Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mortal Kombat Kollector's Edition (Xbox 360) Review

"Finish Him." I was 11 or 12 years old when I first heard these words echoing in my local arcade, and I remember wandering up to the cabinet to watch what the other kids were playing. What I saw was Johnny Cage knocking someone's head clean off, and I was mesmerized. Street Fighter II was the dominant fighter at the time, but it failed to entertain me. Mortal Kombat, on the other hand, that was something special.

I loved the digital actors, the character design, the game's more realistic oriental setting, and of course, I was blown away by the Fatalities and gore. Street Fighter II might have been faster paced, but Mortal Kombat seemed more real, more intense, and more mature. I was hooked.

I followed the franchise faithfully, buying various ports for my Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo Game Boy all the way up to the release of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 in arcades. One thing that irked me with that release was that Midway had pulled a Capcom, releasing an updated version of a game instead of a new game, and that concept never sat well with me. I had also started getting into PC gaming and first person shooters and was well on my way to leaving fighting games behind. So the Mortal Kombat franchise faded into a fond memory of my early to mid teenage years, and I only paid it vague attention when the franchise continued onto last generation's consoles.

Flash forward to Spring 2011, and NetherRealm Studios, Midway reformed under Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, releases Mortal Kombat, a reboot of the franchise that takes it back to its roots. The game begins at the end of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon with all the fighters dead and Raiden attempting one last time to defeat Shao Khan. Khan proves too tough for the god of thunder, and as Raiden dies he sends visions back to his past self just before the Shaolin Tournament of the first game, and thus the franchise unfolds anew.

Mortal Kombat retells and updates the original trilogy, with every character, boss, and secret character featured and most being playable. There are 27 playable kombatants in all to choose from, though two need to be unlocked by progressing through the Story Mode, and there are several game modes available and a significant amount of content on the disc to keep you busy.

The Story Mode has received much praise and attention, and I must say that I quite enjoyed it. Broken up into Chapters based on what kombatant you're required to play as, it's not an overly complicated piece of storytelling as the Mortal Kombat story has always been cheesy, but so long as you don't take it too seriously it gets the job done. Story Mode transitions from in-game cinematic to fights seamlessly and is most impressive, though the dialogue preempting these fights tends to be laughable. Honestly, the high and mighty dialogue all the characters spout can really be broken down into the following:

Kombatant 1: "Hey you, let's fight."
Kombatant 2: "Them's fighting words."

Really, some conversations are just thinly veiled versions of exactly that (I'm looking at you, Smoke and Cage vs. Jade)! Still though, the Story Mode is fun and you'll often find yourself, always as one kombatant, pitted against two or more opponents who are either tagging in and out or must be defeated one at a time. This adds to the challenge of the Story Mode as it progresses through the first three games to a climax I certainly did not expect.

While I liked the retelling of Mortal Kombat (though throughout the story there are many key changes that simply couldn't have resulted from Raiden sending his memories back to himself, such as Shang Tsung hiring the Lin Quei to assassinate Earth Realm warriors in the events of the first game as opposed to Sub-Zero being sent to assassinate him) and I loved the retelling of Mortal Kombat II, I wasn't so keen on the Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 sections and the story rather fell apart for me there. I was never a big fan of that game's story or new characters to begin with, and my love for them hasn't increased much in this modern Mortal Kombat. When all is said and done, I personally found the game's Story Mode ending disappointing and anti-climatic, but at least the gameplay is fun and consistent throughout the whole experience.

Once you're done with Story Mode, there's several other options for you to explore. The first would be Arcade Ladder, which is Mortal Kombat in its most classic form. You pick your kombatant and begin your fight to the top of the ladder, facing off against characters and on stages found throughout the whole game. The Arcade Ladder has the traditional two round matches, but this can be adjusted in the game's options and of course there are classic hidden characters to find and challenge.

Tag Ladder is also available, which allows you to choose two fighters and progress up a Ladder taking on two opponents at once. Pressing Left Bumper will tag between your kombatants and you can also perform tag combos and special moves for added damage, but I personally found myself unimpressed with Tag Ladder outside of milking some Achievements. Why? I often found that I couldn't tag out when I needed to and I could see no reason why Left Bumper wasn't working. I know my Controller is fine as I've tried with two different Controllers, and the experience just became annoying to me. Arcade Ladder doesn't suffer from this complication, so that's the Ladder I'll personally be spending most of my time with.

Another interesting addition to the franchise is the Challenge Tower. NetherRealm Studios has put together a whopping 300 individual Challenges for players to conquer, all of varying degrees of difficulty. Some conventional examples are: You end up fighting without any arms, removing those kinds of special moves and throws. You could end up only being able to defeat your opponent by hitting them with all of your special moves. You could end up having to fight three Goros back to back to back, etc.

Some unconventional scenarios see you stuck on the spot and tagging in and out of place between two kombatants using specific projectile special moves to defeat waves of Zombies, story based missions reoccur with Liu Kang and Kung Lao questing to defeat Shang Tsung's forces amongst others, and conventional Test Your Might challenges are introduced throughout as well as Test Your Sight (watch the spinning cups!), Test Your Strike (more of a precision Test Your Might), and Test Your Luck (spin for random variables to occur which modify gameplay).

The great pro and con of the Challenge Tower is that for the first 299 Challenges, you can not select your kombatant; he or she is pre-determined. This has the benefit of teaching you how to use every character to some degree, and demonstrates through simple use what most of their special moves do, but it also has the con of potentially leaving you stuck on a hard Challenge with a fighter you stink with. Challenge 251, you will forever have my middle finger pointed in your general direction.

Every time you fail a Challenge and restart it the Challenge slowly becomes easier, thus allowing everyone to complete the Challenge Tower over time, though for the whole tower you're likely looking at a commitment of several hours. The final challenge was by far my favourite. Allowing you to select your kombatant, it was a wonderful test of endurance that was no where near as hard as everyone kept telling me it was. It took me about seven attempts and I even got a few Flawless Victories on it, and I'll actually be going back to replay it a few times.

Of course, you can also take your kombat prowess online to compete over Xbox LIVE. Mortal Kombat does have an online pass included in the case of your new retail game which you'll need to activate, something I'm sure we'll see become more and more a standard for the industry as time goes on. Once done you can play in ranked and unranked matches, join chat rooms to set up non-match made fights, and participate in the online-only King of the Hill game type which features your Xbox 360 Avatars as spectators and a voting system for Respect Points.

Since the game launched, I've seen players complain about nothing but horrible online lag, and my brief experience with the game over Xbox LIVE confirms this. For a game where precision and timing are key, lag not only hurts but the amount of lag I experienced is completely unacceptable. I only played two games over Xbox LIVE before I decided to call it quits, and while I hear that NetherRealm Studios is working to address the lag I don't intent to return to online arenas until the issue is greatly improved.

Sadly, this means I have not experienced King of Hill, which I want to, and should the lag actually be addressed to satisfaction I'll do so and update this review accordingly. As far as I'm concerned, as of this typing Mortal Kombat's online play is in a "beta" state and not acceptable as a retail product. This really hurts what's an otherwise solid product and is very disappointing, though thankfully you can still do local matches with friends on your couch like with consoles of old.

Regardless of the game mode your playing in, as you progress, defeat opponents and pull of finishing moves your earn Koins, which you can then use for a variety of purposes. The primary use of Koins is to spend them on unlockables in the Krypt. Featuring well over 200 items ranging from Concept Art, Alternate Costumes, and Secondary Fatalities, there's lots of bonus items for you to feast your eyes and ears on. The Krypt also contains the Nekropolis where you can view all of the playable kombatants Bios, close up renders of them in their various costumes (with or without damage), your stats with them, and their Arcade Ladder endings should you have already completed the Ladder with them.

Koins can also be used in the Challenge Tower to bypass an extremely difficult Challenge, allowing you to continue to progress up the Tower and return to that problematic scenario later.

Mortal Kombat uses the Unreal Engine 3, and without any exaggeration it's a beautiful looking Xbox 360 game. My first impression when I popped in that disc for the first time was how amazing and detailed the characters and environments look. In honest truth, I haven't been this impressed with a game's character models since Mass Effect and a game's environments since Halo: Reach. Facial expressions and lip syncing are highly detailed, blood, gore, and Fatalities are gruesome, and physics are everywhere (and yes, that includes the female kombatants oversized novelty breasts. Down boy). If nothing else, kudos to NetherRealm Studios' artists and animators for an exceptional job well done.

The games voice acting is good with some previously mentioned cheesy dialogue, and the music, be it new tracks or remixes of old, are excellent and quite nostalgic. Effects sound precise and to the point, and yes, I loved hearing that classic "Get Over Here!."

For Controls, the game handles alright but in truth the Xbox 360 D-Pad really isn't that precise. The Triggers and Face Buttons respond just fine (though the game is quite unforgiving in its use of dial-a-combos, making some of them hard to execute), but doing rolling motions with the D-Pad tends to mess up a lot. Trying to Teleport with Scorpion, for example, will often have him jumping back and kicking instead of pulling off his Special Move. Instead of rolling with your thumb, I've found that actually tapping the directions tends to have better results, though still with about a 75% success rate. So for Teleport, instead of rolling down to back I'd literally press down, then back. I suppose you could also try using the Left Stick as this does work as well, but I had even less luck pulling off Special Moves with that.

There's no doubt that there's a lot of nostalgia in Mortal Kombat for me, and I am enjoying the game immensely. Having said that though, I do wish the developers would finally ditch the coin-op AI. Like the classic arcade days of old, Mortal Kombat's AI is ridiculously cheap on harder difficulties or in several Challenges in the Challenge Tower. It will instantly counter, Block, and combo the snot out of you and it always seems to win in contests of landing that special move, Breaker, or throw. In the coin-op days this was designed so players would continue to pump quarters into the machine. The AI opponent would get easier each time until you finally defeated them and then the next opponent would be crazy cheap again, requiring you to spend more quarters. While that worked for that business model, is it really necessary for a modern day console game? I personally think not, and I'd love to see more time invested in developing a better AI as opposed to a Cheaper AI.

While the AI itself hasn't lost any of the cheapness of old, the combat system has seen many improvements. Much to my surprise High Punch, Low Punch etc. are gone, replaced with Front Punch, Back Punch, etc. and they're placed oddly on the Face Buttons of the Controller, but thankfully this console game's controls are re-mappable. Run has also been removed, and now you can Dash forward or back a few steps which has many tactical applications in reaching or avoiding an opponent in close combat, and Throw has also been given its own button (Right Bumper by default).

Super Metres have also been added, which contain three key points in the overall bar. As you successful damage your opponent or if you're taking a beating, your Super Metre charges. When it reaches the first third you can execute an Enhanced Special move. Using Scorpion as an example again, his Enhanced Spear will then launch three Spears, adding to the damage done to his opponent. This of course depletes part of the Super Metre.

If you wait until the Super Metre reaches two thirds full, you can unlock a Combo Breaker, which is activated by pressing Forward and Block at the very beginning of an opponent hitting you with a combo. You'll break the Combo taking only minor damage, depleting some of your Super Metre of course, and your opponent will briefly be vulnerable to counterattack. It should be noted that you don't need Breakers to counter throws, and you can do so anytime by pressing either Punch button right at the moment your opponent grabs you.

If you let your Super Metre fill up completely you'll be able to use your Character's X-Ray move. This is an extremely high damaging attack that is so brutal, the game will display an X-Ray of your opponent's bones and internal organs as they take massive damage. Visually spectacular to behold, these moves are as stunning and enjoyable as they are deadly, and if timed correctly they'll win you matches.

Of course, knowing when to pull off an X-Ray move, a Breaker, or an Enhanced Special Move is the trademark of a good player and provides a great deal of tactical options, and the fact that your Super Metre will fill when you take damage can allow you to come back from defeat in a match. Learn when to strike and when to be patient as you assault your foe, and you'll start racking up more consistent victories.

NetherRealm Studios packed a lot of content onto that game disc, with several great modes to enjoy and lots of fighters to play as and master. The biggest shame though is online play, who's lag is a massive let down and huge con, and the game's cheap AI can prove rather frustrating as well. Despite this, whether you are playing solo or with some buddies on your couch, there's a lot of Mortal Kombat in Mortal Kombat. The ridiculously high replay value, combined with stunning visuals and a wonderfully updated and improved 2D combat system that screams of a healthy merger between classic and refinement makes for a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgic trip. Even with its flaws I find that Mortal Kombat is an easy game to recommend, one that's simple to learn but hard to master, and wonderfully reminiscent of what captivated my young impressionable mind 18 years ago.

Update: Early this past Summer, the horrendous lag that plagued Mortal Kombat's online play since launch was resolved via a Title Update, and as promised, now that I've spent a lot of time with the game over Xbox LIVE I'm updating this review accordingly.

Lag is still present, especially if your opponent has a lesser internet connection, but what remains is negligible and it's just a shame that it took NetherRealm Studios about two and a half months to resolve the issue. When the Title Update was released I was enjoying Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe and grinding that game's online play as Scorpion. In August, I turned my attention to Mortal Kombat and looking for a new kombatant to spend a lot of time with I selected Mileena as my champion.

In a little over a month I played a grand total of 252 Ranked Matches, winning 143 of those with a Best Streak of 12 games. I made it into the top 5000 players and greatly enjoyed myself, so much so that Mortal Kombat has now become my most played game over Xbox LIVE (in terms of number of games). Considering my limited time for gaming these days, that certainly says something!

Like any other fighting game many players simply spam or try to cheap their wins, but for the most part so long as you think while you fight and learn the patterns everyone copies from one another you should be able to do fine. NetherRealm Studios also releases regular balance updates which happen seamlessly when you connect online, and this further refines and balances the overall gameplay experience.

What is a shame is that like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, several of the online-based Achievements are glitched. If an opponent disconnects or even quits a match early legitimately, the match may not count towards some rather time consuming Achievements. As a result, "Wavenet" and "The Competitor" can take a lot longer to earn amongst others, but at least you'll have a blast while doing it.

I also dabbled in King of the Hill and it seems like a really great game mode. It's fun to watch others pound on one another and to tinker with expressions for your Avatar, and when you're fighting in a match yourself you can easily switch to full screen mode by pressing "Back," which I recommend as it'll help you focus better.

My only gripe with King of the Hill is that in a full room you're going to spend a lot of time spectating, possibly more so than playing, which doesn't work so well for me given I usually only have an hour a day to game. With that amount of time at my disposal when I'm online to play I want to play, simple as that.

Regardless, I'm quite glad that Mortal Kombat's online play was fixed, at least from a lag perspective. There's a robust online experience here with great Ranked and Player matches to be had, and King of the Hill adds in a new aspect of fun if you've got the time to kill. I do wish they would have added Test Your Luck as a Multiplayer mode as the random variables would have made for some great and unique matches, but I suppose one can't have everything.

Really though, Mortal Kombat is an excellent experience and an extremely complete package. There's so much to offer on the core game disc that if you have any interest in fighting games or the franchise at all you need to pick this game up.

Update #2: Several months after release I caved and bought the Mortal Kombat Kollector's Edition. For those unaware, it comes with:

- A copy of Mortal Kombat
- Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero Bookends
- The Art of Mortal Kombat book
- A downloadable token for the Ermac Retro Costume
- A downloadable token for the Xbox 360 Avatar Scorpion Costume
- A downloadable token for the Xbox 360 Avatar NetherRealm Studios T-Shirt

It was the bookends that I really wanted, though I must confess I loved the Art Book and my Avatar is looking pretty slick dressed up as Scorpion.

Now the box for the Mortal Kombat Kollector's Edition itself is, of course, quite large to properly hold the bookends, and they're packaged in there securely to prevent them from being moved around and damaged. There was actually an extra bit of padding where Sub-Zero's right hand touches the inside of the box, which is a really great packaging thought, as this hand could easily have been hit and broken. The box itself also sports a very cool Goro's Lair theme, enhancing the overall look of the package itself.

The bookends are simply fantastic, and I absolutely love them. Made out of plastic, they are gorgeously painted and extremely detailed and worth it for any collector and fan of the franchise. Scorpion's Spear is tied to a rope like in past titles as opposed to a chain like in the current game, but this is a minor knit pick. My original intention was to place these bookends on my mantle once my place is built, but since they're plastic I'm worried they might get damaged when the gas fireplace is on for too long so I'll place them elsewhere when the time comes.

Having bought several collector's editions for other games in the past, I can say that I'm quite used to included art books and what many say is true, you look at them and read them once and then never again. This won't be the case for me with The Art of Mortal Kombat. The book is filled with excellent information and nostalgia and comments from the designers on how they tried to model everything new while retaining the spirit of the original trilogy. I know I'll be leafing through this book a few more times just to take it all in. Regrettably some of the ink appears to have run during printing, and one page in particular is hard to read but there's not much on that page that I know I'm missing. Manufacturing defects are unfortunate, but I'll take this over a broken bookend easy.

The Ermac Retro Costume is a Mortal Kombat (1992) red ninja outfit, which I find amusing since Ermac was not in that game 0utside of rumour, and the Avatar items are, like any other Avatar item, a nice bonus but nothing I'd buy on their own.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the Mortal Kombat Kollector's Edition. Several collector's editions that I've picked up recently have been disappointing or filled with items that I considered useless, but I don't regret picking this one up one bit, even though I already purchased the core game back at launch. Of course like any other collector's edition the worth of the bonus content is all in the purchaser and how much a fan he/she is of the franchise, and me, I've really, really gotten back into Mortal Kombat.

Gears of War 3 Campaign Trailer

The teased about trailer for Gears of War 3's Campaign is here, and you can watch it below.

The gameplay elements certainly look cool, but to be honest, I'm not a fan of the current trend for trailers to use modern rock music as opposed to composed pieces from the game itself. Such a practice greatly detracts from the quality of the trailer, in my opinion.

Gears of War 3 Avatar Items Updated, Includes Weapons

Usually I wouldn't bother posting about something like premium Avatar items, but this warrants an exception. I can't find a quote anywhere, however I distinctly recall Microsoft stating that they will not allow their Xbox 360 Avatars to have weapons as Props (though they did allow Lightsabres oddly).

Well, assuming I remember correctly it appears they've changed their minds. The Gears of War 3 Avatar items have been updated to include a Lancer and Hammerburst in both regular and golden skin variants as well as a Baird t-shirt and an incorrectly named Berserker Avatar Pet (it's a Lambent Berserker, dammit!).

An Avatar equipped with one of the guns will rev the Lancer's Chainsaw bayonet and for a Hammerburst, they'll drop into a firing stance. Each item costs a silly amount of Microsoft Points, of course, but you can preview them for free from your console.

I guess profit wins against morality once again.

Dead Space 2 Completed for the 2nd Time

Yesterday I completed my second playthrough of Dead Space 2, a New Game + on Veteran Difficulty. In total it took me just over 13 hours of play time, which is about 4 hours less from my first playthrough.

The first several Chapters were actually ridiculously easy since you're so strong once you get to that first Store, but things got tougher again later on. I really do love the game's pacing and storytelling; the sense of urgency and panic is ever present and the instant transition from cutscene to gameplay is quite immersive.

The larger sequences the developers crafted up are truly commendable, which makes it all the more a shame that the gameplay of the last few Chapters fall apart. Dead Space 2 features 15 Chapters, and while the bulk of them follow the franchise's traditional survival horror pacing, which excells at startling, panicking, and disturbing the player, the last three Chapters resort to more base shooter elements. Isaac is simply swarmed by Necromorphs so consistently at this point that it takes away from any suspense and atmosphere and simply became annoying.

The Ubermorph is also an unexplained annoyance that I felt the game could have done without, and I also learned the hard way that you can actually die via the eye poker machine. No really, I couldn't believe you could actually die there, and if that was a Hardcore playthrough I would have cursed a blue streak!

Regardless, the overall whole is a masterpiece of single player survival horror gaming. The graphics, the audio, and the overall presentation is excellent and a worthy experience for any gamer. I plan on starting a New Game + playthrough on Zealot Difficulty soon, and should I not decided to attempt a Hardcore run later on, I might try a One Gun run instead.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thor Review

I don't go to the silver screen very often anymore, but there are some comic book films that I plan on seeing this summer. The first of these, which I saw last weekend, was Thor.

For all intents and purposes, Thor is really a glorified coming of age story. The film opens showing how the Norse gods found their way into mortal legend, and depicts Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) war against the Frost Giants as he tries to prevent them from conquering the realms. Odin and his warriors succeed at great cost, removing the Frost Giant's power source and securing it safely in the realm of Asgard so they may never arise as a threat again.

Flash forward to the present and Odin's son, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is preparing to take his father's place as the king of Asgard. The ceremony is interrupted by an infiltration of Frost Giants and Thor, arrogant and hotheaded, takes his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a few of his friends to the Frost Giant's home realm in search of answers and confrontation. With this expedition Thor openly defies his father, and for his actions Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth where he's forced to co-exist with "lesser" mortals.

One of these mortals is astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who, along with her associates, encounters the banished Thor in a freak storm. While Thor is forced to accept his own new found mortality, it becomes clear that a far more sinister plot is in the works.

Thor is full of great action and special effects, and while I don't normally see flicks in 3D, I did just so happen to see Thor as such and I must say I was impressed. The 3D effects didn't feel tacked on or overdone, and there were a few moments when I caught myself starting to duck as some debris or Mjolnir flew my way.

Of course the effects, 3D or otherwise, is icing on the cake, and the most enjoyable part of Thor for me was Hemsworth's performance. As Thor he truly owned the role, delivering a charismatic performance of arrogance, humour, and humility without missing a beat. The way that all the "normal" people react around this over-the-top character was perfect, full of awkward humour and charm. One of my favourite scenes involves Thor going into a pet store demanding a horse, and upon learning that they only have dogs and cats he demands one of them. Large enough for riding.

I also really loved the film's art and costume design. Asgard was beautifully done looking both beautiful and ancient in one, and this quality extends to the costumes as well. Thor's armour looks great, functional and heroic, while Loki's looks darker and sinister in comparison. A good use of colour balance in both respects.

While Thor certainly isn't an overly complicated film, it was extremely entertaining. Great fight sequences, a simple comic book plot, and strong performances guaranteed that it was an evening well spent. I honestly can't remember the last time I was this entertained in theatres, and I can only hope that Thor marks the beginning of a resurrange of strong, enjoyable films coming to theatres.

Diablo III Runestones Revealed

Blizzard Entertainment plans to allow players to really customize their characters in Diablo III via a variety of methods, and one new method brought to light is the use of Runestones.

Runestones seem to be similar to Gems or Jewels from Diablo II, save that you don't place them in sockets on Weapons or Armour, you place them on Skills.

There are five different kinds of Runestones: Crimson, Indigo, Obsidian, Golden, and Alabaster, and each will have a different effect on each Skill. There are also varying ranks of Runestones, just as there are different ranks of Gems and Jewels, and it appears that you can only place one Runestone on any one Skill at any one time.

You can read all about Runestones here, and also watch five videos showing the effects of Runestones on one Skill from each of the game's five character classes.

Mortal Kombat: Klassic Skins Pack

On June 7th, the Mortal Kombat: Klassic Skins Pack will be releasing to the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and PlayStation Store.

The "Klassic Skins Pack" contains classic costumes for Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Ermac, Kitana, Mileena, and Jade, as well as Scorpion's "Toasty" Fatality, Sub-Zero's "Spine Rip" Fatality, and Reptile's "Head Snack" Fatality.

You can check out a trailer previewing the content here or below.

For those of you who pre-ordered or picked up an early release copy of the retail game at select retailers, you'll likely already have at least one of these skins and possibly a Fatality (I have Sub-Zero's classic skin and Fatality), and if you bought the game's Kollector's Edition you'll also have Ermac's classic skin.

This content pack allows you to have all this pre-order content in one shot, and comes to you at the rip-off price of 400 Microsoft Points or $4.99 (US) on the PlayStation Network.

Why a rip-off price? Well, you all know how I feel about DLC and the nickle and dimming that publishers push on consumers today, and I consider this content pack as an example of the worst kind.

Everything in the Mortal Kombat: Klassic Skins Pack is already on your retail disc; you're simply buying the ability to unlock it. And of course since it's classic Mortal Kombat, it's really only two costumes that have simply had colours changed.

This kind of DLC is a really low move, and I strongly advise you to pass and save your Microsoft Points/money for something that's at least had some real effort put into it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mortal Kombat: Legacy Episode 7

The seventh episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy is now up, featuring Scorpion and Sub-Zero. You can check it out here or below.

I really enjoyed this episode, and I liked how they explored the family side of Scorpion. It plays up more on the vengeance angle that the character is known for, but also that this is a fallen character; an anti-hero. I like that.

Halo: Reach Demo Released

Yesterday, a fully playable demo of Halo: Reach was released, making this the second Halo title in Xbox platform history to receive a demo (the first being Halo Wars).

The demo features the Campaign's Chapter XI "Long Night of Solace," which is an awesome Campaign Chapter (though I'm not sure if it's the full Chapter or just partial in the Demo), as well as competitive and cooperative Multiplayer in the form of Slayer and Headhunter gametypes on the map "Powerhouse" and Firefight on the map "Overlook."

I love Halo: Reach and if you're on the fence about it I highly recommend you give the demo a whirl. You can cue it up for download here. If you like what you play not only can you purchase the game at retail, but you can download it via Games on Demand for a special sale price of $39.99 until May 30th only.

You can check out the official release about the demo and sale price at Halo Waypoint here.

BioShock Infinite Site Redesign

The official site for BioShock Infinite has been overhauled, and it also features new screenshots and concept art.

You can check out the screenshots here and the concept art in the form of propaganda ads here.

I'm really looking forward to what more will be revealed about BioShock Infinite at this year's E3!

Dead Space 2: Outbreak Map Pack Releasing Soon

Releasing over Xbox LIVE Marketplace on May 31st and June 3rd on PlayStation Store, the "Outbreak Map Pack" will be the first Multiplayer DLC released for Dead Space 2.

Two new maps will be contained therein, The Academy and The Concourse, and what's even more interesting is the cost of this add-on. Free.

I suppose EA is trying to boost the the player base for the Multiplayer side of Dead Space 2, but still, must not complain about free DLC!

You can read the full announcement on the game's Facebook page here.

Update: EA's official site has a news post with a brief description of each map as a well as a screenshot, and you can check that out right here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gears of War 3 Campaign Trailer Teaser

No, that's not a teaser of the Campaign I'm talking about, it's a teaser trailer for the trailer teasing about the Campaign. You following me? No? Then check out the official Gears of War 3 Campaign Trailer Teaser trailer here or below.

The full trailer will be released on Sat. May 28th and will be broadcast during the Champions League Final Match world wide, and during Game 6 of the NBA Playoffs on TNT in the US. You'll also be able to check out the trailer on Facebook.

Full details can be found here.

So there you have it, a teaser trailer for a teaser trailer. As Marcus would say, "Hugh..."

BioShock 2: Minerva's Den (PC) Release Date

At long last, BioShock 2: Minerva's Den will finally be released for the PC. It will be available on Games for Windows Marketplace on Tues. May 31st for 800 Microsoft Points ($11.60).

I was very impressed with BioShock 2: Minerva's Den, and presently hold it as the prime example of single player DLC done right. Its quality was so high that it's almost, _almost_, like a real expansion set of old. For those interested you can read my review of the Xbox 360 version here.

In all honesty, out of all the DLC out there this is one of the only ones I would ever recommend at full cost, and I do hope we see more quality content like this released in the future. Or better yet, real expansion sets with a nice serving of single player and multiplayer content. It won't happen, but one can certainly dream.

Mass Effect Genesis Now Available on Xbox 360 and PC

For those unaware, Mass Effect was never released on the PlayStation 3, so when the sequel was released this past January for that console BioWare teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to create an interactive comic book that summarizes the first game's key plot and also allows the viewers to make the key decisions that would affect their upcoming Mass Effect 2 playthrough.

For those who only picked up the sequel on the Xbox 360 or PC and never played the first game or want to play as another Shepard and can't be bothered to play through the original again, that same interactive comic, entitled Mass Effect Genesis, is now available for both platforms.

The catch: It'll run you 320 Microsoft or BioWare Points. That's $4.64 for those keeping score at home.

Now considering that you can already play Mass Effect 2 no problem from scratch, and the game just defaults to a Renegade Shepard with corresponding past choices which is apparently the canonical story line as shown in the novels, I'm quite surprised that this is premium DLC.

Mass Effect 2 has been out for approximately 16 months now, and most people have moved on and for anyone worried about starting a new Shepard for Mass Effect 3, apparently all versions of that game will ship with an interactive comic for the first two games, so past playthroughs are more or less a non-issue.

So really, it's rather insulting that EA has deemed it necessary to charge for a BS little add-on like this, especially when you can buy Mass Effect (Xbox 360) for $29.99 or less at retail, and $19.99 (US) or less for the PC.

I'd say save your cash for a real add-on of sorts, or buy the full first game and enjoy a great 40 hour RPG experience.

For those still interested in the comic, you can watch it, for free, below.

Mortal Kombat: Legacy Episode 6

The sixth episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy is out, and it can be viewed here or below.

This is my second favourite episode to date, right behind Cage's. My major gripe though: Raiden wasn't exactly the most impressive god, now was he.

Duke Nukem Forever Demo Release Date

A fully playable demo of Duke Nukem Forever will be available on Fri. Jun. 3rd for First Access Club members. In English, this means you'd need a code from the Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition or by pre-ordering a copy of Duke Nukem Forever at participating retailers.

To find out which retailers are offering said code in your country, check the official announcement here. So here in Canada, you'd need to pre-order at EB Games only (which I assume would also mean GameStop, but you'd need to check).

You can also check out another important message from Gearbox Software below.

From what I understand, this First Access Club is all advanced access and the demo will be available to all in the coming weeks, but I don't have this confirmed.

Gears of War 3 Limited and Epic Editions Revealed, "Wicked Workshop" ViDoc

Earlier this week, Epic Games unveiled the Limited and Epic Editions of Gears of War 3.

The Gears of War 3: Limited Edition includes:

- A replica Octus Award Display Box with an Octus Service Medal that contains a downloadable token for an Adam Fenix Multiplayer Character
- A COG Flag
- Personal items and documents of Adam Fenix

The Gears of War 3: Epic Edition includes everything from the Limited Edition, but also:

- A Marcus Fenix Statue
- The Art and Design of Gears of War (Art Book)
- Infected Omen Weapon Pack, which is an alternate Skin pack for several weapons in Multiplayer.

The Limited Edition will retail for $79.99 (US) and the Epic Edition will retail for $149.99 (US). You can read the release with full details right here.

A new ViDoc has also been released which previews the very cool Marcus Fenix statue amongst other things. Entitled "Wicked Workshop," you can check it out below.

Everything looks quite nice, however I expect I'll be picking up the standard edition of the game. For the Epic Edition, I simply can't justify $149.99 (US) for any collector's edition, since that's the cost of a whole other retail game.

I would be interested in the Limited Edition if it came with an art book or making of DVD, however I'm personally not interested in random collectibles to display that'll only collect dust later.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360) Review

When it launched in October 2008, Dead Space took me by complete surprise. I had not been following the game through development and gained interest via the enthusiasm of a friend and co-worker, and I'm glad he convinced me to pick the title up. Packed with atmosphere, tension, and horror, Dead Space was an exceptional survival experience the likes of which I hadn't experienced in years.

Now, just over two years later the sequel is available and Isaac Clarke returns. Set three years after the unfortunate fate of the Ishimura, Isaac now finds himself committed to psychiatric care on the medical facilities of the Sprawl, a massive space station on one of the moons of Saturn. Though Isaac survived the horrific events of the first game, he now suffers from dementia and disturbing visions and hallucinations of Nicole, his dead girlfriend.

The game begins with Frank (the protagonist of Dead Space: Ignition), freeing Isaac from his cell during a Necromorph outbreak that's consuming this part of the station. Soon on his own, Isaac must escape, fend for himself, and attempt to piece together just what's going on while battling his own delusions. While the game has many high points, I consider the story telling and atmosphere to be the peak of these. Simply put, Dead Space 2 has excellent story telling for a survival horror game.

Unlike the original title, Isaac now speaks which fleshes out his character so much more and allows for real relations to form between himself and other survivors, enhancing the drama and the tension. There's a greater sense of urgency in Dead Space 2, mingling nicely with the dread prevalent in the enemy encounters, and by game's end you really end up feeling for Issac and everything he's gone through.

You're very rarely taking on masses of enemies at a time, though there are such situations. Often times Necromorphs will pop up when you least expect them and the developers tease you with freaky noises, lighting failures, and other such psychological events. While it may sounds generic, believe me it's all beautifully executed and if you're anything like me, you'll be playing most of the game standing up. Spread out over 15 Chapters and two discs, Dead Space 2 keeps this wonderful progression going strongly until the very last few Chapters. For some odd reason the developers abandon the clever enemy encounters typical of the series and simply resort to tossing large groups or infinite spawning enemies at you, and while the story telling remains exceptionally strong through to the climax, the last gameplay sequences suffer from this odd design shift.

To further enhance the storytelling method, the game doesn't feature traditional cutscenes and quickly transitions to in-game cinematic and gameplay seamlessly. This works wonders for immersing the player and keeping them sucked into the moment providing a truly wonderful cinematic quality to the game. On occasion though it's not perfectly clear that a cutscene has transitioned back to gameplay, and you end up dying due to lack of action. This got frustrating on occasion but in truth, it's a minor gripe.

The majority of the great gameplay mechanics from the original game return, some tweaked, some the same, and some massively overhauled. With respect to Isaac's R.I.G., the Inventory, Objectives, and Logs are just as you remember them, but the hard-to-understand map is now gone. Instead, Isaac not only has his Locator to guide him to his next objective, but you can actually toggle your Locator to show you the nearest Save Point, Store, and Work Bench. This is a fantastic enhancement that really makes navigating your environment all the easier.

Zero gravity, a well advertised and executed mechanic in the original game, returns but in a rather different form. You no longer move from wall to wall, looking at a surface and hitting "Y" to jump to it, you now click to Left Stick to begin floating. You can then use the Left Stick to move or essentially fly around zero gravity environments. The Left Bumper activates a handy speed boost and the Right Bumper re-centres Isaac in case you get confused about which way is up. While this new method of free floating zero gravity certainly works and there's some great situational-based sequences built around them, I must confess I miss the more puzzle oriented and disorienting method of the original game's zero gravity.

All the weapons from the first game return and can still be upgraded at the Work Bench via Power Nodes (and the Plasma Cutter is still an exceptional weapon) and several new armaments are available for dismembering fun. I personally really liked the Detonator, essentially a grenade launcher that launches a proximity mine, with Alt Fire deactivating any undetonated mines. The Seeker Rifle is a sniper rifle that does high damage and its Alt Fire is a zoomed in mode that can enhance damage when upgraded, and the Javelin Gun is another sniper-based weapon that allows you to impale targets knocking them away and sticking them to walls, and it's Alt Fire releases an electrical charge that'll fry nearby enemies as well.

And there are enemies aplenty in Dead Space 2, with the majority of the Necromorphs from the first game re-appearing along with some new and unpleasant baddies. The Pack is a swarm of children turned space-zombie that attempt to, well, swarm Isaac. There's also the Puker, a new form of Necromorph that spits a corrosive bile which not only damages you, but also prevents you from running while it lasts allowing other enemies to more easily finish you off. The Cyst is a stationary enemy that responds to motion and launches some kind of organic explosive on anything that gets close; friend or foe it seems. There's more enemies, of course, and some rather spectacular boss fights to challenge Isaac as he attempts to survive but I don't want to ruin all the surprises and scares coming your way.

With all this stacked against you, thankfully you'll have no issues controlling Isaac. Aside from the above mentioned changes to zero g combat, the Controller layout is almost identical to the first game's. The few changes include: Reloading is now on "X" and can be performed without aiming. "Y" no longer has anything to do with Inventory and instead uses a Stasis Pack and when Aiming, fires Stasis. Such minor improvements go well with the flow of the game and make things even simpler.

Visually, the game looks lovely. Character models are crisp, clean, and detailed. The texture quality on the Xbox 360's hardware shows its age a bit during close ups, but it's nothing that'll take away from the experience. The game's strong use of lightening not only helps to cover this up but also heightens the atmosphere and tension remarkably well. Dead Space 2 is dark, but not horribly so. The sound scape is as brilliant as in the original. It's hard to believe after one game just how iconic the basic sound effects have become. From the locked door chime to navigating menus and your Inventory to firing your Plasma Cutter, all the little sounds scream Dead Space. Oh, and then there's the superb voice acting as well. Seriously, top notch all the way.

Now, Dead Space 2 also features a Multiplayer mode which, in all honesty, I haven't tried nor do I expect to at this point. Pitting a Sprawl Security Team against a team of Necromorphs, it's apparently in the spirit of Left 4 Dead's Multiplayer, a game which I'm not a fan of. In addition, none of my friends are playing Dead Space 2's Multiplayer and none of the game's 50 Achievements are Multiplayer based. Personally I'd rather load up Halo: Reach or something for my Multiplayer fix, and I look at the fact that Dead Space 2 has a Multiplayer mode as a bonus. You will need to activate it with an online pass though that's included with new copies of the game. If you buy used, you'd need to pay extra for online activation, but this would only come into play if you want to use the game's Mutliplayer features.

Despite my lack of interest in the game's Multipalyer, its single player content boasts strong replay value. My first foray through the Sprawl on Normal difficulty took me just over 16 hours, so I can hardly complain about play time. You can then begin a new game from scratch or use the New Game + feature which allows you to take your Isaac Clarke into another game, and all your items will be available to you at the first Store. In a New Game + playthrough you'll also come across new Schematics for even better suits to help Isaac along, and you'll actually need to use New Game + to unlock a few of the game's Achievements.

Completing the game on any difficulty also unlocks the Hardcore Difficulty, which is something I hope to attempt someday. Why won't I be giving it a try right now? Well, you must start Hardcore from scratch, there is no New Game + option for it, and it's the same general difficulty level as Survivor, the game's second hardest difficulty. The catch with Hardcore? You can only save a grand total of three times per game and there are no Checkpoints. This means you'll need to play for hours and hours without dying, and if you get unlucky, well, you'll be starting a good while back.

Such a difficulty requires quite the time commitment and while I want to attempt it, I sadly don't have that kind of spare time right now, but I look forward to when I do!

Dead Space 2 is a positively excellent experience and a great new title to kick of 2011 with. Full of great story telling, atmosphere, and replayability, along with a simple Multiplayer mode to boot, the game is well worth your time and attention and is already a strong contender for Game of the Year. Like its predecessor there is no reason why I wouldn't recommend Dead Space 2 to anyone as it's a masterpiece of survival horror, and I do hope you get to play and enjoy this excellent title.

Gears of War 3 Beta Impressions

Roughly 15 years ago when I first began playing team-based competitive multiplayer in online games, I learned very quickly that I lack team coordination and strategy. Against a well coordinated team, this simply means that I suck, and things certainly haven't changed in the present.

Put me in a 1v1 real time strategy game, and all your bases will belong to me. Put me in a first person shooter free for all, and I will hold my own. Put me in a team-based game like the Gears of War 3 Beta that's just wrapping up, and I'll get a Retro Lancer bayonet up my butt consistently in every match.

I came into the Gears of War 3 Beta at the end of its third week, and I've only played about a dozen games, so this truly is an impressions article and not a be all end all judgement of what we can expect with the retail game this Fall.

I mainly played with a Party of Friends in Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and a few Capture the Leader matches. In Team Death Match your team starts with a pool of lives and you keep respawning until the pool is gone. King of the Hill is as you'd expect it and Capture the Leader requires you to down and then hold on to the opposing teams Leader to rack up points. Torque Bow Tag was also added in right at the Beta's end.

In addition to the tried and true franchise weapons that make a return, new weapons are added to the fray. The Sawed-off Shotgun and Retro Lancer you can begin with and were extremely common in all the games I played. The Sawed-off Shotgun is a double barrel weapon that will be an instant kill if you land the shot, but if you miss you need to reload which will likely result in your own death. The Retro Lancer is a Lancer from the Pendulum Wars era and is less accurate at long distances and has a traditional bayonet that you can charge and spear enemies with for a great kill animation.

New power weapons I was repeatedly killed with was the Oneshot, a super Sniper Rifle that can fire through cover and will kill you with a single blast, and the Digger, a weapon that launches a Grenade that burrows underground to pop up on a target, blasting them to bits. There's also a new Incendiary Grenade that burns up targets real well.

As you continue to play you earn Ribbons which are similar in concept to Medals found in Halo: Reach, and completing matches, earning Ribbons, and killing enemies with specific weapons unlocks new playable Multiplayer Characters (you start off only being able to select Marcus and Dom and a Drone and Savage Grenadier respectably), new Weapons Skins (such as a Flaming look to some of your guns, or an Urban look which is a grey and white camo painting), and Executions.

Unlike previous titles, you can't perform a weapon's execution animation right out of the box, you need to unlock them. When you begin, Curb Stomping is what you've got (now by pressing "Y." "X" picks up downed enemies as a Meat Shield), but by doing well with your favourite weapons you'll be knocking off heads like golf balls in good time.

The new maps were well detailed and laid out. I played in Thrashball and Trenches a lot, had the odd match in Checkout, and one King of the Hill game in Old Town, which I really liked the look of. Visually speaking the Beta looked good. I didn't notice the major overhaul in texture quality and detail that was apparent from Gears of War to Gears of War 2, but the game is by no means poor looking. Environmental effects are also back, as seen by the random dust storm that kicks up and kills all visibility in Trenches. The Beta's audio is also up to the standard we've come to expect from Gears of War.

One great thing added in the Beta that was notably absent from Gears of War 2, aside from dedicated servers (which are now in!) is drop in and drop out play. Start searching for a match and you'll be popped into a game in progress. Leave, and a bot will take your place so the team isn't down a man. This'll be great for more casual players looking for a quick fix after work or what-not.

Some game mechanic tweaks include holding "X" to pick up a weapon or additional ammo, and if you find yourself taking cover with an opponent on the other side of the same object, you can vault over and instantly knock them down granting you a huge advantage. The Mortar also seems to be able to fire more like a regular heavy weapon now, as I know I was killed a few times by a non-traditional Mortar shot. Holding down "LB" also doesn't just show you the location of your teammates with pop-ups, it shows you their outline so you can see them clearly and you'll also see the icons for the locations of power weapons. If you happen to be the Leader in a game of Capture the Leader, you'll also see where the opposing team is, allowing you to properly coordinate your forces.

Overall, what was in the Gears of War 3 Beta was fast paced and very competitive, and multiplayer enthusiasts are going to be in for a treat when the full game launches this September. For me, I'm really looking forward to the Campaign, Horde, and Beast Mode. My poor bottom will thank me later for avoiding the competitive arenas.

Now, before I sign off, some of the Beta unlocks will carry over into the retail game this Fall. Flaming Weapon Skins, for example, and the Cole Train Character and Gold Retro Lancer if you managed to unlock them for Retail. In order to have them unlock though, you must not delete your Beta's save game file! If you do, you're out of luck. To make sure you don't delete the wrong file, read over Epic Game's post here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Diablo III Followers Revealed

A far cry from the simple but useful (after a few patches) Hirelings of Diablo II, Blizzard Entertainment has revealed Followers, new story-based companions with personalities, stats, and skills whom players can encounter and journey with in their upcoming action-RPG, Diablo III.

For full details on Followers, including a description on who each of the three are and how they function in relation to the player character, step right this way.

You can also view a video showcasing these handy sidekicks here or below.

Mortal Kombat: Legacy Episode 5

The 5th episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, entitled "Kitana & Mileena, Part 2," is now available and can be viewed here or below.

Not bad. Not amazing, but not bad. Now bring on Scorpion and Sub-Zero!

Mortal Kombat Kollection Coming Later This Year

Well this is some welcome nostalgic news. Later this year (I've seen conflicting windows of Summer and Fall), Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment will be releasing the Mortal Kombat Kollection to Xbox LIVE Arcade.

Priced at 800 Microsoft Points, the collection will include arcade ports of Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.

While I already own the now discontinued Xbox 360 version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, I believe this will be the other two titles' first appearance on the platform, and it'll be the first time I've owned them in roughly 14 years. For Mortal Kombat, I actually only owned the Nintendo Game Boy version so I look forward to a real arcade port of the game. Mortal Kombat II I owned on the Nintendo Game Boy and later on my Super Nintendo Entertainment System, however being my favourite title in the franchise I'll be happy to own it again.

I do wonder how the Achievements will work and if each game will have its own twelve Achievements. If so, I wonder if Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's will be the same as those of the previous Xbox LIVE Arcade version and if so, will they need to be earned again or not. Only time will tell.

Story first spotted on TeamXbox here, and there's also an article on USATODAY stating it'll also be released over the PlayStation Network, which makes sense.

Update: The official press release can be read on the official Mortal Kombat forums here. In brief, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection will be released on Xbox LIVE Arcade, PC, and the PlayStation Network late summer for 800 Microsoft Points or $9.99 (US) on the PlayStation Network.

While these will be faithful ports of the arcade originals, online play, leaderboards, and Achievements/Trophies will all be featured, though of course that's rather standard fair for any classic title today.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Officially Delayed, New Screenshots

It's official, Mass Effect 3 has been delayed. Originally announced for a holiday 2011 release, the game will now launch in the first quarter of 2012. You can check out the full details on the main page of Mass Effect 2's site here.

Honestly, this doesn't surprise me at all given development times today and such a quick turnaround time seemed rather ambitious. I'm also glad the game isn't being rushed just to cash in for the Christmas season.

Two new screenshots for Mass Effect 3 have also been released, and you can find them on the official Mass Effect media page here, and ActionTrip is hosting even more screenshots here.

Mortal Kombat: Legacy Episode 4

The fourth episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, entitled "Kitana and Mileena, Part 1" is out and you can check it out here or below.

Not bad, though I wasn't a fan of the look of Baraka. I didn't overly mind the anime sequences tossed in, but I hope those aren't going to be overused for the rest of the episodes. Baby Mileena was also rather creepy. Like Dead Space 2 creepy.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Mortal Kombat: Legacy Episode 3

The third episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy is up and can be viewed here or below.

As someone who works in the television production industry, I find I can really appreciate this one. My only major gripe is the censored swearing which really breaks the flow of the piece, but otherwise it's entertaining and my favourite episode thus far.

Mass Effect 3 Screenshots

The first two screenshots for Mass Effect 3 have been released, and Action Trip his hosting them right here.

Surprisingly, they look exactly like Mass Effect 2, which really isn't a bad thing since that game looks solid and BioWare isn't doing any massive engine overhauls this time around.

The lighting does look better and shadows seem more pronounced though.