Monday, November 20, 2006

State of Comics 11/20

It's been a while since I last touched on comic books, so I figured now is as good a time as any. I titled this "State of Comics" because I will be looking into where Civil War and 52 are at this moment in time.

Civil War

There is a good series going on in the Marvel Universe, but it isn't this one; in fact, it is Annihilation. If you haven't been picking that series out you've been missing out on the best that Marvel has to offer. Civil War has, so far, been a hugely hyped series that has not reached the level it could. I'm not sure if it is Millar going into different gears or whether he's planned out the end and is slowly getting to it.

The reason I bring up gears is because this series was promising during issues 1 and 2. After that, everything seems to have gone downhill and the series seems to have slowed down. Granted, I talked about this back in June that issue #2 would be the high point and that there was no chance Millar could top himself after having Spider-Man unmask. That big of a reveal that early (which of course got the mainstream press in a tizzy) is a dangerous thing to unleash and maybe Millar is starting to realize that. Issue #3 wasn't bad, but it was the start of the slippery and slow slope that the series has taken.

Issue #5 was simply bad in my mind. It was cool to see Spider-Man against the new Thunderbolts team (that will now be missing 2 characters...heh), but what I don't understand is how Spider-Man didn't do anything to defeat them. Yes, he had his run-in with Iron Man and SHIELD, but he should have been in a pissed off state of mind and ready to kick some ass against those guys. Bad writing in my estimation, it was just a way to get the Punisher into the story; a very lame way.

I am interested in this week's Civil War tie-ins, but I don't have much hope for the series as a whole. I still say pick up Annihilation, a far better read.


As a series, 52 has its good and bad weeks. I was about ready to write it off after Week 24, but since then the series has kept me interested. I am still bummed about Booster's death and I am very interested in what the heck is going on with Skeets. I think the strongest sections of this series revolve around Booster and Skeets; Ralph and the Fate Helmet; Question and Montoya; Animal Man, Starfire and Adam Strange; and the Black Marvel Family. Those make the strongest of the stories so far in this series. The Magnus and Morrow stuff as well as Steel's sections have gotten a bit long in the tooth. I am wondering where the heck Supernova has been though, haven't seem him in a while.

We're into the second half of the series now and things are ramping up on all fronts. I certainly hope no one I like dies, but it could very well happen. I'll keep reading this series and so far it is better than Civil War, but there are far more issues available here than that series.

This Week in Entertainment (11/19 - 11/25)

I won't cover the Wii games since they are already out, but those did get released yesterday. The key games would probably be Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (multiplayer), Rayman: Raving Rabbids (multiplayer) and possibly Madden 07 just because of the gameplay. Onto the rest of the week and my picks for the week in every category.


NOTE: This is one of the weakest Thanksgiving week release list that I ever remember, but maybe I'm not remembering them correctly. I know Nintendo is probably going, "well, we released Zelda on Sunday and that's during the week", but come on!

Superman Returns: The Game (360/Xbox/PS2/DS)

For those that haven't done so already, be sure to download the Xbox 360 demo of this game. I have to say I was quite surprised by the demo. This game had been pushed back from the release of the movie to roughly the release time of the movie on DVD. The graphics are nice and the draw distance is quite large (I flew all the way up in the clouds to see the area you play in from far above), but it certainly isn't going to overcome Gears of War on a graphics level. Superman's powers are readily available and hopefully they will be available from the start of the game. Keep an eye on this game it could be a really good action game along the lines of the last Hulk game.

Rainbow Six: Vegas (360)

Never been too big on the Rainbow games even though I have played some of them. From all I've read this is the cream of the crop for the series. I am even thinking about picking it up just to play online in a group. This is my Game of the Week just from early reviews of it. Gamespot's review should solidify the need to buy or rent this game.

Need for Speed: Carbon (Wii)

This will be interesting to see how it plays with the Wiimote. It should be like ExciteTruck where you hold it horizontally like a wheel, but from gameplay videos it looks like you point it straight and turn left and right.


Ice Age: The Meltdown (DVD)

Default DVD of the Week from me. I liked this movie, but there were other computer animated movies that came out this year that are better than this one, including a movie that came out 2 weeks ago AND came out in the theater after this one: Cars.

You, Me and Dupree (DVD)

I will have to rent this movie. I heard it was bad, so it isn't worth buying.

Da Ali G Show Complete (DVD)

For those that have seen Borat, here is what made Sasha Baron Cohen a name here in America. There is no added substance from the season releases that have already come out, this is just a repackaging of all the season together for a cheaper price. HBO is doing this for a lot of series that are completed, which should piss off a good deal of people that paid premium prices to pick up each season of HBO shows.

Deja Vu (Theater)

This movie looks interesting and certainly has the pedigree (stars and director) to be as big of a Thanksgiving hit as National Treasure was 2 years ago.

The Fountain (Theater)

I have a feeling not many people will watch this movie, but this is my Movie of the Week to watch in the theater. Darren Aronofsky is writer/director and Hugh Jackman and Rachael Weisz star in this time-travelling tale. Chances are it could be one of those "thinking person" movies that makes you think or may be over many people's heads. I still think it is a safe bet from a Science Fiction perspective.

For Your Consideration (Theater)

Another Christopher Guest ensemble movie. I may be one of the only people out there that disliked Waiting for Guffman, but I have liked all the other movies this group has put out. Reviews are excellent, but that doesn't necessarily mean I will like it.


Amazing Spider-Man #536

Easily the Comic Book of the Week. After last week's avalanche of good comics, this week is the fallout of Civil War #5 (which I will talk about soon). I have enjoyed "The War at Home" so far, although when taken in conjunction with Fantastic Four it lessens its impact since JMS seems to be recycling the same story, making ASM the far better book since it comes out first.

Civil War: Frontline #8

I've enjoyed this mini-series that ties into Civil War. I like that there are 3 stories told in each one, although I could do without the final act of each book honestly. More Ben and Speedball, less history please.

Daredevil #91

"The Devil Takes a Ride" arc continues here. Brubaker has totally taken up the reins from Bendis on this series. If ASM wasn't around this week this would probably be my pick.

Exiles #88

I was late coming onto this series, but am liking it quite a bit.

Fantastic Four: The End #2

I liked the first part and will continue to read the series at least into this release.

Runaways #22

Enjoy Vaughn while you can until Whedon comes over for the future of this series.

Ultimate Spider-Man #102

I have no idea how Bendis is going to end the "Clone War" in the next three issues, but it has been an engaging read.

X-Factor #13

Peter David has struck gold on this series again.

Wonder Woman #3

The now bi-monthly series has another issue release. I've liked this series so far and I'm glad they pushed it to a realistic bi-monthly schedule. It would be nice to be monthly, but I can understand the delay. Heck, Whedon and Cassidy get away with it in Astonishing X-Men.

What Did We Learn This Weekend?

So, the Playstation 3 and Wii launches came and went. I think Bill put it nicely in his blog (Dubious Quality) this weekend in two separate posts and I'll try not to just retread on what he said.

I was one of the people with inside info on the PS3 and launch quantities that Bill talked about and it will be very interesting to see Sony's press releases starting today. I am actually surprised they didn't send out a form press release saying that the PS3 launch was an unqualified success this weekend. I'm not exactly sure how they are going to spin the 140k units that went to stores instead of the 400k target (this is rumor at this point, but many signs are pointing toward this number being realistic). On every news channel I watched and every newspaper I read they made it a point to say that 400k units were shipped to stores. I'm not sure when NPDs numbers come out, but that will be the telltale sign. I'm sure Sony is hoping to have more units in the channel before that report comes out because I don't think it will look very rosy. They may even bring out a PR piece that says, "well, Wal-Mart is not taken into account in NPDs numbers" (since they aren't).

The most funny thing to come out of this weekend is how fast the eBay price of the PS3 dropped after roughly Friday night. If you hadn't sold your PS3 by then you were talking more in the $200-600 profit range at this point (although there are some still going for $1.5k). Some people have even taken to raffles, but so far I haven't seen much movement in those auctions. It's hard to guess at what this sort of thing means though. Does it mean that the PS3 isn't nearly as "wanted" as Sony would like us to think it is? Have the bidders decided that the system isn't worth 2x+ the original price and they can wait? Have the people that wanted a PS3 for Christmas already purchased their systems from eBay and now there are slim pickings when talking about buyers out there?

If I were to guess I'd put the most credence on the first question. I think the Wii launch on Sunday signified that to me. Chances are good that Nintendo came out with 400k+ units yesterday and as far as I can tell all of them sold out. I think Nintendo will come out of this with a great holiday season, but much like the GameCube if there isn't much quality 3rd party support I don't see it selling very well going through next year. That is the major bump that Nintendo must overcome for the Wii to be a valid console this go around. I hope they learned from the ongoing N64 and GameCube sales failure.

Heck, even the New York Times has a scathing article about the PS3 today. It is worthy to note that some of the things he talks about the Xbox 360 having vs. the PS3 were not available at 360 launch. The key one I am thinking about is the multiple downloads section (the summer update added that) as well as component cables not being included in the Core system (he doesn't make a division between the Premium and Core 360s).

I did not pick up either system this weekend. I decided I didn't want to stand out in the cold again like I did last year. The PS3 is certainly going toward the "buying next year" category after some more quality games have come out and we know more about the exclusive games supposedly coming next year. Do not be surprised if previously exclusive games go multi-platform if the PS3 is a flop coming out of the holiday season. I will probably pick up a Wii at some point simply to play Zelda, although I may just hold off for the GameCube release. The Wii was certainly calling to me more than the PS3 this weekend honestly.

Also, if you have a 360 as well as a PS3 and you are thinking about getting some multi-platform games, do yourself a favor and stick with the 360 version. Every PS3 version so far has had problems: Call of Duty 3, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (has 1080p support) and Tony Hawk's Project 8 all have framerate slowdown. NBA 2K7 has major problems in 1080p resolution from my understanding. EA's games also have some graphical missteps when compared to their 360 counterpart as well. All in all, the ports have not gone over very well. This leaves you basically with one standout game (Resistance: Fall of Man) and two duds (Genji and Untold Legends) from Sony...whoops!

I can't wait for those numbers from NPD and see how Sony is going to spin them. You may also want to check out your local video game establishment since some people may be returning their PS3s because they didn't get the money they wanted from an eBay auction. Don't be surprised if there is some resupply at stores with unopened and returned units.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

PS3 Camper Update

I decided to drive around a bit tonight and see if there were any lines around. I talked about the one in Richfield, MN earlier that I had seen on a local news station. Well, now the campers fill up the front right and looks like the whole right side of the building. This Best Buy is obviously one that should get more than the 20 promised. I think they had over 100 360s last year (I just checked, it was 178...134 Premiums, 44 Cores), so that's a good bet.

I also went to few Targets, Wal-Marts and other Best Buys as well. Each one either had people waiting in line outside or, in the case of Wal-Mart and one Target, they had people inside waiting (the Wal-Mart is a 24-hour one, so I can only guess they will release at midnight on Friday). Compare this to last year and the store I stood in front of at 8pm the night before the 360 release (I was 1st in line) has about 12 people in line almost 48 hours before the PS3 release. The weather is slightly warmer (I think I sat in 22 degree weather last year, it's 34 here now) as it should hit about 29 tonight and about 24 for those that have to wait until 8am on Friday (26 for the midnighters).

I have to say that people must have obviously learned from last year and decided to line up early this time around. I know there were several fights at other locations over the 360, but there wasn't much incident where I was other than people being pissed they didn't get Premium systems. They have also obviously learned that eBay is a precious asset from last year and see lots of money in their futures. I don't think I could push myself much past the 12 hours I waited last year in the cold. Many of these people have tents though and probably have some heaters as well. I could easily do 48 hours with those amenities, but the toes get really cold really fast.

Anyway, that's just a report from the frozen north of Minnesota. We are just lucky there hasn't been any accumulation of snow (it has snowed here though). Last year I don't think it had snowed yet when the 360 came out (November 22nd). All I hope is that some people don't go crazy and violence ensues on Friday. Tempers become very thin when you're the unlucky person that didn't get the last ticket and everyone after them.

Opinion: Playstation 3

The Playstation 3 is only a couple days for release and even up here (Minnesota) people are already camping out to get one on Friday. Woke up this morning and the news already had that people had tents and were camping outside the Richfield, MN Best Buy (for those that don't know, Richfield is also the city where Best Buy HQ is located, but it is a separate building from the Best Buy store a half mile away). The Richfield Best Buy is the only one around here opening at midnight and when there are midnight openings for things, this is the store that is usually the only one open.

I have also heard reports of people already camping at 24-hour Wal-Mart locations (that would also sell at midnight) and I can only guess some Target stores may have lines starting. The problem with Target is that they also have a charity CD coming out for one of the local radio stations tomorrow morning.

I did not pre-order the PS3 or Wii and may or may not stand in line to get one or the other. My gut feeling is that the number of PS3 units available will be well below expectations, possibly a cut of as much as 50%. I can only guess there will end up being less PS3 systems at launch than 360 last year. I wonder if Sony will come out and say that they will not meet expectations or not. Chances are they won't since they haven't shown lately that they can be up front about stuff.

Much like the Wii below there are some valid questions to ask about the PS3, such as:

1. How big of a percentage of PS3s are going to go up on eBay by Christmas?
At this moment there are 2,441 PS3 systems up for sale at eBay. Back as far as October 31st at around 9am my time (Central) there were 2,260 that were put up for bid (but not necessarily sold). There can only be more that were put up between the pre-order date at Gamestop and October 31st. Given those first two numbers (and guessing that enough were sold in-between the dates I don't have) there are probably 5,000+ PS3s that have been put up for bid or sold at this point. Not knowing the full amount of units Gamestop, EB and Toys 'R Us have I can only go by Sony's initial 400k unit launch and say that a little over 1% of PS3s have been sold.

Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, etc. have not sold systems yet (Wal-Mart did do online stuff yesterday) and I can only guess a good chunk of those bought will go on eBay. The lure of money (most PS3s are going for over $2k currently...over 3x the price of the $599 system) is just going to be too great for people. The idea that you can make $1400 on this system and possibly make your family's Christmas a very good one is probably why people are already camping out here (in the's in the 40s, but the nights are below freezing) and elsewhere.

My best guess when all is said and done is that at least 25% of PS3s will be sold on eBay and I may be lowballing on my figure. The only thing that could screw up my percentage is if the saturation point of people willing to spend $2k on the system is hit. Chances are very good that that $2k price will go higher if you hold out past Thanksgiving on putting it up on eBay.
2. How strong is the launch lineup?
Much like the Wii below the launch lineup is not that exciting. Just like the Wii there is really only one standout game at launch, Resistance: Fall of Man. The other original games (not games on other systems) are Genji: Days of the Blade, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom. The last one could be another standout, but I haven't heard anything about it from any magazine at all. That's not a good indicator to be honest, especially since they are covering other games.

The rest of the games are multiplatform ones. Early reviews on the Activision ones (Tony Hawk's Project 8 and Call of Duty 3) is that there are major framerate hitches in both and the online component is either not there (THP8) or not as robust (CoD3). On the reverse side are the 2K sports games. NBA 2K7 has a 1080p output (supposedly running at 60fps) and the Sixaxis controller is used for free throws. Previews have noted that they can't tell a vast difference between the look of the PS3 and 360 versions, but I would guess once they have it in their hands and can play side-by-side they'd know.

Is the launch lineup stronger than the 360? That's more of a subjective opinion from anyone. From my vantage point the key games of the 360 launch were Project Gotham Racing 3, Call of Duty 2, Kameo (don't let anyone tell you this game sucks), Condemned and Perfect Dark Zero (hindered by the inability to meet hype). That's 5 worthy games in my opinion, but many people are not into racing or platform games for instance, eliminating 2 of those games. The key game to hone in on is Call of Duty 2 which really ran well on the 360 and the early review of Call of Duty 3 from Gamespot that says there is lots of slowdown even in empty places on the PS3.
3. Can the free online play challenge Xbox Live?
Sony has kept very quiet about this and maybe some of you don't know the full details, so I'll lay it out here. Unlike Microsoft who runs pretty much every game (minus EA games and some others) through their servers and Xbox Live service, the PS3 online service options will be limited by the publishers/developers who want to support it. Sony is leaving it to the companies to develop and run their online multiplayer. Sony is just giving us a way to connect to each other, but the companies will maintain and upgrade the servers the games run on. This is much like it was in the PS2 world with online, but with the move to PS3 I find that online multiplayer will become that much more important in the overall scheme of things.

Don't be surprised if some games come out where the company releasing it would like to see you pay an amount per month to play the game and keep the servers up and maintained. For a company like Electronic Arts it isn't too much trouble because they usually phase out online play on old games every year as the new iteration comes out, but for the smaller companies out there the only way for them to see a profit and not a loss via online play is to charge a fee. With Xbox Live almost all servers are handled by Microsoft and that is what we pay the $50 for. The companies develop the netcode for their games via the Live SDK, but Microsoft runs the servers the games run off of.

Neither way is necessarily perfect, but I don't see the PS3 online section being on every game like it pretty much is for the Xbox 360. With production costs already high for both systems (and the PS3 development is evidently higher than the 360), companies may decide to drop the PS3 online component to be cost effective.
4. Will the price keep people away after the initial release?
This will be the true test for the PS3: How will sales go once it is readily available? As noted above I figure a good percentage will be bought just to sell on eBay, but what about once all the craziness settles down? Can the PS3 outsell the 360 at the +$200 price point? It will be interesting.
5. Will the 20GB version be enough in memory space?
Word already is that there is an option to install several gigabytes onto the hard drive to run Ridge Racer 7 (5GB) and Genji: Day of the Blade (2GB). It is confirmed as an option on Genji, but no idea if it is one on RR7. The original Xbox cached a lot of stuff onto the hard drive in order to play a game faster and this is pretty much the same type of thing although the hard drive hit seems to be of a larger quantity. No word yet on other games needing this space, but it is quite possible that the 20GB version will be tapped out rather quickly. The good news is you can put any 2.5" hard drive into the PS3, but that's an extra price hit.
6. Can Sony overcome their overall bad PR moves?
Granted, most people won't know all about Sony's missteps with the PS3 and other things this year. E3 was a disaster for Sony, especially in comparison to the Wii and 360. The first big misstep was the announcement of the price. Sony believes enough people out there trust the name brand that they won't be pissed to pay $200 or $300 more than they did the PS2 at launch. Some polling place, which could be valid or not valid, even said a lot of people thought the PS3 was $300. Could there be people in the lines that don't know the actual price of the PS3? I think it would be tough because if they saw Sunday ads they would have seen the price.

Sony is also reliant on the Blu-Ray player on the PS3. This is them trying to push that format as the defacto one of the new generation of DVD players. It works well for those people that have 1080p systems in the fact that they get a player and game system for $400 less than a standalone player, but is the PS3 a better Blu-Ray player than the standalone one? I don't know. There may also be loading issues given that this is a first-generation Blu-Ray system versus one down the road that may speed up loading quite a bit. The good news is that it is probably quieter because it runs at a lower speed than the 360's DVD drive. It also allows for larger information to be stored on the disc. Whether that is good or not is up for debate.

The other misstep was obviously their battery problems with many notebook computer manufacturers. This will cost Sony a lot of money and I don't know whether people should be worried about the PS3 controller or not with the battery in it. If that battery blows up Sony could be in a world of hurt more than they are now. Sony is on its way to the toilet as a brand and they've put all their eggs into the PS3 basket hoping it will pay off as it did the 2 generations prior.
In the end I'd have to say the smartest move is to pass on the Playstation 3 at this moment. Resistance: Fall of Man is the only game to pick up and play and hopefully you'll have a friend that has the system and game and you can play it. The news is much more rosy as we move into next year with more (supposedly) exclusive offerings like Metal Gear Solid 4 and possibly Final Fantasy XIII along with many others.

In many ways I am sure people wished they would have waited a few months on the Xbox 360 because that was when things started to get good for many. I think the same thing is going to befall both the PS3 and Wii. There will be a quiet quarter after this one and then some standout things will start to emerge as we move into the spring and through the rest of the year next year. I just hope nothing hardware based goes wrong with the PS3, that could also doom Sony pretty quickly. For those getting in line I wish you luck and hopefully we'll have some hard numbers before the systems actually go on sale.

Opinion: Nintendo Wii

The Nintendo Wii is an interesting counter-choice to the Playstation 3. The Wii should have more plentiful numbers and the price point is rather attractive when put up against the PS3 ($499/$599 vs. $249). The only problem with the Wii is that there may be more question marks surrounding it than the PS3 has. Things to consider:

1. Will there be any heavy support after the initial 6-12 months of release?
Developers are saying they are big behind the Wii because of production costs being less on a game than those on the 360 or PS3. This may be true, but the developers also need to think about what would make a game exciting to the owners of the Wii. With a new way of controlling how you play the game, the developers need to start thinking outside the box and utilizing the full range of motion that the remote supposdely has.

I question whether support is going to be there after a year. I think it is a valid point of worry with the Wii. Yes, Metroid and Mario are coming, but after that what other original or big selling games are there? With Zelda coming out on Sunday that is a big selling point for the Wii, but it also spites those people (like myself) that were waiting for the game on the GameCube. We have to wait almost a month to get our hands on that version unless we picked up a Wii.
2. Will Red Steel end up being a game worth picking up or has nothing changed since the disastrous previews?
I still think Red Steel could end up being another strong release alongside Zelda for the Wii release. Both Nintendo and UbiSoft have been touting the game, but when early previews started coming out it painted a not so rosy picture. Did UbiSoft go back and refine the game and make it all it could be? That's the question.
3. Is the controller a gimmick or a real revolution?
From a conceptual standpoint the controller is revolutionary, but from real world use in games at launch and the future will it actually stand up? Journalists who have played Zelda at the recent event in Redmond sat on both sides of the fence on whether the Wii controls were good for the game or not. What they were pretty unified with was that using the controls would not make your arms tire. The latter is an important factor since logic would dictate that your hands would tire after hours of play, but the previews on 10 hours of play refuted that.

The thing to worry about here also ties into #1. Developers have to think outside the box when creating games for the Wii. In many ways it will be easy to use the new control system, but can they utilize it to its full potential? They are going to decide whether the control system is viewed as a gimmick or a revolutionary idea.
4. Will the idea by many that the Wii is just a GameCube 1.5 hurt the system?
I don't think of the Wii like this, but I get the impression that many do. This could hurt the Wii in the end simply because we (unfortunately) live in a society where graphics are pretty important. The Wii is not going to wow people like the 360 or PS3 might, it just isn't going to happen. The Wii is there for much the same reason as the GameCube, a system where people can have fun playing games with other people. With the Wii they get into the game physically, a vast change from the GameCube. Nintendo still hasn't shed the kiddie image that many people talk about and they plan on having many Mature games on the Wii, but they'd have to do something pretty badass to lose the kiddie label.
5. Is online multiplayer gaming really that important?
Online multiplayer gaming may not be very important to Nintendo again this time around. Yes, there will be online play, but is Nintendo really taking an aggressive stance on it? I don't think they are. Sony, for all they've done wrong, have embraced online play with the PS3 although the success of it can be debated. Microsoft obviously makes Live a key component of their system. Could a repeat of the GameCube happen again where there are very few games that support online play? It is cool we'll have the Virtual Console available via the network, but we certainly can't play those games with other people around the world, can we?
In the end I hope people pick up the Wii, especially if you're in a family environment. The unfortunate part (that is shared with the PS3) is that there is really only one game to pick up for the Wii (Zelda) that is a for sure must buy. Outside of that what do you have? The vast unknown.

Monday, November 13, 2006

This Week in Entertainment (11/12 - 11/18)

This is a nice quiet week...oh wait, I'm looking at a different week! Big releases in all the categories I list in these posts, so get ready. As usual, I have my pick of the week in every category.


Playstation 3 System (11/17)

The system we've all opined about (and every eBay seller's fantasy) is ready to drop on Friday. Sony has said they hope to exceed expectations, but I'm willing to bet the amount of systems available will be 400k or lower. For those that pre-ordered at EB/Gamestop I wish you luck and hope your local store goes chronologically and not sell to those that spent more on the system/games/accessories as you. I'll make a post later on talking about my feelings with the PS3 and Wii about to drop.

PS3 Ported Games

This includes such games as NBA 2K7, NHL 2K7, Tony Hawk's Project 8 (sans online), Call of Duty 3, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Need for Speed: Carbon, NBA Live 07, NHL 07 and Tiger Woods 07. I may have forgotten some, but it will be interesting to see how they stack up against their 360 counterparts.

Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)

It is a busy games release week because of the Playstation 3 and this easily tops the choices coming out of the PS3's launch. IGN's review gave it a 9.1, although it was a poorly written article. I await Gamespot's take on it since I find they run generally at the same wavelength I do. I think no matter what this game receives my Game of the Week endorsement even though I may not play it for a long time.

Final Fantasy III (DS)

This game was also in the running for the GotW award, but with the PS3 avalanche coming in the same week it gets relegated to a note from me. I've heard good things about this 3D re-imagining of FF3 and I hope it turns out nicely. I don't have a DS as of yet, but this is yet another reason to think about picking one up.

Genji: Days of the Blade (PS3)

I think the various reviews (Gamespot 6.4, IGN 6.0) that are out there now pretty much sum up the game. It looks nice, but doesn't play so well. I give a big Rent It to this one for those of you that get a PS3 and keep it.

Ridge Racer 7 (PS3)

So, this morning I run across this forum thread at Evil Avatar that compares screens from RR7 with those of RR6 on the 360 last year. This proves of course that Ridge Racer 7 is actually Ridge Racer 6 renamed (there may possibly be more tracks though). This isn't the best game to be making comparisons on since it isn't a game that will graphically wow you, but it is interesting to see which system does graphics better. I just wanted to point this out, but you should certainly Rent this game.

Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom (PS3)

This game could be good given how well the PSP game was received. This game also started the whole Xfire controversy where people were thinking the PS3 online component was run by Xfire, but Sony had just used Xfire for this game. I'll talk more about the online capabilities of PS3 and how disjointed it is in another post. I think this game looks interesting and may be a good Buy.

Sonic the Hedgehog (360/PS3)

This game is going to suck if it is anything like the 360 demo that came out a bit ago. Sonic was once on top of the world, but with each successive release since Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast the quality has been going to pot. If the graphics are pretty good I could see this game being a good comparison of the graphical power of the 360 vs. the PS3...I just think the game is going to suck big time. This game may go into the Skip It territory, but you may want to rent as well.

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 (360/PS2)

I have not gotten my new issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, but they supposedly reviewed this game and scored it a 7.5. I don't know if EGM is still doing the 3 reviewer thing or not since this issue was supposed to see big changes, but if 7.5 is the average of the 3 reviewers I'd say that is pretty good for a wrestling game. IGN also reviewed it and gave it an 8.0. My only problem with that is that IGN also gave the Xbox RAW games reviews in the 9s and neither game was THAT good. I say Rent It on this one.


The Da Vinci Code (DVD)

Easily my DVD Pick of the Week. I enjoyed this movie a lot, although it is obviously not as good as the similarly themed National Treasure. I think it is certainly worth a rental and maybe even a purchase.

Family Guy Vol. 4 (DVD)

Pick this up to continue your collection of Family Guy DVDs. I don't think this second part of the 4th season is as good as the other seasons, but it is still some quality viewing.

James Bond: Casino Royale (Theater)

Easily my Theater Pick of the Week. I know many people out there can't get used to a blond Bond, but give Daniel Craig a chance! I think this movie looks really good and hopefully it can rejuvenate the franchise via a reboot.

Happy Feet (Theaters)

Another computer animated movie, this time starring penguins. I have no clue whether this movie will be good or not, but they certainly are advertising it everywhere (even at Blockbuster!). The concept sounds interesting, but when I think of computer animation pioneers I don't really think of Warner Bros. in the same class as Pixar or Dreamworks.


Civil War #5

Comic Book Pick of the Week. Nothing gets the blood flowing more than another Civil War release from Marvel as it ramps up toward the end of the series. I'm not very high on Civil War, but I certainly await to see how much more Millar can push the future of Marvel. Spider-Man is front and center on the cover and I just hope Millar and JMS don't ruin Peter forever by the end of this series.

Astonishing X-Men #18

"Torn" reaches its conclusion. Will we find out the story behind Emma and the White Queen and how they can be or not be the same person? The sad part in all of this is that the next arc is the last one that Whedon will be working on, but the good news is he also moves into writing for Runaways.

Cable and Deadpool #34

I cannot stress how good and funny this series is. I think it goes largely unnoticed like She-Hulk does and I hope some people can drop a major book they don't enjoy reading for this book.

Iron Man #13

The series finally moves into Civil War territory. Hopefully this book will go at length to explain exactly why Tony Stark isn't the biggest ass in the Marvel Universe. Right now he and Reed Richards are striving for the title of biggest ass around. I think an explaination is well in order in this case.

Moon Knight #6

The first arc finally reaches its conclusion. I think this opening arc has been rather slow in execution and I hope this last chapter pushes toward the next arc.

New Avengers #25

Another Civil War tie in and only 1 month until the story about Wanda Maximoff and Clint Barton. Is it sad that I'm more excited about that issue than this one? The solicitation says that Tony is ready for the final he makes a "fatal mistake" that he will pay for. I'll believe it when I see it.

Thunderbolts #108

It is sad that this team is going to go the way of the wind to be replaced by more A-list villians, but hopefully they will go out with a bang. In this issue the conclusion to the fight between Zemo and Grandmaster reaches its end.

What If? Spider-Man: The Other

I am very interested in this issue simply because I like to see what the other way would have been for this arc. I didn't enjoy the Avengers Disassembled What If? much, but hopefully this will be different with Peter David writing it.

Action Comics #845

Part 2 of "Last Son", the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner team-up. I liked the first chapter and can only hope the goodness continues here.

Birds of Prey #100

The series reaches a new milestone as Oracle needs to look for some new recruits. I love this series and am sad that Black Canary has left, but hopefully new and exciting stories are ahead.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

First Look: Gears of War (360)

I finish up my first looks with the game that stands head and shoulders above the 3 I played over the week: Gears of War. I could finish this first look by saying this game is a Must Own, but I need to quantify that somehow I think. Epic has created a game that will stand up with Halo and Halo 2 as killer apps of Microsofts console systems. In many ways Gears of War is better than either Halo (graphics, sound, gameplay). In other ways, such as multiplayer and story, it cannot hold a candle to either Halo game. In the end, this is how Gears of War will ultimately be judged: can it transcend the Halo games and stave off the upcoming onslaught of Sony and Nintendo's new gaming machines?

The story behind Gears of War isn't anything special. I think many reviewers and varied forum posters have said how sad the story is. The original Halo wasn't that great at story, but in the end it was a longer game than Gears of War is and therefore has more of a story behind it. Basically the story is you play a soldier who was put in prison by the alien Locust. Some Army guys bust you out and you spend the rest of the game following (or giving) orders and going through the motions of each checkpoint. The beauty in this game is that the gameplay is second to none in a 3rd person action game. I personally haven't felt like I was actually living through an action movie like I do with Gears of War. It is small on talk, but blows things up really nicely.

The biggest gameplay innovation here is the way you use cover. Cover means everything in this game; possibly even moreso than it does in the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games. I'm not big on either of those games simply because they are more squad based than Gears of War and it is far more strategic than GoW's run and gun perspective. From your cover you can look around or above you and aim (L trigger) and fire (R trigger) your gun. Blood will splatter as you shoot your enemies. The graphics are just fantastic and when you go into full-on run (by hodling down the A button while moving forward) the camerawork is exquisite and makes you feel like you're right there.

Gears of War obviously borrows a lot from the Halo playbook, but that's a really nice playbook to work from. There aren't as many enemies, although there are times you feel severely outnumbered. They also borrowed the health engine from Halo as well where if you stay still for a while your health will return to you. Much like Halo you can only have 2 guns on you, although you cannot double wield in this game. The cool thing about the guns is that your character switches them in and out with ease from their place on his back. This isn't a game where the player has tons of guns and no place to put them. Instead you actually see the guns on your character.

Another cool addition to the gameplay is the reloading of ammo. You can initiate it at any time with the R button. A little slide will go across and if you want to have a quick reload with extra power you have to hit the R button again inside the little sliver of white or within the section of gray. If you don't get it in either of those two sections the gun will jam and precious time will be taken away as you reload. You can also choose to just let the reload happen by itself and not try to do a quick reload. Quick reloads give you some extra power to your shots, so they are a valuable resource.

There is a minus to Gears of War though and that is the multiplayer aspect of the game. I think many people figured the matchmaking would be much like it was in Halo 2, but the story from Epic is that Microsoft built the Live play on the 360 differently than they did on the Xbox. I figure whatever problems there are will be rectified by the time Halo 3 comes out simply because they changed the way it worked when Halo 2 came out as well. Epic has talked about possibly fixing it themselves, but I would guess sales would be a good indication of whether they are going to take the time to work on it or leave it for Gears of War 2.

The multiplayer games I did get into were pretty fun, although there is really nothing akin to the Halo 2 game modes in this game. Basically it is a "one and done" type of situation for the games I played. You get picked off and you're done for that round. In many ways it seems a lot like the Splinter Cell games, but I think this game needs to have spawning going on and time limits. It's just one place where it falls well below the bar that Halo has set.

In the end I think this is easily a Must Buy and easily the first game where it is worth owning a 360 for. I certainly hope there are more games like this in the pipe coming up.

First Look: Call of Duty 3 (360)

Well, color me somewhat impressed. I had written this game off simply because Infinity Ward had nothing to do with it. Treyarch (the Spider-Man games and Call of Duty: Big Red One) took the helm for this iteration as IW works on Call of Duty 4 for PC only (supposedly).

Call of Duty 3 seems to borrow a lot from the previous game. You are put in a variety of roles for different countries on the Allied side. Instead of only controlling one soldier, you control the path of many. Also much like the last game, Call of Duty 3 is a very scripted game in the single-player universe. I personally don't mind it, but I know many people that don't enjoy playing these World War II games that have you go from point to point and never have an adaptive AI that comes at you all the time and not at intervals. I'm sorry to tell them that many FPS and 3rd person action games are scripted and checkpoint based, it just depends if you've grown tired of these crutches or not.

The graphics and sounds in this game are top notch, but there have been some missteps here and there that I have seen. Your friendly AI troops seem to enjoy getting in the way of gunfire and sometimes they just disappear from sight. Add to this the fact that the enemy AI sometimes starts to shoot like characters in GI Joe (not being able to hit the broadside of a barn) and miss you at point blank range.

The controls are pretty nice, but I would still love to have mouse and keyboard controls. I think I'm pretty hardcoded with the whole FPS control issue. If a game starts off in the PC world I have a hard time adapting to console controls. I just don't feel I have the pinpoint accuracy I have on the PC. On the reverse side I find that if a game starts off in the console world (Halo for example) I find that the controls are nice and tight and find my accuracy to be very good. I don't know if that means there is a different conceptualization of the controls depending upon where a game starts off, but it is interesting to note. In the case of Call of Duty 3, even though it isn't coming out on PC it is obvious that it has been built upon the last iteration and that game started off as a PC game even though many would consider the 360 version better from a graphics and sound standpoint.

Call of Duty 3 takes place during the Normandy Breakout Campaign period, meaning it takes place after the landing and follows the allies as they try to take back sections where the Germans held ground. This means you won't be re-living the Battle of Normandy in this game, but there are plenty of "Holy shit!" moments in the game thanks to the terrific sounds in the game. As I said in my opening statement, I am somewhat impressed by this game on the single-player side simply because I figured Teryarch would drop the ball. In the end they've kept the ball rolling, although it certainly isn't as engaging as the last game honestly.

Where Call of Duty 3 really shines is in the online world. This shouldn't be a surprise given how popular the last game was online for the 360. I've played a few games (Capture the Flag for the most part) and I find it quite fun to play. The voice communicator runs nicely and I can hear everyone. The only negative I have seen so far is there hasn't been any ranked games that I've been able to get into, only unranked ones. This is fine since I could care less if I'm on a leaderboard or not, but I am surprised more people aren't playing ranked games. They could of course all be playing Gears of War, but I figure this game will be quite popular as well.

In the end I'm leaning toward the Buy It category simply because of the online gameplay. If you are leaning on it strictly for single-player play I would rent it because you should be able to finish it within the rental time. $60 for a multiplayer game may seem a bit steep, but the fact is you can get more people in one game playing Call of Duty 3 than you can get in Gears of War. The more people, the more fun it is honestly.

First Look: Tony Hawk's Project 8 (360)

The series reaches its 8th installment with Tony Hawk's Project 8. I didn't play a lot of the last game simply because I had read from various places that the 360 version was a simple port from the Xbox/PS2 versions of the game with little graphical update. This time around they have supposedly built it from the ground up on the 360.

As I've been playing the game here and there I find that Tony Hawk's Project 8 is a cross between the other games in the series and the old Amped games from Xbox. You run through various tasks that have different levels of success as you go through them. Most of them are split between three levels: Amateur, Pro and Sick. You should have no problem getting through the first level and possibly the second level. For the third level you will find out that you have to have an upgraded skater in order to get the height needed to pull off big combos.

As you finish the levels you rank up from 200th place as the best skater around. The key to the game is to get into the final 8 that Tony Hawk plans to reward. I have yet to even reach the 100th rank and the game is already starting to grate on me. The game just feels like mostly a rehash of prior games in the series. They have added the "Nail the Trick" move in this game where you press in both buttons (not triggers) in order to go into a slow-mo move where you can control the deck via the two analog sticks and do really crazy tricks. This is often the key to scoring the Sick rating in many of the tasks.

The graphics are quite nice, but there are trick destroying slowdowns in many areas. I can only guess that the slowdown is in relation to how fast you are going when it happens. This is something I hope they fix with the next iteration.

Bottom line is that Tony Hawk's Project 8 was fun when it started out, but it is getting tedious as I continue on. There are some cool events here and there and it seems like a shoutout to the old Hawk games and not the Underground games. So far I'd put this squarely in the Rent It category, but I have to play it a bit more (if I can handle it). Not sure what Ron was smoking when he gave it a 9.3, but I would have to say I'm squarely with the feelings of Gamespot, IGN, Team Xbox and Gamespy.

I have not given the online portion a try yet, but I plan on doing it before my rentail period is done. I have heard it is a nice game to play online and that is probably why the early Playstation 3 reviews of the game are lower since there is no online play in that version.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Review: Need for Speed: Carbon (PC)

Title: Need for Speed: Carbon
Developer: EA Canada
Platform: PC

My Recommendation: Rent It

Need for Speed: Carbon is the 11th game in the series and I have played all of the games extensively. In many ways this new version of NFS combines elements from those games as well as the last game, Most Wanted. Basically it takes the same feel of Most Wanted and adds in the tuning aspects of the Underground games. It creates a good game, but in many ways anyone who played the last game may feel a sense of deja vu.

The story for Carbon takes place right after Most Wanted and involves the same character. You've left Rockport and come back to an unforseen until now new city. It seems this is where you used to live and you left on bad terms according to your ex-girlfriend and the local gangs. They think you took a bag of money and set up the police sting that took out a bunch of cars, but over the course of the game you get new points of view of the crime and people start to believe you weren't at fault and that the bag of money was switched with an empty one that you took to Rockport.

I think the FMV cutscenes in this game are slightly better than the ones in Most Wanted where everything was too over the top. It seems EA dialed down the cheese factor with this game, although I have noticed other people think this is more cheesy. Outside of those things, the game plays much the same as Most Wanted, but this time you only race at night (borrowed from Underground).

The basic foundation of the game is the same as Most Wanted in how you go through your career. Instead of a blacklist you actually have a World Map that gives you races to choose in order to take over that section of the map with your gang sign. Gone are the point milestones that ruined the upper levels of the blacklist in Most Wanted, here it is all about the racing (sprints, speed camera, checkpoints) along with two extra modes: drifting and the Canyon Races against the gang bosses.

Drifting is an interesting game type and it has been seen before in the series. It is much different to drive the car in the Drift challenges than in the straight race challenges. The car is loose and the key to the race is to get the most points possible and beat the other cars (that are not seen). If you hit a wall you lose your accumulated points and you can also gain multipliers to your base score. The Drift challenges are pretty easy unless you are on a Canyon map where there are lots of twists and turns along with the danger of going off the cliff.

The boss challenges are different this year. At the end of each of the 4 sections of the map you will face the main boss of the gang. Usually you will race them in one race type and then you will go to a 2-part Canyon race that is won based on points via how close or far away you are from the other driver. It is in two stages. The first stage you are following the boss. If you are lucky enough to pass the boss and keep ahead of them for 10 seconds you win the overall race and don't have to do the second stage. In the second stage the points you earned in the first stage count down as you try to keep ahead of the boss. If you end up with positive points at the end (and don't fall off the cliff, which is an immediate loss) you win the boss challenge. The last two sections of the map are a bit harder than the first two, but they are far easier than getting to the next person on the blacklist from Most Wanted.

Also introduced in this game is a choice early on of what class of car you want to start with: Tuner, Exotic or Muscle. Tuners handle better, Exotics accelerate better and Muscle have a lot of power. The choice is important because you will be stuck with this car until you get enough money to pick up another car you unlocked from the Car Lot on the map. I personally started with a Tuner simply because they can overtake other cars in turns and later on I ended up with an Exotic because once tuned they can become speed demons which is very important in the later stages.

Another gameplay mechanic introduced in the game is your Crew. Along the way you can hire people to join your crew and help you in races. Each person is one of three classes: Blocker, Scout and Drafter. The first one helps block out opponents, the second one finds shortcuts on the track for you and the third one allows you to do a slingshot by drafting behind them. I found that the only worthy one is the Blocker. The crew members can also give bonuses to you such as more money by winning a race, ability to buy parts for less, etc. The AI for the crew works okay, but there are some problems. For the most part the crew member stays close to you, but there were times where they went way behind and could never help me. You can instigate them to do their job, but sometimes they will totally miss the opponent or they won't listen to your orders. It is very much a hit or miss situation, but I can say that they helped me a bit in many races.

Along with all this there are tuning options for whatever class of car you make. I don't get too into making my car look cool or anything (one of the reasons I wasn't so high on the Underground games). There is an AutoSculpt feature that allows you to change a lot of things about your car manually. Also when you upgrade parts you can choose the parts to be skewed one way or another and it will change your cars stats. I generally just stayed in the middle and didn't skew toward any side and I did pretty well.

I would also like to touch on the police action as well. The police and heat meter are back, but throughout the game I didn't feel as desperate with the police as I did during the milestone point achievements I had to make in Most Wanted. The police certainly chase you in this game, but the overall aggression on behalf of the police seems to be down a notch. I personally like it, although I do find that I can get out of chases much faster than I could in Most Wanted. Some amount of chase is exhilarating, but overdoing it like Most Wanted did at the end was a little much.

My final recommendation on Need for Speed: Carbon is that you rent it first if you've played Most Wanted. At the foundation the game is basically the same, but this time you are racing at night and the game flows more smoothly with the elimination of the points milestones from Most Wanted. I personally like Carbon better, but others may have different views. The one thing I will say is that EA needs to figure out something new for the franchise since the last four games can very much be fused together. The concepts may be somewhat different between the Underground games the the two latest games, but the overall feel of the gameplay is the same. I can only recommend a rent for this game since you can easily go without it and put your money toward another game coming out this holiday season.

How Reviews Are Done/Scored

Before I put up my first review of the new VV blog, I thought I would explain how reviews will be done. I'm taking the step to not give any sort of rating (stars, 1-10, 1-100, grades, etc.) that can be used in an aggregate review site like GameRankings. My friend Bill Harris (Dubious Quality) talked about this before I could unveil my ideas for reviews, but I think much along the same lines as he does. Scoring does nothing for your average reader other than give it some arbitrary score. Instead I'm going to do something different.

The review itself will be pretty free flowing, but at the top I will have the information and my rating for the game. There are 4 ratings: Must Own, Buy It, Rent It and Skip It. I think they are pretty self explanatory, but I shall explain nonetheless. Must Own can be considered as being akin to an "Editor's Choice" or top rated game. Buy It would be considered a really good game and one I would recommend buying, but it isn't as good as Must Own. Rent It is pretty easy, you should rent it and see how you like it before buying it. The Skip it is obviously a game that you just shouldn't look, but or play.

There is no perfect game out there, but there are games that must be owned simply because they are fantastic. I wish more gaming websites would run away from the scoring template, but the reverse side is that they rely on being noticed on aggregate sites in order to get more business.

I hope you like the ratings, although I am open to other ideas or ratings to give. I am not going to go with any sort of percentage scoring though. All people want to know is whether a game is worth it or not honestly and not debate whether this game that scored 9.6 at this time is better than the one that scored 9.8 years ago or not.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

No Gears of War Today

Gears of War was planned to be (hopefully) my last purchase with EB/Gamestop. I was one of the lucky ones that got caught up in the shipping snafu that seems to be affecting a lot of EB/Gamestop pre-order people. I got the call from the Gamestop automated voice that they would have it today, but I didn't check my messages from work today when I got the call that the game may be delayed a day. I wasted a trip to EB and was told to come back tomorrow, but they were nice enough to also give a $5 reduction on the price of the game (some are saying $5 toward another pre-order, but this guy said $5 off GoW).

I could have gone to Best Buy and picked the game up probably, but since I already paid most of it off at EB an extra day wouldn't hurt much. As I said above, I hope this is my last purchase at the EB stores (but not online) as I've had trouble with them ever since I pre-ordered my Xbox 360 last year. I try to keep my business with them at a minimum, but they do have some exclusive offers like the Final Fantasy XII Collector's Edition and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin with all the extras (I believe it is exclusive to EB/Gamestop, not sure though) that are quite enticing.

Maybe I'll spend this valuable time trying to finish off Need for Speed: Carbon so I can give my review of the game. I'm at 75% complete, so it shouldn't be too much longer to go. Also hope to have a full review of Battlefield 2142 up as well. I've played Final Fantasy XII here and there, but haven't gotten into it enough to go beyond my initial impressions.

I also hope to rent Call of Duty 3 and Tony Hawk Project 8 just to check them out. I am not very excited about either game. The first one because Infinity Ward has nothing to do with it and the game is not coming out on PC. In Tony Hawk's case I feel they added the cool do your own move mode, but that it will be more of the same...very much like Madden has become (and remember, I was a big Madden fan before).

Hopefully once I have Gears of War and can play it for a bit I can join some of you in some online action. For those that already have the game, let me know how you like it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

This Week in Entertainment (11/5 - 11/11)

Another busy week for gaming, the beginning of the holiday DVD flood starts to trickle down this week and a quiet week on the comics front rounds things out. I will have a pick of the week in every category.


Gears of War (360)

This game honestly will make or break the Xbox 360 going into the holiday. With Halo 3 a good distance away, this is the highest profile game coming out for the system. There has been enough hype surrounding it to attempt reaching the fanaticism of the Halo franchise. I think Microsoft has done a good job of promoting the game on television as I've seen shorter versions of the "Mad World" spot that was unveiled on Marketplace recently. This is the game that should make all the 360 owners feel better about the system because this is truly the emergence of the 2nd generation of Xbox 360 games where the term "hi-def" may finally make a case for itself. This game is easily my choice for Game of the Week this week, but there are other games coming this week.

Guitar Hero II (PS2)

Many will pick this game as their game of the week and if it was coming out any other week than the GoW release it would probably be mine as well. I have yet to touch the original GH (blasphemy, I know!), but I may give this one a try. I expect this game to be a big seller this week and the addition of 2-player play brings it up another notch.

Tony Hawk Project 8 (Every system known to man, but PC)

The plus side of this release is that the 360 version has been built from the ground up and not ported from the current generation like American Wasteland and Gun were. It is also the only next-generation version that will have online play. I played the demo a bit and I think it is cool they have the slowdown to pull off cool tricks with the analog sticks, but outside of that how much more can this game give us that prior Tony Hawk games haven't?

Call of Duty 3 (Every system...but PC?)

Call me skeptical on this one simply because Infinity Ward isn't developing it and the fact that there isn't even going to be a PC version. I know the 360 version of the second game was cool and all, but why spit in the face of the system that made this franchise popular in the first place? I will await reviews before I even touch this game. Yes, it looks a lot like the other games, but I just don't have as much faith in Treyarch as I do in Infinity Ward.

Viva Pinata (360)

I called this game as being a sleeper when it comes out and I still believe that. The fact is that many kids will be interested in this game and I'm a bit surprised that Microsoft hasn't started promoting this game. Then again, maybe they have because I rarely watch Saturday morning cartoons anymore. I think this game will be reviewed well and I hope it becomes a hit with children out there simply because Microsoft needs some penetration into that market.


Transformers: The Movie 20th Anniversay Edition (DVD)

Oh yeah, baby! Sony has gone back and remastered the whole movie in this release. I was pissed that I hadn't picked up the other DVD iteration of this movie, but now that Sony has given it some good treatment I won't be without this movie anymore. I was 9 years old when this movie came out in theaters and I still have fond (and not so know what I'm talking about) memories of it. I love this movie even today, but I'm not picking it for the release of the week.

Cars (DVD)

This is my DVD of the Week this week. It is not as good as Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, but it is still a high quality movie. Pixar can do no wrong, although I am afraid about their next movie Ratatouille (though it is directed by Brad Bird, maker of The Incredibles. This is a great family movie in my opinion and an easy pickup to add to your collection.

Stranger Than Fiction (Theater)

This is my film to see this week. From the previews this movie looks fantastic and early word is that it is very good. Will Ferrel plays an IRS worker who starts hearing the voice of Emma Thompson. She is basically writing Ferrel's life in her new book, but doesn't realize she is actually writing the life of a real person. The whole idea sounds original and I think this could be Ferrel's breakout dramatic role.

A Good Year (Theater)

Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott come back together for the first time since Gladiator in this movie that I still don't know much about. It seems like a coming of age story and that is all well and good, but I think Crowe has dabbled in these types of roles a bit too much. It's time for him to try something new.


Annihilation #4

This is my Comic Pick of the Week. I'm liking this series a lot more than 52 and Civil War. The former has really slowed down while the latter has slowed down its release schedule and is starting to feel a bit strained in the amount of time we have to wait. So far this series has been a very interesting read and I can't wait to see what happens next. Too bad Marvel didn't hype this series as much as Civil War because this is the better written series.

Batman #658

The final episode of "Batman and Demon"...I mean, "Batman and Son". I have no clue where Morrison is going with this final chapter, but I hope that little bastard turns out to be something other than Bruce's son or meets some untimely accident.

Green Lantern #14

Part 1 of "Hal Jordan Wanted". I have a hard time believing this series is going to see two comics this month, but stranger things have happened. So far I've really liked the GL comic book, I just wish it came out more regularly than it has.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

First Look: Final Fantasy XII

It's hard to believe it has been almost 5 years since the last proper single-player FF game has come out (Final Fantasy X). There was Final Fantasy X-2 and the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI that both came out in 2003, but neither can really be a proper FF game when compared to the rest of the series.

Square-Enix decided to base this new game in a well-loved world by many: Ivalice. Ivalice was the setting of the fantastic strategy game Final Fantasy Tactics on the original Playstation (pick it up and play it if you haven't!), so as far as I am concerned they've already started off on the right foot.

I'm only about 2 hours into the game and so far I'm liking it, although I am not very keen on the camera controls or the new Active time battle system. My wife likes the camera controls, but for any FPS player out there the controls are reversed with no way to switch it around in the options. Luckily pushing in the right analog stick will let you center the camera behind you.

The biggest change of course is the new battle system and the Gambit system. This game is far more action orientated than any FF before it, but you can still choose to do the waiting version of attacking and plan out your attacks. The other way is active motions that you do via menus as you run around. To accompany this system is the Gambit system where you can set priorities for yourself and your AI allies and pretty much let that control any action you take in a battle versus you manually doing it. The added bonus of this way of attacking is that there are no longer any random battles and you see all of your enemies on the screen, so you can choose to stay or run when going against an opponent.

So far the story is straight out of the Tactics games in how it is represented. I'm liking the game a lot, but I need a lot more time before I can review it. So far I'd say buy it simply because it's been a long time since a proper FF game came out and this is a fitting end to the RPG mastery that the PS2 has had for a long time.

First Look: Need for Speed: Carbon (PC)

You may ask why I picked up the PC version and not the 360 version. It comes down to the fact I could get the PC Collector's Edition for $40 versus getting the 360 Collector's Edition for $70. The PC version may not end up being as smooth as the 360 version, but for $30 difference I think I can get the same kind of excitement out of the game.

I liked last year's Need for Speed: Most Wanted after taking a break when the series went Underground for 2 versions. The only problem with the game last year was once I got high on the Blacklist (probably above #10 if I remember) I had to start grinding for points in the cop chase events in order to meet the prerequisites to take on the next Blacklist member. Eventually I would reach a high point in my wantedness that the cops were almost impossible to lose. I would get up to the points I needed and then try to get away from the cops and found myself getting busted and losing all the work I had just done. I think I got to #3 on the Blacklist and called it a game because it was simply too tedious to do the point grinds; I just wanted to take on the Blacklist opponents.

In Need for Speed: Carbon, EA is billing it as a perfect fusion of Most Wanted and the Underground iterations. The gameplay and storyboard of the former; the tweaking and nighttime races of the latter. At this point I would say that Carbon is a better game than Most Wanted. It supercedes the cheese that was on display with the story/FMV sequences with a good story and better directed FMV sequences (so far). Most Wanted felt like a soap opera where as this one so far feels more like Fast and the Furious (which may or may not be viewed as a soap opera, but at least it is a better done soap opera).

The gameplay is much the same as in Most Wanted with the addition of a gameplay addition in being able to use racers in your gang to help you win a race. This addition is not perfectly implemented, but when the wingman AI works correctly it can mean the difference between winning and having to restart a race. When the AI doesn't work correctly you will find that you are all alone in trying to win the race. The enemy AI seems to have been jacked up a bit and now there are more opponent cars on the road than there was in Most Wanted. The cops also make a reappearance here as well, although they haven't really crossed paths with me since the scripted event early in the game to show you that cops are certainly in the game again. From what I've heard the cops battles are not as interesting as in the last game, which could be good in my mind honestly after taking the above into account.

You are in charge of your own gang and you can hire and fire up to 3 wingmen (or women) that can help you in races. The key to the game is having your gang take over sections of the map while also defending your own territory from invaders trying to take over. The nice thing is that there is an easy teleport to the next mission you want to take by clicking on the mission and going straight to that spot or you can decide to drive through the city to the next mission. The game is very non-linear in that the map opens up to you quite a bit and you have to pick and choose in order to grow your territory.

Eventually you will move in on the territory of the major gangs and have to take on the gang leader on a race in the Canyons which are rife with sections where you can crash right through and fall off the cliff. There are two rounds to these battles. The first one is you chasing your opponent and trying to keep close to him or overtake him for 10 seconds. If you do the latter you automatically win the overall race. If you fall off the cliff or allow the opponent to get far enough away for 10 seconds you lose the race. The second stage is the opponent following you. The same rules apply as in the first race. It is very difficult, but it can be done and is more exciting than the simple races you did in Most Wanted.

As you go through the races you unlock upgrades for your car. In fact, at the beginning you choose what type of car you want to start with: Muscle (powerful), Exotic (top speed) or Tuner (best cornering). Eventually you will see car shops where you can pick up other cars as well. You also have options as you upgrade to how you want to skew the parts, such as top speed vs. acceleration. It's pretty easy to understand. You also have Autosculpt available to you to change how your car looks in case the heat gets high for you (the meter makes a comeback from Most Wanted.

There is another mode of gameplay that is added to Carbon and that is the Drift modes. In this mode your car has very loose controls and you attempt to drift through the course and get the most points possible (with multipliers) and beat the other cars (that you don't see) in overall points. This mode is pretty boring, but you can also find yourself behind on points and have to pull off some amazing multiplier drifts.

So far I have to say I am impressed by this game and I'm liking it more than Most Wanted at this point. That could of course change, but we'll see. I'd also say this game is probably shorter than Most Wanted simply because I'm already up over 20% complete and I've only played a little over an hour. I don't ever remember being that far complete in Most Wanted that quickly. I probably won't play online, but I may rent the 360 version to do just that. I find racing games online on the PC just don't work as smoothly as they do on a console system. I recommend a purchase of this game if you like arcade racers at all.

First Look: Battlefield 2142 (PC)

I will preface this with the fact that I was in on the Battlefield 2142 beta and played it extensively. I didn't have any major system problems with the beta, but once the demo came out I was getting knocked off the EA Master Server like many other people. I felt the beta showed me enough to warrant a purchase of the game. The Titan mode in and of itself was pretty exciting in the beta and having more maps to play it on sounded pretty cool.

I purchased the game, installed the patch (which was a pain in itself with me having to uninstall and re-install a couple times) and found that sometimes the game would come up when clicked upon and sometimes it would just jump back to desktop with no black screen. Through some voodoo magic I got it to work if I went to a Command Line prompt and ran the executable from there and sometimes it would work when clicking on the icon. Once in the game it moved nice and smooth, probably moreso than Battlefield 2 and I noticed that map loading on my machine with 1GB of RAM was faster than in BF2. The word was that if you had 2GB the maps would load taht much faster, but it looks like they rectified that here.

Early on when the game was released the EA Master Server disconnects were happening frequently for many people, including myself. I ended up shelving the game for a while because Titan just cannot be enjoyed when you can only play 5 minutes and then get kicked off and try to find another server. According to DICE/EA they have fixed the majority of the problems with the disconnects over last weekend so I fired it up earlier this week and found it a much more enjoyable experience.

Now, many forums have been lambasting EA for their little card that came with the game talking about IGA getting information from your computer in order to supply ads inside the game. EA went on to clarify it a number of days later talking about just taking your IP address and geographically putting ads related to your region in the game. I find it kind of funny that people exploded over this simply because this is the way games are moving toward. Microsoft purchased Massive recently and I can only guess Live and any Microsoft Games are going to have these types of ad extraction in it. Many people put Microsoft and EA on the same level of demonization, but other companies (that maybe you love) are going to go down this road as well.

I'll review BF2142 after I get a bit more time with it. With the server disconnects fixed, the game has been far more enjoyable. I still think the Titan mode is worthy enough to purchase this game along with the whole futuristic feeling of the game. I mean, you can ride a mech and drive a hovertank. Granted, there is only 1 mech per side on each map (I think), so in order to enjoy them you'd better run at the sole mech pretty quickly. Even with the ad fiasco I recommend picking this up, I could use a nice squad in this game.

Welcome to the New Look of Virtual Viewpoints

I'm again going to try to make this a regular place for me to write about entertainment as a whole. In going with the new turn of the page I also gave the site a new look as well simply because I think the black/red motif was a bit hard to see with the last iteration of this blog. I hope this one works a bit better, I can certainly read my articles better and there is even a search option that has been added that connects to a Google Beta search. I also added my Xbox Gamertag to the right so people can check out my paltry acheivements and re-instituted the comments to see if I can get any discussion going on here.

I hope to make this a regular thing with me writing. I envy my friend Bill Harris over at Dubious Quality (link also available to the right in the Links column along with my regular haunts...I'll be adding more) in how much content he puts out there. Granted, I don't have children as of yet and his Eli stories are a staple of the blog, but I hope to achieve the same sort of regularity that he has.

You may like to know what kinds of things are coming up on this blog. I plan on writing up initial impressions of Battlefield 2142 (PC), Need for Speed: Carbon (PC), and Final Fantasy XII (PS2), as well as touch on a few games I've missed talking about over the last few months. Coming up next week I should have impressions of Gears of War (360) and possibly impressions of Guitar Hero II, which will be my first time playing with the series (blasphemy, I know!). Bill has written extensively about the original and now he has a copy of GH2 a week before release, so checking out his site will only make you that much more excited about the game. I'm thinking of getting both games so my wife and I can play together (having two guitars). You guys think I should go that way or just get GH2 and an extra guitar?

On the gaming side I'm going to divide up my writings into 3 categories with the new relaunch. Previews will be of demos I play, betas I am in (after NDA) or previews I am sent by companies. First Look articles are akin to initial impressions of a purchased or rented game and Reviews will be just that.

I'll also be touching on Comics (a favorite topic of mine) and possibly even TV shows and movies like I used to. Get ready, I hope for this to be a fruitful ride.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

One Thing I Forgot (PS3 Related)

I forgot something in my post last night when talking about missteps. I think a major one is that Sony has decided to not put a rumble feature in their controller. They say that the motion wireless controller wouldn't work with a rumble mechanic, but we all know that's hogwash. The truth of the matter is they don't want to pay Immersion Technologies any more money to use their patented rumble technology. Last time I checked the case between them was still in court with Sony attempting again to overturn the lower court(s) decisions toward Immersion.

Bottom line is Sony doesn't want to lose the lawsuit and they don't want to take the way that Microsoft decided upon (which was $26 million and a stake in Immersion). In the end, should Sony lose the lawsuit (which they eventually will probably) they will end up paying a lot more than Microsoft did. In fact, via the last court document Sony would have to pay Immersion over $90 million to settle their lawsuit.

Sony is once again arrogant about the whole thing. I truly believe they think they will win this lawsuit, but chances are they won't. The fact that the PS3 won't use rumble technology should pretty much a be a sign that Sony agrees that the technology is not their own in the first place. Rumble has been a part of console gaming for a while now (probably going close to 10 years) and I would not be surprised if some casual game players get their PS3 and start playing games and wonder where the rumble feature is.

This could come back to bite Sony in the ass, but given time I figure people will get used to the non-rumble feature and everything will be fine. I do think there will be an initial shock of it not being there though. Whether that effects sales or not remains to be seen.

The PS3 Could Still End Up on Top

You've probably read my prior posts where I've ripped the PS3 up and down for the decisions Sony made. I'm still not in full agreement with Sony going toward the Blu-Ray platform so early in the PS3's life. The Playstation had a CD-ROM drive (Compact Discs were introduced in 1982, 7th Guest was one of the first CD-ROM games in 1992) when it came out in 1994 in Japan (1995 in the US). The Playstation 2 had a DVD drive in it (DVD players were first sold in 1997 in the US) and came out in late 2000, over 3 years after the format had begun. In the case of Blu-Ray, the players just recently came out and now they are going to unload a ton of Blu-Ray players in the PS3. It's not a very good idea to unload a new format onto a game system, but Sony will try it anyway.

In the end though I don't think any negative aspect is going to push people away from the Playstation 3. Just tonight I put a post up in Evil Avatar that I would like to duplicate here and talk a bit more about it. Here is my post:

I've always argued that Sony has had a static mindset since they first announced the PS3. They personally believe the PS3 will survive and thrive just on the Playstation name alone. To many people, given the price and what they feel are missteps by Sony, this mindset is seen as arrogant. However, history shows that Sony may just be right and know that no matter the price people will pick the system up just because of the trusted Playstation name.

You may ask me what I mean by historically, well let's use Wikipedia and spell it out purely in system sales.

We'll start with the system many of the late 20s to 30s+ people played with growing up, the Atari 2600. The Atari 2600 sold 25 million systems.

Nintendo owned the land for a long time after Atari and here are their numbers:

NES: 60 million units
GameBoy: 69.52 million units
Super NES: 49 million units
Nintendo 64: 32.93 million units
GameBoy Color: 49.27 million units
GameBoy Advance: 75.81 million units
GameBoy Advance SP: 38.84 million units
DS: over 22 million units
GameBoy Micro: 1.86 million units
DS Lite: 4.15 million units (June 2006)

With Sony, things went like this:

Playstation: 102 million (shipped, which is different than sold)
Playstation 2: 106.23 million (shipped)
PSP: 20.02 million (shipped)

Of the actual consoles Nintendo racked up ~142 million sold. With the handheld GameBoy in various iterations (including DS) they have racked up ~262 million sold. The original GameBoy and its iterations account for ~119 million of that and the Advance iterations account for ~117 million.

Moral of the story here is that Nintendo's main consoles have sold less as they went along. With Sony, the Playstation 2 has overtaken the original in units sold and even the original PS sold 40+ million more than the original NES. Playstation is a brand name that many people are interested in. I'm not sure Xbox 360 or Wii can penetrate the bias people have with the Playstation brand whether the PS3 is more expensive or not. We live in a Playstation world and it is indeed an uphill battle for both Microsoft and Nintendo.

I personally think Sony is crazy with the price and I hope people won't pick up the PS3 in massive quantities. I am also a realist though and know the Playstation brand will probably live and thrive through another generation, especially if they keep some major franchises as exclusive (FF, MGS, etc.).

The loss for Sony this round will probably come from the fact that they won't see a massive buy-in for Blu-Ray movies (much like UMD movies have all but died out) which is an integral part of their decisions with the PS3. I'm not sure the mainstream public is ready to move into the next generation of optical movie media and it may take several years before DVD falls out of favor toward a new format.

In the end I have to believe the PS3 is going to turn out just fine and sell well. I'd love to pick one up, but I'm not sure I'll be going after it first day like I did with the Xbox 360. Chances are good that many people will stand in line to get one and then they'll sell it on eBay for a tidy profit. I think you'll have a far greater chance at getting a Nintendo Wii two days later if you need a new game system.

I think the weakest parts of the launch kind of mirror the Xbox 360 launch. There really isn't any game that has been announced that will blow us away. Most of the games are ports and, much like Penny Arcade noted today in their comic, I'm not too excited about Resistance even though Insomniac is making it. Maybe something will pop out, but who knows.

A weak spot where the PS3 does not mirror the Xbox 360 launch is in online play. It's already been noted that Tony Hawk Project 8 won't have an online component like it's 360 cousin. There are rumors of other non-Sony games not having online play either. Sony's own games will though, that being Resistance and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom.

No matter the negatives I think the PS3 is going to sell well and could possibly take over the Xbox 360 in system sales. The price will be a deterrent, but once Sony gets into 2007 and starts bringing out high profile exclusive games, the allure of the PS3 might be too strong for many people. Sony will continue to have the mindset that the Playstation brand name sells until they are proven wrong. The consumers would have to prove them wrong here, but somehow I don't see it happening.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Quality "Old School" Adventure Games This Week

Thanks to Evil Avatar and their weekly roundup I found out that some quality adventure games are coming this week. I'd say late last year these were rumored to be coming and now they've snuck up on me. Each one is $19.99 and here they are:

The King's Quest Collection (KQ 1-7, I am guessing Mask of Eternity is the one left out)
The Space Quest Collection (SQ 1-6)
The Leisure Suit Larry Collection (LSL 1-4 + 6...remember there was no 5)
The Police Quest Collection (1-3 and Open Season)

I put them in that order simply because if you had to choose only one or two I'd pick KQ and then SQ. These new collections also run in Windows XP (and I can only guess Vista when it comes out) which was a hit-or-miss trial with the original versions of these games. No clue on whether they have the redone #1s for each game (the VGA versions) or whether the later versions include the original CD-ROM release voiceovers. I hope both are the case.

These games will of course feel ancient today. I think the latest release is Space Quest VI: The Spinal Frontier, which came out in 1995. It was a sad day when Sierra stopped making adventure games and it was an even sadder day when adventure games pretty much died. I wish LucasArts would bring out collections of their old Adventure games, especially the CD-ROM talkie versions.

Anyway, these are great pickups at $20 a piece and I can't recommend them enough.

Game Informer Wii Article

I'm sure many of you have read Billy Berghammer's "Will Wii Be Disappointed Again?" article on Game Informer this weekend. Before I get into it I would like to point out today's post on Penny Arcade. In the last paragraph, Tycho talks about the article and points out something that many people may not know: Billy used to run Planet GameCube.

I've met Billy on a few occasions, but I doubt he remembers me much. I used to know a few people from Game Informer since it is a magazine based here in Minneapolis (I think it is the only major gaming magazine not located on a coast once EGM left Chicago for San Francisco). The last time I remember seeing Billy was at the Cube Party I covered for Console Gold in 2002.

Anyway, I don't want to get too off-track. Much like Tycho I have to believe this was pretty hard for Billy to write. He is one of the biggest pro-Nintendo people I know, but in the end his words do ring true. Nintendo will have only 2 launch titles at release, one of which is a GameCube title that has been re-jiggered on the Wii (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess). There is also no Mario game and I was disappointed to hear there wouldn't be a Metroid game either, no matter how much I hated the scanning needs in the previous 2 games on GameCube.

There is also a good chance that 3rd parties could go the way of the dodo bird a while after launch. Billy also makes a good point that if multi-platform games start to take on the "portability" factor and are not built ground-up on the Wii that the versions of those games will pale in comparison to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. It takes less money to make a port than it takes to build the game separate from the other versions. Will companies take the cheap way out or will they continue with what they're doing here at launch? We'll just have to see.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wii: 11/19, $250 w/ it Enough?

I'm really sitting on the fence about the Wii news today (and by the way, welcome back; I know I've been gone for a bit). The system comes out on Sunday, November 19th, which is 2 days after the Playstation 3 release (more on this in another post) and it will come packaged with the Wii Sports games that now include Boxing and Bowling along with Tennis, Golf and Baseball. The price will be $250 in North America and roughly $215 in Japan minus the game on December 2nd.

The price and the included items (along with some other key components) are what have me on the fence. The price would be nice if an extra Wiimote (the controller) was in the box. Why would you put Wii Sports as a pack-in and not have a second controller along with the system? Wouldn't you be interested in playing the game with your family? I know I would, so I'd have to spend an extra $40 to get another Wiimote (and add $20 more for the nunchuck's add-on). For those that have larger families (such as children), you may have to spend another $80 on top of that (and another $40 for the nunchucks) to have the full complement of 4 controllers in order to play 2-on-2 tennis for instance. The absence of a second controller is a huge thing in my mind, especially with a pack-in game that screams multiplayer play.

At $250 with a game and one controller it seems a bit bare compared to even the Xbox 360 core system. I don't know how much the SD cards will cost for the Wii, but I do know the 64MB memory card for 360 costs $40, so those are addition costs just to save a game on either system. It does show the Wii as a cheaper value, but we once again fall back on the idea that the Wii is just a glorified GameCube at its core. The hardware power is not up to snuff against either the 360 or PS3, and for many people that will be a big thing to them. This doesn't speak about the games created for the systems, but it is tough to swallow $250 when there is a $300 more powerful system option out there.

Nintendo has made other mistakes with the Wii release as well. The first one is the fact that the Wii will drop 2 days after the PS3. Why not bring it out before even if there are lower numbers of systems available? For those that want all 3 systems and don't want to pre-order the 2 new systems, that means standing in line in the middle of November for 2 days in the same week. For people in the upper Midwest (like myself), things can get quite nippy that time of year. Many will decide between one or the other or they may decide to buy neither.

The second mistake is that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will be available on the Wii at launch, but Nintendo has PUSHED BACK the GameCube release of the game to December 12th?!?!?! What in the hell is up with that? I hate when Nintendo backs out of what they said. Reggie said at E3 that both copies would be out at launch, but now the GameCube version comes out weeks down the line? The dirty thing is that this may push some people to pick up the Wii version simply to have the game first, but many of us have been waiting years for the GameCube version (such as myself). I personally am not too excited about the Wii version of Zelda because I think the Wii controller aspects were added way down the line and may not be as fully implemented as they could be. I think there will be a bunch of tired arms out there after playing this new Zelda game that will supposedly be very long. The only thing I was excited about with the Wii version was that it was in widescreen while the GameCube version is not. However you will NOT be able to play the Wii version with the old GameCube controller, so you're stuck with Wii controls for the game, which is a mistake in my opinion.

The third mistake is that they announced Metroid Prime 3: Corruption won't be out until 2007. I'm not necessarily surprised by the announcement, but I think it would have been a strong signal if that game was available at the launch of the Wii. We all knew that Mario Galaxy wasn't going to be out at launch, but Nintendo did leave the door open for Metroid.

The fourth mistake can be interpreted as not being a mistake. Nintendo announced the prices of the NES, SNES and N64 games via the Virtual Console. They will rely on Wii points in at least North America, which means it will be much like the Microsoft Marketplace points. You go the store and pick up 2000 points for $20. Here is the breakdown of prices (they did not announce TG16 prices for games like Bonk's Adventure which comes out at launch):

NES: 500 points (or $5)
SNES: 800 points (or $8)
N64: 1000 points (or $10)

They expect to have 30 games at launch and 10 games every month thereafter. When taking the Xbox Live Arcade titles into account I see no problem with the prices, but this is also a double-edged sword because chances are high there will be far more people interested in the games released for the Wii than the ones on Xbox Live Arcade. Live Arcade has had its share of old titles (Gauntlet, Smash TV, Pac-Man, Frogger), but it has also been home to some great original games like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Wik. In the case of the old titles, many have been given High-Definition updates and run for about the same price as the NES games above. I think a lot of people are not too giddy about the prices, but I think Nintendo is standing up to Microsoft quite well. Microsoft will be the leader in original Arcade things, but I think the Nintendo library is going to be huge on the Wii; especially for those of us that played those old games.

In the end I doubt I'll be picking up a Wii at launch. The lack of a 2nd controller and the whole Zelda fiasco is enough to put me in that camp. I am interested in seeing an actual live demo of the Wii as well. The system sounds excellent in concept, but actually sitting/standing and moving your hands in order to control the game may not work in practice. There may be a lot of tired arms out there, but the concept is certainly innovative.