Thursday, July 31, 2008

Review: Soul Calibur IV

Soul Calibur IV (2008)
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: X-Box 360
Purchase Date: 07/29/2008

Having Yoda in this game is like having Jar Jar in Star Wars Episode I.

The most popular weapon-based 3D fighting game, there are not many of them out there mind you, is back for its fourth iteration (fifth if you count Soul Edge). Namco brought all of the popular fighters in the series back into the game alongside several new faces. When you look at the game's instruction manual, you will find nothing explaining the characters and the setting of the new game. Those familiar with the series know that this is not necessarily a bad thing. The series is more focused on the brawls more than justifying the brain behind them. But for those new to SC, the game is set in the medieval world filled with samurai, knights, ninjas, scantily-clad vixens, and everything else in between.

Change your favorite character's look into something more fashion-forward.

Those wanting to know more about the new adventure can play the short and mostly team-based Story mode. The stories make little sense of course and filled with repeat cut scenes. The team-based gameplay is new to SC where the player gets to switch between characters on the fly. It's fun and it definitely adds a different feel to the game: Sadly you can't play the team combat with other players. The Story mode is really there as an afterthought and an easy way to collect points needed to unlock artwork and character customization items. Speaking of character customization, the player can build a new character from the ground up or customize the existing characters. The customization options are deeper now because the player's choice of design will impact the character's attribute points. Playing certain modes will activate the altered stats, from stronger attacks to passive skills like auto-escaping from throws. It's all fun to experiment with but I find it more entertaining to mess with a character's look and play a regular match so that my performance would not be impacted by my wacky editing. The "Tower of Lost Souls" mode is a mission based adventure where the player can choose to ascend or descend it. This mode gets progressively more difficult and requires the player to alter the chosen fighter's attributes to best counter the opponents. There are numerous items to unlock here if special conditions are met and there are really tough to beat. SCIV is the first in the series to be playable online and the player can choose to battle with the attribute-modifiers on or off.

Expect to see a lot of this while trying to find opponents online.
Even the Quick Match option is not quick enough to snatch up an opponent for you.

The overall gameplay mechanics here are only lightly tweaked and those who have played the series before will feel right at home with the controls. The most significant addition is the Soul Gauge that changes from green to red and it leads to armor destruction on the upper, middle, or lower part of the body, making the specific damaged area more vulnerable to further attacks. The player can also execute a critical finish that will instantly end the round when the enemy's Soul Gauge is flashing red but the occurrence of this is very rare. A lot of the new characters' weapon styles found here are merely copies of the existing ones, a total disappointment. There are many characters to choose from but since they all play just the same since the big changes that came after Soul Edge, things get a bit dull. Then, there are the Star Wars characters. Not only do they feel out of place in the game, they are mostly cheap and overpowered, especially Yoda in this X-Box 360 version. Darth Vader will soon be a downloadable content on this platform and Yoda will be joining the PlayStation 3 as well. Maybe Namco is trying to convince LucasArts that they want to make a new Star Wars 3D fighting game? The game would have been better off if they include the cast of their Tales role playing series into the game.

"Go ahead and destroy the floor on that side of the boat, Xianghua.
I'll fix the broken section on this side!"
After the ever dynamic destructible floor in Virtua Fighter 5,
this graphical flaw is just plain unacceptable!

Is SCIV fun? Of course it is. Is it a balanced fighting game? Well, let's just be adult about this shall we? Declaring that it is balanced is like declaring that the world is flat. Don't believe me? Try playing the game online for a while. Notice that once your opponents discovered the overpowered combos on some of the characters, there will be no escaping a sure defeat if you just happened to be playing the wrong character. Notice that you would be able to do the same thing if your opponents just happen to play characters that just can't fight well with your chosen fighter. There are a lot of people who like to abuse Yoda too whenever you choose a slower/bulky character. The balance issues have existed ever since the first game and Namco apparently like it that way. This flaw was well hidden before because of the lack of online play and now that you're fighting against the worldwide gaming population, it's as glaring as a hot summer sun. With some serious tweaking, this game can evolve into something more substantial and I don't know what is holding Namco back. Even the graphics seem to be only a small jump from number III that was made for the PlayStation 2. The characters do have more polygons and the texture work is amazing but how come a majority of the clothes move like they were made out of cardboard boxes? SCIV is a more forgiving, more casual, and faster version of Namco's own Tekken series. That being said, SCIV is no Virtua Fighter.

RATING: 3 out of 5

Games Played 07/30/2008

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 Demo - X-Box 360*
Soul Calibur IV - X-Box 360
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box

*It's pretty and seems a bit easier to play. I'll have to think about this one.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Games Played 07/29/2008

Less Fat, Less Soul

A milestone happened yesterday with Yourself!Fitness. After about 2 months in, I was finally able to see actual weight loss alongside the continual weight shift. On the last physical challenge, Maya finally recommended me to focus on general "Cardio" goal versus the "Weight Lost" goal I had been working on. The difference is that the brutal full-cardio session will not be included in the workout rotation anymore: yes, the full-cardio work out in the Weight Loss focus is brutal enough to make a grown man cry.

I'll do it Maya, as long as it doesn't send me back to "Weight Loss" focus again...

In other news, I have never seen so much X-Box Live Rep abuse in my life until I played online Soul Calibur IV yesterday. I have beaten so many people in the online matches of Virtua Fighter 5 and people just walked away from the battles with their dignities intact. Since the Soul Calibur series is like McDonald's to Virtua Fighter being a fine dining restaurant, it attracts a lot of extremely immature people to play it. I get the typical "try playing fair" messages after winning a battle followed by a bad Rep evaluation. If there is something that Microsoft needs to do with the X-Box 360 at the moment, it is to fix this broken Rep system. Perhaps removing it would be the best thing to do while keeping the "avoid player" function as it stands. The Rep system is made worse by the fact that when people do not rate you at all, it will not count towards the positive percentage even though it is clearly stated otherwise on the dashboard. I guess I can expect to gain more bad vibes from winning more battles with my Setsuka-built custom character. I should expect to see a 1 star on my gamercard soon.

Okay, the "Quit Early" I can understand because on RARE occasions my internet connection dropped but I don't think it happened THAT often. "Unsporting"? I guess it is unsporting to win a competitive game?
46% avoid rate? 46% of the thousands of people I met online?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Review: Diary of the Dead

Diary of the Dead (2008)
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Director: George A. Romero

The nurse zombie. She cares, she scares.

It is a bit shocking to see Romero directing another addition to his ever-growing zombie mythology only 3 years after the satisfying Land of the Dead. At first, I feared that the film may be a little rushed. It felt as if Romero was trying to capture the recent obsession with faux or perceptional reality, otherwise known as Blair-Witch-ism, before the fad changes into the next unforeseen pop-culture explosion. In a way, that statement is true but it doesn't mean that the end result is anything less than what the legendary director has done with this franchise in the past.

The very first zombie attack.

Diary follows a group of film students as they cross the country trying to find refuge from the rising dead epidemic that started while they were doing a film shoot. The student director, Jason Creed, decided to chronicle what is happening around him to everyone's annoyance since he is taping every single second on his video camera. Diary is presented as a film within a film narrated by Jason's girlfriend who also edited the entire presentation. Unlike the previous Romero zombie films, this one jumps from one location to the next and focuses on the youngsters instead of a group of "real" adults. Romero definitely took a big risk with the cast as well as adding in Youtube/Myspace referentialities into the mix, jeopardizing the sense of historical and nostalgic relevancies that have been strongly established in his previous movies. Romero just didn't have the choice and revert back to the current modern world to successfully translate his new documentary-style viewpoint of the initial events leading towards the eventual apocalypse of mankind. It's more damning to the whole timeline when all the films in the series are looked at in its entire spectrum but apparently Romero must have thought that it was a good trade just so that he could tackle the debatable question of participation absence in cinema verite: this particular thematic analysis is something that has been explored many times before and Romero's take on it, though inspired, feels a bit tacky at best.

No one is safe from the camera's lens.

In the end, Diary is an instant classic that will continue to get better with each viewing. Though the lessons learned from this one have less bite, it's still constant and aggressive in its social commentaries. The climax is less vicious as well but there are enough zombie mayhems throughout that will satisfy even Romero's most demanding gorehounds (scythe death for the win!). The direct sequel to this movie is slated for release next year and I have a feeling that it will be twice as good as this one.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Games Played 07/28/2008

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - PC
Eternal Sonata - X-Box 360
Ikaruga - X-Box 360
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All - NDS
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box

Monday, July 28, 2008

Games Played 07/27/2008

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - PC*
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All - NDS**
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box

*One quest away before I get to leave Tortage!

**I got a bit frustrated a while back and I stopped playing. Now I'm back to finish the job!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Review: Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution

Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution (2008)
Developer: Firaxis Games
Platform: X-Box 360
Purchase Date: 07/22/2008

The Barbarians are not very smart.

Civilization Revolution is a much simplified version of the Civilization games found on the Personal Computer. Its designer, Sid Meier, took a very smart though not necessarily effective approach in building this console version of his epic series. Instead of trying to recreate the demanding complexities of the game on the PC, Meier's focused on building a strategy game that is more casual and fast-paced. I won't necessary say that it's dumbed-down to accommodate the consoles' more varied demographics. Instead, it's like Disney's animated films compared to the classic fairy tales they tried to represent, which have their positives and negatives.


The object of this game is to be the first civilization in the world to reach the apex of culture, domination, technology, or finance. After choosing from a wide variety of civilizations to play as - each with their own unique perks - the player starts off with a "settler" unit that is used to build the first city. From there, it is up to the player how he or she wants to build up the civilization. The game uses a turn-based structure and each action taken by the player, for example building another settler unit to gain another city or a mililary unit to protect the city, will cost several precious turns. The built cities must be managed to increase their effectiveness. The player also has to manage the technological focus of the growing empire that would lead to more build options for the cities as well as worry about the other civilizations on the map. The other civilizations are also progressing with the player throughout the game and using war or diplomacy options (or both), the player must keep them in check at all times to ensure victory. Be prepared to see the rather brutal A.I. feverishly switching back and forth between sending your civilization with words of love and then suddenly attacking your precious capital city. Each new map can last several hours of play and it's engrossing enough where I found myself playing each session non-stop. Those less committed can always use the game's save feature at any time.

I thought your favorite thing was magic Mr. Merlin.

Because the game moves so fast compared to its PC brethren, I found it to be rather repetitive. Sure there are different branches of technology to uncover during each session and sure there are subtle strategies to employ towards victories but the whole thing is just a bit shallow. There are really little to do in the city management screens and events - like the changes in era - happen too quickly that everything feels like a mad rush to the finish line. The speed of things fare a little better online, even though all the players are managing each turn together in real time. This is because during the online match, each turn is timed and can't be skipped quickly unless all the other players are skipping their current turns as well. The problem then becomes the length of the online gameplay. So far, almost every ranked match I participated in ended up with the other players actually leaving the game after about an hour in. This could have been easily remedied by granting rewards at the end of each game played. Remember how long battles can last in Culdcept Saga? In that game, people normally stayed on until the end of an online battle so that they could be rewarded with more cards in their collections.

It's always a good idea to leave army units in your cities.

This game is fun in small doses. Whenever I tried to play it more than one session a day, the flaws become a little more obvious. There is a weekly scenario available to be played on Live so I know that I would be coming back for more. I do like the flawlessly animated avatar presentations better on this version than those in Civilization IV. Everything found here is more colorful, more attractive, easier to swallow, and heavily injected with a non-healthy dose of steroids but also shallow, forced, and tiring at the same time. Civilization Revolution is good attempt to bring a classic strategy game to the consoles but since Sid Meier was directly involved with the project, the game deserves to be much better than it currently is.

RATING: 3 out of 5

The Current State of Multi-Console Games

About a month ago, I complimented Sony for its innovative trophy system. It was so impressive, it convinced me to declare that I would purchase the PlayStation 3 versions of all upcoming multi-console releases just so that I could level up my online ID. Unfortunately for Sony, this victory didn't last very long. The announcement made by Microsoft a couple of weeks ago changed everything.

More games, less load time.

I am of course referring to the upcoming "play from hard drive" ability of the X-Box 360. This revolutionary new feature enables ALL of the X-Box 360 games to be copied straight into the HDD. And yes, that means even the previously released games. It's not just the wishy-washy partial installs found on the PlayStation 3 either... We're talking about a full installation of the discs. If you are not a gamist and play games across all platforms as I do, you should know what this means: the elimination of load time similar to what is seen on the Personal Computer. Probably not as fast and I have to see it to believe it. We still have to feed the original discs into the machine to prove that we own the games but that is nothing compared to the benefits presented. This feature is also streamlining the way for the future of gaming: direct to drive purchases of all console games. Microsoft is heading towards the right direction. The next step for them is to sell all upcoming new titles straight from the X-Box Live game page: we may have to wait for the next generation(s) of consoles for that one though.

Oh how I regret buying these for the PlayStation 3...

I am sorry Sony. In a few days, I am going to purchase the X-Box 360 version of the new Soul Calibur IV: The Dark Side can't help you here. From now on, I am only going to purchase exclusive games for the PlayStation 3 (too bad for Final Fantasy XIII). Not even slight graphical improvement can convince me otherwise: That was the only reason why I bought Burnout Paradise and Devil May Cry 4 for Sony's wonder-console. I was so close to doing the same thing with Grand Theft Auto IV. The X-Box 360 has won the war when it comes to multi-console game releases. There's no shame in admitting that when you own all the gaming systems because the competition element of the industry will always lead to better things for us gamers. If only Sony would implement the same thing for the PlayStation 3.... Now that's a thought!

Games Played 07/26/2008

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - PC
Eternal Sonata - X-Box 360
Ikaruga - X-Box 360
Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution - X-Box 360
SingStar - PlayStation 3*
Wii Fit - Wii

*They finally updated the Spotlight feature! It's a miracle. The new downloadable songs still suck... They now have Backstreet Boys... Oh dear.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Games Played 07/25/2008

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - PC
Ikaruga - X-box 360
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords - X-Box 360
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box
1942: Joint Strike - X-Box 360

Friday, July 25, 2008

Games Played 07/24/2008

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - PC
Ikaruga - X-Box 360
Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution - X-Box 360
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords - X-Box 360
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box
1942: Joint Strike - X-Box 360

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Games Played 07/23/2008

Ikaruga - X-Box 360
Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution - X-Box 360
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords - X-Box 360
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box
1942: Joint Strike Demo - X-Box 360*

*I love shooters so I might still end up getting the full version of this on Live even though Capcom's choice of developer for the game is questionable.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (2008)
Genre: Action
Format: Theatrical Release
Director: Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan has revolutionized the superhero movies with his two Batman outings just like what Ang Lee has done to the Chinese kung fu films with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Visionary directors have tremendous control and impact on the genres they tackle while others normally get crushed by the weight of conventionalisms. That is why it is always exciting to see them jump genres and mix things up to show Hollywood, and the world, how it should be done.

Gotham is becoming safer with the help of Batman's vigilante form of justice. Things get a bit more hairy for the criminal underworld when a new district attorney, Harvey Dent, begins collaborating with the caped crusader in cleaning up the city's streets. The crime lords' only hope against the dynamic duo is in the hands of a rising criminal by the name of The Joker as he is tasked to eliminate Batman once and for all. If there was a flaw to Nolan's Batman Begins, it would be the lack of a truly effective villain. That problem doesn't exist in The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger's Joker is disgustingly sinister and entertainingly repulsive. He completely transformed what could be a hammy and cheesy performance - remember Jack Nicholson? - into something more psychological and genuine. The Joker's plans and the way he execute them are completely psychotic even though some of them make you feel like he had stumbled into Jigsaw's (from the Saw movies) forgotten notebook.

Don't let the PG-13 rating of the movie fool you. The Dark Knight is pitch black and a lot of the set pieces are cringe-worthy. The main theme is the conflict between order and chaos as well as the thin line between them that are normally walked upon by heroes AND villains. Heath Ledger definitely stole the show but he normally did the same in his other films. The fact that he was able to act convincingly as the gruffly, in-the-closet gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain was a testament to his mastery over the art of acting. This guy could bring any character to life and he will surely be missed. The ever-dashing Christian Bale is as effective as ever playing Batman though his fake Batman voice/grunt did get on my nerves during his longer speeches. I am glad that they replaced Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal to play the role of Batman's love interest. Maggie did a better job with adding an adult flair to the whole occasion.

We should all thank Nolan for saving Batman from that foul ditch where Joel Schumacher left him in - Batman & Robin was an abomination: you would think that no one would dare touch the franchise after that. As it stands, The Dark Knight is the greatest Batman movie yet, which also made it the best superhero movie ever made.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Games Played 07/22/2008

Preview: Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (2008)
Developer: Funcom
Platform: Personal Computer
Purchase Date: 07/19/2008

Even the character selection screen is crazy pretty.

Who hasn't heard of the mighty Conan the Barbarian? Well, I have certainly heard of some of his exploits, though mostly from that one interesting Schwarzenegger film. I am of course, not familiar with his deeper mythos as first envisioned by Robert E. Howard and then later built upon by his followers. AoC is a massively multiplayer online game set within the Conan universe and the passionate intro in the game's manual indicates that those who follow along the Conan story closely will find a great representation of Hyboria within: A wild place dominated by violence, muscular men, and rampant sexism. To enter the world, you have to choose between 3 unique races, each with a limitation to the selectable amount of character classes. Having to choose between human characters is a fresh change from the game's competitors. The next time I am presented with the option to play as an elf, I think I am going to puke.

The Necromancer can control a LOT of pets at a time.

AoC is one of the most mind-blowing, beautiful games I have ever played. I just can't say that enough. And no, I am not just comparing its splendor to the other MMOs out there: This game looks better in both its artistic and technical merits than the majority of games found on the PC or the gaming consoles. If you have a powerful enough PC for it, you will be in for a treat. On mine, the game runs an average of 30-40 frames-per-second with the graphical options set to "High" and a lot of the advanced set up sliders moved all the way to the right. Even when a lot of detailed character models crowd the screen, the game remains a creamy and smooth experience. The animations are flawless too, a blessing after seeing how robotic things get in Everquest II and Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. This game makes World of Warcraft looks like a bad drawing from a toddler.

Approaching the city of Tortage.

I am currently a level 15 Stygian Necromancer. I made a decision to roll with that character after first tasting about 5-6 levels of a Cimmerian Dark Templar and a Stygian Herald of Xolti. There seems to be some twists done to some of the character types to distinguish the game further from the others. Though the Dark Templar translated perfectly as a sort of "Shadowknight/Death Knight" in other games, the Herald of Xolti is a mage that doubles as a melee fighter and the Necromancer's pets don't agro unless a spell is placed upon them. It's all very confusing yet intriguing at the same time. Playing as a mage, I don't get to use the combo system that much: For melee special moves, a set of directional arrows must be triggered in sequence to execute the attack. The enemies also have an active weak points shown by brackets around their bodies and each melee attack will hit the different areas based on the directional commands used. New abilities are granted automatically, which is nice after trying to upgrade my spells repeatedly while playing EQII or buying them in most of the others. There is no crafting system to worry about at the moment - it's only available at higher levels - so the focus is purely on the adventuring.

The Demonologist's great looking pet. An envy of WoW's warlocks.

I have read a lot of people complaining about the severe lack of fun and content after leaving the first quest hub for level 5-20, the city of Tortage. I look forward to seeing what is in store, hopefully soon enough before the subscription fee starts to kick in. The game definitely has a lot of potential. I am enjoying it more than EQII and a million more times than WoW. The main draw is definitely the exquisite graphics that is very stable. The fact that I can run this monster so well on my PC while EQII's graphics still stutter and glitch much is a good indication that the latter is still not elevated to support newer and more powerful PCs. The other attraction that AoC has is the dark, brooding, and mature atmosphere and gameplay that is definitely a first in the MMO world. There is a lot of blood and gore though the fatalities are a bit disappointing, the ones I have seen so far anyway, and I am not sure if it's going to get better later on in the game. A great start to what is shaping up to be an epic and powerful gaming experience.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Review: Hellboy II - The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Genre: Action
Format: Theatrical Release
Director: Guillermo Del Toro

I never really get the demon as superhero concept in the Hellboy movies. So he's big and red with a tail on his back and two "trimmed" horns on his head. He doesn't have wings but he has a huge, malformed right arm that looks like it might be cancerous. His super powers seem to be limited to super strength/agility and nothing else. Shouldn't he able to breathe fire and transport back and forth between realms? Shouldn't he be able to possess an innocent girl and make her head turn 360 degrees? Maybe it is his sarcastic wit that enables him to go by undetected for being merely a tough, lovable guy. That and his more interesting superhero team members: his pyrokinetic girlfriend, Liz, and the slimy amphibian psychic, Abe. I guess sandwiching him between more typical superhero types make him one as well.

But enough about the lackluster original idea that birthed the man/demon he is today. This sequel follows Hellboy's quest into the hidden mythical portion of the world in the hunt to stop an evil elf prince from reviving the Golden Army that is capable of destroying mankind in its entirety. The elf prince grew tired of humanity's flourishing ways of life when it was his race that should have inherited earth a long time ago. The focus of the storyline is more on love-themed character interactions so the movie never gives that epic feel that is always a bit obligatory in the superhero genre. Still, there are great action sequences in the entire movie and there's always something interesting going on to keep everything moving at a brisk pace.

The Golden Army is definitely a better movie than the first one with improved CG works and more imaginative scenes. The make up effects done on Hellboy himself is great but it can't even hold a candle on the terrific job they did on Abe with his large, moist eyes and sticky, life-like skin texture. The Incredible Hulk could have benefited from the special effects team from this movie instead of relying on cheap CG - just rehire Lou Ferrigno as the green guy and make him wear prosthetics for Galaxy's sake! The kung-fu inspired fight scenes get a bit distracting after a while, but what are you going to do with a superhero with no real super powers? At least we get to see his team members use their powers a bit more this time around. Unfortunately, a bit more is just simply not enough.

RATING: 3 out of 5

Games Played 07/21/2008

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - PC
Ikaruga - X-Box 360
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box

Monday, July 21, 2008

Games Played 07/20/2008

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - PC
Conan - X-Box 360*
Naruto Ultimate Ninja: Storm Demo - PlayStation 3**
Wii Fit - Wii
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box

*I guess I got a bit Conan-crazy.

**This very short, one battle demo is mighty impressive. The game looks as smooth as a Japanese anime and the super moves are pretty cool-looking. This one is going to be big when it comes out 10/14/2008.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Aged Conan

My curiosity got the best of me today. I picked up Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures for the PC after reading the upcoming updates to the game's PVP system. My interest in Everquest II seems to be waning a bit but I do want to have one MMO to play alongside my other games so I thought it wouldn't hurt to see what AoC could offer me. After around 2 hours of installation and patch update, I created my Dark Templar character. So far, the game runs incredibly smooth at the highest settings - let's see how that's going to hold up after I get to a more populated area. This game is gorgeous - definitely the best looking MMO to date. More to come soon!

Hmmm... Me love blood.

To describe the graphics as anything less than gorgeous would be an understatement.

Games Played 07/18/2008

*I downloaded the demo via Steam to check out the differences between a high-end PC running the game versus the X-Box 360 version. The game looks great on both platforms. The PC version loads faster, looks a tiny bit sharper, and runs a tiny bit smoother. I like doing these comparisons sometimes even on games I have already purchased, like the X-Box 360 version of this one.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New PSN Portable ID

I received this email from Sony today, which informed me that I now have access to the PSN Portable ID that I could post on forums, networking sites such as the ever-popular myspace, and other web locations of choice.

Yeah! Let's link up!

The portable ID looks really cute. Unfortunately, if you click on the portable ID, you are taken to the explanation page instead of the profile page of the gamer in question. So it's not fully ready yet so this special access feels less special than it actually is.

That's not my profile page. Oh well.

Bad Purchase Bonus: Harvest Moon - Tree of Tranquility

Natsume recently discovered several old wooden boxes that contain a huge supply of the cow plushes they pushed out with the Nintendo GameCube's Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland. Thinking that people may have forgotten about the free gift that was included with the much older game, they are going to include these cute cows with the purchase of the new Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility on the Nintendo Wii. I was waiting for the dog plush so, no thank you. Way to go cheap, Natsume.

A cow plush as a free gift? Oh how exciting!

It's everywhere and it's going to be a hit!

Wait a minute... I already have one at home!

Games Played 07/16/2008

Titan Quest - PC*
Wii Fit - Wii
WipeOut Pulse - PSP
Yourself!Fitness - X-Box

*Back on Titan Quest again. Maybe it'll last this time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sonic: Unleashed and Awful

Sega has finally unveiled the nasty side of their Sonic promise. You can view the new Sonic Unleashed trailer here. After a minute and thirty seconds of pure bliss, the werewolf hedgehog was revealed to ruin the show. This new Sonic transformation moves like Nintendo's own Donkey Kong. It even swings from pole to pole with long monkey arms... Yeah, it's so original. The night sections seem to have platforming elements but with the 100+ combo melee battle system thrown into the mix, it would sure mess up the joy that the game is capable of providing to loyal Sonic fans. There were certainly some ultra-cool moments in the trailer like the 3 epic-looking Eggman boss battles but why Sega? Why do we have to play as the werewolf Sonic?!

How I felt while watching the trailer.

Preview: Too Human Demo

Too Human
Developer: Silicon Knights
Platform: X-Box 360
Scheduled Release Date: 08/19/2008

Took SK long enough to get this game out. I do despise the fact that it's a part of a trilogy. After beings years and years in production, they should have been able to include the whole trilogy in one release. The battle system feels odd at first: all I had to do was move the right analogue stick towards the enemy for basic attacks and the game would do the rest. It was like I was barely even playing. After about 5 minutes in, I began to understand why SK programmed the game to play this way: The game is a dungeon crawler. The easier it is to destroy the never-ending supply of monsters, the less the players would feel the grind. It's risky and it's borderline genius. The graphics are not as cutting edge as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots but they are artistically beautiful. By the end of the demo, I was totally impressed with SK's brilliant approach to the fusion of Norse/Greek storytelling. The dialogues are cleverly written and the battles are fun in an improved Phantasy Star Online sort of way.


-Click here for the full review-

Once I got to this scene, I was completely in awe.

There's only one class playable in the demo. The final version will offer five.

Preview: Tales of Vesperia Demo

Tales of Vesperia
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: X-Box 360
Scheduled Release Date: 08/26/2008

It took several weeks after the premature Live announcement for this demo to finally come out again. The anime-look is crisp and colorful and even in this short demo, the personalities of the characters that define the series are already there in full force. The main character is pretty cool, with his long purple hair and laid back attitude (versus the stereotypical moody or angst-ridden protagonists) and I do want to know more about the pipe-smoking samurai dog! The real time battle system is a joy to play even though it doesn't offer anything new that have already been seen in the other Tales. It's fast, furious, and filled with flashy special effects. I do wish that the game was fully voiced even during small moments in the game for it would strengthen the story even more. After The Elder Scrolls IV, I just hate reading text in my role playing game conversations.


The best looking Tales yet!

The battles load fast and play faster.

Games Played 07/15/2008

*It's Day 2 without Everquest II now... And I didn't feel a craving to jump back online. Interesting. Maybe I don't need another MMO after all? We'll see.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SingStar Community Update

It looks like Sony isn't doing much with the PlayStation 3 SingStar's online experience other than updating it with a bunch of pretty lame songs every other week. There is a Spotlight section found on the online screen that hasn't been updated ever since I purchased the game in May this year. It's supposed to be updated monthly with a fresh group of players but if you have been following along, the same bunch is still hogging this space. The selection process is supposedly random because a majority of those seen in the Spotlight section are pretty terrible, tone-deaf singers. Apparently, Sony has totally forgotten to update this so those who wish to be seen by the world via this method may have a better luck posting over-the-top videos just to be noticed by the community. There is no shortage of new screenshots and videos of players... So how come the Spotlight is completely abandoned?

It's the same he/she and a bunch of other repeats occupying this space.
The "SingStar scene" box on the left hasn't been touched in ages as well.

Games Played 07/14/2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wii Fit Revelation

While trying to find a spot to store the big Wii Fit box, something strange and a bit awkward happened. My eyes were mysteriously diverted towards the Yoga-Pose Lady located on the left side of the box...


Oh My Galaxy... Is that Sigourney Weaver?!


Games Played 07/13/2008

*Played Culdcept Saga from 8:30pm to 1:30am! The battles are always so epic... I love this game.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Games Played 07/12/2008

Audiosurf - PC
Everquest II - PC
Monster Madness: Grave Danger Demo - PlayStation 3*
Siren: Blood Curse Demo - PlayStation 3**
Wii Fit - Wii

*Boring weapons, sub-par character designs, twitchy multiplayer screen, sloppy controls... It's really, really bad.

**Graphically, it doesn't look too next-gen: reminds me a lot of Silent Hill 2. I am glad this one is coming to the U.S. The first game on the PlayStation 2 was wonderful and we were deprived of its PS2 sequel. Haunting atmosphere, scary premise: a must buy!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

64-Bit Upgrade

I updated my Windows XP to the 64-bit version yesterday. Aside from some weird confusion with the two program files generated by the new operating system that lead to improper deletions, I just love how fast everything runs. Most importantly, all of my 4GB worth of RAM is now fully recognized. I have only played Everquest II on it so far - I have to reinstall my other games back onto the hard drive. EQII is not really that friendly when it comes to supporting newer gaming system that it was supposedly programmed for (so much for future proof but they are supposedly working on it) so there is hardly any performance boost received from the extra RAM power. Logging out of the game back to Windows is now very, very fast though.

Can't wait to add another 4 Gig of RAM in!

Games Played 07/11/2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Preview: Wii Fit

Wii Fit (2008)
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Purchase Date: 07/08/2008

Disclaimer: "Warm Up Not Included"
After spending two evenings with Wii Fit, I can safely say that it's not a serious work-out software. Well, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The impression that I am getting from it so far is that Nintendo is definitely honest when it comes to its message of healthy living. It's just that the execution of it all is somewhat sloppy.

There is an option to view the actual weight count as well.

The Balance Board itself is a joy to use, sturdy, and well-designed. It is able to detect slight balance shift of a player's body quite accurately. During the initial start-up, the player has to create a profile and go through a Body Test to determine the player's Body Mass Index and Wii Fit Age. These will become the basis of how progress is measured. The program would then show the healthy BMI range for the player. Then, the player needs to set a goal amount of BMI loss and the time frame committed to achieve that goal. This part of the program is informative, encouraging, and well-presented. What comes afterward is what makes Wii Fit a little too thin on its promise.

It's fun to run alongside your Mii creations.

Once the profile is created, Wii Fit doesn't provide any recommendation at all to what the player needs to do with the 4 type of workout activities it offers: Yoga, Balance Games, Strength Training, and Aerobics. The player can mix and match activities and the game track the time spent during one session of exercise. The way these activities are segmented is a bid odd and they desperately need some sort of structure. There is no way to automatically string different workouts together and the player has to keep going to the menu screen after each selected activity. Take Yoga for example, the player can only choose one pose to work on at one time and since each pose is quick and relatively painless, it's frustrating to get through all of them in one sitting because of the constant pauses of the action. The game also locks a majority of the activities available and the player can only access them after accumulating enough time points. The unlockables should have been limited to background graphics, music, or extra games that are non exercise-related.

The balance games are silly but fun.

Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy the time I spent so far working out with Wii Fit. Time goes by faster playing this than Yourself!Fitness because of the focus on fun. The graphics are clean and pleasant and I like how my Miis show up during the exercises. I just wish that it is tightly structured. It is perfect as a supplemental routine but if you are looking for a true workout program, go with Yourself!Fitness. I will write a full review for this game after using it for a month or two.

-Click here for the full Review-

Enough Fakery!

As if the Nintendo DS in itself is not cute and successful enough, the recent "I Play for Me" campaign is just pushing things a little too far. I mean, seriously... Who cares about celebrities playing a Nintendo DS? It's like Nintendo is happily announcing to the world that the Nintendo DS is "good enough" to be played by famous people who supposedly have a discriminating taste in video games. Please Nintendo... Stop this madness!

Yeah right. You play for Nintendo and your continual exposure in the industry!
And Liv looks like a starving vampire here.

Who cares? Shouldn't you be writing a country song about a cheating boyfriend?
How come Ruben Studdard is not offered the same marketing ploy?

Games Played 07/08/2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: The Ruins

The Ruins (2008)
Genre: Horror
Format: Blu-ray
Director: Carter B. Smith

It's too late to cry about it now.

The Ruins really caught me by surprise. It may have followed the recent endangered college kids in a foreign country formula that was madly popularized by Hostel, but it is its clever pacing and unexpected antagonist that separated it from the pack and made it a lot better than your average scary movie.

Enjoy your last bit of freedom while you still can muahaha!

Two college couples are vacationing in Mexico and before they return to the States, they decided to visit some old ruins in the middle of nowhere with the help of a newfound friend. Little do they know that they would be spending the last moments of their lives there. The brilliance of the movie is the escalating horror that awaits these characters. The pacing is deliberately slow but the sense of urgency and dread never leaves the screen as soon as the youngsters arrived at the ruins. The situation feels real and the interactions between the characters are believable. Once the evil that haunted the ruins is finally revealed in a devastating, unforgettable, and powerful scene, all hell breaks loose and the film takes the premise to frightening heights.

That rope leads to a very scary place.

Hopefully The Ruins will inspire more filmmakers to take some chances and produce unusual tales such as the one told here. Its classical approach to horror by combining raw emotions, layered storytelling, and effective gore is a rare find these days. It's definitely far superior to The Descent or even Cabin Fever. That should tell you how special this movie really is.

RATING: 4 out of 5