Category Archives: Xbox 360

Hands-On With Diablo III, Console Version

Hands-on with Diablo III, Console Version

Blizzard, it seems, is really into drinking and gaming. Hanging around outside of one of the Diablo III demo rooms in the private Activision area at E3, one of the game’s marketing team members tells me that this is his favorite way to play the game. He describes it as Gauntlet (Legends, probably) and perfect for sitting down some with buddies and knocking back a cold one while you slay hordes of demons and ambulatory trees. The guy giving the demo also says that relaxing with a brew and playing this would be a great way to spend an afternoon.

I think I’m inclined to agree.

Based on what I saw, the console version of Diablo III is primed to be a distinctly different but still enjoyable take on the game. Heading into this, the biggest question I had was how they would manage to turn a click-heavy PC game into a controller-based console port that people would actually enjoy playing. Well, they did it by simply taking out the clicks and turning an indirect control scheme into a direct one.

Diablo III (PlayStation 3)

Indirect meaning you previously would just click somewhere and your character would go over there and do at thing. What that thing would be, however, is up to the context of the environment. Walk over somewhere, go flip a switch, or just stand there and cast spells. It was about as indirect as games come, but with a controller, Diablo III feels much more like a traditional action game but, you know, Diablo, which is to say it’s pretty great.

You move around with the left stick and you have attacks and abilities mapped to the face and shoulder buttons (somewhat making up for the expansiveness of a keyboard). The most meaningful change, however, is the right stick. It’s dedicated to dodges which means you can roll or flip in any direction to evade attacks. This turns what is normally just a rote routine of spamming attacks and spells into a skillful interplay of movement, positioning, and inflicting damage. That’s not to say that wasn’t there before, but having a stick that can quickly put you somewhere out of or into danger really moves that up to the forefront. One problem, however, is that I found myself constantly wanting to move and attack in different directions, which meant a lot of quick flicks to fire off some potshots before continuing to hove around.

Visually speaking, the game looks most identical to the PC version. The default camera view is much closer and presents a tighter frame for the action so that the aging PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 can keep up. This does, however, make the assets look a bit softer since you can see things much more clearly.

Diablo III (Xbox 360)

A big change is the UI. Obviously adapted for controllers, your equipment is mapped across a rotary dial on the left half of the screen that you select with a spin of your stick. A high-level overview of your equipment is presented to you on the right that spells out which piece is generally better, though you can still see the nitty-gritty details, too. And when you pick up loot, you can press up on the D-pad to cycle through your recent stuff and see from a glance if something improves your attack or defense and if you want to equip or drop it.

I played shared-screen with another fellow on a PS3; I was a demon hunter and he was a wizard (we swapped after realizing we’d each gotten what the other preferred). Instead of going split-screen, the game will zoom further and further out (the default camera position is much closer than in the PC version) until it hits a maximum range, at which point movement will warp an idle player to the active one. The second player and beyond can log in with his own account or play a guest one with the option to load saves from the cloud or a USB stick, though you can also play online. And while no cross-platform capabilities were discussed, the console versions will be updated with the 1.07 patch.

Diablo III (PlayStation 3)

From what I saw, this may be my new favorite way to play Diablo III as well. It feels much faster and much more gratifying when you successfully kill a large group of enemies with nary a scratch on you. But we also saw just a very small, 15-minute slice of the game, and most of the problems with Diablo III come out in the tail-end. I’m not sure if those will be addressed in any meaningfully different way from the PC version (probably not), but I can at least say that so far, Diablo III for consoles is shaping up quite well. Now where did I put that beer…

Look for Diablo III on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 3rd and PlayStation 4 sometime in 2014.

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Nailing The Fundamentals Of Halo 4

Every once in a while, a development studio will stumble across a hit. Not just one that hits certain sales numbers or is simply critically well-received, but rather they will somehow wring out from nothing a game that is socially impactful. Elements of the game will permeate gamer culture, infusing the zeitgeist with its own original flavor while its mechanics begin to appear in various forms in other products. Resident Evil 4 had “what are ya buyin‘?” and an over-the-shoulder camera; Gears of War brought about trailers of violent gameplay over melancholy music along with the active reload mechanic; and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare paved the way for main character deaths in the campaign and killstreak bonuses in multiplayer games.

After these seminal games hit, these studios are more or less locked into pumping out more entries into the franchise on a regular basis (or at least revisit it in some way or another). Infinity Ward, for instance, has exclusively produced Call of Duty games throughout its entire existence. Capcom has an entire god damn litany of franchises it has to touch back on every couple of years lest they miss out on a money-making opportunity. It is very much both a blessing and a curse to find such success.

If you look at Halo, though, you find something fairly unique. The series itself is, of course, a landmark in the history of video games. It brought about the two-weapon limit, regenerating shields instead of discrete health packs, dual-stick vehicle controls, sophisticated FPS enemy AI, and so much more, which is not to mention the creation of one of the most iconic characters in the history of anything along with the impetus for one of the first majorly successful machinima series in Red vs. Blue. Studio-wise, though, Halo is also the first to ever spawn a dedicated studio to the franchise.

Treyarch, I guess you could say, is a prototype for 343 Industries, the spinoff studio that formed after Bungie left Microsoft to become independent once again (since Microsoft retained rights to the series). Treyarch used to develop a wide swath of titles and genres ranging from hockey to a Max Steel game to a Minority Report title. Since 2004, however, they’ve developed exclusively Spider-Man and Call of Duty products, save for a brief dip into the James Bond mythos with Quantum of Solace in 2008. They, however, mostly stumbled into this fixed position. 343i was made for it.

While a fledgling studio in its own right, 343i is led by some industry and franchise veterans. However, Halo 4, possibly the biggest release of the year and maybe the most important game in the series since the first Halo, is still a fairly tall order for a new group of developers. Their primary goal could probably be distilled down to this single phrase: don’t fuck up.

It’s crass, but it’s true. Their first outing could justify their whole existence (though from the reviews currently up, it seems like they’ve done a mighty fine job). Not only do they have to create a good game but they also have to appease an innumerable mass of fans that demand consistency, creativity, and reverence. So it’s no surprise that Halo 4 falls fairly hard on the safe side of things.

To put it succinctly, 343i nailed the fundamentals of Halo. The unique interplay between guns, melee, and grenades that has identified the series since its inception is as strong as it has ever been. Each weapon, while workable in any situation, also has clearly defined strengths and weaknesses, making every firefight a puzzle of suitable armaments. The story serves to build on the foundation laid before it, not ruffle any feathers. Halo 4 is without a doubt the most Halo-ass game in quite some time (which is not to put down Reach or ODST; they were excellent games but also definitely departed from the formula).

And that’s fine. It’s like the first time you jump off a diving board; you start out with just a straight pencil dive, not a sweet life-endangering gainer. 343i has created probably one of the top three Halo games and did so with plenty of originality that managed to not alienate any psychotic, die-hard fans. There is so much fan service just from the novels that I can’t believe it isn’t required reading just to purchase Halo 4.

But perhaps that created something a bit too static in some regards. The Forerunner weapons, while visually interesting and easily distinguished, are all too familiar, which is odd for a race so much older and more advanced than either humans or Covenant. These are ancient weapons yielded by the mysterious Prometheans, so why do they all have conventional analogues? The lightrifle is basically the Covenant carbine. The binary rifle is the same as any other sniper rifle in any other shooter. The scattershot even pumps shells like a traditional shotgun despite shooting out god damn light.

The new vehicle even seems a bit too conventional. The Mantis basically a rehash of every other mech sequence you’ve ever played in a video game; you’re slow, lumbering, and overpowered, briefly but severely changing the entire game to serve as a respite from shooting things with significantly smaller guns. Jeff Gerstmann has quite a bit to say about it in the Giant Bomb Quick Look that is, for the most part, spot-on.

Little additions that tangibly change Halo 4 like Promethean Vision and the default sprint (the multiplayer has even more changes that may have serious implications to the long tail of the online game), but for the most part, the game is entirely a product of a super concentrated dose of Halo. It’s not even that you would call it evolution over revolution but instead just severe refinement. Wheat from chaff, fat from meat, and all that. 343i went down to Home Depot, bought a hammer, and put that Fundamentals board up on the wall because they are nailing it.

And that’s fine. For now. This can be considered testing the waters, a heat check for the studio as a whole. But knowing the leads at the company, it’s unlikely they’ll stay this reserved for long. A departure like ODST and Reach can only be expected after six years of hewing the same stone, but 343i and Halo 4 is a big ol’ reset. Now we’ll have to see how they build on the foundation they’ve built for themselves. At least those fundamentals will help.

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A Super Time with Super Time Force

There’s a particular point in human history where everything was a cartoon something on rollerblades and everything was drenched in colors Crayola scholars would one day come to call Electric Pink and Razzle Dazzle Blue. Music was unironically infused with pop synth and ripping guitar solos from dudes that refused to wear shirts that properly covered up their hairy chest plates. And for some reason, everyone wore sunglasses.

And that somehow only describes a portion of Capybara Games’ upcoming time-bending side-scrolling shooter Super Time Force. Namely, that describes an unlockable character named Zackasaurus, a totally chill raptor that speaks in 80s rap-style lyrics. Also, he wears a floral Hawaiian shirt, rocks Terminator-style sunglasses, and rides a neon-ridden skateboard. And he might have a mohawk.

Stranger than that, though, is how you obtain him. That is to say, you have to fight a giant cybernetic Tyrannosaurus rex with a huge flamethrower strapped to its head, a rocket launcher on its arm, and an infinite supply of smaller but equally dickish enemies in its mouth. So know that when I say Super Time Force is a weird game, I truly mean it.

The basic premise, though, is simple enough to put into words. You play one of several (starting out with four) characters, each with their own special attacks and weapons, and you must get to the end of a series of levels. You have a set amount of lives that you can lose by either taking a single hit or by running out of time. Simple, right?

Each time you die, however, you are respawned all right, but you are respawned alongside all previous iterations of yourself. This single-player co-op play allows for you to save past versions of yourself from dying, so if you go back and make contact with the saved guy, you’ve made a checkpoint and spared a life from being wasted (otherwise you start over from the beginning of the level).

And once you add in power-ups like slow motion (a particular programming challenge, said lead programmer Kenneth Yeung during the Fantastic Arcade panel, as you aren’t really slowing down but rather you are moving ten times as fast, something that tends to break physics engines), things can get pretty hectic. You can see it plainly once you beat a level and get a Super Meat Boy-ish playback reel of all versions of yourself playing through the stage.

That’s not to say, however, you have to make it that complicated. If you wanted (and are capable of doing so), you could beat the entire game with just one life. Even the controls are simple: just a directional stick, a jump button, and an attack button, perfect for the arcade setting I played it in. It won’t be easy, though, as at certain points it felt like I was trying to dodge so many projectiles and enemies that I was playing a bullet hell game like Jamestown or Deathsmiles instead of a platform shooter.

Each death also allows you to mix things up by choosing a new character to play with. You start out with four including machine gunner Jean Rambois, rocket launcher-wielding Jef Leppard, sniper Lady Sniper, and shield-toting Shieldy Blockerson with the ability to unlock (at least) Zackasaurus during the three-stage demo. Each character has their own unique weapon but they can also hold down the attack button to use their secondary fire. Lady Sniper, for instance, can shoot through walls and Shieldy Blockerson can one-shot most fodder types with a charged up shield.

Zackasaurus is especially unique in that given that he can’t block attacks like Shieldy despite also being a close-range fighter, his attacks actually cut through projectiles. Slashing and dashing, he can close distances between enemies without taking damage, which came in pretty handy while fighting the asteroid.

Yes, you fight an asteroid.

While riding a pterodactyl.

And even without all the ridiculous trappings of a double eye-patched colonel or gigantic armadillo dinosaurs or President Dinosaur declaring open season on humans, Super Time Force is a really good game from what I’ve seen. The game can get super manic, but it’s all by your hand.

Continually racing previous versions of yourself to get the slow motion power-up eventually gets to feeling like you’re a speeding train about to flip off the rail as the turns wind tighter and tighter. Trying to get all past lives to line up with your current and future ones to daisy chain checkpoints and synergize attacks is like spinning plates if the plates were constantly on the verge of getting shot and revived and shot again.

And all of that fits within a 30-second to 1-minute level. Once it’s all said and done, a single successful run from start to finish of any level will be extraordinarily short despite you having just spent the past 10 minutes on it. Imagine you took a playthrough of a Super Mario World level, chopped it up into 100 pieces, and overlaid them on top of each other. Then you have some idea of what Super Time Force is like.

And it’s fantastic.

Look for Super Time Force on XBLA in 2013.

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Review – Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (360/PS3)

The “Prince of Persia” series has been around for quite some time, but one of its most recent incarnations, “The Sands of Time” trilogy, garnered most of the praise and acclaim that the Prince has so far seen.

The plot of the trilogy involves the mystical sands of time and a magical dagger that can turn back time. This is also the basis for the recent Jeremy Bruckheimer film, “The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” which is in theaters now and is (in my opinion) a pretty good popcorn flick, though it certainly won’t win any Oscars.

Thankfully, Ubisoft decided not to make “Prince of Persia: The Movie: The Game,” despite the plots of the game and film being different enough to allow for that absurd possibility. But much to my dismay, they didn’t make a sequel to 2008’s fanasy-heavy “Prince of Persia” either, which featured an entirely different story and cast. Instead, in order to attract more people who plan on seeing the film, they went back to the much-loved “Sands of Time” saga.

“Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands” for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 takes place in the missing years between “Sands of Time” and “Warrior Within” on last generation’s consoles. The nameless prince has gone to visit his brother who, under attack by enemy forces, decides to release a fabled army. This, unsurprisingly, ends up being a bad move.

Thing is, the story here barely matters, which is kind of a shame. The Prince in “Warrior Within” is very different from the Prince in “The Sands of Time,” so in setting “The Forgotten Sands” between those two games, you would think there’s a lot of room for exploration of the character and everything he went through. But the developers completely missed the boat. The game doesn’t even end with a hint of the events to come.

In fact, oddly enough, the infamous Sands of Time don’t even really play a role in the plot. Your powers – including the classic time manipulation – come from a completely different source altogether. This among other things make the story feel horribly out of place.

Solidifying water plays a huge part in the gameplay.

The gameplay, though, is pretty solid, if unoriginal at this point. All the trappings you would want from a “Prince of Persia” title are here, including a ton of wall running and leaps from platform to precarious platform. This is still a formula that not many other games attempt, much less do well (the closest comparison would probably be another Ubisoft series, “Assassin’s Creed,” which allows for plenty of building scaling), so a new game is always a welcome addition to fans of the style.

That being said, I certainly found “The Forgotten Sands” to be enjoyable. I loved the original “Sands of Time” trilogy, as well as the 2008 fantasy reboot, so I’m always up for more parkour mixed with sword slashing.

The game requires the usual precise jumps and careful moving around the environment, but not to worry. If you make a bad jump and plunge over the edge of a tower, you can always rewind time a bit in order to go back and fix your mistake. This is the twist that made the original “Sands of Time” such a success, and it still works here.

This isn’t a complete rehash, though. The Prince has a few new skills, both for traversal and for combat.

The combat skills, though fun to use, aren’t terribly original or exciting, so I’d rather focus on the ones that matter.

You'll battle hordes of enemies at a time.

This time around, you can manipulate the environment in certain ways. Most notably, you can freeze water and use it to your advantage. For example, if you see spouts of water streaming out the side of a building, you can temporarily freeze them and use them to swing on. Similarly, if you see a waterfall, you can freeze it and run on it as if it were a solid wall.

These freezing powers are accessed by a mere press of a button, and water will stay frozen until you let go of the button, or your power runs out. Later on, this makes for some really tricky (but really fun) sequences in which you must quickly make water solid, liquid, and solid again, depending on whether or not you need to run on it or fly through it.

Another environment power you get later in the game is the ability to “recall” areas of the environment that should be there, but have fallen to ruin. At first, this feels like a total contrivance. You can obviously see where the object in question is supposed to be, and it just seems like a hassle to require the player to press a button in order to interact with it. However, the levels evolve in such a way that this skill seems more important and more entertaining, and by the end I didn’t mind its inclusion.

The controls feel pretty good, and for the most part do their job perfectly. However, I did encounter a few issues where the game would simply not do what I told it to. One of these cases was when I wanted to backtrack a bit in a level, in order to search for a hidden object. As the game was designed for me to go forward, not back, I had a real struggle getting the camera positioned the way I wanted, and then I was unable to make the Prince go exactly where I needed to go, resulting in a few very frustrating deaths. This isn’t a problem for most of the game, which doesn’t try to limit where you go in the world (forward or back), but problem areas certainly exist.

Combat powers can be purchased and upgraded for devestating attacks.

Another such area was near the very end of the game. A certain piece of environment absolutely refused to be “recalled” unless I was positioned exactly where the game wanted me to be, which wasn’t at all where I wanted to be myself. Not only did this result in more frustration, it also resulted in a terrible, terrible glitch that almost forced me to replay through the entire game from the beginning. Part of this stems from the fact that this is only one save game available, and it only ever auto-saves. There is also no form of level select or anything. Kind of a bummer if you want to go back to a favorite section or something.

“The Forgotten Sands” isn’t terribly long – easily under 10 hours – but it is enjoyable. The main problem, though, is that it’s nowhere near as remarkable or memorable as former games in the series, such as the original “Sands of Time” or 2008’s “Prince of Persia.” At times, it certainly feels like a game that they rushed through in order to release it alongside the movie. While it’s certainly better than most movie-related games, and a pretty enjoyable “Prince of Persia” adventure, I do feel like the Prince deserved a little more respect with this game. It could have been better. Instead, it might be more worth a rental than a $60 purchase.

The Wii version of “The Forgotten Sands,” interestingly, is a completely different experience – from story to gameplay. Ubisoft sent us a copy of it alongside this 360 version, so we’ll have a review of that in the future.

Beta Impressions – Blur

Bizzare Creations, known primarily for its popular Project Gotham Racing series as well as the Xbox Live Arcade smash hit Geometry Wars is back with a new racing experience, Blur.

Blur has been called “Mario Kart meets Forza,” and after spending some time with the game myself, that holds very true. The game is a high-speed arcade racer not too unlike Burnout, but the main twist in the gameplay is the addition of power-ups. That’s where Mario Kart comes in. The power-ups vary in function, from weapons to mines, from boosts to shields. How you use these power-ups will be absolutely critical to whether you succeed or fail. You can hold up to three at a time – their symbols are displayed beneath your car as you race, and you can hit the X button (on the 360 at least) to switch between any power-ups you hold.

As fun as this system is, what I found even more appealing was how online play works. They have essentially taken the Modern Warfare model of earning experience and leveling up and placed that into a racing game. The result is just as addictive as it is in a first-person shooter. You earn experience, or “fans,” for drifting, hitting opponents with power-ups, dodging attacks, winning races, etc. You also get bonus points for completing challenges, such as “Hit 5 opponents by launching a bolt backwards.”

This sort of stuff should sound extremely familiar to Modern Warfare veterans, so it should come as no surprise that as you level up, you unlock new gameplay modes and customization features. At level three, you unlock the Mod Shop, which allows you to select three features – basically Perks – for you car, such as doing more damage in collisions, or repairing your car any time you successfully use a shield. You also unlock new cars to use and new gameplay modes to play.

Races can involve anywhere from 2 to 20 racers, which can get pretty crazy considering the Mario Kart-style insanity on the race track. Considering every racer can up to three power-ups at a time, you sometimes have to be really careful not to crash ask lightning and missiles are flying around.

I feel that the game is going to live or die based on its online community. 20-player races can be a blast, but what’s going to happen if you can’t find 19 other people to race against? But if a solid community sticks to the game, I think it could be a big success.

The full game will have what I assume is a rather standard set of single-player features, but I have not had the opportunity to try them myself.

Now for the fun part. There’s still a bit of time before the multiplayer Blur beta ends, and I have three beta  codes to give away. If you want one, just leave a comment on this story with your e-mail address. Three random people will score codes, unless only three people comment, in which case everybody wins.  The beta is for Xbox Live only. Sorry, PS3 users.

Blur is coming soon for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Modern Warfare 2 LogoCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an intense game. It is so intense, in fact, that it took the campus mail system an entire extra week to deliver the game after FedEx got the game here from Activision, which explains the delayed write-up. This is not a difficult game to review; it’s short, it’s fun, and it’s absolutely epic.

CoD: MW2 Box ArtModern Warfare 2 is pretty much a direct sequel of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You’ll see some familiar faces such as “Soap” MacTavish and follow through the consequences of his actions from the end of the original, which is actually a pretty novel aspect since Call of Duty games traditionally have nothing in common except historical truth (or untruth, as is the case with World at War’s Nazi zombies). However, it should be noted that it is definitely not required to have played CoD4 to understand this game’s story, but you probably will miss out on shout-outs to the original, such as the mission entitled “Just Like Old Times.”

The story overall, though, seems only to exist to deliver deliciously epic moments to the player, and these are definitely only brief moments, not prolonged experiences. The astoundingly short single-player campaign will offer up about four to five hours of intense warfare that has plenty of little “I can’t believe that just happened!” cherries atop the shooter sundae. However, these little gems generally only stand out after some reflection because this game may actually be too intense. It’s almost as if it is at a constant, deafening roar. Even the exceptionally captivating stealth bits of the Task Force 141 segments end way too soon and stick you in a frantic shootout after a few minutes. This overall lack of story dynamics (think of a rollercoaster that only went down… for five hours) makes the plot seem as if every individual chapter was an incomplete thought on the game’s storyboard but was left in because of its “moment-ish” merit.

MW2 Airport sceneSpeaking of moments, let’s discuss the “No Russian” mission. You find yourself playing as Joseph Allen who is undercover as Alexei Borodin for the CIA, infiltrating a group of Russian nationalists headed by Vladimir Makarov, the game’s primary antagonist. The mission boils down to you maintaining your secret identity by following through with Makarov’s plan to massacre an entire airport full of civilians. You are given the choice to skip the entire mission without consequence, which probably didn’t quell the most diehard of critics behind this mission’s controversy, but truthfully, this option isn’t entirely necessary. If you’ve ever played a Grand Theft Auto game, you’ve almost definitely done worse than mow down a couple dozen people with a machine gun. In fact, the police show up at the end anyways, so it actually does feel more like GTA than you’d expect in this regard.

The game actually borrows some elements from some other games and movies. The mission where you rescue a certain someone from a Russian Gulag has you fighting through a shower room and sewers in a very Nicolas Cage in The Rock-esque moment. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is something to note.

MW2 Shower RoomThe gameplay, however, is more than refined enough to make up for the odd, slightly sprawling story and sometimes comical voice acting, especially when it comes to Shepherd. It’s pretty much the same game you played back with CoD4, just powered by an upgraded IW 4.0 engine, which delivers some pretty stellar graphics. Saying this is the same game, however, is not a bad thing. The first Modern Warfare was so polished and exciting to play that to simply match that quality of game is more than almost any developer can handle.

The infinitely spawning enemies found in CoD4 are long gone, but the “dynamic AI” which purportedly places enemies in new places each time you play through a level was not found. At best, you’ll find guy behind a door or window that surprises you with a face full of lead that wasn’t there before, which is a very frustrating experience on Veteran difficulty.

MW2 Soap

Modern Warfare 2 still showcases one of the most troublesome issues with these games: NPCs can do so much more than you can. You’ll see characters sliding into and sticking to cover, showing off some advanced melee moves, and overall just exemplifying how lame you are behind the controller. Wandering around the base at the beginning of the game shows a vibrant community of soldiers bustling around in their daily lives, but you can’t interact with any of them. The well fleshed-out world that you are placed in is much appreciated, but it feels a bit disappointing when you’re stuck watching rather than doing.

All of these, however, are minute complaints. The single-player campaign alone is well worth the price and has some of the most memorable moments ever to be had in a game, but let’s face it; the multiplayer is where the big bucks are made.

Imagine the CoD4 multiplayer, but better. Yes, that is possible, and yes, Infinity Ward did it. The added killstreak and deathstreak tweaks make online play incredibly compelling. The game is constantly rewarding you with challenges and accolades you didn’t even know you could accomplish. Even dying is rewarded, offering up a somewhat sick badge of pride. This constant “carrot on a stick” element of multiplayer games makes it incredibly addicting. You may never stop playing.

MW2 Cliffhanger_Hot_Pursuit

There is also a cooperative mode called Special Ops where you get to play through standalone missions with a buddy, though solo play is also allowed. These missions take place in locations from the campaign but are not actually campaign missions and sometimes include missions heavily inspired from the first Modern Warfare. You will find yourself sometimes using an AC-130 to protect your grounded cohort and other times you’ll be Army of Two-ing it up in some intense firefights. This mode may not have the same addictive appeal of the competitive multiplayer mode or the refined experience offered with single-player, but if you enjoyed the “Mile High Club” epilogue of CoD4 then you will also find a lot to like with Special Ops.

In the end, Modern Warfare 2 is exactly what you expected from Infinity Ward: polish, excellent gameplay, and a constant adrenaline rush. To expect anything less would have been a mistake, so if you’re not already playing this game, then you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

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Xbox Live Reward Program Starting Now

Awhile back, many Xbox Live members were sent e-mails inviting them to sign up for the opportunity to test a new rewards system.

I was one of those people, and today, I relieved confirmation that I had been accepted into the program. I will also receive 100 MS Points just for being lucky, I guess.

There was a lot of speculation as to what, exactly, the program would consist of. Understandably, the most common theories supposed that users would be rewarded for things such as completing surveys. Judging from the image below, which I captured from the Reward Central website, these theories were more or less spot on.

Xbox Live RewardsOther ways to earn points include signing up or renewing your Xbox Live Gold account, which is handy, since mine is about to expire and I’m going to buy another full year. Therefore, I will get a whole 200 points! That’s a whole $2.50! And all I had to do was spend $50! Woohoo! A similar deal exists for subscribing to Netflix.

But what’s interesting is the idea that you can earn 100 MSP for “making your first purchase on Xbox Live” (I wonder if that means your first purchase ever, or your first purchase since joining the program), and 100 MSP for completing surveys.

Considering there are a ton of great Xbox Live Arcade games for 400-800 MSP, this program could actually allow for a sweet free game or two, provided that enough surveys are provided and, potentially, if they’re not all extremely long.

The welcome e-mail also says, “Every month, we’ll send you an email with an update on how you’re doing and the cool gear you can get with your rewards, so make sure you read it!” That leads me to believe that Microsoft would like to offer more than just digital rewards in the future.

In a lot of ways this seems to be similar to Club Nintendo, which gives out points and freebies to Nintendo users simply for registering hardware, games and competing surveys. I’ll be extremely interested in seeing how the two services compare overall.

This test of Reward Central is set to last for six months. We’ll see how it goes.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review

Hey bub

If I had to sum up X-Men Origins: Wolverine in one word, I’d choose a Nathan Explosion favorite and reduce the entire 8-10 hour jungle/industrial odyssey to this: brutal. Not just that, but I would say it’s f-ing brutal. In some sort of misplaced rage for modern technology, one sequence involves Logan boarding a helicopter mid-flight and hoisting the pilot headfirst into the rotor blades. Unfortunately, you don’t get to “wreck shop” with the whirlybird; instead, Wolverine is just such a hardass that he doesn’t want anyone else to have the chopper. If you don’t play the full game, you should still download the demo and experience this fleshy debauchery at least once, if not more.

X-Men Origins: WolverineQuite frankly, I really enjoyed this sort of experience. Call me a sadist, but the more brutal a hack ‘n slash game is, the more fun it is. Somehow this correlation has eluded quite a few game developers despite the clear success of the God of War franchise. GoW has you ripping off Medusa’s head and stabbing cyclopses right in their singular peeper while Wolverine has you literally tearing soldiers in half and both games are undeniably fun. Do you see the correspondence between the two factors yet? This is what I largely hold to be the problem with the Wolverine movie, as sometimes you just need to forgo the extra sales and take it up to the R rating to do a truly brutal character or story justice. I mean, the man is pure walking death, how can you properly represent that fact in a PG-13 movie? Anyways, back to the game.

What I’m trying to say is this game makes you feel like Wolverine / Logan / Weapon X / James Howlett. You slice and dice everything in sight and you are clearly rewarded for it. You don’t get extra points or some sort of super slick vehicle by killing your enemies in a progressively more violent fashion, but you are rewarded with the feeling of being the ultimate badass. The character’s jubilation in tearing his foes new holes to breathe from is directly transferred to you in this game, and I say that’s a good thing. Well done, Raven, well done.

However, there are moments you just feel like you are being punished in this game. Despite having an entire stick dedicated to the action, the game still takes control of the camera at some points. What the hell for? Did the level designers not design the other half of this room or something? It just doesn’t make sense to put limitations on a control scheme that don’t belong there, or, worse yet, are misplaced. When I say “misplaced,” though, I really do mean “severely broken.” It’s a regular occurrence for the camera to go into Logan’s head and just stay there, letting you soak in the essence of what an inverted face might look like and provide a whole new set of issues for your psychiatrist.

Expect this. A lot.

Speaking of issues, how about them boss battles? I’ll tell you about them; they blow. Hard. Though fighting the endless waves of regular and spicy grunts is actually entertaining, fighting bosses get monotonous after roughly 10 seconds. The first time a magma thing pops out, you’ll probably think “aww yeah, it’s on!” Mere moments later, however, you’ll discover it is indeed not “on.” On the contrary, you’ll only find pleasure here if you like mindless repetition: dodge, lunge, slice, dodge, lunge slice, dodge, lunge, sli—you get the idea.

In what should have easily been the most exciting and totally epic moment of the game when you are brought face-to-face with a Sentinel, you are in reality brought face-to-foot; all you get to do is attack the thing’s feet until it flies away with you attached and then you get to dodge debris until all the brutality is done for you when you land. Lame. Disgustingly lame. Shame on you, Raven, shame on you.

Also, possible spoiler, but when you fight Deadpool on top of the factory, don’t jump. Ever.

Ever.

X-Men Origins: WolverineThe reason I’m being so incredibly hard on these few points is because the rest of the game is so much fun. Though the game may be a bit on the easy side (I never once was concerned about dying, just how can I ruin the next guy’s day with these freakin’ sweet claws of mine), there’s so much good going for it. Like how the Spider-Man 2 video game made you feel like Spidey flinging around everywhere, this game makes you feel like Wolverine, using your claws to do everything—besides open doors, evidently—from pulling crates to cutting off legs. The unlockable costumes inexplicably make the game worth a second playthrough and the mutagens and leveling-up mechanic make me feel like I actually have some control over what sort of killer I want my Wolverine to be.

The game also gets one thing absolutely right that needs to carried over to every other game from here on out: stat tracking. Just like how Steam will track your quantifiable achievements, this game will also tell you how many enemies left you have to dismember or set on fire. Knowing I only have 200 more enemies to kill to get my trophy actually makes me want to play more, as opposed to feeling like I might have 200-300 more so that I might hit 2000 kills, which kind of just makes me want to quit forever.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

All in all, I’d say I really enjoyed X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Even with the extra development time garnered from the film’s delay, though, there are still bugs, gameplay issues, slowdowns, and quirks, like how streaming textures sometimes load, disappear, and never come back. And in spite of how the (cheesy and poorly woven) story jumps back and forth between different time periods, your stats still steadily progress. However, I feel like it is more than okay to overlook these issues and still find some time to invest in the game. I haven’t had such hack ‘n slash fun since God of War II and maybe if Raven had just a few more months of development, this game might have reached that level of polish and pure epicness, but instead, it’s just a good promise of might have been and what (hopefully) will be.

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Red Dead Redemption screens

He looks angry

He looks angry

I don’t know about you, but I played the hell out of Red Dead Revolver. It wasn’t an absolute “holy crap, you gotta buy it” sort of product, but when a friend’s PS2 dies and no longer has a reason to liv—hold on to his library of games, you just have to take advantage. Lo and behold, a scant 4 years ago, Red Dead Redemption was pseudo-announced (along with a now extremely dated trailer) and undoubtedly instilled that old wild west feeling in many. 

Now, following the recent announcement of a new trailer that is due to hit the Internets later today, an exceptionally small salvo of screenshots have been released, all 5 of which are taken directly from the aforementioned trailer.

You can take a gander at the original batch of screenshots at the official Red Dead Redemption site. The game is slated to release sometime this fall for the PS3 and Xbox 360 and sweet sassy molassy I just cannot wait.

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