Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Downloadable Content and You

Having games that rely on online features is nothing new, but only in the last couple of years have gamers (and more importantly, game studios) really embraced the power of online. If I asked you 10 years ago where you buy your games (or at least a majority of them) the answer would have been at your local game/department store, and rightfully so as it was the only place you could get it all in one shiny package. Not to mention that at that time, the only games you could find online were quirky, and sometimes obscene, flash games (I remember spending countless hours at www.newgrounds.com during my high school years). But if I were to ask you today where you buy your games, the answers would be a lot different.

Maybe it's because gamers don't care so much for all the frills that come with buying a game from your local game shop, maybe it's the price difference, or maybe it's got more basic reasons like not having to leave your house. Whatever the reason is, more and more gamers are buying their games online, and why not? With online retailers like Steam, Stardock, and Direct 2 Drive it's never been a better time to join the bandwagon. For the same price (in fact usually less) gamers can now buy their games (currently PC only) from online retailers like Steam and have them downloaded directly to their computer and installed at the same time. Depending on the game the entire process takes on average about 2 hours. The other upside to online purchases is that platforms like Steam also manage your games. This means that whenever there is a patch, it will automatically update your game the next time you go to launch it. This may seem like a no-brainer but you'd be surprised how many studios out there don't incorporate it into their games.

But what about all you console lovers out there? are you still forced to go out to your local shop? Well... Yes and no actually. All of the current generation of consoles have an online store, Nintendo's Wii has the Wii Shop Channel, Sony's PlayStation 3 has the PlayStation Network Store, and Microsoft's Xbox 360 has the Marketplace. All of the above are a great place to find various goodies to make your gaming experience more enjoyable. Mostly available are wallpapers, themes, demos, trailers and the like. But they also have games from indie developers that don't make it to your local game stores. Games like Titan Studio's Fat Princess, are amazing full games in their own right but they just don't have the big budgets or price tags that come with store bought console games. Does this make them any less enjoyable? quite the opposite actually. I've had a blast with games like Fat Princess, which can be a refreshing break from the norm of mainstream gaming. Indie developers tend to take more liberal choices in designing their games, which is a very welcome change in the industry.

That's not all that's offered either, you can also delve into the world of Downloadable Content (DLC) which helps to expand your gaming experiences. DLC can come in various forms, from changing the skin (how your character(s) look in game) of various characters to adding new weapons, levels, enemies, and challenges to your favorite games. Sometimes DLC comes as a bonus when pre-ordering the game, other times it can be found in your respective stores but regardless DLC is usually a must have. Take Bioware's recent hit Dragon Age: Origins which just released a DLC pack title Awakening, which adds an entire new campaign with new party members, spells, increased level cap and new dungeons to explore. That's quite hard to ignore and makes for games that last longer than it takes to beat them once and put them on the shelf to gather dust.

So I ask you to take a break from going to your local game shop and embrace the downloadable generation. Take a peek through some of the online stores, you will find there are quite a few gems among them. And stay tuned as I'll be adding downloadable games to my reviews

Monday, March 29, 2010

Technorati Verification

Hey all,

Just posting a verification code to get my blog added to the Technorati database, so just disregard this post :P


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Review: God of War 3, this is spartaaaaa!!!

Kratos is back for his 4th (he also starred in God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PSP, a prequel to the series) and supposedly final installment of the God of War series. While the game is really nothing new, they have added a few very cool gameplay features and have dramatically improved the visuals, to the point where this is probably the best looking game I have ever seen. It's the classic case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it".

The God of War franchise is best known for it's gratuitous amounts of violence and non-stop action, however that would all be meaningless if not for the epic story that drives the series. You play Kratos, a Spartan who essentially sold his soul to Ares, the God of War, in order to save him and his men from certain death...bad move. With Ares holding his leash, Kratos is sent into a bloodrage killing everyone in sight, including his own wife and daughter. This breaks Kratos free of his insanity and begins a hatred for the gods of Olympus, who conveniently require his aid in bringing down the rogue God of War. With the help of the rest of the gods, Kratos defeates Ares and becomes the God of War, but he is plagued by visions and dreams of his past deeds while under the control of Ares. This ignites a fire of hatred in Kratos and he swears to bring all of Olympus down, and see his father Zeus, dead at his feet. God of War 3 is the culmination of the story and starts with you leading the charge of the Titans towards the top of Mount Olympus to enact your revenge. Will you have what it takes to defeat the God of Gods, and bring Mount Olympus crashing down?


It's very hard to formulate into words the visual experience you get from playing God of War 3. The environments are simply breathtaking in both textures, lighting and scope. Character models are beautifully rendered and even though your a big hulk of a man, make proportional sense. There is one major blemish on an otherwise perfect record and it comes fairly early in the game as you are climbing the Chain of Balance, if you keep an eye out (trust me it's very hard to miss) you'll see it sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm not sure how they managed to miss it but the rest of the game runs at a smooth and gorgeous 60 fps no matter how much carnage is going on the screen at any given time. Speaking of carnage, you will be very hard pressed to find a game that actually makes you cringe as you play it (I couldn't help but say "ow" as Helios found himself without his head as I ripped it clean off with my bare hands). Kratos has an impressive arsenal of some very cool looking weapons that allow you to take on the hordes of Olympus with a style and brutality fitting of the franchise. All that aside, the crowning achievement by far is that the game does not run any cinematic cutscenes, only in-game cutscenes so you can see the amount of care and dedication that went into making this as immersive as an experience as one can get.


An epic story deserves an equal audio experience, and God of War 3 doesn't fail to deliver. With quite an impressive voice cast (Michael Clark Duncan and Rip Torn to name a few) to support the brilliant and life-like visuals. And with a musical score brought right from ancient times, you will truly feel like you are transported to a world long past.


"If it ain't broke don't fix it" must have been the mantra for development at Sony's Santa Monica studios. While you will find nothing new or groundbreaking in God of War 3, there is plenty to keep you from putting the controller down. God of War 3 does run a little short in the amount of time it will take you to complete (I clocked 9 hours on Hard) but it offers plenty of replay value in the form of running through the game again in a different skin (a different model for Kratos, however doing so also does add bonuses and negatives) or playing through the various challenge modes. This shouldn't scare you away, quite the opposite actually as the game does an incredible job of pulling you into the world of Greek mythology. Everything you do makes you feel epic and powerful, while at the same time the stunning environments and enemies you fight do a great job of putting you in your place, puny mortal.


If there is anything that could have used some tweaking, it's definitely in the controls. While they do allow for easy input of combo's, I found myself usually getting smacked around as I pulled out my bow instead of the head of Helios to blind enemies. I also found that the controls were a tad unresponsive when it came to using the right stick to dodge, I could move the stick in a direction and about half a second later Kratos would dive. That's a pretty big window to get impaled at the end of a centaur's spear, and trust me it doesn't tickle. Something as simple as allowing the user to swap control buttons for certain actions (ie. blocking, casting magic or weapon swapping) would make a world difference. All things considered though it doesn't break the game or make it unplayable, although it does add some frustrating moments but hey we are gamers right?


The story - GoW3 has possibly one of the most epic storylines I've ever played through. You can feel the rage and sorrow of Kratos as he continually trudges forward on his quest for vengeance. And the supporting cast isn't too shabby either, my favorite moments of the game were actually watching Kratos interact with the various gods, titans and divine beings throughout the game.

Scale - This game is huge, although linear in how you traverse them, the environments sprawl out as far as the eye can see. Whether your riding on the back of a Titan scaling mount Olympus, flying through the Icarus vents using your ill-gotten wings, or just walking through the beautifully rendered environments you feel very much like a mortal in a world of the gods.

Weapon arsenal - There are some really, really cool weapons and combo's in this game. Even the basic starting weapon (the Chains of Olympus) when fully powered up are capable of some brutal attacks. As the game progresses and you attain new weapons, accessories and spells as well as using the souls of the defeated to empower them, you can pull of some pretty crazy combo's that will leave your enemies in the dust.

Boss battles - It's been awhile since I've seen a proper boss battle in a game, and it's been worth the wait. GoW3's boss battles are truly epic and deserving of a battle with a god. The battles are extremely well scripted and quite unforgiving to those who just want to button mash their way to the final quick-time event that will lead to the bosses head on the floor. Speaking of the quick-time events, button usage wise they haven't changed from previous versions of the game however they possibly have gotten more brutal with the dramatically increased visuals GoW3 provides us with.


The controls - Maybe I'm being too critical but I felt that the controls were pretty stiff and unforgiving in certain situations. Not to mention that on more than one occasion (usually while jumping from cliff to cliff) the controls just simply refused to do what I told them. On the bright side the game is very lenient in checkpoints so if it happens to you fear not, at most you'll be set back about 5 minutes. I do feel that all these troubles could have been avoided if they had allowed for some user customization of the control scheme.

GoW3 is a must play for any PS3 owner. The unbelievably epic sense of scope and unrelenting brutality of the combat makes for an incredible experience that simply should not be missed.

9.5/10 - Perfection

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Patch Day!

Yesterday patch 3.3.3 rolled out onto US World of Warcraft servers, and it's surprisingly a big one. Unfortunately there isn't a new dungeon or raid instance to gather your friends and go smash, but there is plenty of content, UI, and mechanic updates to freshen things up a bit before the Ruby Sanctum becomes available in 3.3.5.

As stated above this patch is filled with tons of goodies, from new vendors to new pets and mounts and even some streamlining changes to the battleground system. For starters there has been a new Icecrown questline added that starts from an item that drops off of the Lich King. I'm not sure if it will drop in all versions of the LK encounter but considering it rewards a unique Deathcharger mount (colored according to faction) I would assume that it drops only in the heroic 10 and 25 versions of the encounter.

On the topic of mounts, a couple more have also been added to the client in this version. Firstly are the 2 new WoWTCG reward mounts, the Wooly White Mammoth and the Blazing Hippogryph. As most of you know the future of the WoWTCG is uncertain as UDE announced earlier this year that they will not be working with Blizzard anymore to continue the game, however Blizzard has said that it isn't the end of the WoWTCG and to stay tuned for updated. The inclusion of these 2 new reward mounts to the game lends credibility to Blizzards statement and hopefully means we will see the Wrathgate expansion soon afterall, until then these 2 mounts are unobtainable. Secondly is another mount of unknown source, the X-53 Touring Rocket, which looks to be the first multi-passenger flying mount. Lastly is the Frosty Flying Carpet, a tailoring only mount, that is purchasable from the new vendor Frozo the Renowned in Dalaran (I'll go into more detail about him later in the post). Last but certainly not least in this case is the Celestial Steed mount, which looks like they took Invincible (Arthas's mount) and turned him into Algalon. Like the WoWTCG reward mounts, the Celestial Steed eludes me on how we are supposed to obtain it, but as soon as information comes to light I'll be sure to let you know as it's probably one of the best looking mounts since the A'lar mount off of Kael'Thas back in Burning Crusade.

Also included in this patch is a slew of new non-combat pets that can be acquired from a few different places. First up are 3 new toys from Jepetto Joybuzz (the toyshop owner in Dalaran), the Blue Clockwork Rocket Bot, the Blue Crashin' Thrashin' Racer Controller and a Tiny Blue Ragdoll. The other 2 pets added in this content patch also have mystery drop locations. One is most likely going to be purchasable from the blizzard store as he shares a similar name with one already sold there(Lil'KT), he is Lil'XT (a boss from the Ulduar raid instance). Lil'XT shares the animations of his big brother and also comes with his own voice, a first for non-combat pets. The other pet also shares similarities, with the Celestial Steed, he is the Celestial Dragon and like his big brother, his drop location is currently unknown.

One of the bigger additions to the patch is Frozo the Renowned who has moved into the Dalaran Magus Commerce Exchange and will be selling various items in exchange for Frozen Orbs (they finally have a use, huzzah!). For just 1 Frozen Orb you will be able to purchase all of the Eternal elements (Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Life and Shadow) as well as Frost Lotus, finally you won't have to scrounge through the AH to make your flasks! Also available for purchase are Runed Orbs (for 4 Frozen Orbs), Crusader Orbs (for 6) and the pattern for the Frosty Flying Carpet (tailors only, also for 6 Frozen Orbs).

Speaking of professions there have been a slew of changes to existing recipes. The biggest change by far is the removal of cooldowns on all transmuting, the big ones being Titansteel, Ebonweave, Spellweave and Moonshroud. All the other changes are reductions to Ulduar item-level craftable item materials, so you should expect to see a 2-3k price drop on most servers (now is the time to gear out the plethora of alts most of you probably have).

The final major changes this patch have to do with The Culling of Stratholme and Battlegrounds. Players will now be able to skip the ridiculously long RP (Role Playing) scene at the beginning of the instance and teleport straight to the first wave of mobs. Never has Chromie looked so good =D. Also of note are some subtle changes to the Dungeon Finder tool. The first being that the Deserter debuff has been increased from 15min to 30min, so don't be so quick to leave a group or you could be waiting quite a while for a new one. On that same vein, when initiating a kick for a player in your group you must now provide a reason for kicking said player, this will not be seen by the player being voted so don't be shy in your reasoning.

As stated previously there has been a rather large change implemented to the existing Battlegrounds system which borrows heavily from the Dungeon Finder tool. The daily Call to Arms quest is now a thing of the past, as PvP goers now have their own Battleground Finder tool to use. Players can now queue for either a random Battleground or the Call to Arms of the day from anywhere in Azeroth (and Outland!) and will get a bonus for the first win (it doesn't count if you lose, so don't worry!) of the day. This bonus is worth 30 extra Honorable Kills worth of Honor, as well as 25 Arena Points so it's a great way to build PvP sets. For any subsequent uses of the tool, the bonus is reduced to 15 HK's worth of bonus honor and you won't get any Arena Points. Also of note is the removal of all Battleground Marks (Players will be able to turn in existing marks for a Commendation of Service which will grant you 185 honor per commendation). With the Battleground marks being removed, the prices on all PvP has been adjusted accordingly, so high end PvP gear will cost you in the ballpark of 25k honor. Mounts have also had their prices changed to just honor and are 50k per mount.

Well that looks to be all the major changes, there have been a slew of buffs, nerfs and fixes to various items, dungeons and classes so head on over to http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/patchnotes/ if you want to view the complete patch notes.

On a side note, this might be the funniest thing I've seen in awhile....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nintendo Announces 3DS

It's finally here, the day us Nintendo lovers have all been waiting for. The day that Nintendo finally announces their next generation handheld. Currently using the codename Nintendo 3DS (presumably a working name, but you never know they have used worse) it will debut at this years E3 in all it's handheld glory. In true Nintendo fashion, they've only let a little bit of information out to us. What we know so far is that it is indeed the next generation console, so that means all new games (huzzah!). We also know that the system will be backwards compatible with all DS and DSi games including downloadable DSiware games.

That's all well and good, and mostly to be expected, but this is Nintendo we are talking about here, so what's the real reason to make a new handheld when the DS (and all it's incarnations) are doing so well? The answer is 3D, uh-huh, as in 3-Dimensional (the stuff that pops out of the screen at you). The aptly codenamed 3DS will utilize 2 screens and a host of other features such as motion sensing and multiple camera's to immerse users in a 3D handheld experience.

The full list of features will be both confirmed and unveiled at this years E3 as well as a more solid release date (as of this post it's dated for Nintendo's next fiscal year, April 2010 - March 2011). I'm very interested to see where they go with this and how they can make a system 3D without the use of glasses.

Stay tuned for more posts as information gets released...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: Heavy Rain, it's gonna be a wet one...

Heavy Rain, released Feb. 23 2010, is Sony's latest exclusive for the PS3. Developed by Quantic Dream (the guys who brought us the fabled Indigo Prophecy on the original XBOX), the game explores a world rich with characters, intrigue and plenty of heart-stopping moments. Dubbed THE psychological thriller of this generation, it doesn't disappoint in the slightest. The game's ability to rely completely on the use of quick-time events (specifically timed button presses) to control the game is executed perfectly and makes for a more cinematic experience the draws you deep into mystery.

Plot Summary:
How far are you willing to go to save someone you love? Not something you think or talk about on a daily basis, but at the same time not altogether unfamiliar. It's the underlying edge that drives Heavy Rain through it's emotionally turbulent (to say the least) forecast. The story revolves around several characters although if you had to select a main character it would be Ethan Mars, a father of two who tragically loses his oldest son in a car accident when he loses sight of him in a crowded mall, and that's just the beginning. The story takes many dark twists and turns as it hops between the 4 playable characters; Ethan Mars, FBI special investigator Norman Jayden, private investigator Scott Shelby and Madison Page who suffers from chronic insomnia. All of whom are involved in some way with the mysterious Origami killer whose latest victim just happens to be the son of Ethan Mars, who in a way almost taken directly from "Saw" has to overcome a series of tests to save his son from certain death.



I remember when I saw the first teasers and tech demo's for Heavy Rain a couple of years ago, that I was completely blown away with how real everything looked. Now I don't just mean that if you stopped to look at the scenery it looked like real footage, I mean that the characters and the environments they are in looked believable, and they delivered. The guys over at Quantic Dream have taken the industry a step forward by using realistic character emotions, in other words the characters don't always have the same look on their face. This makes for some really engaging storytelling as you feel a much larger personal link to the characters than you normally would in traditional games. It also makes for some great visuals as the characters are beautifully rendered and animated so fluidly that at times you feel like the game is just one big cinematic. The game isn't without it's shortcomings though, despite it's strengths in this area. Some less important characters, environments, and items (like telephones, pots, anything the characters interact with etc...) are very poorly done and stick out like a sore thumb against the far better done backgrounds and characters. Thankfully these breaks in the splendor are short lived and far between.


In a game where so much revolves around the experience and story, it's nice to see that they were able to get a musical score that fits the bill and good voice acting. The characters sound believable and the dialogue isn't altogether too cheesy although there are a few moments, as to be expected. I do recommend playing with subtitles turned on however, as some of the sound levels can get a bit wonky at times and you won't be able to make out that important piece of story.


Much like Quantic Dream's XBOX title Indigo Prochecy, Heavy Rain isn't played using conventional means. The game is almost entirely controlled by quick time events (you do get to control where to walk, however that's about all of your freedom) which let you interact with the world and also fight when needed. At first glance it may seem odd or scary to have to play an entire game using only times button presses but thanks to some intuitiveness, it never gets stale. Some interactions have you use the analog sticks (such as opening doors or putting on Norman Jayden's ARI sunglasses computer) while others (such as getting Scott Shelby's puffer ready for use) require you to take advantage of the PS3 controllers built in six-axis motion technology by shaking it in various directions. The other cool thing that has never been done before is tracking the speed in which you carry out certain events that will reflect in the in game animations, for example if you motion with the stick to slowly put on the sunglasses, the animation will take longer in game. But the real treat here is that not everything gives you a second chance, the game isn't afraid to kill off characters and drastically alter the story just because you were taking a drink and couldn't mash the X button fast enough. This is what really seperates Heavy Rain from it's competitors, everything you do (or don't do) in the game has a consequence be it good or bad. Even in fight scenes, normally if you miss a button press the scene will restart and restart until you get the sequence correct, while in Heavy Rain if you miss an event action you'll find the fight will take a different path than if you did it correctly. This really draws you in and immerses you in the story so that you feel responsible for everything that happens in the game.


Heavy Rain is a must play through for any PS3 owner, and for those who don't have a PS3 go watch it at a friends house. The story is extremely compelling and highly addictive, you simply won't want to stop playing just because you want to see what happens next. And because of the use of quick time events as a control mechanic, there isn't a lot of time wasted learning menu systems or combos. It also allows for multiple people to sit down and play the game start to finish, perhaps filling up the spot your favorite TV show used to?

Although Heavy Rain is a must play, and an extremely satisfying game, there are a few issues. As previously stated not everything in the game is treated with the same meticulous care, and it shows. Certain objects that the characters interact with are inexcusably poorly done (jagged lines and pixelated textures plague most non-static objects) to the point where it almost makes you laugh, which in a game as dark as this, kind of kills the mood. The only other real issue is how you navigate around the world (in the few times it gives you free reign). Instead of your classic controls of left stick move and right stick camera, Heavy Rain adopts a control scheme more akin to a racing game. Holding R2 controls your movement speed (just a little pressure to walk, and full grip to run) and you use the left stick to steer. It will throw you off at first but after awhile you will grow accustomed to it, although there are a few times where combined with changes in the camera angles, it was pretty bad.

Final Verdict:

8/10 - Excellent