December 31, 2007

Technical difficulties

Last week, as I was making my way towards the final tier of songs in my drum career on hard, I began noticing that I was having a tough time nailing sections that required me to hit the red pad very fast in succession.  I would usually chalk it up to the fact that I am not a drummer and probably not hitting them in time.  But it began to get annoying.  There were times when I was pretty sure I hit the section correctly, yet I would still lose my note streak.  So I decided to test it.
During the free-style fill sections before activating star power and during the Big Rock Endings, I began to only hit the red pad really fast.  Sure enough, even if I would hit it at a fast constant beat, the game was only registering a few of those notes, not all of them.  I never noticed on easy or medium since I never really had to play fast fills on the red pad in those difficulties.  Looks like I have a defective set.
I went on the EA site, answered a few online questions and I am now waiting a new drumset.  Pretty painless.
Last night I am playing the game with Jeanette.  I'm still using the drums (they work for the most part) and we're cruising along in World Tour Mode.  I notice a "click" coming from the foot pedal.  I pause the game and examine it and it appears that a small plastic piece might have broken off from the bottom, one the holds the pedal in place when pushing it down, because now it sort of moves around too much when being pushed down and it makes that clicking noise (I am guessing from the spring).  Great I think.  We're in the middle of a 3 song set though and I can't quit without losing fans, so we keep going.  After a few more minutes of playing (since I am playing on hard I have to use the foot pedal a lot), the pedal says "no more" and just snaps off the bass.
So, now I have a questionable red pad and no bass pedal.  Bye-bye 24,000 fans.
I am really hoping that EA is sending me a full drumset and not just the pads, because my bass pedal is beyond repair.  I was really having a great time with the game too and was in the "zone" in my solo career.  I hope this cool down period doesn't throw me off.

December 29, 2007

Christmas green and red

Usually the Christmas lights of green and red bring the joy of knowing it is the Christmas season. But, not this year. On December 21st I turn on my xbox360 not only do I see the the green power button light up, but 3 red lights flashing indicating my 360 has crashed along with my holiday plans of playing!!! This is the second time for me losing a 360, but the timing could have not been worse, both of my teen sons are on Christmas break... So basically our home is in mourning and my wife is thankful for answered prayers. Its been a great year for gamers, Halo 3, Bio Shock, COD4, Half Life Orange Box etc.. I look forward to what next year brings, in the mean time have a great new year!!

December 27, 2007

Disney master!

What can I say, I am bored . . .

Looking for x-ray technician schools?

Zombie Apocalypse

Man, being a HUGE zombie movie buff and avid horror fan, I would have thought my chances of survival would be better. lol.


Find Ultrasound schools near you

December 17, 2007

I Am Legend

I saw this on Sunday night. It wasn't bad. I didn't enjoy the 2nd half as much as the 1st, but I was never bored. Will Smith's performance was actually solid and he holds your attention, especially considering that the 1st half of the movie involves very little action or dialogue.

I did not particularly like the fact that they removed the vampires from the novel and replaced them with infected humans. Maybe it is a more plausible take on the novel, but dammit, I like vampires and I was looking forward to vampires!! Seems like this "rage virus" is the new trend to eliminate the supernatural element in horror movies. First zombies, now vampires. If the new Wolfman movie tries to explain lycanthropy through science, I am not watching it!!! Just leave it supernatural and unexplainable!

My other problem with the movie was its heavy reliance on CG. If you're making a movie about an abandoned NY City, granted, you're going to have to use computer trickery to get that across. But I felt like the director leaned on it too much. The scene involving the lion and the deer seemed unnecessary. I hate CG animals. They never look convincing. Peter managed to nail it with King Kong and the lion in Narnia looked damn good, but these CG lions were only slightly better than the atrocious CG wolves in The Day After Tomorrow. Why couldn't they just use a real lion for the close ups? C'mon, stop relying on CG for everything!

Same goes for the vampir . . . uh, I mean infected humans. Or Dark Seekers as I believe they were referred to. Why were they all CG as well? For wide shots of them running around at superhuman speeds I can understand, but for facial close-ups why not go the make-up route? I'm a firm believer that anything that can be done with practical effects should be done so. The creatures in The Decent looked great and they were far scarier than these CG creations. I just can't get scared by CG. Not yet. It still has a way to go.

These issues aside, the movie was still entertaining. It might not have lived up to what I was expecting, but I'm not screaming for my $9 back. I'd watch it again on Bluray one day.


The Dolphins are 1-13!
I never thought I would ever be saying that statement with excitement, but I am!  We will NOT be the first team to go 0-16.
I know, it is pretty pathetic to celebrate your first victory 15 weeks into the season, but I don't care.  We haven't won in over a year.  And it feels good.  Having the win come in overtime makes it all the more exciting.
Now, if we can somehow beat the Patriots next week and stop them from going undefeated, then this season will not be a total loss.

December 12, 2007

Blood Diamond

I watched Blood Diamond last night on Bluray.
The movie was just phenomenal.  Excellent performances by the entire cast.  The movie is absolutely brutal, depressing, and enlightening.
As soon as it ended I wanted to watch it again with the director's commentary on.  Lately that has been my barometer to tell if I really enjoyed a movie, I get the urge to watch it again with commentary.
The Bluray disc has a nice set of bonus features too.  I want to watch all of them before I send it back to Netflix.  Hell, I enjoyed the movie so much I might just send it back and buy myself my own copy.
I highly recommend this flick.

December 11, 2007

Mass Effect Impressions

I finally started playing Mass Effect.  So far the game is great.  A few random impressions and thoughts, both good and bad:
- I immediately liked the whole "feel" of the game as soon as I went to the main menu.  Cool music and slick presentation.  Creating and customizing your character was a lot of fun.  I edited my character's background but kept his appearance as default.  I am so used to seeing that character model in all the previews that he is Commander Shepard in my eyes.
- I have no idea why you have one button to pull out your weapon (X) and a totally different button to re-holster is (B).  Seems like a really weird design choice.
- It takes a while to get used to the combat system.  When engaged with an enemy your tendency is to just play the game like a 3rd Person Action game like GRAW, but that will not work for long.  You need to remember to bring up the command window (RB) and use your squads special abilities.  Took me a while to get used to this.  In fact, I'm still working on it.
- The equipment menus are a bit odd.  Managing all your items seems tougher than it should be.  From what I have noticed a lot of the weapons, armor and items have little "personality".  They are not like they were in KotoR where you could find really unique items that granted you special abilities and had a history to them and a unique name.  All the items in M.E. are pretty generic and only come from different manufacturers and are separated into grades (I, II, II, IV, etc.) to distinguish the more powerful ones.
- The graphics are overall excellent, although there is a fair amount of stuttering.  The framerate can drop when things get rough and the game pauses to load a few times if you are running through an area quickly.  The biggest graphical drawback seems to be that the game takes too long to load textures.  Upon loading a game up everything is usually a flat-shaded mess and can take a few seconds to fill in.  In many conversations every time the camera switches to a new angle there is texture loading going on in the background.
- The music is fantastic.  The voice acting is also top notch.
- The galaxy map is super cool.
- Driving the Mako is not as intuitive or fun as I would have hoped.  These sections would have been so much better if it handled more like a warthog.  The controls are similar, but the execution falls well short.  The physics can be iffy, but then again, you are traversing planets with various gravities, so I'll let that go as being intentional.  What is not excusable is the terrible camera angles you can get sometimes when driving up or down terrain, where the Mako is completely obstructing your view making combat impossible.
- While I thoroughly enjoyed KotoR, Jade Empire and can already tell I am going to have a great time with Mass Effect, I was hoping Bioware's RPG "formula" would have evolved more.  M.E. looks gorgeous, the battles are real-time, but the game still feels very much like Bioware's previous two games.  While the new conversation system is very cool and more interesting than their previous games, it basically is just a new way to choose your response, everything else about it practically the same.
- I am getting kinda tired of the way these RPGs are set up.  It is cool that there is so much background information created for the game, to the point that you can ask non-essential characters questions about their background and some other pretty odd questions, but in the context of what is going on around you, it is pretty silly for your character to even inquire about half these things.  I won't even mention some of the side quests, which would be fine for some out of work humanitarian to take on, but not the first human Specter on a mission to save the galaxy.  Granted, all this additional content is "optional" in the sense that they are not essential to complete the game, but if you do not partake in them you miss out on a ton of experience points and your level will be capped off pretty low if you just do the essential tasks.  Not to mention you will miss about ½ the game!  This is not so much a knock on Mass Effect, but on all RPGs.  Take Oblivion for example.  Same thing.  The main quest in that game lets you know how "urgent" and "pressing" everything is, yet more than 80% of that game is doing side quests that have nothing to do with the main one.  At least in Oblivion you can continue playing when you are done with the main quest.  I guess I don't like being put in the position where if I want to play the game realistically, as if I was the main character (which is what a ROLE playing game should be), that I would actually miss more than half the game and miss leveling up to the point to see all the abilities, etc.
For the record, I do enjoy doing the side quests, I just hate the fact that they constantly remind that I am playing a game by making me think, "I can't believe I am taking time off from my mission to do this crap!".  But I want to experience everything in the game too, so it is a Catch-22.
The bottom line though is that I am having fun with the game and find it very hard to stop playing.  I always want to do one more task or just get to the next objective before I stop, then when I get there, I say the same thing.  Very addicting.
I am only about 11 hours in.  Will write more about it as I advance.

December 05, 2007

Rock Band Impressions

Now that I have 2 weeks of Rock Band playing under my belt, some impressions:
- The drums are insanely fun!
- The drums are insanely fun!
- The drums are insanely fun!
That is all.
. . .
Ok, fine, I'll elaborate.
Upon opening the huge case and spending a good 40 minutes trying to open each individually wrapped instrument, I was ready to rock.  That first night it was my girlfriend, my sister, two of my buddies and myself, all highly anticipating the game.  We had one extra person, so we all took turns swapping instruments and just having a blast.
Impressions of the instruments:
Guitar - I've heard of people having technical problems with the guitar and not liking its design and feel.  I myself have had no technical problems and after adjusting to it, I really like how it feels.  It is larger and just looks so much cooler than the GH "toy" guitar.  The strum bar does not click at all, something many people are enjoying (the GH one was pretty loud).  I have found though that without the clicking I am having a slightly harder time keeping the beat when I am repeating many notes in quick succession.  I actually used to rely on the audible click of the GH guitar to keep the beat.  I will have to work on that.  All in all I like it but I have actually spent very little time with it so far.
Mic - The microphone has a nice heavy, sturdy feel to it.  Singing can be entertaining if you are familiar with the song.  I live singing Creep myself.  But, this is the least interesting instrument to talk about.  Which leads me to . . .
Drums - I think I have made it pretty clear by now that the drums are the true highlight of Rock Band.  The guitar has lost a lot of its initial magic after 3 Guitar Hero games, but the drums are so new, fresh and fun that they have justified the $170 price tag by themselves.  They can be intimidating at first.  Even on easy I think they are tougher to pick up than guitar for the uninitiated.  But after playing through easy and medium and just starting hard, I can say that they soon begin to "click".  And man do you have fun when that happens.  The toughest part is getting used to using your foot for the bass pedal.  But that is also the most rewarding part of the drums and what really makes you feel like a drummer.  I won't rest until I am able to 5 star songs on Expert!!!!  Which btw, looks insanely tough!
Miscellaneous game impressions:
- The game does not have the extra "clean" look of Guitar Hero.  It uses a graphics filter to add grain and other effects to the image.  Took me a while to like it, but I now think it looks great.  While the player will barely notice (have to look at those note charts) if you are just viewing the game it has a much more authentic, realistic look than the Guitar Hero series.  The shots really do make it feel like you are at a concert and the close ups of the guitar playing are fantastic.  The character's hand positions are so dead on, it makes me think that they have individual guitar animations per song.
- Even when playing with 3 others, the screen never looks cluttered to me.
- I do not know if I like these rectangular notes as opposed to GH's more circular variety.  I especially do not like that hammer-ons and pull-offs now are indicated by "smaller" notes, since they are harder to spot.  The "fret boards" that the notes scroll down on are also plain.  I kinda like GH's decorated ones.
- I really like being able to see how many stars you have at any one time and how much more you have to go for the next one.  Yes, it can be distracting if you are obsessed like I am at knowing how you are doing (which leads to me messing up more often than not), but I still like it.
- You do not get a detailed breakdown after a song on how you did per section, etc.  I wish Harmonix would have kept that.
- Band World Tour mode is an absolute blast and soooo much better than the regular solo tour.  Unfortunately you can only play it with at least one other player and since you cannot play that mode over Live, it really kills it for me.  I don't know why they do not let you play that mode by yourself.  Sure, it will not be as much fun as it is with your buddies, but it is better than not playing it at all because your friends can't come over every other day!!!!  I really, really don't understand why Harmonix made it multiplayer only, especially when they knew it wasn't going to be available over Live.  Bad move.
Needless to say, I am having a blast with the game so far.  Once I am done with drums I will quickly move on to guitar.  And who knows, I might try a singing career as well.  Lots of replay value in this one.

December 04, 2007

Dashboard Update

The Fall Dashboard Update is now Live.  The "big" new item added is being able to see your Friends' Friends List.  A feature I never even thought of or had on my wishlist.  I guess they are trying to make Live more Myspace-like.
For those that like their privacy you are able to limit access to your friends list.  So if you don't want others snooping through it you might want to set that up.
In other Live news, there is some new Bioshock content up.  Haven't checked it out myself but it is supposed to fix some aspect-ratio problems for widescreen users (I want to check this out, since the forums were just FULL of gamers complaining about this when the game came out, I never noticed a problem), some new plasmids and a new achievement worth a whopping 100 points!  Best of all, it is all free!!!  Take that EA!  And Microsoft, with your 800 point, 3-map pack for Halo 3.
There is also a Black Sabbath pack available for Rock Band with 3 songs.  Don't think they are masters though.  I might cave and get this.  I see myself buying plenty of Rock Band content.  I should have some impressions up soon.

December 03, 2007

Mass Effect: Revelations

I am about to finish the Mass Effect novel.  I decided to read through it before starting the game, even though I've had the game in my possession since 11/20.  Surprisingly it has been pretty easy not to pop it into my 360 (that's what happens when you cannot stop playing drums and are also an assassin during the Crusades and a treasure hunter trying not to get killed by pirates as you search for El Dorado).
But, now that Uncharted is finished and I'm down to only a handful of assassinations, as soon as I am done with the novel (which should be tonight) I am going to immediately start the game.
The novel is actually a pretty good read.  Better than I thought.  It has really gotten me excited for the game.  After reading about all these alien races and locations I really can't wait to see and experience them firsthand.  I think because I read the novel the game is going to be an even more enjoyable experience than I was probably already going to have with it.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the game or just wants a good sci-fi read.

Uncharted impressions

When I take breaks from Assassin's Creed and Rock Band I've had
Uncharted to keep me busy. I beat it this weekend. Some impressions.

- Production values in this game are extremely high. Everything
screams quality and attention to detail.

- The cinematics and voice acting are fantastic. Again, going back to
the high production values, the game feels like a fun summer
blockbuster. The script, while not incredibly original, has cool
characters and keeps you entertained throughout.

- The controls feel great. Given the realistic animation it is great
to see that did not come at the expense of responsiveness in the

- Drake's clothes actually get wet when you jump into water. It looks
fantastic. That attention to detail is what more games should be aiming

- The game is a good length for a rental (I purchased it). It took me
a bit longer to complete than some since I started playing it on Hard.
I found the challenge to be right on. Gun fights definitely required
quick cover and enemy AI tried to flank and rush me when I was
outnumbered. Lots of grenade tossing on their part too, which was cool.
Only a few frustrating sections which I think won't be present if
playing on the normal difficulty. I can see myself definitely playing
through this one again (although not right now).

No real glaring negatives. The game was very polished, I didn't come
across any bugs, it was gorgeous, fun, and entertaining throughout. I
hope Naughty Dog continues to tweak and utilize this game engine because
it is very, very impressive.

Meaningless number score: 8/10.

November 27, 2007

Assassin's Creed Impressions

I'm about 12 - 15 hours into Assassin's Creed.  Some impressions:
- Holy crap, this game is gorgeous.  Fantastic art style, huge draw distance (the cities are enormous and you can see until the very end of them from tall structures), the lighting and texture work is top notch, and best of all, your character is modeled and animated to perfection.  This game probably has the most impressive animation I have seen for the player character.  The way Altair adjusts to his environment when free running or climbing is a sight to see.  Extremely impressive.
- The control scheme is completely different from what other games have done in the past and I think it is a homerun.  After you get over the initial learning curve, the controls work great and pulling off complex moves is a snap (and great to look at).
- Voice acting is above average.  Not as good as Drake's Fortune, but it ain't no Resident Evil either.  Some of the voice actors are actually excellent.
- You can ride a horse.  Any game that lets you ride a horse gets extra points in my book.  The horse animation is also amazing.  Better than Shadow of the Colossus.  I can spend hours just riding my steed across the countryside (of which there are miles).
- As many reviews have pointed out, the game can get a bit repetitive.  Setting up an Assassination feels very inorganic.  The "investigation" does not feel like much of an investigation since your hand is held the entire time and you need to basically do a few of the following tasks: eavesdrop, pick pocket, beat-up someone for info, assassinate a few targets for a fellow member of your guild, or collect random flags in a timed race (my least favorite of the bunch).  Every Assassination mission is preceded by any combination of those tasks.  They might sound pretty cool, but the execution is very "game-like".  More variety and some actual investigation (with more freedom) on your part would have been very welcomed.
- My biggest complaint with the game right now is not the repetitive nature of the tasks (the game looks and plays so well I am not bored of doing these things over and over again . . . as long as I take a break from the game and play some Rock Band or Uncharted in-between assassinations), but in how its videogame elements stand out as a result of how detailed and realistic everything else is.  There are MANY little things that come together that just give the game a very game-like feel, instead of an organic, real-world feeling (although, without spoiling anything, this might be intentional).  Certain things like after saving a citizen, the camera locks on to them as they thank you and you cannot really leave the area until they are done talking.  In the meantime the world around you continues and you are standing around the corpses of many dead soldiers and other guards are usually already at the scene investigating the carnage.  So there you are, the only person standing around with a weapon, dead soldiers, and the investigating guards don't immediately suspect you.  They eventually will, if you hang around like a fool, but all you need to do is hold down the "blend" button and you bow your head, fold your arms and you are practically invisible to all guards, even if you are standing right in front of them.  Pretty silly.  Also, why does every bench in the game have two people sitting on them, one on each corner, so that you always get to sit right in the middle?  I am thinking this is to make benches stand out more, yet it gives the game world a bit of that artificial feel that I am talking about.  When you pickpocket someone the game again does that lock on camera thing where it focoses on the person you pick  pocketed and you can't really move around much.  The person always seems to notice that they were pickpockets about 2 seconds after you do it and they look around and practically look right at you, but never suspect you even if you are the only person around for a block.  It is all these little details that stand out because of how realistic everything looks from afar, but always remind you that this is just a game (again, there is an element to this entire game that might nulify a lot of these complaints a bit, but they are still annoying).
- Combat is quite different from other games and just like the rest of the controls, after you get used to it, it can be a lot of fun.  I love countering attacks, tossing people from rooftops, and looking like a total bad ass thanks to the great animation and pretty gory kills.
- The story started out a bit slow (especially the "twist") but it has been picking up and I am pretty interested in how things will turn out.
Overall, even with my complaints, Assassin's Creed threads new ground and is a marvel to watch and play.  It is not perfect, but very unique and I really, really hope there is a sequel that can build on the great foundation that was created and expand on it.

Wow, we are really bad

The Miami Dolphins are 0-11.  I never thought we'd be this bad.  Last night's game against the Steelers was the very definition of boring and uneventful.  The field conditions were atrocious.  The game was scoreless until about the .25 second mark.  Ricky Williams returns . . . and is immediately sideline when a Pittsburgh player steps on his right shoulder blade (pretty painful replay).  All our running backs are hurt (where the hell is Lorenzo Booker!!!!  He was our 3rd round pick!), we're 0-11, and we play the Jets next week.  Yes, the Jets suck too (the Jets ALWAYS suck!!!  Hahah . . .) but they always give us a hard time.
While at this point the only thing we have to look forward to is the 1st Overall Pick, I also want to get at least one win.  Although it might be pretty cool to be the only team to go undefeated (if the Patriots don't do it this year) and 0-16 as well.  Of fine, that would not be cool, that would suck.

November 26, 2007


I haven't posted in a while since I was on vacation and upon my return, very busy playing lots of games.  I should be putting up impressions of Assassin's Creed, Rock Band and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune soon.  I also have Mass Effect still shrink wrapped waiting for me to play it.  But I will not open it until I am done with the others.  I want to give it my full attention.  I still am holding on to the illusion that I will read the prequel novel before starting the game as well, since I hear it greatly enriches the experience.
I might actually have time, since I should be pretty busy with the aforementioned games for a while (plus Final Fantasy Tactics AND CoD 4 multiplayer!).
Hopefully I'll have impressions up later today.

November 14, 2007

CoD4 further impressions . . .

I beat CoD4.  The campaign is a bit shorter than I would have liked, but Infinity Ward packed it with so many amazing moments that all is forgiven.  This has been the best FPS experience I have had in a while.  I enjoyed it more than Halo 3, Rainbow 6, and even Half-Life 2.  Sure, it is hard to compare a game like CoD4 with Half-Life 2, since they play vastly different and aim for completely different experiences, but I am coming from a pure enjoyment standpoint.  CoD4 kicked my @$$!  It is a roller coaster ride from start to finish.
It does basically everything right.  It is a technical marvel, actually has an interesting story that had me interested in what was going on (unlike previous CoD games), teammates you actually begin to care for, fantastic audio, great voice acting, perfect controls . . . the total package.
I'm trying to beat it on Veteran difficulty now, which is going to be brutal and I can now begin to sink my teeth into its fantastic multiplayer.  Looks like I won't be playing as much Halo 3 as I thought I would be, since I can see myself entertained with CoD4 for quite some time . . .

November 07, 2007


Quick impressions.
I played four single-player levels and I jumped into about four multiplayer matches yesterday.
The thing that jumps out the most is just how gorgeous this game is.  It really is quite a sight.  The opening level on the tanker is a showcase of particle effects (torrential rain, waves crashing over the side of the ship), impressive lighting, and terrific textures.  Not only that, but the game runs lightning fast.  A solid 60 fps with no dips (none that I noticed anyway).  And the controls are extremely polished and feel great.
Another thing that jumped out at me is the animation.  Watching your teammates scramble from cover to cover, using hand signals, opening doors - this might be the best character animation I have seen in a FPS yet.  Very lifelike, very smooth.
The singleplayer so far has done a good job of mixing fast paced levels (and I mean, really fast paced, chaotic action that gets your adrenaline pumping) with other more covert operations that have you sneaking form spot to spot and engaging in smaller skirmishes.  I actually like the steathy levels more.  Great stuff.
In just the few levels I have tried I have had many "wow" moments, including the ending of the first level that had me on the edge of my seat.  I was laughing at the end because of what a great rush it gave me.
As I mentioned in my Beta Impressions, the multiplayer is fantastic.  The game ships with 16 multiplayer maps, which is a huge number.  I can see myself playing a lot more CoD4 multiplayer than Halo 3 multiplayer.  CoD is just more my style.

November 02, 2007

Rock Band demo kits

Looks like many Best Buys have Rock Band demo kits up for people to try.  Looks like I will have to swing by mine and hope they have one too.
November 20th is going to be insane.  Now I just have to figure what I am going to do when I get home from Gamestop that morning.  Play Rock Band . . . or Mass Effect.  I know once I start one I am not going to want to stop for a while.  And that is if I am not still totally addicted to CoD4 or Assassin's Creed.  =(

Guitar Hero III

I picked up GH III this past Sunday.  Some impressions:
- This being Neversoft's first stab at the franchise and them having to build the engine from scratch, they've done a great job and I do not notice any difference in the timing of the notes.  Actually, there is a difference in that the window of error is actually larger, so it makes the game a bit easier in that regard.  To compensate, the game overall seems to be harder, as some songs on Hard could probably pass for Expert songs in Guitar Hero II.  If you are someone who does not really use pull-offs or hammer-ons, you probably can't get by like you could in the previous games.  You MUST learn to use them (they work great though).
- The song selection is great.  A lot of master tracks this time around.  Unfortunately, three of my favorite songs to play are all covers.  Black Magic Woman, La Grange and Pride and Joy.  They are still fun, but they would have been insane as master tracks.
- The Boss Battles, which have been covered a lot, don't add much to the game in my opinion.  I beat the game on Hard the other night and there were a total of 3 Boss Battles.  I actually beat them all on my first try so maybe that is why I am so indifferent to them.  If they would have given me a hard time I'd probably be complaining right now.
- I really like the note counter that lets you know what your current note streak is.  You also get a pop-up on screen after you hit certain streak numbers.  Some find this distracting, but it does not bother me and I like it actually.
- Playing over Xbox Live is a lot of fun.  Since I only own one 360 GH controller I haven't been able to play competitively before (I did not buy the GHIII pack that came with the guitar since I will be getting Rock Band in a few weeks and don't want to have 5 plastic guitars laying around; I have two already for the PS2).  My online experience has been great so far.  I do not like the online "Battles" very much though, since they can be over very fast and you usually spend more time looking for a match than playing the actual battle.  Pro Face-Off is great!
- I've been enjoying the game but this being the 4th Guitar Hero game I play in 3 years (if you count me playing through part 2 twice on PS2/360) the series has lost some of its initial magic.  The game is still fun, but it is no longer as new and fresh as it used to be.  The Career mode is really starting to show its age, especially after reading about Band World Tour mode in Rock Band (which sounds a million times deeper).
So, bottom line, if you are a fan of the series, there is no reason why you wouldn't enjoy this one.  Many great tracks on here.  But if Guitar Hero 4 doesn't do something to change the formula drastically (like Rock Band is doing), I do not know how much longer this series will last.

October 26, 2007


I love my PSP.  It is a great piece of technology.  Funny thing though, the main "thing" it does is what I use it for the least.  Playing games.  I own Daxter, Syphon Filter and Lumines and I have had the handheld for quite a while now.  Daxter was great.  Gorgeous game.  Syphon Filter is fun, yet I've never been sucked into it (still need to beat it).  And Lumines, for some strange reason, I've never actually liked.
But that is not to say my PSP collects dust.  When I travel I use it to surf the net while I am waiting in airports.  I used it to listen to music while I was waiting in line for the Halo 3 launch.  But for the most part, my favorite way to use the PSP is to stream podcasts and listen to them while I am in bed going to sleep.  I put on my headphones and in about 20 minutes I am asleep.  Sure, it takes me four days to hear one podcast, but it is great.
Well, I am hoping to now use my PSP for more than going to sleep.  I picked up Final Fantasy Tactics on Wednesday.  I mentioned earlier how crazy addicted I was to the original PS1 game.  I have yet to play the game, I have been reading through the manual and watching the tutorial.  It has been bringing back a lot of memories.  I can't wait to jump in.  I'll write impressions once I do.

October 24, 2007

Game Overload

Well, we knew this would happen.  There are just too many good games out or coming out in the next few weeks.
I am currently making my way through the Orange Box.  I am still only by HL2.  I have Episode 1 and 2 to go.  I've barely touched Team Fortress 2 and I can't get enough of Portal (playing through it with the commentary on and trying the "advanced" levels).
I'm still enjoying Halo 3 (although I have not played it much since the Orange Box).  I managed to collect all but one of the skulls in the game and I would like to play through it again with some skulls turned on to get the achievements for beating each level with a high metascore.  That should be hard.  And there is still plenty of multiplayer gaming left in that title I think.  :)
I have Forza 2 just waiting for me to play it.  And it is going to have to wait for a really long time. (speaking of which, I picked up King Kong months ago and need to finish it as well)
Guitar Hero III comes out on Sunday.  While I am way more excited for Rock Band, GHIII has too many awesome tracks for me to pass up.  Plus, the demo was a lot of fun.  Not too sure about those Boss Battles though.  We'll see.
All of a sudden I really want to get Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSP.  The reviews have been great and I have been meaning to get a good PSP game for a while to entertain me when I travel for work.  I was absolutely addicted to the original Tactics on the PS1.  Like, seriously addicted.
Then of course there's Call of Duty 4, Mass Effect, Rock Band and Assassin's Creed all in November.  Are you kidding me?  I can't.  Too many.  I hate having so many games to play!!!  Not only is it a strain on my wallet, but I feel it takes away from my enjoyment of each one.

Rachet and Clank

The PS3 demo is gorgeous.  The controls are tight and responsive.
And I can barely play it.
Few things annoy me more than game demos that do not give you the option to invert the camera controls.  I thought this was a standard default option by now.  I simply CANNOT play a game if the Y-axis is not inverted.  I look like a 2 year old trying to shoot or look around with non-inverted copntrols.  I spend more time looking at the floor than playing the game.
Throw in the fact that in 3rd Person action/adventure games I also like to invert the X-axis (not sure why, but I got used to it that way) and I was having a very difficult time enjoying this demo.
From what could tell (anytime all I had to do was walk straight and not touch the camera) the game is fun.  If for some reason the final game does not include the option to change the camera controls (no way Insomniac is that stupid right?), any inclination I might have had to pick this one up is out the window.

October 19, 2007

Orange Box

I've been playing The Orange Box since it was released.  I never was able to play Half-Life 2 when it came out, so I am making my way through that one first.  So far it is great.  Graphics might have aged a bit in the last two years but I hear Episode 2 looks a lot better.  I'm probably about ½ through.
I've only been able to play a few quick matches of Team Fortress 2.  A few of them were plague by pretty bad lag.  I hear Valve already has a patch ready to go to fix the problem, but it is still going through Microsoft's long certification process.  The game seems like a lot of fun.  The visuals are stunning.  The frame rate is fast and smooth.  The various classes play significantly different from one another.  Like I said, I think I might have played only a total of four matches.  The only negative that jumped out at me (aside from the lag) was that the environments are completely static and you cannot interact with it aside from putting bullet holes in the walls.  Maybe that aspect just jumped out at me because I have been playing so much HL2 and using the gravity gun to interact with everything I see.  So, when I shoot an object in TF2 I expected it to go flying off the shelf.  But it doesn't.  Oh well.
And then of course, there is Portal.  Portal is just fantastic.  It is the best game in the entire set (this coming from someone that hasn't even gotten to Episode 1 or 2 yet, so I am judging before trying it all).  The game is fun, challenging and down right funny.  Yes, funny.  I wasn't expecting to laugh out loud constantly while playing it, yet the game has a fantastically dark sense of humor thanks to the female computer voice with guides you through the levels, and it had me in stiches most of the time.  Really, really clever writing.  And perfect execution.
As far as the whole concept and puzzle elements go, the game is top notch.  Throw in the "story line" and the game jumps another notch.  Then, mix in the final level (which is great and different from the previous ones) and the best ending song ever and you have yourself a very satisfying experience.  My only complaint is that I want more!!!!  I beat the game in one sitting (maybe around 2 - 3 hours).  I want PLENTY more Portal Valve!  I hope you have the DL content just lined up, because I am ready to buy!
The Orange Box has got to be one of the best values in gaming.  In an age when we compain about games' $60 pricetags and being nickled and dimed to death with DL content that we feel should be for free, it is refreshing to see a company release a game that I actually feel I underpaid for (don't tell that to Valve).  If you haven't already done so, buy this game now!!!!

October 11, 2007

Marketplace Round-up

Lots of new game demos on the marketplace:
Conan - Played through this one once.  It was ok.  On one hand, the graphics look pretty bland.  The water looks laughably bad.  As in PSone quality.  Seriously, I guess after having just played through Halo 3 and Bioshock, I have been spoiled by some impressive looking water.  The water in Conan looks like they didn't even try.  The one thing the game does very well is the animation.  The animation was fantastic.  The lip-syncing during cutscenes was better than I expected as well.
F.E.A.R. (Files?  F.E.A.R. 2?  Can't remember the name) - A semi-sequel or expansion pack to F.E.A.R..  I played it only for about 5 minutes, died, and did not feel like trying it again.  The game looked and felt extremely dated.  Again, maybe it is because I am coming off Halo 3 and Bioshock, but this game just looked terrible.  I shouldn't be so harsh on a demo, but it did not hold my interest.
Thrillville - I enjoyed playing the one mini-game where you are on a dirt bike and can do stunts.  All the others ones were boring.  Not impressed.
Crash of the Titans - Terrible.  Seemed like a very generic, by the numbers platformer.  Did not have any fun playing it.
The Simpsons Game - I played this one on the PS3 (it came out before the Marketplace one).  I went in not expecting much and came away pleasantly surprised.  The graphics are very faithful to the show and the writing and dialogue are perfect.  I laughed out loud several times.  I am a huge Simpsons fan, so that helped.  The gameplay seems pretty shallow and it will get boring quickly, but I had a good time with the demo.
Jericho - Graphics are pretty impressive (although maybe a bit too dark, adjust the gamma in options).  Gameplay was ok and changing to each character on the fly was unique.  The "Quick Time Event" in the demo, where you need to press controller buttons as they appear on the screen, was way unexpected.  If they are all going to be like that in the game I see players dying the first time, every time.  Gotta be a better way to do it.  Can't say this game is in my purchase radar at the moment, but it looks nice.
PGR4 - Downloaded it, but I have not tried it yet.  I really enjoyed PGR3 so I am hoping for the best.
Some game from Koei - This is a huge demo, almost a 2 gig download.  And I did not find it entertaining at all.  Of course, these types of games aren't my "thing".
There have a been a few more, but I have long since deleted those and cannot remember what they were.  Couldn't have been any good or I would have remembered them.  =)

October 03, 2007

Halo impressions

I beat the single-player campaign on Heroic this weekend.  I immediately started a new one on Legendary.  That is a pretty good sign that I had a great time.  Impressions below, outlining what I liked and didn't.
- Graphics.  I found the visuals to be pretty fantastic.  They do tend to fluctuate though.  Some moments they look ok, but for the most part they are gorgeous.  The environments, lighting, colors, and the huge scale of everything is what ultimately makes you overlook some questionable textures and weak player models (humans mostly, not the Chief, who looks amazing).  This game probably has the best use of HDR lighting to date (the effect used to recreate what happens when you go from a dark area to a bright area and vice-versa).  I always judge a game's graphics with whether or not they made me stop playing and just admire them.  I can safely say that I stopped to admire the visuals MANY times and I said quite a few "wow's" in the process.
There is talk now that the game does not run in true HD, that it is rendered at 640p and upscaled to 720p (mostly as a result of them implementing the aforementioned HDR lighting).  That being the case, if someone wouldn't have sat there are counted pixels, I would never have noticed.  It is a shame that Halo 3 will now get plenty of criticism for this, because I really think it is a great looking game.
- Audio.  Halo's soundtrack has always been great and this third instalment is no different.  Fantastic compositions that kick in at just the right moments.   Weapon fire and dialogue is also as solid as ever.
- Gameplay is typical Halo.  Same great feel.  If you played the previous games, you can jump right in, all you need to do is adjust to the reload/action button being relocated to the right bumper.  The new usable items are cool . . . except I would always forget to use them.  I am trying to remember they are there during my Legendary play through.
- Lots of big, open levels that have you driving Warthogs or other vehicles.  I LOVE these type of levels.  Halo 3 does not disappoint in this regard.
- Co-op play over Live is an absolute blast.  I have yet to try it with more than one friend, but I can see myself having a lot of fun with this.
- Saved Films is an absolutely awesome addition that I will be using extensively.  It was a great choice to add this and I am sure it was not the easiest thing to do.  Having your last 25 matches automatically save is great!  I have already used this feature many, many times.  Shame that many Halo 3 players who rip the game open and just go to matchmaking will never even know it is there.
- On a similar note, the File Share option is also great.  Not only can you save these great films of the game (or screen shots) but you can share them with your friends or post them on  Simply awesome.
- In the limited time I have spent with it, multiplayer still looks to be what keeps this game at the top of Live's list until the 360 is no more.  The amount of options has increased and the entire interface Bungie has built is unmatched.  The ease of use (once you learn how to navigate the menus) is great.  Forge will keep you entertained and the levels fresh, and being able to share your levels or game types with File Share is just another example on how much work Bungie put into multiplayer.  Once again, Halo will be the standard by which other game's multiplayer is measured.
- As much as I enjoyed the single-player campaign (the best overall of the 3 Halo games) I felt the last two missions let me down a bit.  Mission 8 is just awful.  It cannot take the title of "Worst Halo level ever" because no one can take that away from "The Library" level in the original Halo, but it is a sure fire runner-up.  The level is just so different from the others, it seems out of place.  Most of all, the level is frustrating and not fun at all.
- The Flood.  I know they are a big part of the Halo storyline.  A necessary evil.  And I like their "role" in the story, I just don't fully enjoy fighting them.  In moderation they are ok.  A change of pace from your regular Covenant encounters.  They require a completely different approach . . . mostly because they use no tactics and just rush you as soon as they spot you.  The first few Flood levels in every Halo game has been fine with me.  Their very first appearance in Halo 1 was fantastic.  As is their first level in Halo 3.  After a while though, Bungie always seems to overdo it.  I already mentioned the 8th level.  So annoying.  Some advice for Bungie, in any future Halo games that might contain the Flood (hopefully none, I think we are done with them), please limit them to one or two levels max.  That is about all I can take of them before I begin cursing.
- Like I mentioned, I love the Saved Films feature.  A few things bother me though.  My main gripe is that it fast-forwards WAY too slow.  There is probably a technical reason for this (it is not an actual video you are viewing after all, the 360 is actually generating a replay of your session on the fly), but it is very annoying if what you want to get to is towards the end of the film, especially if it is a campaign video, since those can be over an hour long!!!!
Speaking of campaign films, you cannot record or rewind campaign films (only take screen shots).  I find this disappointing since I would have probably enjoyed saving clips from single-player even more than multiplayer.  The fact that you cannot even rewind is also a huge disappointment, especially if you just spent 10 minutes holding down the right-trigger to fast forward to a specific part to take a screen shot and you missed your perfect shot by a few frames.  No way to go back.  Ugh!
I also wish that when you view the film in slow motion that it would adjust the frame-rate accordingly (like watching a replay in APF or Madden), so that it looks smooth and you can really enjoy the animation.  As it is, viewing something in slow motion is unbelievably choppy and doesn't look good at all.  It is best to view it at regular speed.  Shame.
- I wish there were more "sandbox" levels, like The Silent Cartographer" in the original Halo.  It will make the game feel a bit more organic.  Don't know why Bungie has never been able to create another level like that.
And that is about it as far as cons go.  I think Halo 3 delivered.  Sure, I would have preferred a different direction with the last few levels, but overall, it is a fitting end to this great trilogy.  Now, to complete Legendary and find all the skulls!

September 28, 2007

Update: I am an idiot

The title says it all.  I am an idiot.
After speaking to Microsoft today for the 3rd time in four days, they advise me that they cannot send me a replacement disc if the disc was never in the case to begin with, that it is up to the retailer to give me another copy (why the first two guys couldn't tell me this is beyond me).  So, I call Gamestop back, tell them what Microsoft told me and they advised me to bring it back with my receipt, but that the Limited Edition was released, well, in limited quantities, and if they ran out of copies I would be out of luck.  Since I had something to do today after work and probably not be able to make it to Gamestop until tomorrow, I did not want to risk it and used my lunch hour to go home and grab my game and return it.
When I get home I decide to give it all one more good look over, so that I don't embarrass myself.  As it turns out . . . the back of the Limited Edition case opens up to reveal - wait for it - the Limited Edition Bonus Disc!  Duh!
Ok, in my defense, I mentioned in the previous post how the bottom of the metal case is bent.  Because of this, the rear flap was very, very difficult to open.  In fact, when I first noticed that the bonus disc was missing, I "attempted" to open the rear of the case and since it did not budge I figured that section did not open.  I do not like the look and feel of this metal case either.  Halo 2's Limited Edition casing was much nicer.  So was Perfect Dark's.  This one feels kinda cheap.
Anyway, enough babbling, I am still an idiot.  Impressions of the actual game to follow shortly.

Halo 3 launch . . .

I arrived at my local Gamestop on Monday night, around 10:50pm and there were already about 40 people in line.  Great.  Luckily I brought my PSP.  Gamespot employees began taking everyone in to pay off their copies so that once 12:00am came around, you just had to present your receipt, ID, and you were out of there.
It worked out great because I was in my car driving back home at 12:10am.  Not bad considering my place in line.  If I remember correctly, it took me more than ½ an hour to get Halo 2.
I had it all planned out.  I would get home and play some multiplayer with my friend (who was also getting at midnight) and then concentrate on the single-player the next day.  While I am far more interested in Halo's single-player campaign (I am one of the few people who enjoy it more than multiplayer), it was late, my girlfriend was sleeping and I am going to need my first experience with the campaign to be with the surround-sound volume on 11.
So, I tear open the game (I bought the Limited Edition) and get with the Slaying.  Fun times.  I go to bed at 5am.  Not a big problem since I did not work the following day.
I get about five hours of sleep, wake up at 10am and get ready for a whole day of Halo 3 single-player.  But first, I take a look at all the goodies that came with the Limited Edition Set (in my haste to play last night, I didn't give it a second glance).
I see an instruction booklet, a poster, a few flyers, a nice hard cover art book, a bonus disc . . . wait, where is my bonus disc?!
Turns out, my copy of the Limited Edition HAD NO BONUS DISC!
Just my luck.  I probably got the only copy of the game from Gamestop that had no bonus disc.  Upon close inspection, my Limited Edition is all messed up.  The bottom of the tin casing is bent in, no bonus disc, and of course, like many others who got this edition, when I opened the case last night my game disc was dislodged from the holder and flapping all around the case.  It has a few small scratches but nothing too severe.  It is playing fine.
So, after playing a good amount of the solo campaign (impressions will be added to another post) I call Gamestop to see what the deal is with my missing bonus disc.  They advise me that it is a Microsoft issue and there is nothing they could do.  Great.  I dread calling Microsoft support.
I bite the bullet and call Microsoft.  After going through a ton of options, I manage to speak to a live operator.  He is very friendly, yet has to put me on hold every 30 seconds (for about 5 minutes each time) because he has to find out information about what to do.  After about ½ an hour, he advises that they can send me a copy of the bonus disc, but that their computers are going crazy so he has to give me a reference number and tells me that he put all of my notes in the system and that if I call back in 2 days they will be able to finish the transaction.
So, 2 days later I call, speak to someone else, give them my reference number, and get put on hold again for about 10 minutes.  The guy comes back, gives me a new reference number, mumbles something that I barely understand, says something about calling back with this new number, and the conversation ends.  I do not know if I have to call with this new number if I don't receive the bonus disc, or if I have to call again today to do something else, I am in the dark (my fault for not inquiring further, but this guy was definitely not as friendly as the one I spoke to previously).
Anyway, Halo 3 is awesome, I just wish something didn't always have to go wrong!!!  Argh!  I want my bonus disc!

September 19, 2007


Normally, when I see a commercial for a video game, I care about one thing.  I want to see gameplay.  I do not want to see the game's CG cinematics, I want to see what the game really looks like.  That is my criteria.
I think I may have to revise that criteria.
Halo 3's "Believe" ad campaign is freakin' awesome.  I was just commenting to Powerpuff the other day via e-mail that almost a week away from Halo 3's release I have not been paricularly excited about the game.  Not like I was prior to Halo 2.  Or Bioshock.  Or countless other games before.
Then I watched the three Halo 3 "Believe" commercials available on the marketplace.  They certainly are not your typical videogame commercials.  After watching them, I cannot wait to "finish the fight"!!!
If you haven't already done so, download them from the Marketplace and give them a watch.

September 16, 2007

Miami Dolphins

Wow, the Dolphins suck. Our running game is non-existant, our defense seems to give up many big plays and we can't tackle for crap. It is going to be another long season. Joy.

Ninja Gaiden II

Tomonobu Itagaki showed off a live demo of Ninja Gaiden II at Microsoft's TGS press conference.

You can see the footage over at Here is a LINK

Being the big Ninja Gaiden fan that I am, I was ecstatic when I heard there was a live demo. After watching the footage . . . umm, I not so sure how excited I am for this game anymore.

The game looks . . well, similar to say the least. Yes, it is prettier than the original Xbox game. I am sure it is prettier than Sigma on the PS3 as well. But still, it all looks very, very familiar. Gameplay looks the same, graphics and animation (while faster and prettier) also looks the same. I guess I was expecting a bigger jump for next gen Ninja Gaiden. Oh well, I don't doubt the game will play exceptionally well . . . but after playing through about 3 versions of the last Ninja Gaiden with minimal improvements for each iteration, I was hoping for a pretty drastic change for the true sequel.

September 12, 2007

Marketplace Round-up

A few more items from the Marketplace that I have checked out recently:

Sega Rally Technology interviews - These videos were pretty entertaining. The track deformation technology developed for the game does look intriguing. Unfortunately it looks like it might go to waste on a title that tends to gear towards an arcade racing experience, but maybe the engine will be used for other, sim-rally titles.

Soul Calibur IV Trailer - I've lost track of the Soul Calibur games after II. Soul Blade for the PS1 was fantastic (still one of my favorite intros to any game ever) and the Dreamcast port of Soul Calibur II is practically legendary. This trailer did little to impress me. The video quality looked washed out and I am pretty much over fighting games at this point.

Team Fortress 2 Soldier Video - Awesome. Simply awesome. The animation and overall look of this game is amazing. The production quality in this trailer is damn impressive. I think I can watch a full length movie done all in-game. Thanks to the CoD4 Beta, I am actually looking forward to trying this on-line fragfest. Should be a riot.

NBA Live 08 Demo - I played about 2 quarters. I can't really give an opinion. I just don't like basketball. I know so little of the sport in fact, that I can't even tell if the game is good or not. I heard last year's game was crap, but I have no way of knowing if this one fixed those problems.

NHL 08 Demo - I probably watch hockey even less than basketball, yet I enjoy the sport much more. This demo was actually a lot of fun. Sure, I was pretty lost most of the time (I'm no hockey expert by any stretch of the imagination), but the graphics were great, the animations smooth, the controls very tight and it was pretty exciting overall. I don't see myself buying a hockey game ever, but I did enjoy the demo.

Tiger Woods 2008 - I haven't gotten into a golf game for many, many years, and the ones I used to play have been of the more cartoony variety. I have never played (aside from demos) any version of the Tiger Woods games. It was Hot Shots or nothing for me. Actually, my favorite golf game ever was Swing Away Golf for the PS2. That game was fantastic!! At least it was to this semi-not-really-hardcore golf fan. I still own it and I think I am going to try it again on my PS3 . . .

. . . oh, as to the Tiger Woods demo, umm, it did nothing for me. Swing Away Golf here I come!

Call of Juarez Demo - This demo seems to be many months too late, since this game came and went many moons ago. That being said, I really enjoyed this demo. I've noticed lately that I am not very impressed with most demos and it takes a lot for me to sit through one, but this one had me entertained the whole time. I think it was the western theme. I hope more games come out with a old west theme to them.

The game itself definitely does appear flawed. It plays well enough, but there is never that extra level of polish to really "wow" you. Graphically, the lighting effects are very good and the blurring, out-of-focus effect when aiming is very well done, but the character models don't look as good and you can just tell that this is not a AAA title. It is not ugly, but it is not showcasing the 360's power either (doesn't help that I've been only playing Call of Duty 4 and Bioshock for the last few weeks).

I would actually consider picking this title up if I see it for a discount price. I still have this demo in my HDD and will probably play through one more time before I delete it (that says something right there).

September 07, 2007

Beta Impressions

I participated in the Shadowrun Beta, and really, I only played a few matches before I got tired of it.  Nothing against the game, I am just not a very big fan of online versus play (deathmatch, team death-match, etc.).  I really wanted to participate in the Halo 3 Beta, because the Halo games are the only ones I have enjoyed playing against other players.  Unfortunately, I was not chosen (and I was not going to buy Crackdown to get it).  So, when I signed up for the CoD4 Beta, it was mostly out of habit, not because I was looking forward to online death-matching.
I played the Beta extensively this past weekend and I am really enjoying myself, much to my surprise.  I am kinda addicted actually.  The game is fast, the controls are very tight and the action intense.  I played a few matches of CoD2 back in the day (when I could find one with no lag) and I was on the verge of enjoying it.  CoD4 seems similar to that experience, only tenfold.
Even with the limited stage selection, weapons, and level capping, the game is a lot of fun.  Creating a class and choosing which "perks" to utilize adds some needed depth to the typical death-match scenario.  I am really liking the addition of perks.  Leveling up and the way you acquire points is also handed very well.  The game also has several "challenges" with each weapon, allowing you to unlock additional attachments for them the more you use them.
Graphically, the Beta looks very good.  The levels themselves look great, with nice lighting effects and texture work.  There is even HDR lighting present, if you go from a very bright area to a dark one or vice versa.  Character animation is also very well done.  All the animations look smooth and realistic.  Physics also come into play, as many items can be scattered with explosions and that goes a long way to making everything seem believable.
A few observations:
- Players only start with only one frag grenade and one special grenade.  You also cannot pick up additional grenades.  There is one perk that gives you 3 extra special grenades (flash or stun).  At first, the limited number of grenades seemed odd.  After all, many games like Halo and even Rainbow 6 have ample grenades, resulting in grenade-fests, so my initial instinct was to always toss a grenade towards and enemy.  Now that I have played the beta extensively, I love the fact that players only get 1 frag grenade.  It forces players to earn their kills with their rifle, not by getting lucky and tossing a grenade into a room of enemies and getting 3 kills.  As is, I still see plenty of grenades getting thrown about, so having players start with more (or letting them pick some up in the battlefield) would greatly change the play style, and I like it the way it is..
- By clicking the right thumbstick you do a melee knife attack.  It is a one hit kill and you do the move very fast.  You even do a lunge similar to Halo 2's Energy Sword.  At this point, I am not liking the one hit kill.  I think if you get stuck in the back, a one hit kill is fine.  But if the attack is head-on, then it needs to be at least two hits to take someone down.  As it is, you could be in the middle of shooting someone in the chest and they can lunge and instantly kill you with the knife.  Not good.  I think you should be able to interrupt the stabbing animation as well if you are shooting the person, like in Gears of War when someone is coming at you with the chainsaw.
- Hiding in the tall grass as a sniper on Overgrown is awesome.  I personally suck at sniping, but you really do blend in with the environment when you do this.  Pretty cool.
- Speaking of sniping, the automatic sniper rifle that you unlock might be a little too effective.  You can basically shoot it as fast as you can pull the trigger and you get no recoil, so it is basically a machine gun with sniper-like range.  I don't even mind the fire-rate, but they need to add more recoil to make it harder to use.
- You start the match with only a few clips of ammunition.  I kind of like this because it forces you to keep moving and acquire weapons from fallen enemies and limits camping.
- I am finding the spawn system to be very well done.  I have not gotten killed by an enemy upon spawning and I always spawn right around my troops, no matter where they are in the map.  I have read on the beta forums that some people are in fact getting spawn camped, but I have not had it happen to me as of yet (knock on wood).
- I am having one big issue with the demo at this point.  There seems to be some lag or latency issue.  It is not really noticeable while playing (for the most part, games are completely lag free from a player's perspective), but you notice the discrepancy on the Kill Cam.  Many times I will see an enemy, shoot them with about four bursts of my M16 right in the chest and they shoot me twice and I die.  When I see the Kill Cam footage, it shows the enemy emptying half a clip in me and I barely get a shot off.  It has been happening lately with enough frequency to really annoy me.  I do not mind getting killed (actually I do, but still) if what I see on my end is what is actually happen.  I got shot first, fine, I died.  But if when I am playing I see myself shooting first, connect with all my shots, yet I die first from one or two shots, and in the Kill cam footage it shows that in fact I was shot many, many times, then something is wrong, and there was nothing I could do to prevent dying.  That is a big issue.  Infinity Ward better be looking into it because as much fun as I have been having with the Beta, if that continues or carries over to the final game, I cannot see myself playing CoD4 over a long period of time.  It would just get too frustrating.
After playing the Beta (if some of its issues are ironed out) I am convinced that CoD4 will be a big hit.  The single-player campaign looks simply amazing (some of the best visuals yet) and it looks like I might be enjoying the online portion as well.

August 31, 2007

Call of Duty 4 Beta

I was lucky enough to get chosen to participate in the CoD4 Beta.  I downloaded it last night, but didn't have time to play.  Actually, I did jump into the middle of a team death-match game, but it ended after a few minutes, so technically, I haven't played it.
I will write some impressions when I get some actual playtime with it, which might not be until Sunday.  Hey, at least Monday is a holiday.

August 27, 2007

Marketplace Update

I managed to tear myself away from Bioshock long enough to check out some of the Marketplace content that has been put up lately.
- Free GRAW 2 maps!  I downloaded these, but have not tried them.  They used to go for 800 points, so go get them now for free!
- Madden 2008 demo.  Tried it really quick.  Hated it.  To be fair, it was late, I was very tired, and after all my 2K8 playing the controls were tough to get used to.  Plus I hate football demos with 2 min. quarters.  Will try it again eventually, but my first experience was nothing to write home about.
- Skate demo.  Wow, this one caught me by surprise.  The game is actually pretty damn cool.  Again, playtime was limited (had to get back to Bioshock), but the fact that it held my attention for as long as it did says volumes about the game.
MoH: Airborne - I have not tried this yet.  A lot of the videos have made the game look pretty cool (landing wherever you want) but I don't know how excited I can get for anymore WWII shooters (that aren't called Brothers in Arms).
Katamari demo - The first PS2 game was charming and different.  This 360 one looks about the same.  And I mean, EXACTLY the same.  Aside from running in HD, this game's graphics are just like the PS2 game from a few years back and looks downright prehistoric.  If that was an artistic choice, it was a damn crappy one.

August 24, 2007

Bioshock impressions

For the last 2 days I have been able to devote a good chunk of time to Bioshock.  So far, the game lives up to the promise of being a strong Game of the Year contender.
I'm about 15 hours in and I really do not want the game to end.  The world of Rapture - the game's underwater city - is one of the most impressive and intricately created game worlds ever made.  Every room, every corner, every last detail is masterfully rendered.  No matter where you look, close inspection hints at a history.  Advertisements, vending machines, all now abandoned and destroyed.  Bodies decaying, messages written in blood, water seeping in from cracks, it all comes together to form one of the most atmospheric games in history.
It really helps that on a technical level, the game is pushing the 360 in ways few other games have.  Visually, the game stands, in my opinion, as the most impressive title to date (sorry Gears of War).  It works on all levels: geometry, lighting, art direction.  The water is to die for.  The color pallette is perfection.  Above all, the visual style, with its art deco retro-future look, is what ultimately sucks you in.
Surprisingly it gets even better on the audio side.  I knew I was in for an audio treat when entering the mysterious light house at the very beginning and hearing an instrumental rendition of "Beyond the Sea" as if being played by a phonograph in the distance.  Once you arrive in Rapture your surround sound system is in for a workout.  There is constant sound around you.  The city is slowly succumbing to the ocean and you hear creaks and groans, water dripping, you hear Raptures deranged citizens talking, their madness coming through clearly in their dialogue.  And then of course, there are the Big Daddies.  You hear these behemoths from 2 rooms away, their footsteps echoing through the walls.  Their bellowing roar, once engaged in combat, shakes the screen, blurs your vision and sets your subwoofer into a frenzy.  You feel it, more than you hear it.  Well, I shouldn't say that, because you definitely do hear it. :)
Because of how well the visuals and audio come together, and how realistic Rapture seems, you can't help but get completely sucked into the story.  You really do want to discover what happened here.  I won't go into story details here, not only because I am still only halfway through the game and am not sure what is going on, but because I also would not want to ruin it for anyone (who am I kidding, nobody is reading this).
I'll be giving further impressions and even commenting on the game's negatives in the future, for it is not perfect of course (and I love writing about my gripes)  =)
But Bioshock, in my opinion, stands as the best example and what this new generation of gaming has to offer.  Not just on a technical level, but in overall quality, detail, story and execution.

August 16, 2007

Operating on a different level . . .

I awake to a mouthful of salt water. I awake to chaos. Submerged in a cold blackness, my instincts push me upward, towards the surface. Towards the faint light above. That faint light erupts into a burning inferno as I break the surface. Disoriented I look around. Debris lines the water, a ring of fire practically surrounds me. I am blinded by smoke and still gagging from the water in my lungs. I force myself to move, to react. Swimming forward I see the tail end of the passenger plane sinking into the dark abyss below. My mind races. Are there other survivors? I will surely perish out here in the middle of nowhere. Panic comes over me. This is how I will die . . .

The smoke parts momentarily and I catch the glimpse of a deep penetrating light in the distance. A light house? I force myself to swim onward, hope fueling my aching muscles and decreasing spirit. As I clear the thick wall of smoke I see a huge structure silhouetted against the moonlight. Waves crash against its rock surface. The beacon of light once again illuminates the night. It is a light house!!! Swimming towards it I am greeted by stone steps leading directly into the dark waters. I crawl onto the cold stone surface and collapse, taking one last backward glance at the crash site. The plane is almost completely submerged now. The fire is dying down. Soon the only remnants left will be the debris which floats on the surface.

I take a moment to catch my breath and turn my attention towards the top of the stairs, which curve around the giant structure. I begin climbing, making sure to keep my balance on the slick stone surface. The sound of the surf crashing on the rocks below get drowned out by the whistling wind as I ascend higher. I begin to shiver, cursing my wet clothes which offer no warmth, just a chilling cold which seeps deep into my body. I reach the top and see a pair of gigantic bronze doors, the left one slightly ajar. They are a magnificent sight. Each door carefully carved in intricate detail, only the earliest signs of rust from the salty air creeping up its edges. Beyond the entrance there is only darkness. I hastily step inside, preferring the unknown within to the bone-chilling cold outside.

As I enter I hear the buzz of electricity and the room is suddenly basked in light. Squinting from the sudden blinding flash, I make out a statue of a man, sculpted in solid gold, and a large banner behind it with a message:

"Welcome to Rapture"

- - - - - -

That was the first 5 minutes of the Bioshock demo, available now on the Marketplace. A game which I have only the highest of expectations for. And one, which from just the short demo, has already surpassed them.

To go into more detail on the brilliant demo would be a disservice to those that have yet to play it. I implore everyone to give it a shot and just enjoy the ride. It is a game crafted by a truly talented and passionate developer. And the demo alone proves that Irrational Games is working at a differentl level than almost every other developer out there.

The full game is out next week. And that already feels like an eternity.

August 06, 2007

Portland Pics

Here are some pics from my Portland trip to pay Powerpuff a visit . . .

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

APF 2K8 Review

APF 2K8 definitely is an interesting game. On one hand, it is one of the best playing football video games ever made. On the field, the game shines. Take NFL 2K5, fix many of its faults gameplay-wise, add a whole mess of amazing new animations (including plenty of player specific ones that look fantastic), and you have one solid gridiron experience.

Off the field, the game fumbles. The groundwork is set for a fantastic non-licensed football game, but it seems that Visual Concepts did not go that extra step to really deliver the game (with the options) that it should have.

The game offers over 250 "Legend" NFL stars from the past. You are able to create your team using 11 of those Legends as your base. Legends are broken into 3 tiers: Gold, Silver, and Bronze (depending on their skill level). You are allowed 2 gold, 3 silver and 6 bronze players on your squad. Picking and choosing how to distribute talent is one of the game's best aspects. Building your team is a whole lot of fun.

In fact, before you even make it to the main menu upon firing up the game for the first time, you need to create a team. I thought this was pretty cool. Why beat around the bush right? Creating a team with your own Legends is what this game is about, lets get right to it. It wasn't until later that I found out why the game does this. It appears that Visual Concepts (for some unknown reason) decided to ONLY let you play the game with your created team(s). Sure, there are pre-made teams that you may play against, but you cannot play as them. Those pre-made teams do not follow the 2 gold, 3 silver, 6 bronze rule that you are restricted to, which is cool and makes some teams better than others (like in the NFL). But the fact that you are restricted to using only teams you create baffles me. If your friend comes over and you want to play against him, you better hope you have more than one team created, otherwise (unless you want to pit the same team versus itself), you will have to quickly create another team for a quick versus game. And after that game is over, if you want to play another one with different teams, you are going to have to keep creating teams to use (you can create up to 8). This seems like an unnecessary restriction to put on the game, especially if all you want to do is play a few games in Quick Play. For on-line play, I agree with only allowing created teams, but off-line it is just stupid.

The game offers an impressive array of options for customizing the look of your created team, and already many people have used it to create NFL teams that look very convincing. One big issue I have though is that the game does not let you customize the generic players on your team in anyway. After you choose your 11 legends the rest of your squad is filled with generics that are created by the game. You are able to choose what you want your generic players to specialize in by squads (finesse, balanced, or power for running backs; run blocking, balanced, pass blocking for offensive linemen, etc.). That is kinda cool but very limiting at the same time. It is not very realistic for your entire squad to have similar skills. If you chose "possession" receivers for your generic wideouts, they run better routes and have better hands, but they are all painfully slow. Unless you have a speedy legend receiver on your team, your entire receiving core consist of a bunch of pretty slow guys with semi-decent hands. I would have liked a bit more variety.

Like I mentioned, you cannot customize your generics in anyway. Many times you have players on your team that share the same jersey number. That is a big no-no. If we could edit these guys we could prevent that from happening (the game should really prevent that from happening itself, no excuse for it). Another problem with the generic players is that, well, they are TOO generic. APF does not have any ratings for its players (visible ones at least). The legends are assigned a certain number of "skills" that give them certain specialties, but generics get none. And since there are no other ratings, we have no idea how good (or bad) these guys are. Does that mean that every generic receiver in the game that is a "possession" receiver has the exact same speed, hands, etc.? If so, that is incredibly lame! And it leads to my biggest gripe: season mode.

I'm a big fan of franchise modes. I'm not a big on-line gamer, so I need a pretty robust single-player experience. This game offers no franchise mode, just a season mode in which you play one season. Adding to the fact that the season mode is as barebones as it gets, you are dealing with a league that has zero history behind it and is made up (for the most part) of generic players that basically have no determinable ratings, hence, they have zero personality. Obviously the season leaders in every stat category is going to be a legend, and get ready for some amazingly inflated stats at that! Eight games into my season every single QB has a passer rating over 110!!! Warren Moon is leading the league with a 91% completion percentage! After eight freakin' games!!! Give me a break! The stats are so incredibly inflated that it kills season mode for any simulation fan. And the experience is made all the more shallow because most of your team is made up of a bunch of nobodies with no attributes, skills, or anything to make you care about them in any way. As an example, pretend you are in a game, it is 3rd and long, you only have one WR legend, but he's been double covered the entire game. Who is your next "go to" guy? The other 4 WRs on your team are generic, but in real life surely one of them has better hands than the rest. Your coach will know this. In this game, you do not. You can try to force the ball to your legend, or just hope for the best and throw it to one of your "no name" players. Now, some might say that will be your own fault for only having one legend receiver and no back-up plan. But my problem is not that I only have one star receiver, it is that I do not know at least who my second best option is. If I at least know that the guy with the 2nd best hands on my team is receive X, then even if I throw it to receiver X and he drops it, at least I know I was going to my second best option. That is all I want. I want to know who these guys are.

I am not completely against not having ratings for players. After all, what really is the difference between a 98 overall rated player and one rated 97? But I think every player needs to have some sort of scouting report, letting you know what they excel at (or don't excel at). Even if it is just something simple. For example, for your WRs you can have just a few relevant categories (hands, speed, route running, etc.) and then have a scouting report that rates them either: awful, below average, average, good, excellent, elite. That's all. Add that and all of a sudden your generic players have some traits you can look at. Keep every other rating hidden, you now at least know who your 2nd best receiver might be for a given situation. Apply this to every position and you just improved season mode by 100%. Throw in a few generics having a shot of having at least one special ability and things can get even more interesting. It could even be based on your performance on the field during a season. Have a generic TE all of sudden come down with a few nice catches over a few games and he might acquire the "Soft Hands" skill. If he doesn't keep up his performance he could lose it, but he was rewarded for his performance and that opens up the possibility of some "generic" players being diamonds-in-the-rough and actually making it to the top of some stat categories.

Another thing that could have greatly improved season/franchise mode is a little background information about this "APL" League. Maybe if you select any team and press a button, you could get a short clip of that team's strengths, their best players, how they've done the last couple of seasons and what their outlook is for this year. Blitz: The League had something similar in their marketing for that game by creating a fictional league website, with news stories and team bios. To this day that has been one of the coolest marketing ideas I have seen for a game yet, and if the game would have been a simulation of football (instead of an all out arcade-fest with cheating A.I.) I would have purchased the game in a heart-beat. APF would have greatly benefitted from some league history like that.

I don't play on-line so I cannot comment on that portion of the game, but they have on-line leagues available and if I were to play on-line, leagues is where I would want to do it.

Graphic-wise the game is a mixed bag. Overall, I am pleased with the visuals, although my first impression was that they were not very next-gen like. The more you play it though and begin to notice all the subtle details in the animations, the visuals grow on you. Up close, surprisingly, the game looks absolutely fantastic. You know how in most games the closer you zoom in the worse the graphics get (I'm looking at you Gears of War!). In APF the opposite is true. Go into replay mode and zoom in as close as you can. The level of detail and the cleanness of the textures is just phenomenal! Zoom in on the ball and it almost looks photo-realistic. You can see the seams and tread in a player's jersey and their faces react realistically when getting tackled, showing pain and closing their eyes. Animations (as I mentioned in previous posts and in the youtube video I posted) are so far beyond anything out of EA that it is almost laughable. QB's animate better than any other football game ever made. Different QB's have different throwing animations and speeds at which they are able to get the ball off. It is a beautiful thing to see. O-line and D-line interaction is again fantastic (2K5 was already great) and seeing gang-tackles again after a few years of Madden's solo-tackle extravaganza is a welcome sight. There are some negatives though. Like I said, during regular gameplay the graphics don't scream "next-gen". The grass textures are beyond terrible. The lighting is pretty blah. I don't get that great sense of "sunlight" versus stadium lights, not enough shadows on the field, etc. Stadiums are a mixed bag. Some are inspired (if not a bit over the top) and some look pretty boring. Madden definitely has this won (although they do have the benefit of having something to work off of). And my biggest graphical gripe are still the transitional animations. I guess they bother me so much because all the animations in general are so life-like, that when you see some of the transitions and how abrupt or unnatural they look, they can be a bit jarring. There is still a ton of clipping too, although mostly only noticeable in replays. Lastly, sometimes the speed of some of the tackles is too fast and violent for the momentum the tackle player had before engaging.

Audio-wise, I find a few problems with the game First off, the game's "Field-Pass" feature - which occasionally shows you cut-scenes of the players on the field either trash talking or communicating with their teammates - is terrible. It comes off as a bit corny and the player voices and personalities don't always match their real-life counterparts. Unless you are going to have the actual players record their own dialogue, then this feature should be dropped. Next up, the commentary. Dan and Peter are back from 2K5. To some that is good news. Personally, I cannot stand these two guys. At least not anymore. It doesn't help that a lot of the dialogue is recycled from 2K5. A lot. For the most part their banter just doesn't sound real. Not by a long shot. MLB: The Show's commentary has just totally spoiled me. Crowd reaction and volume is actually pretty good. My only other gripe is that I wish you could rip sections of songs from your HDD and set up the stadium to play them after certain plays (sacks, TDs, ints), that was a really, really cool and underrated feature from 2K5.

Overall, I am very grateful that 2K has decided not to abandon us fans in light of EA's NFL license acquisition (although these last 3 years have seemed very, very long). I really hope the game generates enough sales to warrant an APF 2K9 because there is a solid foundation here and huge potential for an authentic and deep football experience. Gameplay-wise, the game is solid. Not perfect, but still the most fun I have had with a football game since 2K5. With additional tweaks, a lot of added features, more customization, and a revamped engine (those grass textures are painful!), then APF will have all the tools to be the best football game ever made.