Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mortal Kombat Patch 5 Released

This past Friday, NetherRealm Studios released the 5th patch for Mortal Kombat. Full details about what the patch changes can be read here or below.

V 0.144S-234-77c814ec (Xbox 360) / V ????-??? (PS3) [update version 1.??] *released 09/23/2011

General Gameplay Fixes/Tweaks

• Fixed a couple of crash scenarios.
• DLC billboards should now behave correctly on Xbox
• You should no longer see online desyncs on Xbox that are related to alternate costumes or classic costume DLC packs.
• MOTD handling and displaying code was tweaked.
• Fixed a bug that could have resulted in tweakvars getting corrupted.
• Fixed a crash in player select if you tried to exit out while the dlc box was open.
• With the exception of Human Cyrax and Human Sektor, everyone’s alternate costumes should behave the same as their primary costumes and have the exact same move properties.
• You can now block after a dash forward is completed if it was cancelled into from a special move. Canceling out of a dash into another dash was normalized for most of the characters. Dash Block canceling remains the same.
• Wakeup attacks should have better invulnerability on them if done in the first 4 frames of the wakeup window. (this was added as a hotfix tweakable value)
• You no longer get a completely free throw attempt after someone blocks your jump punch. The opponent has less block hit frames but chained combos from a jump punch will remain the same.
• There were several reactions that could freeze players just before they landed from attacks and reactions such as Kano’s Airball and Cyrax’s Net air reaction.
• Made many minor hitbox adjustments.
• Tweaked the negative edge window.
• Several low attacks were being parried incorrectly.
• Nightwolf and Kenshi can no longer still absorb a projectile if they get hit out of their enhanced reflects before the recovery frames start.

• Baraka's Blade Spin move starts up faster and is safer when blocked.
• Baraka's Enhanced Blade Charge (Blade Rush) attack goes farther now.
• Baraka’s Chop Chop no longer auto corrects mid-move.
• Baraka’s has a new D1 low poke.

Cyber Subzero
• Cyber Subzero can no longer handcuff certain characters by catching a wakeup attack with his enhanced Ice Parry.

• Cyrax's Buzzsaw is an overhead block and safer when blocked
• Cyrax's Bombs will no longer pop someone up who is in a 2nd Net reaction or in a Buzzsaw reaction.
• Cyrax's mk3 costume should behave the same as the primary costume now.

• Ermac can no longer leave an invisible fireball collision around.
• Fixed damage scaling a few of his reactions.

• All of Jade's Enhanced Boomerangs (Reboomerang) will now return when the first hit is blocked.
• Jade’s Staff Grab is slightly safer when blocked.
• Jade’s U3 attack (Pole Vault) can be ducked.
• Jade’s 4,F3 kick (Polecat) is safer when blocked.

• The armor on Jax's Enhanced Dash Punch (Dash Fist) and X-Ray (Briggs Bash) now starts instantly.
• Added armor to the startup of Jax's Enhanced Elbow (Elite Smash).
• Jax's projectiles (Energy Wave) recover a tiny bit faster.
• Jax’s towards 3 attack (Big Leg) is now an overhead.
• Jax can no longer frame trap someone with his Gotcha Grab.

Johnny Cage
• Johnny Cage's F3,2 (Take Two) no longer true combos into 2in1’d special moves
• Johnny Cage's Nut Punch does slightly less damage.
• Johnny Cage's sweep kick has less advantage on block or hit.

• Kabal can no longer leave an invisible fireball collision around.
• Removed a couple unavoidable block traps with Kabal. (with F2 and 4)

• If you don’t charge and hold the Enhanced Kano Ball it will now keep its armor.
• Kano’s Enhanced Knife Toss recovers faster.

• Kitana's Fan reactions on an airborne opponent damage scale correctly now.
• Kitana's X-Ray (Fan-Tastic) can no longer be reflected.

Kung Lao
• Removed the pushback on Kunglao's spin when blocked.
• Ground Hat now leaves both players at neutral when hit close and leaves Kung Lao at a disadvantage when blocked up close.
• Kung Lao's overhead hat attack is slightly safer when blocked.

Liu Kang
• Lui Kang's Parry now can correctly give a first hit bonus!

• Nightwolf's reflect should work better as a wakeup attack.

• Noob's Teleport Slam should connect better with some opponents.
• Noob should no longer be hit on the ground after he is up in the air for his teleport.
• Noob’s Shadow Charge hits overhead.

Quan Chi
• Fixed an isse where Quan Chi's Skull Projectile (Skull Ball) could sometimes become invisible.
• Added some armor to the Quan Chi’s Enhanced Sky Drop (Sky Stomp).

• Raiden can no longer unavoidably frame trap someone with his Vicinity Blast.
• Raiden has 2 additional recovery frames on his normal Teleport.
• Raiden can’t be hit during his Enhanced Teleport (Sparkport).

• Reptile whiffed Elbow Dash now builds slightly less meter.
• Reptile is held slightly longer after knocking someone down with the Elbow Dash.
• A blocked Reptile Elbow Dash no longer pushes back.
• Reptile's Enhanced Slide (Slime Trail) now has armor on it.
• Reptile can no longer leave an invisible Forceball collision around.

• Scorpion's Leg Takedown is safer when blocked.
• Scorpion's Enhanced Leg Takedown (Takeout) now has armor on it.

• Sektor can now 2in1 into the front and behind Up Missiles
• Sektor's mk3 outfit should behave the same as the primary costume
• Sektor's backjets will no longer get stuck firing, wasting precious fuel. (Yay!)
• Sektor’s X-Ray (Massive Missile) can no longer be reflected.

Shang Tsung
• The armor on Shang’s Enhanced Soul Steal now starts instantly
• Shang Tsung’s Enhanced Soul Steal (Soul Capture) activates faster.

• Sheeva's Fireball is a mid block now and the Enhanced Fireball (Fire Blast) is an overhead.
• Sheeva's Ground Pound can correctly give a first hit bonus!
• Sheeva's Enhanced Jump Stomp (Jump Crush) now has armor on it.
• Sheeva's Air Grab has better anti-air collision on it.

• Sindel can no longer leave behind an invisible fireball collision around.
• Sindel’s B1 attack is a low block.
• Sindel's regular Scream is slightly faster nd the Enhanced Scream is a lot faster now.
• Sindel’s Scream (Yell) can no longer be parried.

• It’s no longer possible to handcuff opponents with Smoke’s Vibration (Shake) Parry.

• The armor on Sonya's cartwheel (Krazy Legs) lasts until the first collision and Archkick's (Arc Wave) armor lasts until her arch is almost over.
• Sonya's 1,1,4 (Fierce Assault) no longer true combos into 2in1’d special moves from it.
• Sonya's 3,1,4 (Beat Up) no longer true combos into 2in1’d special moves from it.

• Stryker's Enhanced Baton (Baton Bash) Sweep’s 2nd hit is an overhead and is safer when blocked.
• Stryker's Grenades recover slightly faster.
• Stryker's Baton Roll starts up faster and the enhanced version has armor on it for a longer time.
• Stryker's Grenade Toss and Baton Sweep do slightly more damage.
• Stryker’s B1,2,2 (Beatdown) combo is safer when blocked.

Sub Zero
• Fixed some of the Ground Freeze reaction properties which were causing some other gameplay issues.
• Sub Zero's Enhanced Slide (Power Slide) now has armor.
• The opponent is frozen for 10 additional frames to allow him to at least get a slide in for some trade cases were he could get nothing before.

Freddy Krueger
• Freddy’s Nightmare Stance can’t be repeated instantly anymore.
• Fixed a bug where Freddy could get stuck being immune to projectiles.
• Freddy forward and backward Teleports (Hell Shift) build slightly less meter.
• Some of Freddy reactions were not damage scaling correctly.
• Tweaked the recovery on some of Freddy specials.

• Kenshi’s X-Ray (Soul Blade) can no longer be reflected.
• Kenshi is freed up sooner now when he absorbs a projectile with his (Blade Absorb)
• Kenshi’s F2,2,B1 (Absentminded) reaction no longer lets opponents be hit just as they hit the ground.

• Skarlet has an additional 10 frames before she can cancel out of her normal dagger toss.
• Skarlet can no longer 2in1 cancel out of her Slide attack from her Red Dash.
• Skarlet’s back throw now does normal damage.
• Skarlet can do her U3 (Lifting Leg) attack from a dash now.

A rather extensive list of balance and bug fixes, which is always a good thing. Except for the people who scream "NERF!" They'll be angry.

Batman: Arkham City "We Could Both Actually Die Here Tonight" Trailer

A new trailer has been released for Batman: Arkham City, featuring the Joker, which you can view below or here.

Halo: Reach Title Update 2 Released

The second Title Update for Halo: Reach is now available, and it makes some rather interesting tweaks to the game:

- Damage now bleeds through your Shields and impacts your Health like in previous titles
- Configuring Reticle Bloom
- Armour Lock no longer saves you from Plasma Grenades
- Damage sustained while in Armour Lock reduces the Ability's duration
- Reduced Active Camo bonus time when standing still
- Reduced overall length of Active Camo
- The ability to block the Energy Sword has been removed save for when using an Energy Sword
- Implementing the classic Magnum from Halo: Combat Evolved in certain Game Types
- Co-Op Campaign and Firefight can now be played without an HDD

This is the first title updated released by 343 Industries now that they've taken over development of the franchise from Bungie, and I personally find it rather interesting that they've removed or heavily adjusted several key gameplay components added into Halo: Reach by Bungie to make the game feel different than your typical Halo title.

Full details can be read/are linked in here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gears of War 3 Toronto Launch Party

At 2:00 pm today, the line up around The Hoxton was literally spilling out onto the street with eager fans anticipating one thing and one thing alone: Gears of War 3. One of the most anticipated games of 2011 and Microsoft Studios' key launch of the year, Gears of War 3 releases this Tuesday, September 20th and Xbox Canada threw not just a party but a concert in its honour.

Those who completed the recent viral campaign and gained V.I.P. access to the event got first dibs on advancing through the crowds, gaining admittance eight at a time. Once inside the venue a themed T-shirt and do-rag were handed out and the gamers were ushered over to several large TV's complete with Gears of War 3 and Gears of War 3 Limited Edition Wireless Controls for a match of local Team Deathmatch.

Now, typicaly I stink at Gears of War Versus, but I was placed on a team with some strong players and we won the match in some great back and forth action. While this was certainly fun, many of us had already experienced Team Deathmatch in last Spring's beta and as I always find with these community events, it's the venue and other attractions that really steal the show.

First off, thanks to the presence of the Gears of War 3 Limited Edition Wireless Controllers, this was actually the first time I got to experience the transforming D-Pad. I was actually so mesmerized by changing it from a plus to a disc to a plus again that I wasn't paying attention when the match was set up, and thus I played as the Locust Queen with a Hammerburst and Gnasher instead of customizing my seat-up. Aside from the fact that, as I already mentioned, we won the match (it was on "Check Out," by the way), I really liked the transforming D-Pad and if something ever happens to my Xbox 360 Halo Reach Wireless Controller I will definitely pick one of these Controllers up.

On to the venue, the lighting was dim and the sounds were loud as TV's everywhere showcased the game, the "Dust to Dust" launch trailer was projected onto a wall, and a stage was all decked out for a surprise band performing later this evening. Crimson omens were everywhere and all the event staff were walking around sporting face paint, wearing Kevlar vests, and carrying actual replica Lancer Assault Rifles that fans could hold and gawk at.

Off to the side, LG had a few 3D TV's set up where the game was being played and players and bystanders alike could put on some 3D glasses and check out Gears of War 3 in three dimensional glory. Personally, I was quite impressed with the depth of field present and how crisp and clean it looked and I also had the pleasure of speaking with their product manager who was on hand. He explained to me how the high refresh rate maintained a strong image quality throughout the entire experience and that any TV sold comes with four pairs of 3D glasses. Sold separately at retailers are also clip-on 3D glasses for gamers like me who already wear prescription lenses, and of course LG's glasses can be used at any theatre showcasing 3D films as well.

Food was also being served, fresh "Locust Meat" carved with cleavers made into pitas for all, and right next to the food stand there was a tattoo artist airbrushing Crimson Omens onto lucky fans. Right next to this at the back of the club in a very poorly lit area a sculpture artist worked with a real chainsaw carving what I believe were foam blocks into more Crimson Omens to further deck the place out.

Regrettably, I could not stay for the concert itself, but performing live right now is none other than Tokyo Police Club themselves, and it's a shame I couldn't stay and see them as this would be the first free concert I recall Xbox Canada ever having done.

Simple, atmospheric, and fun, this was another great community event put together by Xbox Canada and their publicity partners. As always I'd like to thank them very much for having this event and giving back to the great Toronto and Canadian community, and for giving out some cool swag. Tuesday can't come fast enough and I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of Gears of War 3!

Pictured Below:

- Gears of War 3 T-Shirt
- Gears of War 3 Do-rag
- Package of 2 "AA" Energizer Batteries
- LG 3D Glasses
- Pack of Locust Meat and launch party V.I.P. Ticket (from viral campaign)

Halo "Cortana Chip" Avatar Item

Released late last week, the "Cortana Chip" Avatar item is a new prop for your Xbox 360's Avatar.

Available here for 240 Microsoft Points, you can preview the item in the video here or below.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary "Breakneck" and Campaign Screenshots

Earlier last week, 343 Industries released a series of screenshots for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary showcasing the multiplayer map "Breakneck," which is a remastered version of the Halo 2 map "Headlong."

A few Campaign screenshots from first Mission, "Pillar of Autumn," have also been snuck into the collection.

You can check them out in all their glory here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Got Meat? Gears of War 3 Launch Party V.I.P. Access

Regrettably I haven't been anywhere near as involved in participating in the viral campaign for Microsoft Studios' big launch this year as I have been in the past, but it's all shaping up to be quiet the solid marketing campaign.

The launch party for Gears of War 3 will be held in Toronto this Sunday, and today I ventured to a butcher shop in China Town to pick up a very special package.

Got meat?

For those of you who won't be able to get V.I.P. access, the event is still open to the public, and keep a watch on your Xbox 360 Dashboard's Spot Light Channel for upcoming details.

For those who can't make it at all, look for a full write-up post event! Hope to see you there!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Demo (Video)

Now available to the general public, we can all view the demo of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that Bethesda Softworks has been showcasing at various trade shows these last few months.

Narrated by Todd Howard, the Game Director this video clocking in at about 20 minutes total (in three parts) gives us a solid taste of what to expect less than two months from now.

The game looks solid given the age of the Xbox 360's hardware, and it really, really makes me want to fire up The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion again. The exploration, the adventure, the world, all these things Bethesda Softworks does so well.

I'll never forget the first time I slowly rode my horse along the bridge into the Imperial City with White Gold Tower standing tall in the background, and I know there'll be many such moments of awe and wonder to be had in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I really do hope I have the free time to enjoy the game come launch on November 11th!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gears of War 3 Season Pass

I missed posting about this a bit ago, however it looks like Epic Games and Microsoft Studios are jumping on the Season Pass bandwagon.

Releasing on Sep. 20th along with Gears of War 3 itself, the Gears of War 3 Season Pass will allow gamers access to the first four installments of Gears of War 3 DLC, the first of which will be released this November. As a bonus, Season Pass owners will also get to download the Liquid Metal weapon skin set at no additional charge.

The Gears of War 3 Season Pass will sell for 2400 Microsoft Points ($34.80) and will provide gamers with a 33% savings as opposed to purchasing the four DLC add-ons individually.

So what will these four add-ons consist of? Multiplayer and Campaign content, apparently, but beyond that we know nothing. Doing the math, I'd anticipate three of the four add-ons will sell for 800 Microsoft Points and one will sell for 1200 Microsoft Points (3600-33%=2412), and if that's correct, it'll be interesting to see if Microsoft Studios is hoping on the 1200 Microsoft Point Map Pack pricing as well.

Regardless, we're still overall in the dark about the actual content that will be provided for what's a sizable cost for a few add-ons. In relation, I'd like to point reference to the Mortal Kombat Season Pass. It also featured mystery content in the form of an unannounced 4th kombatant who turned out to be Freddy Krueger, which was to the disappointment of many. Since there's no need to purchase a Season Pass right away, I'd advise waiting to see exactly what it'll contain before you drop your Microsoft Points, unless, of course, you want to blindly give your money to publishers, then by all means.

Also keep in mind any content released will likely end up as a Deal of the Week for Xbox LIVE Gold members, resulting in potentially greater savings overall if you wait for that. Time will tell, of course.

If you're still interested, you can read the full official announcement right here.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection (Xbox 360) Review

Dominating much of my late childhood to mid teenage years, the original Mortal Kombat trilogy was the franchise to play. Featuring digitized actors instead of sprites, a dark storyline, and a gruesome fighting style with memorable characters, each game in the trilogy sucked up a lot of my quarters and, when they finally came to home consoles, ate up a sizable amount of my abundant spare time.

With the success of Mortal Kombat, an alternate retelling of the franchise's original trilogy, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment has released the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection on Xbox LIVE Arcade so gamers can relive or experience for the first time the classic games that started it all.

Aside from the fact that I love these games by default, the great appeal for me is that I no longer own copies of Mortal Kombat or Mortal Kombat II. While I do own the now discontinued Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, that's all I've got of these classic titles and the opportunity to not only own them all in one package but to also have arcade perfect versions of them for only 800 Microsoft Points is fantastic!

Developed by Other Ocean Interactive with the assistance of NetherRealm Studios, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is truly a trip down memory lane. The collection allows you to choose which of the three games to play from the main menu, and you can also jump into Multiplayer games over Xbox LIVE, Player or Ranked matches.

Now, I'm going to come right out and say it: This collection of arcade classics is filled with annoying bugs that should not be present, and that's a damned shame as the original games that led to the creation of the ESRB deserves far better in my opinion.

One of the additions to the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is the option to set the game's difficulty. The downer is for both Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, this difficulty adjustment seems to make no difference what-so-ever. The AI is still horrendously cheap, just as you remember in the arcades, and while this is rather authentic, it's also not very fun. Though a humbling experience in AI cheapness that will stop me from complaining about Mortal Kombat's Shao Khan forever more, you're only going to want to play through each game's Arcade Ladder once to earn their respective completion Achievements, except that you'll likely need to play them multiple times as the Achievements are glitched.

Completing each game should earn you an Achievement for doing so, but said Achievements will not always unlock, forcing the player to give it another go. While not the end of the world, it is frustrating and tedious to be deprived that "Achievement Unlocked" pop up when you've legitimately earned it, and the internet rumours you may see of having to complete each Arcade Ladder with one character, or no continues, or winning all the Test Your Might Challenges (in Mortal Kombat) to guarantee an Achievement are false. They are glitched and there's nothing special you need to do to unlock them but simply keep playing until you do so. I only had to play Mortal Kombat once, thankfully, and I had great fun as Scorpion, but Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 I needed to play twice each to get their respective Achievements. While not the end of the world this was tedious and is the kind of bug that simply shouldn't be present in a retail release.

With the ridiculously cheap AI, the real fun for any classic Mortal Kombat game is versus matchs either with your buddies on the same console or over Xbox LIVE. Offline play works very well with no major hiccups, though occasionally you'll encounter some input lag and the Controller won't register what you're pressing, but online suffers from pretty horrible network lag.

When you select Online Kombat from the main menu, you'll have three options: Quick Match, Player Match, and Ranked Match. Quick Match is exclusive to Xbox LIVE and it will immediately drop you into the next available non-Ranked game. At least it's supposed to. Playing on a Sunday afternoon of a long weekend, Quick Match was unable to find me a single match to play in. Seeing how useless this exclusive feature is, I decided to give Player Match a whirl, but sadly, no games were listed what-so-ever. The only option left for me to try and get some Multiplayer goodness going was Ranked Matches, and thankfully there do seem to be players here.

Unlike unranked matches you need to select which of the three games you want to search for, and I played five games of each title with no major difficulty getting a match here. The only frustrating thing with Ranked Matches over Xbox LIVE is the lag is pretty bad. Not as bad as Mortal Kombat when it launched, each match was still playable, but bad enough where it feels like we're still beta testing the game at retail, and that's rather a sad insult towards Warner Brother Interactive Entertainment's customer base. Still, I went 3-2 as Scorpion in Mortal Kombat, 3-2 as Mileena in Mortal Kombat II, and 4-1 as Sub-Zero in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Online play for Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 also sees Mileena, Ermac, and Classic Sub-Zero unlocked by default, whereas you need to unlock them via their Ultimate Kombat Codes for offline play. Thankfully you _do_ need to do this offline as Kombat Codes entered at versus screens do _not_ work at all online; you can not enter them period. Again, how such an essential element of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's Multiplayer could have escaped testing is beyond me.

Visually, these classic games look like they did back in the arcades, and there's several filter options available if you want. You can view the games in their "Klassic" digitized actor pixilated glory, use two kinds of "Painted" filters to pretty things up, use a "Smooth" filter to help with the jaggies (my preferred filter), or use a "Scan lines" filter to imitate that classic CRT look. You can also adjust the display to look like a curved CRT screen in an arcade cabinet to heighten this retro sense. There is no option to stretch the screen to fit widescreen, but the pre-done pillar boarders are beautiful and look very nice, so no complaints there. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 does seem overly bright and looks a bit washed out as a result, but again, that's not the end of the world.

Audio wise, this arcade perfect version sounds more or less like the classics of old. The music is still midi-based, Liu Kang still sounds like a girl on speed, and Scorpion still shouts "Get Over Here!" all angry like because he's grumpy. Death seems to do that. I've heard it said that some people are experiencing issues with music in-game that will randomly stop playing, though thankfully this hasn't happened to me yet, however in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 some sounds are very muted and other sounds will cancel out current audio being played. Audio bugs like this are a shame but at least they're not game breaking.

The controls are fully re-customizable, which is a plus, and the game handles well aside from the occasional input lag offline and the network lag online. A Moves List is available in the main in-game menu (accessed by "Back" for some reason), however you can't seem to view it unless you're in a versus match, and I mean actually in the match and not at the menus or Ladder screen, and in Single Player I could only view it in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and not the previous two titles. If you also return back to game from this menu, it will take one second to allow you to start using the controls again, leaving you vulnerable mid-match or wasting one second of your Fatality time if you're trying for one of those. Why such a delay happens when switching back from a menu offline is beyond me and once again leaves me wondering how thoroughly this collection was tested.

Aside from the Moves Lists, visual filters, somewhat functional difficulty settings, customizable controls, glitched Achievements and laggy online play with Leaderboards, each game is true to its arcade roots in terms of content and will provide you with a solid trip to yesteryear. Once that nostalgia wears off, however, you're left with a great collection of arcade classics that was sloppily ported, sporting bugs and issues that simply should not be present. It's been officially announced that a patch is being worked on, but until it's released it's very hard for me to recommend a defective product that may be at retail but is, for all intents and purposes, still in beta.

If you're a die hard Mortal Kombat fan, you will likely be able to look past the neglect done to this collection from the get-go as the bugs and issues are more annoying than game breaking, but otherwise wait for the patch to be released and then, assuming all the sloppiness is fixed, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection will indeed be worth the 800 Microsoft Points Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment is asking for. These really are a great collection of games that have had a strong influence on the gaming industry we know and love, and there is a significant amount of entertainment value to be had here, it's just a damn shame that it had to launch in such an obviously rushed state.

The Guardians Series Book 1: The Forest Laird - A Tale of William Wallace Review

The last series Jack Whyte worked on was his Templar Trilogy which dealt with the rise, progression, and fall of the Knights Templar. The final novel in that series, "Order in Chaos," may have been about the Templars themselves but one could clearly see that Whyte had already turned his eye towards Scotland and its wars for independence, and while Whyte dabbled with such a setting then, his new trilogy deals with these wars as the central focus.

Entitled The Guardian Series, the first novel is "The Forest Laird: A Tale of William Wallace." Like most, I'm sure you've seen Braveheart by now, and while it's certainly an excellent and well made film, as a Scotish collegue of mine once put it: "Don't look to Braveheart for historical accuracy," and it appears that Jack Whyte agrees.

Going back to a narrative style not used since his superb A Dream of Eagles series, this tale is told by William Wallace's cousin, Father Jamie Wallace. Years after his execution at the hands of the English, the tale of William Wallace as a larger than life hero and legend is growing by leaps and bounds, and Jamie undergoes the effort of writing all about William from his first hand knowledge to keep things grounded in reality. The story begins with Jamie comforting Will in prison while Will awaits his execution, and then goes back far further to the beginning, when young Will and Jamie are fleeing for their lives from English soldiery who have just murdered Will's parents and sister.

Like all his historical fiction, Whyte grounds his superbly entertaining tale in historical fact, focusing strongly on the feudal and religious politics of Scotland, England, and even France, and having his wonderfully developed characters act according to what's really occurring at that time. The manipulation and eventual occupation of Scotland takes years to achieve, and there are those of both nobility and church who oppose and approve of such English intervention. The common folk, of course, have no voice in such matters and must accept the neglect and abuse as it comes.

William and Jamie do grow up safe under the care of Will's uncle, a knight, and they're provided the finest schooling available at the local abbey. Sheltered from the events of the realm at large, Jamie gravitates towards the priesthood due to his love of books and learning, but Wallace gravitates towards archery and forestry, taught to him by his friend and mentor Ewan Scrymgeour. This knowledge proves invaluable in the days ahead when English oppression becomes great and Will is forced to become an outlaw fighting for retribution against English crimes without reprimand.

Do not be mistaken, Whyte's portrayal of William Wallace is _not_ Braveheart. As an outlaw, Will is not able to lead armies against vast numbers of English forces, but instead must resort to leading his merry men from their forest base camp, picking targets selectively and using guile and cunning to outmaneuver a superior foe. Through such tactics William succeeds wonderfully, giving what he steals to the poor and keeping his outlaws safe in Selkirk Forest, including his own wife Mirren and their young son Will.

Whyte does a wonderful job of painting Wallace as a real man, with an array of moods, hopes, and dreams, he avoids the archetype model we've come to expect of the character. As the reader this not only helps with empathy, but helps keep things fresh since we don't know what's going to come next, what will occur to propel Wallace to defy English even further, and what will lead him on the path that will see him ultimately executed in London.

"The Forest Laird" is a strong start for Whyte's new trilogy, and it is a sad and tragic tale filled with ideals and grief. Whyte's historical fiction is always a pleasure to read and his latest offering is certainly no different, and I eagerly await the second novel in the series.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Gears of War 3 "Dust to Dust" Launch Trailer

Every title in the Gears of War franchise has a beautiful launch trailer, and the upcoming latest entry, Gears of War 3, is no exception.

You can check out the official launch trailer here or below, and the game will be available everywhere in North America on September 20th exclusively on the Xbox 360.

Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection Trailer

Available now on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and PlayStation Store, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection can be picked up for 800 Microsoft Points or $10.00 (US). A launch trailer, in the form of a vignette, has also been released and you can view it here or below.

I picked up the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection on launch day and I'm enjoying it, but regrettably there are some bugs. There are audio issues in all three games (I haven't encountered any yet myself), some Achievements are glitched and won't unlock (I have encountered this, sadly), and online play is still in beta, it appears, as it's a horrendous lag fest that should never have left testing.

That's quite a shame for what should otherwise be an amazing collection. At least a patch is in the works according to the official Mortal Kombat Facebook page.

Halo 4 Concept Art Glimpse

From last week's Halo Fest, 343 Industries has released a trailer showcasing concept art for Halo 4. You can check it out here or below.

You know, the music really reminds me of Mass Effect and not Halo. Cool art though.