Author - MondoPest

Monsoon HAVA Platinum HD Review

In the last couple of years, devices such as the ‘Slingbox’ have become increasingly popular for recording video as well as transmitting it to people on the go. Basically, the idea is to intercept some audio-visual signal, be it from a TV, Xbox, etc and allow a personal computer, which has specific software installed on it, to log in to the device and receive that intercepted a/v stream.

Monsoon Multimedia’s HAVA line of a/v ‘place-shifters’, as they call them, have made quite a splash in this market. By offering units which not only allow multiple connections but also some that have wireless broadcast capability, Monsoon has given every other contender a run for their collective money.

We were fortunate to take a look at their HAVA Platinum HD place-shifter, which is known as the second-tier place-shifter, allowing component cable connections in addition to the composite connection option found on the basic HAVA Gold. The HAVA Platinum HD is made of a hard plastic case which is a dark gray color. This unit is much more plain, style-wise than when compared to their HAVA Gold edition. On the back of the Platinum HD you will find two different areas. The first area is for the inputs and the second area is for all the outputs. Also on the back of the unit, you will find the Ethernet port as well as infrared blaster (more on that later) port.

To install the HAVA, you simply connect it in between the source of the signal and the television (and technically, a TV isn’t even necessary). In our tests, we were more interested in the gaming possibilities of the device, so our plan was to connect it to the Xbox 360. We had a slight issue in that because the Xbox component cables are male and the cables on the HAVA are male, we needed an RGB connector. This is a very cost-effective solution of about $7 dollars from Amazon. After obtaining that, the install was simple. The finishing touch was plugging our Ethernet cable into the HAVA and installing the software on the computers we were going to use to connect to the device.

The software is functional, yet sparse, with the basics needed to watch the video stream, control the virtual remote control, and record the stream. This virtual remote is used to control the ‘infrared blaster’. No, it is not some diabolical death ray, but instead is a unit that connects to the HAVA and hangs over the cable box, tv, etc you are connected to and allows control over it similar to a universal remote from your client computer.

You can have up to three machines logged into this HAVA model at any one time. From the home network, viewing the stream in Mpeg2 quality at 720×480 is really quite good. When logged in from beyond the home network viewing in 320×240 via an Mpeg4 codec, the quality is obviously lessened but still watchable. A very cool thing you can do while on the home network is record the input similar to a DVR system. Obviously, every device connected to one HAVA gets the same video. If you are part of a gaming clan and want to record your games to review your performance or just to gloat, this device is for you! The device could also lend itself to owners of gaming centers to broadcast tournaments to monitors around their facility. The device definitely has alot of possibility.

A feature we were unable to test out was the logging into the HAVA via mobile phone as none of us has a compatible cell phone. However, this ability would definitely be convenient entertainment for someone at the office or just chilling at a coffee shop somewhere. Unfortunately, while outside the home network, the advanced features of recording, etc do not work so you are just left with receiving the a/v stream.

I streamed Gears of War while on the Xbox 360 and forced my wife and daughter to watch from a computer hooked to the network in the other room. It was strange to hear my game noise come out of the room a split-second after it happened on my television set but the overall experience was easy, fun, and useful. I think I will also be using this model to bring cable television to my upstairs rooms which, unfortunately, do not have cable hookups.

We can highly recommend this unit for not only streaming your game sessions but also any other video signal to anyone without pause or concern. Monsoon has created a very well-built and full-featured place-shifter in the HAVA Platinum HD, and at an MSRP of $149 dollars (but some places have it as low as $119), it is worth every penny. The only wish we have for it is to allow more than one connection from beyond the home network.

Sudden Strike III: Arms for Victory Review

The Sudden Strike games are definitely unique amongst real-time strategy games. With an emphasis on throwing your troops towards the enemy lines and a lack of resource gathering, they fill a unique void in the genre. Fireglow’s latest in the series, Sudden Strike III: Arms for Victory, is no exception. If you think you have seen huge battles in an RTS game before, prepare yourself as you haven’t seen anything yet…

It seems as though that thing Fireglow has attempted to really capture and focus on in this title are epic-sized battles. Even the view is farther away from your units than in most RTS games. It appears as though you are looking down on the battlefield from an observation balloon for most of the time. Missions can last anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple hours if you really take your time.

This is very different from most RTS games which try to focus on quick missions and giving the player the ability to zoom in nice and tight on individual units. In SSIII, the focus is on battalion-level and above control. What this means is that you generally have to click and drag around a bunch of units at a time and issue them orders as selecting individual units is a bit clunky in the midst of all the chaos going on around them. Unlike its predecessors, however, where you essentially had to ‘throw’ hordes of your units against the enemy and hope they can pull it off, this sequel requires alot more attention to strategy to accomplish mission goals.

Unfortunately, all of this epic-scale can work against the game at times. Things get extremely chaotic trying to manage troops in multiple areas of the gigantic maps on which they fight. Units can be set to act aggressively, cautiously, or defensively which does help somewhat, but we were often left with a sense of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information we were keeping track of. Additionally, unit path-finding definitely needs some work as if you do not group and direct them carefully, they can end up getting lost fast. That, or some of your units will just take the long way while others arrive early and without the support of their lost brethren.

This does not mean the game is bad, not at all, just that enhancing the controls/interface somehow to allow smoother control of units across the field of battle would be welcome. In fact, when everything comes together the game is a lot of fun with tons of stuff going on at once. At its best it appears you are watching an actual historic battle unfold from your perch on high. Additionally, terrain now plays an important role in combat, giving modifiers to your unit’s attack and defense depending on factors such as cover and elevation.

Graphically speaking, this is the best looking Sudden Strike game to date, with crisp units, terrain, and effects thanks to the new Next7 graphics engine. The score is average, with the standard WWII game fare but it does the job.

Conclusion: While Sudden Strike III has its issues, the game is easily the best of the series thus far and shouldn’t be missed by fans of the franchise or large-scale RTS games in general. It may, however, be a bit overwhelming for new gamers.

Airport Mania: First Flight Review

Managing traffic is the main goal of Airport Mania: First Flight. At its most basic level, the game tasks players with assigning aircraft a runway for landing, terminal for dis/embarkation, and an outbound runway. If the player does this within each aircraft’s ‘patience timer’, he or she is rewarded with cash and the airline’s happiness rating stays acceptable. Should the player allow planes to back up on runways and in line for terminals though, watch out! Keeping your airlines happy is one of the key goals in the game.

Controlling aircraft is very simple. Simply click on the plane you wish to control, then on the object you wish to send it to. Click on an incoming aircraft, for instance, and then click on a runway. The plane will automatically begin to land on the runway unless it is occupied in which it will wait its turn. These selections are context-sensitive which makes things a ton easier. If your plane is already at a terminal taking on new passengers and you select a runway, it knows that is for taking off only.

You can chain commands in the plane’s context together for better efficiency. For instance, you can select an inbound aircraft, then runway, and then terminal all in one foul swoop. Unfortunately, it is context dependent and when the repair hangars come into play (we’ll get to those), sometimes it is difficult to figure out how far that chain goes. From a repair hangar, you may have to click on a fuel pump or a terminal before selecting an outbound runway. It can be a bit of trial and error to catch the needs of the plane before they present it to you.

That is the game, basically…Now for the monkeys and the wrenches. Traffic will tend to get very heavy at some point in the game for you. The difficulty levels in each airport increase as you accomplish the previous level. At some point you will want to use that cash you have been accumulating to add objects to your airport. You can purchase parking spaces to place aircraft while waiting for a terminal, extra runways, additional/faster terminals, etc. Managing your money and making sound purchasing decisions is key in running a smooth operation.

As you progress through the airports, you will see additional structures in the facility such as repair hangars and fuel pumps. The game adds challenge by surprising the player with additional aircraft needs (such as fuel) after the plane offloads its passengers.

The game also features an awards ‘achievement’ system in which players are given medals and certificates if they complete certain criteria. Some are simple to obtain, such as to succesfully land a new type of aircraft, and others are not. Some you have to figure out on your own based on hints given in the awards screen.

Conclusion: Airport Mania: First Flight is well worth the $20 dollar price tag. It is an addictive, sometimes frantic, but always fun casual management/puzzle game.

Ubisoft Announces New Prince of Persia Games

Ubisoft announced a new Prince of Persia game today, this time for the Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo DS, and PC platforms. This is the first Prince of Persia game on this generation of consoles. Ubisoft mentions that these new games are due out in the latter half of 2008.

Official Release:
Today Ubisoft, one of the world’s largest video game publishers, announced that a new Prince of Persia is scheduled to release towards the end of 2008 for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, the PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system and PC. This new Prince of Persia marks the debut of the critically acclaimed franchise on next-generation consoles. Developed by Ubisoft’s award-winning Montreal studio and the same all-star team that created the previously acclaimed Prince of Persia® Sands of Time trilogy, Prince of Persia is opening a new chapter in the Prince of Persia universe, featuring a new breed of gameplay. The game is poised to rejuvenate the action-adventure genre in addition to introducing a brand-new illustrative art style.

Ubisoft will also release a Prince of Persia game specifically designed for the Nintendo DS™ system, featuring an entirely new storyline and new characters. More details to be unveiled in the future.

Obscure: The Aftermath Review

Set after the events of the original Obscure, Obscure: The Aftermath brings the feel of a campy horror flick to your screen. Unfortunately, the game suffers from some setbacks which should have been caught during the design and testing of the title.

The game begins at a university where students have been getting high and hallucinating by inhaling the smoke from burning special seeds. These seeds, however, are actually from the organism-mutating plants in the original game. Well, eventually the evilness of those dreaded plants return, mutating college kids into blood-thirsty monsters and setting the stage for our six heroes to battle them.

The gameplay in Obscure: The Aftermath is unique in that you control two characters at a time. Each character has a special skill such as being incredibly strong, hacking ability, etc. You technically only directly control one of the two characters at any one point, with the other being controlled by the AI (you can always toggle between the two though). This gameplay element is one of the game’s most creative features. Controlling characters, however – especially in combat, is awkward in the PC version of the game. Another nice feature about the character control system is that everyone shares an inventory, no matter where they are located. While not the most realistic idea, it does make things alot more convenient than they would be otherwise. Your heroes will obtain a variety of melee weapons and firearms throughout the game, however the camera system can be a bit wonky at times, moving to strange angles that makes targeting opponents difficult, even with the game’s built-in targeting system.

Graphically, the game is of the typical Playstation 2 fare and, as that is the game’s original platform, we can’t knock it for that fact. The game’s creatures are creative and well modeled with plenty of mutations to go around and, we must admit, some are pretty creepy. The game’s score was performed by the Boston String Quartet as well as the Paris Opera Children’s Choir and provides good, creepy atmosphere for the player to interact in.

The writing and voice acting are double-edged swords in Obscure: The Aftermath. On one hand, the developers intended the title to be a throwback to those corny and campy horror flicks where teenagers throw popcorn at the screen in protest of a character doing or saying something stupid. If the rest of the game wasn’t so clunky, this would really help pull that design off. Unfortunately, with this clunkiness, players can’t be sure if the bad dialog and acting aren’t just additional problems with the title.

Conclusion: Obscure: The Aftermath does feature some creepy music and might be a more enjoyable down the line should patches come down the road. Unfortunately, in its current state, the game is very unpolished and awkward. We can only recommend it to fervent fans of the survival-horror genre at this point.   

Bourne Conspiracy Gameplay Footage

Here is a new gameplay video from the upcoming actioner, The Bourne Conspiracy. It shows a bit of Bourne kicking ass at a train depot. Note the ‘quick cuts’ that the movies are well-known for. I hope they do not distract too much from the gameplay. The Bourne Conspiracy releases in June for the PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms.

EA Bringing Back Monopoly With A Vengeance

EA is bringing the fun back with Monopoly for the Xbox 360, Wii, and Playstation 2 platforms.

Official Release:
The Casual Entertainment Label of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: ERTS) today released additional details on MONOPOLY (working title), the first Hasbro-branded video game set to launch on next-generation consoles including Wii™ and the Xbox 360™ video game and entertainment system. MONOPOLY will also be appearing on the PLAYSTATION®2 computer entertainment system as well as mobile phones and Pogo.com™. The multiplatform video game is inspired by Hasbro’s highly anticipated MONOPOLY HERE & NOW: The World Edition board game. Currently, the MONOPOLY video games are set to release this year simultaneously with the global launch of the new board game.

The MONOPOLY video games promise a fresh take on the timeless classic with accessible gameplay for players of all ages and skill levels. The all-new digital gaming edition brings a party twist and features 4-player simultaneous play, ensuring that everyone is engaged and allowing the whole family to get involved in the fun and play together. Faster gameplay eliminates downtime freeing up players to wheel and deal their way through some of the most recognizable cities and landmarks from around the world. Families can fill up their passports as they try to unlock new and never-before-seen game boards or challenge each other to fun interactive mini-games like breaking out of the jail cell and running away with all the loot. Play in offline single or multi-player mode and compete to own it all and win!

SimCity Box Announced

SimCity Box
EA has announced the SimCity Box anthology, due for release in June, the box will contain 5 different SimCity products and will retail for $39.99

Official Release:
Today Electronic Arts Inc. announced The SimCity(TM) Box, a bundled pack of five games from the world-renowned SimCity(TM) franchise. The SimCity Box contains SimCity(TM) Societies, SimCity Societies Destinations, SimCity(TM) 4, SimCity(TM) 4 Rush Hour and The Sims Carnival(TM) SnapCity. Valued at approximately $100.00 USD, The SimCity Box will be available this June in North America at the affordable price of $39.99 USD.

The Day the Earth Stood Still Remake – Spoilers

Man…Ya know when Hollywood takes one of your favorite things from the past and tries to make it new again. Sometimes, the re-imagining is a good thing (e.g. Spider-Man). And other times, it just destroys the original IP and makes you rue the film’s cast and crew with venom.

I have a feeling the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still will be the latter. Over at AICN, one of their regular posters has read the script (the film is currently shooting in Vancouver) and has brought back some alarming details.

Apparently, there is no Gort in the flick. In Gort’s place we get something called the ‘Totem’, which transforms into a totem-pole esque shape when not walking around on four robotic legs. Also, the immortal phrase, ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’, is never used in the picture. Klaatu never uses his alias of ‘Mr Carpenter’ and the character interaction between Carpenter/Klaatu and the boy is almost an afterthought. Anyhow, there are plenty more reasons to loathe what they are doing to a classic IP that you can read here.

Imperium Romanum Review

Gameplay: The player can select from a few different gameplay types in Imperium Romanum. The first missions are called ‘Scenario’ missions and puts the player into the, yup – you guessed it, scenario of their choosing. These missions are open-ended, varying by what geographic location you start at, how many barbarian tribes are present and what their status towards you is. These missions are rated by difficulty and are a good way for the player to explore the different aspects of the game.

The ‘Timeline’ missions are a tree-based set of missions taking the player to different places during the age of Rome, starting with the initial settlement of Rome in 509b.c. In this gameplay mode, you select up to three different tablets (basically objectives) at a time. As you complete these objectives, you go through the tablets until they are gone. At that point, you have won the scenario and can move on to the next missions in the tree, slowly progressing forward through time.

The ‘Rome’ mode starts the player off in charge of the fledgling city of Rome and uses the tablet system to give the player objectives. In this mission you basically just grow the city of Rome into its full glory, overcoming various obstacles in the way.

City-building games have been around for a while now, so I am sure you can gather the basics: build homes, water sources, farms, stores, etc. However, unlike the Caesar games, Imperium Romanum is much more forgiving on the player. Figuring out what citizens need in a certain area is done easily by clicking on them. Every building also has an ‘effect radius’ which displays when it is clicked. This shows the player the building’s reach without external help. For instance, butcher shops need to be built within the effect radius of a pig farm in order to receive meat. However, this range can be extended by the use of slaves and warehouses that can carry the meat greater distances. Employment is a huge part of Imperium Romanum as every building needs workers, which are hired from houses within the buildings effect radius. A mine far from your town will need a house or two near it (along with a water source) in order to be staffed. This is where the advanced planning of your city comes into play.

Roads do not seem to serve a functional purpose in Imperium Romanum, save for displaying the quality of the area they are laid. They become paved when the surrounding area reaches a certain level of affluence. Aside from this and helping line up buildings, they are not used by units to travel more quickly or anything like that – strictly eye candy. Thankfully, it is free eye candy – roads cost nothing and are built instantly.

The weakest feature of the title is the combat. There are three different unit types at your command: infantry, archers, and mounted units. A fully-stocked unit consists of 36 troops and one of these groups will hail from each barracks, archery, or equestrian training building. Thats right, just one. If that building’s platoon is defeated in battle, any remaining troops must run back to their respective barracks to slowly rebuild their numbers. Commanding military units is simply a matter of clicking where you want them to go, although they do have a max-commandable range where supplies from your nearest building will not reach them and you cannot move them past this range. However, once they are in position, you can order them to attack which sends the group after the nearest barbarian camp. Combat, aside from positioning and a few basic formations, is pretty much on autopilot. It adds an additional layer to the gameplay but isn’t quite interesting enough to hold your focus for very long.

Graphics: Imperium Romanum features crisp and visually pleasing graphics. The environments are very well detailed with trees, weather effects, and water. The buildings are really where the game really shines though as structures have been modeled and textured very nicely. Citizens and units are the weakest part of the visuals as they usually have a much lower polygon count and texture resolution.

Sound / Score: The sound in Imperium Romanum is average and we have no complaints to speak of on that point. The musical score is nicely arranged, however, and adds alot to the gameplay with its sweeping melodies.

Conclusion: While combat is somewhat lackluster in Imperium Romanum, the city-building aspect of the game is fun and engaging. It should satisfy the ancient city planner in you for quite a while. In addition, Imperium Romanum features nicely done graphics while not being a strain on most computers, so it is accessible by virtually anyone thanks to that and its easy learning curve when compared to other city-builders out there.