Saturday, January 29, 2011
Earlier this week, Sony unveiled their Next Generation Portable, or NGP as it's presently being codenamed.
The successor of the PlayStation Portable, the NGP will feature a multi-touch display, multi-touch functionality on the rear casing, dual analogue sticks (finally!), and it will be able to play PSP titles and other content from the PlayStation Store.
Regrettably, it doesn't appear that it'll be able to play PlayStation Portable games on UMD (unless some kind of transfer option is made available), so current PSP owners won't want to dump their current portable console just yet.
You can check out the full specs here, and NGP will be launching late 2011.
The production values were pretty good, and I was impressed with the quality of the props and how well the film makers stuck to the Fallout style of humour.
Make sure to watch past the credits!
Sunday, January 23, 2011
When I was 8 years old, I got to watch Aliens at my uncle's place, and I was hooked. Sci-Fi Marines, large alien bugs that bleed acid, and a tough-as-nails female lead in Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver); it blew my fragile little mind. About a year later I got to see Predator at a friend's place, and watching a group of tough American commandos lead by Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) hunted down one by one by an advanced alien hunter, well, it also rocked my world. Flash forward a few years later when the two franchises were merged together and I was in adolescent heaven.
While the first two Alien films are critically acclaimed and Predator is certainly regarded as an exceptional '80's B-flick, the rest of the franchise, either separately or together, has seen mixed success. Originally Aliens vs. Predator was the domain of comics, novels, action figures, and video games, and while the games appeared as retro-90's action sidescrollers, it wasn't until British developer Rebellion took the reins that Aliens vs. Predator became a first person shooter. Released in 1994, interestingly enough on a console, the game proved to be a killer app for the Atari Jaguar. The game allowed players to experience different single player experiences as a Colonial Marine, a Predator, and an Alien, each featuring unique styles of play.
In 1999, Rebellion once again developed Aliens versus Predator, this time for the PC, and it became an instant hit. Providing drastically different gameplay experiences, the Marine used conventional firearms and relied on his Motion Tracker and Night Vision Goggles to navigate his Campaign's environments. The Predator could Cloak and had a host of weapons to dispatch prey and collect trophies while using enhanced vision modes to stalk his targets. Most exciting of all though was the Alien, who had simple claw and tail attacks along withe a head bite to replenish health, but most unique of all was the Alien's ability to quickly and easily race along any surface: floors, walls, or ceilings, and she could see her prey via pheromone "outlines" around the targets, permitting sight through walls and other solid objects.
Lite on story, the game featured key areas from the films released to that point, and even some locations yet to come (this game was the first time I recall seeing Alien-themed temples, a concept used extensively in 2004's feature film, Alien vs. Predator), and it really allowed players to experience being the different species.
After an excellent sequel which really provided a solid story-based Campaign experience (developed by Monolith) and a not-so-excellent expansion to that sequel (developed by Third Law Entertainment), Rebellion has once again taken the reins and brought Aliens vs Predator both to the PC and back to console's on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Released in February 2010, I was knee deep in Mass Effect 2 at the time, and coupled with poor to average reviews siting a lackluster Campaign experience I decided to give the game a pass. This past November, however, I found the Xbox 360 version at Walmart for $19.99, and at that cost I decided to head bite and add it to my gaming backlog.
Taking a nod from the storytelling strength of Monolith's Aliens versus Predator 2, Aliens vs Predator features three Campaigns with interconnected stories, so events that occur in the Marine Campaign, for example, you'll see occur or hear referenced in the Predator Campaign and so on. The game's primary story takes place on the planet BG 386 and the Weyland-Yutani Corporation's Freya's Prospect colony.
As a Marine, you play as the Rookie, a solider who's part of the crew of the USS Marlow sent to investigate a distress signal from the colony. The game opens with your Dropship heading towards the planet when a large Predator vessel appears and destroys the Marlow, stranding you and any other survivors on the Alien infested colony. Through a quick series of events you're separated from the rest of your squad and you begin the game by trying to link up with them. A first person shooter with some survival horror elements, the Marine Campaign is literally dark, and you have a Flashlight on all your weapons to help illuminate the way. You can also toss a single Flare at a time to add some much brighter area-specific light to any environment. Of course, you'll want to keep tabs on your Motion Tracker, as it'll alert you to hostiles far better than your Mk 1 eyeball will.
The Marine, as is tradition, plays the most like a typical first person shooter character. You have a variety of weapons at your disposal, ranging from the basic Pistol (which has infinite ammo) to the Pulse Rifle, Shotgun, Flamethrower, Sniper Rifle, and Smart Gun. You can only carry three weapons at a time however, which always includes the Pistol, though the Smart Gun takes up two slots and prevents you from running.
And running is important, even in the middle of a fight as you're quite fragile as a simple human. You have three Health bars, which deplete with damage taken, however if a bar is not completely drained and you can avoid damage for half a minute, it'll regenerate. This provides an interesting take on health damage and regenerating health, and also allows you to better ration your Stims. You can carry three Stims at a time, and using one will completely replenish your Health. You can use Stims mid-combat, but keep in mind you can't run for a second while doing so.
Like other survival horror games, you also have an adviser who keeps tabs on you and provides you with your objectives. At first this is another squad mate, Tequila, and switches to another character a little later on. While the storytelling isn't the strongest, I confess I did get attached to Tequila by the Campaign's end, so credit to Rebellion there. Audio Logs from colonists, scientists, and soldiers are also scattered all throughout the levels, and collecting them helps to fill in some of the game's backstory.
Next up we have the Alien Campaign. Chronologically this one starts first, and you play as Number 6, a specially bred Drone by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation who, naturally, escapes captivity and violently frees other captured Aliens to begin Freya's Prospect's infestation.
Originally I was concerned about bringing the complicated Alien control scheme to a console Controller, but I confess Rebellion did a great job with it and after several minutes of practice, quickly navigating the environments and moving along walls and ceilings became second nature.
The Alien is _fast_, there's no better way to put. Clicking the Left Stick and moving initiates Running just like the other species, but the Alien just rockets back and forth. Holding the Right Trigger allows you to maneuver along almost any surface, and holding the Left Trigger allows you to Focus on an object or target to quickly jump there or pounce on them.
Possessing a claw attack and stronger tail attack, the Alien can quickly take down individual targets but groups of enemies will pose a problem, so the player must rely on stealth. Smashing lights and hiding in darkness will make the Alien almost invisible to human eyes, and you can also Hiss to lure prey closer to you (or to split up groups if that's your goal). The Alien's health also regenerates after a little, and you can increase this regeneration quickly by Head Biting enemy corpses.
What really astounded me with the Alien, however, was the Executions and Stealth Kills that you can do. Sneak up behind an enemy and you can press "X" to do a Stealth Kill, which will quietly kill any human enemy. Do enough damage in regular combat to an opponent and you'll also be able to press "X" to do an Execution which, as the name implies, allows you to viciously tear your opponent apart in a variety of pre-scripted ways. Honestly, the extent of the violence present in these kinds of kills surprised and shocked me at first as they're exceptionally gory and oft outright sadistic, and you can tell Rebellion had a lot of fun putting these into the game.
Human Civilians, on the other hand, you can Harvest. Press "X" when near them, and you'll grab them and force them onto the ground, roughly exposing their face so a conveniently appearing Facehugger can pounce right on them. Harvest every Civilan in the Campaign and you'll even unlock an Achievement!
While the Alien can't collect random Audio Diaries, there are dozens of containers of Royal Jelly scattered around the environments. Smashing them constitutes the Alien's collectibles.
Last up is the Predator Campaign, which begins with you proving yourself to become an Elite. The tutorial teaches you how to perform quick and strong attacks and to use your Plasma Caster, and also introduces you to the Predator's own Executions, which are nearly as sadistic as the Alien's. Once you complete the tutorial you and several other Elites head to BG-386 to discover the fates of several lost Young Bloods, and you ultimately end up hunting alone trying to deny the human's access to Predator technology and attempting to eradicate a newly spawned PredAlien.
Aliens vs Predator presents the best gameplay representation of the Predator to date. Not only do you finally get to use the Spear as a proper throwing Spear for the first time, but you can also jump amongst your environment just like the Predators can in the films. Hold Left Trigger to enter Focus Mode and you'll see jump points scattered across the area. If you're close enough, press "A" and you'll do a mighty leap. This allows you to quickly maneuver your environments and stalk your prey.
Initially you have access to your Wrist Blades, Plasma Caster, and Heat Vision mode, and later on you'll get Mines, the Disc, Spear, and a vision mode that allows you to clearly see Aliens (now all green-ish like the films). You can Cloak indefinitely, and you have Health with limited regeneration just like the Marine which you can restore with Shards. You have a limited supply of Energy that fuels your Plasma Caster and Mines and to replenish your Energy, you need to siphon power from human power sources scattered about the levels.
Somewhat similar to the Alien, you can Distract enemy humans with voice mimicking. Press "X" and select a Marine and then press "X" again while looking at the spot you want them to go. The Predator will then mimic a human voice, throwing it in that direction, and the Marine will go to investigate. While a bit cheesy and repetitive after a while, it works well to separate groups and to allow you opportunities for Stealth Kills.
For the Predator's collectibles, you'll find Trophy Belts scattered about the levels. These are actually the easiest collectibles of all to locate as entering Focus Mode shows their location in the entire area, even a good distance away.
One thing that I did not like, however, was that all three species rely on a clunky block-and-counter combat mechanic. At different points in a game, you'll be prompted to hold Left Bumper and Right Bumper to block a fast attack, or to press Right Bumper to Melee to counter a strong attack. Doing so properly leaves an enemy vulnerable allowing you to counter or get some breathing room, but I honestly found it only worked some of the time. The hit-and-miss nature of this mechanic made it rather unreliable; especially as the Marine who is deathly vulnerable to acid damage (close-in melee counters with Aliens killed me many times), not to mention a Marine meleeing an Alien really seems out of place for the franchise.
As I recall, the Alien's Campaign is a level shorter, and overall each level took me about an hour to complete. This included time exploring and patiently pulling off lots of stealth kills, so the entire experience on Normal difficulty for all three species took me about 15 to 20 hours. While each Campaign's experience is different, as the three species play very differently from one another, the majority of the levels traversed are very much the same each time around. You'll encounter the same colony, same ruins, and same mine in each Campaign, and while yes, you'll be able to navigate them differently and do different things in them, it is the same environments which is a little disappointing and adds a feeling of repetitiveness to the level design.
You also are unable to Quick Save in the game, and instead must reply upon Checkpoints to get you through. Check Points are auto-saved, however you can long save one in case you want to have multiple Campaigns in play. This feature is handy given how console titles work today, but was actually a bit confusing at first as it appeared that you _could_ save you current game progress when in reality, it was just the Checkpoint. Any collectibles you find are perma-found for your game, however, regardless of saving or death.
Visually the game looks nice, with great use of lighting (or the lack of it) and detailed environments present. Character models usually looked good, though some human models did look low quality on close-up, though this wasn't consistent. Weyland, an important character to the story, looked exceptional in some shots, but last-gen in others. Odd.
Audio wise, the voice acting is ridiculously cheesy throughout, though Lance Henriksen delivered a solid performance as usual, and it was also good to hear William Hope's voice again (Gorman in Aliens, though he plays a scientist in the game). The sound effects, however, are spot on with the franchise and the music is well done, mainly re-compositions of the traditional score.
Aliens vs Predator also features a full Multiplayer mode that was reasonably well praised, featuring a host of game types such as Deathmatch, Species Deathmatch, Survivor, etc., however less than a year after launch I found it very difficult to get a game going. Simply put, there doesn't seem to be a large player pool available via Xbox LIVE, and my Multiplayer exposure to the game is very slim.
After waiting in a lobby for about 10 minutes looking for a Quick Match, nothing was found. I then fired up a Single Player match of Survivor, which allowed me to play as a Marine attempting to survive waves of Aliens, and then finally after another several minutes I was able to get a match of Deathmatch going, but it was just me and another player.
No where in the manual or in-game does it mention how to switch your species in Multiplayer though, so I was stuck as a Marine and my opponent was a Predator. Considering a match can support a max of 4 Marines, 4 Aliens, or 2 Predators, you can imagine how a Marine vs. Predator match went. Yes, I fared very, very poorly and didn't have a chance what-so-ever. I personally don't mind loosing, but that was ridiculous and not fun at all.
In the end, Aliens vs Predator offers three diverse Campaign experiences with a solid length, though repetitive level design and some questionable gameplay mechanics hold it back. The Campaign's story is better told than anything Rebellion's done in the franchise before, but they have yet to reach the level of cohesion present in Monolith's efforts. Still, it's progress.
Like the rest of the franchise across any medium, Aliens vs Predator is really a fun B-title. Particularly now that it seems to have a dead Multiplayer community, I could never recommend the title at full retail cost, but as the bargain bin title I found it for I've gotten my money's worth and completely enjoyed myself. As a fan of the franchise, I really got to experience stepping into the shoes of these silver screen icons, and Rebellion did an excellent job of representing the unique appeal of each species.
While many of you may have heard about this already, I hadn't until seeing this blog post on Bungie.net. Pixel Force Halo is the work of one Eric Ruth, and it's a "demake" of Halo: Combat Evolved into a Nintendo Entertainment System Rom. Released as a free download for the PC, Pixel Force Halo sees the Master Chief take on the Covenant on Installation 04 (Halo) in 8-bit glory with all the platforming, side-scrolling, and cheesy boss battles you'd expect from a NES inspired title.
Eric, who was the sole person to work on the title, kept both design and control true to how a Nintendo game played back in the '80's. To control the Master Chief, you use "W,A,S,D" to move left and right and to look up and down, "H" fires your gun, "U" jumps, and "Space" throws Frag Grenades. Personally, I would have liked to remap firing, jumping, and throwing Grenades to different keys, but after a little tinkering, you get used to it.
Just like Halo: Combat Evolved, there are 10 Missions to play through, each preceded by a text briefing from Cortana. The Chapter "Two Betrayals" is missing from Pixel Force Halo, however, and "The Truth and Reconciliation" is split into two Missions (approaching the ship is one and rescuing Captain Keyes is another). The story, however, follows exactly what you remember from Halo: Combat Evolved, save that there's no cinematics or dialogue as this is a NES emulated title. Actually, true to retro-gaming, you can't even save your game progress at any point, though you can Pause by pressing "Enter."
Each Mission is broken down into sections, so if you die, you start your section over and not the entire Mission. You don't have any Shields in Pixel Force Halo, just several Health Bars that you can replenish with Medkits along the way. Keep in mind Boss battles are part of a section's end, so die to them and you'll need to fight your way back again. There's also only one Difficulty to start, and completing the game unlocks Legendary Difficulty for your next playthrough.
Beginning aboard the Pillar of Autumn, the Master Chief starts with an Assault Rifle and four Frag Grenades, and if you run out of ammo for any weapon you're using you're left with a slow single shot gun which I assume to be the Pistol.
Originally, you'll only be taking on Grunts who are armed with Plasma Pistols (which you can pick up by press "S" while standing over them) or stationary Plasma Mortars. The boss of the first Mission is an Elite who has a Needler and Plasma Grenades. The Needler is a great weapon that tracks enemies, and you sadly can't pick up Plasma Grenades but they are sticky and have a blast radius large enough to hit you on a platform above or below, so be careful.
In the second mission, Elites become a common enemy, and such is the case with all boss battles save for a few key exceptions; the next Mission will feature the boss as a regular foe. Banshees, Hunters (who do _not_ appear in pairs, use a Plasma Rifle, and charge a lot), Jackals (who are invincible at the front with their Energy Gauntlet and throw Plasma Grenades), Stealth Elites, Elite Zealots, Flood Combat Forms, 343 Guilt Spark, and a Proto-Gravemind all make an appearance and by the last few Missions the game was quite challenging, and honestly frustrating, just like NES game's of old. All enemies also feature simple and predictable AI routines just like games of old, and you'll need to exploit these as often as possible.
Pixel Force Halo becomes plagued with classic and cheesy platforming deaths, if you turn too quickly and fire you'll shoot in the opposite direction of what you intended, and I once even had an odd bug of a hovering, floating Elite Zealot. Being a classic-styled NES game, all enemies respawn off-screen if you go backwards or forwards, and yes, the floating Zealot came back. By the end of the game, I was sorely missing even a simple Checkpoint save system.
There is, however, some great top-down vehicle sequences. In Mission 2 and Mission 5, you get to drive a Warthog shooting and running over Grunts while dodging their Plasma Pistols and avoiding invincible Shade Turrets. The two sequences depicted are when you're searching for survivors from the Lifeboats after you first crash land on Halo and when you're making your way to the Silent Cartographer.
The last vehicle sequence sees you driving the Scorpion Main Battle Tank, which allows you to fire its machine gun, and you can also shoot Canister Shells as an alternate attack. I recall this sequence taking place on Mission 6 while making your way to Halo's Control Room, and to increase the challenge the Grunts are tougher and fire faster and Ghosts are also present who shot twin bolts of plasma.
Visually speaking, Eric did a fantastic job of bringing the Halo universe to 8-bit. Characters are clearly identifiable as their Xbox counterparts, though the models used for reference appear to be those of Halo 3 (Jackal's have their long beaks, for example). The locations are colourful and detailed for sprites, and just like character models, the locations are clearly recognizable for what they are with Human, Covenant, and Forerunner architecture clearly evident.
Audio-wise, hearing the Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack in midi was exceptional and totally had me geeking out. There's no spoken dialogue and weapon effects and explosions are naturally very simple as one would expect from a NES game. It all fits together and works wonderfully well given the scope of the title.
Pixel Force Halo doesn't take long to complete, clocking me in at about 2 to 3 hours. It offers a great retro Halo experience that truly brings the spirit of the original game back to the '80's, and as mentioned, it's a free download to all. Be warned, however, that the last few Mission's were very challenging, and you'll likely need the 3 P's of gaming to get you through them. Honestly, I would have loved to have been able to save my Mission progress so I could have taken a proper breather, but of course that wasn't possible, which added to my frustration.
From one perspective, Pixel Force Halo shows us how much games have changed, not just in terms of technology, but in terms of difficulty and accessibility. Games released today are easier, and not just due to multiple difficulty levels. They're far less challenging but more accessible to the average person, which sports both pros and cons depending on what you like for your gaming experience. Overall though, Pixel Force Halo is a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgic experience that any side-scrolling platformer fan should check out.
I'll leave you with the game's trailer, since it shows off what the title really has to offer:
For those looking to get their hands on Pixel Force Halo, you can download it for free right here. It's a self-running executable that you just need to uncompressed, with no actual installation needed. Very simply, just make sure to read the Read Me file first.
Friday, January 21, 2011
In addition to the core game, it also comes with the premium DLC "Kasumi: Stolen Memory," "Overlord," and "Lair of the Shadow Broker."
You can check out the game's launch trailer below:
Now, one interesting point is that with the lack of Mass Effect on the PlayStation 3, there's simply no way for PlayStation gamers to import a Shepard from the first game. To address the lack of this feature, the PlayStation 3 version of Mass Effect 2 features an interactive comic (in-game) that summarizes the first game and allows players to make the key choices needed to define their Shepard.
While I don't have a PlayStation 3, the interactive comic is already available for viewing online, and you can check it out below.
This comic kicks in after Shepard's "death" at the beginning of Mass Effect 2, and honestly, I'd love for it to find its way to the Xbox 360 version. For someone like me who regrettably lost the majority of his Mass Effect characters, this interactive comic would have come in very, very handy.
I still want to play a demo first, but I've been waiting for this game for longer than most of you have been gaming, so it'll be interesting to see how good (or not) it is.
To celebrate the news, the Duke Nukem Forever Reveal Trailer has also launched, which you can check out below.
Visually the game isn't cutting edge, but the humour looks spot on, and in the end gameplay is what matters.
This past Wed. Jan. 19th, the Xbox team released a small system update for the Xbox 360. Basically, it brings back the option under System Settings to specify whether you want to boot from the game disc or go to the dashboard on console start up.
I honestly didn't even know that this option had been removed, but there it is.
New looking Gamercards have also been launched on Xbox.com, and you can check out all the full details on Major Nelson's blog here.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Playing through the Predator campaign in Aliens vs. Predator reminded me that I never got around to seeing Predators, the latest film edition to the franchise. I was originally planning to rent it off the Zune Marketplace, but Best Buy was selling it cheap so I decided to use some holiday gift cards and pick up a DVD copy instead.
Like most DVD's today, the packaging is pretty basic. The case is the cheap "recycled" DVD case with the recycle logo and holes in the middle and the only thing inside is the disc itself. Honestly, with packaging like this digital distribution is certainly making a lot more sense. Of course, you're not reading this to have me bore you with descriptions of packaging wrapped in pretty pink bows, so let's get on to the movie itself.
Set in what appears to be the not-too-distant future, the film opens with Royce (Adrian Brody) awakening as he's falling from the sky. He's able to deploy a parachute to land safely enough, and quickly encounters several other survivors who arrived in the same fashion. Stranded on this jungle world, it becomes apparent that all these survivors are soldiers, mercenaries, criminals, etc.; in other words, some of the more deadlier people that Earth has to offer. All save for Edwin (Topher Grace), who's a doctor and the odd person out who runs around scared a lot.
What begins as a group of unlikely allies trying to find their way out of a jungle quickly turns into a nightmare as they realize they're not only kidnapped and stranded, but being hunted by something far more advanced than them, something that's not human.
What's fascinating is that Predators is actually based on a script Robert Rodriguez wrote back in 1994 as a sequel to Predator, only to have it rejected at that time. With the less than stellar success of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Fox decided to try and return the Predator franchise to its roots and finally green lit Rodriguez's script.
Directed by Nimrod Antal, Predators definitely alludes back to Predator on almost every level. From the cookie-cutter characters (who somewhat get cookie cut up as they're picked off one by one) to the oppressive jungle setting to the familiar sound track, it all comes together and works quite well.
The film does one better than some of its more recent predecessors by providing a little more attachment to the survivors, and while you are watching Predators to see them get butchered, I found I cared a bit more about them than the random hicks from the franchise's last cinema entry.
As the film suggests, there's more than one Predator this time around and they're actually a bit different than what we're used to. While still sporting the same weapons and tech that we've come to expect, these Predators are apparently from a different tribe that isn't exactly a big fan of the more traditional Predators we've known for the last 20 years. These new Predators are larger, have a few new toys and use more elaborate traps to hunt, and they also employ never before seen quadrupedal hunting beasts to flush out prey. They also tend to be more sadistic, and Predators has no shortage of violence or gore.
Roughly midway through the film, the survivors meet Noland (Lawrence Fishburne), who has lived and hidden on this world for several years. It's a rather interesting role for Fishburne to play, as all those years of being alone and hiding from the Predators has made him, well, rather... eccentric. Leading up to this point Predators had a good deal of suspense and action, however I personally found that after encountering Noland the film stumbled a little bit and became far too cliche and predictable, and the accelerated pacing to finish things up did not help the overall experience.
DVD's today also lack the plethora of special features they had half a decade ago. Instead of having a two disc set with a seven hour "Making Of" documentary, we're now treated to a few little featurettes crammed onto the only included disc. Included is a short doc on the locations used in the film, some motion comics, and the theatrical trailer; in other words, nothing really special outside of the film itself.
When all is said and done, I found Predators to be an enjoyable B movie. I'm glad I didn't pay to see it in theatres, but I'll certainly enjoy watching it a few times on DVD. Featuring some great violence and gore, some funny character moments, and crazy Fishburne, Predators is a solid entry into what's established itself as a great B franchise where regular levels of cheese are par for the course.
I'm a big fan of the Dead Space franchise and I love classic Smashing Pumpkins, but personally, I felt the song totally ruined that trailer; it just didn't fit.
I'm still looking forward to the game, however. It launches on Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 on January 25th.
Basically, EA had 200 moms come into their studies and each was shown footage from Dead Space 2. The theory is that if your mom disapproves of it, it has to be good. Check out the video below:
And here's a Behind the Scenes video:
There's some more reaction videos on the official site (click "Your Mom Hates This" around the middle centre).
So, my mom actually really liked Dead Space. Just saying.
Saturday, January 08, 2011
Announced just a few days ago, Runic Games' fun filled "Diablo"-esque action RPG, Torchlight, will be coming to Xbox LIVE Arcade this Spring!
I recently picked up Torchlight via Steam this past holiday, and I'm loving it to bits; it really is Diablo with some of the best elements of Diablo II thrown in, and I mean this all with the highest compliments.
For those of you lacking a PC or Mac to run the game, it's fantastic that you'll have the opportunity on your Xbox 360 this Spring.
You can check out the full announcement here, including details on how they're adapting the game to a console Controller.
The latest novel in the franchise, Halo: Cryptum, is now available at book stores everywhere.
Our friends at Tor sent along the official press release, which you can check out below:
The New York Times bestselling “Halo®” series, based on the hugely successful Halo videogames franchise for the Xbox 360, has sold millions of copies, part of a global phenomenon that has dominated the science fiction landscape over the last decade. Tor Books has proudly partnered with Microsoft and 343 Industries to publish every book set in this iconic universe, and today we are thrilled to announce the publication of the most-anticipated novel in the series yet, the first in a new trilogy from legendary Hugo and Nebula-award winning author Greg Bear:
HALO: Cryptum begins a three-book arc set in the era of the Forerunners, the ancient and enigmatic creators and builders of the Halos, and the events leading to one of the great mysteries of the Halo universe: their complete disappearance from existence. Devoted fans of the books and games will be introduced to wholly original characters and aspects of Forerunner society, culture and technology previously only hinted at in the deep annals of their history and the relics they left behind.
HALO: Cryptum is the story of a young, rebellious Manipular — yet to become a part of the adult Forerunner society. He comes from a family of Builders, who create the grand technology that facilitates Forerunner dominance over the known universe. But his obsession with artifacts old and forgotten, left behind by the Precursors — long-vanished superbeings of unknowable power and intent — begins a chain of events with vast and unpredictable consequences. This is a tale of life, death, intergalactic horror, exile, and maturity. It is a story of overwhelming change — and of human origins. For the Mantle may not lie upon the shoulders of Forerunners forever…
An icon in the science fiction community, Greg Bear has penned such critically celebrated international bestsellers as Eon and The Forge of God. His recent novel Hull Zero Three was published in November to widespread acclaim. Bear’s talent for taut narratives, intellectually rigorous themes, and realistic, appealing characters shine in this all-new series that looks into the deep history of one of science fiction’s most successful franchises.
“The great part about what Greg has just begun with HALO: Cryptum is that it opens up this amazing universe that emerged from the game industry to anyone curious about HALO,” says Tor senior editor Eric Raab. “It takes place thousands of years before the games themselves, making it a great place to enter the world. And the fact it’s a human origins story from one of the genre’s masters, makes it a substantial science fiction offering on its own.”
“Halo” has emerged from the videogame world as a global entertainment phenomenon. To date, more than 40 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. 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.
Really looking forward to getting my hands on this one!
Monday, January 03, 2011
As part of their Holiday Discount Days on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker was on sale for 200 Microsoft Points, and after having heard so many great things about this DLC, I decided to bite.
After downloading and installing the DLC, provided you load up a Commander Shepard that's already traveled to Illium, you'll get a message from Cerberus with a tip off that could lead to the location of the Shadow Broker himself, the mysterious information broker who seems to know everything about everyone. Your old squad mate, Liara, is ruthlessly looking for him, and Cerberus would like Shepard to deliver the intel to her and lend a hand.
The DLC offers a nice variety of game situations to explore. In addition to the excellent conversations that Mass Effect 2 is known for, you actually spend the first bit doing a quick investigation that leads you into conflict with the Shadow Broker's private mercenaries (who are very much like Eclipse Mercs with a different pallet swap and logo), and even a great hover car chase sequence. This last bit surprised me and was ridiculously fun, if short lived. Just to clarify, in one part of the DLC, you don't just take a cab to your next location with an automated loading screen, you get to drive it in a high speed chase sequence that was giving me some Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones flashbacks, and I actually mean that in a good way.
You'll also get to engage in two unique and exciting boss battles, the second sporting a nice piece of originality that I won't spoil here, but suffice it to say, I was impressed by the slight innovation.
Liara herself not only accompanies you throughout the DLC, she's a fully developed Squad Member. She has Warp, Singularity, her own class passive skill, and Stasis makes a return to the franchise (no need to worry about loyalty here, you've already earned hers). You can distribute her Talent Points as you see fit, and for weapons, she'll use Submachine Guns and Heavy Pistols.
Both Shepard and Liara, amongst other characters, have full voice recorded, and the witty banter between them throughout the entire DLC had me laughing out loud more than once. If you're Commander Shepard is imported from the first game and you had a relationship with Liara, you'll have the opportunity to resume that relationship and be given several more Paragon interrupt opportunities. Liara has changed though, as she's not the naive scientist you journeyed with in the original game. She's colder, harder, and darker; just like everything else in Mass Effect 2.
From what I've heard, you can resume your relationship with her at no cost to any existing relationship you have going on, though I personally didn't test this. I didn't want to take a chance on ruining things with Tali, so I took the friends route, and my next two Shepards were new characters, so the option to renew the relationship was not there. At one point, Liara actually chewed me out for "trying to get under Tali's helmet." Oh jealousy...
Visually speaking, the DLC looks slick. The sections on Illium are as beautiful as you'd expect from your experiences there with the core game; very detailed. The Shadow Broker's lair itself took me by surprise, and while I won't ruin it for you, it's spectacular. Excellent art design and a very wonderful vista combine with the gameplay style of that part of the DLC to create a very cool and unique experience.
Audio-wise, I'm not sure if that's a new musical piece or not, but it works exceptionally well at setting the tone and energy for the hunt, and I really enjoyed it. With the exception of one brief NPC, the voice acting was excellent and of the same high quality you'd expect from Mass Effect 2. It really was good to hear and converse with Liara again, and the fact that the DLC gave me this kind of an emotional response is a clear credit to the strength of BioWare's character development. I really do care about the characters from the Mass Effect universe.
Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker features a few additional upgrades for some weapons and armour, and there are also five new Achievements to earn to pad your Gamerscore. While exploring the Shadow Broker's lair, you'll come across Dossiers on various personalities from the universe, including your own crew. It'll take several minutes, but I strongly recommend you read each one. You'll find out some very interesting points about your team and beyond, and I have even more respect for Tali now, and I feel sad for Garrus.
I've actually played through the DLC three times already, one for each of my Commander Shepards. All of them have completed the Suicide Mission as well as all side Quests and other DLC, so for each playthrough I only had the new content to worry about. My first go on Normal Difficulty took me about 6 hours as I explored everywhere and looked at everything. My next was around 4 hours and this was on Veteran, and my finally playthrough was on Insanity and it surprisingly only took me about 2.5 hours. Since I already knew where everything was I was able to easily motor through stuff.
In closing, I do wish that more developers would take notes of BioWare's efforts. Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker is one of the best DLC add-ons I've ever played, period. Featuring very high production values across the board, a solid story line, and further character development with some unique gameplay moments, I can honestly recommend this content even at the full cost of 800 Microsoft Points.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
Last Spring, at least I think it was last Spring, I won a downloadable token for Call of Duty Classic. Released in 2003, Call of Duty was the only title in the franchise I've ever actually liked, and I was eager to give it a whirl on my Xbox 360 and earn some Achievements to pad my Gamerscore. At the time I was playing through some backlog though, and I didn't actually get a chance to fire it up until early Fall-ish.
What a sloppy port! Seriously, I seem to be on a theme today about writing about mediocrity, but there it is.
Being a 2003 PC first person shooter, Call of Duty Classic was intended for a keyboard and mouse, and while one expects a loss of precision when going to a Controller with such an older game, the one thing the developers didn't seem to incorporate properly into the Xbox LIVE Arcade port was proper auto-aiming. Happen to be in a tight spot and you really need to pop up quick to land that headshot? Sorry, won't happen. You'll likely hit the body, take a headshot yourself, and reloading your last checkpoint. Aiming and shooting is just significantly clunker than the several year old PC original, and it's a real shame.
What's a damn annoyance is the complete removal of the traditional quick save system, and the forced reliance on checkpoints only. One of my major griefs with console gaming today, aside from the general lack of being unable to rebind the Controller (which Call of Duty Classic suffers from as well), is a checkpoint-only save system. What does this mean? You'll be re-experiencing frustrating moments in this sloppy port again and again and again as you're forced to redo them.
Also of great annoyance is the lack of a brightness slider under the Options Menu. The game is far too dark from the get-go, and while I can certainly adjust my TV's brightness independently, was it so hard to put that basic video option in? Apparently so.
So, we have clunky aiming, a stripped down save system, and too dark of an experience. Worth the 1200 Microsoft Points? My impressions, hell no. For the $17.40 it costs, you're better off spending $19.99 (US) here and getting a version of the game that's actually good. So horribly disappointing, but come to think of it, not unexpected.
When I borrowed the Xbox 360 version of Quake 4 off a buddy, I fired up the port of Quake II, and it was pretty much the same thing, at least with precision aiming. And for a gamer like myself, such oversights make the product unplayable.
I can defeat General Raam in Gears of War on Insane difficulty, solo. I can survive the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 on Insanity difficulty. I can defeat the Covenant in Halo: Reach on Legendary difficulty, solo. So why can't I properly guide my sissy little Avatar around the obstacle courses in Doritos' latest free offering, Crash Course?
I can't believe how frustrating an experience my short play time of Doritos Crash Course has been! Honest truth, I couldn't stand the way the game handled and controlled. Experienced gamers won't find precision control here, as they'll be constantly missing platforms they should have landed on, sliding off edges accidentally, and missing or not even executing simple jumps.
Somewhat like the show Wipeout, Doritos Crash Course sees gamers navigating their Avatar through various obstacle courses with a US, European, or Japanese theme. As one navigates the courses, they can fall off an edge, get smacked by various obstacles, shot by paintballs, etc. If they get knocked off, they end up back at the last checkpoint. Players can also compete against friends locally or via Xbox LIVE.
Visually the game looks fine with colourful settings, hilarious injury animations, etc., and the audio certainly serves its purpose, but the controls are just horrible and imprecise that I had no fun with the game what-so-ever and forced myself to go through all of the US and Europe courses. Personally, I have no intention of going back to finish the Japanese courses or to try and collect some of the game's simpler Achievements.
In a time when everything costs money for gamers, it is refreshing to see things released for free, but not like this. My impressions, definite pass.
Yesterday I finally got around to trying out the X-MEN Trial I downloaded a few weeks back. When I was a kid, I used to play this game in the arcades a bit, and short and sweet, it hasn't changed.
The Trial consists of the first level, so I chose Wolverine (like most I'm sure), and started slashing and jump kicking sentinels in classic beat-em up style. Like most games of that era, it's a side scroller that lets you move up and down the screen, attack, jump, jump kick, grab/throw, and execute a special move. Pretty basic and fun.
The Trial ends with a boss fight against Pyro, who wasn't that hard. Like many bosses of this era, you simply move up and down to avoid attacks until they leave themselves vulnerable, then you slash them up a bit.
Really, the game isn't much different than any other basic side scroller out there save that it features the X-Men, so unless you're a die hard fan, I'd pass at the 800 Microsoft Points until it at least drops by about 50%. While fun, there's nothing super spectacular here to warrant $11.60.