Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Xbox 360 - Xbox Experience Update

The 'new' Xbox Experience

While I know that this isn't exactly a game, it does influence the way you think about games and gaming. For those who don't know, Microsoft recently updated the dashboard interface on the Xbox 360. The interface went from a side to side dashboard to a more 3D interface.

In a lot of ways, the interface is new. In others, it's not so new. I will say that I do like it slightly better than the PS3's interface.


It's not that the Xbox 360 hasn't had gamer images (Avatars) in the past. But, now Microsoft has taken it one step further and made them 3D and moving. The problem isn't that they're 3D, however. The problem is that the Avatars end up looking far too similar to the Miis on the Wii. This isn't necessarily a good thing. We'll get to this issue in just a few.

Xbox 360 Audience

The Xbox 360 has always tended to appeal to avid, hardcore and more mature gamers. The types of games like Gears of War, Halo 3 and Assassin's Creed make this console live up to its reputation. You rarely, if ever find games like Mario Kart, Super Mario Brothers, Brain Age or Cooking Mama. The exception include games like Thrillville: Off The Rails (which is still more mature than most Wii games).

Enter the new Xbox Experience. With characters that look cartoony and feel like something that should be on the Wii, this is completely out of place on the Xbox 360 considering the audience that Xbox 360 attracts. These cartoony avatars are even more cartoony than those on Second Life. I would have preferred to see 3D avatars of a Halo 3 Spartan, ODST or Marcus from Gears of War. These are avatars that I could appreciate, understand and would feel is much more befitting of this console.

Xbox Experience

Additionally, besides the new Avatar feature, they have redesigned the interface and menuing system. No longer do you have the flat screens that fill like Web Pages, now the interface looks like trading cards placed one in front of the other.

You have to scroll right and left to move through the 'cards' and you scroll up and down to change the context between Games, Videos, My Xbox, etc. The My Xbox is now effectively your settings panel and where to launch games.

Loading Games onto the Hard Drive

One of the newest and probably best additions to the new Xbox experience is the ability to load games onto the hard drive. On the one hand, this makes the games load faster. On the other, it still requires that you put the media into the drive to play. So, it's not fully playing from the hard drive.

Copying the game to the hard drive not only takes quite some time to accomplish, but they also consume a fair amount of space. So, for games that have reasonably speedy loading times from disk, it's probably not worth the effort. For games like Fallout 3, it is probably worth it.


I somewhat like the new interface, but I don't like the Wii-ish nature that Microsoft is trying to do with the 360. There are so few Wii-type games, that these interface features make the console feel childish, yet the games are not. This dichotomy may send the wrong message to parents that the Xbox 360 has more kid-friendly games than it does.

So, don't be fooled by these Avatars, the Xbox 360 is still just as hardcore as it was. However, the danger that Microsoft is facing is trying to retarget the wrong audience. Making sweeping changes like this without gamer approval could lead to people turning away from the 360 should more Mario-ish titles start coming out. Clearly, Microsoft is up to something, but what that something is I'm not sure (and maybe they don't either). But, they need to be extra careful not to chase off their hardcore gamer base by trying to turn this system into becoming more Kid Friendly. We already have the Wii. We don't really need another one.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Xbox 360 - Gears of War 2

Gears of War 2

This sequel to Gears of War and third person shooter has a reasonable amount of gore and violence along with some language. It is recommended for 17 year olds and above. If you are a parent, you may want to view the gameplay in the store prior to purchasing for your child. The gore can be turned off from the Options menu, but is turned on by default.


Gears of War and Gear's of War 2 are both about an army named the 'Gears' who work for 'COG' as the infantry against the enemy known as the Locusts (your typical humanoid enemy about the same size and shape as a human). Effectively, the game has a similar story feel as Halo. This time, the Gears must save Jacinto (and other cities) from being ravaged by the Locusts.


The primary game voiceover is done very well. That said, that's primarily thanks to John Di Maggio (who sounds just like Keifer Sutherland) doing the voiceover for the player character, Marcus. Thanks to the deep gruff voice, it works quite well to carry this character in this game. I think that's why I quickly liked the Marcus character.


The gameplay is pretty much the same as Gears of War with a few new things thrown in. However, that said, Gears of War 2 is a straightforward linear third person shooter. Don't expect much in the way of side quests or additional roaming options. But, that's the same as it was in the first Gears game.

The gameplay could use work in places. Some missions are exceedingly easy to get through with no enemies. Other levels are chock full of them and/or quite difficult (see complaints below). The sniper rifle works great when it works. The problem I have with this rifle is that the game specifically moves the enemy out of the way right before the shot hits. This doesn't happen all of the time, but it does happen often enough that it's not a coincidence. The game knows what you're aiming at and intentionally moves them out of the way milliseconds before the shot would hit properly. This makes working with the sniper rifle very frustrating. It's not as if ammo is scarce, but it is a problem because of the time it takes to reload the rifle.


The graphics, as expected, are quite well done. Not looking quite as nice as some recent PS3 games, but still very good. The graphics do get slow in places (so you can tell they're pushing the processor limits of the 360). The game, however, doesn't falter even with the slow downs.


The Xbox 360 achievements seem reasonably easy to obtain throughout the game. You simply have to get through the missions to get them. There are also other in-game achievements that you can obtain (like Half-Life used) that may not count toward Xbox 360 gamer score.


My major complaints with this game entail the levels themselves. On some levels, the Gears help you defeat the enemies. On other levels, you're the only one actually killing anything (even though other Gears are there). For example, you are tasked to defend the communication arrays against the flying Reavers. You're told to use the turret gun. That's fine.. except there are two guns and another gear there. Yet, you're the only one shooting down Reavers. Worse, by the time you even see the Reaver in the air, they've already shot off missles. So, it's next to impossible to complete this level.

And right there's my second complaint. Some levels are childlike easy, other levels are near impossible... and these levels can easily be side-by-side. Did anyone actually play test this game at all? This makes the gameplay frustrating, time consuming and problematic... and it also reduces this game's overall score.


It's a straightforward third person shooter. It's very similar to the original game, but with a different story behind it. The Gears are as tough as ever and the weapons are strewn throughout the level in such a way as to never run out of weapons or ammo. This is not realistic, but it works in this game context.

There are some very very frustrating levels that are not challenging in the gaming sense, but are very frustrating. You end up having to game the game (if you know what I mean) just to get through the level. The levels are haphazard and randomly laid out (for the most part). I prefer the walking gun levels over the puzzle-ish levels using vehicles or special weapons.

  • Sound: 9/10 (excellent voiceovers)
  • Graphics: 8.5/10 (great, but not perfect)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 9.5/10 (no issues and responds well)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (Once through, won't play 1 player again, maybe multiplayer)
  • Overall: 7.5/10 (Resonably well done, but typical for a shooter)
Note, games without side quests automatically get knocked off points simply because it forces the game to be linear. Too bad they didn't add a theater mode for taking in-game photos. Second Note, I don't rate multiplayer aspects because nearly all multiplayer games end up the same (running around on a multilevel course shooting each other for points).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

PS3 - Resistance 2

Resistance 2

This game is the second installment for the Resistance series. This is a linear first person shooter.


This is a standard first person shooter. There is nothing overly special about this game in terms of gameplay. Note that I purchased the Special Edition of this game because it included a Chimera action figure. Overall, the extra cost was really not worth it unless you're into these types of collectibles.


To escape a typical shooter situation without dying. The problem I have with this game is that it tries way too much to look and feel like Halo 3 (click to see Gamezelot's Review). The menus have a similar look, feel and layout (it even uses the same font) to Halo 3. The enemies remind me of the enemies in Halo 3 and the overall play style also reminds me of Halo 3.

In and of itself, the copying of Halo 3 isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does make the game unoriginal. The game's story, however, is nothing like Halo 3 and is not compelling in the same way as Halo 3. So, it fails on that aspect.

Basically, you're thrown into the action very rapidly and are given little time to become used to the game itself.


This game shows the PS3 offers a clear graphics advantage over the Xbox 360. The problem, however, is that while the graphics are crisp clear 3D with reasonably high texture maps, the game itself is not compelling enough to make the graphics worth the effort. Eye candy only goes so far. What makes a game fun is the gameplay, not necessarily the graphics.


I expected more from this franchise. I liked this game better than the first Resistance (which I actually hated to play). But, this game is still an uninspired shooter. The first Resistance was too much like Call of Duty with Zombies. Resistance 2 tries too hard to be Halo 3 and fails at that. While it is an improvement to this game, the developers still need to come up with a look and feel that's all their own without having to abscond from existing popular game titles on other platforms.


  • Sound: 6/10 (I don't remember it, really.. so, forgettable)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (too much like other games)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (worked well enough, but sometimes slow to respond)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (Won't play it again)
  • Overall: 7.5/10 (Fun enough, but too linear and not enough excitement)

Xbox 360 - Fracture

Fracture by Lucas Arts

Fracture is a brand new franchise from LucasArts. This game is a linear shooter with changeable terrain.


Most games today fall into very specific categories. Fracture is one of these games. Fracture is a standard shooter where the game leads you from point A to point B with very little side roaming. Regardless of the terrain modification addition to this game, the game really adds nothing of value to the genre. The terrain modification is only mildly interesting and only gives the player the ability to create temporary walls to hide behind.

The downside to these 'walls' is that most enemy weapons can knock them down as easily as you can erect them. So, the ability to create a wall that can easily be removed by the enemy is pointless. I just don't get why game developers can't understand these these concepts? Having the enemy knock down a user created wall is not challenging, it's frustrating. You want to use it as temporary cover, but you can't. So, you end up ignoring the use of this feature and using existing environmental cover anyway. The only time when this feature is useful is when you need to find a way to get in underground. And, even then, that's just a novelty.


Controls are typical of a shooter. Nothing special here.


Nothing to brag about.


Better than many, but typical of a shooter.


This is a ho-hum franchise from LucasArts. The terrain aspect is interesting, but quickly becomes just a novelty and is, overall, pointless. The game is extremely linear without any side quests, so it's pretty straight forward. If you like mindless shooters, you'll probably like this. If you want extended gaming and like to roam and find hidden things, don't bother looking here.


  • Sound: 8/10 (Ambient, doesn't get in the way)
  • Graphics 8.5/10 (Gets the job done, but nothing outstanding)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 9/10 (reasonable)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (Once through, trade it in fast)
  • Overall: 7/10 (Better games out there)