Internet Explorer for XBOX 360 Announced

Later this year, Internet Explorer will come to Xbox 360, the first web browser ever available on that particular console.

The browser will look very similar to that of the IE on Windows 8, and will be heavily integrated with Kinect. Yes, that means more voice commands to get to where you want.

Also included now will be the ability to control the web browser on the TV using your tablet or phone, so that it’s easier to navigate than using a controller and so that everybody can see it.

 

Who Cares? : Hawken

‘Who Cares?’ is an ongoing feature where I, Stephen Weaver, look at the some of the hottest games not yet on the market, and give you the rundown.  Even if you don’t care, somebody has to.  This week, Hawken.

When someone describes a game as “MechWarrior for the weight and suspense, and Virtual On for the arcade style action,” you can’t help but cock your head in confusion and ask them to repeat themselves. That was what Jon Kruezer, one of the lead designers on Hawken, said as he shoved the hype machine of the internet into full throttle.  However, judging from all the previous trailers, he may not be too far off base.  In Hawken, you control a giant mech from a cockpit point-of-view, with the power to decimate enemies and destroy cities.  You can do this with Gatling guns, missiles, and all sorts of assorted goodies.  The difference between this and something like Mechwarrior though, is the speed.  Hawken is all about staying fleet on your feet, and making sure to keep at least two blocks between you and your opponents.  Because they will hunt you down, and there will be little mercy.

The view from here is just fantastic.

Hawken is being developed by Adhesive Games Inc., and had only been in production for nine months when the first teaser was released.  The production team had consisted of nine members at that time, three of those being interns.  Many of those nine came from Project Offset, a game Intel was producing.  The graphics engine witnessed in the teaser trailers had been lauded as particularly gorgeous.  The game was quietly cancelled in July of 2010, and as you can see below, it was a damn shame.

In March of 2011, Adhesive Games announced that they were developing Hawken, and attempting to bring back mech games.  And I have to agree, it’s about damn time someone other than From Software made a game about Giant Enemy Robots.  The trailer is incredibly impressive for such a small studio (only nine strong), and definitely wowed all publications major and minor.  The internet was thoroughly impressed with this offering, and Hawken got a ton of press coverage.  Some choice quotes:

“Developed by “a small independent game studio” [Hawken] looks absolutely amazing.” – Kotaku

“Hot damn.” – Rock Paper Shotgun

“Holy shit, this looks pretty dope.” – LovezHD via Youtube

Especially the latter, just slap that on the back of the digital box and Hawken will be good to go. Though no release date was announced at the time, excitement was growing to a fever pitch.  However, in reality Adhesive Games needed money, and in a move to fund the project, they decided to sell the movie rights to Hawken.  Yep, I know every face reading this just soured at the thought of another movie based on a video game.  Will they ever learn?

God damn it.  No.  Why?

The “plot”: “As for the story, it follows two young pilots from separate clans pitted against one another after a devastating virus has covered most of the heavily industrialized planet surface in toxic crystal, creative director Dan Jevons told TheWrap. “They witness an event that suggests there is more to the nano-virus than meets the eye,” Jevons said. “Now the race is on to discover the virus’ origins and true purpose before their respective clans wipe each other out in a final, climatic battle.””

He may save the world, but can he save the one he loves from a... nano-virus?

I’m just not even gonna deal with this.  None of this “story” has even been announced by Adhesive Games, and it’s goddamn multiplayer shooter.  What’s next, Tribes: Ascend picked up for a three picture deal? After this stupidity, two more trailers for the game came out which showcased some of the building weaving action.  You really just need to watch it.

In February it was announced that Hawken would be published as a free to play title under Meteor Entertainment.  The move was inspired by the runaway success of League of Legends, the DOTA-inspired game that made Riot hundreds of millions of dollars.  Not a bad model to copy.  Of course, this was quickly reaffirmed by the ten million dollars that was given to the Hawken team!  The money came from Benchmark and Firstmark Capital, who had also supplied money to Riot Games to get them started. Hawken also got a release date in the wake of becoming a million dollar production: 12.12.12.

With April came PAX East, one of the hottest venues for gaming news and previews.  Hawken was no exception, releasing a brand new cinematic trailer that showed a softer and more somber side, complete with orchestral score:

Press coverage still sizzled, as many gamers and outlets got their first hands on time with the game.  More back of the box quotes:

“You needed to play it. Everything just looks so right.” – Destructoid

Hawken could very well become the premier mech combat game for years to come.” – Bitmob

Hawken is going to be huge for these guys.

In May, Gaikai announced their support of the game.  Gaikai is a cloud based gaming service that allows users to play graphically intensive games via web browser.  Gaikai will be releasing Hawken over their service prior to the official release date, giving gamers a chance to try it out before December.  However, no official date has been confirmed.

And with that, you are now fully caught up with Hawken.  With E3 just around the corner, I expect we will be learning even more.  But now, when your friends ask “What’s Hawken?,” you can now triumphantly say “A game that kicks ass and looks to resurrect the mech-combat genre.”  Or something like that.

For Who Cares?, this is Stephen Weaver signing off.  Celebrate E3 responsibly.

Xbox 360 to get Internet Explorer 9

Microsoft are currently testing an early version of Internet Explorer 9 for the Xbox 360, according to The Verge.

The Xbox, which unlike it’s Sony competitor, has never had a web browser, is thought to use Kinect gestures to browse the web smoothly.

The last dashboard update for the Xbox 360 introduced Bing search, however was limited to searching media content. Hopefully the Bing tile will now be a very useful way to search the internet as well.

Source: The Verge

 

Animated Portal Film Is A Work In Progress

Portal, one of the best game series ever (in my opinion) is being made into an animated short by fan and CG animator Alex Zemke.

Zemke, who has worked on games like Uncharted 3 and Killzone 3, has set out to create an amazing looking Portal fan film, and from the work-in-progress photos he’s released, it looks pretty awesome.

Check out Alex Zemke’s website to see more pictures of the upcoming film.

8-bitscapes

What would happen if your favourite childhood games such as Pac-Man and Sonic, were to invade some of the most popular scenes in the world? They’d have fun.

Artist Jamie Sneddon and photographer Kevin Rozario-Johnson have come together to create this ‘giant nod’ to 8bit gaming, in which some of the most iconic video game characters of the late 20th century appear to inhabit cities around the world.

You can purchase mounted prints of these (and more) images using the link to the left, and be sure to follow the official 8-bitscapes Twitter account.

Valve | Handbook For New Employees

A new handbook intended to be handed out to new employees of game company Valve has been leaked to the internet, and appears to be pretty legit.

The 56 page document, which would take some effort to forge, contains detailed illustrations, step by step guides, and contains a lot of the humour we are used to seeing in Valve’s games like Portal.

If you’re looking for a good read, you can read the entire handbook in a PDF at this link.

 

Mass Effect 3, A Review

Shepard and the Normandy finally return. Does the arrival of the Reapers spell disaster for the franchise, or does Shepard get the send-off he deserves?

With its release on March 6th, Mass Effect 3 represents the culmination of a trilogy and expectations of millions of fans around the globe. The Reapers have finally arrived at Earth, and it’s up to Shepard and his small band of loyal friends to unite the galaxy and stop the threat. However, is it possible for a game like this to actually deliver on every single hope and dream of fans? The short version is, no. Does that make the game a failure? No. In most places, Mass Effect 3 excels, expanding on the improvements seen in Mass Effect 2. Some moments will have you literally on the edge of your seat. The fast paced combat and exhilarating story challenges not only players’ minds but also their hearts, and aside from a few minor gripes, Mass Effect 3 is truly an awe-inspiring experience, regardless of its flaws.

Mass Effect 3 begins on Earth, where Shepard is still desperately trying to make a case against the Reapers, a truly frightening synthetic race who come to cull galactic civilization every 50,000 years. Since Mass Effect 1 he (or she) has been trying to convince the galaxy of this threat, and yet this warning has constantly fallen on deaf ears. Now with the Reapers arriving, humanity and the rest of the galaxy find themselves in a desperate situation. Shepard must bring all the help he can find back to Earth to repel the Reaper invasion. If this is the culmination of trilogy to you, then you know the story and know the score. For new players, I insist that the first two games be played. Though EA has marketed this as a good jumping off point for the series, some of the most serious emotional punches come from the people you’ve known throughout the journey, and the consequences of your actions. It’s been a wild ride for Commander Shepard, and as the player you deserve to hear the full story.

Shepard's Back, and he hasn't lost a step.

For long time fans who are wary about the third entry in the series, there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of. The gameplay has been polished to a mirror sheen by Bioware, and it’s clear that they know what they are doing. Combat is much like it was in Mass Effect 2, with a focus on speed and squad tactics. Each of the six different classes represents a different style of gameplay, whether you want to use the risky Vanguard who charges into crowds with Biotic powers, or the pure Soldier who uses guns and grenades to clear a path of carnage. With any class, ME3 will feel like a totally different game. Combat is even faster than it was in ME2, and squads are even more easy to control. Now your squadmates will adapt powers to the situation at hand, and it’s only a simple button press away. This makes squadmates more useful than ever before.

Also useful is the new customization system, which feels reminiscent of Mass Effect 1, but instead of having a large amount of items and a cluttered inventory system, ME3 goes for a more streamlined approach, allowing the player to attach up to two addons to any given weapon. This can mean anything from added melee damage to a scope which allows for greater accuracy. The shopping system has also been improved, allowing the player to access all the visited shops from Shepard’s ship, the Normandy. This cuts down on the clutter and complications that plagued ME1. Another addition is the Weapon Weight system. The amount of weapons that Shepard carries into combat dictates the speed at which he/she can use abilities. This adds another fun layer to the gameplay.

My usual layout, a pistol and assault rifle for fast casting.

The conversations have stayed just as complicated and interesting, allowing for an incredible number of decisions and moral choices. These all build on the decisions of the previous games, which for the most part makes for a unique gameplay experience for every gamer and every save file. Every Shepard’s journey has made different twists and turns, and almost all of them are represented in one way or another, big or small. It’s incredibly satisfying to see old faces return.

The story however, definitely fails to satisfy in certain areas. Especially when it comes to the conclusion, which most already know of by reputation due to the outcry of many fans. In addition to this, there were also a few other bugs, including the surprising return of a character who I knew to be dead. This did put a damper on the experience. However, in most cases this is not going to be a problem, and some of the emotional payoffs are huge and exciting. There were smiles, shouts and even a few tears on my play through of Mass Effect 3.

Smiles were also in abundance as I tackled the game’s new multiplayer mode, titled “Galaxy at War.” In this mode, you and a team of three others take on various forces while occasionally completing objectives, inspired by the Horde mode often seen in games today. Where ME3 differs from the pack is in bringing much of the gameplay of the single player experience online. In “GoW”, you will upgrade a character from one of the six classes just like in single player. This includes assigning talent points and customizing weaponry. The weapon weight system also comes into play here, increasing or decreasing power recharge rates based on your arsenal. The games take 20 minutes on average, awarding Experience Points for leveling up and money, which can be used to buy packs. These packs contain new weapons, mods and characters, and are completely randomized. This makes buying packs extremely addictive, much like buying trading card booster packs. It’s always exciting to see what new gun or character you’ll have next.

Integrated into this is Galactic Readiness, which determines the performance of War Assets in the single player campaign. Throughout the campaign, Shepard collects these War Assets which can alter the ending of the game. These are obtained by doing side quests and main story missions. Galactic Readiness starts at 50%, which means that the player only obtains 50% of the War Assets he or she gets. Multiplayer is necessary if the player wants to get the best ending. That’s not really a problem, as the multiplayer experience is fantastically polished and worth your time.

My soldier and galaxy at war.

Also polished is the sound, which is one of the most important things in any Mass Effect game. Within Mass Effect 3, there is an incredible amount of dialogue, and some characters are going to make you laugh again and again. For established characters, Bioware does not stray from their personalities, instead delivering a consistent experience. Sound effects have also been improved, with guns making satisfying sounds, explosions knocking you back in your seat. My one gripe would be the Reaper sound effects, which constantly sound like auto tuned garbage. I was pretty tired of it by the end of the game.

Graphically the game is solid and up to modern standards. In most ways it looks about the same as Mass Effect 2, which by its own right was a very good looking game. It runs consistently at 60 FPS, without any stutter. Some of the vistas in the game are absolutely beautiful, and the game occasionally has set pieces that are gorgeous. The art direction is fantastic. I did find the sections that take place on Earth to be a little bland and devoid of the color that usually is present throughout the Mass Effect universe. I also found there to be a few graphical glitches, such as the camera blurring at odd times and characters disappearing during conversations. Other than these minor issues, ME3 continues Bioware’s tradition of polished gaming.

Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game. The final chapter of Shepard’s story is one that should not be missed, and the invasion of the reapers makes for some dire consequences that every player should experience. The gameplay is absolutely fantastic, and the presentation is truly stellar. It is the culmination of nearly ten years of storytelling. Regardless of the rage at the conclusion, Mass Effect 3 is a game that I will continue to come back to, and one I think that any gamer will enjoy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[checklist]

  • Fantastic Gameplay
  • Great Multiplayer Experience
  • Interesting Characters and Dialogue
  • Solid Graphics and Consistent Frame Rate

[/checklist]

[badlist]

  • Disappointing Conclusion
  • Occasional Camera Glitches and Bugs

[/badlist]

Star Wars: The Old Republic | Review

star wars old republic pc

After spending many hours within Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, I find myself caught between two very distinct opinions. This game is both amazing and insulting, quite literally, at the same time. The reasoning behind this decision is a much more difficult and detailed description than I envisioned making, but a necessary one nonetheless. I would like to start with the positive, but will be nitpicking over various things as I go.

TOR (for the sake of simplicity) is a massively-multiplayer online game set in the Star Wars universe, many years before the events of the movies. You are able to pick one of two factions, Imperial or Republic (good vs evil). Within each faction, you are given the opportunity to move along a Light/Dark path, somewhat reminiscent of the Chaotic Good or Lawful Evil-style systems of D&D. Decisions you make throughout your leveling experience will impact your character’s alignment and appearance, as well as give you access to various goods that would be otherwise unavailable. The quests that allow these decisions are a feature at which Bioware excels. Each of the stories for the various classes is different, interesting, and thoroughly enjoyable to play through. There are a few dull moments here and there, but the individual storylines are well-written and quite excellent.

Where one might begin to see an issue is within the ‘grind’ that appears to occur at each new planet. The formula runs a little something like this: Arrive on X planet to continue main story, be bombarded by side-quests. Do main story quest and attempt next section, but forced by inadequate level to go back and do the far less-interesting side quests, many of which require a decently-sized group. Fine, fine; so you go about your business and finally get to continue the interesting quest. Wait, no, now you have yet another zone of seemingly-endless side quests to complete.

This formula spans the entire slew of planets that you are given to explore. But don’t let the word “planet” fool you; because these zones are more like large zones that span a few pages on your zoomed-in map, but no more. While one surely doesn’t expect a game to have dozens of entire worlds to explore, the concept was somewhat overstated during the marketing process.

More points must be given to the game for voice-acting. I’ll admit, I was skeptical about really needing an actor to tell me to go kill the equivalent of eight pigs, but they did a fine job, and I was more happy to sit through the various conversations than I expected. Bravo here, it really gave the game a more immersive feel. It seems that this is one of those bars that other companies considering or working on MMOs should aspire to. While on the topic of aspirations then, let’s discuss Bioware’s engine and gameplay itself. Here I am afraid that there is more criticism than positive feedback.

First and foremost, mouse smoothing and acceleration are forced (and still so as of 1/27/12). Many PC gamers have thrown up their hands in outrage at this discovery. When people invest large sums of money into their peripherals, they expect to be able to use them to the best of their ability. Being restricted to using a software mouse rather than your well-worn hardware is incredibly frustrating, not to mention a poor business move. If you cater to a particular group in particular, you learn that group’s quirks, interests, and requirements. PC gamers are a picky bunch, and demand quite a bit from their developers. This is why some companies are on nearly-untouchable pedestals while others are the subject of derisive scorn.

The engine itself also appears to need a bit of work. If you’ve ever played World of Warcraft, you’re well aware of what response-time means in regards to pressing a button and having your character perform an action. MMO-players expect that when you hit the cast button, your avatar will begin to cast. Likewise, when the cast is finished, you expect to be able to move around or begin another spell or ability. Not so with The Old Republic. There is a delay between pressing a key and having your character perform an action, and casts are not always properly finished. If, for example, you attempt to use a speeder (the equivalent of a mount), there are three primary actions that must occur. First, your character must begin a cast. Second, you must finish that cast. Third, the animation used to do the cast must complete before you can do something else. Many other games have eliminated step 3 long ago, incorporating it into step 2 or allowing it to work while on the move. This odd requirement vexed me for several minutes while playing, and still irritates me to this day.

While on the subject of engines and options, one should note that the user interface is not terribly customizable, nor are mods yet allowed. Many hardcore gamers absolutely require things like this for an MMO that they are expected to spend many hours on. If a company wants people to treat their game like a digital world and not just a single-player game, the players will require the ability to change things about how that world is presented to them. But I digress.

Regarding in-game content, there is quite a bit to level on. I had few moments where I was utterly sick of a particular planet, and the pace kept me moving fairly quickly. The addition of “Flash-Points” (dungeons) offered a nice refresher from the regular grind of questing and killing monsters, though I can’t help but feel like they were implemented fairly late in the development cycle. Call me skeptical, but they are all accessible from the exact same spot in your factions space-station; perhaps they were added that way in order to allow the developers an easier time when adding new ones in the future. Regardless, each one was quite enjoyable, and occasionally vexing as my group figured out the best ways to deal with certain mobs. Every so often, it was possible to run across a world boss: a large, imposing, and very tough monster that existed in the open world. I made several attempts with a large group at killing one of these, but we were ultimately unsuccessful. However, I feel that this was more a problem of latency delay (lag) than anything. Enough people in one area seems to choke Bioware’s servers, and if they’re all using abilities…. Well, let’s just say that PvP, in its current state, needs some work.

Given the fact that The Old Republic is fairly new, and that the Bioware team seems to be at least reasonably responsive when responding to forum movement, I believe that we will be seeing quite a few improvements over the next couple of months. For now, I will keep my subscription active, and I very much want to see TOR succeed. Only time will tell, but given the current state of content, I am going to give it the following score:

3/5

I review games based on a five-point system. Ten and one-hundred point scales offer too many options, and many gamers will not go near a game that has anything less than a seven or seventy. There is no need for the abundance of extra points when trying to convey a simple score. Let’s break down a few of the features that influenced my decision below.

Story: 5/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Customization: 1/5
Sound: 4/5
Immersion: 3/5

Story gets a wonderful score, with sound receiving a very similar one. Gameplay suffers from the latency and delay issues, while customization takes a major hit with the lack of options presented to players. Immersion would score higher, but the constant frustration with delay and inability to remove the software mouse kept me from enjoying the game as much as I felt I would normally be.

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