Tuesday, June 29, 2010

BioShock 2 (Xbox 360) Review

Three and a half years ago, there were three reasons I bought an Xbox 360 Pro console: Halo 3, Mass Effect, and BioShock. BioShock was the first of these released, launching in August 2007, and as I followed along with the development of the game my anticipation was high and I can say that I was not disappointed by the final result.

Dubbed the spiritual successor of System Shock 2, BioShock was a psychologically disturbing Single Player experience that took gamers into an underwater distopia called Rapture. Rapture was embroiled in a civil war and you were stranded there, stuck in the middle. What followed was one of the most engaging gaming experiences I've played in years, and with the way that BioShock ended it was pretty obvious that a sequel was never intended. So you can imagine that I was both pleasantly surprised and excited at the announcement of the game's sequel, however very quickly I started having both doubts and reservations.

The development of BioShock 2 was being headed up by a new internal studio of 2K Games' entitled 2K Marin, and not only was the game delayed, but three additional developers were brought onto the project; never a good sign. BioShock 2 was also going to include Multiplayer, something unneeded for the style of game that BioShock was, and the Single Player game's footage released thus far looked very actioned-up over the original. So, when the game launched this past February I decided to pass, content to keep playing through Mass Effect 2, however I found BioShock 2 on sale this past May and decided to take the plunge and return to Rapture.

The Single Player experience of BioShock 2 is set about a decade after the end of the original game, and it sees players taking on the role of a Big Daddy, one of the first prototype models created before the Bouncers and Rosie's were perfected. As Subject Delta, you awaken confused and disoriented and you're contacted by Tenenbaum, who's returned to Rapture herself. As you make your way to meet with Tenenbaum to learn what's happened in the last decade and how you can be reunited with your original Little Sister, events begin to unfold that sheds light on the new power in Rapture: Dr. Lamb and her cult, The Family. Like the original, scripted events and audio logs are key to fleshing out the world around you, but the "ghosts" you witnessed from the original game are gone.

Despite the fact that you're a Big Daddy, 2K Marin really didn't stray too far from the tried-and-true BioShock play style. Aside from having rather loud footsteps, you're fairly weak and not at all the hulking brute you've come to expect, and you can also use a whole variety of weapons, some new some old. So sadly, while you are a Big Daddy you really don't feel like one at all. You use Medkits, take Eve Hypos, have Plasmids, Hack machines, eat Food and drink Booze and do a whole lot of other uncharacteristic things that really detracts from the feel of being "Mr. Bubbles," yet as you get towards the end game, you'll come across some plot points that bring it all together. So you are a Big Daddy and you are well within what you should be as a prototype, but of course anyone picking up the game would expect to be a walking tank which is far from the truth.

As I mentioned, you are fragile so you have to play smart, using both weapons and Plasmids to good effect. Unlike the original game, which required you to switch between the two, you can now dual wield a Plasmid and Weapon apiece which makes for some very interesting combinations. You start of with the Drill, which you can use to smash people or spin up to, well, drill them. This uses Fuel, which is the ammo for the Drill, and when it's out, you're limited to the Drill's basic melee attack only. Another change from the original game is that you can now melee with all your weapons by pressing "B," but the Drill is the most powerful melee weapon at your disposal.

Aside from the Drill, you also get the signature Rivet Gun, and your Shotgun is a double barreled variant and the Tommy Gun has been replaced with a rather large Machine Gun that only a Big Daddy could lug around. The Grenade Launcher returns as before, and the Crossbow has been replaced with the Speargun. You also get a nifty Hack Tool which allows you to fire Hack Darts to Hack machines from a distance, and the Research Camera also returns but functions rather differently (more on that later). As before, every weapon save the Drill has three kinds of ammo that you can switch between, greatly altering the use of each weapon. The Rivet Gun, for example, has standard Rivets, Heavy Rivets that do a lot more damage, and Trap Rivets that stick to the floor, wall, or ceiling and leave a nasty surprise for any Splicer walking by.

The majority of the Plasmids you remember are back with a few tweaks, and some have been combined. Oddly enough, there's only two new Plasmids. Electro Bolt, Incinerate, and Telekinesis are your usual staples, and subsequent levels can now charge up and affect multiple targets. Enrage and Hypnotize Big Daddy have now been combined into Hypnotize, and subsequent levels now allow you to use this Plasmid on tougher enemies. Of the two new Plasmids, one is story-specific so I can't go into it, and the other is called Scout. Scout creates a phantom of yourself that can move ahead undetected to, well, scout for you. Really though, there's not much new on the Plasmid front, which is a little disappointing. There are a whole lot of new Tonics, however, and the amount of Gene Tonic Slots you can now buy at the Gatherer's Garden have increased substantially, and you'll need them! I honestly found many of these passive abilities more useful than a lot of the game's Plasmids!

Though you visit all new areas of Rapture, some of which were spoken of in the original game, the style and design are very much in line with what came before. Considering the strength of BioShock's level design, this is not a bad thing what-so-ever and the areas actually feel larger this time around. The one downer is that you can no longer go back to a previously explored location, so once you exit a level, you now exit it for good. This means you'll want to be extra meticulous in your exploration to get every last drop of Adam, every Power to the People Station, and every Research Subject you can before you leave.

Speaking of Adam, now that you're a Big Daddy you gather it rather differently than you did in the first game. Before, you had to kill a Big Daddy which then allowed you to Harvest or Rescue the Little Sister he was protecting. In BioShock 2, once you take out her protector you can adopt her for yourself! The Little Sister will happily go with you, and you can either deposit her into a vent (Rescuing her) or Harvest her right away or you can find Adam enriched corpses for her to gather from. If you do this, you set her down and must defend her from waves and waves of Splicers looking for their fix. Once you finally decide to Rescue or Harvest her, however, you may be in for a very serious fight. Big Sisters, a new menace to the world of Rapture, will randomly show up when you deal with a Little Sister, and they're the toughest enemies in the game. They're fast, strong, and make great use of Plasmids and once one shows up, she will not stop hunting you until defeated so running away is not an option!

I am happy to say that, unlike what the promotional footage suggested, BioShock 2 is not "actioned up" over its predecessor at all and has the exact same feel and pacing. Splicers will randomly spawn to populate areas, even areas you've already "cleared," so you always need to be on your guard. All of the old enemies make a return save for the Nitro Splicer, as Lead Head Splicers can now throw grenades rendering them obsolete. The Brute Splicer is new, and he's a muscle bound problem that's nearly as tough as a Big Daddy, so thankfully they're rare. The Rumbler is a new kind of Big Daddy that you'll encounter, and he packs a Grenade Launcher and Mini-Turrets, so you'll want to make healthy use of Telekinesis or get in close to take him down. There's also another great new enemy encountered later in the game, but it's story related and I don't want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, once you encounter a few of them one story aspect will make a little more sense to you.

Like the original game, Vending Machines, Health Stations, Gatherer's Gardens, etc. are all present and most of them can be Hacked just like before. Sadly, as far as I'm concerned, 2K Marin ruined Hacking. Instead of the really fun pipe mini-game from the original, Hacking now brings up a needle that quickly moves back and forth between a bunch of bars. You press "A" to stop the needle on a specific colour bar which either Hacks the machine or moves you onto the next round. Green is a success, Blue give a bonus (a free item, extra damage from a Turret, etc.), Red triggers an alarm and white delivers a shock. The problem I found is that the game doesn't always consider landing the needle on the edge of a bar a success, but sometimes it does. Hacking is therefore inconsistent and more of a trial in frustration than a fun mini-game.

As mentioned above, the Research Camera makes a return but you no longer need to stock up on Film for it like ammo. Now when you take a subject's picture, your screen takes on an old-style motion picture film effect and the camera is actively researching the subject in real time. Fight the subject in unique ways each time and you'll get a higher score once time runs out, eventually unlocking bonus damage and unique Tonics for you. Unlike Hacking, I did enjoy the new method of Research as it's simply more of an involved process for the player, and more positive engagement is always a plus.

BioShock 2 once again uses Unreal Engine 3, and I personally didn't notice a huge graphical jump from the original game. Texture pop-in and fade-in happens regularly and up close character's faces look very stiff and plastic-like. Of course that's not to say that the game looks bad, not by any means, but don't expect the sequel to visually re-invent the wheel. It does look like they improved on lighting and shadows, however. Strong light sources are scattered about all over Rapture and shadows can give away the positions of enemies before you really see them. Being a Big Daddy, your own shadow is rather large, which made me jump a few times thinking an enemy was behind me; the fact that I'm a large character when I felt like a normal Joe took some getting used to. It is cool that when you Adopt a Little Sister, her shadow is clearly visible on your shoulder when viewing your own silhouette.

Audio-wise, Rapture is an absolute joy. The game is filled with wonderful period piece music, strong voice acting and audio logs, and powerful weapon and effect sounds. Like BioShock before it, environmental audio plays such a huge part, not only for immersion, but also as a warning, and it really pays to stop every few steps and simply listen. You could hear enemies in the distance, a Security Camera, a Little Sister, or any other combination of threats or aid, and the few seconds you'll gain by paying attention to what you hear can really help you plan an attack or defence in advance.

The multiplayer portion of BioShock 2 is developed by Digital Extremes, and is set just before BioShock. Players take control of one of several characters to fight in the civil war that ultimately tears Rapture apart, competing in the usual assortment of game types on maps that are based on areas found in the first game.

What's really cool about the game's Multiplayer portion is that it actually starts with an intro and sees you waking up in your Rapture apartment after splicing up. The apartment has a recorder from Sinclair Solutions that plays promotional messages, a Gene Bank to allow you to configure a few Load Outs, an Audio Recorder that has logs from all the different Multiplayer characters, and a Wardrobe that allows for minor visual customization. Once you're all done setting up, you can leave your apartment and head to the Bathysphere which takes you into matchmaking.

Some of the gametypes available are Turf War, which pits two teams, one for Ryan and one for Atlas, against one another. Capture the Sister is a unique twist on Capture the Flag in which players need to steal and rescue Little Sisters to score. Stealing her is easier said than done because the defending team always has one player randomly spawn as a Rosie Big Daddy, complete with Rivet Gun and Proximity Mines. If you do manage to steel a Little Sister, the one carrying her can not fire their weapon but they can use Plasmids.

Hacking and Research are also present in Multiplayer, but they're rather different from their Single Player counterparts. Simply hold "A" next to a Hackable item for several seconds, and you'll automatically Hack it, bobby trapping Vending Machines or turning that Turret to your side. Stand over a fallen enemy and hold "A" for several seconds to Research them, giving you a damage bonus against them.

The weapons you get are akin to the original game, so the Pistol, Shotgun, Tommy Gun, etc. are all back. Ammo spawns at Vending Machines and you don't need Money to buy them, and your Health regenerates when you stop taking damage for several seconds. Eve Hypos are also scattered about the maps and spawn at Vending Machines. Plasmids contain a mix of new and old, and there actually seems to be more new Plasmids in the Multiplayer game than the Single Player!

I was pleasantly surprised with how much fun Multiplayer actually is. It's not Halo 3, mind you, but it really is quite enjoyable and the BioShock gameplay mechanics work very well to mix things up from the norm. My only gripe is with the leveling system itself. As you play, everything you do earns you Adam, and there's also little vials of Adam scattered around that you can collect. Once you complete a match, your total Adam earned is tallied up and if you gain enough you level up. As you reach new levels, you'll unlock more powerful weapons, Plasmids, and upgrades and Tonics. While the reward system itself is great, this means that when you're first starting out, if you're matched into a game with higher level players not only will they be more experienced than you but their characters will actually be much stronger. What this translates into is that early on you'll get killed a lot, which isn't very much fun. If you can grin and bear it, however, and if you don't mind a poor kill/death ratio for your earlier levels you'll eventually unlock better items and be able to compete more fairly.

I honestly wasn't holding out much hope for BioShock 2, as so much of what I was seeing looked like bad design decisions on the surface. I'm quite happy to say that I was wrong, and both Single Player and Multiplayer-wise, BioShock 2 is a great experience and worth every moment of your time. The story isn't as strong as the original game's and the gameplay doesn't stray too far from the original, but considering that a game of BioShock's calibre is few and far between a slightly lesser version of that masterpiece is still a Big Daddy to most other titles out there on the market. The Multiplayer game was also surprisingly fun, and hardly a half-baked tack-on to try and appeal the game to a different audience.

My first playthrough of the Single Player game took me about 20 hours, and there's apparently 5 more endings available, depending on what choices the player makes throughout the game, and combined with different Plasmid, weapon, and Tonic combinations, the Single Player game's replay value is high, and that's not even taking into account the life added with Multiplayer. For anyone who hasn't taken a second plunge into Rapture, I highly recommend it. BioShock 2 is a worthy successor to the original, and a great extension of the franchise that once again combines action, light role playing elements, and psychological horror to unique effect. So go splice up, and wander the sea of dreams.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Halo: Reach Firefight 2.0 Gameplay Trailer

Firefight, the Halo franchise's version of Horde introduced in Halo 3: ODST, will be returning in Halo: Reach, and you can check out a full match from E3 2010 on a new map, Beachhead, here or below.

"Firefight 2.0," as it's being dubbed, will include matchmaking as well as a large amount of customizable options that was sorely needed in the original version of the game type.

In this game play video, we get to see some cool new features, including:

- A timed match
- The new Medic Loadout and its Ability, Dropshield (a combination of Bubble Shield and Regenerator from Halo 3)
- The Laser Designator, a weapon used to call in air strikes
- The return of the Plasma Rifle, absent since Halo 3
- A.I. controlled Elites in action
- Several variations of Grunt skins

Looks like a lot of fun!

Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side (DVD) Review

We all knew this was inevitable. With the success of Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest, it was only a matter of time before the next Star Wars film was spoofed, and here it is. Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is their take on Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, the darkest and most popular film of the Star Wars saga. So how does it hold up? Why not too shabby at all.

Filled with the usual off-the-wall jokes and politically incorrect humour, Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side sees Luke (Chris), Han (Peter), and Leia (Louis) leading the Rebel Alliance in their desperate struggle against Darth Vader (Stewie) and the evil Galactic Empire. But of course, as the opening scrolling text mentions, you already know that story, but you haven't seen it Family Guy-style!

Like my last review, I don't want to spoil any of the jokes for you as they're the reason you're going to watch this, but I will say that I'm once again impressed by the dedication the production team put in to capturing the look, the feel, and the camera angles used in the original film. It's a very strong parody, and the more familiar you are with the source material the more you'll enjoy it. I personally found that they went a little overboard with the gay jokes, and a certain swear word is used a little too often to the point where it feels out of place, but otherwise I enjoyed the sequel more than their previous offering. Weighing in at 54 minutes, you certainly get your viewings worth for a TV parody of this nature.

The DVD also feature the usual commentary and documentaries that you'll only watch once if at all, so suffice it to say the bonus materials aren't exactly a strong point. There's a doc that compares the animatics to the final scenes and another that goes into the creation of the show's really cool poster, but otherwise there's nothing noteworthy.

Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is certainly good for some great laughs, and any Star Wars fan will love and appreciate the detail that went into this episode, but I don't feel the DVD release is worth buying at full retail price (I borrowed this copy from the Staff). As a rental, however, or just catching it on TV I'd highly recommend it, and I'm looking forward to seeing what gags will be waiting for us in the trilogy's conclusion.

Zombieland Review

Zombies are a part of the horror genre that's seen a real strong resurgence over the last few years. They're in popular media everywhere from films, to games, to books and they come in many different forms. From rotting corpses to virus infected humans to alien parasites or cybernetic organisms, the concept of the horror zombie is well fleshed out.

In 2004, Shaun of the Dead was released, merging the zombie horror genre with romantic comedy, and it was a wonderfully funny film holding my personal favourite zombie comedy spot. That is, until now. Last night, thanks to TMN, I finally got to sit down and watch Zombieland and I absolutely loved it. Filled with style, humour, and wonderfully quarky characters, Zombieland redefines the zombie comedy.

Set within post-apocalyptic America two months after a new strain of virus turns people into excessively violent cannibals (so like many modern zombie films, the "infected" aren't actually zombies but close enough), "Columbus" (Jesse Eisenberg) is making his way from Texas to Columbus, Ohio in the hopes that his parents are still alive. The stereotypical World of Warcraft playing nerd, Columbus has survived the apocalypse due to his set of rules that always see him prepared. These rules form a core theme of the film, with their text always popping up in creative ways throughout the movie when they are or should have been practiced.

Shortly into his journey, Columbus comes across "Tallahassee," (Woody Harrelson) a rough and tough zombie killer grieving the loss of his puppy and on a mission to find some Twinkies. This quest leads the pair to discover two other survivors, "Wichita" (Emma Stone) and "Little Rock," (Abigail Breslin) sisters who promptly con them out of their weapons and vehicle. Of course Tallahassee and Columbus go after them, and thus begins the quartet of wonderful character dynamics.

You see, for a film called "Zombieland" and for a film about a zombie apocalypse, there really aren't a lot of zombies (or "infected" if you're being technical) in it at all. The true focus of Zombieland is on the survivors and their conflicting quarks and interactions with each other, and they're hilarious!

Now, since this is technically a zombie film, there is some blood and gore, but it's nothing horribly excessive. In fact, the zombies themselves don't look overly scary and rarely are there moments that will make you jump. The film really is about the comedy, and there's many laughs to be had in every scene, even when some yutz is getting chomped on.

Wichita and Little Rock are on a quest of their own, to reach Pacific Playland, an LA amusement park that's rumoured to be zombie free. You see, if you're trying to survive a zombie apocalypse going to an amusement park in a large urban centre makes perfect sense. And of course Columbus and Tallahassee end up along for the ride. Though, like many paths in life, it's not the destination that matters, or, well, I suppose it does in this case, but the journey's important too and it's along this road that the survivors learn all about one another and annoy the crap out of each other.

With wonderful plays off each other, beautifully written dialogue, and an absolutely fantastic cameo appearance by Bill Murray (Bill Murray), Zombieland had me cracking up for the entire length of the film. I highly recommend the movie to anyone looking for a good way to spend an hour and a half, and I hear a sequel is in the works, which I'm greatly looking forward to.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Xbox 360 Content Licenses Transferred

Less than a business day. That's how long it took Xbox Support to transfer my content licenses to my replacement console. I received an email Monday afternoon telling me the task was complete, so I popped onto Xbox's site and went to my download history to queue up as many downloads as possible. When I got home that evening, I finished the process, and just when I was nearly done I also received a phone call from Xbox Support to verify that everything was well.

Top notch service all the way!

A couple of items didn't just redownload their content license but actually re-downloaded the whole item creating a duplicate, but a quick delete and re-download solved that. I did contact Xbox Support once more to confirm that there was no way for me to re-download and thus recover the use of my original Xbox DLC, and sadly, it truly is gone. At least I still have it on my original Xbox.

Overall, Xbox Support has done a wonderful job with this service order, and I'd just like to thank both the service centre and the call centre for their quick and efficient help!

Mass Effect 2 Demo, DLC, and Trailers

This actually surprised me, but a demo has been released for Mass Effect 2. Weighing in at about 2 GB, Xbox 360 gamers can download it here and PC gamers can go to the main page here.

The demo features the game's beginning escape from the Cerberus station where Shepard is revived and then jumps ahead to the mission aboard Purgatory where players need to recruit Jack. Once you're done the demo, you can actually import your character into the full game if you decide to purchase it, and the retail game has seen a price drop on both platforms as well!

With the launch of the demo, EA and BioWare have released a new trailer summarizing the story of the Mass Effect universe leading into the sequel.

We also saw the release of the latest Mass Effect 2 DLC this week. Entitled "Overlord," Commander Shepard and crew must stop a deadly VI that has taken control of numerous Geth. Available for 560 Microsoft Points or BioWare points, you can also view a promo trailer below.

Xbox 360 250 GB Console and Kinect

Also unveiled at E3, the Xbox 360 has been redesigned with the Xbox 360 250 GB console, available at retailers as early as now. The console is smaller, quieter, and features a built in 250 GB HDD and built-in Wi-Fi. It also features additional USB ports but no Memory Unit ports, all on the back of the console.

The new console is priced at $299.99, and both Xbox 360 Elite and Xbox 360 Arcade consoles are seeing a $50.00 reduction in cost at most retailers.

Project Natal now has an official name and launch date: Kinect for Xbox 360 will launch in November 2010.

Personally, I'm not psyched about either item. The Xbox 360 250 GB console is great for anyone just picking up the console for the first time, but what about those of us who've already bought a lot of accessories? Larger HDD's for our original consoles, Wireless Networking Adapters, Memory Units, Faceplates, all are completely incompatible with the new console's design.

What this means is that when (not if but when) my current Xbox 360 Pro console dies past its warranty, if this new console design completely replaces the existing model then I'll be forced to buy it to stick with the platform and over $300.00 worth of accessories I've bought are useless. Sure, I can sell them to recoup some cost, but it won't be for much.

The new console also can no longer get the three flashing red lights as the ring of light is now only capable of displaying green, so we'll need to wait and see what error message or indicator is now used for general hardware failure. The Xbox 360 250 GB console also only has a 1 year warranty period.

From a business standpoint this is all genius, but from an existing customer standpoint (or at least an existing customer who knows the value of the dollar), this means the last few years has been a horrible waste on my entertainment investment.

Kinect, well, I know there's a market for this sort of thing and I know there are people are who interested in it, but me, when I get home from a long day of lugging crap around the office the last thing I want to do is jump up and down in a simple party-ish game and piss of my neighbours below me with all the noise.

For those who are interested in Kinect, you can check out a list of games here.

E3 2010 Media Round Up

Another E3 has come and gone, and there's a host of videos to show off. Let's start with a couple from Halo: Reach, showcasing the Campaign and Firefight, which will be in the game after all!

Next up, we have Gears of War 3's Gameplay Premiere.

We also get the see gameplay from Fallout: New Vegas.

Lastly, Kratos returns to the PSP in the prequel, God of War: Ghost of Sparta.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dead Space 2 Gameplay Footage

GameTrailers is hosting the first official gameplay trailer for Dead Space 2, which you can check out below.

Not bad. Doesn't look overly actioned up over the original, which is a good thing. If I were Isaac though, I'd be worried about his fancy new helmet pinching him when it assembles itself.

Back in the Game

As you already know by now, when my replacement Xbox 360 Pro console went belly up two weeks ago today, I went out and purchased a brand new Xbox 360 Arcade console so I could keep playing through BioShock 2 and not miss out on any fun over Xbox LIVE while I sent it out for service, which I did last Saturday. This past Thursday, my replacement console arrived.

My original game plan was to set it up at my parent's place as a spare, and for me to keep my new Xbox 360 Arcade. The Xbox 360 Arcade was quieter and generates less heat than a 2006 Xbox 360 console, and colours did look a bit more vibrant via an HDMI cable. One thing I began noticing however was the occasional audio pop and/or static. I thought it was just related to BioShock 2, but this past Friday I noticed it happening at the Xbox 360 dashboard and in Inside Xbox videos. So on Friday night I swapped out HDMI cables to see if the problem would still persist, and it did. Not only that, but it was getting worse. I tried swapping the HDMI ports on my TV with no luck. In fact, on one test while I was just standing there in BioShock 2, it was popping and making static noises constantly, though it was only this severe once.

Yesterday, I decided to go out an purchase the official Xbox 360 HDMI cable at its greatly overinflated price. My reasoning? The past two HDMI cables I tried were by the same no-name manufacturer, so if the audio issues persisted with the official first party cable, then the problem is either the Xbox 360 Arcade itself or my TV. The problem persisted with the first party cable. I then decided to reconnect the Xbox 360 Arcade console with the Xbox 360 Component HD AV Cables, and the audio popping was still there. This was good news, because even though this still meant the issue could have been the console or the TV, I now had another means of testing: the replacement console Xbox Support had sent me two days ago, which was sitting in its return box by my desk.

I unpacked the replacement console, an Xbox 360 Pro console that was serviced in November 2009, and hooked it up. Clean, crisp audio. I left it on for three hours and then played BioShock 2 for about an hour and perfect audio. My options then became clear, and I tested the replacement console's USB ports and Memory Unit ports, and all is in perfect working order. I didn't even need to change my wireless routers encryption back to WPA this time around, for some odd reason it detected it with WPA2 encryption just fine.

I then drove back to Best Buy and returned the defective Xbox 360 Arcade console and the overpriced Xbox 360 HDMI Cable. The moral of the story: stick with the warranty and don't spend extra cash if you don't need to. If my replacement Xbox 360 Pro console dies on me past its warranty period, which is good until sometime this September, then I'll look into buying a new console again.

The repair process was near flawless this time around, with 9 business days passing for me to get my replacement console, and 5 of those were because I needed to acquire a box and ship it out. Had it not been for that delay on my own end (and I've kept the return box they sent me this time), I would have had a replacement console in 4 business days from the time of hardware failure. Spectacular!

The replacement console is quiet, but it is an older model without an HDMI port (older than my last replacement console if the serial number is any indication. The manufactured date is covered by the service date sticker, so I can't verify) and it generates a lot of heat, so thankfully I keep it well ventilated as always. In other words, I have the exact same set-up I did two weeks ago.

The only real snag is that Xbox Support has not yet transferred my content licenses, so I can't use any of my DLC offline. I spent a good 45 minutes on the phone with Xbox Support last night (their call centre appears to be in the Philippines now) and had a friendly conversation with a general rep and then an Xbox LIVE Support rep there. My licenses will be transferred in the next 5 to 10 business days, so all's well.

I also spoke with a Hardware rep to get that Xbox 360 Arcade console de-registered from my name.

All-in-all, a great experience with Xbox Support! Thank you for the fast, friendly service, and for the additional 1 month Xbox LIVE Gold membership!

StarCraft II Ad

The Blizzard Entertainment cinematic department has always made exceptional CG cinematics, and the latest ad for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is no exception. Feast your eyes on this visual treat:

The sequel to one of the greatest RTS games of all time is only about a month and a half away!

Fallout: New Vegas Pre-Order Bonuses

Well, it looks like pre-order bonuses are getting nearly as bad as regular DLC. If you decide to pre-order Fallout: New Vegas from one of several retailers, you'll get access to exclusive in-game content, but on a scale that's a little larger than what we normally see.

Pre-order from GameStop and you'll get the Classic Pack. Pre-ordering from Amazon gives you the Tribal Pack, pre-ordering from Steam and Walmart gives you the Caravan Pack, and lastly, pre-ordering from Best Buy nets you the Mercenary Pack.

For full descriptions of what's included in each Pack as well as a few nifty screenshots, head on over here.

Does anyone remember when we used to just buy a game and then head home to enjoy it like everyone else?

XCOM E3 Trailer

Ugh. This is one E3 trailer that has me hugely disappointed. XCOM, a reboot of the epic turn-based strategy franchise of the early to mid '90's, is being turned into what looks like a pretty generic shooter with some BioShock feel by 2K Marin.

The game itself might turn out to be alright, but this is _not_ X-COM: UFO Defence. A damn shame.

Mortal Kombat Film and Game Trailers

Looks like the kick-ass fighting franchise of the '90's isn't quite finished yet! Earlier this week, a live action trailer entitled Mortal Kombat: Rebirth appeared across the web. It's apparently a test video produced by Warner Brothers and directed by Kevin Trancharoen in an attempt to prove the potential for an "R" rated film.

Looks like it worked just fine to me, and I really hope the film gets made. The lack of Outworld stuff makes it an interested take on the franchise.

But of course, with E3 right around the corner, we can't have a Mortal Kombat post without some kind of real gaming news. Looks like the franchise is coming back and going back to its 2D roots with a game, simply titled, Mortal Kombat.

Being developed by the newly renamed Netherealm Studios, the trailer's gameplay footage actually looks interesting, with the classic-styled elemnt clearly apparent. This is a title I'll be keeping an eye on.

You can check out the full press release about the game right here.

6 x XP in Gears of War 2

In celebration of E3 and the upcoming news for Gears of War 3, Epic Games has decided to offer 6 x XP for Gears of War 2 from June 14th to 21st! So what are you waiting for? Starting tomorrow grap those Lancers, rev those Chainsaws, and go Horde crazy!

Full details right here.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II E3 "Betrayal" Cinematic and Screenshots

This trailer is simply amazing, hands down. GameTrailers is hosting the exclusive E3 "Betrayal" Trailer for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II right here, and you can also drool over it below.

I don't think I need to say anymore about that. We've also got a few juicy new screenshots for the game that you can check out right here courtesy of ActionTrip.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions E3 2099 Trailer

With E3 just around the corner, the next dimension for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has been revealed, and it's 2099. That was an interesting storyline while it lasted, and I did like Venom 2099. I also think this is the first game ever to let you play as 2099 Spider-Man, but someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Robin Hood Review

Let's be honest, the silver screen isn't doing as well as it used to. With home theatres becoming more affordable and providing such a great viewing experience, it's no wonder people are choosing to remain in the comforts of home rather than going out and paying high theatre prices. To take this one step further, the quality of the films being released in major cinemas today aren't exactly epic, at least in my opinion, thus providing further incentive to stay away.

So thank goodness for Ridley Scott. His latest offering, Robin Hood, isn't an exceptional film, but it is certainly a highly enjoyable experience and something worth seeing on the large screen.

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), a common archer, is returning home with King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) and his army after the Third Crusade, and they're pillaging their way through France (though I believe the parts they were pillaging from weren't technically France yet). Through a series of events, and mainly for being an honest man, Robin deserts the army taking several of his companions with him. As they make their way homeward they come upon a group of King Richard's most trusted men who were ambushed and killed by a French party. After killing or driving away the French, including Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), an English knight in the pay of France, Robin speaks to the only surviving Englishman, Sir Robert of Loxley (Max von Sydow), who soon dies of his wounds. To increase their chances of a warm reception and to no longer appear as deserters, Robin and his men take the armour and possessions of the slain English knights and impersonate them, with Robin himself taking on the guise of Sir Robert.

Like all of Scott's past historical fiction, he takes a good bit of liberty with the story, and while there is certainly historical fact throughout, the film is not historically accurate. Not only did many events simply not occur, but some of them were quite far fetched to the point where it was harder to suspend my disbelief. That being said, however, this is a movie and not a historical text, and the purpose of the film is to entertain and it did so quite well.

Many critics had issues with Russell Crowe's accent, but it personally didn't bother me at all. Russell Crowe sounded like Russell Crowe and that was fine with me. The other characters, such as the Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), Little John (Kevin Durand), Friar Tuck (Mark Addy), etc. were acted well, and King John (Oscar Isaac) was quite the pompous jerk.

How Scott goes about weaving the tale of this deserter who becomes the legend we all know is an interesting one with both humour and drama balanced well. I found myself more impressed with the earlier battle scenes, and they were silver screen worthy despite their overall briefness, it was the later skirmishes that were more farfetched and while entertaining, had me questioning several military tactics used. The musical score was also well done, though not as strong as Scott's previous historical fiction pieces.

Ridley Scott is a director who consistently creates quality films with memorable characters, entertaining scripts, and solid production values, and while Robin Hood is not his strongest piece, it is a solid entry and worth the trip to the theatre for. It will also be interesting to see if a director's cut will ultimately be released, as some of Scott's past work was night and day between theatrical and director's cut. If that does occur, Robin Hood could emerge as a much stronger film. On one's home theatre system.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

New Gears of War 3 Screenshots Surface

The good folks over at Xbox360Achievements are hosting two dozen sweet new Gears of War 3 screenshots.

The game is looking very nice, and while I like the characters models and environments (dig the stadium), I must admit the Lambent are looking far too much like the Flood for my liking. But hey, it's being written by Karen Traviss, so we'll see how it all pans out!

Package Away!

Earlier in the week, I popped by the UPS Store and picked up a return box for my defective Xbox 360 and I packaged it all up last night and dropped it off this morning. So realistically, the service centre will receive my defective console sometime this coming week, and I should have a replacement console back in about two to three weeks.

Now as I mentioned last week, I purchased a brand new Xbox 360 Arcade console to act as my primary console, and I must say I'm very impressed with it thus far. Manufactured on March 15, 2010, this console is quieter than my previous 2006 model, specifically the disc drive. It's another BENQ drive, which is great, and what's even better is that the console generates a whole lot less heat; it's quite the noticeable difference.

That's not to say there weren't any snags setting it up. Even though it was manufactured just a few months ago, it looks like Microsoft is using an older version of the Dashboard, as my Wireless Networking Adapter didn't want to recognize the WPA2 encryption on my wireless router. I had to drop it down to WPA to connect, download a System Update, then I was able to readjust it to WPA2.

The other snag is, of course, content licenses for all of my DLC. Xbox Support will automatically transfer my content licenses from my defective console to my replacement console, however since I plan on using the replacement console as a back-up, I need all of my licenses on my Xbox 360 Arcade. I called up Xbox Support and asked if when they do the transfer, if they could simply add them to my brand new console instead. Regrettably, that's not how the process works and they do need to transfer them to my replacement console, however I can still use the Content License Transfer tool myself afterwords.

So, sorting out my content licenses is the only real thing left for me to do with my new console, though it looks like I've lost all of my original Xbox DLC. It's still there, but whenever I load up a game that has any DLC, it states that I have "Damaged Content" and must redownload it. The hitch, of course, is that original Xbox games can no longer connect to Xbox LIVE (though they can still download Title Updates, apparently). I'm going to wait until I do the license transfer before deleting this content just to be safe, but I figure it's gone. At least I still have it all on my original Xbox console.

Oh, and speaking of my original Xbox console, I now have my Xbox 360 Arcade running off an HDMI cable (which looks slick, by the way) and I was able to connect my Xbox to my TV with the Advanced AV Pack. It will only play games up to 480p since the original Xbox can't upscale, but honestly, even that's a huge difference from 480i; Halo 2 looks noticeably crisper and cleaner, and with component cables the colours are more vibrant.

So, so far, so good. More updates as it happens, and I think I'll write up a nice article in a few weeks time about what you can all expect and the process you'll need to go through if you buy a brand new replacement console yourselves.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions Villains Trailer

A new trailer has surfaced for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, this one entitled "Villains." As you've probably already deduced by now, it showcases a few of the villains that you'll be able to encounter in the game, specifically the Goblin, Hammerhead, and Kraven.

You can check out the entire trailer below.