Author - Jerry Paxton

Swing Into Action with Our Review of Bionic Commando for the PC

GRIN’s Bionic Commando has already been released on the Xbox 360 and PS3, but they just brought it to the PC crowd and I am happy to say the experience is a very enjoyable, if not slightly flawed, affair. The game is basically the same as its console brethren: Nathan Spencer is released from jail, ten years after the original game took place, to discover who is behind a tragic terrorist attack which leaves huge numbers of casualties and a city in ruins.

Your man weapon and gameplay gimmick in the game: your trusty bionic arm. Most every level has been designed to make use of this element and you will find that it brings the most joy (and pain) of any part of the game. On the PC, I found controlling the bionic arm to be actually easier than on the console. Holding down the right mouse button shoots the grapple while releasing the button retracts it. Simple, eh? Well it is, but not quite, as there are several special actions you can pull-off with the arm.

Over the course of the game you will learn to throw objects (and people) with the arm as well as use it as a whip and even a zip line. Usually these movements involve shooting the grapple out and pressing one of two action buttons (which also double as heavy and light punch). Mainly, however, your arm is used as a method of transportation. With the arm you can swing like Spider-Man from object to object and, when you get good at the system, you really get a good sense of speed as the level whooshes by you. Unfortunately, like the console version sometimes this system is a bit user hostile. When moving about, a target reticule will appear above your character. If you are within arm-range of something to swing on, this reticule turns blue. This is as far as the help goes in using the arm, though, and often times you will find yourself overshooting a ledge or other pivot point and flying off into the distance, scrambling for a rock face to attach too. Sometimes the opposite happens and you will have to attach to a ledge that is too close to you. When you do this, you usually end up stopping your swing and dangling embarrassingly from your grapple to the humor of nearby enemies. As I said, when the system works it is quite fun.

Visually, the PC version gets a slight upgrade from its console brethren by way of a couple of extra sliders and options but overall it is very similar. The overall palette is crisp and vibrant and really helps give way to detail when swinging past the terrain at high-speed.

Sound is verbatim to the console versions with good ambient noises and great yells and shouts from the enemy as you throw them about like toys. Overall, the voice acting of all the characters is very solid and adds a great deal to the game’s storyline. However, the one-liners delivered by the Spencer character in-game get a bit annoying after you have heard them for the fiftieth time.

The game is actually divided up into a bunch of small levels, at the end of which is generally a checkpoint. Bionic Commando actually feels a lot like the 2D platformer we all fell in love with on the NES, only brought into the third dimension. Its layouts are usually simple with plenty of places to grapple onto. The problem with these levels is that they are often dangerous places even without the enemies. Your bionic arm is heavy and because of this you sink in water and eventually die. Thankfully, falls from great heights onto a solid object will not harm you. With this checkpoint system, however, you can kill all the mobs in the zone and then accidentally misjudge the often wonky swing system and end up drowning, only to have to start the area over again. As a PC gamer, I find this very frustrating.

HQ will often supply you with equipment in the form of drop pods that rocket into the level when necessary. For instance, when facing off against air-based opponents, HQ will often rocket-in a portable, shoulder-launched rocket system. Other weapons include a shotgun, grenade launcher, and heavy machine gun alongside the ever-present pistol. Spencer can also throw grenades about and this, coupled with the swinging-action of your bionic arm, can make for some really cool grenade lobs.

There are several boss battles in the game, all usually revolve around some grand set-piece (the top of a high-rise, for instance). These boss level designs are usually very small, however, and further enforce my feeling that Bionic Commando takes most of its cues from the original platformer. I should mention that Spencer can jump in this game, a welcome gameplay addition from the original game which disallowed the action. Yay for jumping!

Overall, Bionic Commando on the PC is a much more enjoyable experience than on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. It definitely has some quirks but, for the reasonable price of $39.99 on Steam, you will find it’s classic gameplay to be a fun diversion in your off-time from other, more-involving titles.

Check Out the New Intro Cinematic for AION

G4TV has released the intro cinematic for the upcoming MMO, AION. Being published by NCsoft, AION promises uniqe PvEvP combat and is all-set to release on Windows PCs come September 22nd in North America and a day later in Europe.

Via G4TV

Civilization Revolution Now Available on the iPhone

While it may feature cut-down visuals for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Civilization Revolution looks to offer the same empire-building strategy as it did for consoles a while back. Civilization Revolution has been officially-released and retails for $4.99 in the Apple App Store. The price is set to increase to $9.99 at forty eight hours after being released, so if you are interested make sure you snag it at the discounted amount.

Mothership Zeta Takes Fallout 3 to New Heights, Literally

Having been a Fallout enthusiast ever since I heard Ron Perlman say those iconic lines at the opening of the original Fallout, I was eager to play what looks to be the last bit of downloadable content for Fallout 3 until we get to the eventual Fallout: New Vegas. Mothership Zeta extends one of the base game’s random encounters in which the player runs across the crashed wreckage of a UFO and alien.

When arriving on-scene with Mothership Zeta installed, the player will be whisked aboard an alien spacecraft and… probed. From there you end up in an alien holding cell and are tasked with not only breaking out and escaping the vessel but also taking control of it as well. What are these aliens doing on Earth and for how long have they been doing it? These are just two of the many questions you will have to answer over the course of the adventure presented to you in the DLC pack.

Visually, most of the game takes place on board the alien vessel and its interiors are fairly repetitive. This gets very repetitive but also works in the way of creating a sense of Deja Vu: Did not I already go down this hallway? However, despite the repetition there are some truly awesome set pieces to encounter such as the bridge of the alien ship and even a very cool walk across the vessel’s hull!

The aliens’ look as well as their technology are very much in keeping with the overall retro-50’s feel of Fallout 3 and the sound design makes for a very engrossing experience. The ambient noises of the ship’s inner-workings serve to create a claustrophobic atmosphere and the alien’s creepy vocals are unnerving.

One of Mothership Zeta’s high points come from the assortment of human characters you will meet who also ended up on board the space ship, one of whom can’t even speak English! I will leave the rest for you to discover on your own. The each provide their own back story as to how they got there and one might even be a throwback to a previous expansion…

Mothership Zeta adds quite a number of new weapons and equipment for you to use, a refreshing turn from Point Lookout, which I found to be a bit lacking in the items department. Alien Disintegrators, Drone Cannons, and Alien Blasters to name a few will allow you to get a leg up on the aliens who often times come with personal energy shielding. When not shielded, the aliens go down pretty quick and there is nothing quite like blowing away fleeing alien workers with your minigun, but I digress.

Overall playtime is much less than the previously-mentioned Point Lookout, but the diversion it provides is definitely welcome. Any chance to further explore Fallout 3 is a good one!

Now if Bethesda and Obsidian can just get cracking on the next Fallout title so we don’t have to wait too long. Rumor has it that New Vegas will be released in 2010 for a current-gen release. I find that to be a bit conservative, personally, and would imagine a 2011 release more likely – but hey, what do I know, I just review games.

Mothership Zeta retails for 800 Microsoft Points on the Xbox LIVE and Games for Windows LIVE Marketplaces and is available now. It provides a unique adventure in the Fallout universe that we have yet to experience before and, while feeling a bit short, gives you a ton of new technology to take back with you to terra firma, should you survive. And watch where you point that Death Ray for cripes sake!

Asmodian and Elyos Prologue Videos for AION

NCsoft has released two large and exciting prologue videos for their upcoming MMO, AION, showing off the struggle of the Elyosian and Asmodian peoples against their common rival: The Balaur. AION is set to be released on September 22nd for Windows PCs.

Here is the Asmodian video, you can find the Elyosian one After the Break!

Batman: Arkham Asylum Demo to Release on August 7th

Looking forward to playing Batman: Arkham Asylum? Well you can checkout the demo on August 7th when it is released on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and Playstation Network. The demo looks to be the one we saw at E3 and the San Diego Comic Con this year, starting players off right after Batman and Commissioner Gordon drop the Joker off to be incarcerated.

The full game will be released on August 25th.

New Blur Trailer Talks Vision

Activision has released a new trailer for its upcoming racer, Blur. This new trailer gives us some insight into the vision behind the game from some of the developers themselves. Blur will be released this fall on the Xbox 360, PC, and PS3 platforms.

Experience Near-Perfect Consumer VR With the VUZIX iWear VR920

Ever since we saw the X-Men’s Danger Room or even Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Holo-deck, we geeks have coveted the idea that one day we could bring virtual reality into the home. Unfortunately, the technology has never really taken off and the stuff that has is extremely expensive and not geared for the type of applications most of us would use it for: gaming! So when we saw that VUZIX was offering head-tracking technology in their iWear VR920, we knew we had to check them out.

The VR920’s form factor is very similar to their iWear AV920 model – which is basically the same thing as aforementioned ‘VR’ model minus the head-tracking. It features an all-black plastic design and is meant to be worn on the face like Geordi LaForge’s visor. I will tell you that no matter how much time VUZIX puts into making these things cool and stylish, it is always going to put some folks off. These iWear devices are undoubtedly geeky and will always be so until they figure out how to project information onto your contact lenses. The only reason a visor looked so good on Levar Burton is because he is cool (Star Trek AND Reading Rainbow? Please…) no matter what is on his face. Case in point…

See what I mean? Now, inside the VR920 you will find two 640×480 LCD screens, each containing 920,000 pixels of visual goodness. VUZIX claims that when viewing these little displays at the range they are away from your eyes in the VR920, it is simulating a 62” display at 9′ away. I don’t have a 62” display to test this claim out on but just using my own experience with the VR920 I would say that is about right. The two LCDs may be little but they are very crisp and clear especially when considering they are only a few inches from your eyes. Remember when Mom said not to watch TV so close or you’ll go blind? Not with these babies you won’t!

Actually, the biggest issue of the VR920 is not its performance at all (more on performance later) but, instead, its installation and setup. Installing the unit goes something like this: First, install the VR920 software located on the included CD-ROM. Then, connect the VR920 to a VGA connector on the back of your video card. Thankfully, VUZIX has included a DVI-VGA adapter in case you do not have a VGA port open. After connecting the VGA cable you then plug in the VR920’s USB cable to an available USB 2.0 port. After these steps, you need to configure your displays to actually allow you to see your desktop on the unit. You have to attach and set the VR920 display to either 1024×768, 800×600, or 640×480 and set it to clone your two displays. After doing this you should have a mirror image of your desktop displaying on your VR920. After this you much calibrate the head-tracking functions of the device using the included software. Finally, the included iMonitor software will scan your PC for any available programs which use the stereo 3D and/or head-tracking functions. The first time you are ready to play one of the game’s you see listed on the iMonitor, you should double-click the listing and the program will bring up precise setup instructions. Sometimes you will have to copy drivers around your machine to the game directory and other times you will find such action was already done for you by the iMonitor. Still with me? I told you there was a lot to setting up the VR920! However, you did not buy this thing to collect dust on a shelf so be sure to read all the instructions available to save yourself valuable time. The whole install process is not very user-friendly and may turn a lot of casual PC users off. Then again, I don’t see the casual PC user buying this thing so to my hardcore brethren out there: You can handle it!

The first game I tried the unit out with was Bethsoft’s Fallout 3. I have to admit I was skeptical about running Fallout 3 in 1024×768 mode, regardless of the stereo 3D technology it supports via the VR920. I was pleasantly surprised: The 3D effect in-game was very believable and I did not once get the eye-strained feeling I get when viewing IMAX 3D movies at the theater. Well done, VUZIX! Even in the lower resolution, the game still had a great amount of detail and the explosions of the fatman’s mini-nukes really just displayed in a cool, new way.

In Fallout 3 the head-tracking did not help all that much. It basically uses your head movements to control the mouse axes and, as such, the view/aim. For some reason, during my play sessions of this game, the head-tracking was not very sensitive and I did not get a whole lot of in-game movement for my real-life head turning. Even when turning my head in a smooth manner as recommended by the instructions, it just was not working correctly. Thankfully the 3D effect was still kicking some major super-mutant haunches so I give it high marks.

That is something I should caution you on: There are a limited number of titles which support the two technologies, and not inclusively either. You can find the whole list of supported games and what modes they are compatible with at VUZIX’ official site.

After Fallout 3, I figured the next kind of game to try the VR920 out on would be the latest in Microsoft’s seminal flight simulator series. Flight Simulator X was reported to support both head-tracking as well as stereo 3D, at least according to the iMonitor, so I figured it would be smooth sailing. As it turns out, FSX did not enable either head-tracking or stereo 3D in-game. So I went through the iMonitor instructions for hot to setup the game an drealized that for some reason it did not copy over the right DLLs into the FSX directories. After manually performing these steps, all seemed right with the world. Using the head-tracking in FSX brought a whole new level of immersion to the sim as did the very well-done stereo 3D. On strictly a flight-sim level alone, this product is well-worth it if you are a hardcore sim-jock looking for the next step in realism.

Aside from the gaming applications, the VR920 is also great for watching your favorite TV shows on HULU or your local drive. The video usually displays very well, save for some issues with files featuring lesser-known video codecs, and we would also recommend using the VR920 if your PC had a cable TV tuner.

The VR920 also worked well with other desktop applications such as MS Office. Why you would want to type a novel looking through the unit is beyond me but, the point is, you could. I actually found text slightly blurry at 1024×768 but when I wanted to strictly read text docs, etc, I set the resolution to 800×600 and had no more issues.

Comfort is not a problem either after getting the visor in place although the big headed should take care when placing it on their noggins. The visor holds to one’s nose via an adjustable clip which works well. The arms of the visor can pitch 15 degrees to better lineup the screens with your eyes and the unit even has an integrated microphone for VoIP applications.

Overall, VUZIX’s iWear VR920 may not be the end all, be all perfect solution for a consumer VR headset out there but its value is clearly apparent in both the stereo 3D and head-tracking of its supported game titles plus its relatively low price point in comparison to other VR units on the market. Despite its wonky setup process, the unit has plenty of bells and whistles to make it worth the time and money needed to use it. The VR920 retails for $399.95 and is available now.