Author - MondoPest

Ground Environment X – USA and Canada Review

Ahhhh yes…the world of flight simulation… We love flight sims here at the Shogun office, well, some of us do. Others can’t understand what we find so enjoyable about the simulation of flight, no goals or mission objectives, just you and your machine cruising about on your own terms.

For those of you who ‘get it’, you know what we mean. And you will understand why we are so excited about Flight1’s Ground Environment X – USA & Canada. Normally, our reviews are very objective and give a good pro vs con argument of a product. Not so in this case. And that is primarily the fault of Flight1, who has such a great product in GEX, it is hard to find a ‘con’ to it.

The basic world textures in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X are much improved over its predecessor’s (FS9). Unfortunately, they are still way too pixelated and low res to promote the needed realism to match the rest of the incredible graphics of the title. You have this beautiful aircraft, weather, and lighting…then the frumpy ground texture.

Enter Flight1, and their add-on to the game, Ground Environment X. GEX replaces all those ‘frumpy’ ground textures with photo-realistic ones that cover the entirety of the US and Canada (yay Canucks!). The difference is very noticeable in FSX and amazingly noticeable in FS9, where the ground textures are considerably worse than FSX to begin with. The textures are extremely crisp and have better organized auto-gen in most areas, meaning that you shouldn’t have trees popping up on top of buildings, etc (although this still happens now and again).

The textures will cover every area, season, weather condition, and time of day possible with realistic changes depending on the condition. Night time is especially brilliant with street lighting, etc to guide you in your difficult VFR journey. They even have ‘blend’ textures when an environment changes (such as daytime to nighttime). We were also impressed with the fact that game performance was not significantly affected by the add-on.

For $34.95, you would be hard-pressed to find any better texture replacement for Flight Simulator 9 and X that has the quality and feature set of Flight1’s Ground Environment X – USA & Canada.

The full feature list:
   * Complete coverage of the USA and Canada (including Alaska).
* 1m/pixel – 1024 x 1024 Texture Size – Hand Crafted To extreme Detail.
* High Performance, extreme density and perfectly aligned autogen.
* Realistic custom designed night textures.
* All seasons including snowy winter.
* Textures derived from licensed Arial and Satellite imagery.
* Fine tuned add-ons and ongoing updates and enhancements will be made available through the built-in update feature, based on customer feedback.
* Textures have been enhanced to provide even more texture clarity.
* Enhancements to produce simulated 3D depth in texture foliage.
* New winter textures which display vegetation within the snow.
* Better season blend so seasons such as fall fade into winter and blend naturally.
* Enhanced color processing which upgrades all seasons.
* Enriched desert and flatland details, no more bland yellow deserts or flatlands.
* Structured texture layout to assist in covering all major landclass products.
* Special features for Ultimate Terrain X USA and Canada Customers.
* Completely redesigned night lighting environment.

Ground Environment X is available here.

Comic Con 2008 – Seek the Six Viral Marketing Begins

**UPDATE: We have solved this puzzle and posted the spoiler in the Live Updates section after the break.

Looks like a new viral marketing campaign has begun. We received a cryptic email stating the following:

If someone was watching us, what would they see?
Seek the Six.
70.87.154.219

Upon going to the site, we were visited by a camera looking back at us followed by what appears to be a sort of mini-game which we have just begun to look at.

The domain is registered to someone at Deep-Focus.com, a marketing company, so it is safe to assume this is the beginning of a viral campaign just in time for Comic Con. Enjoy!

***SPOILER INVISO-TEXT: Well as it turns out, it doesnt take that long to figure out. Seems to be a game touting the upcoming reinterpretation of The Prisoner. It looks to star Ian McKellan.

Sapphire HD 4850 512MB Review

Here at the GamingShogun office, we are always looking for great gaming hardware. We got our hot little hands on a Sapphire HD 4850 video card with 512MB of DDR3 RAM recently, and thought we would bring our findings to the fore so you can enjoy them as well. We know, you can thank us later.

The 4850 represents the first of the ‘next-gen’ line of graphics processing units which is pinnacled with the Radeon 4870. The 4850 is the more budget-minded of the two, retailing for roughly $180 dollars. When we first heard the price, we thought that there was no way we would be happy with a GPU like that. We came to the realization that we had believed a video card needed to be expensive in order to be good. Happily, my friends, I can say that ‘axiom’ has proven false in the 4850.

Radeon 4850 Quick Specs:
-Display Output: Dual DL-DVI-I+HDTV
-Core Clock: 625 MHz
-Memory Clock: 993MHz, 1986 Mbps.
-PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
-512MB /256bit GDDR3 memory interface
-Single Slot Active Cooler
-HDMI compliant via dongle
-7.1 Audio Channel Support
-Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 support
-Shader Model 4.1 support

Our computers here in the Shogun offices run Nvidia Gtx 280 GPUs, so we thought there was no better opponent we could pit our ‘little’ 4850 against. And I say ‘little’ because in comparison to even an Nvidia 9800gtx, the Radeon 4850 has a much thinner profile. Not only is the profile thinner, meaning it will more handily fit inside even cramped PC cases, but it also only requires one 6-pin PCI-E power connector. These are already pluses in our book, but I digress. So we are pitting it against a Gtx 280 in a severely unfair fight. One is a budget gaming GPU and the other is a flagship model. For us, if the 4850 can perform reasonably, it will have succeeded where many others have failed. Remember, the 4850 retails for $180 dollars whereas the Gtx 280 retails anywhere from $500 to $800 dollars depending on the edition you purchase.

So, we fired up our rigs and began the benchmarking goodness. For our tests, we are using 3dMark06 and 3dMark Vantage. Vantage takes advantage of alot more modern features and is capable of bringing even the latest multi-GPU setups to their collective knees. 3dMark06 is the more mainstream, forgiving test of a GPU’s capabilities. The rig we chose to test the cards on is an average dual core system:

-AMD Athlon AM2 X2 6000+ 3.0gHz Black Edition CPU
-4096 GB DDR2 800 RAM
-Asus M2N-SLI dlx Mobo

In each benchmarking applications, we ran a series of tests with different resolutions, anti-aliasing, and anisotropic filtering levels. Now that we have gotten this out of the way…FIGHT!!!

3d Mark 06 – Return to Proxyon

The Radeon performs admirably in all of these tests, only dropping to some unplayable frame rates at 8XAA and 8XAF at the 1920×1200 resolution.

3d Mark 06 – Firefly Forest

The results of the lighting-effect heavy GPU test are slightly worse than the those of Test 1, but not by much. The 4850 is still pulling its own weight at the 2XAA and 2XAF settings at the high resolution mode.

3d Mark Vantage – Jane Nash

This is where things start turning to molasses for even a Gtx 280 at the highest settings. The 3d Mark Vantage stresses every nook and cranny the GPU has. While not playable at the higher settings, the 4850 performs very well at both 1024×768 modes.

3d Mark Vantage – New Calico

New Calico is the most taxing of the new 3d Mark tests, so it is no surprise that all the scores are on the low side. This being said, even at the 1024×768 modes, the 4850 is still playable. By turning off AA and AF altogether, the performance would increase by a bit more as well.

The results of these benchmarks show that while out-gunned and out-classed on paper, the Radeon 4850 provides solid performance at most of the benchmark modes, save for the highly-advanced tests. Couple these results with the fact that two Radeon 4850s on a CrossFire build would cost roughly $360 dollars (a full $140 dollars cheaper than the cheapest Gtx 280) and you have yourself an inexpensive power house with low power requirements. Even with just one Radeon 4850, you will be able to play the latest games at varying levels of graphics detail without issue. We wish the 4850 had the DDR5 memory of its older brother but that is a very minor negative considering the 4870s are roughly $100 dollars more expensive.

We are most interested in seeing what happens to our frame rates when we put three 4850s in a rig at the same time. That configuration would only be $40 dollars more expensive than the cheapest Gtx 280! We have scored the Sapphire 4850 with high marks as we could not find a better performance-to-value GPU on the market at the time of this writing anywhere. Even Nvidia’s 9800 GTX+ models are not scoring as high according to various benchmarks.

Official Product Page

E3 2008 – Our Preparations Underway


You can feel it coming…Anticipatory excitement like mild electricity surging through your body… E3 is close. And this year, we will be covering the expo for the first time. And yet, many people I talk to about E3 seem ambivalent. They tell me how last year’s was ‘lame’ and disorganized. Thats when it hits me. That electricity I feel is a remnant from the previous incarnation of the expo, when it was huge and a spectacle to behold.

The whole point in downsizing the expo was to save everyone money but all thats seemed to happen is that exhibitors are spending more than ever not only on the E3 expo, but their inhouse showings and other gaming events like Leipzig.

E3 must make a comeback this year. Its very survival depends on it. All hope is not lost, thankfully. There is still enough memory of ‘what was’ to get us through this rough patch should they improve the show. Bring back some of the spectacle, the glitz, the energy. Everyone here is pulling for the event and hopes it lives up to our expectations.

Which brings us to this…Only a handful of days remain until it begins. Our preparations are fully underway. The hotel room has been booked (long in advanced thanks to the Shogun), the right configuration of bags have been selected and are waiting for their final payloads, and our transportation has been arranged. Pfgonzo will be flying down early next week before the festivities begin to meet the rest of us so we can get underway. Our meetings have all been scheduled save for a few select timeslots which I am wrestling with as I type this. We have been contacted by several last-minute requests to meet, so I am confident we will get those assigned in no time.

We will post again soon with our official GamingShogun.com equipment list so you know what tech we will be using in our coverage.

STALKER Clear Sky Box Art Released

GSC Game World and Deep Silver have released the box art for the upcoming prequel to the popular FPS S.T.A.L.K.E.R. called S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky is set for release on August 29th.

Packshot after the jump!

Official Release:
GSC Game World, computer games developer, its publishing subdivision GSC World Publishing and Deep Silver, the games label of Koch Media, a leading producer and distributor of digital entertainment products, today announce the official box shot for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, the long-awaited prelude to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky is a survival FPS game for PC based on a ‘what-if’ scenario of the second Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident. The game is created as a warning to mankind against mindless play with technologies. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky is the official prequel to the renowned S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game by the Ukraine-based GSC Game World studio. The game is set in 2011and brings forth the events to have preceded the third cam-paign of Strelok to the Zone center. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky introduces an alternative look onto the events of the original game and offers the player to try himself out as a mercenary s.t.a.l.k.e.r. in search of his own path in the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Midnight Club Los Angeles Pushed Back

Rockstar Games has pushed back their upcoming racer, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, to October 7th for North America and October 10th for Europe. They are also releasing the PSP title Midnight Club: L.A. Remix simultaneously. Midnight Club: Los Angeles promises an open-world where players are free to roam and explore as they like.

Official Release:
Rockstar Games, a publishing label of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTWO) today announced a new release date for the fourth installment of its critically-acclaimed and genre-defining Midnight Club franchise, Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Set for release on October 7th in North America and October 10th in Europe and developed by series creator Rockstar San Diego, Midnight Club: Los Angeles will give gamers the unprecedented freedom to race through a hyper-realistic LA.

Also scheduled for release simultaneously, Midnight Club: LA Remix for the PSP® system will provide another incredible portable racing experience. Developed by Rockstar London, the game will take full advantage of the hardware to deliver the unrivaled sense of speed and style that the best-selling Midnight Club series is known for.

Battlefield: Bad Company Review (PS3)

Over the course of our history, there have been a large number of stories where heroic, legendary soldiers risk life and limb to accomplish lofty, idealistic goals for the free world. These heroes do not need thanks, payment, or anyone to know of their deeds. The characters in B-Company…Are NOT these kinds of soldiers…

Nor are most people that altruistic. Indeed, one of the things we admire most about the single-player portion of the shooter is the bantering that goes on between your squad mates and their fairly sardonic (yet highly amusing) views on life, each other, and everything else. In Battlefield: Bad Company, you play as a new recruit to B-Company, a special four-man squad in the U.S. Army full of very skilled rejects from regular units.

Usually a multiplayer PC gaming developer, EA’s DICE studio has really outdone themselves with BF:BC, as the single-player campaign is very engaging once it picks up. The first few opening assignments are a little bland, and totally opposed to how the game ‘feels’ later on thankfully. Gameplay in the campaign is fairly straight forward. You can, of course, drive and fight from vehicles which is particularly entertaining. The combat on foot is action-packed and exciting as well. However, the best part about the gameplay are the destructible environments. Alot of games these days are touting this feature, but few have delivered like BF: BC. Nearly anything can be demolished and nearly any structure can have hole shot into it. The size of these holes is up to you. Watch an enemy soldier run for cover inside a building and surprise the heck out of him by blowing the wall up in front of him.

Unfortunately, the AI in the game is a bit spotty, and every so often you will find an enemy standing in the open waiting for your to blow them away. Thankfully, most of the NPCs have terrific fighting AI and can be a real challenge when you find the cover you are hiding behind had been blown away!

Some reviews have criticized the game’s graphics but we think they look great and provide plenty of depth and detail to satisfy. Explosions look terrific and powerful, and character animations are fluid. The sound effects are excellent and if you get the chance to play with surround sound you are in for a treat as the sound channel separation is calculated extremely well.

Something that should have been included but for some reason was not is a co-op campaign. Battlefield: Bad Company has a good multiplayer engine and one has a hard time understanding why a co-op campaign was not added. Sure, it might not have had all the squad banter but playing in a co-op game with your buddies would make up for it.

Overall, Battlefield: Bad Company is a strong, action-packed shooter that gives gamers plenty of explosions to keep coming back for more while not patronizing them with gratuity alone. The combination of storyline and gameplay mechanics make for a great, engaging time.

Xbox LIVE HD Game Nights Announced

Microsoft in cooperation with iGames centers will having more Xbox LIVE HD Game Nights throughout the ten weeks between July 9th and September 18th. The event, taking place at various iGames centers, allows gamers to get together and not only take part in game tournaments but also enjoy HD movies and TV shows.

iGames website

Official Release:
WHAT: Leading game center organization iGames will host a new and expanded season of Xbox LIVE® HD Game Nights, an exclusive 10-week series celebrating the wide-ranging HD content available on Xbox LIVE.

WHEN & WHERE: Every Wednesday and Thursday night July 9 through September 18 at 40 select iGames member centers across North America (July 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31; August 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28; Sept. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18)

WHY YOU SHOULD GO:
• Red-hot games like Halo 3 and Call of Duty® 4: Modern Warfare™ in addition to your favorite arcade and casual games
• Free HD showings of popular movies and TV shows
• Tons of free stuff, such as 4000 MS Point Cards, 1600 MS Point Cards, 64 MB Xbox 360 Memory Units, Xbox 360 Silver Faceplates, Xbox T-Shirts XL, Xbox blankets

i2i Stream Digital Music Broadcaster Review

Every so often comes a product that just proves itself to be too damned handy to pass on purchasing. Aerielle’s i2i Stream digital music broadcaster is one such example. In short, the i2i Stream broadcasts an audio signal over a frequency to be picked up by other i2i Stream devices within range. These receiving devices can be attached to headphones or larger speaker systems and reproduces the audio in near-CD quality.

Sounds like a simple enough device, but what caught our eyes, ahem, ears here in the GamingShogun offices was a glint of genius. When used properly, the i2i Stream can wirelessly connect your home or office for high quality music. We attached one of our two units to the resident Zune and the other to a desktop speaker system from Logitech. The result was that everyone here could enjoy the music I selected from my Zune…everything…Even the stuff not much appreciated ’round these parts. Like the Allman Brothers Band…Alot of people just don’t get those guys… But, I digress.

The i2i Stream device is unique in that it is a transceiver, meaning it can both receive and transmit audio (although not at the same time). By simply clicking either mode button you can go from tuned listener to DJ. The audio is broadcast over a 2.4gHz signal within a 30 foot range. You can select one of seven different color-coordinated channels to transmit on. Just have your loyal fans set their receiving devices to the same color and you are all set.

Its high frequency signal can even penetrate light structures to really bring that wireless party to a boiling point. Aside from wirelessly connecting your home or office, Aerielle has marketed the devices to the younger crowd, looking to share music at school, the coffee house, etc. The device is very portable and would perform well in this role with battery life ranging from five to seven hours on a full charge.

Overall, we have to say that the Aerielle i2i Stream digital music broadcaster is a very handy tool for groups of audiophiles looking for a community experience as well as office-goers looking to rig their place of business for sound sans those easy-to-trip over wires.

A two pack costs $99.95 while one unit will set you back $59.95

Official i2i Website

Diablo III Officially Announced

Diablo III has officially been announced via the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational event in Paris, France by Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime. The announcement came during the opening cermony and was met with massive applause and adulation from the large crowd.

We were able to remotely liveblog the conference for a while in between signal losses. We got a few raw captures from the footage shown.

In-game images and large splash after the break!

Official Site
Press conference still going, Blizzard CEO giving overview of Barbarian class with in-game play.
Barbarian class looks to play very similar to Diablo II, but is able to use the environment to aid in his attacks. Using debris, etc. Also will have mercenaries in Diablo III to aid you in your quest.
Some images from the stream:

Another in-game shot from the stream, notice the new skill bar in between the two indicator globes:

Also shown Witch Doctor class which can summon walls of zombies to attack your enemies. Notice the new all-3D game engine. The graphics of the stream are definitely better than screenshots can convey. Can’t wait for official images to come down the pipe.
Now seeing a boss battle:

The action seems fast and furious as we have come to expect from the series. The atmospher of the game based on the footage shown seems to be ‘right on’ and I can’t wait to see more.
And thats it! More to come in time…