Sunday, December 16, 2007

Full Undertow Review

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My review of Undertow, one of the Xbox Live Arcade's best titles has been posted on Talk Xbox.

"Have you ever wondered what a full-scale war would be like...underwater? This scenario, in which people from various civilizations wage war in the depths of the ocean for control over its vast waters, has been realized in Undertow. This is the first game from Chair Entertainment, an independent developer and publisher. It comes as no surprise that this is one of the most original games on the Xbox Live Arcade, but it did surprise me that this title is so much fun to play."

- Justin McBride, Talk

Check out the full review at the link below and remember, you can catch all of my latest Xbox 360 game reviews at that site.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rest In Peace, Journalistic Integrity…The Week After Retrospective

After a long debate, I finally decided I should chime in on how I feel regarding the now infamous termination of Jeff Gerstmann. It’s been about a week now and I’ve cooled off significantly, but this issue is too big for me not to say anything about, especially given my ties to the gaming industry. I’ve grown up playing games; I’ve seen the evolution of gaming from the 16-bit era to the HD Era. In that time, I began to read gaming related publications and developed an enormous interest in the numerous facets of gaming journalism. So when this news crossed my desk, It immediately captured my interest.

When I began to hear the rumors, I blew it off, thinking it was just another rumor started by some anonymous whistleblower to get some attention. That's when the evidence began to mount. More websites began to report the rumor. More people began to speak up about it. With each passing second, its validity grew as the news spread like wildfire across the internet.

Funny thing about rumors. Most of them are true...

I began to think to myself, "No way". There's no way any company would fire someone (let alone their longest tenured editor) due to advertiser pressure. CNET has denied these claims but I don't know if I believe them. After all I've heard over the past few days, all the reports that have come out from anonymous GameSpot editors and all of the cryptic messages hidden in staff blogs (and former staff members)...I just don't trust them anymore.

I think I'm beginning to lose faith in the gaming industry as a whole...

As an up-and-coming journalist, this hit me particularly hard. My whole worldview is shaken for a multitude of reasons. GameSpot has been my primary source for reviews for the four years I’ve been coming to it. I may not have agreed with every call they’ve made, but I’ve always respected them. One of my highest goals in working in the gaming industry was one day working for this very site. Up until now that is. Since I no longer trust CNET, I wouldn’t want to work under their umbrella network and subject to the same managerial team that terminated Jeff Gerstmann for giving his honest opinion.

This experience has opened my eyes to a new side of the gaming industry, a side I never wanted to see. A side of the gaming industry that has been corrupted by capitalism. As a direct result of the industry growing from a niche market to one of the largest markets for entertainment, the potential for making money has increased, and each one of the multitude of publishers wants a slice.

As the industry grows, so does the role of the gaming journalist. More and more gaming related publications have appeared, especially with the advent of the internet. Millions of people read these gaming publications for the final word on quite a few games, to see if ‘X’ game is worth their hard-earned money.

New moral and ethical concerns begin to appear. Put yourself in the well-polished shoes and finely tailored business suit of a marketing executive, concerned about your bottom line, hoping that your newest property will take off and become a highly profitable franchise for your organization. The first thing you would think to do is advertise, after all, that is your job right? Well, what if you flooded one particular site with advertising money…you would expect a decent return on your investment…right? On that same site, you would hope that your game would receive a good review to further garner public opinion in your favor and get them to drop $60 on your game…right? See where I’m going with this?

Now CNET stated Monday that Jeff Gerstmann’s termination is not a result of advertiser pressure and a few GameSpot editors said on the HotSpot that the Kane and Lynch review was not the cause. But honestly, I don’t know if I completely believe that. Joystiq confirmed recently that there have been numerous changes to the original Kane and Lynch review. CNET representatives stand firm on the issue stating, “Neither CNET Networks nor GameSpot has ever allowed its advertising business to affect its editorial content” but can we truly believe that? CNET sure wants us to, since they published an article in which they answered many of the burning questions people wanted answers to. In this article, one of the questions was concerning the editing of Jeff’s Kane and Lynch review. Their official response? “Jeff's supervisors and select members of the edit team felt the review's negativity did not match its "fair" 6.0 rating.” This shows that CNET does indeed respond to advertiser pressure, since the review was modified to match the score, and not vice versa.

Now you can begin to see why I’m so shaken by this news. To see the credibility of my favorite gaming publication shattered so quickly was extremely disheartening. While the Kane and Lynch review may not have been the cause of Jeff Gerstmann’s firing, the court of public opinion has already ruled against CNET and unless we get official statements from either CNET or Gerstmann himself (which won’t happen, for legal reasons) that ruling will not change.

Perhaps I am blowing this out of proportion. Perhaps I don’t have all the facts. That’s an understandable position to argue, but with all of the evidence I’ve seen supporting my claims and a much smaller list refuting them, I don’t believe I’m on the wrong side. Shady practices such as these need to end. Unfortunately, such is the state of the gaming industry in which some publishers decide not to use their money to improve their games and warrant a good score, but to try to buy one from the gaming press. This is bigger than Jeff Gerstmann; this concerns every facet of gaming journalism and personally, I won’t stand for it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Editorial Minute 2

Here's the second edition of my Editorial Minute series and I certainly plan on making more. In addition, I've got a lot of video projects in the works, including a video review for my favorite game of all time, Perfect Dark so stay tuned!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

So Many Projects...

Well, It’s been a little while since I last blogged, and I figured, since I’m sitting here in front of my PC doing absolutely nothing that I’d write a quick update. So without further ado…

Editorial Minute Episode 2 is still being worked on. I know I posted that I already had the voice work done and all I had left to do was the video. Well, the reason it isn’t finished yet is because I’m lazy. That, and I’ve taken on a number of different projects as of late, things that have taken over most of my time and pushed the Editorial minute further and further down the list of things I need to finish. I imagine I’ll get to work on it tomorrow…that is if I don’t get distracted by yet another project.

One of the many projects I’m currently working on is a revival of an old project I pretty much abandoned months ago. Now, under a new name (“Project Era”) and a renewed focus and shift in direction, I think I’ll be able to see it through to the end. Before, the project got a little too ambitious for those of us working on it and it all spun out of control. Well, we realize now that what we need to focus on is getting the core finished first then worry about the periphery at a later date, once we’ve finished a substantial amount and clearly laid out what we intend to accomplish.

You might have noticed that throughout the entire preceding paragraph, I didn’t reveal what “Project Era” is. Of course, that was intentional. All things will be revealed in time.

Well, another thing that takes up a good portion of my time nowadays is my reviews for Talk Xbox. I’ve written quite a few in the short span of time I’ve been working there. My most recent review, published a few days ago was for Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. Having played Skate (and reviewed that too) it was hard going back to the button based control scheme the Tony Hawk series is known for and due to the series’ lack of change and innovation (especially when compared to Skate) I didn’t really like it as much as I thought I would. It’s not a bad game, but I can’t see myself recommending it over Skate to anyone besides the most hardcore Tony Hawk fans.

Of course, I’ve been working on my writing creatively as well as technically. I find that if I write in one style for too long, it bleeds over into the next. While this is good for my reviews, I don’t want to grow too technical with my creative writing, and thus, I’ll be sitting down to write the second chapter of my “Story in a Blog” very soon.

As the Christmas season approaches, the usual deluge of games is upon us. This is the time of year when the majority of the year’s best games are released and because of that, I can usually find my wallet crying in a corner somewhere as it tries to cope with the fact that it will soon be empty. Well, I may be offering my wallet a little reprieve….at least until the end of the year. Despite the current and impending releases of Super Mario Galaxy (a game I’ve been waiting for since I finished Sunshine) and Mass Effect (a must have RPG) respectively, I told myself that I wouldn’t buy any of them until after Christmas. I have quite a few games to tide me over in the forms of The Orange Box, Bioshock, Halo 3, PGR 4 and many more so I certainly won’t be lacking in great games to play until Christmas when I should have the aforementioned huge releases and possibly Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune to play.

Between all the things I have going on right now, it’s odd that I found the time to write all of that stuff. Funny thing. I usually don’t believe in horoscopes, but I checked mine a few days ago and it said I would be open to taking on a number of new projects and today it had this to say…

“You may be more interested now in expressing your creativity any way you can…”

Wow. Seems to me that this is right on the money. Maybe there’s some truth to this Astrology stuff after all.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Gaming Industry and the Adults Only Rating...

The Adults Only rating, one of many within the ESRB’s videogame rating system, is one of gaming’s biggest taboos. No one wants to speak of it. It’s rarely seen, but its influence is heard far and wide. Many within the industry fear it, shying away from including content that would even remotely constitute such a rating. Nevertheless, despite this, many have spoken out against it, saying that it should be accepted if the industry is to move forward, and I agree for a number of reasons.

Let’s take for example, Manhunt 2, which has revived much of the debate around the AO rating. While I fully understand that Manhunt 2 is pretty much violent for the sake of being violent, shouldn't the developers be able to express themselves however they like? Would this not fall within their right to Freedom of expression? Things far worse than what is depicted in this game have been expressed in movies, pictures and other entertainment mediums and they're deemed socially acceptable.

So why should Take-Two, or any other developer for that matter, be forced to censor their artistic vision to satisfy the “politically correct” console manufacturers and retail outlets that refuse to carry anything with the AO rating? Isn’t it highly hypocritical of retail outlets to refuse to carry AO rated games, but at the same time, stock all manner of violent horror films?

Let’s pause for a moment and examine the differences between movies, and video games. There have been countless hyper-violent horror films in which people are depicted being brutally murdered, mutilated, and tortured, and yet, none of them have been bad enough to warrant the highest rating the MPAA can issue, NC-17. Instead, these films are rated R, as in “Under 17 not admitted without parent”. Now, this sounds highly familiar to the Mature rating handed out by the ESRB, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly, because it seems that there are a number of things that are acceptable in films that would earn an AO rating in games. Things such as full frontal nudity and sex scenes being prime examples. When such a scene was depicted in a game (the infamous “Hot Coffee” mod), it led to Grand Theft Auto San Andreas being slapped with an AO rating and subsequently pulled from store shelves until a newer version, sans sex scenes, was released. All of a sudden, the two ratings don't seem so similar do they?

I guess it can be argued that Manhunt 2 is worse, since it gives the player the power to commit these violent virtual murders and that level of interactivity is what makes it worse than a film, which puts you in the non-interactive role of the observer. But…isn’t that the point? As we approach the limits of graphical fidelity, the Uncanny Valley as it were, aren’t developers looking to create more immersive experiences? To draw you into the game’s world in the most realistic and believable fashion as possible? Some developers do this with captivating stories; some achieve this through other methods. Rockstar on the other hand simply chose to allow you to simulate virtual murders with stabbing motions of the Wii remote. Some say that’s crossing the line. Others say it’s immersive. You be the judge.

I don't see why this should be singled out for expressing its own brand of hyper-violence. As of late, video games have been far more scrutinized for their depictions of violence than any other medium to my knowledge and it doesn’t make sense to me. It seems the industry hasn’t grown up with its supporters. According to the ESA, the average gamer these days is 33 years old, but apparently, the masses continue to view games as nothing more than a child’s plaything and because of that, games are subject to more attacks than other mediums.

The bottom line is, the gaming industry needs to grow the fuck up. I say this because I care, not to cause controversy and not because I want to see the ratings system destroyed. I’ve grown up. I understand that violence exists and I’m mature enough to draw the line between fiction and reality. I don’t want or need someone to tell me what I can and cannot view of my own free will and this form of censorship and sense of political correctness that follows it is wrong. I am an adult as well as a gamer. I think it’s time I’m trusted to make my own decisions.

Friday, October 26, 2007

An Editorial Minute

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I'm starting a new series of video blogs entitled, The_Game21x's Editorial Minute. This is a pretty rough cut but it demonstrates the point nicely. In each video, I give myself one minute (give or take) to rant openlyabout a previously chosen topic. Basically written reviews I was too lazy to write out. :P

Questions, comments and suggestions for future episodes are always welcomed. Who knows? Maybe I'll make this a weekly thing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I’m Now the Proud Owner of a Playstation 3

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As of yesterday, I am now the proud owner of a 60 GB Playstation 3 computer entertainment system. I've been debating this purchase for quite some time now and I finally decided to take the plunge. GameStop was offering a free game with the purchase of a 60 GB PS3 and since I wanted one of those as opposed to the similarly priced 80 GB version due to its full backwards compatibility I figured now was the best time to get one.

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Here's a picture of the free game I received. I had the choice of either this, Resistance, F1 Championship, Folklore and... another game or two I believe and Heavenly Sword was the obvious choice for me. I'm certainly very interested in Resistance, and that was easily a great second choice, but I can easily find Resistance cheaper than Heavenly Sword so i figured I might as well get the more expensive game free. besides, I've been interested in Heavenly Sword for some time now after playing a few minutes of the final game at one of the demo kiosks at work and once I get my HDTV I'm going to need a game such as this to really put it to good use.

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Now, if you'll notice, I've only posted pictures of the unopened box so far and I haven't spammed those of you with PS3's friend requestsover the PSN. Well, that's because I haven't opened it yet and I don't plan to do so until this weekend. I have a lot of schoolwork and other projects to handle this week so I figure I don't need another distraction at the current time.

I'm sure someone out there is thinking, "Well, if you didn't want the distraction, why did you buy it in the first place?" That's easy enough to answer. The 60 GB PS3, which I genuinely believe is the best version of the PS3 out there due to its full backwards compatibility and price had been phased out a few months ago so I had to act fast if I wanted to get my hands on one. Now, when the 80 GB PS3's price was slashed to $500, I was skeptical about picking up the 60 GB version because of the obvious differences in hard drive size and especially the free game in the box. But that all changed when I heard there was a free game deal for the 60 GB version as well, so naturally, I figured now was the best time to buy it. I'm also hearing rumors that the 60 GB's price may receive a cut as well to clear them out of stores to make way for the upcoming 40 GB version so, if it happens within the next week or so, I can take it back, get the difference in price and buy it back once more.

I look forward to playing my PS3 this weekend or whenever I finally crack it open. I'll be posting all my PSN info whenever I get around to making my account and I'll probably post impressions of Heavenly Sword after I've played it for a couple of hours. In other news, I'm also working on a new kind of video blog, entitled "The_Game21x's Editorial Minute" where I'll be ranting about a previously chosen topic for about one minute so stay tuned for that.


Saturday, October 20, 2007


This is, without a doubt, one of the best games I've played so far this year. The puzzles themselves were extremely funny and the writing and humor were both top notch. I can't even complain about its length. the 2 hours or so it lasted was enough. If it had been significantly longer, it might have dulled the experience a bit. Now, I may sound like I'm echoing the recent Zero Punctuation Review of the Orange Box and you'd be exactly right because I completely agree. I didn't expect it to be as occasionally hilarious as it is and I was quite pleasantly suprised. I say occasionally hilarious not as an insult, but as a compliment. Portal's brand of humor doesn't bludgeon you over the head repeatedly. It gives you just enough comedy at just the right places. All the fantastically challenging puzzles and razor sharp wit all culminate into a fantastic ending sequence and one of the best end credits songs you'll even hear in a game. Guaranteed to leave you in stitches.

Portal is almost worth picking up the Orange Box for all by itself. If you have an Xbox 360 or gaming PC right now, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of The Orange Box. It definitely takes the cake.

The_Game21x's Fourth Video Blog

I've got a brand new video blog, which I filmed just yesterday. Inside I talk more about the Orange Box, Halo 3, my position over at Talk Xbox and some other new things going on in my life. Well, that'll do it for the explanations, I'll leave the rest for you guys to find out as you watch.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Story in a Blog: Chapter One

Well, I've toyed with the idea of writing a story in my blog posts, each chapter being pure improvisation, with no set story development, characters, character development, etc. Well, I've finally gotten around to writing the first chapter in the series. Additional chapters will be published whenever I get around to writing them. For now, enjoy!

* * *
My eyes snapped open as the incessant sounds of a man banging on the door to my small apartment echoed throughout the place, rousing me from a state of meditation. It was 2 AM and since sleep eluded me yet again, I figured I’d just sit there on my bed with my eyes closed for a moment.

The noise continued. I sat there for a moment, eyes half-open, thinking to myself about the deep shit I’d gotten myself into.

I knew why the man was here. In a fit of desperation and quite possibly insanity, I borrowed a substantial amount of money from a loan shark a while ago and this guy, he was an enforcer. As what is likely the result of a few drinks too many, the exact reason why I borrowed this money was unclear.
“Open up in there!” the man said in a thick New York accent while continuing to hammer on the door.

My three strikes were up. This guy was here to collect on the debt. I hastily grabbed my 9mm handgun, a Beretta, threw on my leather jacket, grabbed my cell phone, and quickly made a dash for the window. I figured I could probably take the guy, but I’d rather not waste perfectly good bullets I’d probably need later. The noise at my door intensified, He’s ramming the door now. Wow, this guy means business.

The window quickly opens and I’m outside, trying my luck with the fire escape. As I make my way down, I begin to question the decision to buy the apartment on the twelfth floor instead of the fourth. My real estate agent said it was worth the extra 50 bucks a month just for the “spectacular view”. Yeah, well right now, I’d rather have that extra cash in my pocket and not have to worry about some guy putting his foot up my ass if I can’t make it down this Fire escape in time.
I’m only a floor down when I hear my door being broken down and my would-be assailant searching for me. I’m a few floors down before the enforcer begins to give chase. As I near the bottom, I suddenly remember that the ladder to the street was broken. Piece of crap fire escape. There are about 10 feet between me and the ground below. I take a chance and jump over the side on the lowest level. I tuck and roll as I hit the rain slicked ground and on my feet within a second or two. Not a moment too soon either as I hear a bullet hit the ground directly behind me.

“You ain’t gettin’ away kid!” The enforcer yells as he fires off two more shots.

Lucky for me, this guy can’t aim worth a damn. I ran around a corner, heading towards a parking garage. My car was parked there, I just had to make it there and I’d be fine.
I was so close too…

As I entered, a large black sedan pulled up in front of me, blocking my path.

“Dammit!” I thought, drawing my Beretta.

I tried to run back, but was met by a red SUV. I turned around to see that two thugs had already exited the black sedan, brandishing pistols of their own and pointing them directly at my chest and two more stepped out of the SUV behind me. I looked around, searching for a way out of this mess.

“End of the line, Alex.” The large guy on the left said.

I continued to survey the situation, Beretta gripped tightly in my right hand. I was good with a gun but I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. Baring some sort of miracle, I realize that I probably won’t be walking away from here alive.
* * *

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Does Halo 3 Live Up To The Hype?

This past Saturday, I finally “finished the fight” on Heroic difficulty. What a ride. Now that I’ve completed the game, there is one prevailing question to answer. Does it or does it not live up to the hype? Well, since I’ve been a longtime Halo fan since playing the original on the Xbox several years ago I’m naturally biased towards the “yes” side of the debate but in the following paragraphs, I will attempt to present arguments from both sides of the debate before coming to a conclusion.

Now it’s no secret that this one game has received an astronomical amount of hype preceding its release and for some time afterwards from the immense Halo fanbase, as well as Microsoft itself. For Halo fans, this is the conclusion of the Halo trilogy, one they have been eagerly anticipating for nearly three years. For Microsoft, this is their biggest game. The marketing blitz rolled out nonstop for months prior to release, throwing Halo 3 onto everything from toys, to weapon replicas, to soda.

It can be argued that Microsoft went too far with their Halo 3 marketing blitz and on that point, I agree. But of course, Microsoft has plenty of reasons for marketing Halo 3 such as they have. Microsoft wants this game to sell consoles; they want everyone to buy this game. So far, as evidenced to the 170 million dollars garnered in the first day on the market, it’s working for them. We will soon see how much Halo 3 has influenced Xbox 360 sales as a whole.

Halo 2’s cliffhanger of an ending and confusing storyline left many fans cold, including me. Throughout the single player campaign, many sections turned me off. Halo 2’s campaign was still better than the average shooter’s due to its tight gameplay and impressive enemy AI but I can’t say it was superior to the campaign found in Halo: Combat Evolved in any way. After “finishing the fight”, I can honestly say that Halo 3’s campaign is the best in the series. The story progression and pacing was just shy of perfection and the cutscenes were wonderfully presented which compelled you onward, just to unearth the next juicy plot point. The story begins and ends just as it should, on a very high note. No spoilers will be found here, but the ending, which wraps up the storyline quite nicely, is incredibly satisfying. Trust me, once you see it, you’ll understand.

Halo 2’s multiplayer was satisfying for many, but a bit lacking in terms of balance. Despite being quite entertaining overall, there were plenty of glitches, exploits and problems that disrupted gameplay and annoyed many, especially in the early days. Halo 3 on the other hand seems to be more balanced, entertaining and fun. Based on my personal experience, I honestly can’t say I would prefer the multiplayer modes of Halo 2, or even Halo: CE, which I hold in a very high regard, over Halo 3. It’s not a drastic departure from what you’ve seen in the past, but, much like many other aspects of the game, it’s highly refined.

In many ways, Halo 3 was more of an upgrade from Halo 2 than Halo 2 was to Halo: CE. Halo 2’s additions were more natural progression than anything. Dual wielding was a common theme in many FPSes so it’s fitting that Halo 2 add that feature, and since online play was so commonplace and Halo: CE was the only game Bungie produced that didn’t include online play in years, Halo 2 receiving a slew of online options (except, sadly, online co-op) was a given. Halo 3’s primary additions in the form of the Forge mode and saved films are far from a natural progression of the series.

One of the main problems with Halo 3, as with Halo 2 and to a lesser extent, Halo: CE before it is its lack of change. As stated before, Halo 3 isn’t groundbreaking in any one aspect, more like a refinement of things you’ve already seen in previous titles. The FPS genre is a crowded one, and it takes a great deal of innovation and quality to stand out. Halo 3 may be lacking in terms of innovation (although the Forge mode and saved films are a step in the right direction) it makes up for it by being one of the most polished and enjoyable FPSes you’ll find on any system.

Hype is a very funny thing. If a game meets or exceeds expectations, it’s praised for its quality and talked about for months because it was as good as people thought it would be. On the other hand, if the game falls short, even for the tiniest of reasons, it will then be torn apart by disappointed and disenfranchised gamers since their high hopes have been dashed. That’s the thing about hype, oftentimes; people set themselves up to be disappointed. Halo 3 got a lot of attention and a great deal of well-deserved praise but undoubtedly, there will be those who will be disappointed with it, simply because it did not meet the impossible to attain expectations they had of the game.

No game is perfect and Halo 3 is certainly no exception. Was Halo 3 worthy of the hype? Well, yes and no. It met all of the expectations I had for it and in many ways, exceeded them and I don’t think there’s anything Bungie could’ve done to make me any happier with it. Of course, I imagine there are some people who were disappointed, which brings me back to an earlier point, if you hype yourself through the roof, you’re bound to be disappointed. Generally, everyone who has played it has had their expectations met and in many ways exceeded. As I said before, it’s not drastically different from any other game in the Halo series, but it does so much right that you likely won’t care. Therefore, my answer to the question I posed earlier is a resounding “yes”. In my opinion, there is no better game on the Xbox 360 and is, possibly, the best game to come out this year and in that respect alone, it was worthy of the hype.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My First Review Has Been Posted At Talk Xbox!

Here's the link to my review of Stuntman Ignition at Talk Xbox.This is my first review at the site so I went all out (which explains why the review was so long) I had a great time reviewing it though so it's all good. As for my next article, I'm considering reviewing Medal of Honor: Airborne and possibly a write up of the Call of Duty 4 Beta that I just started playing yesterday.

In other news, I'm still writing my Halo 2 Review. It's coming along nicely but I have no idea when I'll post it. I'm going to type up my review of Super Mario 64 later today so it might be up later tonight or tomorrow depending on how long it takes and how I feel after I finish my homework.

Well, that'll do it for now, I'll have more updates and info later.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Am Officially a Freelance Gaming Journalist

Yep, you read that right. I have recently (as in earlier today) joined the writing staff over at Talk Xbox. It all began a few days ago when I received a PM from an anonymous GameSpot user asking if I was interested in writing for Talk Xbox. Being the aspiring gaming journalist that I am, I pounced on this opportunity as quickly as I could. Things progressed from there and now, I'm a full fledged part of the team.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be dedicating a lot of my time to contributing to that website, be it scouring the net for news or playing a game for purposes of review. I'm taking this very seriously. It will be a true test for me and balancing school, writing, games and other projects I have going on will be tough, but this is the real world and I need to break out there. This isn't just getting my feet wet; it’s jumping in the whole damn pool.

Now, if you know me or have been tracking my recent blog posts, you know that I'm a huge Halo fan and knowing that, you also know that I can't wait for the release of Halo 3 later this month. I acquired the Halo 3 Edition Zune (figured I'd get the smallest purchase out of the way first) and have a copy of the Limited Edition (not Legendary) preordered at my local GameStop. To get back into regularly reviewing games and as a sort of final send off, I will be reviewing Halo 2. This review should be posted within the next week or so, provided that I don’t get bogged down with a ton of work.

In addition to my Halo 2 review I plan on finishing up my Super Mario 64 (Wii) review and posting it soon. I’ve had this pretty much written out in its entirety for some time now in my notebook; I’m not sure why I never typed it up and submitted it. I’ve also got plans on reviewing Bioshock after I’ve finished with my Halo 2 review. Looks like I’ll be plenty busy for the foreseeable future.

Make sure you stop by the site to check it out once in a while. I’ll probably update here once I’ve posted a new review or article but I don’t plan on using this blog as a free advertisement. Of course, I’d like to see the site grow but I would hope that people would visit it less because I’m pestering them to do so and more because they truly enjoy the articles and reviews we post there. I just hope I can earn my spot among their ranks and deliver the quality reviews both you and I expect.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Bit of a Dilemma

At the end of this week, I’ll have enough cash saved up to get my hands on one of two things I’ve wanted to buy as of late, a Playstation 3 or the Halo 3 Zune media player. Notice how I said one of the two back there. Now I have a dilemma. Which one do I choose? They’re both limited in supply and when they’re gone, they’re gone. In the following paragraphs, I’ll try to list the pros and cons of getting one versus the other.

The Halo 3 Edition Zune
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The Halo 3 Edition Zune is high on my “things to get” list due to the fact that, since my iPod crapped out on me two years ago, I don’t have a proper media player for listening to my favorite music while I’m away from my PC. To satisfy my need for music on the go, I’ve been using my PSP, PDA and, worst case scenario, my busted iPod (it still works on occasion if I screw with it). These are all decent for playing music and get the job done in a pinch (especially the PSP) but they’re hardly ideal. The PSP does score extra points for being a jack of all trades sort of system and handles music playing far better than my PDA or spastic iPod ever did but I can’t see it competing with the Zune because, despite the fact that I have a 4 GB memory stick in there, it’s being occupied by certain…user made applications and files that utilize the PSP in ways Sony never intended. So it’s pretty much out in terms of being a primary music player.

It's not just the Zune itself that appeals to me either. The Halo 3 Edition is the only version of the Zune I’ve ever been interested in. Why? Well, I’m extremely excited for Halo 3 and, well, I want to get this so I have a “well rounded Halo 3 experience”. I’m not the obsessive Halo 3 fan who is going to run out and buy the Legendary edition of Halo 3 and two of the new Halo 3 Edition controllers, the Halo 3 wireless headset and the Halo 3 Edition Xbox 360 or anything of the sort, but I like to collect some of the things that correspond with games I’m excited about.
But there are some downsides to buying it now. The thing is $250, and that would take a huge chunk out of my funds, and it would be that much harder to save up for a PS3. The player itself has its share of downsides as well, due to its limited file support. To date, the Zune only supports WMV for video playback, MP3 and WMA for audio and JPEGs for viewing photos. This isn’t a problem for me since most of my music and pictures are in the required format anyway. The videos are the only thing I’d really have to worry about.

Overall, it looks like a really good purchase. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s bought one seems to like it and I’ve seen some pretty favorable reviews. It has its faults, but the same can be said for all media players, including the iPod. Before I make my decision, I still have to consider the PS3, which brings me to my next point...

The Playstation 3

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I can’t forget about this one. If I make a move and buy the Zune without considering this first, I’m sure I’ll kick myself later on down the line. I’ve been considering buying one for quite some time now and because of the recent price cut, now is the best time to finally get my hands on one. There are several games coming down the pipe later this year and into the next that make me excited about the system and will validate my purchase and then some. I can’t bring myself to miss out on the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavenly Sword, Playstation Home and Gran Turismo 5. The PS3’s built in Blu Ray disc player is certainly enticing, as I’ll probably be making use of it in the future.

The problem is, there’s nothing I’m really excited for on the PS3 that’s available now. The only games I really want to get for the system are Resistance: Fall of Man, Motorstorm and Ninja Gaiden Sigma. All the other games I’m interested on the system right now are multiplatform that I’ll probably end up getting on the Xbox 360 anyways. There are a few downloadable games I’m interested in such as the Gran Turismo HD Concept demo, Tekken: Dark Resurrection, and a few of the downloadable Playstation 1 titles. They’re all good reasons to buy a PS3 but not enough to justify the $500 purchase right now. That’s a lot of money. I didn’t even factor in all the other things I’d need such as games and accessories. I could recoup some of it by selling my PS2 on eBay but I doubt that would do much more besides cover the taxes and perhaps a game.

But then again, I have to consider what I’m getting for my money. I’m getting a Blu Ray disc player, a high end gaming system, a media center, and a platform that will undoubtedly grow in functionality and usefulness as the years progress. For what you get in the system, $500 is really a steal. Now if only I could force my wallet to see it that way, I’d be alright.

Okay, I thought writing all that would help me decide one way or another but it hasn’t. I’m still stuck between the two. Perhaps as pay day approaches, my mind will become clear, and I’ll be able to finally choose which of the two to get first.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Xbox 360 Is Finally Back From The Repair Center

After about two weeks of being without it and going back to my older consoles to catch up on some classics that I missed out on, my Xbox 360 is finally back from the repair center. Sort of.

When the UPS truck pulled up outside this past Friday, I rushed downstairs like a kid waking up on Christmas morning to greet the delivery man and receive my package. In a white box, almost exactly like the one I shipped it in was my Xbox 360. I rushed to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and opened it up. Immediately after opening it, I looked at the console inside and said to myself, “This isn’t my 360”. The letter I received in the package confirmed this.

Instead of receiving my repaired Xbox 360, I have been sent a replacement unit. With the news of receiving a replacement, some worries began to develop. Does this mean I have another ticking time bomb on my hands? What of the reported upgrades the 360 has received recently, namely the second heat sink over the GPU? Does this mean my 360 doesn’t have this?

I’ve noticed that my Xbox 360 does have at least one of the new enhancements newer models have received. The disc drive is noticeably quieter and seems to load games a bit quicker. Video quality seems to be a bit improved as well. I noticed that the opening movie that plays before the title screen in Forza Motorsport 2 is a bit smoother, lacking the minor compression artifacts I noticed when playing the game on my old 360.

Despite my earlier worries, the system plays like a dream. Load times are a bit quicker, it runs quieter and of course, it plays some of my favorite games of the generation thus far. Earlier today, I checked out The Darkness and I’ve played an hour or two of it so far. I really like it so far. The Darkness powers really steal the show and are a blast to use (I’ve only really used the Creeping Darkness so far) and the gunplay is pretty good. It’s not up there with top tier shooters, but then again, I don’t think it was intended to be and as it is, it’s still very well crafted. I haven’t played the multiplayer (due to my lack of a real internet connection) but I’ve heard it’s nothing special, especially when compared to the single player mode.

That’s all I have to say for now because I’ve gotta get back to playing my Xbox 360. Forza 2 is calling me and I don’t like to keep it waiting too long. :D

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Catching Up On Some Classics

My Xbox 360 is off at the repair center, meaning my main platform for next gen gaming is gone for the time being.

So...what is a guy to do? The Wii is fun in short bursts playing RE 4, but I need something else. Something to add to the experience. For that, I turn to my previous generation consoles.

Considering my lack of a 360 at the time (thus no Forza 2 addiction), I've had time to catch up on a lot of last gen classics, particularly those for my good old Xbox. If you've been reading my blogs, you know that I have a job working at a local GameStop. This also means I get a discount. Since the Xbox 360 launched, original Xbox game prices have dropped significantly. This means you can find a bunch of great games by raiding the bargain bin.

Which is exactly what I’ve been doing.

At the store I’m working at, we have a bin set up in the front for all used Xbox games that have dropped to under ten dollars. It’s amazing what you can find in there if you look hard enough. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve found a bunch of great games, most of which were five dollars or less. Below is a list of the games I’ve purchased and their prices. Some of which may shock you as much as they did me.

Unreal Championship 2: $4.99 – This game is a blast to play even by yourself. The online servers are pretty vacant right now, so I’m looking for a couple of folks who have the game to play with on Xbox Live.

Sega GT 2002/Jet Set Radio Future Combo disc: $1.99 – This one was a shocker. Two great games (especially JSRF) for only two bucks? There was no way I was going to pass this one up.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: $4.99 I just got this yesterday and I gotta tell ya, I’m hooked. It’s a fun little beat em up that’s really addictive. I remember wanting to get this when it came out in 2002 but never got around to it. I’m glad I finally did.

Max Payne 2: $1.50 – Another shocker. This game was a complete blast to play through and had a great storyline that had me gripped from beginning to end. At a price this low, considering how much fun I’m having with it, I would’ve been a fool to pass this up.

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge: $3.99 – I haven’t played this yet, since I’ve been playing Buffy so I can’t attest to its quality just yet. But hey, it scored an 8.9 here so I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.

And there you have it folks. Six great games for less than 15 bucks (when I factor in my discount) with an average score of an 8.6 between them. Now that’s quality gaming. If you’re a gamer on a budget or simply looking to pick up some games that you might have missed over the past few years, check the bargain bin. You’d be amazed at some of the gems you can find there.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Weekly Update: Gran Turismo 4, Pokemon Battle Revolution Impressions and OMG! Halo 3!

To kick things off, I'm going to be a bit late with my Pokemon Pearl review. I just haven't had the time to really get my thoughts together. I'm going to try to finish some of it tonight and perhaps I'll have it posted tomorrow. For now, I'm hoping my Crackdown and Fuzion Frenzy 2 reviews are substantial. Between Pokemon Pearl, Forza Motorsport 2, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, and Pokemon Battle Revolution, I've got a lot of reviews ahead of me.

So, onto those first impressions. I'll start with Gran Turismo 4. I bought it on Saturday of last week and I've been playing it off and on since then. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and at 11 bucks, I couldn't pass it up. Well, it's as good as I thought it would be. The car selection is excellent despite the fact that there's no Ferraris, Lamborghinis, etc. and the track selection is great. I haven't gotten deep into the career mode yet, as I'm still plowing through the B class License tests.

Vehicle handling is as good as I expected. Being weaned on the Forza series' dynamic driving line, it took me a while to get used to driving without it. Naturally, until I got used to driving without it, I did very poorly in races. Over time, I've gotten used to the game without it and I've improved significantly. I'll have more to say about it once I delve deeper into the game but so far, I like it.

On to Pokemon Battle Revolution. I'm having mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it is fun to battle with the Pokemon I trained in Pokemon Pearl on the big screen and the online opposition is certainly promising (for the record, I haven't played it yet). On the other hand, aside from the battles, there's no minigames to play and no other modes. Seeing your Pokemon in 3D is cool but it's going to get old eventually and if you don't have a copy of Diamond or Pearl for the DS, you can kiss the DS connectivity options goodbye and in those respects, the game is a bit shallow.

But, if there's one thing the game does right besides the battles themselves and the online throwdowns, it's the graphics. For a Wii game, these graphics look pretty damn good. I'd place it up there with Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition visually. I wouldn't say it's better than RE4, but it's certainly one of the best looking games available for the Wii.

On to Halo 3. While I was picking up GT4 and checking out PBR from work I preordered my copy of the Halo 3 Limited Edition. I was considering going all the way and getting the Legendary Edition, but I don't really feel the need to. Perhaps I'll upgrade my reservation to the Legendary Edition nearing release, once the hype gets to me. I might be picking up the Halo 3 Zune later this week, provided I don't get it for my birthday later this week.

By the way, if you haven't seen the new Halo 3 screen shots at IGN, you really need to go check em out. They showcase the new, customizable, Spartan armor. Yes, you read that right. The Spartan armor in Halo 3's multiplayer component is now fully customizable. There are now three main types of armor to choose from. The basic MJOLNIR armor we all know and love and two new suits, dubbed EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) and CQB (Close Quarters Battle). There's also been hints that there are even more armor permutations that haven't revealed yet.

Graphically, this looks a bit better than what we've seen in the Pubic Beta that concluded earlier this month. It could just be me, as I'm likely blind from the slew of new info and screens about Halo 3, which is my personal most anticipated game of the year. While it's not close to the best the Xbox 360 can offer, it sports a clean look that I can't stay mad at for long. Keep in mind that footage of the single player campaign hasn't been shown yet and typically, single player campaigns tend to look better than their multiplayer counterparts, so we'll soon see if Halo 3 can hang with the likes of Gears of War.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My Perspective on Rap Music as an Art Form

Earlier today, I got into a rather big argument about Rap music as an art form. Personally, I appreciate rap and enjoy it greatly. There are some aspects of the genre that I dislike, such as the myriad of songs made about dances, songs that feature the prolific use of the word "nigga" and songs that recycle the same generic themes (I have more money than you, I'm gonna shoot you, I'm going to f*** your girlfriend, etc.) over and over again. But as a whole I like it. I tend to like rap from underground artists and old school more than mainstream artists because a lot of mainstream artists use the repetitive themes I mentioned above exclusively and often have very poor lyrical ability.

With that said, I present to you the argument the other guy posted in response to an earlier claim:

"First off you entered this concersation out of context, would you like to explain to me why people study music, if it´s all opinion based, or maybe explain why rap in general is good? What is it exactly that makes it good? The singing? (or lack of) The beat down message (which is pretty much the only thing that is opinion in music), The intrumental? (yay pc samples ftw) what makes it good muscially?"

And here's what I responded with.

Music can illicit certain feelings from people. People study music and determine what feelings it elicits and dissects the track from there on. There are certainly other factors and variables in music study, but this is one of the main recurring themes. Rap music is no different. It can illicit feelings from someone as well as any other genre of music. The lyrics in combination with the music behind it can bring about significant emotional response.

Oftentimes, singing isn't present in rap, but then again, there doesn't always have to be. Although, there are some MC's who incorporate singing into their rhymes and do a very good job of it. A skilled lyricist can write and say their lines to the beat, timing their words precisely with the tempo to make things flow smoothly, to the point where there is no disconnect between the music and the lyrics.

You say the message is always the same and spout off generic themes that permeate mainstream rap. Well, I'll give you that one. Mainstream rap is often tied down by the same generic themes you mentioned. But, if you go beneath the surface to the underground, old school and true hip hop, you don't find these repetitive themes. What you find are real lyricists with real messages to say. It is here that you find deep messages, well thought out rhymes, and often well done storytelling. Rappers can tell a story or convey a message just as well as any rocker can. If you really listened to rap, you'd know this.

Again, you say rappers always sample other tracks. Well, some do, and most don't. The majority of tracks use entirely original beats. If you listen closely, they are just as deep and well formed as any other form of music. Hell, even some of the sampled tracks improve on the original, adapting them to a new style, and work wonders. The sound quality is great, but only if you really listen for it.

These are all valid reasons why Rap is good musically. As I stated before (in a post you conveniently ignored by the way) there is no such thing as good or bad music. It's all based on perception, that's why its opinion based. The feeling a certain song elicits from you is universal, but the song itself isn't. There are songs I flat out despise that others like. Does that mean that they're bad musically? No. That's just my perception. How is your opinion on rap music somehow better than mine on this issue? Bottom line is, it isn't. Rap isn't worse than any other genre of music, no matter how bad you think it is.

And there you have it folks, but I'm not done yet. I have some additional views I'd like to express.

A wise man once told me that there is no good or bad music and that it is only good or bad in the realm of human perception. No matter what anyone says about any genre of music, there is no genre that is better or worse than all the others. All of them can be appreciated in some way or another by different people.

People criticize rap for repeating the same generic themes over and over, well I could easily say the same thing about rock music. Commonly used themes in rock music are hatred towards society and crying over a lost love. Same themes, different lyrics. So this can' be used against rap. Almost all forms of music are repetitive in some form or another. It's what the artist does with that theme that makes each song special.

In closing, Rap music is just as good musically as any other form of music. As with all forms of music, there's plenty to appreciate about rap. I hope that those of you out there who read this come away from it enlightened, particularly if you've taken up a stance against rap music in the past.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

So yesterday, I saw the car of my dreams...

Before I get into this, I know I've missed a few Weekly Updates.

Anyways, yesterday I caught a glimpse of the car of my dreams, while drving down Woodward en route to GameWorks last night. I was sitting there in the seat while the cool night air blew in through the window. All of a sudden I heard the loud purring of an obviously turbocharged engine beside me. out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bright red car pull alongside us. Naturally, I turned to look and then I saw it. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped and I exclaimed to my friend driving, "That's a Supra!"

Immediately, I pulled out my phone and snapped the picture you see above. I recorded a video but the quality is really subpar and I couldn't get a good shot of it because that Supra's 2JZ engine revved up and left us in the dust.

It's really amazing what you can see when you're crusing down Woodward every now and then. I'm just amazed that I got a chance to see this car. It reinvigorated my love for the Supra and gave me a nice bit of inspiration.

PS: GameWorks was fun too.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Pokemon Pearl and DS Lite Acquired!

I have lots of pictures of the newest additions to my collection and here they are for your viewing pleasure.

Pokemon Pearl. As you can tell from my previous blog post, I was pretty excited to pick this one up.

Here's a shot of the case open.

Here's a shot of the case, documentation (manuals, etc.) and the game itself.

My Brand new DS Lite. I traded in my old DS to get this puppy, and I'm glad I did. My old DS wasn't in the best shape and I had been meaning to pick up a new one for quite a while now.

Finally, here's a shot of the DS fresh out of the box and ready to be played.

Well there you have it. I'll have my first impressions of both the DS Lite and Pokemon Pearl posted sometime in the near future when I have time to sit down and really delve deep into the game and collect my thoughts. So far, the reviews I've seen have been generally positive. I'm just hoping everything I've come to expect from the game is realized when I play it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Weekly Update: April 20, 2007

I've been meaning to start weekly blog updates for a while now and now I've finally gotten around to it. So, without further adieu, let's get down to business.

I've been on a bit of a Pokemon bender recently counting down the days until the US launch of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. I've got my eye on a copy of Pokemon Pearl and I'll be picking it up alongside a brand new DS Lite this Sunday. in the meantime, I've picked up Pokemon Leaf Green again, getting my pokemon from that game all ready to be transferred to Pokemon Pearl when I get it. I've been training my pokemon well and I've assembled some pretty tough to beat teams. When I decide to head online for the first time, (a feature I've been pretty excited about) I'm going to be pretty tough to beat.

I know some of you are going to think, "You're 19 years old? Playing Pokemon? WTF?". Well, I play Pokemon because the games themselves are actualy really fun and addictive for some reason. Plus, there's the nostalgia factor. I think back to the time I first recieved my copy of Pokemon Blue and began playing through it. It was amazing. Back then, I was absolutely hooked on the show and everything even remotely related to Pokemon so the games were naturally right up my alley.

But, as great as Red and Blue were, the most fun I've ever had playing a Pokemon game has to have been when I played the Gold and Silver versions (yes, both of them). Those were in my opinion, the best pokemon games ever made. The incorporation of real time day and night cycles, daily events that would only occur on certain days of the week and more gave the game such an epic feel that has yet to be matched in any Pokemon games.

I have hope that Pokemon Diamond and Pearl will be just as good, if not better than the Gold and Silver Versions since the development team that worked on the Gold and Silver versions also developed Diamond and Pearl.

I've got some new reviews coming down the pipe soon for Crackdown, Super Mario 64 and probably another game if I get around to it. I've been sidetracked by a few projects of mine, including updating my gaming blog (GameTime News Network. Check it out.) writing some stories, and generally being very, very lazy. I'll have these reviews up soon, don't worry.

In addition, I'm working on a new video blog. I don't know what it's going to be about, just that I want to do another one.
And before I depart, I leave you with a video I stumbled upon recently. It's pretty freaking awesome and very well done.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My Broken Xbox 360 Has Been Fixed!

Watch the video. There isnt much I can say that hasn't been discussed in the video.

It may seem like it's fake, but trust me, this is not a joke. It really works.

Friday, March 30, 2007

My First Video Blog

Here's my first attempt at a Video Blog. I was sitting around one day, a bit bored and I just decided to start filming one. It took me a while to edit, but I'm satisfied with the results.

I hope you guys like it. Keep your eyes peeled for more in the future.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Xbox 360 Annonced - An "Elite" Editorial

As you all probably know by now, the Xbox 360 “Elite” has been officially confirmed by Microsoft. After all the rumors that had been swirling over the past few months dating back to early July with this Engadget rumor, it’s about time Microsoft was forthwith, confirming what everyone already expected to be true. Personally, I am not too happy about this. Between this and my Xbox 360 recently crapping out on me, Microsoft has really been screwing me over as of late.

One thing that annoys me in particular about the Xbox 360 Elite is that it comes with a lot of things that should have been included on the “Premium” version at launch. The HDMI port is almost a must nowadays, as so many televisions support HDMI and it’s currently the de facto high definition input/output standard. If you want the clearest possible picture for your high definition television, HDMI is the only way to go.

What’s more is The Elite 360 sports an upgrade Xbox 360 fans have wanted since day one. More hard drive space. Six times more to be exact. No longer stuck with a measly 16 gigabytes of space, gamers no longer have to worry about deleting unwanted files to make room for new things. I personally have this problem since I have an abundance of videos, expansion packs, demos and Final Fantasy XI files (which take up a whopping 6 gigabytes of space by themselves) on my Xbox 360’s hard drive and I constantly have to decide which stuff I want to get rid of to make room for new things.

But the hard drive is going to sell separately from the Elite console so all my worries should be put to rest right? Wrong. The 120 GB hard drive is set to retail for $180. This is outrageous. Nearly half the price of the premium console for a hard drive? I think this is ridiculous, especially considering I can get a 500 GB hard drive for my computer or a 160 GB hard drive that is compatible with the PS3, for significantly less money. Now I understand that Microsoft is using a proprietary design here, which is very different from a standard hard drive, but still, you’d think they could throw us a bone here.

Another thing that bugs me about the “Elite” is that it’s still lacking features that would’ve no doubt made the package as a whole seem more appealing. What are these features? Well, internal Wi-Fi would be nice. Paying an additional $100 just to be able to utilize my wireless connection (which is the only way I can connect to the internet) is ridiculous. More importantly though, the lack of an internal HD DVD drive is the killer. Without that, it doesn’t seem worth it when you consider that for just $20 more; you can get the PS3, with a 20 GB hard drive and an internal Blu Ray Disc player. I know Microsoft doesn’t want to take a chance on HD DVD just yet because “the format isn’t proven” but it would’ve certainly taken an edge from Sony and made the package as a whole so much more appealing.

Now I know I shouldn’t be too upset because I’m an early adopter, and we early adopters have a tendency to be screwed over in the long run. The problems with this are simple. Not only is Microsoft releasing a new model for the Xbox 360 less than 2 years after the original, but they’re charging you more for it. Now I know Nintendo and Sony have done this in the past (Nintendo with their handhelds, and Sony with the first two Playstations) but in those cases, $130 (and below) handhelds are a lot easier on the wallet to replace than a $400 console and Sony waited 4 years before releasing the Slim PS2 and 5 years before releasing the smaller PSone back in 2000. Not to mention these consoles were cheaper than pervious versions, not more expensive.

In the end it all comes down to what people have been saying all along. Microsoft rushed the Xbox 360. They rushed it out of the gate early so they could grab a sizeable lead over the competition. Now it just seems like this is the console they would’ve released from the beginning had they not been rushing everything. I think the Elite is a big mistake that could just hurting them in the long run because, when compared to the PS3, suddenly it doesn’t seem so expensive any more, especially considering what you get in the package. Oh well. I’m not buying the Elite. There aren’t enough reasons to justify spending even more for the console than I did before.

Monday, March 26, 2007

TMNT (2007) In Review

Last Friday, a friend of mine called me and said he and a couple of other friends were going to see the new TMNT movie. I am a long time fan of the TMNT series, and I've seen all three movies prior to the release of this one. Naturally, I agreed to go, but I was concerned that since the movie garnered a PG rating, it would cater almost exclusively to a younger audience. Because of this, I also had a few reservations about seeing the film, especially since it was too late to go to my theatre (I work at a movie theatre now) and see the film for free. After seeing the film I thought I'd share my thoughts about the film in a review.

It doesn't suck. Seriously. It was actually pretty good.

Immediately, I must say, the switch from live action to CGI was a great decision. The turtles now have the freedom to do many of the actions that were previously confined to the cartoons and comics. The animation is one of the movie's high points. The great looking New York City serves as a great backdrop for the majority of the film. The turtles themselves look better than ever. No longer big and bulky looking, the turtles look more realistic (well as realistic as a mutant turtle can be), boasting a more animalistic appearance and of course, copious amounts of green. Cinematography is also pretty decent, but at times, the camera can be a bit spastic and dizzying as it seems to switch between different angles a bit too quickly, but thankfully not enough to get in the way of the film's slick visual style.

The plotline however is pretty disappointing. The story itself is highly unoriginal and highly predictable. The story begins 3000 years in the past, in which a tribe of warriors discovers a portal that they believe will grant them immortality. The leader of the tribe gains immortality upon opening the portal, at the expense of his fellow comrades who are turned to stone and 13 monsters are released into our world.

Fast forward to the present day, after the events of the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, the turtles have grown apart as a family. Leonardo has been in Central America for the past year training, Michelangelo has taken up a job as "Cowabunga Carl" performing at children's birthday parties, Donatello has taken a job as a 24 hour IT consultant and Raphael has become a masked vigilante, going by the name of "Night Watcher".

Max Winters, the immortal leader of the ancient tribe enlists the services of the Foot Clan, under the leadership of Karai, to aid him in finding the 13 monsters and send them back to where they came from. Immediately there is a problem. Where have these monsters been in the past 3000 years and why is it that they have all of a sudden become active in New York? This is just one of a few glaring plot holes that I just couldn't ignore.

As Leonardo returns to New York City, he and Raphael begin to engage in an emotional conflict, as Raphael is not willing to welcome his brother back into the family so easily after his departure. The conflict between them is certainly interesting to watch, and makes for a nice subplot as tensions between them grow, culminating into a fight 23 years in the making. The fight between Leonardo and Raphael is simply amazing. The two brothers giving each other everything they have, at the peak of their abilities. From both cinematic and technical perspectives, the battle is an amazing feat, as each animation plays out smoothly blending well from one scene to the next, and is by far the best among the film's several great looking fight scenes.

In a sharp contrast to the other films in the TMNT franchise, this one focuses less on humor, choosing instead to present a much darker look into the TMNT franchise. That's not to say there isn't a good bit of campy humor and comedic value in the flick, as Michelangelo, the series' longtime comic relief character has his share of genuinely funny moments that thankfully don't come off as too cheesy or aimed directly at children. Personally, I like this new style. The turtles are noticeably much more mature as characters than their previous film incarnations.

Overall, it was a pretty good film. Longtime fans of the franchise will leave plenty satisfied by the film (unless they were expecting a rich storyline) and will get the most out of it, as there are a few fanservice bits thrown in every now and then. The fight scenes are a visual triumph, and this film's sense of style is one that puts all previous TMNT films to shame. If you're looking for a fun filled action movie then look no further.

If I had to give it a score, I'd probably give it a 7.5.

That'll do it for my review of the film (which was a bit longer than I expected :P). It's just too bad the games weren't as good as the film, but then again, movie adaptations rarely are. In short, if you're a fan, you'll certainly enjoy this. If not, you'll probably still get a good amount of entertainment from it. I have to say, this is, by far, the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie in the franchise.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My Xbox 360 Has Died...and I'm Pissed.

Well as of yesterday, my Xbox 360 is officially dead. I turned it on yesterday afternoon with the intention of playing some Rainbow Six: Vegas and the “three red lights of death” flashed within its ring of light. Seeing this means your Xbox 360 has suffered a major hardware malfunction and thus will not work properly. Those red lights flashed on and off, taunting me, as if to say, “Ha, ha! You’re fucked now, sucker!” As you can ascertain from the title and my general tone, I’m pissed.

As soon as I saw the three red lights, well, after my heart sank, I immediately turned the system off and tried a number of home remedies to fix the problem. I unplugged it and set it aside. I disconnected the hard drive. I even took it to a relatively cold area of my home to let it cool off (even though it wasn’t hot). Nothing so far has worked and my frustrations continue to mount…

Since the Xbox 360’s launch in November of 2005, reports of malfunctioning and dying units have been running rampant in the news, websites and internet forums as gamers everywhere experienced the same thing that I did yesterday. For a long time now I have been defending Microsoft and their failure to diagnose and fix the problems plaguing Xbox 360 but now, I’m through with that. Microsoft can defend themselves.

I guess things like this take on a whole new meaning when they hit close to home…

Seriously, why can’t they get their act together and fix these problems? I know I got mine early, and early adopters usually get screwed, but these problems are still occurring today. Not to mention the fact that my Xbox, which was also purchased early on, is still working fine. So what the hell happened between generations Microsoft?

Another thing that irks me about the widespread Xbox 360 problems at launch and beyond is the fact that this isn’t happening to Sony and Nintendo. While Nintendo has been known for their well crafted consoles and quality of workmanship overall, Sony suffered massive problems with their Playstation 2 at launch and well on into the future. Many even expected similar problems to plague the PS3’s launch. Well, here we are, nearly five months after the launch of the Playstation 3 and I have yet to hear reports of faulty units breaking down on consumers. So it appears that after being the worst in terms of quality hardware last generation, Sony has learned from their mistakes and gotten their act together. It appears the only company left to clean up their act is you, Microsoft. So I guess the real question here is, what are you going to do about it?

It was inevitable I suppose, considering how many Xbox 360’s manufactured during that time period are slowly but surely crapping out. I bought the Xbox 360 that cold January morning thinking I would be one of the lucky few that wouldn’t have a problem with the console and that it would provide me with years of gaming bliss and satisfaction. Well I got one year of gaming bliss, does that count? When you consider that the item in question cost me $400, it doesn’t count for much. It also doesn't sit well with me that with all the reports of 360's dying, I secretly knew in the back of my mind that one day, my 360 would suffer the same fate. All this time I thought I was just being paranoid. Turns out my suspicions were correct.

Perhaps I’m making too much of this. My Xbox 360 was manufactured in 2005, meaning it carries a lifetime warranty and I can get it fixed for free. At least I can give credit to Microsoft for that one. I just wish they would take more time to diagnose the problems in either manufacturing or the hardware itself and take care of it, and I wish they were more like Nintendo when it comes to the quality of work they put into making their hardware. Well, the Xbox 360 has been my favorite of the three new consoles for some time now and I hate to see it go. If Microsoft turns out to be a bitch to work with, or if they end up sending me another Xbox 360 unit that doesn’t work then that may change to the Playstation 3 or Wii. One thing’s for sure though…I’ve certainly lost a lot of respect for the company as a whole and will not likely buy another of their products until all the kinks are worked out. The problem is, if I had waited that long this time, I still wouldn’t have one…

Oh well, time to call Microsoft up and have them send the “coffin”…

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Okay, I'm Finally Back (Did you miss me?)

Well, it’s been a while since my last blog post and I’ve finally decided to stop being lazy and write something.

The winter drought, one of the hardest times of the year to be a gamer, is upon us. This is the time right after the steady stream of great games has finally run dry after the holiday season, leaving gamers out in the cold, and wanting more. This time is especially difficult if you have just purchased one of the recently launched consoles (PS3 or Wii). After the launch hysteria wears off, you begin to realize that there’s very few really worthwhile games coming out in the next couple of months

I am personally feeling the chill of the winter drought since I purchased a Wii at launch. After you finish the Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, you begin to realize just how shallow the rest of the Wii’s launch lineup really was. I’m not saying the games were bad at all; it’s just that they don’t have much depth. Many games were just minigame collections designed to show off the Wii remote’s many motion based functions. January was met with WarioWare Smooth Moves, which was by far the best of the minigame collections, but it lacks staying power, and loses a bit of its novelty after a few hours and besides Sonic and the Secret Rings (which isn’t faring too well) February looks pretty bleak.

I’m not regretting my purchase (I’m sure things will heat up again soon) but I am thinking I should’ve waited a bit until a few more worthwhile games were released before buying it. But then again, I do have the Virtual Console to keep me entertained until the next big Wii game comes out.

The Playstation 3 is doing a bit better than the Wii after its rather weak launch lineup in which Resistance was the only game truly worth buying a PS3 for. January was bleak, but the excellent Virtua Fighter 5 has arrived to end the gaming drought for the PS3. In March, PS3 owners will see the release of the highly anticipated MotorStorm, which will likely be one of the first exclusive titles since Resistance really worth buying a PS3 for. Add to that some great multiplatform games (Rainbow Six Vegas, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and NBA Street Homecourt) and PS3 owners are just about finished with their gaming drought.

The Xbox 360 on the other hand has been keeping me very entertained during the winter drought. There have been some really great demos of Crackdown (which convinced me to purchase the final game) and NBA Street Homecourt released on the Xbox Live Marketplace to keep me entertained and I’ve still got the spillover from the holidays (Rainbow Six Vegas and Gears of War in particular) is keeping me very entertained. Lost Planet has kept many 360 gamers happy in January and Crackdown has arrived to save February.

On the subject of Crackdown, this game is great. It’s got an extremely fun single player campaign and the addition of drop in any time co op makes the whole experience so much better. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop as a super-powered agent never gets old even after doing it for hours in the demo, as well as crushing thugs with cars, sending them flying over balconies, blowing them sky high with a well placed grenade and blasting them up close with a shotgun. Oh, and did I mention there’s co op? Well, allow me to mention it again. Doing all of the above activities is twice as fun with a fellow supercop right alongside you. Oh yeah, and there’s the Halo 3 beta just sitting there, waiting to be played when it finally releases.

At the moment, the Xbox 360 is seeing the most of my play time, but that may change once I buy the Wii points needed to purchase Super Mario 64 and a classic controller (must…collect…stars…). But I rest assured that the Wii’s gaming drought will be over soon enough and I’ll have reason to strap my Wii remote onto my wrist and begin flailing my arms around like an idiot (I mean that in the best possible way…seriously) in the near future. And since I finally landed a decent job :D I might have the cash to drop on a PS3 sooner than I expected.