Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mortal Kombat Review

Originally released back in the summer of 1995 towards the height of the franchise's popularity, Mortal Kombat was a campy film even by '90's standards.  I saw the flick in theatres and thought it was alright, and I watched it on TV once a few years later.  Through all the time between then and now I've never bothered to view it since, but a few weeks back I saw it had been added to Zune Marketplace.  So, with my renewed addiction to the franchise thanks to Mortal Kombat (2011), I decided to give it a rent and re-check it out.

Released a few months after Mortal Kombat 3 hit arcades, Mortal Kombat is a film heavily based off of Mortal Kombat (1992) and Mortal Kombat II.  An ancient and mysterious martial arts tournament is being held on a secluded island, hosted by the reclusive Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).  Throughout the centuries, Shang has manipulated events to win tournament after tournament, where a tenth and final victory will see our world merged with another Realm, that of Outworld, home to Shang Tsung's evil master Shao Khan (Frank Welker).

The Shaolin, under the guidance of the Thunder God, Raiden (Christopher Lambert), send a reluctant champion to compete, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), who is consumed by the desire to avenge his younger brother's death at Shang's hands.  Also manipulated into attending, the martial arts actor Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) hopes to prove his skills to the media and Special Forces agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) is hot on the trail of her nemesis, the crime lord Kano (Trevor Goddard) who is working with Shang.

Goro, of course, is the current tournament champion and a very well done (for the time) animatronic puppet, and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa) and Sub-Zero (Francois Petit) serve as Shang Tsung's enforcers.  Reptile (Keith Cooke) also appears, as one of Shang's spies, rounding out the first game's complete roster.  Kitana (Talisa Soto) from Mortal Kombat II is also featured, and Jax (Gregory McKinney) makes a cameo appearance.

As with most of Paul W.S. Anderson's films, the character development is light and archetypical with little depth, but the action and fight sequences are solid and still enjoyable.  The animatronic special effects are still pretty good and have aged well, while the CG effects were good for their time but of course have aged poorly.

When I was fourteen I remember how cool it was to see all these characters on the big screen, but many of my criticisms from back then still remain.  I was never a fan of Scorpion's Spear being a living creature instead of a traditional kunai and while I didn't mind Reptile being rendered as a little reptilian creature, I did take exception to him becoming his more traditional ninja form by "possessing" of corpse in the Wasteland of Outworld.  I was also disappointed by the basic supporting roles granted to Scorpion and Sub-Zero, though it does make sense plot wise, but their complete lack of conflict with each other seemed extremely out of place.

Watching Mortal Kombat today, what I personally find interesting is how much the film's art design has clearly influenced the art design of Mortal Kombat (2011).  Shang Tsung's Garden, for example, is represented clearly in the film before it ever saw the light of day in a game, and the knife Kano pulls on Sonya during their fight is the exact same one he uses in the current game.  Of course when various visual elements work it makes perfect sense that they cross between mediums, even over fifteen years later, and there's many more examples fans will quickly notice.  Some plot points also carried over into the games, such as the romance between Liu Kang and Kitana and the attraction between Cage and Sonya.

A cheesy yet enjoyable film, Mortal Kombat is worth the rental cost.  It took me back to a simpler time when my biggest worry was how to quickly get through my homework so I could make it to an arcade and practice my moves, and I'm never one to baulk at nostalgia.  Of course, if you have no interest in the franchise or fond memories of it, then Mortal Kombat likely won't entertain you much at all and you'll probably want to pass for something else.

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut Release Date Announced

The ending for Mass Effect 3 sparked a significant outrage amongst the gaming community, with many feeling it was too simple and weak to properly finish their Shepard's story.  To help rectify this, BioWare will be releasing a DLC add-on which expands upon the game's ending, free of charge.

This Tuesday, June 26th, gamers will be able to download the Extended Cut for Mass Effect 3.

Weighing in at about 1.9 GB, the add-on will feature additional cinematic scenes and epilogue scenes for the game's ending.  In order to experience the Extended Cut for existing characters who have already completed the game, however, you'll need to load a save from before the attack on the Cerberus Base.

That irks me, as that's far enough back in the story where it'll take me several hours of playtime to complete, and I simply can't invest that kind of time in a game I've already completed.  While I'll see the Extended Cut on subsequent playthroughs, I'm hugely disappointed that I won't be able to with my primary Shepard.  Hugely.  Disappointed.

You can find out full details about Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut here.

Dead Space: Catalyst Announced

The next novel in the Dead Space franchise has been announced, and you can check out the official release from our friends at Tor Books below:

Tor Books and Visceral Games Team Up on a New Novel, Dead Space: Catalyst, Set in the Dead Space Universe

Edgar Award Finalist and Horror Sensation B.K. Evenson to Pen Second Novel in the Series

New York, NY – June 18, 2012 - Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC—the largest publisher of science fiction in the world—and Visceral Games, a studio of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA), today announced Dead Space™: Catalyst, the second novel based on the award-winning Dead Space videogame franchise. Dead Space: Catalyst will be published worldwide on October 2, 2012.

Dead Space: Catalyst takes place three hundred years in the future, where mankind is tampering with the dangerous alien technology gleaned from the Black Marker, an ancient alien artifact discovered on Earth centuries earlier. Hoping to end resource constraints that threaten to make mankind extinct, the urgency sinks the already unscrupulous EarthGov to new lows. At this early stage, the Marker threat is just appearing – and is maybe even contained – except if it finds the catalyst it so desperately seeks. Two brothers, one with a special but broken mind, the other forever conflicted by the impossible chore of keeping him out of trouble, cross paths with EarthGov and the Markers at this critical juncture and forever change the course of the Marker outbreak.

B. K. Evenson is the award-winning author of the new novel Immobility (out from Tor Books on April 10, 2012), Last Days, voted best horror novel of 2009 by the American Library Association, and The Open Curtain, a 2006 Edgar Award finalist and Time Out New York best book of the year.

Since the series debut in 2008, Dead Space has been one of EA’s top rated wholly-owned intellectual properties. With close to 100 industry awards and an average critic score of 89*, Dead Space is loved by videogame fans the world over. In 2009, EA launched Dead Space Extraction, a prequel to the original Dead Space that expanded the fiction and brought the franchise to the Wii™. In 2011, EA launched Dead Space 2 where hero Isaac Clarke returned for another heart-pounding adventure and was heralded as one of the top games of 2011 by Seth Schiesel from the New York Times and has received over 70 scores of 90+ from top gaming outlets such as Official Xbox Magazine, Playstation: The Official Magazine and Game Informer.


* According to and

About Tor Books
Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, is a New York-based publisher of hardcover and softcover books. Founded in 1980, Tor annually publishes what is arguably the largest and most diverse line of science fiction and fantasy ever produced by a single English-language publisher.  In 2002, Tor launched Starscape, an imprint dedicated to publishing quality science fiction and fantasy for young readers, including books by critically acclaimed and award winning authors such as Cory Doctorow, Orson Scott Card, and David Lubar. Between an extensive hardcover and trade-softcover line, an Orb backlist program, and a stronghold in mass-market paperbacks, books from Tor have won every major award in the SF and fantasy fields, and the company has been named Best Publisher 24 years in a row in the Locus Poll, the largest consumer poll in SF.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Halo 4 Spartan Ops, War Games Gameplay Videos, and Infinity Hub Overview

During E3, 343 Industries released a few cool gameplay videos for Halo 4, most notably Spartan Ops and War Games gameplay which you can view here and here or below.

Personally, Spartan Ops looks pretty bland to me, but War Games looks like tried-and-true Halo multiplayer with some nice modern updates.  Should be fun.

The UNSC Infinity will also serve as the Multiplayer Hub for Halo 4, and you can check out a video that explains it all here or below.

I must confess, the overall gameplay being shown of Halo 4 is quite strong, and my interest in the title has been re-peaked.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Halo 4 E3 2012 Stage Demo

The official Stage Demo for Halo 4 shown earlier today at E3 is now officially online at Halo Waypoint.  It's not on their YouTube Channel yet so I can't post the actual video, so until then you'll need to view it on their official site here.

It's a great demonstration, actually, and it's got my attention.  The look and feel is certainly Halo, save for the needless retcon of Cortana's activation date.

I'll post the Stage Demo here once it's properly up on their YouTube Channel.

Dead Space 3 Officially Announced

 During EA's conference today at E3, they officially announced Dead Space 3.

Set on the frozen world of Tau Volantis, Issac Clarke races to find what might be a final cure to the Necromorph plague.

Dead Space 3 will not only feature a full Single Player campaign, but the Campaign will also include drop-in and drop-out Co-Op.  Co-Op partners will take on the roll of Earth Gov solider John Carver, who's past will be properly revealed during the Co-Op campaign itself.  Having Carver along will not only add a helping hand but will also open up additional gameplay options to both players.

You can check out the official announcement trailer here or below.

The Campaign will also feature side missions for the first time in franchise history.  No competitive Multiplayer component was announced.

Dead Space 3 will release on Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 in February 2013.

I'm very much looking forward to the game, though I confess I find it extremely silly that Clarke and Carver are wearing winter-wear over their suits.  Suits that can survive just fine in the cold vacuum of space.  That's just silly.

Halo 4 E3 2012 Media

While I await the official videos of Halo 4 from E3 to be released, I'll leave you with the screenshots, renders, and concept art officially unveiled on Halo Waypoint.

- E3 2012 screenshots can be viewed here.
- Halo 4 renders can be viewed here.
- Screenshots previously exclusive to Game Informer can be viewed here.
- Halo 4 concept art can be viewed here.

From what I've seen of the actual footage itself, the gameplay looks quite impressive.

Gears of War: Judgement Announced

Earlier today during Microsoft's press conference at E3, Epic Games officially unveiled Gears of War: Judgement, a prequel for the Gears of War franchise.

Set just after Emergence Day, the game will follow the exploits of Kilo Squad, led by Baird and also featuring Cole, as they struggle in the aftermath of the Locust invasion.

You can check out the announcement trailer here or below, and read the official announcement here.

I just can't get excited over anything Gears of War, anymore, as Gears of War 3 killed any love I had for the franchise.  Shame.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Resistance: Burning Skies Trial Impressions

Tonight I played a bit of history: the trial for the first ever portable dual analogue stick first person shooter.  Of course, I'm talking about Resistance: Burning Skies for the PlayStation Vita.

The trial contains what I believe to be the first level of the Single Player Campaign, and the rest of the game, including Multiplayer, is locked.  In the Campaign, players take on the role of Tom Riley, a firefighter and national guardsman.  Riley and his team of firefighters are dispatched to an emergency call at a power station at Staten Island, only to discover that the Chimera invasion of America has begun.  Riley must then escape, assist the resistance movement, and fight for his life as everything crumbles around him.

The trial controls quite well with the Left Stick overseeing movement and the Right stick naturally allowing you to look around.  "R" fires your weapon, "L" zooms in, "Square" reloads, "X" jumps, "Circle" crouches, and "Triangle" toggles between the last two used weapons or brings up the weapon wheel when held (you can also upgrade weapons here once the right artifacts are collected).  You can run by double tapping the rear touch pad or pressing down on the D-pad, and if you get close to cover left or right on the D-pad allows you to lean out or you can use "L" to aim over.

In general, a fairly standard set up and one that's easy to use.  Given the lack of buttons compared to modern console's Controller, some touchscreen options are employed.  All weapon secondary functions are used via the touchscreen, be it pressing and holding on an enemy to lock on to them with the Bullseye or gliding your finger along the back of the Mule to load a flaming crossbow bolt.  You also tap doors to open them or touch Intel items to pick them up, and you hit the "Axe" icon to quickly melee with your trusty Fire Axe.  You can also drag grenades to enemies to precision throw them or simply tap the icon to toss a grenade where your reticule already is.

In actual practice, some of this is a bit cumbersome but on Normal difficulty, Riley appears to be able to take a good bit of damage before dropping, and his Health regenerates somehow like in most modern shooters.  Overall, the gameplay is simplistic and carries a retro feel that loosely reminded me of the Quake franchise, but I must say I found it quite enjoyable.

Graphical the trial was a bit of a mixed bag with some areas and textures looking better than others, but at no point was I ever horribly repulsed by anything and they certainly get the job done.  The trial's audio was also good with a solid musical score when it kicked in and pretty standard voice acting.  The character development didn't seem that strong and for the most part you're just a one-man tank shooting a few waves of basic AI enemies, but again it was fun in it's simplicity and featured a decent, if basic, boss battle at the end.

 The innovation present, at least as shown in the trial, is not the actual gameplay itself but the fact that this is a portable system with a proper, completely playable and relatively easy to control first person shooter.  That unto itself is a cool experience, and once a price drop occurs I fully expect I'll pick the game up.

PlayStation Vita Impressions

When I first picked up Sony's PlayStation Vita, I admit that I was worried I'd made a bad purchase, but to be completely blunt, I'm extremely impressed with it thus far.

The product is sleek and clean looking and it feels both solid and comfortable in the hands.  The majority of the buttons and both sticks are laid out quite well and are easy to access without accidentally hitting one other.  The only exceptions would be the "Select" and "Start" buttons which are placed in an awkward spot at the bottom right of the handheld, and the buttons themselves are a little too recessed which makes them a bit more difficult to use.  The handheld itself is also a finger print magnet, which is a bit of a shame but not uncommon for a portable device.

The setup was relatively painless save for the Initial Setup Loop that I got stuck in, but the problem is well documented and the solution quite simple.  The Settings menu is easy to find, navigate, and configure, and within a short period of time I was connected to my Wifi access point and ready to properly experience the handheld.

Now, the PlayStation Vita is the first touchscreen device I've had the privilege of owning, and I'm loving the use of the screen for navigating pretty much everything over using the D-pad and sticks.  I personally find the 5' OLED screen crisp and gorgeous, and it does indeed respond well to the touch.  I also love how the Home screen isn't plastered with a ridiculous amount of ads, or any ads at all for that matter; it's concise and to the point.

Out of the box, the PlayStation Vita comes with several apps, including a simple and quick little tutorial.  There's an app for managing your PlayStation Network Friends and another app for Parties and Chat (and cross-game chat is supported over PlayStation Network with the PlayStation Vita).  There's an app for Trophies, an app for the PlayStation Store (which is well laid out and very easy to navigate), as well as a web browser app, a Camera app, a Video app, etc.

Surfing the web is simple and straight forward and I've had no issues going to any site I've needed to thus far, and load times aren't too bad at all.  The only apps I haven't really tinkered with at this point are the ones that involve location data; the Near and Maps apps.  Personally, I don't want Sony and Google tracking where I am at any given point, so you'll need to look elsewhere for other's thoughts on those particular apps.

The camera's pretty basic, both front and back, and its picture quality isn't amazing but it does get the job done.  I do like how you can easily take screenshots in-game though, unless the game itself specifically restricts this.

The built-in speakers project crisp, clean audio and headphones sound just as clear, and when all is said and done you get anywhere between three to five hours out of the battery, depending on what you're doing.

You can also back-up your PlayStation Vita's save files by connecting it to your PC after installing some proprietary software, and the back up process, as well as transferring photos, music, and movies, is all pretty straight forward.

Now being a gaming handheld the primary thing to look at is the available games, and right now the selection is a bit sparse.  I primarily purchased the PlayStation Vita to give me something to enjoy on my commute, and that something is Mortal Kombat, a game I'm far too addicted to.  On the PlayStation Vita, even though visually it's taken a hit from consoles, it plays wonderfully and at a full 60 FPS.  I can and have practiced my combos and then gone and executed them flawlessly on my Xbox 360, which makes this version of the game a great companion to the console experience.  This has proven a great and productive way to pass my commute, and hopefully we'll see some other quality titles announced at this year's E3.

Thus far, I'm very happy with my purchase.  The PlayStation Vita is a very handy and useful device for games and more, and it's already provided me with hours of solid entertainment.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard Beta

This is a welcome surprise:  Bethesda Game Studios will be holding a Beta test for the upcoming The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC, "Dawnguard."

Being an Xbox 360 DLC exclusive to start, the Beta is Xbox 360 only, however if you're interested in entering you can do so here.

The coolest thing of all is those selected to participate will receive a downloadable token for "Dawnguard," and it's the full version of the add-on.  It will include Achievements and be completely free to entrants.  That alone is reason enough to sign up; just for the chance to score it for free.

Good luck to those who enter!