirit of its predecessor. I'm taking a wait-and-see approach with this one.