Saturday, July 31, 2010

Follow the Signal about of Limbo. Watch out for Dragons.

Ladies and Gentleman, my nerd cup hath runneth over. There’s been three big things I wanted to take a moment to talk about but life keeps distracting me. So! I’m going to throw together a post here commenting on these three very exciting things.

First comes some new information regarding Dragon Age 2 – more specifically, the protagonist of Hawke. Now, Dragon Age: Origins came as quite the surprise to me. At current, I’ve played through the game in its entirety 4 times, exhausting every possible ending and major decision point and yet I could still pop the game in for another play through. One of the reasons why I enjoyed the game so much were the origins stories themselves: your character’s past ended up playing a huge role in how certain events played out. Not to mention, it helped give your character an additional layer of distinctiveness.

It seems that Bioware has decided to take a different route with the sequel: your character will be a male or female human named Hawke who survived the destruction of Lothering by the Dawkspawn as detailed in the first game. On top of that, Hawke will also have a voice; instead of detailed dialogue options you will select a paraphrased option which Hawke will then speak a more specific version of. If it sounds familiar it’s because you played Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Now, while I’m personally pretty disappointed in the lack of real origin stories I am excited for my character to have a voice.

The other news about Dragon Age 2 which has me crazy excited is that the cover story in Game Informer confirmed the return of Morrigan and Flemeth. If you’ve played Dragon Age: Origins, you understand why this is so exciting.

Second, there’s Limbo. Ah yes, Limbo. You’ve probably heard of it by now: the XBLA platformer wherein you play a young boy in search of your sister who is lost somewhere in the eerie underworld. The thing about Limbo is that unless you know the story of the game beforehand, you would have no idea of the story; there is no narrative, no cut scenes, no dialogue at all. You begin the game as a shadow of a little boy and work your way through a series of puzzles to the game’s completion. During your journey you’ll encounter horrifying creatures, devious traps and vicious other children who all want nothing more than to end your life in a surprisingly gruesome manner.

In the background of this madness is a stunningly effective black and white world – Limbo is truly a powerful example of minimalist expression. Its simplicity (there are only 2 buttons, jump and action) is its strength; it effortlessly allows you to become totally immersed in this unique world. Even the lack of story, which you think you would off-putting, is a nonissue. The only negative about the game in fact is that it will cost you $15 bucks from the Xbox Marketplace – for just over 3 hours of gameplay. It’s up to you to decide if 3 hours of entertainment is worth that much but if you’re looking for a truly exceptional experience, I’d say it definitely is.

The final thing I wanted to discuss in this post was the release of the first DLC for Alan Wake, entitled “The Signal”. This downloadable episode picks up right where the game ended, following Mr. Wake on his journey to . . . well, you’ll have to play the game to find out. In fact, there isn’t much I can say about this episode without spoiling the original game but I can say that “The Signal” may very well be the best episode of the entire game. No kidding.

Something interesting about this DLC is that like the original game it uses adaptive technology. Only, unlike the game that adjusts itself based on how well you’re doing, the difficulty in this episode gradually gets harder: you being on normal mode and as Alan moves deeper and deeper into the content things get harder, eventually pitting you against a boss on nightmare difficulty. And let me say this, the game isn’t fuckin’ around. That boss is hard. Like, controller-throwing hard.

Still, it is super satisfying when you finally get him/her/it (I’M NOT SAYING) down and the journey there is truly extraordinary. If you enjoyed Alan Wake, which you better have, you’ll unquestioningly love this addition . . . even if you do have to sit through a horrible Verizon joke.

Now I want to go replay Dragon Age: Origins, Alan Wake, and Limbo.

Being a gamer is hard.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Behold, the Monolith.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am one happy gamer.

After weeks of waiting I finally got the a call from my local Gamestop letting me know that my new Xbox 360 had finally come in. As I mentioned in my top three things from E3 this year, the new Xbox definitely had me excited and after finding out that I could trade in my old Xbox and accessories toward the purchase of the new system I quickly reserved mine. Of course, I wasn’t the only one with that idea and as a result it was weeks before it finally arrived.

It was so worth the wait.

Why you ask? Well, let me tell you:

The New Design: Obviously, this is the first thing one would notice. Gone is the clunky, white brick-like structure in favor of a slimmer, sleeker, and black design. It’s clear that the people at Microsoft wanted to take the look of the Xbox 360 in an entirely new direction and they certainly have done that; the console is beautiful. It really is. The only downside to it is that the shiny, reflective surface is pretty prone to fingerprint smudges.

The Built-In WiFi: This, is probably my favorite aspect of the new design. Gone are the days of the $100 Internet adapters attached to the back of the system. Finally, the consoles come ready for WiFi. Really, my only question is why the hell did it take so long? The PS3 has come with integrated WiFi since its inception and it’s about time the 360 caught up.

The Touch Sensitive Power Button/Disc Tray: This feature seems to have been overlooked in all the hype but it’s a really cool feature. There is something very satisfying about brushing your finger over the new silver power button, hearing an affirmative chime, and having the system turn on. The same is true of the button to open the disc tray. Now, why the Xbox 360 still has a disc tray and not a front loader still eludes me but the fact remains that this small feature is a great touch to the new, more modern design of the console.

The Harddrive: It’s 250 GB. My old harddrive was 20 GB. You can guess how I feel about this upgrade.

The Heat: Unlike the old 360 that could generate a lot heat due to the inadequate fans in the system, the new fans keep the system much cooler. I am keeping the new console flat on its side and placing my hand on the top of it, I can feel a slight heat but nothing really noticeable. What’s really nice though is that the back of the system actually expels cool air. Again, it seems like a basic functionality and yet it was noticeably absent from the previous model.

The Noise: Remember dial-up Internet? It was fast, it was reliable, it was awesome. That is, until broadband arrived. Once that happened, many of us (if not all of us) realized that we would rather go without Internet access than to have to deal with dial-up. It’s the same with the lack of noise generated from the new Xbox 360. I never really realized how damned loud the older design was until I turned the new one on. Typing this now, I can only just hear a very faint humming emitting from it. This is certainly going to be nice for game immersion and Netflix viewing.

If you've just gotten yourself a new XBox 360, I can't honestly say if the new features are worth the purchase of another new system but if you've got an older console (perhaps one that's already gotten the RROD) and are keen on trading the new system in, I say go for it. I am certainly in love with mine.