Monday, November 19, 2007

Game Overload

I'm sure many of you are experiencing a gaming overload. As a freelance reviewer I have found myself having to put some pretty top shelf games on the back burner in order to devote enough time to reviewing. These are the games I am currently trying to play:

Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Assassin's Creed (360)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360)
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)
Mass Effect (360)

These are the games I currently have on my review plate:

Virtua Fighter 5 Online (360) for GameShark
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PS2) for Evil Avatar

Along with those two I plan on reviewing some of the above mentioned games for Evil Avatar, but I need to pick which ones. I figure Mass Effect will take the longest, so that goes on the back burner and hopefully someone else will play through it and review it for EA. Call of Duty 4 has already been reviewed at EA, so the other 3 are fair game and I will probably review them, so they will be my next major experience after I have given VF5 enough time to write a review.

Luckily I am already a good chunk into Ratchet & Clank as well as Assassin's Creed (I just had to see how good/bad it was for myself and playing fighting games for review constantly can get a bit tiring), but I have not touched Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

I'm not sure how other freelance reviewers out there handle their load, but as soon as I get something that needs to be reviewed every other game goes on the back burner and the review games take center stage. Yes, the allure to play the other games are there, but I also have a job that needs the most time I can give it.

At least there is some time off in my future where I might be able to sit down with the other games once the reviews are done. There is also a chance that other games could enter the scene that need to be reviewed as well, so everything goes on the back burner once again. At least the light is somewhat visible...

Game of the Week (11/18): Mass Effect

The gaming crunch finally subsides after this week. What is weird is that many of the games that are shipping this week I already have in my possession, but we'll get into that later. This is another tough week to pick a Game of the Week, but I think it has to go to:

There are some other interesting games coming out (highlighted below), but the honor has to go to Mass Effect, the next RPG game from BioWare. I already have my copy and played it a bit last night (I have a lot of games on my plate at the moment, including review needs) and I have to say I am quite impressed by the graphics, the story, the huge amounts of text/voiceover in the informational screens and even the gameplay itself. I just finished the first planet and will probably play more, but it isn't on the front burner at the moment. Yes, it is a lot like Knights of the Old Republic, but things are handled mostly in real-time outside of switching your teams weapons before a fight. The game takes things from Gears of War, such as reliance on cover, and makes it an engaging experience. No question this is the Game of the Week and should fulfill everything people have been looking for in an RPG on the 360 finally.

Other games this week:

Unreal Tournament III (PC): Played the demo and was pretty impressed by it, but I am not a very good UT player when compared to the masses out there. The game is as fast as I remember the last version being and a lot of fun should be had. I'm not sure if this will stand above other FPS games that have valid online components or not though.

Link's Crossbow Training w/ Wii Zapper (Wii): Not excited in the least about this. From all accounts the actual Wii Zapper controller is a dud and really won't amount to much in the end. It is cool that it combines the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, but I can only see its validity going so far.

Rock Band (360/PS3): Yes, Rock Band. I've never really been a big fan ever since it was announced. Harmonix seems to be a highly regarded developer (which they are given the pedigree of games they've made) and everyone falls face first into loving them. From all accounts, the difficulty in Rock Band is not as high as Guitar Hero III (expert in RB is like Hard or possibly Medium in GH terms) and I would think that would turn a lot of people back from getting this game, but what do I know? I think it is cool for people that want to do stuff with 3 others, but for me I'd rather have single or dual guitars to play with.

Time Crisis 4 (PS3): Still a pretty popular series, but it would be hard to justify $80 for a short game with a gun included don't you think?

Godzilla Unleashed (PS2/DS): I did some interview questions a while ago for GameShark, but I have no clue if they were ever answered or not. The game from all the movies and developer diaries has looked good, but the play is the true test. Much like the recent Dragon Ball Z game the Wii version is delayed a few weeks from the PS2 release.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3): Sony did end up sending it out early last week, but I took that out of last week's GotW stuff since it was looking like the 20th was still the release date. I have the game, but have not gotten a chance to play it as of yet. Much like Mass Effect it is on the back burner

Soulcalibur Legends (Wii): All indications are that this is a bad game, which is too bad considering it could have been a worthwhile 3rd party release on the Wii (of which there are very few).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Game of the Week (11/11): Super Mario Galaxy

Everyone, check your wallets because this is quite possibly the toughest week this season with games depending on what type of stuff you're looking for. Next week is the only one that could come close to challenging it. This is also a tough week to pick a Game of the Week, but one key first-party title stands out:

Yes indeed, Super Mario Galaxy is my pick for Game of the Week. This should be the game that will prove whether all those millions of people who have picked up the Wii are interested in more than just Wii Sports. This was a tough one to pick out of the group, but here are some other notable releases this week.

Assassin's Creed (360/PS3): This game is either going to be really good or fall flat on its face. Ubisoft has a lot invested in this game and I have a hard time believing that a game years in development is going to flop, but then I read the latest EGM which had a small story on AC and it didn't make me that excited. Then some reviews popped out late last week, like from the hometown magazine Game Informer, that gave it a 9.5. Evidently review embargoes are held until Tuesday, so we shall see what happens then. At least they give you a day to decide if you truly want it.

Beowulf: The Game (360/PS3/PC): Another game from Ubisoft this week. This one is based upon the movie coming out this Friday. I'm interested in possibly renting this game, although it is a game based upon a movie which usually falls flat in the videogaming universe.

Blacksite: Area 51 (360/PC): The PS3 version is delayed for a bit, but the 360 and PC versions are coming out this week. I'm not very interested simply because the Area 51 game that came out last generation wasn't anything to get excited over. It is funny that Midway moved this away from Halo 3 and now it faces off against a lot of top notch games this week which are not FPS games.

Crysis (PC): What more can be said about this game? It looks nice, but many people won't be able to get the best out of this game unless they purchase an all new computer with bleeding edge components. Some people will do such a thing, personally I don't think this game is big enough to justify such an action. Having played the demo and the beta, I still feel it is a lot like an updated graphical version of FarCry with a new storyline.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PS2): The Wii version is coming next month, but given how good the last game was this one should be good as well. Atari is in a world of hurt right now and they could really use a sales influx in order to keep this license and keep themselves from going under.

Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (360/PS3/PC): Really haven't kept my eye on this game, but the big pull here is the ability to play co-op. EA's Army of Two sounded similar to this game and was going to be out this same week, but EA moved it back to next year. Now this game stands alone and Eidos probably has a lot riding on it.

Medal of Honor Heroes 2 (Wii/PSP): This game seems to be a big surprise in the controls section. IGN gave it an 8.4, which is pretty high. It also has a 32-player online component for the Wii AND it supposedly runs well. That is amazing in itself and should give an Wii owner something to smile about with games upcoming.

Need for Speed ProStreet (360/PS3/Wii/PC/PS2/DS): EA Canada takes the NFS series in what looks like an all-new direction. This could be good or bad. I liked the demo for what little you got to play out of it, but I am also apprehensive about changing a formula that I felt wasn't broken with Most Wanted and Carbon. This game seems to be centered around street racing and around teamplay. Supposedly I will be reviewing this for GameShark on the 360.

SimCity Societies (PC): While Maxis is still hard at work on Spore, EA moved the next SimCity game to Tilted Mill, best known for Caesar IV up to this point. This game looks interesting and looks to take the series in a new type of direction. Unfortunately it will probably be mostly overlooked with everything else coming out this week.

WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 (360/PS3/Wii/PS2/PSP/DS): Finally...the Rock has come back to PS3! Last year's game on the 360 was really good, but it still sounds like the loading times are here which is just a buzzkill and something that should be fixed by now several years into this series. Career mode sounds like it is more open, but I tend to wait for reviews of this game before even touching it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Game of the Week (11/4): Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Well, I'd say last week's pick of The Witcher was actually a good one. I haven't picked up the game yet, but outside of the huge amount of loading the game sounds like a winner, especially with the version 1.1 patch. This week was not as hard as some other ones will be in November. The only true standout:

Yep, the no-brainer this week is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare coming out on 360, PS3, PC and DS. I will be picking up the PC version simply because I have been with Infinity Ward since the beginning on the PC; plus it is $10 cheaper than the 360/PS3 versions. It sounds like single-player is short (which is not unusual for the CoD games), but the multiplayer is where the action is at.

Other notable games this week:

Empire Earth III (PC): I liked the last game in the series and can't believe they'd screw this one up.

F.E.A.R. Expansion (PC/360): The standalone F.E.A.R. expansion comes out this week. I only played a bit of the original, I should pick it up now that I have a better video card.

Gears of War (PC): The game comes out on PC, now with extra levels. Wonder how powerful a computer will have to be to make this look as good as the 360 version?

Viva Pinata (PC): If you missed this game on the 360 and have a computer, it is imperative that you pick this up. The kids will love it and you will love it.

Strong PC-centric week before the consoles take over for the rest of the month.

Sam and Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa (PC/Gametap): The second season starts for this series on Gametap this week. It is great to have Sam and Max around again honestly.

Sony Ads and Timeshift

Someone must have awoken the sleeping giant. After screwing up time and time again Sony actually has a, dare I say it, great ad campaign going on. After last year's launch campaign with the crying baby ad, exploding Rubix Cubead , and the crazy Sixaxis egg ad. The only good ad to come out was the one for MLB 07.

Sony now has brought an ad campaign that is truly the best they've had in a long time. Here is the 60 and 30 second commercial that shows off first party games via the Playstation Blog. In the 60-second commercial they show off Gran Turismo 5, Ratchet and Clank Future, Uncharted, Warhawk, Heavenly Sword, Spider-Man 3 on Blu-Ray, the upcoming Home and the Playstation Network. That is the way to make a commercial that gets people excited about a system. I already own the PS3, but man that commercial jazzed me up. I'm a big fan of the Saliva song used here, but I know many people don't like it.

Also, while watching football yesterday I saw commercials for Assassin's Creed, The Simpsons Game and Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. The funny thing about the first two is that they were PS3 ads where only the PS3 logo was shown even though both games are out for the 360 and other systems in the case of The Simpsons Game. Sony must have paid big money to advertise these games and make the illusion that they are PS3 only. I thought the Ratchet and Clank one was very funny. Maybe the new $399 price was the catalyst for Sony actually making great synergistic commercials (since they all end with the PS3 w/appendages turning into a regular PS3). All I can say is Sony has certainly brought its A game to the arena for the holiday and maybe this will finally spark some sales.

Even though they took out Backwards Compatibility, dropped the hard drive down to 40GB, took out the memory card readers and eliminated a couple USB ports the PS3 is very attractive at $399 with the Spider-Man 3 Blu-Ray movie included. It's amazing how far Sony has come since last year's $599 release at 60GB and $499 at 20GB. Now they are more in line with the 360 and even though the 360 has more software choices I think Sony is on the right track. It's just too bad it took them to wake up to reality.

OK, enough about that, let's talk about Timeshift for the 360. I will be reviewing it for GameShark and I'm close to being done with the game and then trying out the multiplayer side of things. I have not read any reviews (I like to come at my reviews from a clean perspective), but I have seen the scores. They seem to be squarely in the 7s and in the case of Gamespot a 6.5. Then again this is Aaron Thomas writing again, the guy who gave Ratchet and Clank Future a 7.5 while other sites are handing it scores in the 9s.

Just given the scores for Timeshift I have to say I largely don't agree with them. I am going to guess that many of these reviews are probably comparing this game to the ones that it is sandwiched between: Halo 3, The Orange Box and the upcoming Call of Duty 4. It's unfortunate that this game comes out in the middle of those three, but come on! This game is really good and I personally am surprised how good it is. The graphics are really good (with a little tearing here and there if you move the camera slowly), the puzzles are not too hard, the time powers are cool and the game is pretty lengthy. If there are weak points it is in the story itself and the AI is pretty dumb. The story is told through flashbacks and really doesn't get you at all interested in it. It is the standard time-travel sci-fi mumbo jumbo. At one point before the game was bought by Vivendi the main character actually had a name and I believe was going to be voiced by Randy Quaid. Now you are just an unnamed physicist who is going after the other time suit that the overall leader of the experiment stole and went back in time to change the past. The other problem is the dumb AI. You can really trick them into coming at you in smaller groups than one big group where you have to be on your toes. They are pretty good shots, but they'll stand in the middle of the road shooting at you, making them easy targets for a time freeze and kill.

Unless the game falls apart in the last 1.5 levels I just don't see this game being in the 6 or possibly even the 7 category. It is unfair to rank a game given the other games out there. Timeshift cannot compete with the total number of games in The Orange Box and it cannot compete with already established franchises (Halo 3, Call of Duty 4), so why even bring them into the review? Let the game stand on its own. It is a really good FPS game that is a sleeper in my mind, but it obviously won't get much business with it coming out this time of year and so many other games out there competing for our gaming dollar. Would it have helped to hold the game back to early next year? Well, it was already a pretty late game as it is, but what would have hurt other than the financial quarter to bring it out early next year? It could have been another success like Lost Planet was.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Game of the Week (10/28): The Witcher

This week is a tough one to pick a Game of the Week. I am expecting many weeks in November to be much the same way.

I am going out on a limb and picking The Witcher as my Game of the Week. I have no inside info on it nor have I played it at any stage of its creation. I have heard some good things about it and I think it shows the most promise this week, so I give it my endorsement. Plus its Holloween week and this is right up the alley for that.

Other games this week:

Hellgate London (PC): This game has flop written all over it. I played in the beta and played the demo and I am still not all that excited about it. It feels like an MMO (the subscriber stuff that came out a while ago is a good indication that it is an MMO) and in my mind they really should have kept it single-player and told a story. Funny how Bill Roeper has fallen so far after Diablo.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (360/PS3/Wii/PS2): The safe choice for Game of the Week, but I didn't take the bait. Everyone and their brother will get this game and I will probably get this game. I did not stand at midnight in order to get it though, was in no rush to do that.

Naruto: Rise of a Ninja (360): Another safe choice for Game of the Week. The previews on this have been gushing and everyone that has played it says it is the best Naruto game so far. It encompasses a lot of the Naruto storyline into a game, so it should be pretty long. This game is 360 only at this point and it could be a big seller given the amount of people that love the anime show.

Tabula Rasa (PC): Also played the beta in this. It was kind of cool, but the MMO grind started to take over after the initial 1 hour of pure joy. Feels like a cross between your standard MMO and a 3rd person shooter.

The Simpsons Game (All systems): I'm still not sure why EA didn't hold this until the movie DVD comes out in December. In fact, I have not seen much in the way of ads for it on television or anything. EGM gave it a review in the 7s which is pretty good by their scale. This game has money written all over it, but when it isn't advertised much how are people supposed to know it is even coming out?

TimeShift (360/PC): I will be reviewing the 360 version for GameShark. Both the demo I've played on 360 and PC make the game look interesting and the graphics, especially the rain, looks really good. This game could be different enough to stand out among the FPS quagmire out there, we shall see though.

Virtua Fighter 5 (360): VF4 was one of the best fighters ever and I have no doubt VF5 will be as well. The 360 version gets online play and I will be testing that out when I receive the game to review for GameShark as well.

Exciting week...and it only gets worse after this.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Game of the Week (10/21): Ratchet and Clank Future: ToD

Who knows how far this will go, but I'm starting up a Game of the Week item here on Virtual Viewpoints and what better game to usher it in than Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction for the PS3.

Outside of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune coming next month, this is the game that will most likely be the Playstation 3 Game of the Year. This is the next game in a proven great franchise and Insomniac would have to really screw things up in order to not make a good Ratchet and Clank game.

It is a sad state of affairs that Sony's best games are coming out so late in the year for the Playstation 3. I don't think this game is going to spur sales in any way, but it should be a really good game and probably the best game so far for the system.

Other games this week include:

Eye of Judgement (Sony, PS3) - will be reviewing once copy is here

EA Playground (EA, Wii/DS) - looks fun with a lot of sports games

Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (Bandai Namco, 360) - some people swear by this game and there is even a controller to go along with it

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (Konami, PSP) - must get if you have a PSP. Rondo of Blood in 3D and 2D as well as Symphony of the Night included

Naruto: Clash of the Ninja Revolution (Tomy, Wii) - sounds like a good fighting game for the Wii

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trails and Tribulations (Capcom, DS) - many people love this series, so why not pick up the new one?

Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Capcom, Wii) - good word of mouth so far on this one

Painkiller: Overdose (Dreamcatcher, PC) - a mod that turns into a full game

Friday, October 19, 2007

Portal, Tony Hawk Beatdown, Demos and NPD Numbers

Obviously the love for Portal is all over the place. I also loved the game as well, although I'm not as crazy as some people are over the ending song of the game. It's cool and it goes along with the deadpan jokes throughout Portal's wonderful 3 hour playtime, but let's not get carried away.

In many ways I can equate the greatness and shortness of Portal with one of my other favorite games of all time, ICO. Back when I reviewed ICO for Console Gold (now Gaming Trend) I got a question from the owner of whether the game really deserved its score given how long it takes to beat (roughly 4 hours of straight gameplay, not adding all the trial-and-error). This is a very subjective area of game reviewing in my opinion. I think you can have a masterful game that is short and still give it high marks. Heavenly Sword is a short game, but it also isn't as masterful as ICO or Portal, so I would rank it lower (probably in the B area via GameShark ratings).

Anyway, if Portal was on its own and not included in the Orange Box I think there would be a lot of backlash given the length of the experience. The fact that it is one of 5 games in the box helps it a lot in the reviewing department. What is also cool is that people have figured out how to use the Portal gun on any Source-based game. Sure, it pretty much screws with the way the games were built, but it is pretty cool to set up ambush scenarios.

Since I talked about review backlash, I think it is important to point out how badly Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is getting reviewed. Yours truly is reviewing it for GameShark once the game gets here, but I was a bit shocked by the reviews coming out for it. The TH games have pretty much been review proof since its inception, much like the Madden games are commonly seen with high 80s and 90s review scores. No matter how derivative or "yearly boost up" type feel the TH games had (much like the roster updates and small tweaks for Madden), the games were still reviewed well. This year though it seems the major sites have given Proving Ground a beatdown:

1up - 5.5
Gamespot - 6.5
IGN - 7.1
Team Xbox - 7.4

Granted, the TH reviews have gotten lower as we've gone along, but this is a pretty big beatdown. Why are the scores so low? Well, it has to be because of skate (my GameShark Review). Reviewers got to see something new from skate and they're all aflutter with the new control scheme. I liked the new control scheme and with some minor tweaking it could easily make this possible series even better than the Hawk games were in their heyday. Almost every review points out how much better skate is from a gameplay perspective and I'll get to check it out myself here pretty soon. It is funny though that the Hawk games become the first series to get the beatdown, I would have figured the Madden games - which have been around far longer - would see a critical beatdown earlier than the Hawk games. Then again, there is no real competition for EA on the football front.

PC demos of upcoming games are hotter than fresh pancakes right now. In the past few weeks we've had demos for Call of Duty 4, Unreal Tournament III and Hellgate: London just last night. The Crysis demo is coming soon (October 26th), but I have also played in the beta for that game. I'm impressed by just one of those games so far: Call of Duty 4.

This isn't to say that Unreal Tournament III is going to be a bad game, it's just that I've never really been into that series and there are tons of people that are far better at that game than I could ever hope to be. With my limited time of playing Hellgate: London I was not excited at all, but I will play more of it. With Crysis it isn't that the game sucks it is that the system requirements are just staggering and I keep thinking that EA/Crytek are limiting the possible sales that this game could generate. They like to say that Crysis can't be done on consoles, but I'd be willing to bet we'll see the game on the consoles in 2008. Crysis, just given the greatness of FarCry, should be made of money. It's just that EA/Crysis have priced themselves right out of the game except for those that want to spend lots of money on an all-new system.

Call of Duty 4 gets special mention here. Infinity Ward is much like Pixar in the gaming world: everything they touch turns to gold. They were not part of any of the sucky Call of Duty games and now they are back with a modern variant of the game. I was surprised how well the game ran on my aging system and unlike some of the other games I didn't have to whip out my more powerful laptop to play it on. It's the same old Call of Duty gameplay, but it is like a perfectly tuned symphony in play. I will probably pick this up on the PC since that is all I've played the Infinity Ward games on...why change now? This game will most likely be in the hunt for Game of the Year and the jump from the rut of World War II to modern times hasn't hurt it at all.

And finally the NPD numbers were released yesterday. First hardware and then software numbers ranked in order:

Xbox 360 527.8K
Wii 501K
Nintendo DS 495.8K
PlayStation Portable 284.5K
PlayStation 2 215K
PlayStation 3 119.4K
Game Boy Advance 75K

1. 360 HALO 3 - 3.3 million
4. PS2 MADDEN NFL 08 - 205K
5. 360 SKATE - 175K
6. 360 MADDEN NFL 08 - 173K
8. 360 BIOSHOCK - 150K

So, the 360 wins the console sales by a hair. Both Microsoft and Nintendo have to be happy with the results in September. The Wii trails right behind the 360 in overall sales even with Halo 3 having come out and the DS sold almost 500k units as well. Sony, although they will spin this ("we sold 334k total Playstations" (PS2 and PS3) or "619k in total Playstation brand" (PS2/PS3/PSP)), should be absolutely devastated by both the hardware and software numbers.

Only selling 119k PS3s versus the over 500k that the Wii and 360 pushed is really bad. They had the cheaper system out there plus the 80GB version and I don't see them recovering any ground through the holidays since they have such a weak lineup of games outside of Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. On the software front Heavenly Sword sold respectfully, but was outsold by skate on the 360. A first-party game outsold by a third-party game for another system...ouch!

I'm not even sure the $399 40GB system is going to push a lot of systems out the door. All it takes is for Microsoft to drop the prices a bit more and they've effectively blocked Sony's ever closing chance. And now Jack Tretton has the gall to say that buying a PS3 AND a PS2 will solve all your backwards compatibility issues for less than the original price of a PS3. Although the math is indeed correct, I think a lot of people would rather play their old PS2 games on a PS3 and not have to worry about having 2 (or more if you have a 360 and/or Wii) systems set up. The fact that they eliminated BC is just a spit in the face of those people who owned the PS2 and want the graphical upgrades that the PS3 gives many of the games. I'm still not sure why they dropped support of it unless it was a section of the company that was bleeding red with no possibility of ever catching up.

As we head into the holiday season I see the Wii, 360, DS and PSP to have a really good season. The first two have some big games still coming (Super Mario Galaxy, Guitar Hero III, Rock Band and Mass Effect) and I think we will start to see an interesting pattern as we see if Nintendo can continue to push on with looming shortages (whether just words or reality is questionable) or if the 360 is going to sell really well this Christmas with an abundance of systems to pick up. Who knows, but it will be a fun ride.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Halo 3 Review (360)

Title: Halo 3
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360

My Recommendation: Must Own

It should come as no surprise that I recommend this as a Must Own, however there are some caveats. For those only wanting to go through the campaign and not dabble in the multiplayer options, this is purely a game you should rent. It shouldn't take you very long to beat the campaign and then you have the final chapter of the series. If you are into multiplayer and being able to build your own "items" into a given map, this game tops them all and for that it becomes a Must Own.

The campaign itself is well done with a couple sections here and there that I really didn't care for. I've never been a big fan of the Flood and any section revolving around them goes into the "I just want to get through this section" mode instead of the "man, am I having fun trying to think ahead of all these enemies. With the Flood there is no strategy, they are a legion that just keeps coming after you. They have no tactics or anything, they just want to overwhelm you.

Any section revolving around the Covenant is really good. This makes up the majority of the game with the Flood being the pain in the ass toward the end. The enemy AI is really good and grenades almost become useless against the Covenant because they are so smart. There are a variety of Brutes and Grunts you will go through, some with stretches of invulnerability attached to them or a strategic weak point to take them out.

The weapons are nice here as well. I'm happy to say the Assault Gun is back after it was forgotten about in Halo 2. In fact there are many sections where a friend actually throws you the Assault Rifle in a cutscene. It is funny that it was gone for a game and now it is the main basic weapon in Halo 3. The coolest additions to the weapons are the Gravity Hammer and the Laser gun. The laser comes in handy in at least two sections of the game, one of which is a little to cheap if you ask me.

The story overall is done well. Anyone who hasn't played the other 2 games is going to be really lost, especially about the whole Gravemind aspect of the game. The Gravemind is around in this game and you see his tentacles, but (SPOILER!!!!!) you never go against him face to, uh, face.

There are a few boss battles in the game, but nothing to write home about. The first appearance of the Scarab is awe inspiring, but once you encounter them here and there through the rest of the game they don't seem as cool. The boss battle toward the end of the game is a very weak one with the aforementioned laser gun, which is too bad because it involves a character that is a central character to the series itself.

The nicest thing about the storyline is this: (BE PREPARED FOR SPOILERS):

At the end of Halo 3 you come to the realization with the final mission title of "Full Circle" that the series has done just that. You blow up the rebuilding Halo from the first game, you take out at least a sizable chunk of the Flood (if not all of them) and after the credits have rolled you see that the Master Chief and Cortana made it through the portal still alive. The Chief goes into a cryotube and tells Cortana, "Wake me when you need me." That is exactly how the Chief started Halo: being pulled from a cryotube.

Do I think this is the end of the Halo series? I doubt it. Bungie is in a dangerous position. They have to create a new IP that people are going to jump on. If they can't do that I have to believe there will be a Halo 4 in the future. The door is left open for a Wing Commander like rebirth. The Covenant could decide they want to attack again, there could be internal struggles on Earth or there could be an all-new threat. Not killing off Master Chief leaves the door open for him to come out of the cryotube once again.

The multiplayer aspects of the game is where the real meat is. I've only played a little bit online, but I also realize the broad range of games you can play online. There is also the Forge mode where you can drop items into the maps of the game. You can't change the map terrain, but you can create an all-new experience to play with your friends online. Much like Halo 2, chances are multiplayer is going to help Halo 3 live for years and I can only guess that Bungie has a lot of downloadable content coming.

In the end, you really can't say no to Halo 3 if you are into online multiplayer at all. If you only want to play the campaign and see the end of the story I say you should rent the game. It should only take you at most a few days to finish the fight. If this is the end of Halo, it went out on a high note.

The big question is whether it is the best 360 game out there? From a multiplayer perspective probably. From a graphical, story and overall perspective, probably not.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Review: Heavenly Sword (PS3)

Title: Heavenly Sword
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: SCE Europe
Platform: PS3

My Recommendation: Rent It

I'm not reviewing this game for Gameshark (although my Warhawk Review is now up), so I thought I would give a review of this game on my blog instead.

Heavenly Sword is a beautiful game that is hindered by its length and the borrowing of many aspects from the God of War games. Many people will say the game goes beyond a straight GoW clone, but I think it borrows a little too heavily on it to really stand out as something different. It is obvious that Ninja Theory put a good amount of time into both the game graphics and all of the cutscenes that make up the story. The story doesn't necessarily grab you, but watching the cutscenes is just a sight to behold.

Much like God of War the main character dies at the beginning of the game and you go back in time 5 days and play through what leads up to Nariko facing off against thousands of enemies. The 5 days make up the first 5 chapters of the game, with the sixth chapter being the final boss fight. Nariko is put in a sort of hub where the Heavenly Sword comes out of the ground in 6 different places which correspond to the 6 chapters. There are then circles on those swords that point out how many missions there are in each chapter. Some chapters have a lot of missions, some have very few.

A majority of the game is spent with Nariko taking on an overwhelming number of enemies. In many ways it is far bigger in battle concept than God of War, but Nariko has far less combos and tricks than Kratos has. Nariko cannot jump, which makes things a little interesting. She has three stances she can fight from that all use the Heavenly Sword. The first stance is the speed one which is just used by pressing the Square and Triangle buttons. The range stance is accessed by pressing the L1 button along with using Square and Triangle. The power stance is accessed by pressing the R1 button along with using Square and Triangle. Most of the time you will be using the speed and power stance, but the range stance comes into great use on at least two bosses.

As you go through the missions you can get a total of 3 glyphs by doing things within the mission. As far as I know there is no way of knowing exactly what you have to do in order to get those glyphs other than the bar at the bottom of the screen that increases as you do things. Supposedly getting all the glyphs is one of the reasons to replay this game, but I honestly saw no need to go back and do it all over again.

The funny part is that the best sections of this game is when you take over as Kai (Nariko's cat-like friend) or if Nariko has a long-range weapon to fire/throw. As you fire off the weapon and hold down the Square key you can use the Sixaxis controller to guide the shot toward your intended target. This helps immensely when Kai is shooting her arrows ("twing-twang" as she calls it) or when Nariko is taking down enemies storming the fort. Aiming arrows at enemies clear across the screen was just awesome and I almost wish there was more of this game type than of Nariko running around swinging the Heavenly Sword around.

In the end I found myself going through the motions in order to get to the end of the game. The long-range things were a welcome change of pace, but I honestly found no reason to use combo attacks versus button mashing in the Nariko vs. an overwhelming army sections. The only place combos help a lot are the boss battles when you are able to pull one off.

Heavenly Sword also borrows from God of War with the "press a button at the right time" gameplay. It doesn't happen very often and the buttons pop up very quickly. I had many times where I had to replay a section because the buttons popping up caught me off-guard. In the GoW series I never felt surprised by when the buttons came up to press, but here is a different story.

The boss battles are interesting as well. They all have weak points and have a cycle of moves that they make. The final battle is the best of them all, but it can also be very frustrating. I have heard people being able to beat the boss just mashing on buttons, but I found that to be impossible. Instead there was a way to deflect some things back to the boss and that helps a lot. The boss battles are not as interesting as, say, Metal Gear Solid, but they are somewhat memorable.

In the end I can only recommend that you rent this game. I'm glad I rented this game. If I added up the amount of time I spent on the game, I'd say it was 5-6 hours. I'm of the belief that length doesn't necessarily hinder a game. I use ICO as my example of an extraordinary game that was extremely short (4 or less hours). With ICO I replayed it multiple times, in the case of Heavenly Sword I don't see myself playing it again other than to show it off to people that want to see nice high-def graphics, but then I'd have to rent it again.

Heavenly Sword is a really good game, but it's only worth a rental because of its length and the heavy borrowing from the longer (and better) God of War games. Don't buy the game because you can literally beat it in a day, but renting it should satisfy your need for a really good exclusive PS3 game.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Proof that the Wii is not the true Market Leader?

This week we may have finally gotten proof of what I've been saying all along that the Wii is only going to have 1st party games that sell well. Everyone and their mother (and grandmother) are picking up a Wii in order to play things like Wii Sports, Wii Play and Mario Party 8. The 3rd party offerings have not been great and I don't expect many of the people who own the Wii to buy them. This is where Nintendo being the market leader in Worldwide sales (they passed the 360 recently) isn't really telling the whole story. So, what game do I feel is proof of this concept? Madden 08.

Thanks to VGCharts, we have a good handle on how well Madden 08 sold last week. Here are the sales numbers (with rank):

1. Xbox 360: 889,072
2. PS2: 546,403
3. PS3: 204,025
7. Wii: 57,247
8. Xbox: 56,841
13. PSP: 39,170

If you note, the Xbox version only sold 406 less copies of Madden 08 than the Wii version. That's pretty bad if you ask me. It's also bad that the PS2 version outsold the PS3 version by over 300,000 copies, but that's for another post. Those are pretty bad sales for a major 3rd party title on the Wii. By all accounts, the game itself is better than last year's version on the Wii. I personally don't know because I don't own a Wii.

Other sales on the Wii also tell the tale that the Wii is going to live and die by its 1st party offerings:

4. Wii Sports: 89,280 (4,242,200 total; note: this equals total Wii Sales in US)
6. Wii Play: 59,006 (1,932,191 total; note: a controller is included)
10. Mario Strikers Charged: 44,601 (233,517 total)
14. Mario Party 8: 37,521 (990,672 total)
21. Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition: 21,777 (304,570 total)

There are others on there, but the rest are 1st party as well. The only 3rd party game to hit "big" is the one above. 300k+ is respectable and is the exception to what I was talking about. I still stand by my idea that the Wii software sales will be poor for the most part outside of 1st party games whereas the 360 and PS3 will have 3rd party games that sell really well. It is a mirror image of the GameCube except that everyone loves Wii Sports and Wii Play. It would behoove Nintendo to continue making those types of niche games because it is the only way they'll be able to push respectable sales numbers in my opinion.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Good News/Bad News

I was going to post this last weekend, but the weather was pretty traumatic up here in the Great White North (Minnesota). Power went out twice for 4 hours each time (early Saturday morning and Monday Night) and we've had quite a bit of rain. I ended up having to replace my router because the WAN port was sketchy at best (although I can't corroborate it, this could have been part of the Xbox Live problem weeks earlier). Everything is working at the regular speed now, so everything's great.

First the good news. I was lucky enough to get an offer from Bill Abner (the sport's reviewer and part owner of the Sports Gamer Blog) to review for GameShark. It is sounding like EA's skate (check out the website) will be the first game I'll be reviewing. Bad news is that I'm getting the 360 version and may not have mine back in time, so I may have to venture 40 miles to where my brother-in-law lives and play there. There are other games I might review, but I don't want to give any information away in case I'm not chosen to do them. I'm excited about skate, although I think you have to get into the mindset that this is like real-life skateboarding and not Tony Hawk moon physics where you can pull off impossible moves. It will be interesting to see if it is a good first effort, because then there is a possible challenger to the crown the Hawk games have worn for many a year.

Being a reviewer again is awesome, but the writing style is a bit different. It's more free form and is more about how you feel about the game instead of talking about features and all that like I used to do. I am no longer bound by sections as I was before. The best news is that the GameShark position allows me to fulfill a dream I've had since I began writing...getting paid for it. With that fact and the fact that GameShark doesn't have a lot of PS3 reviewers, I picked one up for the $500 price point and my first reviews will go to pay that off. So, I'm now a (proud?) owner of a PS3. I still don't own a game for it yet, but if Heavenly Sword isn't the first one, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction will definitely be.

Onto the bad news. I am not very excited that Irrational Games was turned into 2K Boston and 2K Austrailia. I figured for sure if BioShock hit it big that Irrational would be bought up by a more "cash happy" publisher than 2K Games. 2K Games is in a world of hurt currently in my mind. Grand Theft Auto IV was pushed back and BioShock becomes its only big game this year I believe. I am still thinking BioShock is not going to sell as much as everyone thinks it will. Remember, System Shock 2 sold pretty badly (well under 100k sold) and that was a critically lauded game like BioShock currently is. It could sell well and I hope it does, but this game may not be for everyone.

That's it for the bad news except for the post below this one.

Xbox 360 Died

Yep, my launch unit finally died. I was hoping it would last through BioShock's release, but it was not to be. I just sent it off today to be replaced and I don't know how long it will be before I get one (hopefully with the extra heatsink and a quiet DVD drive) back.

I had been noticing over the last few weeks that Xbox Live would log in slower and some games like Guitar Hero II would lock up after a while. It worked fine with NCAA Football 08 though, never locking up. Once I started to download the BioShock demo things started to go south.

I am likely to miss BioShock (but am downloading the PC version to see how well it runs to see if I can pick that up) and Stranglehold, but hopefully it will be back in time for Halo 3. I will probably also miss Medal of Honor: Airborne, although much like BioShock I may be able to play it on PC.

It's just not a good time to have an Xbox 360 down, is it? It makes the Halo 3 Xbox 360 look more enticing though. It does look cool as well.

Thanks to my brother-in-law for letting me play the BioShock demo over the weekend. That game is HOT, but I always though it was HOT. He even though it was HOT and was thinking about getting it.

So, I'll be tracking my UPS shipment of the 360. Hopefully it won't take too long, but who knows.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Demo Thoughts: Eternal Sonata and Stranglehold (360)

Like many of you I downloaded both the Eternal Sonata and John Woo's Stranglehold demos and I thought I'd give my thoughts on them.

First up is Eternal Sonata, a game I have been looking forward to playing. The demo takes you through a section of the game and face a boss monster at the end. The battle sequence is pretty different in that you are given a certain amount of time to move and do actions before the next participant, whether friend or foe, begins their active time. There is a bit of strategy involved because the best option is to rush in to attack and then start to backtrack before your time is up so the enemy doesn't have an easy shot at you.

The graphics were really good in this game, but they really didn't make me feel like I was playing a next-gen caliber of game. It seems like a much sharper version of the Final Fantasy games from the original Playstation. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the colors are vibrant, but anyone looking for a graphical explosion is probably going to be disappointed.

The other thing I wonder is how much speech there will be in the game. Talking to NPCs was like the FF games of old where you read the information instead of a game like Oblivion where almost everything is spoken. This game is very old school in how it is presented. I am looking forward to this game and I will at least rent it depending on how long of a game it actually is.

I was really excited to play John Woo's Stranglehold to see whether the fears I outlined in my August Games Preview were true or not. After the demo, which actually is a pretty lengthy one, I am still worried about this game being too Max Payne for its own good. The graphics are impressive, but there are times where the character graphics actually look worse than those in Max Payne 2 which was released almost 4 years ago. I would expect some more realistic looking people from a next-gen game like this.

The gameplay itself was pretty fun, but I still think it is treading a bit too much on the Max Payne blueprint for my liking. The destructible environment is certainly a new thing. You can shoot at objects above enemy heads to kill them (they are highlighted with a shiny spot to show you can use it) and there is even a couple cool points where you are facing 3+ people at once and you go into a mini-game kind of section. You can move Tequila to the left or right to dodge bullets and then you can shoot the person (or an object to take them out) and you go to the next enemy. The other cool thing is when you get the precision aim ability and you can aim a shot and you watch the bullet go directly to where you aimed on the enemy. Those kinds of things certainly aren't in Max Payne and makes this game stand out a bit.

For what I played I was impressed by the game (I am a big Max Payne fan) and will at least rent it for the 360 (or the PS3 if I ever get one in order to get the Hard Boiled Blu-Ray disc). The cool montage after the demo is done shows some of the rest of the game and it does look good. Midway may push this into at least the good category, but I reserve judgment on whether they can deliver a great game or not.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spider-Man: One More Day/Brand New Day

Marvel has always said that 2007 was going to be a huge year for Spider-Man and given what is coming up at the end of the year confirms this. I honestly don't know what to expect from One More Day (J. Michael Straczynski's final Spider-Man arc after 6 years with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada doing the covers and pencils), but the San Diego Comic Con started showing some hints of light on it (thanks to Newsarama for the info).

1. Quesada noted that the "retro" covers on One More Day (the first two are below) evokes the feel of a certain era in the Spider-Man history. To me he's talking about the early days as being the 70s/80s era of Spider-Man where covers were busy with words and multiple panels. It was in the really early days as well, but I think it was much more prevalent in that era.

2. In Zeb Wells' interview at Newsarama (he is one of the 4 writers on the 3x a month ASM along with Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim and Bob Gale) he let it slip that the web shooters were coming back. As it stands now Peter has organic webbing like in the movies.

3. All of the preview art for both One More Day and Brand New Day show Spidey in his original costume and not the black one he is wearing now. This probably means that Aunt May is not the body on the cover of ASM #543, the issue before One More Day starts, but who knows (we'll find out August 22nd).

There are other things that were divulged, but I am both anxious and excited about One More Day and Brand New Day. I have to believe they are about to reverse about 20 years of stories. This is the 20-year anniversary (real time, not comic time) of Peter and MJ getting married and Quesada has said on multiple times that he wants Peter single but is not willing to do it through divorce. I have a sinking feeling that Peter is going to ask Dr. Strange to wipe everyone's mind (and possibly his own) of him unmasking, marrying MJ, being given the Other powers, the whole spider totem, letting anyone know his secret identity, etc. He will be given "one more day" with MJ knowing everything she knows, but after that everything is at square one. Peter may or may not remember everything, but MJ will no longer be married to him and no longer in danger for being around him. Obviously she will still be in his life, just not at the level it was before.

Brand New Day will be him starting at square one again with everyone. If the mind wipe is actually happening I hope that he remembers everything and is able to reconnect with MJ. I hate that the marriage is probably over, but done correctly I could stay on with my favorite superhero. I am very excited, but also anxious, about One More Day and Brand New Day. Marvel has been doing pretty good with keeping things interesting, although wiping the knowledge that everyone knows Spider-Man is Peter Parker will certainly lessen one of the major plot points from Civil War.

It is an interesting time to be a Spider-Man fan, that is for sure.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Post-E3 Thoughts and Game Impressions

Well, E3 has come and gone. All indications are that this may have been the last E3 we will ever see. Some people liked the new show (minus the Hanger that was far away from the hotels), some people hated the new confined show. It seems a lot of the show happened in hotel rooms or small party areas in hotels. I'm not sure what the final cost was for each company, but outside of the poor (but mandatory) food service at the LA Convention Center what did they really gain from this?

I think all the companies could go back to the table and find a nice middle ground between the two extremes. Go back to the LA Convention Center, increase the invitations a bit (but don't allow the marginal people you allowed before) and increase the booth babe crackdowns from last year. I think that would be acceptable to the companies that were complaining (EA for sure, I think Nintendo and Sony may have also, I forget) and make E3 not seem as hectic as it did last year. It did get too big for its britches so to speak. I just don't see the expo continuing after this year, especially in this format.

The flow of information also seemed to be a little lacking this year from all the websites. Gamespot still had its live show, although I think they forced it a bit too much versus last year. Once again I point to the fact that Greg Kasavin is no longer with the site and I think he kept things pretty tight on the ship. A LOT of Sony stuff was shown on Gamespot, but none of them really stood out from what I watched over the weekend outside of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.

Some of the games I would have liked to have seen at the press events did get shown in private. There are some videos out there of the presentations and they made me pretty excited, but who knows how far off these games are. This E3 of course did nothing for the consumers except for those that read websites and even then the stories weren't as meaty as they have been in years past.

Outside of that stuff I'd like to say what games were impressive, what games are questionable and which ones disappointed me as I viewed E3 from home.


BioShock: No big surprise here, I'm high on this game and the gameplay shown on Gamespot was top notch as was the Ken Levine narrated video that came out last week. This game is going to rock, it's just too bad it won't sell that well (and I hope I'm wrong).

Mass Effect: November cannot come soon enough. This game looked hot, especially from the 21-minute demo shown at Gamespot (even with Rich Gallup sounding like an obsessed little girl).

Halo 3: No big surprise here, I was on this game as soon as it was announced. I like how much was shown at E3. It looks like Master Chief and the Arbiter join forces (and the possibility of co-op play is in play, although Bungie has not confirmed) and the graphics look phenomenal in the regular story.

Project Gotham Racing 4: Motorcycles and weather...what more do you need? This game looks excellent as well and should be the racing game to see until Sony actually gets around to bringing out the next Gran Turismo game.

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction: I love this series and this would probably be just enough for me to get a PS3 if it wasn't so expensive.

Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: I liked what was shown in both the press event and at a meeting with Miyamoto later on in E3. This game looks hot for the DS.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption: Color me surprised by how good this game looks and how well it controls (supposedly). This game is a Wii seller, however it is a game that is not geared toward the mass Wii crowd.

Super Mario Galaxy: This is the game that should sell the Wii this winter to the mass crowd of Wii owners. For Reggie to say that it is the best Mario since 64 (way to piss on Sunshine Reggie) might just be marketing speak, but hopefully not.


Crysis: I was hot on Crysis until I saw the stage demo on Gamespot. Crytek could get away with stupid AI on Far Cry since that was their first game, but with this game that isn't going to cut it. The graphics are phenomenal, but I bet you'll have to have a really good rig for it to even chug along well. Yes, it will work on lower systems, but I bet there will be a lot of slowdown. I still say I doubt we will see this in September.

Hellgate: London: This game is probably a year too late in coming out. When I looked at the graphics in the live demo on Gamespot and compared them to something like BioShock I decided they just weren't as good. This game was supposed to push the envelope I thought, but I came away unimpressed.

Killzone 2: This sits here simply because it looks great, but who knows how the level design will be given Guerilla's history. I think Sony has a lot to hang its hat on with this game, but other than an ominous "2008" release (could be late next year for all we know) there isn't a whole lot to get excited about until it gets closer.

Rock Star: Questionable on Rock Star? Have I gone mad? Maybe. Everything about this game sounds great, but I question how well online multiplay will go and how many people will actually splurge on the whole package (buying the game, 2 guitars, drum set and microphone for over $200) and have their friends come over to play. I'm betting most people will be picking up the drum kit and the guitar(s), but the microphone is up in the air. Then most people will just go online to find their band. Add to this the fact that you will probably pay through the nose to get these "full albums" that people are talking about. Chances are also good that they will let you download the full albums, but the tunes themselves won't be set up by Harmonix for standard play with the game. Instead the game will decide where the notes are, much like people that hacked the original GH on PS2.


Assassin's Creed: I am a little shocked that many people think this was the game of the show. Did they not see the demo at the Microsoft press event? Did they not see the Gamespot demo with Jade Raymond sounding like she was locked in a cage and couldn't give out any information? This game has been YEARS in the making and the graphics are stuttering. This game has been DELAYED to November. All signs are pointing to a game that may not be what everyone wants it to be. Honestly, Ubisoft should just let the cat out of the bag and divulge what everyone already knows: the main character is from the future and there are Sci-Fi elements aplenty in the game. In fact, the Jerusalem section shown in the demo will probably be a small part of the game (much like Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2). Just be careful of this game, I don't think it is going to be everything we think it will be.

LittleBigPlanet: Okay, this game is nothing like I thought it was going to be when it was first shown off. Now it seems like a sandbox-type game where you create your own stuff and play on there. I figured it would be a cool Lemmings-like game with online multiplayer. The game still looks fantastic, but the overall gameplay dropped it greatly from my list.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune/Heavenly Sword: I put both of these here because it seems like they borrow a lot from other games. The first game borrows from other platform games like Tomb Raider. The latter borrows from God of War quite a bit and will probably not have as great of a story. The first game's graphics do not look as great as I first thought they would be. The latter has great graphics. Sony needs standout games like the Ratchet & Clank one to really assert their spot and sell consoles. Neither of these two games is going to do that honestly.

Sony's Continuing Stupidity: What started off as a great E3 (good press showing, $100 price drop) turned to good old modern day Sony showing up at the end. Yes, we get the $100 price drop, but once all the 60GB systems are gone that are in the supply chain now they are gone for good. In its place goes an 80GB system with no Emotion Engine in it (meaning software compatibility for games from previous systems) for the usual $599.99 price. Why can't they bring out a 60GB version without the Emotion Engine and sell it for the $100 price cut? Basically they spit in the face of gamers everywhere, although now is the time to get a PS3 if you were to get one. The 60GB version has the Emotion Engine in it and it is $100 cheaper and will probably be around for at least a few months (unless people grab them all). In the end though Sony screws up again. How stupid can they be? They need a unified PR group instead of different main excutives saying different things (watch out for Sony Europe's head, he loves to leak stuff!). Oh well, Sony is still playing the arrogance card, but they are way behind in sales. They have to think of something or this generation is going to leave them behind quickly.

Upcoming Games - July

Yes, it seems like the gaming drought is about to end. Now that we move into the post-E3 time of the year, the gaming landscape starts to heat up. So, let's go down the line from with the big July releases:

NCAA Football 08
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: July 17th
System(s): PS3/360

I buy this game every year, but I may wait this year. I still consider this to be the premier football game, but the news of only one camera angle again this year doesn't make me too excited. I will probably bend to its will, especially if it gets reviewed well (IGN's review: "If you love football, you'll love this game!").

All-Pro Football 2K8
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: July 17th
System(s): PS3/360

So, you lose the NCAA and NFL licenses and you decide to sign up legends from the NFL for your game. Gutsy move, although the more gutsy move would have been to price this game lower like you did with NFL 2K5. Then you could reassert yourself as the premier football game. There are pluses and minuses in this game. On the plus side you get to choose your team fantasy style and there are online leagues, but on the minus side you can only play one season because there is no franchise mode. I am going to try to rent this game to see if it is good, but the no franchise thing will certainly hold me from buying the game for $60 and I think that is the biggest problem 2K is going to face with this game - the price just needs to be lower.

Upcoming Games - August

August is a bit hotter than July with games, let's get to them:

John Woo's Stranglehold
Developer: Midway
Publisher: Midway
Genre: Action
Release Date: August 6th (360)/August 20th (PS3/PC)
System(s): PS3/360/PC

Ever since I first saw screens I was impressed. What I am not impressed by is that Midway is heading this game. Midway is great at making "middle-of-the-road" games, ones that aren't in the greatness category but they don't suck either. I hope maybe they can change their ways and actually make a great game, but I will wait on reviews first before even renting this. It is also sounding a lot like Max Payne which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but playing the same type of game can get old no matter who is attached to it.

Madden NFL 08
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Sports
Release Date: August 14th
System(s): PS3/360/Wii/Xbox/PS2/Cube/PC/PSP/DS

I would not be surprised if EA pushes the release of this game up a bit if they feel the heat of 2K's effort in July. I am pretty interested this year after renting last year and skipping the buying part. Gang tackling (also in NCAA this year) and more GM-centric options as well as a supposedly boosted Superstar mode make me pretty excited for this game. What doesn't make me excited is no online leagues, only one camera angle (why?) and the radio announcer is back...d'oh! It is also obvious the 360 version will probably win out in a head-to-head with the PS3 version. The 360 runs at 60fps (supposedly without slowdown) whereas the PS3 version runs at 30fps...whoops!

Developer: Factor 5
Publisher: Sony CEA
Genre: Action
Release Date: August 14th
System(s): PS3

For some reason Sony didn't show this game off at their press thing at E3 and I have no idea why. This has been touted as a pretty big game for the PS3, but I don't see it selling a whole lot of systems unless the reviews are beyond reproach.

Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: RPG/Action/FPS
Release Date: August 21st
System(s): 360/PC

I'm all in on this one! I will have to get it for the 360 simply because I don't think this will run well on my PC. The spiritual successor to System Shock and System Shock 2 is simply something that cannot be missed. Only problem is that no matter how much press this game gets it isn't going to sell very well. It will sell to fans of the other two games and the hardcore demographic, but the mainstream gamer? No way, I just don't see it. This game will probably be a good candidate for game of the year even with the other stuff coming later this year.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Action
Release Date: August 27th
System(s): Wii

I don't own a Wii, but outside of Twilight Princess this would be a great game to sell a Wii to me. It's still hard to find a system out in the wild, but I have seen it on one or two occassions. The stuff coming out from E3 on this just makes it that much more interesting to me. I think this game had one of the better showings at E3.

Blue Dragon
Developer: Mistwalker/Artoon
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Genre: RPG
Release Date: August 28th
System(s): 360

Finally, one of the RPGs I've been waiting for comes out over here. This game did generate some 360 sales over in Japan, but much like BioShock above I don't see this game selling a lot of copies here in the States. The E3 demo got me interested and I'd love to see more of the game when it comes out.

Developer: Incognito Studio
Publisher: Sony CEA
Genre: Online Action
Release Date: August 28th (maybe)
System(s): PS3 (Online only)

Sony showed a lot of this game at E3. It doesn't sound like there are a lot of maps in the game, although there is land-based combat along with the air combat. Also, if this is anywhere near $60 Sony is going to have a tough time selling it to a lot of people.

Upcoming Games - September

September is also a strong month. Let's get to it...

Project Gotham Racing 4
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Genre: Racing
Release Date: September 3rd
System(s): 360

Day 1 purchase for me since I've purchased every other PGR game since #2 on release day. The addition of motorcycles and weather are just pluses to this already awesome racing series. The only minus is that this game will probably come out at $59.99 instead of $49.99 like PGR3 did.

Heavenly Sword
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Sony CEA
Genre: Action
Release Date: September 4th (maybe)
System(s): PS3

This game was also shown off at E3 at length. It looks interesting, but it also looks like a combination between God of War and Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath in the gameplay between the main character and her sister that you play about 20% of the game as. I think it would have to have a really good story to get people interested in it. If I had a PS3 I might be interested, but this might also be a rental before I make a decision.

Developer: Black Box
Publisher: EA Games
Genre: Sports
Release Date: September 5th (360)/September 18th (PS3)

This game should be interesting since it is a new IP for Electronic Arts. Obviously they are going after Tony Hawk nation and the controls sound pretty intuitive. Much like many other cross-platform games it is looking like the 360 version is out before the PS3 one.

Eternal Sonata
Developer: Tri-Crescendo
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Genre: RPG
Release Date: September 17th
System(s): 360

This RPG certainly looks interesting. It is based around real-life composer Frederic Chopin's final hours before his death in 1848. He dreams of a fairy tale universe with children that have diseases that populate it. The graphics look fantastic and the musical composition that I have heard in movies is like heaven. This is a key 3rd party RPG for the 360.

Halo 3
Developer: Bungie Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studio
Genre: FPS
Release Date: September 25th
System(s): 360

So, maybe you've heard of this game? It's going to sell like hotcakes and probably sell 360 systems as well, especially for those people who have been waiting for the next game in the series.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Conferences: Who Came Out on Top?

Out of the 3 Conferences it is pretty tough to declare a winner since each company did different plans of attack. Let's look at them:

Microsoft: They chose to show off the games coming out before the end of the year and show nothing of future games, which they've chosen to show in the private meetings with the press. They had developer representatives come out and show off their games in live demonstrations - some went right (Call of Duty 4, Gears of War PC) some went wrong (Assassin's Creed, Rock Band), but in the end there was a lot more live in-game play shown than in any other conference.

Nintendo: They chose to show off their dominance in portables and consoles with numbers and chose to show off their ability to get even non-gamers to play games. They showed off two upcoming games by having Nintendo-based website writers play them: Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Metroid 3: Corruption. They also showed off future ideas like the Zapper, Wii Fit and the fact that Mario Kart Wii is coming.

Sony: Sony chose to show off the future. They showed bits and pieces of Home and how it will interact with the world at large as well as the PS3. They showed off some interesting Playstation Network games that are coming (like EchoChrome, WarHawk and Wipeout HD) and showed games we already knew about (Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune) as well as a surprise (Sucker Punch's inFamous). They didn't give any sort of dates for games outside of Unreal Tournament 3 in November.

If I was to rate them in order I'd probably say it went:

1. Sony
2. Microsoft
3. Nintendo

Sony saved face from the tons of PR disasters they've had since E3 of last year, Microsoft pretty much did the same thing they always do and Nintendo is now where Sony was in the last generation: they don't have to show all their cards and can beat us with the numbers train.

Sony Conference Impressions

I want to start off by saying that Sony probably had a better E3 Conference than they have the last 2 years. It was well put together outside of the fact that Jack Tretton and Phil Harrison both relied on the teleprompter way too much.

Sony did well with showing off games, but there really wasn't anything big shown outside of a longer version of the Killzone 2 preview with more in-game play and some of the interesting Playstation Network games shown (EchoChrome, Pain, WarHawk, etc.). I am excited by Killzone 2 and the Playstation Network games, but is it enough to get me to run out and purchase a PS3? Not at this point honestly simply because they didn't given any release dates. If all the Playstation Network games are coming before the end of the year that may make me more interested.

There was also bits and pieces of Home being shown off. The best part was when Jack ran into Kaz and made a joke about "Rrrrrridge Racer". It's nice to see that Sony is not as stuffy as they usually are, but maybe this is the new outlook with Jack running things. I'm still not sold on Home, but I know what Sony is trying to do. They are trying to tap into the crowd that Nintendo is currently grabbing: those people that don't play a lot of games, but are interested in social interactivity. Will they do well with Home? We'll just have to see.

The new slimmer PSP was shown off as well and was probably the biggest announcement from Sony. It doesn't make me want to run out and get a PSP, but Sony certainly made a push to show off some of the upcoming high-profile games coming to the PSP.

The biggest negative from Sony's Conference was the fact that they didn't give any dates for any of the games they showed off outside of their timed exclusive for Unreal Tournament 3 in November. Both Microsoft and Nintendo gave dates on games and many of the games Sony showed off are not even coming this year. Plus, why the heck wasn't Lair shown? It's coming out in a month. Is it not as good of a game as they were pushing it to be? It's just really poor not to show off one of your bigger releases before the end of the year.

Probably the biggest news was that Sony confirmed that Metal Gear Solid 4 was only coming to the PS3 and a new clip was shown. Many people know how much I like the MGS games, but even this game doesn't make me want to jump and get a PS3 at $499. The only sad part of the preview shown was that it was just cutscenes shown and not actual gameplay. I think it is important that gameplay be shown off to generate more buzz. Maybe they are showing it behind closed doors, but I was impressed that they already had English voices in the game. This gives an indication that the game must be close to being done (also confirmed by the Early 2008 at the end of the clip).

In the end I think Sony came out pretty well. They are getting ripped apart by some developers about only dropping the price by $100 for the PS3 (and chances are good the 60GB version will go the way of the 20GB version when the 80GB version comes out at the $599 price point), but I think they hit everything they needed to (Lair notwithstanding).

Nintendo Conference Impressions

Nintendo's Conference ended up being much like Sony's ones back when they were the leaders. They just kind of put information out there (like Sony loved to do) showing their overpowering numbers on DS and Wii worldwide. They also relied a lot on unneeded advertising pieces (another thing Sony loved to do). One or two would have been fine, but plenty of them through the whole Conference was a bit much honestly.

The biggest news items to come out of Nintendo's showing were the dates for Super Mario Galaxy (Nov. 12th), Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Dec. 3rd). They also announced that Mario Kart Wii is coming early next year with a wheel controller as well as a new controller for shooting games like Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and Ghost Hunter. They also had two online Nintendo-based writers show off Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for DS and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Wii.

Then they carted out the upcoming Wii Fit with a new balance pad controller. It looks interesting, although I wonder how many fit games there will be. Gamespot talked about 4 of them (hula hoop, ski jumping, marble game and the soccer game shown at the Conference) in their preview.

Nintendo covered all bases in their showing. It is obvious that the Nintendo DS is as much a phenomenon as the GameBoy Advance was and has allowed more innovation in the games they make. It is also obvious that the Wii is still hot and it will be interesting to see when supply may finally outstrip demand. Nintendo has indeed sold itself well to both the regular gaming public and people that have never picked up a controller in their life. They are basking in the glow of a game playing public that Microsoft and Sony just can't touch. The question is whether they can sell enough units of games for 3rd party companies to keep making games for it. I still forsee Nintendo getting stuck in the same rut they were last generation with them making the only "must get" games for the system and no 3rd party games really standing out. That is where Microsoft and Sony shine, they have strong 3rd party support and often those sell better than even 1st party offerings.

I am still interested in picking up a Wii and DS, but I don't know if they will take more of those precious minutes that Reggie talks about at the end over something like the Xbox 360 or if I ever pick up a PS3. Nintendo is certainly leading the "new age" of video gaming while Microsoft and Sony are still leading the "established" video game structure. The "new age" is where the non-gamers are, the "established" is where people who have played games for decades are.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

PGR4 Release Month

Maybe I missed this last night, but Microsoft is saying that Project Gotham Racing 4 is going to be out in September. I am guessing it will be out before or on the same day as Halo 3. I find it interesting that the PGR series will now have the same amount of games out for it as the Gran Turismo series in about half the time. I am really looking forward to this game. It would be nice if they released this at $49.99 (the same price PGR3 was at launch), but I'm willing to bet it will be at $59.99 which is sad.

Nintendo/Sony Conferences - 9am/11:30am PT

I won't see Nintendo's Conference live, but I hope to see Sony. I really have no thoughts about what each company will show off simply because I don't own a Wii or PS3 as of yet. Sony has the history of really going out into the "fall asleep zone" with their Conferences. I hope they've learned that pounding out numbers for 20 minutes straight just isn't the way to do things. Last night Microsoft had numbers here and there, but they mostly let the games talk for themselves (the smart thing to do). Sony should do the same thing.

Unfortunately with Crazy Ken Kutaragi no longer with Sony things won't be nearly as insane probably. Kaz (Mr. "Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrridge Racer") is still around though, maybe he'll have some good zingers. Sony doesn't have a whole lot of 3rd party stuff to show off that doesn't run faster on the 360 (EA Sports games) or doesn't come out before the 360 version (Medal of Honor: Airborne for example). Yes, there is Metal Gear Solid 4 and Final Fantasy XIII to show off, but neither game will see the light of day before 2008 in my estimation. They do have one 3rd party game to show off and that would be Burnout Paradise since it is supposedly being built on PS3 first and ported to the 360 - the only EA game I know of that is doing that currently, most are being done on the 360 and ported to the PS3 (EA Sports games for instance).

Instead Sony will have to rely on their 1st party offerings such as Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Killzone 2. They will also probably spend most of their time talking about Home and I think it will be a tough sell to people. It sounds cool, but what are we actually going to be able to do with it? I hope they answer those questions.

On the PSP side maybe they'll show off the Slim design and give a release date and price for it. I'm not too up on PSP releases, so I don't know if there are any big games upcoming for it or not.

On the Nintendo side they also don't have a lot of top notch 3rd party offerings coming, most of their sales will come from their own internal developers. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (coming in August), Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Kart will probably be shown. They will also probably show a lineup of mini-game filled titles that are the bread and butter of Wii releases. Those games are what brings gamers of all ages together, I just don't know how long Nintendo can hold onto that lightning in this case.

On the DS side everything is rosy of course. I want to see more of Phantom Hourglass and many of the other games upcoming. Nintendo will probably also throw around numbers and they'll sit somewhere between Microsoft and Sony in how much time they spend on them.

Both Conferences should be interesting though.

Killzone 2 Video Impressions

Sony had a late night showing of Killzone 2 at some local Santa Monica eatery. The video went up on various sites during the night and I was just able to watch it. I am impressed by the gameplay video and evidently the press was shown a 15 minute controlled demo in small groups. Most of the previews are sounding promising, although no hands-on action was given to the press in attendance.

I reviewed the original Killzone and found it to be a good, but not great game. The video of the new game makes it look like what Guerilla was trying to reach in the original may be reached here. It will be interesting to see if Sony gives any hands-on action to the press over the course of the next 3 days. I am guessing this will be a key component of the Sony conference this morning, but who knows.

New Guitar Hero II DLC

Well, Activision seems to have snuck in Song Pack 4 for Guitar Hero II on Xbox Live Marketplace. Everyone will want to know how much it costs. Drumroll's still at 500 points. It looks like the user outrage of the price for the first 3 packs didn't make a dent to either Activision or Microsoft (depending on who you think is at fault). The songs included are:

I Wanna Be Sedated (as made famous by the Ramones)
Smoke on the Water (as made famous by Deep Purple)
You've Got Another Thing Coming (as made famous by Judas Priest)

Sounds like some good songs (remember, I haven't played GH1), but I don't know if I am going to buy into these 500 point packs anymore.

In other news I checked this morning and my Blue Dragon demo was at about 70% and I also added the Ace Combat 6 demo (think it runs about 390MB) that went up during the night. Hopefully I'll be able to play both tonight and maybe some new stuff will be up as well. I love that new addition the Xbox got with being able to shut off the system and it still continues to download and uses low power to do so.

Blue Dragon Demo is on Xbox Live

I forgot to mention in the post-Conference diatribe that Blue Dragon's demo is now available on Xbox Live. It is 1.1GB in size, so it may take a while to download given that a lot of people are probably hitting the Marketplace with all the new stuff on it.

Hopefully I can play some and report back. I am looking forward to this game no matter how geared toward young people it looks.

Post Microsoft Conference Thoughts

Well, some of my guesses didn't come true, but many of them did. I am quite shocked they didn't show even a small bit of Fable 2 (unless I missed it), maybe it is farther off than I was hoping. They also didn't show off Bioshock, which I thought they would show just because it is a showcase game coming out in just over a month. The price cut wasn't announced and there was no timed exclusive of any of the 3 games I put up.

Outside of that I think the Conference was pretty good. Microsoft took a decidedly straight path tonight. They showed off a lot of live gameplay (Rock Band, Madden 08, Assassin's Creed, Project Gotham Racing 4, Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War PC).

Some of the above didn't come off well. The opening with Corporeal playing the Halo Theme was extremely bad. It was quite sad because they gained fame (and the invitation) from their excellent YouTube video. Maybe it was jitters because at the end of the Conference they sounded much better. Then Peter Moore goes into Rock Star with a group from Harmonix and the singer ABSOLUTELY SUCKS. That was horrendous and makes the microphone part of things that much more iffy. To add to the embarassment, Moore screws up his solo when it comes up. That was bad.

Assassin's Creed also did not show that well, although I missed a good portion of it. I've been reading messageboards and things seem to be very negative on this game when related to fighting. Ubisoft has a lot of money riding on this game and quite a few years of development on it, I hope further play (maybe a demo will come on Xbox Live this week) will reverse things.

I'd have to say Call of Duty 4 and Project Gotham Racing 4 probably had the strongest showings live. I think Gears of War on PC is going to piss a lot of people off if the additional sections aren't included in an Xbox Live DLC in the future. At least it is going to run on Windows XP as well as Vista. Maybe Microsoft is easing up on trying to make things Vista only until all the kinks of DX10 can be worked out.

EA didn't come out to announce anything, but it was stated that all the EA Sports games will run at twice the speed of last years, meaning 60fps. Hopefully there will be no slowdowns, but this is going to be a HUGE difference to the mainstream sports fans that have waited to get next gen systems. The Xbox 360 looks that much more interesting running these games at 60fps versus the PS3 versions that run at 30fps.

Other stuff shown was a new Viva Pinata party game, a short montage for Mass Effect (coming in November), a short teaser of Resident Evil 5, showings of new Xbox Live Arcade Games (2 of which are live tonight) and a montage for Lost Odyssey (no release given). I really liked the last one, it looks really good and I hope it makes its supposed end of the year release.

And of course the night ended with a WETA produced Halo short movie and a montage of gameplay from Halo 3. I think it looked awesome and it sounded like Saruman (Christopher Lee) is going to be a voice in the game. There were a few scenes with Master Chief and the Arbiter together. I wonder if we will be playing as the Arbiter again. I am going to guess Bungie will not leave us hanging in this game and chances are it will be the longest game out of the 3.

In the end I think the biggest disappointment was no announcement of a price decrease. They did show off the new Halo 3 Xbox 360 coming in September (I bet it will have the 65nm chips in it). They could still announce one at some point here. I think Microsoft feels they have a strong lineup of games through the holiday season and don't think Sony has anything to counter them until at least 2008 (we all know MGS4 and Killzone 2 aren't going to make it this year). They may watch Sony's conference tomorrow and see if there is anything to worry about. If not they may hold off on the price drops.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Microsoft Press Conference - 8:30pm PT

I always enjoy the press conferences and especially Gamespot's coverage of them. Tonight Microsoft gets things rolling (as always). My guess at what will be in the presentation:

- First Halo 3 Single-player (duh!)

- Bioshock (it is 360/Games for Windows Only)

- Project Gotham Racing 4 (they just announced there will be motorcycles in the game) along with a release date

- Footage/gameplay of Fable 2 with a possible release window

- Footage/gameplay of Mass Effect

- Footage/gameplay of Assassin's Creed

- Footage/gameplay of Splinter Cell: Conviction (360 only)

- Footage of Microsoft's RPGs from Mistwalker

- A presentation by EA with their lineup of games, announcing that NCAA and Madden are at 60fps only on the 360.

Then I figure there will be some big announcements:

- Price Cut, which is supposedly: $299 Core pack will drop to $249; the $399 Premium pack will drop to $349; and the recently released $479 Elite model will drop to $399.

- Peter will probably have a tattoo, either announcing that Rock Star is time exclusive, that Metal Gear Solid 4 is coming day and date with the PS3 version or that Assassin's Creed will be time exclusive

- Possibly some game we haven't heard of yet

Monday, July 09, 2007

E3 This Week

It's a little later (by about 2 months) and a lot more toned down (only certain companies are participating), but it is E3 time once again. This is one of those times I miss being an integral part of a gaming site. Back in the heyday of Console Gold I was always hoping to make it to E3, but work or monetary situation always held me back. I would have loved to have made one of them, but oh well. I spent E3 2003-2004 doing backbone work on the site. Ah, those were the days we used to manually edit pages before Eldon created the database that they currently use (my memory fails me, the database may have been in use at E3 2004). I think E3 2005 was the first time we were able to add things E3 related (such as screenshots and previews) to the database, but to be honest I forget as they all seem to meld together. I remember writing all the previews for the major games before the guys went to E3 and also to help them have something to build upon when they wrote their hands-on previews.

I just checked out Gaming Trend's E3 2007 page and it seems they are going to use the same type of design as they used last year. The key problem of course is that any normal user of the site would be unable to find all the work the team did for the previous E3s. The pages are in the ether or at an address no normal person would know. I know the team is working on creating a redesign (that has been promised for at least 2 years now) and I hope they really think about some of the archived stuff and making the page more user friendly than it is. Before I left there were some good plans being worked out, but that was almost 2 years ago now. I know Eldon has the talent to do such a thing and I can only guess at what is happening behind the scenes, but I get the sense the same internal problems that were there when I left are still there. Enough about that, I was just remembering fond and not so fond memories.

Now we are at E3 2007, although it is now named E3 Media and Business Summit and is relocated to Santa Monica (in an airplane hanger and hotels) instead of at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This year will be an excellent test of whether E3, in any form, is going to live on or not. There are only 39 companies at the Summit and they represent the bigger players out there (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, EA, Activision, id Software, Take Two, etc.). The smaller players and some of the other big players decided not to attend.

It sounds like at Barker Hangar there will only be 10'x10' and 20'x20' booths for the companies. Those are pretty small, which makes the other part of the Summit all the more interesting. All the private meetings are being done at hotels around Santa Monica where the companies can obviously set up even bigger areas to show off their stuff. Also Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will be having their yearly press conferences where things are usually announced. Outside of that all of us not at E3 will be waiting on gaming magazines and mainstream press to give us all the info because chances are none of the major games will be shown at Barker Hanger given those small dimensions of space.

The other weird thing is I don't know how many hotels are holding the private stuff. I feel sorry for the journalists out there that will be darting back and forth to different hotels to get to their meetings. At places like Evil Avatar, they have a lone person going who has 20 meetings, 6 press conferences and 5 parties currently to attend. I hope bapenguin can keep his sanity and I hope he gets to see a lot of good stuff. Gamespot is once again going to have their live show, but this time it sounds like it will be outside on the Santa Monica Pier and it sounds like they will be interviewing companies that aren't attending the event as well as the ones who are. I've always liked Gamespot's live shows, although now with Kasavin gone as the guiding light I wonder if it will be as well done as before.

I'll try to give my thoughts on E3 as the news comes out and if you find me posting anywhere on a forum it would probably be at Evil Avatar since I don't know anywhere else to post. I always enjoyed giving minute-by-minute info on CG of the press conferences, but it might be hard to do so on EA.

I just found out via Major Nelson's blog that Microsoft will be having its press conference outside at Santa Monica High School's auditorium. You can see a pic of the location on his site. Microsoft is ballsy to have something outside and hopefully the weather will cooperate with them. Microsoft is again the first one out of the gate with their press conference and they will have it on Xbox Live later on in the night. I personally will be watching it at Gamespot at 10:30pm my time tomorrow and give my impressions later tomorrow night hopefully.

If I was to guess I would say that E3 may live on given the players behind it, but I can also see more developer and publisher trips being given to journalists to get the word out. I think this is just the first step to a vastly different way of the major news going out.

This also opens up things for conventions like PAX and CES to be the go-to spots for the public to see stuff, especially the former. PAX is only going to grow as the years go by and they may need to move it to an even bigger venue outside of Washington state. We'll see though.