Friday, March 28, 2008

New Alien Crush Coming to WiiWare

Here's an IM conversation I just had with my girlfriend:

weeper: No f****n' way!!!!
I loved aliens crush!!!!
Me: yeah hopefully it'll be good
weeper: Yay!
Me: i was always more partial to devil's crush but alien crush was sick too
weeper: I might actually start playing my wii
Me: heh i didn't think you'd be that excited about it :)
weeper: yeah, i'm all nostalgic and s**t
Me: hell yeah nostalgia rules

Will the classic game remakes ever end!? Hopefully not as nostalgia does, in fact, rule. Except when it causes you to replay old games you loved that kind of suck nowadays. I hate that. Pinball is exempt from that because pinball is timeless.

True story: there is a copy of Alien Crush that has been floating around me and my girlfriend's room for years. Every once in a while we rearrange the room, inevitably come across it and then it gets stuck somewhere again. Neither of us have played it in years since our Turbo systems are in storage (she's got a TG-16 and a Turbo Express and I have a Duo I've used for maybe 3 hours total) but for some reason this single game never got packed away.

[via Destructoid]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

UTIII Gets Free Map Pack

With new map packs for Halo 3 and COD4 right around the corner, hyped for weeks and both of which cost $10 for not quite a handful of maps, it's nice to see Epic just drop a few new maps for Unreal Tournament III, unannounced and free of charge.

Available simultaneously for both the PS3 and PC (also a novelty nowadays), the pack includes a brand new Capture the Flag map called "Searchlight", as well as UT classics "Morbias" and "Facing Worlds".

I'm not a fan of premium map packs, especially when they include remakes of old maps (as both Halo and COD's map packs do) so I applaud Epic for providing content to their customers as part of the price of admission.

This of course brings up the question, if Epic is releasing free maps for UTIII then what's the holdup with Valve releasing free maps for Team Fortress 2? Undoubtedly they want to release them for PS3 and 360 at the same time but MS has a bug up their ass. Since UTIII is PS3 exclusive (also because Microsoft has a bug up their ass), it doesn't have that problem.

It absolutely kills me that the 360 has the best online gaming network hands down but they tarnish it with draconian policies. Everything from stupid limits on downloadable game sizes to forcing companies to charge for content to not allowing user mods is unbelievably short sighted.

Sony is much more liberal than Microsoft but their network is awful. If either one gets with the program they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

[via 1up]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Darwinia Confirmed for XBLA

With the cat out of the bag courtesy of the ESRB, Darwinia developer Introversion has officially announced that Darwinia+ Survival of the Flattest will be released for Xbox Live Arcade this Fall. Why the +? As I speculated, Darwinia for XBLA will also incorporate the awkwardly (yet appropriately) titled Multiwinia, which adds a multiplayer component that the PC original lacked.

Introversion has a couple of other unique titles currently available for PC including one I've always wanted to try called Defcon. It's a game about nuclear war in which you can't win, so the goal is to "lose the least". How awesome is that? Maybe it'll come out on XBLA at some point too...

[via Introversion]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Halo 3: Old Maps Go Free, New Maps Get Detailed

Just a little reminder that Halo 3's Heroic Map Pack is now available for free for those of you with more sense than money.

To celebrate the price obliteration, Bungie also released details on the final map of the soon to be released Legendary Map Pack, which you can look forward to downloading for free probably sometime in July.

Blackout is a remake of the Halo 2 map you remember as Lockout. Unlike the pack's other "remake" map, Avalanche, which is more "inspired by" Halo 1's Sidewinder, Blackout is pretty much identical to its previous incarnation, with weapon spawns being the only significant change. Bungie maintains that this simple alteration, combined with the addition of Bubble Shields and Power Drains and the like, completely changes the feel of the map.

The Legendary Map Pack will be available for 800 Microsoft Points on April 15th.

Monday, March 24, 2008

MGS4 Gets Pricey Limited Edition

Retail juggernaut and unintentional game announcement machine,, is now listing a Limited Edition version of the sure-to-be-mega-hit, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Unlike your typical limited edition, in which you'll maybe find a "Making of" documentary on a bonus DVD encased in a metal tin for an extra $10, the MGS4 limited edition gives you TWO "Making of" documentaries on a bonus Blu-ray disc encased in a metal tin for an extra $25. That Blu-ray will also feature four chapters of the Digital Graphic Novel and a Metal Gear Import Soundtrack.

Perhaps it's just me, but $85 seems an awfully high price for what doesn't amount to very significant extras. Even at $70 it'd be just an "OK" special edition.

Possibly making it slightly more worth it is the Gamestop-exclusive art book which pre-order customers will receive at the time of purchase. I say possibly because pre-order artbooks such as these can be anything from full-size hardcover books to little more than pamphlets. Hopefully in this case it'll be closer to the former.

[via Kotaku]

Darwinia Heading to XBLA?

I was just spending some quality time over at the ESRB ratings page and noticed that the critically acclaimed PC strategy title Darwinia has received a T rating for Xbox 360. This is the first I've heard of the game making a 360 appearance (although a quick search shows that there were rumors going back almost two years) so I'm assuming it's going to be an XBLA title.

I played a bit of the game a couple years back and came away impressed by both its cross genre gameplay and its minimalistic graphics (think Tron meets Populous) but I haven't been convinced by titles like Battle for Middle Earth II or Command and Conquer 3 that RTS games can be done well without a mouse and keyboard.

Perhaps not coincidentally, developer Introversion began a closed beta test of Multiwinia, the long awaited multiplayer version of the game just two weeks ago, so one has to wonder if the multiplayer component will make it into the 360 iteration.

Among the other titles rated in this ESRB update are Silicon Knights' long delayed and even longer in development action-RPG, Too Human (Rated T), and indie developer Jonathan Blow's time manipulating XBLA platformer, Braid (Rated E).

SCANDAL: Professor Layton DLC Already on Cart

One of the coolest features of the DS puzzle title Professor Layton and the Curious Village are the weekly puzzles that are available through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Every Sunday since the game launched a new puzzle has been made available for those who just can't get enough mathematical and verbal brain teasers. Since the already-out-in-Japan sequel may not arrive Stateside until the Summer or Fall (if it arrives at all), the downloads also serve as the perfect hold-me-over.

As it turns out however, the greatest secret of St. Mystere is that the downloads are all a wicked ruse. The alleged "downloadable puzzles" already reside in the depths of the game's code, awaiting a simple unlock key from that hive of villainy, Nintendo, to allow you to play it. Unbelievable. People shelled out hard earned money for the game and are entitled to every single puzzle it holds. The shame of Nintendo, charging people for...wait a second, these puzzles are free! Who cares if all you're doing is downloading an unlock key?

[via Joystiq]

Friday, March 21, 2008

Condemned 2 First Impressions

Condemned 2 is the first of my most anticipated games of 2008 to be released but unfortunately. despite having it for a week now, I haven't managed to play more than the first level and a little bit of the second.

So far it seems like a worthy successor to the original, it's certainly as gritty and gruesome as ever. My biggest complaint so far would be that the game is way too dark. Sure, it's a horror game and dark goes with the territory, right? Well, Condemned 2 is so dark it's disorienting. Even with your flashlight turned on and the contrast adjusted to be brighter than it really should be, it can often be extremely difficult to see where you're supposed to be going. I had a few instances where I kept getting killed by enemies I couldn't even see.

The battle system also take a little getting used to. They've added a quick-time event aspect to it in which you can get damage multiplier combos under certain circumstances, such as after parrying an attack. The problem is you only have a split second to hit your attack button to reap this benefit and in my experience that usually just sets you up to get hit yourself. Fights tend to go like this: Hit a guy, back up, he swings at you, move forward, hit the guy, back up, etc. If you try and actually attack twice in a row you're just asking for trouble. The tactic of allowing enemies to kill each other and then swooping in to smack whoever is left standing with your trusty pipe or electrical conduit still works beautifully however.

The graphics are a mixed bag. Enemies animate nicely but some environmental textures aren't great. This isn't helped by the super darkness either. It's definitely not as graphically impressive as the original was a couple years ago. The movement also seems a bit off compared to the first game, maybe because Ethan is supposed to be a washed up drunk now. He definitely walks like one.

I haven't really gotten to try out any of the new forensic tools yet but I'm really looking forward to that. I did have an interactive conversation with Rosa (the FBI woman from the first game) in which I had to pick questions to ask about the investigation. Only, picking the right question seems completely random and getting them wrong will result in a lower investigation score at the end of the level. Since the game auto-saves immediately after the sequence there is no way to go back and pick the right question without playing through the entire level again.

I haven't tried the multiplayer yet, but I'll at least try a few matches before my review.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rock Band Update Brings In-Game Music Store

After 4 full months on the market, Rock Band has amassed dozens of downloadable songs, one week at a time, and the selection increases at the rate of about a dozen a month. Navigating through this mass of content in the Live Marketplace has become a bit unwieldy and having to quit out of the game in order to purchase new content has always been inconvenient, which is why the announcement of an in-game music store is a more than welcome surprise.

Much more than just an in-game portal to the music, the Music Store also provides previews of each song, a feature users have wanted from day one. In my case, I'm not a fan of cover versions of songs (denoted by the "As Made Famous by" preceding the band name) so the preview feature will come in handy to see how good a job they did on any given song and whether it's worth shelling out for.

The interface looks and works fantastic, displaying the album art for each song as well as giving a difficulty breakdown for every instrument, so you can see if a particular song is challenging on drums or easy on guitar for example.

While it could be argued that something like this should've been available to begin with, I would imagine they probably wanted to wait and see how consumers reacted to the constant stream of new songs before investing the time into making a nice interface to buy them. In reality such an interface has only become necessary now that there are so many songs; so if anything, I'd say it's right on time.

[via Kotaku]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rainbow Six Vegas 2: Multiplayer First Impressions

My first round in Vegas 2 was on Vegas mainstay Killhouse (which is the Redux version from the first Vegas map pack), standard deathmatch. It looks a little nicer, but it still runs at the same crappy framerate as Vegas 1. The graphics aren't good enough to justify the low framerate. Rainbow Six is a much slower paced game than COD4, which has no problem running at a smooth 60fps, so there is no excuse for this.

Matches are still joined via the same lobby system as the original game. This was a huge disappointment to me as I was under the impression they were moving to a matchmaking/party system for this game. Ranked matches are still a hassle because they end after every match, forcing you to find a new game each time. Just as in Vegas 1, persistent stats are only kept for ranked matches, but since it is such a pain in the ass to play ranked matches, it may as well not even have persistent stats. That's a major failing in a multiplayer shooter as people like to see their Kill/Death ratio and stuff of that nature. In COD4 pretty much anything you can play is considered "ranked"and you can see everything from your kill/deaths, win/loss record and even your overall firing accuracy. In Halo 3 it keeps separate stats for Ranked and Unranked play. Ubisoft really dropped the ball by once again not giving you access to your own stats.

Matchmaking has its own problems but overall it is way better than a lobby system as far as I'm concerned. In Vegas 1 people just ended up playing Casino Vault and Calypso Casino over and over, even when the new map packs came out. Matchmaking keeps that from happening. If you want to play on the same map over and over, create a private match. Once again Ubisoft, way to go.

No quick mute. WTF? Is this really so damn hard? This is one of those things that should be mandated by Microsoft in order for a game to get certified.

Default spawn settings for ranked matches (which are unchangeable) may as well be set up to make people want to quit early. You get 1 respawn and then you have to watch while the remaining people hunt each other down. This would be fine if ranked lobbies weren't set to close after the match is finished. So you are essentially held prisoner in the match, because if you quit you lose any XP you received, but when the match ends you have to search for a new game anyway. Brilliant.

The new XP and ACES leveling system seems pretty cool, as you get rewarded with new items depending on how you play, and it's always cool to "level up" in the middle of a match.

So far, after my first hour or so of play, I am pretty disappointed with the game. I liked the first Vegas and couldn't wait for the sequel to fix all (or at least some) of the problems it had. Unfortunately, it seems like they really fixed nothing, didn't add much, and slapped a $60 price tag on it.

This is only first impressions though, so hopefully my opinion will change as I get some more play time in, especially with the co-op campaign.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Capcom Reveals 1942: Joint Strike

Capcom is quickly becoming the leader in updating old (and damn near forgotten) franchises for next-gen systems. Most developers are content to just throw emulated versions of their classic games up on XBLA and charging $5-$10 for them. Not Capcom. Not only are they releasing the 3D remake of Bionic Commando in May as well as Commando 3 in April (the XBLA version of which will include a Ken v. Ryu beta of SSFIIHD no less!), they have now announced a remake/sequel to their classic WWII vertical shooter, 1942.

Subtitled Joint Strike, the game features 3D graphics and 2D gameplay in the same vein as Commando 3 and Bionic Commando ReArmed. The title refers to special attacks you and a partner can perform after powering up a special meter. Yes, the game will feature 2 player co-op play, both offline and online. IGN has a bunch of screens and some video if you hit up the link. They're well worth checking out. I wonder if the yashichi will make an appearance?

Hopefully Capcom will be able to make some profit on these productions so we can continue to get updates to old classics like this. Their 3D updates to Mega Man and Ghosts and Goblins on the PSP didn't perform all that well despite being awesome.

Having now busted out obscure classics like Commando, Bionic Commando, and 1942, you've got to wonder what Capcom could pull out of their hat next. Forgotten Worlds? Legendary Wings? Strider? More importantly, if they are successful with them perhaps other classic developers (Konami I'm looking at you) would consider doing similar updates to some of their franchises. Especially seeing as Contra and Super Contra both sucked ass on XBLA.

Could you imagine a 3D Salamander/Life Force remake/sequel? (Requel?)

[via IGN]

Friday, March 14, 2008

Microsoft Wises Up On SSFIIHD and Bionic Commando

I wrote last month about the development teams for Street Fighter II HD and Bionic Commando ReArmed having issues with Microsoft's 150MB limitation on XBLA games. In the case of Bionic Commando, the XBLA version would have to forgo high resolution textures found in the PS3 version in order to fall under the size limit. SFII would've seen extra content removed from the game due to its 1080p hand drawn graphics taking up too much room.

Thankfully, Microsoft has come to their senses and given the two games a pass on the arbitrary size limit, avoiding a situation in which the PSN versions would be superior. There's no word on how big each game will end up being since they are still in development but it should be safe to assume that MS will make sure that the XBLA versions are in no way inferior to their PSN counterparts.

While this is all well and good, the 150MB size limit is still obviously an issue. The Behemoth's long awaited (and bad-ass looking!) 4-player brawler, Castle Crashers, was delayed for a full year shortly after MS increased the size limit last time so it could take advantage of the tripled storage space. If Microsoft didn't have this pointless size limit, Castle Crashers would likely be closer to release, if not already out, and would probably be an even better game than it'll end up being.

Microsoft, stop stifling creativity and give developers whatever space they need to make the kind of games they want. XBLA has been a breeding ground for garbage for the last year or so with very few original titles being worthwhile. There's a reason Sony is getting better original content on PSN.

[via CVG]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lost Planet Colonies Finally Unveiled

We've been hearing the title Lost Planet Colonies for almost a year now, most recently when it was rated T by the ESRB and then just last week when the achievements were revealed. Capcom's silence about the project led to speculation on whether it would be a sequel or a map pack, or even some sort of strategy title.

As it turns out, the answer is "none of the above". Lost Planet: Extreme Condition Colonies Edition, as it will officially be known, is the Platinum Hits version of the original Lost Planet. Of course, it's much more than that. It is, in fact, the greatest screw job PS3 owners have been subjected to yet. Possibly one of the most spectacular screw jobs ever in the history of gaming.

LP:EC:CE (you've gotta love Capcom) will include all of the bonus content from the just released PS3 edition of Lost Planet: bonus characters, missions, extra maps, the whole nine yards.

In addition to that, Colonies adds three new single player modes, six new multiplayer modes, four new maps, nine new multiplayer characters (two new female, two robot, and five others), a bunch of new weapons, and tops the whole thing off with PC/360 cross-platform play. All for $10 less than the PS3 version's $40 price tag.

The big question is, if Capcom has been planning this major update to the game for almost a year, why the hell didn't they just wait an extra 2 months and release it for PS3 also?

I wasn't a fan of Lost Planet on 360 and I'm not primarily a PS3 gamer but damn, Capcom really gave PS3 owners the middle finger on this one.

Capcom, why don't you port Dead Rising over to PS3 and then give the 360 a super special edition with co-op play and a whole mess of other extras? That's a game I'd much rather see revisited.

[via 1up]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

EBGames Canada Offers Tempting Trade in Deal for Haze

We've all been there. You shelled out $60 for a brand new game, got it home, popped it in and immediately hated it. Or maybe you loved it but you finished it in a matter of days. You take it down to Gamestop and all they'll give you is $20 in store credit. That kind of burns when you just shelled out three times that. For many, they'd rather just hold onto it than let Gamestop make a $35 profit on the resale.

A new kind of trade-in offer (apparently only valid at EB in Canada) seems targeted at exactly this kind of person and could possibly be a test run for future policy. If you pre-order the PS3 exclusive Haze you will be able to trade the game in within one week and receive store credit for the total purchase price of the game. That's right, you can trade it back in and get the full $60 (or whatever games cost in Canada nowadays) back to put towards another game or a future purchase.

This works out twofold for Gamestop: One, it encourages people to pre-order, which we all know Gamestop loves, and two, it immediately gives them an inventory of used copies of the game which they are going to sell at near retail price anyway. Since people who buy used games tend to also be the ones who are going to trade them back in anyway, the store is still going to make a profit reselling that copy over and over despite losing $5 on the initial trade-in.

If this process works out like I expect Gamestop is hoping it is, it could be a major coup for them, at least with select titles. They get the business of early purchasers who might normally say, "Screw Gamestop" and buy their game from Best Buy or Target and then they also get the used game trade-in they would normally never see.

It should be interesting to see if this turns out to be a one time deal or if it will be expanded following the release of Haze.

[via Joystiq]

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Take Two Makes Bioshock 2 Official

Exciting, right? Well, not really. All Take-Two did was announce they are targeting Fall 2009 for the sequel, all the juicy details like, what is the story behind the game, will it have any connection to the first game, etc. etc. will have to wait for another day as they just aren't talking. They did confirm that the newly formed studio 2K Marin will be taking over development duties from Irrational (now 2K Boston). Apparently Shock mastermind Ken Levine will serve at least in some advisory capacity but I'd expect he'll be more focused on whatever 2K Boston has on their plate.

It's probably going to be awhile before we get any concrete details on the game (hell, Gears of War 2 comes out in 8 months and it was only just officially announced) so don't start getting too excited just yet.

[via 1up]

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Games of March, Part II

Following up on last week's post, here are my picks for the second half of March:

Week 3 brings another highly anticipated game for me: Rainbow Six Vegas 2. RSV2 brings 2-player online co-op, down from 4 in the past game but this time it's available throughout the entire single player instead of just broken up bits and pieces of each level with no story elements. I think that's for the best. The online looks to be the same as the first, just with better graphics, framerate, improved spawning and a better matchmaking system. That's pretty much all the game needed. It's not going to be a major leap in the franchise but it should be a solid entry. My excitement for this game has been tempered in the past week or so in light of the fact that it includes only 13 maps, 3 of which are taken right from Vegas 1 and many others from other previous Rainbow's. I'm fine with classic maps, but if you're going to charge full price for a game and fall back on old maps, at least give us a map count higher than 13.

Week 4, was previously home to Okami for the Wii but it recently got delayed until mid-April. Damn.

Final Fantasy VII fans finally get their hands on the in-development-forever Crisis Core for PSP. I'm a big FF fan but I've never been big on VII. I enjoyed the hell out of it back in the day but the fanboy zealotry that arose from it is nothing short of ridiculous. I'm curious to try it, but from what I've seen it looks like it has a weird battle system. Why Square didn't just make this an honest-to-god prequel and have it play like FFVII I'll never understand. Probably because it was cheaper to do it this way and they'll make just as much money.

Speaking of games that have been in development forever, Dark Sector, is best known for being the first game announced for this generation of consoles, all the way back in 2004. It's gone through some major changes since then, and no longer looks as cutting edge as it once did, but still it looks like it could be fun. Digital Extremes doesn't have the greatest track record in the world though. They made the decent Unreal Championship for Xbox as well as Pariah, one of the original Xbox's worst games.

And that about wraps it up for the notable games of March. As it stands right now, April looks pretty barren, with only the aforementioned Okami popping up mid-month and the painfully delayed Grand Theft Auto IV sneaking in at the very end. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was penciled in for the first week of April but has now been delayed until the second week of September. Not really a big surprise as there has been no hype for the game as of late. An April release just didn't make sense.

Friday, March 7, 2008

echochrome First Impressions

echochrome is nearing its Japanese release date of March 19th and the pre-release demo is now available for PS3 (if you have a Japanese PSN account) and PSP, which you can get here.

Both demos start you off on a five stage tutorial that explains the basics of what you will be doing over the course of the game's many puzzles. The tutorial is over very quickly and then you are faced with three progressively more complicated puzzles where you put what you just learned into action.

The analog control for manipulating the stages work well enough, but could use a little tweaking for speed and smoothness. I'm surprised the PS3 version doesn't support Sixaxis motion control as the design of the game practically begs for it. The graphics being as spartan as they are look very similar on PS3 and PSP but still look surprisingly nice in HD on the big black box. On a bigger screen, the levels have a lot more substance, which is lost a bit on the PSP's small screen. What look like thin twigs on the PSP are thick girders on PS3 which really helps to convey the optical illusions that are the basis for the gameplay.

Unfortunately, the entire demo can be finished in less than 10 minutes. No sooner than you wrap your head around how the game works, you are stopped dead in your tracks, thanked for playing by the nice disembodied female voice, and requested to stop by the world of echochrome again.

It's definitely a great teaser demo as it gives you just enough to make you want more. Problem is, with a tentative US release date of Summer for the PS3 and no word on whether the PSP version will make it over here, it's going to be awhile before we get our chance without importing. There is very little text in the demo, so if the final game is the same I may do just that. echochrome is one of my most anticipated games of 2008 so I don't want to have to wait until the Summer to keep playing.

It's a shame Sony is distributing the game separately on both formats; they missed a great convergence opportunity here where you could buy the game for PS3 and transfer it for portable play on your PSP.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Circuit City Accepting Trade-Ins on HD-DVD Players

If you bought an HD-DVD player from Circuit City within the last 90 days and are feeling burned by the format's downward spiral into oblivion since then, you're in luck.

The electronics retailer is in the midst of an unannounced, unadvertised trade-in program for customers who purchased an HD-DVD player from one of their stores during the last 3 months. If you meet that criteria, you can't return the now obsolete unit for a cash/credit card refund, but they will allow you to apply the full purchase price towards any Blu-ray player, including the PlayStation 3. If you really don't want to jump into Blu-ray just yet, they will refund the money in the form of a Circuit City gift card. Not a bad deal all around.

Please note that Circuit City requires the player be returned in the original box with all included accessories as well, so keep that in mind before you go skipping off down to your local store with your player tucked under your arm, power cord trailing behind you.

[via Gizmodo]

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

God of War: Chains of Olympus First Impressions

After playing through the first couple hours of the new God of War game for PSP I've gotta say: I'm impressed. Granted, by all accounts I'm already a third of the way through the game, but it's been a fun ride so far. The production values are top notch and the art design is fantastic. This isn't just a great looking PSP game, it's a great looking game in general. Some of the environments are just epic, which is quite a feat to pull off on a tiny screen where things tend to make you feel claustrophobic. It's not perfect, there's some screen tearing and jaggies, the kind of things that just go with the territory on PSP, but everything just looks so awesome that you don't really notice. Great art direction goes a long way.

I never made it all the way through the first God of War, but I will definitely be finishing this one. Moreover, it's got me interested in finishing up the first game and starting on God of War II. After seeing what a God of War game looks like on PSP I can't even imagine how incredible a PS3 game could look.

I'll have a review sometime next week.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Valve Wants TF2 Maps to be Free

It was just about a year ago that Epic was fighting with Microsoft over Gears of War's Hidden Fronts Map Pack. Epic wanted to give it away for free, while the big M (their publisher) wanted to charge for it. They "compromised", charging $10 before making the pack free last September (long after everyone had stopped caring about Gears of War).

Well, here we are once again, but this time it's Valve who wants to give away maps for its Orange Box FPS, Team Fortress 2. Problem is, according to Valve's Doug Lombardi, they "don't have full say over that". Eurogamer's article isn't clear on whether Lombardi is referring to Microsoft, or EA (the publisher of The Orange Box). EA has been one of the biggest proponents of premium DLC on Xbox Live, stirring up controversy by charging for all sorts of stupid things from cars you can unlock for free just by playing Need for Speed Carbon, or outright selling in-game currency in The Godfather.

Maps for Team Fortress 2 on PC have already been made available for free through Valve's Steam service though, so the stumbling block would seem to be Microsoft and not EA in this case. Sony has proven to be much more lax about this kind of thing, Epic's Unreal Tournament III, for example, already supports downloadable user modifications, including maps and game modes. If it's the case that Team Fortress 2's maps are made available for free on PS3, hopefully Microsoft will follow suit.

Are we really paying $50 a year for Xbox Live for the privilege of having to pay for content that has been available for free on the PC for weeks?

[via Eurogamer]

Monday, March 3, 2008

XBOX 360 REVIEW: LOST: Via Domus

Reviewing a game like LOST: Via Domus is almost a pointless exercise. The game is specifically geared at a specific group of people: fans of the TV show. And more specifically, gamers who watch the TV show. If you don't watch it, you aren't going to like the game. If you want to watch it at some point you should absolutely not play the game as it will spoil much of Seasons One and Two for you (the time period during which this game takes place), as well as certain aspects of Season Three, and you won't understand most of it anyway.

As such, the rest of this review can also be considered spoiler territory, at least in regards to the show, if not the game.

A LOST game pretty much needs to do two things: First, it needs to tell a good story. If you're a fan of the show that's your main concern. Secondly, it needs to let you visit all the interesting places you've seen in the show. On this second point the game doesn't disappoint. Being able to walk around the innards of the Swan Station (better known as "The Hatch") and "push the button" is very cool. The environments and sound effects are true to the show and the game features original music from series composer Michael Giacchino.

The voice acting isn't great, but it isn't awful either. Most of the principle characters (Jack, Kate, Sawyer etc.) are voiced by stand-ins who have varying degrees of success in their emulation (Jack= good, Sawyer=bad). The odd thing is, the characters who are voiced by the original actors almost sound worse. Michael Emerson (Ben) does a decent job, but Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond) sounds like he recorded his lines on his lunch break. He sounds less like Desmond than Matthew Fox's stand-in sounds like Jack. Same goes for Sun and Jin, who pretty much only speak Korean in the game.

The characters models are clearly recognizable, even down to their mannerisms, even if they have a fair bit of that uncanny valley ugliness. Again though, for whatever reason, Desmond's character model looks nothing like him and also sports possibly the worst hairdo ever.

As far as the story's not terrible.

The major problem is that the character you play as, an amnesiac who can't even remember his own name after the crash, was created specifically for this game and has never (and presumably will never) appeared in the show. This creates a Nikki and Paolo situation where you're asked to believe that this guy crashed on the island along with everyone else but you've just never seen him before. There's good reason that this game isn't going to be part of LOST canon. It's more of a "what if" scenario.

The game takes place over seven "episodes" which are presented exactly as such. Each one begins with a "Previously on Lost" recap (which is frustratingly unskippable) before getting into the actual gameplay which consists more or less of running around the island doing fetch quests and the occasional puzzle. This is the area of the game which could've used the most fleshing out as there are only two types of puzzles and you do each a handful of times throughout your journey. As journey's go, it's a short one. Each episode takes about 30-45 minutes to complete and going back to finish up any achievements you missed might take you another hour tops.

In classic LOST fashion, the ending will make you say "WTF?" out loud, and leaves you with more questions than answers . The thing is, with the show you always have another episode and season to look forward to, leading up to what will hopefully be a satisfying conclusion. Unless they make a sequel to Via Domus, it's unlikely you'll ever get to see the further adventures of Mr Amnesia, making the story somewhat more pointless than it already was.

Under no circumstances should you pay the $60 retail price for this game. Ubisoft is selling the PC version for $30, so it's anyone's guess why they are charging more than $40 for the 360 version. Rent it if you can, it won't take you more than 5-6 hours to see everything the game has to offer.

The Games of March, Weeks One and Two

March always tends to be the next major release month after the holiday glut and this year is no exception. After a new year filled with B-titles and a number of bigger titles I was personally looking forward to that failed to impress, March promises to finally deliver some satisfaction. There is at least one, and in some cases two games I'm interested in every week of the month. Why does it always have to be like this?

The first week of March we have Bully: Scholarship Edition and Army of Two. The former I always wanted to try but it came out on PS2 during the last holiday season and the 360 was really starting to flourish so it fell by the wayside. Army of Two I'm hoping will be cool but I have my doubts. It's well known that the game was finished last Fall but was postponed after reviewers got final review code and were giving EA feedback that the game sucked. Was an extra 6 months in development enough to salvage the game? Let's hope so, because solid games built around 2 player co-op are few and far between.

God of War fans also have the PSP exclusive Chains of Olympus to look forward to. I never finished God of War I and have yet to play the sequel, but since this is a prequel to those games, maybe I'll give it a try anyway. I liked God of War but stopped playing it for one reason or another...someday I'll finish it.

Speaking of PSP exclusives, the previously PSP-only Silent Hill Origins is coming to the PS2 this week. The game was surprisingly good and while I don't know how well the small screen graphics will hold up on the PS2, it's definitely worth a play through if you're a fan of the series.

Week 2 brings one of my Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2008 (TM), Condemned 2: Bloodshot. Thankfully this is also the only significant release of the week. My prediction: I will enjoy Bully but will stop playing it when this comes out and never go back to it.

Condemned 2 is going to be awesome. Monolith is a great developer but the first game was rushed to make the 360's launch and it had many launch game problems. With 2.5 years between then and now, there should be no such issues in the sequel. I just hope the story is a lot more fleshed out this time, and really draws from the detailed universe they created for the franchise. Maybe the newly added multiplayer will actually be worth playing too! That's probably too much to ask for, but hey, a guy can dream.

Oh, Super Smash Bros. Brawl comes out for the Wii this week too, I guess that's kind of significant. I'm actually sort of curious to mess around with it as it seems like there is a ton of stuff to do in the game including a single player side scrolling platformer mode. It's not something I'm dying to play though. If I have an open spot in my Gamefly queue I'll probably rent it.

Stay tuned for my picks for Weeks Three and Four...