Author - Jerry Paxton

E3 2008 – Bionic Commando Hands On Impressions

Today we got the chance to play Grin’s upcoming Bionic Commando. We would like to thank Grin’s Gunnar Johansson for graciously giving us a peak at this title. They have three levels on display for us to play in: two within a nuked city and the other in a densly-wooded forest.

We start off in our destroyed city, buildings collapsing around us with smoke billowing out like liquid in every direction, enveloping the shattered streets. The scene is fairly eerie and reminiscent of 9/11 – further enhancing the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, with the city being as torn up as it is, the quickest way around is to make use of your VERY cool bionic arm. Swinging from broken street lamp to broken street lamp is a very cool experience, if you can master the technique of using the arm.

It took us about thirty minutes to really get a grasp on the system, which involves pushing and holding the left trigger button on your Xbox 360 controller in order to shoot out the bionic arm and keep it attached to your target. Then, in mid-swing, you let go of the left trigger to release the arm, followed by shooting it out again to grasp your next pendulum point. While sounding easy, the strange human habbit exists to let go of the trigger at the apex of your swing, which will send all of your momentum straight up…then straight down again, not good. Ideally, you will let go of the trigger just at the bottom of your swing to fully make use of your built up kinetic energy. There is definitely a learning curve to making use of the bionic arm. However, once you get the hang of it – it is a thing of beauty to watch.

The bionic commando of the title has a variety of weapons at his disposal, including machine guns, grenades, shotguns, etc. However, the coolest weapon he has is the arm. By shooting it out to grasp bad guys you can hurl them great distances, zip-kick over to them, knocking them down, bringing them to you, and a whole lot more that the developers are planning to implement.

Enemy troops we fought in the E3 demonstrations version seemed intelligent enough to seek cover as well as press their attack at the right moments. Eventually, you can learn new moves aside from using the bionic arm. You can learn to uppercut large objects (even cars), jump up, and then punch them in the air towards the direction of your enemies. There is nothing quite as satisfying as killing your opponents by dropping a car on them.

Overall, Bionic Commando looks to have great promise and fun when you get the hang of it. While the game has no announced release date yet, we would guestimate it to be early next year.

E3 2008 – Bethesda E3 After Party

Well Shogunites, we’ve just gotten back from an E3 after party, generously hosted by Bethesda at the Saddle Ranch Chop House, off Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles. I’d estimate around 100 people attended.

What can I say? Good food, free drinks, karaoke, and (insert dramatic pause) a genuine mechanical bull! Yes, many attendees threw caution (and pride) to the wind and tried their hands to best the fowl faux beast! All failed. In between bull bouts, the Shogun bestowed a rare gift upon the crowd by singing Bon Jovi’s Wanted: Dead or Alive as well as Oasis’ Wonderwall. All were mesmerized and raised cheer at the Shogun’s harmonic prowess.

For dinner, we were offered a wide variety of fried foods: onion rings (covered with what appeared to be parmesian cheese), jalapeno poppers, fried mushrooms (I think that’s what they were), mini burgers, buffalo wings, and a variety of dipping sauces. Finger licking good! For dessert, there was chocolate cake as well as smores ingredients. I must note, however, that no flame was provided to toast the marshmallows. This makes for pisspoor smores, so I tried to roast one over the oil lamp flame at our table. The Shogun cautioned me against ingesting the result. I learned years ago to take the Shogun’s advice when offered and refrained from consuming the smore. As well I did. In better light I noticed the oil lamp flame provided some odd purple/black (not char) coating to my marshmallow that probably wouldn’t have been healthy to eat.

Thanks Shogun!

Thanks Bethesda! Can’t wait till Thursday for our Fallout 3 demo. Stay tuned for udates Shogunites!

Reel Deal Casino Gold Rush Review

I love Las Vegas. I love the town, the hotels, the action, you name it. Personally, I can’t wait for CES next year just to go back. So, you could imagine my excitement when I was asked to review Phantom EFX’s Reel Deal Casino Gold Rush by our mighty Shogun. What follows is the harrowing account of my evaluation, highs and lows.

Reel Deal Casino Gold Rush utilizes the same standard layout as in most Phantom EFX games. You look down on the casino in an isometric view, and scroll around the area by moving your mouse. To select a game, simply click on it. However it is far easier to select a game from the hot buttons where you can read the names of the available games instead of hovering over tables attempting to remember where that darn Pai Gow was.

There are 36 different games of chance in Gold Rush, the newest additions to any Phantom EFX title would be the Race & Sports Book. You can place bets on horse and dog races as well as utilize live feed data from real sporting events online to play in the sports book. That part of the game is only available online (although dog and horse racing can still be played locally). The casino games, as with most Phantom EFX titles, feel ‘dead on’ to their real-life counterparts in terms of odds, etc. Sometimes the order of operations in a casino game feels a bit disjointing but overall the system works. For example, after every phase of a table game, you muse click a button to allow the action to proceed. This button can be something important such as ‘hit’ or ‘stand’ in Blackjack, but sometimes is a silly ‘Continue’-style button which serves no purpose except to propel the game. In those moments you tend to wish it would just continue on its own to create a better game flow.

The online component of Gold Rush is an excellent improvement in game dynamics. This online component is not unique to this title, however, as a good number of Phantom EFX Reel Deal games are compatible with it. The online aspect not only gives players a chance to meet up and play against one another, but it also gives players a location to trade gambling stories, tips, general chit chat. This community will spur alot of growth in the franchise.

The biggest issue with Phantom EFX titles, and this is no exception, is that the graphics of the title need to be created with much larger resolution variants. We run, as many gamers do, a widescreen LCD at 1920×1200 and the game looks really bad when all stretched out. If played in windowed mode you can see how small the textures were really meant to be. While the textures need alot of help, at least the animations are smooth and the music/sound effects seem appropriate to the game being played. In fact, one hardly notices the graphics issues when playing in windowed mode on a video poker or slot game. We have gotten use to windowed casual games and thats what it feels like (minus the real-world odds of course) when enjoyed. We would definitely like to see a resolution increase in future Phantom EFX titles in order to enjoy it at our larger monitor sizes.

A slightly more confusing issue is that it can be difficult to suss out what a game truly is meant to be a virtual representation of. For instance, in the video poker line of games available to you, there are the self-explanatory ‘Jacks or Better’ and ‘Deuces Wild’, but then we expected to find Double Double and Triple Bonus poker in there as well. As it turns out, Double Double Bonus poker is in the title but under the name ‘Triple Premium Poker’.We verified this using the standard Double Double Bonus payout table and it checks out. This is fairly misleading and, as previously mentioned, confusing.

Despite the issues I have mentioned, Reel Deal Casino Gold Rush is an enjoyable casino title which can be used to keep your skills honed in downtime between trips to Las Vegas, and also is a great way to introduce a newbie to gambling especially given the authenticity of its game’s odds settings. Furthermore, the online component helps to increase community awareness and socialization.
To clarify, this review was written by the mighty Boothby, but submitted by yours truly as he could not do it this morning.

GamingShogun.com E3 Appointment Calendar


With E3 just around the corner, we thought we would share our official appointment calendar with our loyal readers. We have set up some pretty cool demos such as Left4Dead, Fallout 3, Project Origin, and a bunch more. This list is only our appointments mind you, we will still be bringing news from the show floor as well throughout the event.

Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Review

I must start this by saying that I am no audiophile. I am a gamer. So I do not know about decibels and other things with complex molecular structures. I know frame rates and how things sound to me as I smite my numerous enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentation of their virtual women. Its what I do.

The Creative Labs X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty sound card is their second foray into the world of the PCI-E interface. Primarily used for graphics cards up to this point, it is good to see some additional hardware for the faster interface. This is, without a doubt, the coolest-design for a card that Creative Labs has ever made. The circuit board is semi-enclosed and shielded by a black metal casing that gives the X-Fi Titanium the look of a cartridge that would record data aboard Blue Thunder. It features color-coded input ports on its backside that make connecting your speakers extremely simple. I remember a time when I would connect the plugs, run the surround sound test, and try again and again until it was correct. Well, times have changed. We have colors now. On our original X-Fi Fatality, the lack of optical plugs was disturbing. Creative has added such an option now with an optical input and output. This makes it much easier to connect to your home theater’s receiver/decoder. On the outer edge of the card when seated on the mobo is the standard X-Fi logo, back lit in white when the PC is running.

Installing the card physically was not a chore by any means, the card itself is fairly small and it fit within the case without issue. If you have two video cards installed, there could be an issue getting it to fit, however. After installing the software, you have to type in this special code to activate your product over the web. This is a new security feature Creative has introduced and we are still not sure what their long-term reasons are for doing this. The biggest problem we encountered while installing this new Sound Blaster was a problem with the drivers in Windows Vista. At first setup, the OS would not recognize the card. We had to reinstall everything (did not take too long thankfully) and the second time, the card was identified. During our research on this issue, we found that most people having issues with the X-Fi Titanium are Windows Vista users, so hopefully we will see improvements with the next-gen Creative drivers.

Now for the technical gobbledygook, with talk of all the incredible features and things the card can do (no, I don’t understand alot of this either):

Technical Specs

  • 24-bit Analog-to-Digital conversion of analog inputs at 96kHz sample rate
  • 24-bit Digital-to-Analog conversion of digital sources at 96kHz to analog 7.1 speaker output
  • 24-bit Digital-to-Analog conversion of stereo digital sources at 192kHz to stereo output
  • 16-bit to 24-bit recording sampling rates: 8, 11.025, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48 and 96kHz
  • ASIO 2.0 support at 16-bit/44.1kHz, 16-bit/48kHz, 24-bit/44.1kHz 24-bit/48kHz and 24-bit/96kHz with direct monitoring
  • Enhanced SoundFont support at up to 24-bit resolution
  • 64MB of X-RAM

We ran a benchmark during play of our favorite current title, the MMO Age of Conan. We ran the FRAPS benchmark utility in three separate trials per mode and then averaged each together. Our build:

  • AMD AM2 6000+ Black Edition CPU
  • 4096 DDR2-800 RAM
  • BFG GTX-280 OC Video Card
  • ASUS M2N-SLI DLX Mobo

Our three modes of operation were using the new X-Fi Titanium, the older X-Fi XtremeGamer (which is a PCI card), and the standard on board Asus sound chipset. Age of Conan’s audio settings were all set to MAX and all to 5.1 surround sound mode. Video settings were set to 1920×1200 with 8xAAQ, SM 3.0, and 75% slider settings. Once was all said and done, we ended up with this:

What we saw was that when it came down to sheer FPS, the on board sound card actually performed better than the new X-Fi Titanium by one frame per second, a negligible increase at best. The older X-Fi XtremeGamer fared only slightly worse, falling two frames per second behind the newer model. With these numbers, it is safe to say that the kind of sound card did not matter in this title. The X-Fi cards we used had 64MB of X-RAM each, but this did not sway the bench at all due to Age of Conan’s not taking advantage of that feature. The X-RAM has been a mixed bag with only a handful of games taking advantage of its abilities of off-loading audio to the sound card itself, freeing up more CPU cycles.

By these results, you would think we would be denouncing the X-Fi Titanium, but in reality, we are praising it for two simple reasons: Sound quality and channel separation. In our tests, the biggest thing that stuck out to our ears was that the audio coming from the newer X-Fi model was noticeably ‘crisper’ and ‘richer’ than even the older X-Fi. Additionally, the 5.1 channel separation was MUCH more defined and immersive. We can’t wait to try it out on a 7.1 channel system as soon as possible.

With that and the additional features that EAX, the Crystalizer, and the inclusion of Dolby Digital Live provide, it is hard not to recommend this card to gamers looking for the most immersive audio experience possible. Audiophiles will enjoy the card with all its audio-processing mojo, as will home theater PC builders, but REALLY big audio geeks (we use the term with love) might consider picking up the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty ‘Champion’ series card that comes with a 5.25” drive bay panel with lots of extra sweet audio ports, knobs, and switches to rub your ears all over in aural glee.

Overall, however, the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty is an excellent sound card for your PC with the best sound quality our ears have perceived and some wicked surround sound processing. At an MSRP of $149 dollars, it won’t break your bank either.

Official Product Page

Bourne Consipiracy Launch on a Cell Phone Near You

Vivendi Games has launched the Bourne Conspiracy on the ‘mobile’ platform, basically meaning cell phones. The game appears to be primarily a side-scrolling fighter. You can find out more at vgmobile.com

Official Release:
Vivendi Games Mobile, a division of Vivendi Games, today announced the launch of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy™ on mobile phones throughout Europe. The mobile game allows players to become Jason Bourne – experiencing the action as both the hunter and hunted, playing as both trained CIA assassin and marked government agent on the run.

The mobile experience features the signature Bourne-style action taking players deeper than ever before into the world of action and espionage. With a seamless blend of hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, dramatic escapes and driving, players will experience an adventure on their mobile phones like never before.

Stronghold Crusader Extreme Review

Let me preface this by saying I have been a fan of the Stronghold series since the beginning. In fact, since the very beginning back when it was an SSI title in 1993. That title was a bit too early to really impress anyone as computer gaming was still very young. However, a new Stronghold really sparked the interest of the real-time strategy fans out there back in 2001. It had large armies, historical accuracy, and a large part of the game was centered around building your castle. In 2002, Stronghold Crusader was released. Basically, SC was a stand-alone, updated version of Stronghold with a new setting (the Middle-East during the Crusades), new characters, and new units. Now, Firefly Studios has issued a new version of the game, called Stronghold Crusader Extreme.

theGameplay
The biggest changes with this edition of the title are the ‘Extreme’ modes. The game comes with two different executable files. One will load the original Stronghold Crusader and, the other, SCE. In the extreme edition you will find the ‘extreme trail’ mode of play along with custom campaigns. In the extreme trail mode,you play out 20 pre-defined missions on a linear path using the limited resournces allocated to you at the beginning of each mission. You get a one minute period of time to build what you can before combat is allowed and man oh man… The new extreme trail mode is extremely tough. I recommend new players to the franchise start with the base Stronghold Crusader game until you get good and used to the game mechanics which are definitely a bit more involved that most RTS titles.

In SCE, your buildings actually have prerequisites and dependencies in the way of resources and other buildings in order to function. This adds a very strategic layer to gameplay that, while veterans of the series will be used to, newbies will finally get the chance to enjoy too. Along with the extreme trail mode, Firefly has also enhanced the ‘tactical abilities’ in the title. These are special god-like powers you wield as the commander of your troops and can range from arrow volleys from the heavens to reinforcement drops to…well tons of others.

Firefly has also raised the maximum number of units from 1,000 in the base game to 10,000 in the extreme edition. That’s right: Ten Thousand! I don’t know of ANY other game that has a unit cap that high. Now, you would think that 10,000 units would slow down your rig, right? Well because the game is six years old at its core, you should have no problems and when the action gets going it is truly a sight to behold with tons of arrows, catapults, etc.

theGraphics
Which brings us to the sight of the game. Unfortunately, this is one area where the edition is a let-down. They are still using the original artwork and resolution modes from the original game (800×600 and 1024×768).I was looking forward to a texture resolution increase, but I guess we will have to wait for Stronghold 3. I play on a 24-inch widescreen LCD and the stretching, rough edges, and tears were very apparent. I would recommend using a smaller monitor that is closer to 1024×768 to fully enjoy the hand-made artwork that inhabits this title.

theSound
Sound has always been a bit sparse in the Stronghold series, and this is no exception. They are adequate and do the job, but are nothing out of this world.

theOverall
Stronghold Crusader Extreme is a fun game to tide you over until Stronghold 3 comes out. Unfortunately, it is plagued by its age in many areas, however still manages to offer up some new tweaks and challenges, especially for veterans of the series.

The official Stronghold Crusader Extreme website.

Microsoft’s E3 Line-Up Leaked


Looks like another sad day for Microsoft, as its whole E3 line-up has been leaked! Remember when we said they were holding two products in secrecy to reveal at the July 14th press event? Well they won’t be surprises anymore, unfortunately. Of course, as leaks, Microsoft will not comment on the authenticity of the info – so it is possible this info is not quite accurate (read with GoS).

The leak happened at the online survey site Intellisponse, and revealed the two new titles:

The first is Forza Motorsports 3, although it is not a real surprise as we have all hypothesized about it for a long while now.

The second title is called The Crucible (not based on the book) and is a hack-n-slash title featuring a very creepy atmosphere.

Via CVG

Space Station Sim Review

Space…. The final frontier… These are the voyages of your own space station, custom built of your imagination using an array of components and modules. Such is the premise of Vision Videogames’ Space Station Sim. Not only design and construction, but also crew selection and management. While this may sound dry to some of you, a space station simulation sounds like music to my simming ears.

You begin at mission control, where you have a large selection of areas or departments you can visit, ranging from component purchasing to astronaut creation. If you wish to launch a new module for your station, simply go to that department of mission control and select it. Then allocate funding to the construction of the module from various space agencies from around the world and select a launch vehicle. After that, the module is launched and connected to your station in orbit. Then you can outfit your newly launched module with different components. These components come in many categories such as life support and even entertainment (your astronauts get bored up there).

Once in the space station view you can take a peak inside the various modules you have added to your build and select your astronauts for activities. Astronaut management is where the game gets a bit boring for me, as Vision Videogames has gone with a ‘The Sims’ approach to management. Each astronaut has a host of needs and wants. You assign them to various tasks and hope they execute them before deciding they need to use the restroom for the umpteenth time. Personally, I would rather have seen the astronauts as npc’s so I could focus solely on station construction and technical management. Worrying about getting an astronaut their daily workout is not all that appealing to me. Now you don’t technically have to micro-control your astronauts as their AIs should take care of the most pressing issues. However, we found them to be extremely slow and inefficient in responding to situations while in ‘autonomous’ mode.

So, character management is a negative for me. How are the graphics? Well, not so great, but as a simmer I am far more than willing to forgive some bad graphics as long as gameplay is good, which it can be in Space Station Sim. Sound design is fine, with plenty of pre-recorded effects. The score is one of Space Station Sim’s strong points and as has all been recorded or sampled from an assortment of indie artists including Marilyn Rucker and the lovely Julia Othmer.

How do you keep your station afloat, so to speak? Well, through support of the international community which grants you funding. One of the biggest challenges in Space Station Sim is building an assortment of modules and funding them from a variety of agencies. This increases support from those agencies and their respective countries as does performing experiments in science modules. The more support you have, the more funding. Support is denoted by how many ‘flags’ a country has next to it. More flags, more fun (sorry, hate that commercial)! Once all five countries have 999 flags attributed to them, you win the game and can quit or continue on at your discretion.

Overall, Space Station Sim has some fun moments. However, Vision Videogames has made some poor choices which muddle the experience down in astronaut drama.

You can find the official Space Station Sim website here.

Tom Clancy’s EndWar Beta Invitations Going Out Today

According to a very close, trusted source, invitations to participate in the Xbox 360 beta test of Tom Clancy’s EndWar have gone out today. So…Check your email boxes people, especially if you signed up for the beta test (which would be the only way you are eligible to be chosen for an invite to begin with).

The official EndWar beta website.

This was sent to my source’s email box:
Hello, *****

We’re pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in the Tom Clancy’s EndWar Private Beta. You now have access to the full EndWar Beta website at www.endwarbeta.com and can begin posting on the forums.

Your username is: *****

Don’t forget to check out the ‘how to play’ section for helpful information on getting started. The EndWar Beta will be ready for you soon and once it’s available for download we’ll be sure to let you know.