Author - Ripper71

Unreal Engine 3 Support for Next Generation Portable System

Epic Games has announced Unreal Engine 3 support for Sony’s upcoming Next Generation Portable (NGP) entertainment system. Developers may now license Epic’s award-winning engine technology for the upcoming NGP. Epic Games’ founder Tim Sweeney presented a real-time preview of a large, outdoor environment running on NGP at PlayStation Meeting 2011 last month in Tokyo, demonstrating a sweeping panorama full of particle systems, animating characters and atmospheric lighting effects.

‘We see NGP as a true game-changer with a perfect combination of performance, innovative controls and gamer appeal that make it truly a high-end console in your pocket,’ said Sweeney. ‘We were very proud to be onstage with SCE to give the world just a taste of what Unreal Engine 3 can do on NGP,’ said Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games. ‘NGP raises the bar for the performance of handheld platforms with its multi-core GPU and shader-based, multi-core CPU. This makes Unreal Engine 3 a particularly advantageous fit for NGP. Furthermore, multiple UE3 licensees are already working with NGP, some of which have indicated they intend to release their games for the platform’s launch.’

The NGP is to be released later this year, during the holiday season.

King’s Quest III Redux (PC Review)

This is an old-school RPG, which means gameplay requires a lot more patience than many modern games. You click on everything in a room to see if you can pick it up or move it to find a clue. You use the eye icon to click on everything in sight and most of the information is pointless. You have to figure out what item to click on before you talk to someone to get the information you need. You pick up everything the game will let you but you have to time it right otherwise you could suffer severe consequences. At the end of the game your inventory will probably have a bunch of stuff you never needed but you had to pick it up because maybe that bowl would be needed an hour or two later into the game and the only way to pass that point is starting back at the beginning. When you first start playing you start back at the beginning several times, back in the day you wouldn’t have been surprised if you had to lose an hour of playtime or more because you missed a book on a shelf or forgot a spoon hanging in a kitchen. You save after just about every thing you did (a habit I still follow today) and starting back at your last save point a couple dozen times to try to figure out what you had to do next was just part of the game. It can be frustrating and even boring to some degree but once you figure out what you are supposed to do next when you haven’t been given the slightest clue what you are supposed to be doing there is a really strong sense of accomplishment. It requires a great deal of patience and attention to detail that has been phased out of most games over the years. It also helps to develop strong problem solving skills and patience in getting things accomplished which are pretty good skills to have in general. Controls are point and click, with a pull down menu to choose different actions such as look, walk, touch, etc.



Graphics/Audio:

Though cleaned up like an old print of a film, the game retains its graphic style and sounds which makes it a fun blast back to the past. The graphics are so low resolution that a lot of gamer rigs will actually not be able to get down to the recommended level of resolution but I found getting close is good enough. If you try to play the game without lowering the res you will either find yourself unable to see the game screen or it will be in a box smaller than a PSP screen which makes it kinda hard to see and difficult to click on things. It is nice to see the hand painted backgrounds and portraits, this was obviously a labor of love, which maintains the graphic feel of the original.

Playtime/Cost:
Playtime will drastically vary depending on each person’s decisions and problem solving skills. The potential time is enormous for someone who isn’t used to the game. But since it is completely free it is a game to try out and if you don’t like it you are out nothing but time and if you love it then you can fill lots of hours with it.

Last Call:
This game is a gift, not just because it is free but because it gives older gamers a chance to relive their roots and younger gamers the opportunity to experience gaming history. I recommend everyone get it to try it out, but I particularly would point it out to parents to help their children learn the consequences of actions and improve problem solving skills and patience, which are three things no person can have too much of!

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Lord Of Arcana Review (PSP UMD)

The stage is set nicely at the beginning of the game with some decent cutscenes but the game isn’t really about it’s atmosphere. The music matches the scenes well and a storyline is laid down, but most of this feels it is there to set you up to start the fights and grind. You have NPCs to interact with to improve your gear or start a quest or just to chat with but this is less a game of talking and more a game of action.

Gameplay:
Most aspects of the gameplay are tailored well to the PSP controls. The battle sequences are fun, with engaging combo mini games and coup de graces which are really entertaining. They tried not to make it a simple turn-based attack system where you simply choose ‘attack’ and watch things unfold. Players must run around to avoid hits, change targets to create multiple deaths and damage, and time hitting buttons displayed on the screen with attacks to increase the length and damage of your combos. The game was designed for folks who play these games for the fighting and, for the most part, Lord of Arcana doesn’t disappoint.

There are only a couple things that can make this grindtastic fighting game a little hard to play and maybe bring it just short of great. The first is camera control. While running around using the left stick you have to also use the buttons right above it to control the camera. So, you may be running around in a battle trying to avoid being hit long enough to take a potion and your camera doesn’t follow your direction changes unless you are running toward a targeted foe. So if your trying to avoid an enemy or pick up something dropped there can be a bit of wayward camera angles, leaving you running blind. The camera system should have been designed to follow your direction and only change when you hit the buttons like most games are, it would instantly improve the gameplay greatly.

A much more minor issue is the target lock system. When you hit the L button it locks onto an enemy but the only way to keep the lock is to keep the L button held down. It gets so that after a while you just hold or hit the L button all the time since you are constantly doing it during battle and the game is mostly designed just to take you from battle to battle. This results in a bit of finger fatigue in your index finger but let’s face it that is going to happen with controller games. The only other gameplay issue would be the timing on the quests. The game saves after quests are completed and some have really tight timing, so it is possible for you to collect items and gain experience only to have it all taken away because you didn’t complete the quest in time and have to go to your last save point. The fact that you can’t just save and quit anytime means you have to plan your real life around your game play instead of the other way around because if you have 10 minutes before your plane boards and you have a 35 minute quest you best wait until you have more time to commit to the game.



Graphics/Audio:

The graphics are excellent with some very good eye candy for a portable device. I particularly enjoy the blood splatters and flying bodies and parts during coup de graces. The sounds go great along with the action, ringing out crisp and clear. The music fits the gameplay and genre with special kudos going out to the song being used on the character building section of the game and a couple other locations which sounds moody, possibly Gaelic, and made me wish I had it on my MP3 player for mellow times.

Playtime/Cost:

This game is a grinder and so the playtime really comes down to the patience or enjoyment a player has with said grind. I am known for my grinding Zen and I could spend days just grinding away on my favorite quests to level up and improve my gear while not advancing the storyline. I enjoy building and that includes characters so it really is hard to gauge the playtime. Cost-wise, the game runs between $35-$40 with higher prices for special editions and imports. This is the standard price for a new PSP game and for a game with long playtime for grinders this is probably a perfect deal.

Last Call:
It really comes down to whether or not you are a grinder. If you love to grind and don’t mind a few camera issues this is a great game for you, just make sure you have time to finish the quest before you begin.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Two Worlds II Review (Xbox 360)

Alright, I’ll be the first to say they asked for it. Okay, maybe not the first since there has been TONS of debate, but I will say it at the beginning of my review. Two Worlds publisher Zuxxez’s Dirk Hassinger really stirred up a hornet’s nest in the gaming community when he said in his opinion that Two Worlds was deeper and more complex game than Oblivion. Two Worlds is an excellent game and Oblivion is an excellent game. While they have similarities that could be compared and contrasted for pages, I will judge Two Worlds II – the latest game in the Two Worlds series, on its own merits (or lack thereof) and leave the Oblivion/Two Worlds debaters to their YouTube comparison posts.

Atmosphere:
This game starts off setting a great atmosphere with an excellent cinematic opening scene where the story is quickly established through one character’s flashbacks. I won’t spoil anything but they set the mood and give you a pretty strong suggestion of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys while also showing the dark times that have befallen the land. The cinematics throughout the game are excellent as is as the musical score. They create tension when there needs to be and peaceful sounds accompany moments when you are just traveling and taking in eye candy. It is subtle but well done, honestly if I wasn’t reviewing it I might not have been looking for such things and just gone with the excellent flow the atmosphere develops. Also, when the game wants to limit where you go it doesn’t just stop you at an invisible barrier. It first thins out your interactions with other creatures to hopefully make you bored of traveling that way and, if that doesn’t work, it puts a landmark such as a mountain ridge in your way to help maintain your gaming suspension of disbelief. One of the only problems with all this is that it can be taxing on the system and, since it is pulling all this graphically-rich expanse from a disk, it pauses to load things often. This frequent loading can dampen the mood and get the player a little edgy, because it means that either a big piece of eye candy is about to load or a big bad beastie. If you are riding fast on your mount, you might get both at the same time! Another point to bring up are the seemingly out-of-place, random sections placed in-between cinematics at the beginning of the game. A good example of this is a cinematic that leads to a bridge and ends. You then walk the character across the bridge and, as soon as you reach the other end, yet another cinematic starts. This may simply be a way for the designers to break down larger cinematics into more manageable ones but to the player it just comes across as strange. For the most part, the voice acting isn’t too great either – sometimes surprisingly bad like watching a late night ‘D’ movie. It almost becomes comical which, unfortunately, also distracts from what you should be paying attention to.



Gameplay:
Most of the time the player is in third person mode but, on occasion, the player has the opportunity to enter Sniper Mode – a first-person shooting mode. This is a nice mix similar to Mass Effect 2 and, once you get used to the controls, can be transitioned back and forth between quite easily. You also have the opportunity to ride mounts which have different control sets but are also well done and effortless once you get the hang of it. Targeting is character facing for initial lock and, though a lock can sometimes shift if more than one enemy is in front of you, it holds well and allows for guerrilla tactics – hit, retreat, or sidestep to avoid their attack and attack again. Range attacks are particularly effective in this kind of play, though there is definitely something to be said for a nice sneak assassination. With the skill table set up the way it is, this is completely an option. Skill points are given to be divided among all the classes and professions so you can decide if you want to get your lockpicking up before your fire arrow skill or blacksmithing ability. It is possible to make a very well-rounded character, though in the end it might prove better to make the character strong in one class and profession instead of spreading your points too thin. If you decide to do that or even change class emphasis between dungeons and map exploration you can do so by going to an NPC called the soulpatcher who will respec your points for a reasonable amount of in-game cash.

The game really tries hard not to limit your gameplay options by allowing an almost sandbox-like environment, filled with side quests and achievements while also having a main storyline that can be strictly adhered to. There are even multiple ways to achieve certain goals – some shady, some noble, and some where too much trust or naivety causes you to fail. The choices are yours and will effect how some NPCs respond to you for the rest of the game and, in some cases, whether or not a quest can be completed at all. When exploring, it is very easy to head in some direction too far and wander into an area with big baddies that can kill you in a single blow – so, explore with caution and save often. The game has auto-save, but I found sometimes the auto-save might glitch whereas the selected saves always worked. On the subject of the baddies – one of the few complaints I have about Two Worlds II is that there isn’t much of a variety to them. When you run into a new type you get excited and sometimes go on a killing spree (poop flinging baboons!) and then move onto another section of the map only to find the same enemy, maybe just a little tougher or a slightly different attack style. There really aren’t that many different enemies, in most cases it is just a variation on the same ones with either a slightly different name or maybe slightly different color. For a game with huge maps and great graphics, it almost felt like they ran out of time to develop enemies so they just used the same bunch over and over. Luckily, the ones they do have are fun to fight.

Controls:
The controls are pretty good, but they definitely have a feel like they were originally designed for the PC and then adjusted to work on a console. In some ways I find this appealing, because generally RPG content is considered to be more expansive and in-depth on the PC. If the developers tried to keep all the positives of a keyboard/mouse system and adapt them to a limited amount of buttons and sticks, then there is a good chance that console gamers will get a treat. The only drawback is that, to achieve this some buttons, had to be assigned a whole bunch of tasks that a whole keyboard and mouse did before. So, instead of scrolling over an enemy, there is the auto-target system. Also, the A button gets a lot of use – just about every type of action utilizes it. The A button opens doors, climbs on mounts, picks flowers, chooses attacks and a whole bunch of other tasks which if you want to do more than one of has to be prioritized. Let’s say you want to choose a certain spell when you are about to dismount, pick an herb and then go through a door… all of those are located on A so you have to choose carefully or you might find yourself with a door open to an enemy while you are picking an herb instead of preparing an attack. Little things like that come up and actually though some people might have found it frustrating I found it kinda funny because the designers really were trying to give you the most game they could fit on a disk and holding a weed while you get one hit is pretty funny.

Graphics/Audio:
Solid graphics, very rich environment with lots of detail simply for the sake of looking really nice on many occasions. Did the setting sun need to stream over your shoulder and light up the face of the npc you are talking to with a golden glow? Did the vendors in the market place need to walk from their houses, exchange pleasantries and yawn and stretch while opening their shops? They just add to the already great visual experience. The sound isn’t shabby either as sometimes it was hard to tell if the crickets were in the game or outside my window! Also, when you hear horses walking, you can actually hear the distinct sound a horse’s hooves make when you cross stone as opposed to high grass. And, you also hear animals calling to each other in the distance, sometimes alerting you to a feces-flinging baboon or just letting you know a giant ant is about to attack you from behind. Some of the best sounds and sights are just eye candy, others are potentially life-saving!

Multiplayer:
If you have friends to play the game with, the multiplayer will prove to be a blast. Different types of matches and maps are available or unlockable and are all fun to play. At the time of this review the online populations were a bit low however, resulting in some matches proving to be too wide in scale so that a level 1 may find themselves in a duel with a level 50 or a level 8 might find themselves in an adventuring group trying to complete level 38 quests. When creating the games, variables can be added to prevent too great of a gap in levels but often the higher levels will create wide open matches in hopes of getting easy low level kills or an adventurer will become so desperate to populate their game that they create a level limitless match in hopes that a high level might run them through a hard section of quests. I wouldn’t be surprised if future patches deal with some of these issues and I imagine once word gets out that this is a great game more people are likely to play it and help the online populations.

Playtime/Cost:
With tons of single player options on how to play and how to build and lots of multiplayer choices, this game has a virtually unlimited playtime, though you could still get more than your money’s worth if you just played the main quests and stayed away from multiplayer.

Last Call:
Two Worlds II is an excellent game, a very solid RPG with MMORPG potential if it catches on. The disk loading can be a little annoying but is definitely not a game-breaker. I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to a friend so we could multiplay together. I won’t however, discuss how it stacks up against Oblivion… It would be as futile as debating domestic beers, types of computers or console versus PCs. All such discussions are based on taste and faith and so are no-winners. Play what you enjoy and this game is definitely enjoyable.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

CrimeCraft: BleedOut Review (PC)

Vogster Entertainment’s CrimeCraft came out in August of 2009 and, while the game itself got generally-positive reviews for it’s instances, it was knocked for its initial business model as well as the fact that players could just park themselves in one spot, join instance after instance and only leave to train up or find a new mission – the storyline got very-easily lost. Thankfully, CrimeCraft has taken on a whole new strategy to bring in players: episodic adventures and artists. Hoping to appeal to gamers who like art from comic books and pop culture, the game now comes out with content-laden episodes featuring guest comic artists. The idea is that the episode is like a television season, each consisting of a series of episodic missions. Each of these missions unfolds over the course of a week until the adventure is completed. Unlike a television series, however, this is premium programming, meaning you have to pay to play past episode one (unless you are a subscriber).

With this new series of episodes, titled ‘BleedOut’, players are focused on finding out exactly what occurred during the financial collapse of the world. This new expansion explains the whole history of the world of CrimeCraft through missions done in present day Sunrise City. The story is told, not only through the missions that you play, but also through the previously-mentioned well-crafted, comic book-like cut-scenes.

Atmosphere:
On the surface, the game’s atmosphere is impressive. There is an excellent cinematic to start things off and the game visuals paint a city in-ruin – decrepit buildings, left-over neon lights, and billboards. There is an oppressive military presence reinforced by unfriendly soldiers at multiple locations with guns held across their chests. There are shadows everywhere and everyone you encounter looks like they could be a danger to you. However, it doesn’t take long to realize the fighting doesn’t take place in the streets but instead in instances ranging over a series of environments. The city is designed mostly to be atmosphere between missions and instances.

Gameplay:
The game gets stuck between what it is and what it wants to be. It has the potential to be a great MMO experience or a great shooter experience, but in combination it ends up in a ‘jack-of-all trades’ middle ground. The story in cut-scenes and dialogue is good but gets a little lost in the fact that you are just setting yourself up for the next instance. The instances can be a little slow to populate due to people being in the city doing customization or spamming for their own instance choice. The maps are excellent and the weapons are massively diverse due to a ton of customization options. Customization is one of the greatest aspects of this game. No two players have to be identical, everyone has their own play style and have customized weapons and gear to match it. The possible combinations are staggering and probably one of the reasons the game has the following it does. The higher level you get, the more diverse you become.

Controls:
Though mostly standard WASD and mouse-driven, you may want to check button assignments before going into battle so you don’t accidentally drop a grenade on your foot or go to stab someone and just stand there as they shank you instead.

Price:

The game is free to download and play low-end content, and the game’s subscription of $4.99 a month is very reasonable. Where it gets a bit sticky is bonus features that cost real world money can add up real quick. Many of the most competitive and serious players have spent some decent money on their character(s). Also, if you are not a subscriber, BleedOut episodes 2-10 cost you real life money to play. If you see it as buying a new comic issue rather than another part of the same game it helps, but still might sting a bit.



Last Call:

I was very excited to go in and see tons of artistic environments and quests that lead you through a rich storyline. What you get with CrimeCraft: Bleed Out is a decent storyline featuring a very solid instance and weapons system, different from my initial expectations but still a real fun play-through. While the BleedOut episode arc will probably not go down as the best content series in the annals of MMO history, the extra content is a welcome addition, giving players more to do and experience in the game world they love. Hopefully, this is the direction Vogster Entertainment sticks with for CrimeCraft’s future, as it has the potential to not only increase the playerbase but also gives existing players more fun to be had.

*Disclosure: A subscription account with in-game funds was temporarily provided for the purpose of this review. I wish I got to keep it. 😉

Bridging The Cycles, A Review of TRON: Betrayal

I know what some of you are thinking, this is a gaming website not a comic book club. But, let’s face it, TRON was a world based off of video games and is a phenomena that crosses mediums and geekdoms. What caught me off guard was how far that bridge spanned. 20 Earth years (grid time goes faster and is measured in CPU cycles) since the first story? Wow! That alone could take up a movie and some might say should have. But, instead of going the route of a trilogy, the storytellers decided to dive into other ways to tell the story and TRON: Betrayal was born as two over-sized comic books. Soon it became obvious that though everyone knew the name ‘Tron’, a whole generation of people missed the experience of the first movie and really had no clue about its plot. So, TRON: Betrayal became a graphic novel with a prologue to help folks who were basically coming in at the end of a story.

Why Should You Bother?
To this question I like to point at the Star Wars saga. There was a whole generation of movie goers whose first experience with Star Wars was The Phantom Menace and ended with Revenge Of The Sith. They consider themselves Star Wars fans, though maybe they cared a little less for the third movie because it was a bit of a downer (editor’s note: As was TPM! :p). Now take the generation who sat as kids breathless in the theaters as the imposing figure of Darth Vader confidently strode through boarded enemy vessels and choked people from across the room. We wanted to know it all: How this land came to be like it was and what would happen next? And, they gave us… comics. Lots and lots of stories that a lot of people have never heard but are now an integral part of Star Wars lore. Eventually they gave us books and another set of movies, which we sat through despite Jar Jar because we knew in our hearts the dark days were coming and the boy would become a Sith Lord. Parents wondered if their children would have nightmares from this movie, an older generation – one that knows Han shot first, got goosebumps as the black-clad golem took it’s first breath, a breath that had haunted us since childhood, albeit in a good way.

That is kind of how TRON is. It could have been left alone, its own entity, but we needed to know more about the Grid. We weren’t satisfied with a happily ever after. We needed our tales of struggle leading up to that moment, and got it in the form of TRON video games, we needed to know what happened next and got hints of it from comics and yet more video games. For us, who were kids and watched the MCP, Flynn, and Tron come face to face (The Good, The Bad, and The User) in a final showdown, a new movie was made called TRON: Legacy. We are getting a chance to see how the Grid turned out… wait wait wait, 20 years later?? We missed the building of yet another empire and have come upon another corrupted ruler? How did this happen? And that is why TRON: Betrayal was made and why everyone who never got to experience the first movie with a child’s heart or who needs to know what happened to bring the Grid once more to a darkened place from that upbeat ending so many years ago should read it.

Graphics/Storyline:
Excellent graphics with a well written storyline. The artwork of old TRON is meshed nicely into the new TRON and an evolution is shown that takes the characters from that long ago tale to the story we see today. It is purposely not a complete bridge – in order to complete it, you need to play TRON: Evolution video game which continues the story of Betrayal and links it into Legacy (though, if you really, really need your lore you have to play all platforms of the game since each one got a slightly different piece of the story and you need to pick up the iPhone apps… they didn’t miss a trick) but at least it will satisfy most of your curiosity.

Price:
It is a well put together 128 page graphic novel for $9.99. Kind of hard to beat that with a stick.

Last Call:
I wanted to let people know there was a graphic novel that could serve as the bridge between the stories enough to satisfy most people or summarize the first movie enough for those who didn’t get to experience it in younger days when the world of computers were more magic than technology. Most who see it now with today’s knowledge have often found the movie boring, not getting it the way a kid would back then. So Programs, the time to catch TRON: Legacy is now before it is derezzed from theatres. The Grid is ours again, the light cycles await their riders and TRON: Betrayal will help get us from the land of users to the world of Kevin and Sam Flynn.

Razer Banshee StarCraft II Gaming Headset – Review

Just reading the specs on the Razer Banshee StarCraft II gaming headset and the box’s promises of performance were enough to earn it the nickname ‘The Headset Of Awesomeness.’ I needed to get some work done on my computer before I gave it a run and I was showing off pictures of the headset on my phone like a proud new father and everyone was either utterly excited or filled with envy. This headset not only looks awesome, sounds amazing and has the most comfort I have ever felt in a full sized headset, it IMPROVES your game. It never comes out and makes that promise on the box or in the instructions but, if used properly, that is exactly what they can do. How many headsets can you say that about?

Looks:
This headset looks like it came right out of the game. It is easy to imagine a crewman on the Hyperion wearing something that looks just like it. Don’t know what the Hyperion is? Don’t worry about it, just know these are futuristic looking with three sections of lighting: the logo, side-strip and under-glow. Each one can be independently colored using a 48-color palette or by creating a custom color and storing it in one of 16 custom color slots. So you could. for example. have the logo pumpkin, the side strips violet and the underglow green if you wanted to give the headset a very unique look. Honestly it is fun to just play with the colors, maybe make them match your favorite sports team or your guild colors, the sky is the limit. The lights are bright too, I was able to read my authenticator by them in a dark room and there were reports from the other end of the house of strange colored lights coming from the computer room. This actually plays into function as I will mention later in the review. I expect that future StarCraft II tournaments will be filled with these headsets in various colors (maybe sponsor’s colors?) and fans of StarCraft or heck just gaming in general busting these out in airports and computer labs as they blast through their favorite game. I find myself constantly trying new combinations.

Comfort:
This can be a serious concern when it comes to marathon gaming sessions. If you plan to pull an all-nighter, the headset had better be pretty comfortable or you may have to take breaks just to get some relief. The designers seemed to have taken this into consideration as well because not only is there padding on the ear cups but there is also padding on the top bridge. This gives the sensation of putting on comfortable earmuffs more than a headset. Also, we all know how much wear the ear cups on headsets take from being taken on and off or pulled back to hear what someone in the room is saying. Not only is the padding on the Banshee’s ear covers durable they are also removable making cleaning or replacement a breeze (this also allows for easy access to the ear piece section in case the speaker or lighting requires repair).

Durability:
Above, I mentioned the ease of removing the ear padding, they snap back onto metal posts to prevent the posts from possibly breaking off. It seems most of the Banshee’s parts were designed with durability in mind such as metal rails for the extensions, thick part connections and even nylon parachute cord wrapping on the headset cable. The sections are screwed together as well to prevent anything from breaking off or coming loose.

Sound Quality:
I tested the Banshee on several different games and in every case was incredibly impressed. I played games I had played for years and noticed sounds I didn’t know existed. The downloadable configuration software allows you to equalize and tune all the different aspects of the sound and the sound isolation is exceptional. I wouldn’t even have the sound up very high and still had to pull back one of the ear cups to hear when someone spoke to me in the room. You can run diagnostics and microphone tests to maximize performance. The sound and microphone levels can also be adjusted and muted right next to the ear cups, one on each side.



Functionality/Gameplay:

This is not a normal category when it comes to gaming headset reviews, but then again this isn’t your average gaming headset. The Banshee is not just designed to let you hear a game, it actually interacts with StarCraft II to improve it. It does this through its own custom configuration that detects events in the game and signals the player in customizable ways. For instance, maybe a player wants to speed up their gameplay to make sure they remain competitive. The Banshee can detect how many actions-per-minute (APMs) you have are making and let you know if you are falling below or exceeding the limits you choose. If you are new you may want to make sure you are between 50 to 100 APMs, if you want to be professional tournament competitive, this will help let you know it you are running between the 250-300 APMs necessary. The Banshee doesn’t even come close to being done there. You can also make it so that the headset alerts you to when your base or units are under attack, building, training or upgrades are complete, resources are exhausted and many other options. Some might argue that the game already gives you in game alerts about all these things so why would you need the headset’s notifications? Because the headset gives you customized alerts using it’s lights. So let’s say you are listening to music while you are playing and your base gets under attack or maybe you have the game sound down because you are using a team talking program. The headset can be designed to flash red 5 times, for example, to let you know that your base is under attack or flash green twice when one of your units gets peoduced. The lights are bright enough that you can see them flash next to you and onto your computer and screen to alert you to different events each in a customizable way. Also it shows you your APMs by the color it turns when there are no alerts. These colors can be changed but default set if you have a blue light to your headset you are going less than 50 moves per minute and if you get it going white you are breaking 350 APMs. So, as you play, you strive to get your headset to change a different color thereby increasing your actions-per-minute and your game in general. All this makes it so that you can speed up your gameplay and improve your situational awareness dramatically. I hope that new Razer Banshee configurations may come out in the future to interact with other games, I would love to be able to tell by the color of the lights how much DPS I am doing or flashes telling me the healer is taking damage.

Plays Well With Others?
When you are purchasing a high-end headset you want it to not just work well with your favorite game or the one it was designed for, you want it to be a universal tool. This headset worked excellent with dozens of games and programs I ran tests with. There were three issues I found in my entire testing of the Banshee. Sometimes in other games’ cinematic cut-scenes the sound went out. Sometimes some website’s audio automatically went through the computer’s speakers instead and sometimes after start up the configuration program won’t find the device. In all three cases, unplugging the headset from it’s USB port and plugging it back in instantly fixed the problem. Though minor issues, one of the programs that lost sound during some cinematic is another Blizzard product with a recent expansion so I wouldn’t be surprised if a patch comes along for the headset drivers and software to make these concerns mute.


‘The Whole Enchilada’:

The Razer Banshee headset is actually just one piece of a three-piece set designed for StarCraft II. There is also a mouse and a keyboard with all the same game interactions and light display options. If you can swing the money for the Razer Marauder keyboard and the Razer Spectre mouse you can literally have all three flashing the same warnings at the same time and changing colors to match your APMs. You can also adjust all of their lights to your liking and it is all done through the same configuration program.

Price Vs. Value:
The Banshee headset runs $119.99 which is a higher price for a high-end gaming headset, most of which generally run you around $80 to $100 dollars. But you have to take into account the light customization, the game interaction, and the fact that it can actually improve your game at which point the price doesn’t seem so bad. Add to that the fact that it is durable and high quality and I can see this headset, even the whole set (which would run around $320) being worth it to a serious player or someone who has the money to trick their rig a bit.

Last Call:
I think this headset and the system it is a part of is the future of gaming. It has easily earned the nickname ‘Headset of Awesomeness’ and I think once serious players of StarCraft II see what it can do they will want the whole set and if they have to settle on only one piece might tend toward this one. Heck, if I was sure Santa was recession proof the whole set would be at the top of my wish list and my computer room would be aglow with my gaming.

*DISCLOSURE: A headset was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Marvel Pinball Review (PS3)

Pinball is the old school of arcade gaming. There are actually museums dedicated to the slanted tables with their silver balls and fast flippers. Over the years videos games were added to pinball machines and pinball machines were added to video games with varying success, usually the less successful being the video games. As strange as it seems, we have had plenty of success over the years imitating human movements but when it comes to the little silver balls crossing the tables and hitting the bumpers just right, it always seems to fall just short. So when Zen Studios took on pinball machines it was a daunting task and critics were ready and waiting to attack another attempt.

Much to their shock, Zen Studios not only pulled off the physics they expanded their game with more tables and a sequel, each time just getting the better and better and the tables more exciting. Finally they got to the point that they teamed up with Marvel Comics and created the game that appealed to our inner gamer and inner comic geek with all the best physics ever made for pinball. If it sounds like I may be a bit over-excited about it, I’m not. My fingers and arms are tired from hitting my flipper buttons like crazy every chance I could for days. I went out to a video arcade, found one of the classic pinball games from way back in the day and I discovered I actually liked the video game one better. The real life game had a broken flipper, some of the bumpers were a little too worn and the special aspects of the game barely worked. When I got home I was able to play a game with identical physics without the worry of a sticking or broken flipper or lousy bumpers. Add to it the interaction with Marvel heroes and villains that can’t quite be duplicated yet in the real world and Bam! you’ve got a game with all the bests of old school gaming with the magic of modern technology.

Graphics/Audio:
The graphics and audio are spot on for creating a pinball machine experience. The dings, clicks, bells and sound clips that make pinball all the fun it is are clean and believable, and yet the addition of Marvel comic heroes and villains just a little too animated for a real machine works as well.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is immersive and you soon forget you are playing a video game instead of a table top. You shoot the ramps, you pull back the plunger, you go crazy with the flippers and that little silver ball reacts just like you would expect it to. You use very few controls, mostly a button for your right flipper and another for your left. Wolverine has a short table with simple ramps, Spiderman has a long table with lots of crisscrossing paths for the ball to travel, Iron Man has lots of tubing and metal to fit the technology theme and Blade solidly pulls off the land of vampires with a table that changes between daylight mode and night. One of the only real complaints at this point is that there are only four tables and the gameplay is so addictive you just want more. With the word being that Zen Studios has gained access to the whole Marvel Universe, I imagine we will be aiding more of our favorite heroes with our trusty flippers in the near future! This is also nice since some people really prefer a certain type of table over another so having more options will give them more to love.

Playtime/Cost:
This has an unlimited playtime. The game is playable over and over, it has online multiplayer as well as a ‘pass the controller’ up to four local player mode. There is also an online leaderboard system and trophies to be won for each table. Add to that the fact that there is already talk of more tables and heroes coming along this game is a great value at $10.00 and is perfect for single player and party gaming. They are even planning tournaments!



Last Call:

This may be the best pinball video game I’ve ever played. It is in some ways better than the real thing because the physics are so solid that you get the play of real life without any of the wear down of mechanical parts. I can’t wait for the next table, which will be chosen by player’s votes with Ghost Rider currently in the lead.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review, though at the price I would have happily bought it anyways.

Latest Monkey Island Episode Launches on iPad

Just in time for the holidays, the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island ‘Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’ is now available for iPad on iTunes. In the Tales of Monkey Island series, hapless pirate Guybrush Threepwood fends off a relentless pirate hunter, matches wits with a malicious marquis, overcomes fearsome foes with sabers at sea, and is nearly digested by a giant manatee while hunting down a pox-eliminating sponge.

‘Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’ retails for $6.99 on the Apple App Store. Telltale has episodes two through five planned for release in the new year and they also will be available for PC, Mac, PlayStation Network and WiiWare.

Worms: Battle Islands Review (PSP)

I have to admit I haven’t been getting a lot of playtime in with the PSP recently. With all the amazing games coming out on PCs and other systems with new expansions and map packs I can barely keep up with the next game. So when I got a chance to try out Worms: Battle Islands on the PSP it was like a wonderful reunion in which I got a chance to remember why I like the system so much. Luckily for me the reason for the reunion was Worms: Battle Islands which I had a blast with from the first cinematics and right up through the game. Fans of the Worms series should rejoice if they have a chance to play this on the PSP, it has everything you have grown to love about the series and the controls and gameplay work like a charm.

Atmosphere:
The atmosphere for the game is set in the opening cinematics for the game. Like the opening of an 80s television show, it looks like a cross between the A-Team and The Love Boat. The atmosphere continues into the gameplay with the fun music and sound effects Worms players have come to expect. It doesn’t take itself serious and a big part of the fun of the game is the silliness of the atmosphere. Each island chain has it’s own theming and feel so one set of islands will have a tropical feel and all aspects from the voices to the background support the theme, then the next set might be snowy tundra. All this helps support the atmosphere of traveling and conquering different islands in a fun way.



Customization:

One of the favorite aspects of the Worms games is the amount of customization possible. Most of the customization in the game is unlocked by advancing levels or downloading online but player’s are able to change the worms’ masks, hats, dances, voices, forts, and background landscape. There is even a landscape editor in case you want to make your own designs. On each level you can also recover blueprints which can then be used to help build custom weapons which you get to name!

Gameplay:
The campaign mode is set on a series of islands that have smaller ones which represent levels surrounding a larger island. Once you beat and therefore take all the islands around the larger one you are able to assault the boss on the main island. It takes different strategies to beat levels, some take a bit of creative thinking. Some levels will only give you a handful of apparently useless items which when used right allows you to beat the enemy. On standard levels you have a timed menu at the beginning of the level which thought out right enables you to gain an advantage in the level. It requires fast thought and sometimes trial and error which younger players, who just enjoy blowing things up in fun ways may find themselves stuck. Luckily there are multiplayer modes where players can challenge each other online or in a fun ‘pass the game’ mode that supports up to four players. The game also has Time Attack in which you complete the level as fast as possible, Puzzle in which there is a strategy to beating the level and Customization which allows you to create your own weapons, load up your arsenal and blast away at attack dummies and targets. This game has something for everyone from the trigger happy to the cerebral, all presented in a fun, silly way.

Graphics/Audio:
The graphics are excellent, cartoony as they are intended to be, with lots of explosions and crisp, clean levels. The voices are excellent and there are many styles to choose from as well as many styles performed by the enemies. Some quote presidents, some are designed to sound like military figures, others are pop culture references. All in all the excellent graphics and variety of sound and voice effects add to the enjoyment of the game.

Controls:
The control design and setup works perfectly with the PSP. I got used to the controls really fast and stopped paying attention to the controls and concentrated on the game. The platform works exceptionally well with the game, making it so that the short time in which you have to make decisions doesn’t seem too bad because instead of fumbling for controls you quickly make your moves.

Cost/Playtime:
Worms: Battle Islands cost $24.99 on PSN and has a lot of replayability, customization, and multiplayer options which gives it an unlimited amount of playtime. Each level can be played differently, often with different weapons each time and multiplayer is never the same game twice. At that price with unlimited play and portability letting you take Worms with you wherever you want, this game is a bargain.

Last Call:

This game will be one of my go-to games, one I plan to take on trips or errands where I have to wait. It has one of the most comfortable and intuitive control setups I have played Worms on and the gameplay is fun and challenging. I highly recommend this game, especially if you like a fun and silly time.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.