Author - Jerry Paxton

Review of Raven Squad from SouthPeak Games

When we first heard about the hybrid RTS/FPS game called Raven Squad we were, needless to say, stoked. The possibilities of a game combining the two genres could have led to an amazing gameplay experience that we do not normally get to see these days. Unfortunately, Atomic Games has really managed to foul the concept up by releasing a very clunky and unappealing experience.

The game follows the story of a mercenary group getting caught up in a South American civil war. The player controls two squads of three men each, and allows at-will switching not only between the squads but also individuals within each unit. One team focuses on assault and the other team focuses on infiltration and other stealthy aims. Seems good so far? Sure. Let’s continue…

Unfortunately, that is where the goodness ends and the experiment in pain begins. When first dropped into the Amazon jungle we were not impressed with the visuals. They look at least a couple years old save for a few modern-day tricks they added in an attempt to ‘freshen’ them up. These effects include a heavy-use of depth of field blurring as well as grainy lens flares. Truth be told, the graphics would be acceptable enough if the rest of the game were not so bad.

The game’s audio is where it will really stick it to you first. For starters, the voice over work is plain awful. There is no excuse for this part – bad inflections, bad accents, bad all over. This bad work not only can be heard in gameplay but also throughout the cutscenes which attempt to weave this mess together. I have heard better voice work in 70’s exploitation flicks. The music is fair, however, but nothing we haven’t heard before in other action titles.

Gameplay just wreaks of clunk. Even moving your characters around has that bad console port feel to it – sluggish and easily tangled up on invisible obstructions which must be jutting up from the jungle floor. Actually, that is funny because if you just went by this game you would think the Amazon was a series of linear trenches in which you walk about in with a series of strategically-placed logs strewn about to hide behind. The level design in Raven Squad is way too linear and scripted to even think about including the RTS element of the game they are trying so hard to hype up.

The RTS element of which I speak occurs when you hit the space bar. The camera actually does this really cool-looking ‘whoosh’ up from your first-person view to one high overhead, looking down on the map. From here you can switch between you two squads and send them to various points on the linear maps. Unfortunately, the RTS element to Raven Squad is not just clunky, but also completely unnecessary. There are no areas in the game where the system is needed, except where they force you to use it, further encouraging your inner geek rage. The game’s difficulty level just does not warrant it. Successfully navigating about the RTS view is difficult as there are no outer-edge markers to tell you the general direction of a target or landmark. Losing sight of your squad, instead of a visual cue as to where they are off-screen you have to press ‘x’ to re-center the camera on them.

Getting back to the difficulty level of the game for a moment, I must say that in my experience of playing Raven Squad that I did not encounter as many ‘dumb’ enemies as some reviewers have reported. Most had the sense to at least shoot at me and many even tried to take cover and retreat to better positions. There were still a few, however, that would just stand there seemingly blind to my incoming hail of bullets. Perhaps they were frozen with fear of my team’s bad voice acting?

The one bright spot to Raven Squad is that it actually had no crash bugs on any of my play sessions with it. The game seemed bug-fixed enough to be very stable – even with my running it at a very wide 3048×1024 resolution spanned across three LCD screens!

Overall, Raven Squad is not worth your valuable time unless you absolutely have nothing else to play and don’t feel like going to the dentist for a cleaning. I had expected and hoped for more but was really letdown by this title.

Microsoft’s Courier Tablet Could be Revolutionary

Gizmodo let loose the first details, images, and video from the still-in-prototype stage tablet PC, the Courier. I actually use the term ‘tablet’ loosely because it is actually two 7”-inch, multi-touch screens hinged at the middle to form a book of sorts. This booklet PC (I like the sound of that a lot better) looks like it could revolutionize the tablet PC market. If Microsoft gets this off the ground Apple will have one extremely difficult foe to face off against in the tablet market.

See more images of Courier, After the Break!

Via Gizmodo

Concept Art from Now-Defunct Ensemble Studios Halo Title

Former Ensemble Studios artist Dylan Cole has released some concept artwork from an unknown Halo project that, at one time, was being developed by the now-defunct studio. The above image is titled ‘Forerunner City’. Being that by time the Halo games happen the Forerunners are long since over as a race, could the game have taken place in their time? I guess we will never know, but speculation is cool.

Check out the galleries here:
Halo Concept 1
Halo Concept 2
Halo Concept 3

Review of the Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition

The dream of owning one of those sweet, personal home cockpits has always interested me, ever since I began playing around with flight simulation in the days of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 4 (yes, that’s really what it looked like kids).

Unfortunately, most of us have to grow up to do things like pay bills, support families, and other expensive tasks that drain away the fun money that we would use, say, to build the aforementioned home flight sim. In today’s modern gaming world, however, there are a number of peripherals and hardware pieces which can get you close however, and a huge step towards this goal comes in the form of the Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition graphics expansion module. A simple black box with some ports on it, this module will allow you to get ‘surround gaming’ the likes of which you have only had dreams about.

It works some serious graphics magical mojo to take your computer graphics output and span it across up to three displays. The basic gist of the unit goes like so…

First, you use the included DVI-DL cable (which is a lot beefier than your standard DVI-I cable) to attach your TripleHead2GO to your PC’s graphics output. Then, you connect your three displays to the output ports on the TripleHead2Go. One nice thing about the Digital Edition of the TripleHead2Go is that it runs off of USB power. So you simply connect it to a powered USB 2.0 port and you are off. Booth up the old PC and revel in the stretched-display goodness. Well, almost…

After connecting all the hardware, be sure to install the included software which contains both the SGU (Surround Gaming Utility) and the Matrox PowerDesk utility. The PowerDesk utility is your main way of controlling how windows will appear on your spanned display, you can even set certain windows to pop up on specific monitors. Take Firefox, for example, if you start the program up in fullscreen mode it will span all three screens, but most websites dont utilize 3048×1024 (our spanned display resolution) so you are left with a lot of empty space. You can set Firefox, in PowerDesk, to only show up on one screen – this way you still have two more screens with which to be productive on.

The Surround Gaming Utility is, if you did not guess by the name, Matrox’s game-launcher. You see, not every game will support the high resolutions and some which do, will appear distorted. Your average shooter can sometimes become a wall-eyed nightmare if you are not careful with such wide resolutions. The SGU attempts to configure the games prior to launching in order to circumvent this effect. For instance, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X was awful when we started it the first time without running the SGU. The view was so close to the cockpit glass in any plane that you could not see any instrumentation. We ran the SGU on the game first and it setup the pliot’s aspect ratio allowing us to see a lot more of the cockpit, making for a much more immersive experience.

Now, not every game can be configured by the SGU, but Matrox is continually trying to add game’s to its library. This is honestly the major drawback of the TripleHead2Go: Some games just are not compatible with the unit. When the TripleHead2Go encounters a resolution it cannot handle, we experienced a strange, ‘scattered’ graphical effect and complete computer lockup. In order to remedy this we had to forcefully shutdown the PC and then unplug and reinsert the TripleHead2Go’s USB cable. This makes certain titles just unplayable if you have the system.

For the games the TripleHead2Go does support, the experience is incredible. The two games I wanted to try out most on the system were Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X and Valve’s Left 4 Dead. The thought of clouds whooshing by me on all three sides and checking corners for zombies simply with my peripheral vision was too enticing to pass up.

For FSX, the experience (after the previously-mentioned SGU config) was stunning. Seeing the horizon span out in front of my gave the simulator a whole new life and sense of realism. We included a popular head-tracking unit for even more seamless immersion.

What I found most interesting was that we experienced no detectable performance loss running in the wider resolution. Some games, such as Combat Mission Shock Force did see a noticeable performance loss, but not in this case. I am not sure if it is an issue of programming but FSX is one complicated piece of software and it ran fine.

Left 4 Dead was equally-incredible with only minor aspect issues on each of the peripheral screens. The biggest issue with the game was that the user interface elements got pushed to these peripheral screens making checking health a less-fulfilling experience. What was once right in your field of view now takes a more head-turning movement which can lead to a loss of perspective on what is coming at you. There are third-party mods which can fix this, brining the UI elements back to the center screen. Unfortunately, due to a technical issue we could not bring you images of Left 4 Dead in play on the three monitor setup. However, we found some images from Matrox’s Surround Gaming website which will illustrate the effect.

As I mentioned, you can see a bit of stretching on the side monitors but it does not hamper the effect at all. Usually, you are focused on the center screen so that your peripheral vision picks up whats happening on the side screens.

Matrox’s TripleHead2Go graphics expansion module is an incredible upgrade for game’s which support its wider resolutions. While there are definitely some bugs to be worked out with Matrox’s TripleHead2Go graphics expansion module, I can’t think of a better system to top-off your home cockpit. Now alls I need is a motion platform… Hmmm…

The TripleHead2Go Digital Edition retails for roughly $299 and is available through a multitude of online and brick & mortar retailers.

Need for Speed Shift PC Demo Released

PC gamers, take note! The PC demo for Need for Speed Shift is available now at the game’s official website. In the demo, players will be able to drive the following vehicles in two circuit races:

• BMW M3 (E46)
• 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10
• 2006 Lotus Elise 111R
• 2008 Nissan GT-R
• 2006 Pagani Zonda F (unlockable)

The Xbox 360 and PS3 demos will be available early next month.

One2One Announces 1:2 Scale Master Chief Bust

One2One Collectibles has announced a 1:2 scale bust of the protagonist in Bungie and Microsoft’s legendary game series, Halo – the Master Chief. The 12-inch tall and 12-inch wide bust is made from polystone and has a solid gold-plated visor and base. The bust will retail for $224.99 and is available in an extremely limited edition run.

Via GamesWire Via One2OneCollectibles

Check out a full image of the bust, After the Break!

CM Storm Sentinel Advance Gaming Mouse Review

Cooler Master USA has long been known for their PC performance cases and accessories. However, they recently launched a gamer-specific line of products known as ‘CM Storm’. This brand has been picking up some serious steam around the tournament circuits with their first two PC gaming chassis, the Sniper and Scout, and now they have released their first ever foray into the gaming mouse market with the Sentinel Advance.

The Sentinel Advance is actually fairly large for a gaming mouse, sporting a size similar to older models you would expect from companies like Logitech. However, for its overall size the Sentinel Advance is very sleek and the size is just perfect as it was meant for long periods of gameplay and you can easily rest your hand on it without problems. To further accentuate gamer comfort, the Sentinel Advance sports both thumb and pinky rest areas which really help avoid nasty cramps from heated tournament-play. Additionally, the mouse is all black, rubberized plastic save for the underside, OLED, and grates.

You did read that correctly, one of the more eye-catching features of the Sentinel Advance is its OLED screen which displays helpful information like X and Y sensitivity levels as well as a monochrome, 32×32 image which can be pretty much anything you like (in that size) however CM Storm recommends putting your clan logo in it. This can be accomplished via the software, but we will get to that later.

Aside from the two main mouse buttons, the mouse features a treaded middle-mouse button, a profile changing-button, two sensitivity adjustment buttons, and two thumb-buttons for extra functionality. For your twitch-based, high-reflex gaming this amount of buttons would be fine however for the MMO or RTS gamer, you may want to opt for a mouse with additional, programmable thumb and pinky buttons.

I am not usually a huge fan of flashy lighting systems on mice but I will make an exception in this case. The lighting effects of the Sentinel Advance are very impressive, with multiple modes of display (including my personal favorite – a ‘breathing’ pulse) and seven vibrant colors. There are two LED ports on the bottom-front of the mouse which shine light out like two laser beams when active and you can independently set the color of those and even have it only show when you click one of the mouse buttons.

A huge factor of awesomeness for CM Storm in choosing to include five 4.5g weights in the bottom of the mouse. They are, of course, removable to allow you to hit the weight you like but I found the mouse most comfortable at the full 22.5g addition. It is not light as far as gaming mice go but the added weight gives you a solid mousing platform to play off of. The biggest issue I see with the mouse is that they do not include any carrier for the discarded weights, which in my case could lead me to losing them.

The Sentinel Advance also is built with a braided cable as opposed to traditional plastic ones. The benefits of the braided chord is increased strength, flexibility, and a decrease in cable ‘stickage’ and bunching.

Installation and use of the mouse is simple: You can choose to go plug-and-play with the unit, in which case you can select between four different DPI settings. Or, you can install the CM Storm Sentinel Advance control software and get the ability to have multiple control layout profiles and, as previously-mentioned, upload your own clan logo into the mouse’s OLED screen.

As you can see, CM Storm has done a fine job of creating not only a useful control suite but a stylish one as well. The various controls are laid out as one would expect and are not hard to navigate to in the least.

Gaming with the Sentinel Advance is incredible. The Sentinel Advance’s twin-laser sensor has a max setting of 5,600 DPI and, while ungodly sensitive, remains smooth in its motions thanks to the size and weight of the unit. This may not make sense to you, weight and size do not regularly equal ‘smooth’ but along the bottom of the Sentinel Advance you will see four mouse feet, two of which along the sides with a very high-surface area in comparison to feet usually seen on gaming mice. These ultra-smooth feet allow the mouse’s weight and size to work for the gamer, instead of against.

You would never know that the Sentinel Advance was CM Storm’s first gaming mouse. The quality and precision of this mouse is incredible and CM Storm has a real contender here capable of going toe-to-toe with any other gaming mouse on the market. Expect to see this mouse readily-adopted by even the most hardcore gamer. The CM Storm Sentinel Advance is available now.

CM Storm Sentinel Advance Product Page

Images of Modern Warfare 2 Night Vision Goggles in Creation

Looks like some Chinese workers at the factory where the night vision goggles for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are being manufactured decided to snap some pics of the process including the NVG internals. Judging by the similarities between the layout of the EyeClops Night Vision system and this one, it is my guess that they are using the same internals. Not actually a bad thing, as our very own GS liked the EyeClops system very much in his review.

Checkout the full gallery at the via link below or some of the screenies After the Break!


We Review the EyeClops Night Vision Binoculars v2

Jaaks Pacific recently released a second edition of their EyeClops Night Vision Binocular. With this new edition, they have redesigned the unit to take up less vertical space and upped the ‘sci-fi’ factor as well.

Technically, while it is marketed as a ‘binocular’, the unit does not actually magnify the view in front of you enough to be able to accurately call itself one. Furthermore, unlike most night vision goggles, the perspective is magnified just enough to not be useful while moving around. When being used from a stationary position, however, they will allow you to see mostly clearly up to about fifty feet away in total darkness.

The elongated binoculars feature the EyeClops-synonymous spherical infrared emitter for long-range viewing while it can also be switched over to use the lower-powered  emitters on each side of the unit. In the center of the spherical ‘eye’ is the infrared receiver which collects the light and an internal processor displays the images on a very large, and surprisingly clear, internal LCD.

There are multiple control knobs and rotators on the body of the unit as well. For instance, you can change between a black & white viewing mode and the traditional green modes. You can also switch between the previously-mentioned high-power infrared emitter and the lower-powered ones. Also along the top-side of the unit is the power switch. Aside from switches, you will find two rotators, one which controls the focus of the binocular and the other to control the eye-width setting of the viewfinder.

The unit’s construction is a thick plastic which, while much ‘cheaper’ in quality than on a higher-end consumer night vision unit, was actually heartier than I expected and it felt like it could definitely withstand some abuse and keep working.

While the company gears this unit for children, I would not hesitate to bring this along with me to any camping trip our outing where they will undoubtedly come in handy so long as you have enough batteries as the unit takes 5 AAs internally.

At the time of this writing, it appears as though EyeClops has released an even newer version of their night vision gear, an actually NVG this time, which uses the same basic technology as this unit albeit with, we imagine, a more-accurate perspective for easier movement.

For $60 dollars, you just won’t find a better night vision unit out there – they simply don’t exist. Buy one of these and throw it into your ‘go pack’, you never know when it will come in handy!