Gears of War - Xbox 360 Review

This is well-overdue.

I mean, this was probably THE first big game I got with my 360. It was actually the game that got me to buy a 360 - and eventually my first high def TV. One of my best friends got a 360 shortly before I did, and he bought FEAR and Gears of War. I've played FEAR - though it's been a long time, and just never really got into it, but Gears was a completely different matter. Still, as hard as it is for me to believe, this game is about five years old. Is it worth taking a look at if you have not already?

Graphics - 8:

At the time, these were among the best graphics I had ever seen. They still hold up pretty well five years later. This is one of those titles that made me think of it like a summer blockbuster movie - full of visual spectacle. There are almost no technical issues with the graphics to speak of, and they really do a great job of pulling you into the game.

Music & Sound - 9:

That said, as good as the graphics are, the sound and music are even better. Sound effects are great, voice acting is generally very good and the music was excellent in my opinion. It often set just the right tone. This aspect, when combined with the graphics really made for a very movie-like experience at times.

Gameplay - 8:

The cover system was maybe not completely original upon release, but it worked as well if not better than almost any other I could recall at the time. There were some cheap deaths waiting to be had, but checkpoints were frequent enough to keep it from getting too annoying. Also, some aspects of the combat held up better than others - it felt like the real long ranged weapons were never quite as awesome as I had hoped, and while chainsawing an opponent was a lot of fun, firefights at close range were sometimes clumsy affairs.

Intangibles - 7:

The game is quite short - I beat it the first weekend I owned it. Being able to do it in co-op though was fun as I had 3 different friends I played through the game with in this way. Different difficulty settings are there for people who like to make their games harder or easier. There are some 'collectibles' along the way to find for people who enjoy that sort of game-within-a-game. This was also my first game I played online, and while the maps and variety were fairly limited, they were cool at the time. They hold up a bit worse now though, considering how far we have come with online modes.

Overall - 8:

Considering how cheaply this game can be found (I've seen it for as little as 8 dollars), it really is a very good deal if you like third person shooters. Not a kid-friendly game between the swearing and bloody deaths (when you chainsaw an enemy, the screen itself splatters with blood). With the online not being as robust as newer titles and the fairly short campaign mode, it would not be worth a full price new buy now for most people, but a used or discounted game price makes this an excellent play.


Game contest

I got a free copy of Cogs recently on Steam. Seeing as I already have it, I thought I would give it away on here. The rules? Very simple:

- first, you do need a Steam account so I have someone to give it to

- second, leave a comment below just stating you're interested in the game

- third, for an extra entry - follow me on Facebook here.

- lastly, for an addition entry - follow me on Twitter as well.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter (or already are) - feel free to email me your names so I can verify. You can email me at

Lastly - if you're curious about Cogs, it's a 3d puzzle game that you can find out more about here.

Really hoping to get some new follows, and just looking to share a free game. Also, some people who don't have Steam accounts might actually get one now. ;)

Gaming Thoughts... 9/24/11 - New Poll

Just a brief on here, but I put up a poll along the left side here about a week ago, and I thought I would call some notice to it. The idea of it is just to see what things you like most about this blog and hopefully indicating things you want to see more of.

I'll leave it so you can choose multiple items, but keep in mind that if everything gets checked, well, that doesn't really give me any idea where I should put the majority of my focus.

Areas include:

- Game reviews: pretty obvious, but do you come here mostly to see what I score things?

- Gaming thoughts: these are usually just random bits that aren't all scoring and metrics, like my musings about playing Warcraft or 'projects' like the Playstation Home

- Retro reflections: these take about the most work for me as I have to hook the system I'm playing up so I can record the playback and then edit it up, which is why I've sort of slacked off on these. But basically just me looking back at older games on the variety of older systems I still have about

- More Facebook/Twitter updates: I've been using these mostly to update things like what games I'm playing right now, quick impressions of games I haven't had a chance to fully review - things like that. And hey, if you're not fanning my FB page found here or my Twitter account here - now would be an awesome time to do so. :)

- Gaming news: I haven't done this in awhile either, but once a week I used to go around gathering up articles that piqued my interest from varied sites and often linked back to them - but not sure if this is something people are interested in or not

- Including images, art, videos: these do sometimes slow down the process for me - do you like seeing this stuff? Does it slow down the page loading too much? I know when I did the King's Bounty review there were a couple of people commenting on how the images and trailer looked - but that was one of the only times I've heard the images brought up, so just curious if the preference is to include them or not.

- Game deals: I go to a fair number of gaming sites and pages - almost every day. Most of the time, I don't see anything great, but once in awhile I'll see a bundle or gaming deal mentioned that might be of interest to others. Would this be something you'd like to see?

- Increase post frequency: I've kept a pretty steady every 3-days rate on posts for awhile - is that frequent enough? Do you stop by every day? Every other?

- Decrease post frequency: Opposite of the above - but do you only come by once a week? Do you find my current 3 days per post pace is too fast and you miss articles?

And of course any comments would be very welcome also. I will leave this poll running until the first of November. Thanks!

Madden 2012 - Playstation 3 Review

It's that time of the year again - Fall! Seriously, this is without a doubt my favorite season of the year. Up here in Michigan, the leaves turn colors, the humidity goes away, the temperature lowers, it gets dark just a bit sooner, I start to use the slow cooker more and the NFL season begins. That last point I cannot stress enough. I'm a huge NFL fan, the lockout this summer worried me to no end, but luckily they pulled it out and I have been able to enjoy my NFL Sundays - pretty much the only TV I watch with any degree of regularity throughout the year.

With NFL Sundays comes another iteration of EA's well-known Madden series. I'm one of those people who buys it just about every year. Yes, I realize that many people consider it nothing more than a glorified roster update, and sure I'd almost always like to see more change from one year to the next than I do, but Madden and NBA 2k are the two sports series I pick up most years where as Hockey, Golf or Baseball I can get by on doing every few years, usually picking up a release that's a year or two old.

So, what does Madden 2012 bring to the table this year that's different from last year? Here's a handful of items right off of the bat that come to mind:

- Dynamic player performances: A player performing very well, or very poorly in a game, may have a hot/cold streak the following week that can impact their overall stats in either a positive or negative fashion. These streaks can only last a handful of weeks and then reset.

- Player Roles: injury prone, playoff performer, underachiever and more - basically these roles can have an impact on the player, and on their teammates depending on the role.

- Trading Ultimate Team Cards can be traded now

- The progression system has been revamped

- Expanded rosters, cut days, altered free agency and scouting for the Franchise Modes

These and a bit more are among the considerations I make while writing my review

Image 12

Graphics - 8:

This is the best-looking football game out there in my opinion. Some of the attention to detail such as jerseys sporting grass stains, the appearance of the grass, player animations and more look great. That is not to say that the presentation is flawless. Sometimes arms move through bodies (I got a laugh out of a referee waving off a catch as his arms went through Calvin Johnson's helmet) and sometimes stuttering performance mar the presentation. The crowd, while a small thing, also feels very dated. The small details, like lights reflecting off of helmets and visors and the effects of a rainy game do a nice job of immersing you into game day though, and generally compensate for some of the lesser technical failings.

Sound & Music - 5:

Seriously, I need to kill the game on this one. The music select is, as it generally is, okay. The sounds sound good, there's a fair mix, some fit what's going on better than others. The on-field sounds are quite good for the most part, if not terribly varied. But, there are three parts of the audio presentation Madden brings to the forefront, and both are absolutely horrible.

- I had to include "for the most part" above though. Every now and then, the audio starts to 'pop'. At first, I thought 'maybe my disc', but I've noticed it at my friends' house, and it's not just my PS3 copy - he has the 360. He seems to think it's attached to the audio commentary, because he has not noticed it since turning that off.

- The coach speak on things like Superstar mode: The guy's voice bugs me a bit - I realize it's supposed to sound like it's coming through on a headset but the tinny quality of it just sounds odd. Aside from that, he is often very, very inaccurate. On one play he'll be telling my halfback to sit back in the pocket to protect the quarterback, and my play art clearly shows I'm supposed to be part of the playaction and then roll out to the flat. On another, he'll be talking about how the wheel route is designed for me to get open past the line, and the play art calls for me to hang back and block - I'm not even a receiving option.

- The in-game announcers are bad. Actually, bad may be giving them too much credit, which is unfortunate because I really do like Chris Collinsworth in real life and actually don't mind Gus Johnson most of the time. But, there are several issues with the commentary. For one, it is badly timed. Johnson will be talking about the best player on the other team's offense when they've already kicked the ball to me. Collinsworth, with his detailed, lengthy deliveries can be on a topic two plays later still. Often the information is patched in wrong. I completed a long pass from Stafford to Calvin Johnson in my Lions franchise and they proceeded to say:

"Calvin Johnson was born to play this position." - and I thought, okay, that's reasonable. Then they went on talking about his throwing power and rare vision for the quarterback position and it just completely took me out of the moment. Names just seem to be goofed up far more often than they should be. Plus, the lengthy detailed delivery for specific players seems odd. I don't need to hear how Suh is the focal point of the Lions defense every-single-game and in the exact same way. In truth, I think the entire commentary system needs reworking. Instead of talking about how Calvin Johnson is called Megatron every-single-game, maybe wait until he does something good and have a comment that includes his name, and something based on a player attribute or statistic - something that branches out. Why not have four or five different things that can be said about a guy with a 90+ speed, and 5 different things for a WR with an 80-90 speed. It would vary things up and feel more relevant. Will they still be discussing how Calvin Johnson is leading the new wave of wide receivers when I'm in year 10 of my franchise? I don't know for certain, but my guess is, yes.

- Lastly, the commentary audio is very inconsistent. You can tell sessions were recorded at different times, and with different levels of volume/quality. One statement sounds quiet, almost tinny, and then the same announcer's statement immediately afterward will sound full and with booth-like quality.

Gameplay - 8:

If you have played prior years of Madden, you basically know what to expect. It's football with all of the bells and whistles. That is not to say there have are no changes this year - blocking feels quite a bit different. Instead of defense players being sucked right into a blocker, it feels like you can shed blocks a bit more easily - which is probably why my Lions have so many defensive line sacks (that and Suh). It seems as though one of my biggest pet peeves of this generation of football games has been that pancakes earned in game were not consistent with those earned when simulating - that appears to be evened out now, which may seem silly, but is a big deal to me.

A lot of people post that the game speed is a bit much, and that they slow it down - I'm fine with it 'as is'. I kept the default settings for my first year and I unlocked most of the trophies available in that time and won the majority of my games onto my way to the Superbowl with the Detroit Lions. That said, tackling looks and feels better than ever, catches don't seem to suction to hands quite as often (though it still happens) and the run game feels great to me (I run far better than I pass).

Menus could be a bit quicker and more easily navigated, but they aren't a complete disaster. The load times seem a bit much at times too, but at least the loading screens give you something to read, though a bit more variety in the screens would be nice.

Intangibles - 9:

There are quite a few different modes here, and with Franchise finally getting some updates (and that is where I spend the bulk of my time), it is a bit easier to sink plenty of time into the mode. There are some other modes available as well such as online franchises, team playing, communities, roster updates and Ultimate Team add some value to the online offerings. Ultimate Team mode is sort of a collectible card game meets Madden, though it's slanted toward people who buy legendary packs and have chances at better cards. You can also earn coins to buy other packs or participate in the new trading feature - but the starting team is rightfully very sad in terms of starting players, and using them to build up is a bit less fun than it sounded on paper.

The Superstar modes are slightly altered, with less of the media/intelligence test stuff that affects your player's draft position, but instead eschews the old methods of raising stats for a more point-oriented one that better resembles games like NBA 2K where your performance and practice time earns you points you can distribute as you see fit. The process is a bit too forgiving I think, compared to the NBA 2K series. My running back got drafted by the Steelers and I got made first string despite them having a good, young back. Before the end of the first season, my guy who started at a 60-something overall was well over 80 and an MVP candidate. I like the format, but it feels just a bit too forgiving at this point.

Largely, the changes you will see affect Franchise mode. If you are a fan of franchise mode, you get a lot more mileage out of the changes than others. I happen to fall into this particular bucket. They even managed to fix, or at least mostly fix, the blocking. For those who don't recall my rant last year, the EA football games used to have a glaring issue with blocking, because your improvement was measured by pancakes performed and sacks given up, and nothing else. The simulated teams would get players with 200+ pancakes. Player teams? your best player would be lucky to come out with around 10 or so. You could have a perfect linemen who was just not performing because of the skewed stats garnered from substituted games by comparison. That's fixed and everyone's totals are a bit more manageable now. It's a small detail, but it's the kind of detail that's gone untouched for years, so seeing it finally get addressed actually goes over quite well with me.

Between these modes and the online content, there is a lot of football to be had here for those who want it.

Overall - 7.5:

I really enjoy Madden and overall I think this version of the game is still the best NFL experience out there. For people who bought last year's though? There might not be enough reason to pick up this year's iteration - that depends on how much you play, and what your opinion of the smaller features is. For me? It's enough - I enjoy and can appreciate the smaller nuances added to the game, but I am a huge NFL fan and have long played the Madden series.

I like the videos you can upload (obviously - as you can see I linked in several here), though I wish you could take and upload stills too. NCAA allowed you to take screenshots, and I can't recall if I could upload them or not (I didn't play this year's version, so I'm basing this on last year's which I haven't touched in awhile), but I had a lot of fun framing out some cool images to show off last year, and it seems odd that Madden doesn't have that option. You also can't create videos from superstar mode, which is a small bummer, but not a big deal.

Of other friends, the opinions have been fairly split. One played quite a bit the first few days - franchise, online franchise with me and Superstar mode but quickly got frustrated with the game and traded it in. Another friend from work has been playing it pretty much non-stop since it came out, mostly in franchise mode, and loves it. I can't help but think that Madden would benefit from some actual competition in the NFL game, but there is no changing the fact that they have exclusivity locked up for quite some time to come. Still, improvements continue to be made to a successful formula and that is enough for me, but it might not be for everyone.

And instead of showing my usual IGN trailer videos and pics, y short video clips uploaded from the servers:


Gaming Thoughts... 9/18/11 - Playstation Home

So, after the PSN was down earlier this year, they came back with their Welcome Back program. Part of that program included lots of virtual items for the Playstation Home. My youngest enjoys walking around and socializing on Home, but I had only used it a handful of times in the past. I figured this would serve as a great project for the blog, just to see what I thought now. Unfortunately, there were issues that have derailed this little project:

- Sony has announced they are completely redoing Playstation Home. As a result, most of this could well be null and voice sooner than later

- Network disconnects and errors drove me absolutely nuts. I was getting disconnected dozens of times a night over a 2 week period. Time of day, day of the week - none of it seemed to help, and based on what I was seeing in the forums, this was hardly a problem isolated to me. Looks like a huge failing of the PSN

- Download problems. I would download stacks of rooms while doing something else, then come back and use them briefly. Then I would try to access the rooms later, and the downloaded room would then need to be downloaded once again. Did this across 3 different PS3 systems, finally gave up about 1/3 of the way through the project after finding myself going through the process over and over again.

Basic thoughts before I get into the breakdown:

There is something cool to the idea, but it feels a bit sparse in places. Some of the rooms were clearly meant to be used for a short time only and visiting them now well after that peak intended period is creepy - almost empty. The connectivity issues and download problems were a definitely deal-breaker for me. I spent at least a dozen hours just trying to get things set up and used, and continually ran into issues with stability that made me give up on the process. Here's hoping that the revamp is handled better. Now, a more detailed breakdown of the rooms I was able to visit:

Xi Museum - At first it looks like there is a lot going on, but it looks like whatever events used to take place there are largely closed down now. There was an interesting sort of word/text adventure game that I spent a few minutes on, but it was a lot of load times for very little actual content

WipEout Museam - There's a dance floor with music and some nifty lighting effects. My youngest seemed to dig the techno beats. The environment actually looks cool, but it's very empty in terms of people in there. Kind of a nifty 2-d racing game you can play in it.

TEKKEN 6 Mishima Zaibatsu - Recreation Floor - there's a big screen video running something in the background and some 'arcade' machines you can play Tekken 6 on - if you happen to own it and have it loaded in. Seems like some sort of a really lightweight fighting game would be better served here. You can get a couple of avatar items if you hunt around the weight room in it, but I was literally the only person in there my entire stay

Uncharted: Sully's Bar - Visually, one of the more interesting rooms. There's a Smuggler's Den attached and at two points you can view a slide show of artifacts which is perfectly in-theme with the game, if a bit boring. There's a few interactive items to look at, including a simple, pixelated but kind of neat platforming/puzzling game called Mercenary Madness

S.I.N's Secreate Base from Street Fighter IV - there is a big screen with a trailer of the game running in the background and... really little else to interact with. Looks like there might be a game station set up like the Tekken one where you'd need a disc, but all it did was slap 'novice' over my head while I was in there. Not much else to do really, though it looked neat for fans of the game, such as myself.

SOCOM: Tactical Operations Center - Visually this was somewhat interesting - the environament looked like something out of a military video game, but other than a scoreboard for sOCOM players and a TOC terminal for lookinng at some 'reports' - there was nothing to do but sit in one of a couple of dozen seats. There were a few people wandering around - but not many. It connects to SOCOM: Opposing Force.

SOCOM: Opposing Force - It's a bit more active than the above. There's a gun stripping mini game with scoreboard that uses the two analog sticks nicely. There's also a golden AK 47 game where you have to find 7 peices to assemble it. That said, it seems buggy to me. I disconnected a LOT when trying to use Home, but so far the majority happened when either a) I was downloading this section or b) playing in it. I got kicked 7 times in about 25 minutes before I called it good. Pity since I never got to finish the AK 47 game because every time I got kicked it seemed to start me over.

Sodium 2 - Fairly active little place and while there's not a ton of detail in the distant environment, it has a nice overall sci-fi appearance. There's some multiplayer game console that kept telling me it was not available. I did find something else called Salt Shooter Game - but once I was there, well - there was no one else there and it did not appear to be doing anything. The area looked cool - sort of reminded me of a stage from Mass Effect, but whatever the game was supposed to be? It didn't seem to be working.

Sodium Hub - serves as sort of a connection place for Sodium 2 and the Salt Shooter Game. It looks like there's a few odds and ends that tie in here - for example Salt Shooter can be played... if you buy a virtual item. Looks like that is the case for a few things too, like Scorpio's. There's a few 'free' mini games and items available in here though - reading the info kiosk/screen helps. There's a fairly large twitter integrated board as well. You can step on robotic scorpions for credits, and there's Sodium Training which you can download that lets you get a taste of the action. It actually isn't too bad. I didn't feel like spending money on a flight jacket so I could play, but it was an okay little hover car/shooter game that killed a few minutes. So far, the most active 'area' I've seen in terms of players and content.

Slap Happy Sam's Stage Show - Can't do much with it - you have to buy a $2.50 music box to play. There's really nothing else to do in this big top tent

SIREN Lounge - Dark and creepy - much like the game is supposed to be. There's a video screen playing with a trailer of sorts that looks decent. Pretty atmospheric, but not much happening on the ouside. There's a building called Ward of Despair you can download. In the Ward the dark atmosphere is maintained as you are given a flashlight of sorts to hunt around in the darkness. Immediately you see some tv screens that were downloading media for what seemed like a very long time. It gives the directions on a simple but pretty cool horror survival mini game where you need to dart around a small building avoiding ghostly creatures. The controls sort of stink and the camear angle got me killed the first two times, but it was a neat little trip. This was a somewhat densly populated little area.

The SingStar Rooms - Basically a large dance club. Nifty look to it, a large screen that pumps out music when you're close to it and a dance floor. There's some backroom area that I always get a download error from. Not much to it beyond that. Maybe 2 dozen people or so in it at the time.

Resistance Station - Just would not load up for me the first 4 or 5 times I tried. X80710D23 error - this was the end of the project for me.

Gaming Thoughts... 9/15/11 - Word of Warcraft

So my last post got me all nostalgic as I thought back to some of my earlier Blizzard titles like Warcraft, Diablo and obviously StarCraft. I spent a lot of time on these games. But like many people, the Blizzard game I probably spent the most time on was World of Warcraft. In fact, I've been a player on two different occasions.

I did not play right when World of Warcraft began, but I was not terribly far behind. I spent a good deal of time playing Alliance and got a couple of characters to level 60, and even went ahead and did the same for some Horde on another server afterward. I was really big into it, had quite a few epics and eventually got tired of playing and just quit.

I was an awkward MMO player though, especially that first time around. I almost never grouped, at all. I hardly ever did raids of any kind, which meant I was missing tons of content. Sure, I'd go back and run lower level stuff when I was bored/high enough level to solo it, but I just never really wanted to group much.

Fast forward a couple of years or so, and several of my old real-life buddies I used to play D&D with are all playing World of Warcraft on the same server. They wanted me to start up again and went so far as to chip in and get me the expansions. I played (very) heavily once again, and shot multiple characters up through the ranks again. I was even more diligent this time, having all of the crafting professions completely covered, tons of really good gear and even ran instances now with my friends. It was certainly a lot more fun the second time around, but still not ideal.

On the one hand, I noticed I was sinking just an absolute ton of time into the game. I play video games very heavily, and even I had to admit my time spent was probably unhealthy. The other thing is I still tried to be a husband, parent, full-time employee and found myself distracted when trying to group. There's no pause button. If a kid gets sick or dinner boils over, I have to hop up and deal with it. Now, my friends were pretty understanding - they know me, know my family, but it still made grouping with other people pretty much a migraine for me.

Once I was at the top of the food chain yet again, all that was left was lots of grinding. The sense of exploration was gone and it was just more of a chore than fun - and steadily sapping away some money every month to boot. So, this account eventually went the way of my old one - given to someone else I knew.

Still, when I look back on it, I still enjoyed Wold of Warcraft a good deal. I'm a big fan of RPG games. I played more than my share of computerized/console titles and D&D over the years. I run a MUD with my wife, which I usually describe as online, text-based dungeons and dragons. It's easy to see the influence MUDs have had on the MMO community over the years. They were the first MMO's - just without graphics.

Unfortunately the Warcrafts of the world have had their own impact on MUDs, and it fewer and fewer people invest in MUDs than they used to. Our own game used to have 50+ players a night, and now on a good night we see maybe 10. I think if my wife had gotten into World of Warcraft, I'd still be playing it today. I love doing things with her - the MUD is an example of that, but she tried it and just never took to Warcraft - but at least she did try it.

Still, I have a lot of fun memories from my time spent there. I've tried looking at some of the free MMO's out there like Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings - and I once won a copy of Guildwars, and while there's good things about each of them, none of them ever captured my imagination quite the same way World of Warcraft did.

Any of you reading ever play a MUD, or a graphic MMO? Did you stick to it? Were you a loner or a grouper? Do you still play?


StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty - PC Review

I have long been a big fan of Blizzard's games. I was absolutely hooked by the WarCraft titles, and I beat Diablo with every class. StarCraft was another title I spent a good deal of time on in college and like most people - a majority of that time was spent on the multiplayer mode.

The idea is still very much the same in this sequel. Three primary races battle with one another through a real time strategy game that balances landscapes, resource management and whether aggression or defense is the way to play. There is a campaign mode, online modes and in-game achievements to be had in StarCraft II.

Many, many (many) years later, StarCraft 2 comes out and with it a world of expectations that were so high, it seemed likely they could not be met. So, does Blizzard's legendary polish show through, or is this game one that proves not to be worth the wait?

Graphics - 9:

There's plenty of detail and the top settings are something to behold. That said, I've seen plenty of older machines run this game too, and while it doesn't look nearly as good on them, you still don't see much in the way of slowdown occurring. While the majority of your time will be spent on the field of battle, there are plenty of things to look at between levels too, and while the animations can be a bit stiff at times, overall the characters and news broadcasts are fun to watch. The movie cut scenes look awesome, and most Blizzard ones tend to do.

Sound & Music - 9:

And just like the broadcasts are fun to watch, they're even more entertaining to listen to. Music can come at you a few different ways. The jukebox is actually pretty cool between battles and the music during combat ranges from good to amazing depending on the scenario. Some of the voice soundbites you get from units when directing them can get repetitive - just like they could in the old game - but the actual voice acting for cut scenes and scripted sections of combat are well-done.

Gameplay - 9:

There is a lot to do here, but the basic premise works great. The strategy is varied from map to map, the multiplayer is well-balanced and it is easy to move around in menus and on the battlefield. There are some really good tutorials to be had, which helps newer players along and the way you earn new units and progress in the campaign mode is excellent for preparing you for the multiplayer.

One complaint - my video card (a fairly standard Nvidia one) apparently has a known bug with the training videos. I never crashed or anything - the rest of the game ran great, but the training videos are supposed to start on their own and I've seen plenty of other systems handle them fine, but my particular Nvidia card set apparently freezes them on the first frame and doesn't allow the videos to run. I contacted Blizzard's tech support, and the representative I got in touch with was very friendly, but not terribly knowledgeable. I made sure all of my drivers were up to date and included a dxdiag and nfo file upon first contacting them (I do software tech support, after all) and the first thing they suggested was that I update my drivers - even though I had clearly stated that I had in the original ticket and even linked to them on Nvidia's website.

The ticket bounced around for three days and then the agent said he found a post on the forums about my problem, where a moderator had said this was a known issue that would be fixed. The forum post was from April and as of a couple of weeks ago at the end of July, it still was not fixed. Not a huge deal in the end, I still enjoyed what I was doing, but it was a somewhat annoying little episode.

Intangibles - 9:

The campaign mode is not terribly long - I beat it in a couple of days, but there are quite a few achievements you can earn, and things you can do to unlock things like profile pictures for when you play online. There is also some replay value to be had here as you can make several choices along the way that affect the storyline in relatively superficial but still interesting ways. You can also upgrade units based on money and technology points found. It seems to me you would have to play at least twice to fully unlock all of the achievements associated with the technology options.

Add the various online modes (which I have not made much use of yet, but online isn't my primary interest in most games), custom content and achievements to the mix of the single player mode, and you have plenty to do.

Overall - 9:

The game was consistently excellent and there's enough content here to keep fans of competitive multiplayer and single player fans alike happy. I got this game for Easter from my wife and it took me a little while to get at it (silly game backlog), but once I started I couldn't put it down for days. My son, who is not much of a fan of strategy games loved this one as well. He doesn't usually play turn-based strategy at all, and neither of us could think of any RTS titles he had tried before, but he was suddenly interested in them after giving this title a try.


PlayStation 3 Call of Duty: Black Ops PrecisionAIM Controller Review

PlayStation 3 Call of Duty: Black Ops PrecisionAIM Controller by Madcatz was a controller my dad found used and in perfect condition at Gamestop the other day for $25. Why was he looking for a new controller? Not because he's big into FPS games - in fact he doesn't play those at all. He wanted it for Marvel Pinball. *pauses as you take that in*

Thing is, my dad broke his wrist playing basketball with me, my best friend and his dad over a decade ago, and sometimes it still bothers him - especially when playing video games when he's gripping it too tightly. The form factor and angle of the Sony Dualshock controller just bothers him after awhile, so we have been looking for a new controller for him and after a lot of looking, found one that looks like it is a winner for him.

The features:

The grips have a rubbery feel to them (with some cool Black Ops design to them) that he feels is much better than the Dualshock controller - and he picked up a rubbery skin for one of his controllers recently and he likes this one's grip better as well.

Combat/precision aim - there are new buttons on the underside of the controller that can replace the need to press down on the left/right sticks (sprint/melee) and can be 'flipped' over to precision aim to slow your aim and try to make you more accurate.

'Quick fire triggers' - the top shoulder buttons are a bit 'squishier' than the typical controller and are designed to 'shoot' just a bit more quickly.

2.4 GHz wireless

Red backlights to the analog sticks

Rechargeable internal battery

So, what were our thoughts on the controller?

- My dad: he likes the grip a lot better - the texture is more to his liking and the rubberized texture feels better to him as well.

- My son: he likes the glowing backlights to the analog sticks and the appearance of the controller, but he did not feel it was as responsive as a Dualshock

- Now, my full thoughts:

* Pros:

- I really liked the combat/quick buttons on the bottom, though I used them for sprint/melee only - I did not find it convenient to simply switch it back and forth between those and the aim feature. Still, those under buttons are far better than having to click down on the right-left sticks.

- It is a very cool-looking controller. I like the art on it, and the backlit sticks look neat in the dark.

- The rubberized texture feels really good in my hands and the analog sticks seem very responsive - I didn't noticed any dead zone on them.

- The wireless worked well and I didn't experience any lag with it.

* Cons:

- The directional pad doesn't seem quite as good as the Dualshock one in my opinion.

- Not a fan of how the start/select buttons are laid out as they are set up on top of and under the PS button, instead of the right/left of

- You need to keep something of a direct line of sight to the USB dongle. It's way too easy to get it out of 'range' and have it drop signal. It works great in my den where the PS3 is a few feet away, and that's the room I use it in most, but in the other rooms you can sometimes lose connection.

* Other notes:

- The trigger buttons bugged my son, but they didn't bother me at all. They were a bit 'squishy' feeling, but they were very responsive, which is the key.

- The analog sticks are rounded on the top - I prefer a concave design myself as it's a bit more comfortable/less likely to slip, but their texture worked fine - I never actually slid off of the nubs.

- Seems to hold a good long charge - I played about four hours straight with it and never had to recharge it during that time.

Final thoughts:

I need a new controller as my youngest accidentally broke the shoulder buttons on one of my Dualshocks by dropping it on the kitchen floor recently, and this one rings in just a shade cheaper than the Dualshock. I will probably consider picking this controller up as it suits my needs, but I'd love to catch it used like my dad did or onsale for $10 less - something along those lines. I'd score this controller a 7 out of 10. It's good, but not perfect.


Gaming Thoughts... 9/6/11

I've been slowly chugging through a pretty large backlog of games, not only in terms of playing the games, but blogging about them. I've been trying to keep up a pace of posting about every 3 days. Aside from all of the reviews and newer stuff I've posted about, I have plenty of other games I've been revisiting as well.

I recently got my wife a Sony Bloggie and got a PSN $20 card with it, so I got my grubby mitts on Heroes of Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes - which has been a fun little puzzle/rpg hybrid. I've also recently downloaded and started to replay Record of Agarest War on the PSN (this was one of my earliest reviews on here, for the 360, and I had said I enjoyed the game despite its many technical shortcomings) - and I have to say I think I'm enjoying my current go-round more than my original one. At $30 you get a lot of gameplay out of it if you enjoy the formula, and now that I have a newer PS3 with more HD space, I can actually download more games to my drive.

Speaking of purchases for my wife that has benefits for me, I got her a new HP computer about a week and a half ago, and it came with a free Xbox 360 slim. I also had access to a cheap 250 GB hard drive for the slim, which is going to give me to opportunity to play and purchase more stuff for my 360 soon - my old 20 gig HD on my 360 was completely full (like 40 mbs left full) - I have some designs to get some more play time w/ DLC for Dragon Age and Mass Effect games, so I'm hoping to post on those.

Another side-project I had started was breaking down a lot of the PS Home content after the PSN came back up early this summer - but I read an article recently that said Sony's going to completely redo Home, so I never bothered finishing that project. I'll post my thoughts on it very soon, but I never got to complete it.

With my dad up and visiting, I've been playing some games I haven't touched quite as much of late like Peggle and FX/Marvel Pinball. That's going to lead me to another review here soon as well - my next post actually.

Neat trick on Peggle. I've gone to #1 in the world on one board and #2 in a couple of others, top 20 on a few - using the Rabbit. What's my trick? Well, it involves a ton of luck, but I'll share it. I realized that the last orange peg when you finish a map is worth a ton of points, so I try to leave 1 or both green pegs for right at the end, and then hope I hit the triple score. Then, whatever you get for the orange pegs plus the final 'point bucket' gets tripled. On my final shot on the map I took #1 on, I got over 350,000 points on that last shot as a result. There's a lot of factors that go into it, but I am up on 2nd place by more than 100,000 points. Cool trick I learned, figured I'd share.

God of War III - Playstation 3 Review

Kratos is an angry, angry man - and he finally gets his revenge.

Sony Santa Monica tells a good story here, but perhaps not quite as good as the first two God of War games. That said, the story they do tell feels like a big budget movie at times, and delivers a ton of bloody action set against a fantastical ancient Greece. In the first God of War game for the Playstation 3, expectations were high -and rightfully so. The God of War series is one that has exhibited a ton of polish and this game is no different.

Graphics - 10:

Wow. I know this game has been out for awhile, but visually it still may be one of the most impressive titles I've played on any system ever. The sense of scale is amazing. Games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow have you fight mammoth creatures at times, but God of War just feels better. One fight you are nearly crushed by a titan, only to blind him and carry out a prolonged battle against creatures on his body as you travel across an arm, over shoulders and so much more.

Even the way the game starts - *Spoiler here for those who haven't played #2* -

But you end God of War 2 on a titan's back, and you start 3 the same way. It looks like a forested area like you might see in any other game, but you are in fact battling enemies while riding this massive titan. The attack on Olympus is amazing - there always seems to be something going on in the background. On top of that, action is bloody, smooth and the framerate holds up despite everything that is always going on.

Sound & Music - 9:

As with the rest of the series, there are some fantastic musical scores in the background that really help to set the tone. I did notice a few of them are a bit shorter it seems than in the past and noticeably loop if you spend too much time in a scene, but the quality was so good I didn't really care. Voice acting was again very solid and the sound effects are even more varied than ever before.

Gameplay - 9:

The combat has been and continues to be amazing in this series. It has not really changed much over the years, but the formula works so I cannot fault the developers for that. Some of the puzzles still annoyed me, and there were times I thought the platforming led me to a couple of cheap deaths, but frequent checkpoints kept me from loosing my cool too often.

A very important note: Quicktime events. I hate them most of the time. They are heavily used in the Chains of Olympus and God of War 1 & 2 - so why didn't I bring that up? Well, to be honest, most people just accept them now. I've had a mini-rant about these in the past in other game reviews, and I just don't like them. They take my focus off of what is happening on the screen, and if I try to take in the action I - well, it can mess up the actual progression and get you killed. I just really do not like them. So, why am I bringing it up now?

Because Sony Santa Monica handled them brilliantly. Did I mess up several times? Sure, but they did something very different than most companies. Usually Quicktime events show up as a button press in the middle of your screen, covering up what's going on and generally just annoying me. Here, they put the triangle on top, X on the bottom, circle on the right and square on the left with a sort of faded white background. Kind of hard to explain, but a) it doesn't cover the action and b) I know which button to press based on periphery vision. I was able to enjoy what was happening on-screen without having to panic half the time. There are other Quicktime events too - like rotating the analog stick, tapping the shoulder buttons and my poor Circle button got abused in these three games (you pound on it lots) - I could have done without all of those all of the time. But, if more games followed God of War 3's lead on the button presses, I'd be a lot happier in general.

Intangibles - 7:

Off all the God of War games, I think this one might have taken me the longest to beat, but that's not saying much - I still probably won in ten or elven hours. There are varied levels of difficulty, things you can unlock like costumes and powers for subsequent playthroughs, and another set of trial/challenges to keep you busy. Still, none of the games in this series do much to keep me playing a 2nd time through, and unfortunately I suspect that this game will fall into the same category despite how excellent the adventure itself is.

Overall - 8.75:

This game can be found at Gamestop for $15 used. The replay value is lacking, but the game itself is completely worth it at the used prices you can find it at now. Not even slightly kid-friendly, this outings is even more verbally, sexually and violently explicit than any of Kratos' other adventures I've played. The game feels incredibly polished and while some of the puzzles and jumps frustrated me from time to time, it was an excellent overall experience.


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