October 29, 2009

Uncharted 2: The only action-adventure game gamers will need all year

Erik Kubik Says Despite its tiny flaws, Uncharted 2 is easily one of the best pieces of gaming for the Playstation 3. I was thinking Infamous could be Game of the Year until Uncharted 2 came along and dethroned the “king.”

I could go on and on about Uncharted 2, covering the plot, the multiplayer, the trophies and the characters, but by now, I am sure most gamers have read at least two reviews where the writers smothered this game with love and raved about how great it is. Instead of rehashing others’ opinions, I would rather focus on why I found this game so addicting!

One of the best things about Uncharted 2 is the way the game flows. First off, there are no obvious plot holes. I have to agree, from start to finish, Uncharted 2 feels like a movie. Cut screens move the game play along and seamlessly shift from game play to watching and back again. There are some plot twists but nothing the average gamer cannot handle. Old and new friends integrate into the game well. The game has plenty of variety as Drake climbs over ledges, dangles from cliffs, melee grapples with foes, and guns down those who stand in his way.

Uncharted 2 sucks gamers in, and will become their life for the next 20-40 hours. For some reason Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4) comes to mind as a good comparison of consuming my life while attempting to create a balanced game. In quick reference, MGS 4 was the first Metal Gear game I had played and I was confused by the plot and most of the characters’ relationships. Metal Gear Solid’s in-game cinemas were lengthy and hindered the overall flow of the game.

To go along with the great rhythm, Uncharted 2 has solid controls. There are a few instances when Drake needs to move and he either jumps in the wrong direction or struggles to find cover; these are irritable flaws that are easily overlooked. There is nothing complicated about the controls, nothing has changed from Uncharted 1. I do wish Drake could climb more of the environment like Altaïr in Assassin’s Creed.

In regards to graphics, reviewers agree Uncharted 1 has some of the best graphics on the Playstation 3. Infamous is another Playstation 3 title which secretes graphical goodness. Uncharted 2 blows past other ps3 titles. The immense amount of detail in the characters and their animations are enough to make anyone stare aimlessly.

Drake’s clothing reflects his interactions with the environment from jungle rivers to the snowy cliffs of Nepal. Drake’s clothing gets soaked to the bone in rivers and the chilling snow causes his face and hands to cake with white. The scenery in Uncharted 2 is breathtaking from the urban landscape to the mountains. There is one point in the game where I simply stared at my TV in awe for at least two minutes. When you find yourself on the rooftop in Borneo, stop for a minute and look around. Everything in the distance is alive; you can see water flowing and trees rippling with the wind. There is smoke from several fires. Uncharted 2 does not have the painted, boring backgrounds that so many next generation games have.

At this point, some reviewers would launch into a three paragraph summary of the plot. Because most fans already know what happens, I am going to summarize the plot in one long run-on sentence! Drake is chasing a girl named Chloe who may or may not have betrayed him, to get the Cintamani Stone with Elena and Sully at his side (two of those old friends from Uncharted 1) while trying to stop a guy named Zoran Lazarević as they all race across exotic landscapes, each more fun than the last. Although like Uncharted 1, the ending of the game was a little disappointing.

In addition to the epic single player, there are strong multiplayer fundamentals as well. Red Faction or Grand Theft Auto IV, as non-fps games might be the closest comparisons to Uncharted 2’s multiplayer. But both GTA IV and Red Faction lack the complete experience of Uncharted 2. Those two games fall short in other crucial areas including a driven single player story, exciting characters, and gorgeous settings.

Concerning multiplayer, not only is there the standard Deathmatch variation, but there are also objective-based games such as Plunder (similar to CTF) and Chain Reaction. The latter is similar to Call of Duty World at War’s multiplayer mode where a player has to grab and hold points in a specific order. In Uncharted 2, I loved the Rockets-Only and Sniper-Pistol Deathmatch options. These are the little things keeping the multiplayer from becoming stale: something GTA IV suffered from. The ability to upgrade your weapons and skills as the game progresses also keeps things appealing.

Uncharted 2 also has co-op multiplayer. While Uncharted 2 lacks the customization of Red Faction multiplayer, the co-op modes are easily one of the best I have played in my 20+ years of gaming. Co-op centers on objective game play, featuring Nate and two other champions. There are platform and strategy objectives mixed in with some nasty gunfights. Co-op requires gamers to work together to achieve the end goal. Outside of single player, the co-op game play drove me to stay up to 4 am multiple nights I had to wake up for work at 8 am.

Usually, I blaze through a new game as fast as possible. But I could not put Uncharted 2 down. From start to finish, it is such a polished piece of work. I had to watch every cut screen at least twice. I know I will play through the game at least twice. It is easily worth the $60, and with 300,000 copies sold on the first day, gamers know this fantastic game is destined for great things. If I had to give the game a review score, I’d go with 10 Goozex Eggs.


October 28, 2009

The Fall 2009 Dashboard Update

Shawn Lebert Says “And here we go.” As Heath Ledger would dramatically say when something amazing would happen – God rest his soul – just moments later. A new update for the Xbox 360 is coming to everyone very soon but only the few, only the wonderfully chosen, were selected into the delightful world of the beta version.

The Fall update, announced at this year’s E3, will include social networking at its finest on the 360 console. Don’t have a computer nearby and are just dying to tweet about the back-story of the creation of your ham sandwich? You will have all the necessities at your fingertips through your beloved gaming system.

I, Sleebs (LIVE gamertag), have been honored with the pleasure of the update of social splendor. Is the update worth waiting for? Better yet, is it worth tweeting over? I’ll break down what’s important to the update and theorize what could have been implemented better.

So you’re a tweeting whore. Who’s not these days? Everywhere I look, my gamer buds are updating their gamer experiences with their personal twitter apps. And what’s more perfect than combining Twitter networking with the Xbox 360?

All you need is a Twitter account and a log-in. Before you know it, you’ll be viewing your tweets. The auto-update feature refreshes your tweet feed quickly, so you’re never missing out on anyone’s comments.

The twitter page is basic, having your Twitter name at the top of the list to the left – in case you just so happen to forget who you are. What’s cool is that your avatar is sitting atop of everything. Much like the regular Xbox dashboard, your avatar will naturally blink, move, and animate here and there throughout.

Underneath your name is the, “What are you doing option,” which allows you to type in a status update right away. I noticed upon first impression that, hey, you’re going to need a chat-pad immediately. If not, Twitter will get annoying. Punching letters and numbers individually will be painstaking and annoying otherwise.

Below the status update feature, you have the Search option, which allows you to search for keywords within the twitter realm.

Lastly, the Trending Topics area is a listing of all the – you guessed it! – trendy topics on twitter. By clicking on a trendy topic of your choosing, you are sent to a current list of the people who recently mentioned the keyword within their status update.

On the right hand side, you’ll see your personal list of all the latest tweets. Quick and simple. The design layout is very elementary and complimentary to what you’d see on twitter, including various clouds that animate and move in the background.

What Can Be Improved to Twitter
Much of this feature can be improved dramatically. Even though there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s nothing that provides a reason why you’d use it on the Xbox. Everyone in this day and age has the ability to use a computer. Twitter has sweeped the nation with its remarkable simplicity. By now, Twitter has managed to migrate to not just sites, but mobile hardware like phones and whatnot. Twitter is a standard program for many: a direct stream of twitter feeds being downloaded to your desktop with ease.

Why stare at twitter when the Xbox 360 is supposed to be a game console? Granted, it’s becoming a multimedia system, but are we going to study a screen without doing something else in the process? Twitter has become the background application.

Another issue is that since the Xbox 360 doesn’t have a built-in browser, the links that friends update with are utterly useless since you can’t click on them.

Given its early stages, it would be interesting to get pop-ups on your Xbox Live regarding a game status or just a tweet that you made when you are doing something else on the 360. The computer has this beat easily.

Yet another really convenient way to communicate with friends, family, alumni, or anyone else! Once you sign into Facebook through the 360, you’re given a similar tile structure to that of the basic Xbox dashboard. The categories are broken up into Home, Photos, Friends, and Profile. Within the Home area, you’ll see the latest status updates, how many have liked the comment or written in to comment back to the original poster.

Depending on how many categories for people you have will determine how many feed tiles there will be on the home page.

Underneath the Home category, you have Photos. Here, you can view your photos or even your friends’ photos that are public to view.

After that is the Friends area, where you can peruse each friend on your list and view their updates, photos and info.

Interested in commenting back to a friend’s status? Just click the appropriate tile and you’ll be given the option to comment back. Easy schmeasy.

What Can be Improved to Facebook
The decision to make the Facebook appearance as tiled, like the Xbox dashboard, feels odd. It’s like they had to use the dashboard tiles because there was no other way to use Facebook any other way.

There seems to be so many tiles that it looks like they could have condensed them. It’s good that they kept the key categories for each major area, but all the tiles are confusing. You’re better off just selecting the first tile in each category and find the appropriate thing to select within the sub-menu.

Usually, if you’re near your Xbox, you’d be near your laptop or computer – which happens to be much more convenient to peruse from an Internet browser than this mess. Yes, mess.

Last.fm is perhaps the coolest way to listen to music. Have a favorite band but don’t know a lot of similar artists? Last.fm is there to do that for you, as you can stream bands or singers that work within the same genre, and it’s that easy.

I think that Last.fm is the most special feature that this update has to offer since it’s all about the music and it’s free. Well, that is, for Gold members on Xbox Live.

Last.fm is set up with the tile system like the Xbox dashboard, but it works here between popular stations and starting your own station. You can scroll through the popular stations that people are dancing to right at this moment and begin enjoying it with them.

If you aren’t really interested in what’s popular, you can set up your own station given that you provide an artist that you’d like to listen to.

The dashboard tile appearance also works to separate all the artists you have scrobbled onto your last.fm account. By clicking on the specific artist tile, you go right into buffering their station and its similar artists.

What’s really fascinating is the way the music plays. Since it’s just audio, last.fm has provided images on your screen so that you can enjoy the tracks while getting a screensaver effect, over a random set of pictures already looping on your console.

A little browser underneath it – similar to the Xbox video – gives you options like Info, Skip and Stop. You can also heart it, meaning that if you love the track that’s currently playing, it will set up in your loved-tracks list on your account.

A popular way to play music is here.

What Can Be Improved to Last.fm
This is a big critical annoyance to me, but why oh why can’t I back out of the Last.fm area and just play Last.fm anywhere on my Xbox? Whether I’m just on the dash itself or playing a video game, there should be many ways to play Last.fm, and it would be a more significant way to play music if anyone were to do this. Since you can only play Last.fm within Last.fm, that means you cannot venture within the Xbox while listening. Most people have music playing in the background while they do other things. This feature needs to be implemented; otherwise, Last.fm will hardly be used.

One of the great features of the music player on the Xbox 360 is the ability to play music while playing a video game. What’s even much cooler is that music blends into your gameplay; taking out the video game’s musical score itself and slaps the music you’re playing on top, creating a seamless blend of perfection. One could only wish Last.fm could do the very same.

Unfortunately, as great as Last.fm is capable of, it’s usually pointless to stare at a screen, unless you are using it to play within the background. But by this time, anyone has set up their computers to do this already. So why use the Xbox 360 for it?

The Zune Marketplace is the last feature to the update, but still utilizes the Zune marketplace that the Zune is already capable of, just now with the affiliation of your 360. With current films like Drag Me to Hell and Fast and Furious already up, it’s tempting to see what else is there on the list.

The key feature to the Zune Marketplace is the ability to watch streaming full-HD 1080p. Always been wanting Blu-ray on the 360? Well, here’s a partial answer that might help satisfy the appetite. Crystal-clear image never looked better and the experience is truly worth waiting for.

Not only can you experience movies, but there’s also television, music videos, and independent video. Start a party with some friends and watch it together. Not sure what to watch? Why not try some movie trailers for current and upcoming films?

What Can Be Improved to Zune
Well, aside from the fact that Netflix can already do 75% of what the Zune marketplace can, there isn’t really a lot of incentive. The only difference is you can decide on buying or renting a film. Another positive factor with the Zune marketplace is the 1080p playback, which is worthy of experiencing . With Netflix being a full-on service with many Instant Play films already, there’s some competition.

With both Netflix and the Zune Marketplace, it’s difficult to decide which feature to utilize most, but at least you have a choice. If you have a need to buy a film, Zune Marketplace is there. Either way, it’s seems like there’s conflict with where you should be spending your money, time, and hard drive space.

While it seems like a crazy-cool update with some interesting tidbits, it’s nothing that the computer or laptop can’t already do. If you’re this invested in sitting in front of an Xbox 360, you’re bound to be sitting with your PC or Mac nearby anyway. Although, while it is fancy that the 360 can work with these sites, you’ll find that the simple and quicker function rests with your trusty computer.

Until we see a complete integration of these features, they don’t add much to the Xbox Live Experience, but it is still good to have compatibility nonetheless.

Executive Editor's Note: I only add my commentary to articles that I really hate and the articles that I really love. With that said, this is an article that I really love (deep down inside I love all the articles that I publish... uh, huh). Anyway, being that I am not privy to the beta of the Fall Update, I found this article to be very informative, and also very disappointing (in the updates, not in the writing of the article itself).

It appears that good ole Microsoft went nine yards and failed to make the first down. They popped out to left field and Manny Ramirez caught the lazy fly ball. Ok, that's enough sports metaphors (I swear, I've only had two glasses of wine, OK, they were double glasses, but still, that's only four glasses of wine and now I'm rambling...).

What I'm trying to say is, wouldn't it be cool to be playing a game, have Last.fm playing in the background, have your tweets and FB notifications pop on the screen like Achievements, and have Zune, well, I guess have Zune be Zune... What I'm trying to say is: Microsoft, if you want to score the goal, then you need full integration. If you want the slam dunk, then you gotta take it to the hoop. You know what I'm sayin? If you're gonna do something, then do it right. Half-ass effort gets you half-ass results. And while I'm on this rant, just drop Last.fm and incorporate iTunes or Pandora (can't we all just get along?).

My apologies to Sleebs for this rant...


October 27, 2009

Forza 3 | First Impressions

Mike Rohde Says Let's get this out of the way: don't be like me and think you can install Disc 2 first and then go to Disc 1 to play the game. No, no, no. Save yourself a big headache and pop in Disc 1 first, enjoy the incredible opening scenes, and then follow the directions to install Disc 2. And don't forget to hit A after the install starts. Otherwise, it won't install. And you'll just sit there. Watching your screen and wondering what the heck is taking so long. Ok, now that we got that out of the way…

Forza 3 got me on the race track fast. Instead of starting off with creating a profile or choosing a car, it put me right into a race. As that first race was loading, I casually took a sip of my cold beverage, and as I was doing so the race finished loading…next thing I knew, I was sitting back in my chair watching a preview of the track...instead of quickly hitting A to start the introductory race. Yes folks, the graphics are good. They are stop-you-in-your-tracks good. I raced through the intro on Casual level and easily won. A quick and easy Achievement popped up and next thing I knew I was picking my first car…and yeah…I was a little disappointed I couldn't keep that sweet Audi I was just driving. Instead, I got a Honda Fit...

I chose the Honda Fit as my starting car because I'm the proud owner of an Accord and a CRV. I thought I'd choose a member of the family to get started in Forza 3. I did feel a little silly racing a Fit after racing the higher-class cars for so long in Forza 2. But whatever, I had to start somewhere.

I have to say, the racing wheel felt good and comfortable. It was nothing like my experiences playing Dirt or Need for Speed Most Wanted. Granted, those games are several years old and Forza 3 is the cream of the crop. It's very good to know there have been remarkable improvements in how the racing wheel handles. So far, there's been no learning curve to using the racing wheel controls. I did choose layout 3 to accommodate the hand brake on the right bumper instead of the B button. Anyone with a racing wheel will probably agree that the B button is hard to hit while going around corners.

To get started, I chose to race on the Easy level, and then quickly moved up to Medium after easily winning my first race. Then, I moved up to the Hard level after easily winning the second race on Medium.

After winning the second race, I had enough credits for a Quick Upgrade, which is a great new feature. In Forza 2, I had to sort through all the parts and then be careful to not outclass my car for the next event. Quick Upgrade removes all of the guesswork and got me right back on the track and into the race in no time at all. Essentially, it removes a lot of the work out of the game and keeps me behind the wheel and out of the shop. Hardcore enthusiasts can still customize and fine tune the cars, but for me, that's not enjoyable. I just want to race and Forza 3 allows me to do just that.

After a few tries, I did win my first race on the Hard difficult level and I moved my driver up a level and I earned a new car. It was pretty sweet.

I'm two hours into the game and have already earned several Achievements. One of those Achievements was for winning a race using the cockpit view. I gotta tell you, I've always stayed away from the cockpit view because I never felt that comfortable with it. I don't see the track as well, I don't see the other cars as well, and I don't get the sense of control like I do with an exterior view. Well, in Forza 3 that all changes. I raced twice in the cockpit view and it was a ton of fun. Yes, my view of the track was limited, and I couldn't see the other cars as well, but that actually improved the experience. It was kind of like a cloud-of-war effect that provided a more realistic driving sensation.

Some of the added effects of racing in the cockpit view include seeing the hood of the car dip down when I hit the brakes too hard, the view shook a bit when I drove off the road, and, the coolest part (and this actually made me laugh a bit) was an occasion when an opposing car slammed into the back of my car causing me to spin out of control. I was coming around the final corner, I was in first place, the finish line was within sight, then next thing I know I feel a jarring thud and my car is spinning out of control and I headed straight into the crash barriers! I was like, WHOA! What just happened? I turned on the new Rewind feature, watched the series of events happen in reverse (had to smile at seeing an opponent take me out on the final corner) and then I played it over again starting at the spot right before I got nudged. This time, I put on a little more gas and steered out of the way before I got hit. I won the race, and DING, I got another Achievement.

You can find me on the Xbox 360 as Jimmy James 70. Let's race some multiplayer!


October 26, 2009

Aion: The Haul To Level 20

Chris Nitz says: I have been playing MMO’s since Ultima Online. I moved to EverQuest after some co-workers could not stop talking about it. I jumped to Dark Age of Camelot and got my first end game character. I have enjoyed Eve Online, World of Warcraft, EverQuest 2, Age of Conan, Warhammer, and oh so many free to play MMO’s. I enjoy trying out MMO’s and seeing how they change the MMO formula.

Aion is an MMO from NCSoft. NCSoft is most known for MMO’s like Lineage 2, Guild Wars, and City of Heroes/Villians.

Let me get one thing out of the way to start. Aion is a Korean-style MMO. This game is a grind. You will not be level 10 in 20 minutes. Dying does have some consequences to it. The characters have a very Asian feel to them. With that said, come with me on a stroll down the first 20 levels.

The first step to any MMO is making your character. In Aion, you start by choosing your side. You can be Elyos (good) or Asmodian (bad). No matter what side you choose, you will start with for classes. You can be a Mage, Priest, Warrior, and Scout. Your character customization can be as quick or drawn out as you like. You have full control over items like lip size, brow size, facial proportion, and facial features. It took me five minutes to make my character, and it took my wife almost 30 minutes.

Once your character is made, you are tossed into the world. Good characters start in a bright green area. Bad characters start in a darker more desolate area. Those people who like to make many alts, be advised that you will be playing the same areas for every alt you make. You are now a baby Daeva looking to earn their wings.

You are given your first set of quests and told to go forth and grow. Now starts the run to level 10. The quests do a good job of directing you where to go. You can open your quest log and choose the option to locate. This will mark the general area where your quest objective can be found. It is not as obvious as Warhammer’s big blue circles, but it is better than nothing. Finding graves or specific quest mobs quickly really helps in finishing quests quickly and efficiently.

Eventually, you will hit level 10 and you are given an ascension quest. You are now on the road to getting your wings and choosing your primary class. Hitting level 10 also opens the ability to teleport to your sides’ capital city. You will get a quest telling you what your next questing city will be as well. I won’t deny it, there is a thrill the first time you open your wings and take flight. I began to wonder why this has been out of so many games before.

Levels 1 to 10 can be had in a few hours of play. Ten to 20 on the other hand is a long trek. You never really run out of quests though. This helps a lot with keeping you busy. Now that you are out of the starting area, you can take advantage of the broker. This is the game’s auction house. You also get access to the warehouse (your character bank). One nice feature on the warehouse is that you have shared account slots. You can get items from one character to another using these slots (granted those characters are on the same server).

Level 20 brings on rest xp as well. The rest xp amounts to a 20% bonus in your normal xp rate. Level 20 also opens up two new areas to quest in. This is very welcomed as it gives you changes of scenery as you move up the leveling scale.

Combat can turn into a little more than just setting up a hotbar with your spell/skills. I found that grouping led me to use my spells in a different manner than when I was soloing. You also have chain skills/spells. These are only available after you perform a particular spell/skill before it. For tank types, this leads to an impressive hacking, slashing, and whirling of your weapon.

Dying does have adverse effects. When you die, you lose some xp until you pay a soul healer to get it back. You also suffer resurrection sickness. If you die twice before you see a soul healer, you’ll lose more xp, and your resurrection sickness lasts a bit longer. While it is not much, the first time you spend 15k Kinah (in game gold), it will make you scream.

The game is not all nice new shiny fun. When you get to a new zone, you are often welcomed to the gold farmers spam. There are lots of people working through the same quests as you are at times. You will find yourself fighting for this items at times. This is often resolved by switching your channel to get away from people.

The game itself runs well for a few hours. The game is also very gorgeous. I found myself just looking at my surroundings from time to time. After a few hours in one zone with no issues, I would go to the capital city and start getting graphical glitches. This is easily resolved by re-launching the game.

The sound effects and music are very hit or miss. Opening your wings does not sound like wings opening. Yet a waterfall sounds very much like its real life counterpart. The music tends to switch between different music tracks. I found that I enjoyed some and that it fit in no matter where I was. Other tracks just make no sense.

This game is very linear for the first 20 levels. You will be doing the same quest, hunting the same monsters, and running around the same areas with every character you make. You will also find that both sides tend to feel the same in quest lines and zone layout.

This is an MMO. You will be killing x of this, or collecting y of that. You will have to go kill this boss or that boss. You will have areas designed for groups. This is part of the MMO formula. If you don’t like this about your current MMO, Aion is not going to change that for you. For those that do enjoy this formula, Aion takes that formula, tweaks it a bit, and gives it to you in a nice new package.

I have enjoyed my time with Aion. I shouldn’t as I don’t enjoy grinding, but I find Aion very enjoyable. The questing keeps me busy with tasks to do. I have met some great people in groups, and every level feels well deserved. I have not tried crafting or PvP yet, so no comments on those for now. All in all, I look forward to playing some more and plan on re-subscribing my account.


October 23, 2009

Uncharted 2 | First Impressions

Erik Kubik Says Uncharted 2 came out last week on October 13th, and managed to sell 300,000 on its release day. That is an incredible number! So ask yourself why don’t you have it? This game is incredible, but words alone cannot describe the experience.

When I loaded up Uncharted for the first time, I was coming off a 10-hour day at work and was literary [sic] frothing at the mouth to play. The load screen on my 60 GB ps3 could not move fast enough. After playing the demo and the earlier Beta I was expecting something great. What I did not know, was that I was getting something close to godliness.

Just like the Sony commercials, Uncharted 2 plays like a movie. The game play flows seamlessly between real-time action and in-game cut screens. In the beginning. you are tromping through a battered and broken train about to plunge off a cliff with Nate Drake, a distant relative of Sir Francis Drake and the star of the first Uncharted game. The graphics are great, and within the first few hours of play I discovered the characters are likable and have a certain feel to them. The plot is interesting and took at least two twists in the two hours I played. The action and platform bits work well together like peanut butter and jelly.

Currently, I have just blasted my way through chapter 7 and I am having a heck of a time putting the game down. I think about it at work, I think about it when I sleep, and Uncharted 2 forces its way into my brain when I am playing other Playstation 3 games. I cannot wait to finish the game.


October 22, 2009

Guitar Hero Van Halen | Review

Troy Benedict Says "Who are these metrosexual rock stars on my TV, and what have they done with Van Halen??!"

Those were my first words as the digital representations of Van Halen took the stage in Guitar Hero Van Halen.

It was an awkward first impression, especially for a casual Van Halen fan like me who last saw photographs and videos of David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen many years ago. I totally expected Neversoft, the game's developer, to be overly kind with regards to the band's appearance, but when Eddie took the stage he very well could have been some young, hip guitarist from a teen drama on the CW. In other words, Van Halen, as a group looked like "Young Van Halen" as if they somehow time traveled from the late 70s, met up with a stylist from 2009, but had the vocal stylings and talents of "classic Van Halen" complete with with Diamond Dave's signature high-pitched shriek and Eddie's guitar thrashings.

However, as the classic saying goes, "Don't judge a book by it's cover." Regardless of what I think about "Young Van Halen's" overly youthful appearances, the Van Halen tracks are pure rock awesomeness and are a blast to play!

Outside of the exclusive Van Halen tracks and their digital on-stage representations, Guitar Hero Van Halen is pretty much your standard run-of-the-mill Guitar Hero game. It also features support for full band kits: guitar, bass, drums, and microphone.

The track list for GHVH consists of a little more than 25 David Lee Roth-helmed tracks, primarily from the late 70s and early 80s, like Panama, Jump, and Hot for Teacher. The rest of the lineup, consisting of about 20 songs, is a medley of other "Guest Acts" like Queen, Judas Priest, Weezer, Deep Purple, Blink-182, and Billy Idol.

Being a casual fan of Van Halen, I found myself enjoying or at least recognizing a majority of the songs offered, and couldn't help but smile when rocking out to some of Van Halen's best music. I even thought that a great deal of attention was put into squeezing David Lee Roth's body language and personality into the on-screen character, so much, in fact, that I couldn't help but laugh seeing Diamond Dave's mannerisms, out of the corner of my eye, while playing songs like "Jump" and "Hot for Teacher."

While I felt that the majority of Van Halen songs were strong and fun to play, the guest act songs felt like nothing more than audio filler. Maybe it's just me, but I have issues with songs from the last couple of years being featured alongside classic rock songs. Maybe it's just me being out of touch with today's young, hip acts, but I think there should be a 5-10 year waiting period before a song can be included in a Guitar Hero/Rock Band game. The way that Guitar Hero is structured, I'm pretty sure that it's possible to focus on playing only Van Halen songs and never once have to play as a guest act.

Achieving a certain number of stars for playing songs will unlock a new venue. Unlocked venues feature about 5 to 6 songs, and alternate between clumps of Van Halen tracks and guest act tracks. The number of required stars to access a new venue is usually easily acquired. If you're a competent Guitar Hero/Rock Band player, two 5-star performances is all you need to access a new batch of songs.

Other Guitar Hero and Rock Band games have let you customize your rock star, but doing so in Guitar Hero Van Halen is pretty much a waste of time, as you'll never see your rock star on stage unless you are playing as one of the 19 guest act's songs. When Van Halen takes the stage, the member of the band that corresponds to your instrument will be featured regardless of the guitarist you selected/customized at the start of the game. I actually commend Neversoft for not allowing you to replace somebody like David Lee Roth or Eddie Van Halen with some horribly created Glam Viking rock star.

After all the ribbing I gave Neversoft in the opening paragraphs, I was pleased to see that Van Halen's final act features "Classic Van Halen" avatars as you may remember them from the music videos and concerts from the late 70s and early 80s.

In addition to the exclusive Van Halen tracks, there is also a Van Halen sound board that you can access, that will fire off some tasty Eddie Van Halen guitar licks with the press of a few face button combinations. An extra feature is unlocked once you've completed a song that plays back the performance and gives you behind-the-music information about the song's history. It reminded me of VH1's Pop-Up Video, but without the "Pop-Up Video" personality.

The game took me less than 3 hours to earn enough stars to access Guitar Hero Van Halen's full track list. I played through the career mode on solo, focusing on the guitar as my instrument of choice, but as always the game supports multiplayer.

As much as I found myself enjoying Guitar Hero Van Halen, I couldn't help but feel that the game would have been so much better if some of Sammy Hagar's 11-years of contribution to Van Halen could have been featured as well. Whether or not it was a political reason, the exclusion of Hagar, and even Gary Cherone, felt like somebody just tried to rewrite history. I understand that the game is supposed to be based (roughly) around the recently reunited Roth-helmed Van Halen, but writing off 11+ years of Van Halen hits just seems wrong.

It would be nice to see a Sammy Hagar DLC pack in the future, perhaps also featuring a way-too-youthful-looking digital avatar of The Red Rocker himself on the mic. That being said, I would have much rather had a mix of Roth and Hagar, than the rather unimpressive filler tracks of guest acts.

Guitar Hero Van Halen doesn't hit retail shelves until December 22nd. As much as I enjoyed the game for its classic Van Halen goodness, I can't recommend paying the suggested retail price of $60 for this game. If it's not too late, go out and pick up Guitar Hero 5 and get your free copy through the mail like I did.

Don't get caught paying full price for this one. It's good, but it's not THAT good.


October 21, 2009

Brutal Legend | First Impressions

Shawn Lebert Says DECAPITASHEEONAH. Jack Black stars – well, he voice stars – in Brutal Legend: the most epic and hardcore game you’ll ever grace your sweaty palms on. Right from the beginning, Jack Black introduces the gamer to his world, where he ventures to a local music shop. As he walks you through the store, he explains with passion about a sacred, yet underground album called Brutal Legend. He begins sifting through the endless rows of albums, as if looking for a holy relic. And that’s exactly what it Brutal Legend is.

Before the game starts, the player is given an interesting style of interactive menus. Instead of usual titles that are typically displayed over a washed out background image, Brutal Legend’s title menu is broken into live-action sequences featuring Jack Black’s thick paws as he leafs through New Game, Continue, Options, and so on.

So it begins.

The gamer is taken into the “Brutal Legend” world. Eddie Riggs, a heavy metal junkie, yet roadie, feels that he’s extremely out of place in a world where the metal seems dead. As he maintains the equipment for an N’Sync-fused Nickelback band of men, he can’t help but think that he should have been born decades ago.

After a freak accident on stage with one of the band members, the massive background set is destroyed and takes Eddie’s life in the process. There, the metal gods strike back and resurrect Eddie from the grave. The impressively sized backdrop to the concert, a four-legged horned beast, which loves breathing fire, erupts from the stage with life, destroying everything in its way to provide home for its new rock and roll haven, and new adventure for Eddie.

At first, it appears to be hell, but turns into a little twist as Eddie appears in front of robed individuals who praise the arrival of their god. The place electrifies as a holy axe and guitar grace the scene, having supernatural abilities of their own. Inevitably, Eddie Riggs is the perfect wielder for them. Right at his surreal arrival to an alternate world, he is attacked for he is not the god they were waiting for; therefore, he must be slain. Eddie doesn’t take it too kindly and the action begins.

At the most basic level, controlling and fighting feels a mix between Fable and God of War. One soon learns the cool, yet brutal combos of the sharp axe along with the electrifying guitar, which sends a bunch of crackling lightning toward an enemy’s direction.
This new world is a fusing of mayhem and Megadeth. Every sequence carries along with it a familiar hard rock tune in the background. Featuring over 100 songs, Brutal Legend will keep you tuned into the realm of metal to the eleventh power. Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Anthrax – just to name a few – are all shredding on the game’s soundtrack, providing hours of pleasure from music’s past.

While Jack Black may have the majority’s opinion as a lesser funny man to most, the game develops some humorous dialog throughout that will sometimes have anyone chuckling from time to time. Perhaps complimentary to the cartoonish graphics, the writing is clever yet never too serious, which is a plus.

So far, the game is non-linear, providing a world map to which the player can choose between main missions or work on side missions. It’s like a miniature Grand Theft Auto world, but without the cityscape. The map is predominantly in a wilderness setting. The landscapes are rather huge, but don’t worry. Managing the entire map isn’t done by just running on foot, however, as Eddie has a trusty muscle car that “poofs” to life from tunes he plays on his guitar. Early on, Eddie learns a few chords from his heavenly instrument, which can call for a vehicle or help locate hidden objects throughout. Once these hidden objects are recovered, the player is given points. These accumulated points will be saved for the store.

A store, huh? Well, this store is like none other. Its entrance is through the mouth of a smoke-infested skeleton face. As Eddie drives down the highway to hell – an even deeper one that actually has lava – Eddie meets Ozzy Osburne as the store manager, who trades points for upgrades. These upgrades include power-ups on the weapons, vehicles, etc, which provides a clear incentive to buy things.

The game’s fun, even if there’s no set objective. Just driving around with the music blasting is interesting in itself. The strong soundtrack makes anyone want to head-bang, whether they like metal or not. Brutal Legend is a top-notch game. However it isn’t perfect. One can tell there are major frame rate stuttering issues. Also, the draw distance isn’t too impressive. Textures of land and enemies appear twenty-something feet away, but that’s when driving at high speeds. This is a problem because if something appears in front of the player while driving at high speeds, one may not be able to steer around it in time, causing frustration. Although, there hasn’t been a particular moment as of yet where the draw distance issue was a cause of a failed mission. Other than that, there isn’t too much else to complain about.

Brutal Legend is great and many levels of audiences will be interested. Whether they like action or adventure, or heavy metal music, or even enjoy Jack Black’s work, there’s enough to move around for anyone. So play it! Be on the look out for the full review in the coming week.


October 20, 2009

Borderlands - first impressions

Dale Culp says: War. War never changes. Oh, wait! That's that other role-playing shooter. Hell, sorry about that. What you want to hear about is Borderlands. You want to know what I think of it, so far. You want to know if I think it's good. Well, I'm about 2 hours and 5 missions into Borderlands. I've already gone through a handful of guns, died once and laughed more than I can remember in most games. So far, Borderlands is brilliant.

As the game starts out, you're riding on a bus with several other people, being regaled by a gruff, old bus driver with tales of treasure and those who've sought it on Pandora -- a planet which promised wealth and resources galore but quickly disappointed the colonists who settled there. You're introduced to the other passengers, given a brief explanation of their strengths and weaknesses, then asked to pick one as your character. As soon as I saw The Hunter, Mordecai, I knew the character I wanted. Sleak, steady, he prefers to pick his enemies off from afar with the sniper rifle and cleans up with handguns when they get too close. Although, as you gain experience, I'm sure you'll be able to custom tailor your character anyway you choose.

Once you're off the bus, the world of Pandora is yours... almost. There's some exhibition involving a psychic message from someone who is, no doubt, central to the plot of the game. You're told to follow a small robot and do exactly what it tells you. Soon enough, you're in the thick of a fight as a couple of bad guys try their best to put a few holes in you. Assuming your first taste of combat isn't also your last, the game begins to open up and you get your first quest. That's where Borderlands begins to show its true colors as the role-playing elements begin to kick in.

The quest system is very similar to something you might see in a massively multiplayer role-playing game. Talk to a non-player character, accept his or her mission to kill some set number of creatures, then return for your reward. Get the picture? No dialogue trees, no talking heads or ethical choices to make (so far), just click the button and move along. I hate to boil it down like that but I can understand how that might turn some people off. Also, I haven't tried the multiplayer mode of Borderlands yet, but I can probably make a good estimate of how it'll work and, to be honest, I think I might skip on that for a while.

If you don't know yet, the graphics are cell-shaded and look wonderful. Given the setting -- with it's massive, strange rock formations and arid, desert scene -- the cell-shading makes it feel like you're in one, big Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Throw in the offbeat humor, the crazy denizens that you'll encounter and the visual gags throughout the world of Pandora and the analogy is even better. This is slapstick comedy with a jagged edge; a feel-good game for the post-apocalyptic bunch.

So far, Borderlands has been a blast, and the real-time combat is exactly what it's supposed to be: this is a shooter, first. Your weapons do a set number of damage and increase as you improve your character, but a well-placed headshot pops bad guys' tops and drops them like rocks. If you were expecting Fallout 3, go away. Twitchy players with an itchy trigger finger will feel right at home.

I hope the rest of the game turns out as sweet as what I've seen so far. I know I've only scratched the surface and there's a wealth of stuff just waiting for me to uncover, but on my first impression, I'm hooked. Borderlands is good; it's REAL good.


October 19, 2009

Zune HD Review

Troy Benedict Says In 2001 Apple introduced the iPod and iTunes Music Store, and it revolutionized not only how people listened to music, but it also helped legitimize the digital distribution of music. Buying music couldn't have been quicker or easier!

Apple upped the ante in 2007 when the iPhone was unveiled. Much like the iPod, it, too, revolutionized the cell phone market, with its slick touch-screen interface and the very popular App Store. Apple released an iPod version of the iPhone, called iPod Touch, in September 2007 due to popular demand.

There have been a lot of iPod clones that have attempted to unseat the Apple giant, and none of them have come close. Microsoft attempted to make its mark in the MP3 player market in 2006 with its first line of Zune products.

Now in 2009, Microsoft has released the Zune HD, a vastly improved model with a touch screen. The comparisons between it and the iPod Touch immediately sparked a lot of interest and debate. Would this be an iPod Touch killer?

Will the Zune Kill the iPod Touch?
Let's begin with the obvious comparison between the Zune HD and iPod Touch.

Microsoft has placed itself in this awkward position of "we're competing with the iPod Touch but not really." Simply putting a device on the market with any sort of semblance to the iPhone or iPod Touch will immediately infer speculation from consumers and media alike.

Whether or not the Zune HD was originally created to compete directly with Apple's iPod Touch, the iPod name alone, is such a juggernaut that competing directly with Apple's popular hand helds could not possibly result in a win for Microsoft.

While the Zune HD is a very cool device, it is certainly no iPod Touch killer. There is no debate to that statement. However, the Zune does do a lot of things different than the iPod. Some of those different things could be perceived as being better.

When it comes to playing music and watching video, the HD and Touch are pretty much equal. The screens are both bright and large enough to comfortably watch video content. The Zune HD can output HD video (720p) to an HDTV with an expensive accessory, it almost seems pointless to put this in the Zune's favor, simply because the cost of the cable is so costly. Besides, who really plays HD content on their HDTV from a handheld device?

The Zune HD also has a very sparse number of applications and games. More on that in a moment.

In might be more accurate to compare the Zune HD as a mix between the iPod Nano and the iPod Touch.

Where the Zune HD excels is it's MP3 player functionality. Not only is the Zune HD an awesome handheld music device, its data integration with album and artist information is worlds better than what Apple offers. An artist biography, additional marketplace albums, and photos of the band are also synced up.

Zune Apps and Games
The Zune applications and games were completely under wraps until the day that the Zune HD was released. Media journalists and enthusiasts were aware of the existence of an "Apps" menu option, but nobody could elaborate on what that meant. Could Microsoft offer a competitive alternate to Apple's App Store?

The answer to it is, well... no. Not really. However, there is promise behind Zune's apps.

A handful of games and applications were available free of charge on launch date, but none of them will blow your mind or offer any really unique or interesting features. Existing Zune users may recognize the updated touch-interface versions of already available Zune games like Hexic, Space Battle, Sudoku, and Texas Hold 'Em. New to the Zune HD are Chess, Goo Splat, and Shell Game... of the Future! -- that's the actual name of the game!

Also available on in the Zune apps is a calculator and a weather application.

That's it.

The games are purely casual in nature, and do a decent job with the touch-screen interface, but none of them show off the power of the Zune's Nvidia Tegra graphics chip.

More Zune apps and games are planned for release through the end of the year, including Twitter and Facebook applications, as well as 3D games like Project Gotham Racing: Ferrari Edition, Vans Sk8: Pool Service, and Audiosurf Tilt, which will hopefully show off more of the Zune's power.

Currently, Zune is keeping the game and app development on a tight leash, focusing primarily on first-party development. Hopefully, once the Zune apps grow, we'll see more third-party offerings, too.

Overall impressions
iPod rules the MP3 market, but the Zune HD is a very good alternative. The touch screen interface is very responsive, and the design is very slick and stylish. The device itself is very thin and light and fits easily in a pocket. Its uniqueness makes it stand out amongst the competition, and that's about as good as it's going to get for Microsoft and the Zune HD. I doubt we'll see any increased marketshare for Microsoft, but hopefully enough people support the device to help in its continued development.

I am hopeful that Microsoft will support more open development using their excellent XNA software development kits, and get more casual game developers on board, but until then don't expect much in terms of applications and games.

It's certainly not going to dethrone the iPod or the iPod Touch, but the Zune HD is an acceptable and slick alternative to Apple's popular MP3 lineup, and one that I would highly recommend to others!

October 18, 2009

Guitar Hero Van Halen | First Impressions

Troy Benedict Says Guitar Hero Van Halen isn't scheduled for retail sale until December, but if you purchased a qualifying copy of Guitar Hero 5, you could receive a copy of the game for free today. I was lucky enough to take advantage of this deal. I had no idea that I’d actually receive it well before its scheduled December 22nd release date.

My wife sent me an MMS message with a simple message, "It's here!" and a photograph of the Guitar Hero Van Halen cover. The pre-release copy of this game is nothing fancy, in fact it's in a cardboard sleeve, just large enough to fit the game disc. No manual, no box. We're talking barebones here. But hey, it's free!

The back of the “box” boasts that there are "25 epic Van Halen tracks, with 3 Eddie Van Halen signature solos." Also included are "19 scorching Guest Acts," such as artists like Queen, Billy Idol, Judas Priest, and Weezer.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical going into this game. For one, the game is being offered for free with a copy of Guitar Hero 5, and to me that seemed to imply a lack in confidence on Activision/Red Octane's behalf. Because it was being offered for free, I also was a bit skeptical if this would be a full-instrument game like the previous Rock Bands and Guitar Hero releases, or if this would quietly be a guitar-only game, riding on the interest of popular guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

Thankfully, the answer to that last bit of skepticism was answered right away, as GHVH's cover has a label clearly stating "play on guitar or with the whole band."

I fired up the game and immediately jumped into a solo Guitar career. The rocking out as Van Halen starts immediately upon pressing start. There are no menu selections as you’re introduced to Van Halen’s two-set introduction.

The game seems to take place with today’s Van Halen, but features a late 70s, early 80s Van Halen, with an exclusive set list of David Lee Roth stylings. Activision has been kind to the digital representation of Van Halen. None of the rock stars looked anything like classic Van Halen. My wife’s observation of the game was priceless: "The developers took 30+ years of drugs and alcohol abuse off of David Lee Roth." Current photos of the band do show that they have certainly taken a more youthful, metrosexual rockstar approach to 2009's classic Van Halen lineup, but this certainly didn’t look like Van Halen from the videos that I grew up watching on MTV.

After completing the 2-act introduction to Guitar Hero Van Halen, I was presented with a menu with which I could create my rockstar. Interestingly enough, your selected rockstar will only perform with the "Guest Acts." While I think this makes a lot of sense for consistency’s sake, I can’t imagine taking the time to customize my rock star if he’s not going to be featured on all of the songs! That being said, I would have been a bit unimpressed if my rockabilly rockstar took the stage in place of Eddie.

The set lists alternate between Guest Acts and Van Halen performances. None of them seem to overlap or cross paths in a weird choice of opening acts (would Queen actually open for Van Halen, or would it be the other way around?). While the Guest Acts are nothing more than filler tracks, I appreciate the decision to keep Van Halen and the other artists separate from one another.

Another interesting feature of Guitar Hero Van Halen is that after completing a song, you can then go back and access the song's “Extras,” which includes the lyrics and a non-interactive performance of the song featuring facts about the song. These extras seem to apply to Guest Acts and Van Halen songs alike. If you're a fan of VH1's Pop-Up Videos and the informative behind-the-scenes information they give about the songs, you might appreciate this feature (minus the Pop-Up-ness).

After playing the game for about an hour, I'm much more impressed with it than I was expecting. While it offers nothing really ground-breaking, when compared to previous Guitar Hero releases, the choice of classic Van Halen songs has not disappointed, and even choice of Guest Acts and their songs are fairly enjoyable.

For my final impressions of the game, check back soon for my full review.


October 17, 2009

Looking Forward to November

Erik Kubik Says Traditionally, November signals the beginning of the Holiday release schedule for games. More or less, from my understanding, it’s when developers stand to make the most money throughout the year, even if their games are terrible. There are some hot titles coming out. It comes down to buying now or waiting until Goozex delivers my copy.

Band Hero--One of two music games coming in November, this game comes out November 1st for 360, PS3, PS2, DS and the Wii. It’s totting itself as Guitar Hero fun for the whole family. I do know it has an extensive song list, with 65 Top-Forty songs and the ability to import more songs from the other Guitar Hero games. Players will be able to drop in and out, much like Guitar Hero 5. Honestly, I’ll pass. Rhythm games are not my thing, but I do predict it will sell well with families, especially on the Wii. If you already have Guitar Hero and Rock Band then you should wait until Goozex can get you this game.

Lego Rock Band—Unfortunately, I know very little about this game. It is coming for Wii, PS3, and 360 on November 3rd. It’s nothing more than a “family friendly” rock band game with Legos. The Legos can be used to customize their avatars, vehicles, and rock dens. There will also be Lego-themed challenges. Does that mean building things or knocking them down? It seems the presence of Iggy Pop and David Bowie are there to make it more “rockable.” If I had to pick between the two, Band Hero and Lego Rock Band, I might actually pick the latter since it is something different. Anyways, unless you have small children, just wait for Goozex.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is Game of the Year material and it is making its way onto the PS3, PC, and 360. Just from the trailers every gamer knows this is going to be a great game. It has everything you love about the Call of Duty Series and more. It comes out in early November. I cannot wait to play the Special Ops mode, which is similar to the final mission in COD 4, “Mile High Club.” The multiplayer elements are going to be mind blowing. My prediction is Modern Warfare 2 is going to be a must-have for the Holiday season. Do not wait for this game on Goozex as you will have to wait many months.

Assassin’s Creed 2--This game comes out for the PS3, PC, DS, and the Xbox 360. The first game was one of my least favorite games of 2007. The previews for the sequel show an interesting game but I am worried about length. After 6 hours is that going to be it? Is the new setting, Renaissance Italy, and the new game play features like dual assassination blades and flying machines, be enough for gamers? The game slashes onto shelves on November 17th. My thoughts are unless you loved the first game wait for Goozex to bring it to you.

New Super Mario Brothers--It is time to dust off my Wii. This wondrous take on the old comes out November 15th for the Wii. Featuring 4 player co-op and 2d Game play, I can dig this. There are mushroom propellers and a penguin suit. What? No frog suit or metal helmet!? I like that Yoshi is back but I’m worried how well the 4 player co-op will work out. The game is built around the idea of working together, so what if you have ornery friends or the AI is terrible? For a gamer like me, this means the TV will meet my Wii mote. In the end, if you are a hardcore fan and are in the mindset that I gotta-have- every Mario-game, grab this game as it comes out.

Resident Evil Darkside Chronicles--I am going to buy this on launch day, the 27th of November. As a big fan of Resident Evil, I want no mistake that I need to have this game. Reason 1, it comes with the Wii Zapper. The second reason to own this game is that you get to blast zombies with Claire and Leon as they travel back through Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Code Veronica. Like Umbrella Chronicles, Wesker will make an appearance and this will just make me want to drag out my Dreamcast or my Playstation. Co-op rail shooter with Zombies- what else do gamers need over Christmas break? If you don’t like Resident Evil or rail shooters, then wait for it on Goozex.

So readers what are you looking forward to?


October 15, 2009

To Go or Not To Go, That Is The PSP Question

Chris Nitz Says The PSP has been a great gaming device for me. It has been with me through many holiday vacations. I started with a PSP Phat (PSP 1000), and upgraded to a PSP Slim (2000). I play my PSP more than I play my DS. I pretty much take my PSP just about everywhere I go.

I was initially excited about the PSPgo. I would love a smaller and lighter PSP. I would welcome not having to carry a library of UMD's with me. Most of all, I just want the new, sexier gadget. So why has the PSPgo not become a part of my gaming arsenal? Let’s look at the pros and cons of the PSP and the PSPgo.

The PSPGo is smaller. It is almost 40% smaller than my PSP Slim. This means a reduction in weight. It would almost fit in my pocket as nicely as the DS does. This rocks if you’re taking this with you to work or on a plane.

The shrunken size has some disadvantages. The button and nub layout is more cramped. Those people with larger hands are going to have issues playing this for any length of time. Well, unless you enjoy hand cramping. The screen is actually smaller. Both screens carry the same resolution. You'll be looking at 3.8” of screen on the PSPgo versus 4.3” on a PSP. This might be easier on a bus or plane, but I enjoy playing my PSP at work and on the couch. Why did they make the screen smaller?

The PSPgo has foregone the UMD drive. I enjoy digital downloads. I don't have to remember where a case is. I don't have to worry about disc scratching. I can buy a game and never get off my butt. Digital distribution is great for me as I live in a small town. It can take weeks for new games to get into the local store here. There is almost instant gratification in downloading a game in a matter of minutes, versus driving all over the place trying to find a game.

The disadvantage for almost all existing PSP owners is that their UMD collection becomes a great collection of drink coasters. We were told that we would get a way to exchange our UMD's for digital copies. Sony has since done away with this. This means if you get a PSPgo and want to play one of your UMD's you’re out of luck.

One of the biggest disadvantages for doing away with the UMD drive is that you can no longer borrow, trade, or rent PSP games. You can forget using services like Goozex or Gamefly to try out a game. Want to swap games with a friend, no go there. No UMD drive means you’re stuck going to the PSN and hoping the game you want has a demo.

Another pitfall is having only one place to get games. The PlayStation Network is still growing. You still cannot get Dissidia on the PSN. Have you ever tried to download off the PSN? It is slow. There is just no good reason why downloading an 800MB game should take as long as it does.

Sony controls the pricing for the PSN. This has led to some odd pricing on games. Disgaea is $15 on the PSN. This is great as it still retails for around $30 (new) online. Yet, Resistance Retribution is cheaper online than it is off the PSN. This wouldn't be an issue, but the PSPgo won't use that UMD you just got at a discount. I would worry about Sony doing some price fixing down the road as well.

The PSPgo has 16 gigabytes of memory built in. This means having to carry around memory cards is less of a necessity. 16 gigs not enough for you? You can expand it using the Memory Stick Micro slot. Wait, you need a Memory Stick Micro, which means all of your current memory sticks won't work in the PSPgo. In fact, none of your existing accessories will work with the PSPgo. Got a camera, you can't use it. Got the tv cables to hook up your PSP to a tv, those won't work either. While this may not be a big issue for everyone, this is yet another cost for some.

The PSPgo does allow you to sync up your PS3 controllers to it. That means all those PS1 games that utilize a Dualshock can now be played in their full bliss. One big advantage to this, you can now play two-player PS1 games off your PSPgo. It might not be a full solution, but at least now you can have two analog sticks. Let’s just hope that publishers start adding this control scheme as an option to their games.

There have been some retailers that have voiced that they will not carry the PSPgo. Why would they do this? Well, retailers don't make much off of hardware sales. They look for you to buy a new console and a game and accessories. You won't be purchasing games at the store for that nice new PSPgo. So the sale add-on's become almost non-existent with this purchase.

Retailers lose out on long-term sales as well. You won't be going back to them to purchase new games. This also means that when they offer two-for-one style deals, you lose out. Toys R' Us just had a great deal on games. Those with PSPgo's miss out on expanding their PSP game library with this deal.

The price point is a big sticking point for a lot of people as well. The PSPgo can be yours for $250. A PSP 3000, with a game, can be picked up for $169. Sure, that PSP 3000 is bigger, still uses a UMD, and is not as sexy (and sexy is a relative term here), but it is almost $100 cheaper. The PSP 3000 can also get on the PSN and download the same games the PSPgo can. One explanation for this price difference has got to be that Sony is looking to take advantage of the early adopter.

I will not tell you to get a PSPgo based on this or that situation. Too many articles have already done that. What I am saying is a PSP 3000 can do everything that a PSPgo can do. Sure it is a bit bulkier, but you will have more gaming options with it.

In the end, you should decide for yourself what will work best for you and your situation. For me, that means waiting it out to see what happens with the PSPgo. My PSP 2000 works just fine. I can still get my digital downloads for games. I can still take advantage of Goozex, GameFly, and great deals at the store.


October 14, 2009

The Xbox 360 Racing Wheel

JimmyJames70 Says My love for racing games all started with my first Xbox 360. The console came packaged with three games: Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, and Project Gotham Racing 3. Kameo was quickly dismissed, I played through most of PDZ, but it was PGR 3 that really grabbed my attention. It took awhile for me to get a hang of the controls: you can’t always floor it and you gotta use finesse in the turns. I eventually traded it on Goozex and kinda sorta thought about trying another racing game.

I must have gotten sidetracked with many other games, because it was a long while before I got another racing game. The second one that I played was GRiD. I tried to get Burnout Paradise, but that game has a forever wait to it and I eventually put it on hold because I got GRiD, and then Forza 2, and then DiRT, and then Need for Speed Most Wanted… Anyway, after a couple of races with GRiD, I started kicking myself for not trying another racing game sooner. These games are action-packed with plenty of adrenaline and you need a finesse touch that most games don’t require.

After playing through much of GRiD, I decided I needed to have at least one racing game in my library at all times. At this point in time, I have two (Dirt and Need for Speed Most Wanted), and by the end of the month I’ll have three (Forza 3; I just sold Forza 2 through Goozex; otherwise, I’d currently have three racing games). I guess you could say I’m a geek for the racing games. And in all honesty, I’m not even all that good at playing them. I race on the easy level just so I can smoke past the AI. Sure, I put the difficulty up a notch or two every once in awhile, but by the time I reach the latter stages of the game, I’m back to easy. I don’t care. It’s fun. And that’s what’s important… which brings me to the point of this post: if you’re a fanatic for the racing games, you need the Xbox 360 racing wheel.

At first look, the official racing wheel is steep in price. The accessory retails at $100, and that doesn’t include tax and shipping. I did look for it at Wal-Mart, but they didn’t have it in stock and I’ve never noticed it at Target, or other places I unfortunately shop at (hey, don’t blame me, blame the economy). Given that, my attention turned to eBay. I was a bit hesitant purchasing a somewhat-pricey item through eBay, but I decided to give it a shot. It took a few days, but I eventually landed a winning bid at $63, roughly a little more than a standard controller. There was no sales tax and the shipping was reasonable. All in all, it was still far cheaper than paying retail.

The seller was Priced_Less_Products (no, they did not pay me for writing this) and apparently they have a ton of these in stock; winning bids range anywhere from $50 to $70. They seem to have a few on sale at any given time. The package was shipped and received in less than a week via UPS. The box was in rough shape, but the product was in like-new condition. In fact, if I was told it was brand-stinking new, I’d believe it.

How does playing a racing game with a racing wheel differ from playing with a controller? Believe me, it’s a world of difference. While it’s true it took several races for me to get a handle on the sensitivity and adjusting to where the e-brake is, after several attempts, I was a racing pro. It is completely awesome. Last night, I played Need for Speed Most Wanted for a straight three hours before realizing how late it was getting. I was having that much fun. I now want to play the entire series of Need for Speed games, and I’m looking forward to Forza 3 as much as I’m looking forward to Modern Warfare 2.

Everything from the look-and-feel of the wheel and the pedals is so cool. The wheel has a great grip on it, the pedals feel like a real car, and the resistance and tumble effects make the standard controller feel, well, it makes it feel standard.

If you ever thought about getting the racing wheel and never have, I do strongly suggest getting one. It really changes the whole game and allows you to fall even deeper into the game. In simple words: it’s awesome.


October 13, 2009

Saw: The Video Game | Review

Cole Burton Says Jigsaw is back, and this time he really wants to play a game. Straight out of the popular movie franchise, SAW, Jigsaw has come to the video game platforms Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to play a game. This review does contain spoilers.

The game takes place right after the first Saw movie. You play as Detective David Tapp. Tapp was shot near the end of Saw and presumed dead; in Saw V, a funeral service was held for him.

The game attempts to make you feel like a pawn in Jigsaw’s game. You do not decide who lives and dies, which the game advertised, and the result is like playing a normal Resident Evil game. The only time you get to make a REAL choice of your own is at the end of the game, where you choose to go back and free everyone in the asylum and be free from your obsession, or you choose to seek the truth and capture Jigsaw. Neither ending is a happy ending.

The game lied about a couple of things. One being that you learn Jigsaw’s true intentions and the Fate of Lawrence Gordon, neither of which you do. Second, you DO NOT get to choose who lives and dies as advertised. Aside from these misconceptions, the game was pretty good. It had a great story but suffered from difficult puzzles and a pretty clunky combat system.

To all of those readers who play this game, I advise you to take pictures on a digital camera, PS3, or PSP and use the pictures for some of the harder traps. Trust me, It will be necessary at some points.

Throughout the game, you are being stalked by a pig-masked assassin whom the game calls Pighead. You do kill Pighead later in the game but you never discover who he or she is.

The traps in this game, not to be confused with the puzzles, are very interesting. You have enemies with Reverse-Bear traps from the first movie (Amanda wore one), Venus Fly traps from the second movie (Michael, pictured above, wore one), Shotgun Collars from the third movie (Lynn wore one), and Cube traps from the fifth movie (Straum wore one).

The Reverse-Bear trap is on other enemies in the insane asylum. If you stay away from them long enough, the timer goes off and the enemy’s jaw is permanently ripped open.

The Venus Fly trap is a mask with nails in the front and back, if you stay away from enemies with those on long enough, the timer will go off and the mask will close. You and other enemies wear these. If you get close to someone wearing one, both collars will blink. You have to get away from the enemy or your collar will go off, the enemy has to get close to you, or their collar will go off.

Finally, the cube trap is worn by stronger enemies. They cannot see you, but they can hear you. You can walk them into traps to kill them easily.

In addition to those traps, you can lay tripwires rigged with shotguns to kill others, use stun traps, gas traps, and even explosive traps.

All you have to do is get to the end of the asylum at any cost. There will be many puzzles, traps, enemies, victims to save, and evidence to collect along the way. There is also a wide variety of weapons, but the combat system is so awful, you should stick to your fists and the rare magnum. After you save every victim, they will all have something awful to say to you. It may make you wish you could have let some of them die.

In the end, this game is no where near perfect, but it’s a nice game for a fun play through and worthy of carrying on the Saw franchise. For those of you trophy and achievement hunters, they are rather easy in this game.

I, solidsnake222, give Saw: The Video Game an 8.0 out of 10.


October 12, 2009

Left 4 Dead 2 Campaigns

Just today, with the release of the Xbox 360 achievements of Left 4 Dead 2 confirms the last two campaigns in this five campaign infested game. At first, "Dead Center", the campaign involving the survivors held up in a mall and "Hard Rain", an industrialized, post-apocalyptic looking finale, were once only rumored. However, now, it looks totally legit.

Here are the campaigns:
"The Parish"
"Swamp Fever"
"Dark Carnival"
"Dead Center"
"Hard Rain"

October 11, 2009

Cities XL - First impressions

Dale Culp says I've been having a go at Cities XL, a massively multiplayer take on SimCity, which came out a few days ago from Monte Cristo Games. So far, it's been just about amazing.

If you've ever played a SimCity game, likely you're already familiar with the finer points of building roads and assigning zones. You'll be happy to know that all of this is dead-simple in Cities XL. Select the appropriate tool, paint-in residential areas where your citizens will live, lay out industrial areas for them to work and fill in the rest with your imagination; it's like Photoshop for world-builders. As long as you maintain something of a budget and provide your citizens with the necessities of every-day life, growing your city is relatively easy.

Given the size and scope of the world you create, there's going to be a lot to draw on the screen. Taking this into consideration, the graphics look pretty good. From a birds-eye view, it's hard to be impressed, but zooming in all the way for a ground-level view unfolds the city around you, allowing you to explore the urban landscape from the point-of-view of one of your citizens. This is where the game could have been a lot better, unfortunately. Moving around is awkward. You can either use the keyboard to tilt, pan and move around or use the mouse. Either way, it's not as robust as I'd hoped. Because one of the first things you do is to create an avatar which represents you, as mayor of the city you're about to build, I wish they would have fleshed the engine out in such a way that you could "walk" around the city much as you would in a first-person shooter, interacting with your citizens and getting an idea of what they really think about you and the city you've created for them rather than reduce everything to a graph or bar chart with some text and numbers. To move about and really experience your city, to watch your citizens as they go about their daily lives and get a real feel for this place you've put so much work into, I think that would have been what really got to me. Instead, you feel more like a ghost -- you're hardly there and it's not a very practical way of getting around. It's a nice touch, but could have been so much more.

Taking the game online is where Monte Cristo Games got really ambitious, however. The land you choose to build your city on will play an important role in how your city develops. Aside from geographical considerations and the limits imposed by hillsides, weather conditions and other features such as lakes and rivers to contend with, you also have to think about the resources available to you -- oil, water, fertile lands for growing crops, etc. Simply put, if you choose a region that has no fuel, you'll have to trade with other players to get some. Likewise, you'll have resources at your disposal to trade with when other players come to call on you for their own needs. It's a little confusing and I have to spend more time with the game to really understand how it all works, but based on what I've done so far, I can't wait to keep going.

Watching your city grow around you, organically, and managing the important aspects of what goes into that are just as pleasing in Cities XL as they've ever been in a SimCity game. With the addition of the online game, however, you're being given so much more. You can visit other cities as well as play host to other players who come to visit yours; that makes room for some very interesting ideas and should be more than enough to keep you coming back for more. Because this is an MMO and it has no real end, I'm not sure how my final review is going to look. After several more days of experiencing the game, I'll have a lot more to say, I'm sure. As for now, I'm just really enjoying the game.