Archive for April, 2008

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GTA IV Trailer – Niko Bellic

April 26, 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Oh Rockstar, how you tease us so! With your latest opus, Grand Theft Auto IV, hitting stores in less than three days, you continue to dangle tantalizing bits of GTA info before us every so often to keep us aware of its so close but oh so far April 29th release date and our hype-o-meters constantly peaked.

In this latest trailer, Rockstar takes time to once again introduce us to the character we’ll be controlling during our adventures in Liberty City, Niko Belic. This trailer gives you a brief, but telling, look into Niko Belic’s background and motivations as to why he’s chosen his life of crime.

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Thoughts on Gran Turismo 5: Prologue

April 24, 2008

Against my better judgment, yesterday, I purchased a copy of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. Ever since I saw the limited amount of content to be included in this “game” for such a steep price ($40 USD), I couldn’t shake the feeling that Polyphony Digital was merely delivering a glorified demo to milk hardcore Gran Turismo fans out of a quick buck before the real thing comes out, which some speculate won’t be until some time after 2009. Well, having played it for a few days prior, I’ve changed my tune…for the most part.

I guess before I truly begin to discuss my impressions of the game, I should explain how I define a “lack of content”. First off, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue features around 70 cars, from over a dozen manufacturers, including series newcomer, Ferrari. What’s surprising about this is the fact that GT5: Prologue includes more cars out of the box than many full games, including the likes of the recently released Need for Speed: Pro Street. Clearly, the number of cars couldn’t be the issue, could it? No. While 70 cars is only one tenth of the 700 featured in Gran Turismo 4 and an even smaller fraction of the rumored 900 cars set to be included in the full release of Gran Turismo 5, there’s still a nice variety of cars to choose from.

So, what could be the thing that troubles me most? Well that’s simple. While there is an abundance of cars available to the player, the track selection is meager at best, limited to six tracks and twelve layouts. No, not twelve layouts per track, just twelve layouts in total. This is where GT5: Prologue stumbles and falls to the ground. Before long, the track selection can grow stale and repetitive, seeing the same environments over and over again as you race around the same track for the umpteenth time during the career mode. This is where the sting comes in and your wallet begins to curse you for making this purchase.

But…(There’s always a “but”)

For the most part, what GT5: Prologue lacks in content, it makes up for in presentation and gameplay. Polyphony Digital knows how to draw the player in with an attractive set of front end menus and, most importantly, how to make cars look sexy. As you navigate the elegantly presented menu screen, the car you’re currently “in” sits behind it, amidst one of several eye-catching and gorgeous backdrops relevant to the location you most recently drove in. The camera slowly pans around the car, allowing you to see the entirety of is svelte figure and wonderfully proportioned lines.

To merely say this game looks good would be the understatement of the year. Gran Turismo 5 truly puts other racers to shame with its incredibly detailed and well lit car models (it’s amazing what good lighting can do to make a car look stunning), and detailed environments. While I’ve been a staunch supporter of the impressive graphics delivered in Project Gotham Racing 4, I can’t say it looks better than GT5: Prologue in any way other than the convincing weather effects. The in car view is also mighty impressive and my current favorite way to view the race, despite the loss of visual real estate.

All the great looking cars and environments wouldn’t save the game if the gameplay was lacking and I can happily say GT5: Prologue isn’t lacking in that respect. The numerous cars in the game have their own sort of “feel” to them in their handling and overall performance and all drive with an impressive realism about them, which feels great. A new feature, borrowed from the Forza series is the dynamic racing line, which changes color from blue to red to indicate you’re going too fast. Of course, for a most realistic and suitably challenging experience, this, as well as the other driving aids (variable traction/stability control) can be turned off prior to a race.

Overall, GT5: Prologue isn’t a bad game. I’m almost willing to say I overreacted a tiny bit. Almost. Once I came to grips with the fact that my only real issue was with what I perceived to be a high price tag (if the game was $20, I’d have no problem at all buying it), I was mostly fine with the lack of content because the gameplay made up for it. For me, a new fan of Gran Turismo 4 as of late, this is a pretty fun stopgap between the two full games that should, alongside its PS2 brother and my reigning favorite racing game, Forza 2, keep my simulation racing needs satisfied until Gran Turismo 5 finally decides to come out.

That or Forza 3, of course.

It goes without saying that diehard fans of the Gran Turismo series are going to add this to their ever growing collection regardless of what I say about it. For the rest of you who happen to be on the fence, take these words with a grain of salt. If you can, like I have, get over the initial shock over the lack of content, there’s a good game to be had here.

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Lupe Fiasco’s “The Cool” Pseudo Review

April 22, 2008

The Cool

Because of my many obligations such as school, work and hanging out with friends, I spend a great deal of time in the car, driving from place to place. To take some of the monotony out of the experience, I liven things up by listening to the radio. Oftentimes, I tune in to the local hip-hop/rap stations only to be assaulted with whichever bland, soulless and insipid mainstream rap that happens to be the flavor of the month. In these instances, because of an inexplicably catchy beat, I’ll allow my intelligence to be insulted as the rapper talks about how affluent he is, how much he would like to harm his fellow man and/or teach us how to do some stupid dance people just can’t seem to get enough of. Many times, I just can’t take it and immediately switch to a jazz, alternative or R&B station. In other words, any time I hear any of the mindless crap belted out by Soulja Boy or the incessantly annoying T-Pain (who appears to be on EVERY song these days). It’s not that those other genres are bad, it’s more because I’ll always be a hip-hop fan at heart, and to have to switch away from a station that plays it pains me.

So, I’ve further distanced myself from the mainstream rap that constantly plays on the radio and more towards the artists who branch out and attempt to be different. In this search, I’ve found many hip-hop artists that have captured my interest but as of late, I’ve found myself listening to the lyrical stylings of Lupe Fiasco. Of course, I’ve known about the guy for a long while, since hearing one of his debut singles “Kick Push” on the radio, but up until now, I haven’t been listening to much of his music. Having heard one of his latest singles, Superstar, played numerous times on the radio and greatly enjoying what I’d heard, while I was walking through Target early yesterday morning, I happened upon Lupe Fiasco’s “The Cool” from which “Superstar” is culled. Soon after, I was walking out of the store with the album in hand, feeling confident in my purchase.

How right I was to purchase the CD with such confidence, since The Cool is one of the best hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard.

I was stunned as I listened to “The Coolest”, the album’s namesake for the first time. The dark, haunting beat hypnotized me as Lupe’s lyrics told an equally dark story with a level of grace and style I haven’t heard in quite a while. Lupe delivers his message in rhyme with a complexity and intricacy I haven’t heard in quite a while. Before you ask, the redundancy of the previous statement is intentional. Why? Because, listening to this album was like a slap in the face, forcing me to wake up to the harsh realization of how much I had lowered my standards listening to “radio rap”. Hearing this one song was like the first breath of fresh air after being trapped underwater for far too long, except in this case, the “water” was the mediocre mainstream rap that now floods the industry.

But I digress. Lupe Fiasco’s sophomore album is filled to the brim with the same complex, meaningful rhymes his fans have come to expect but what makes this album truly stand out in my mind is the numerous sociopolitical messages strewn throughout in several of his songs. Lupe Fiasco draws a connection between video game violence and child soldiers of third world countries in “Little Weapon” produced by (of all people) Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy fame and addresses immigration in the song “Intruder Alert”. Interestingly enough, Lupe also takes shots at the masses who want rap to be “dumbed down” in “Dumb it Down” which effectively sums up how I feel about the new face of the industry.

It should be easy to tell by now that I am thoroughly impressed by this album and heartily recommend it to all fans of hip-hop who want more than just mediocre. I recommend this to people who enjoy listening to songs that carry a message about something other than guns, cars, clothes and money. The sheer complexity and thought provoking subjects of Lupe’s rhymes, coupled with his refusal to dumb himself, or his songs down to the masses, is one of the reasons I’ve come up with to explain why this CD hasn’t garnered the sales I believe it deserves. It’s a shame really, because it’s this kind of music that represents a viable future for the hip-hop industry as a whole, versus the mainstream rap the masses have taken such a shine to.

In short, hip-hop fans everywhere need to hear this album, chances are you’re going to enjoy it.

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DualShock 3 Impressions

April 10, 2008

For a long while, many North American Playstation 3 owners have gone without a simple novelty that some gamers take for granted or rarely seem to notice. This feature, introduced to the console gaming world by way of an external peripheral for the Nintendo 64 is vibration. Having lost a lawsuit with Immersion, the patent owners on the rumble technology used in past editions of DualShock controllers, Sony was forced to package the Sixaxis controller, sans rumble, with the Playstation 3.

Well, Sony has since kissed and made up with Immersion and has since released the DualShock 3 with both rumble functionality and motion sensors intact (contrary to earlier claims) to North American audiences. Fairly recently, I picked up my DualShock 3 from my local game retailer and gave it a whirl.

This, however, wasn’t my first encounter with the DualShock 3. Having used my friend’s controller, which was imported from Japan around the time the DualShock 3 was released there, I had a general idea of what to expect. Upon taking the controller out of the box and holding it for the first time, I recalled my initial joy in feeling the added weight, undoubtedly because of the new rumble motors prior to even using it. By comparison, the Sixaxis feels rather cheap due to its incredibly light frame. Aesthetically, it feels better clenched in my hands, which makes for a more comfortable gaming experience.

The main reason I purchased the new controller, like many others, was because of the newfound vibration functions and the DualShock 3 delivers in that respect. It sort of feels like the plastic surrounding the controller’s innards is a bit thinner than that of the DualShock 2 (without sacrificing quality), which actually makes for a better, more vibrant feeling rumble. The rumble feature feels great in the many Playstation 3 titles I’ve tested. So far, I’ve taken Resistance: Fall of Man, the Devil May Cry 4 Demo and the Japanese Gran Turismo 5: Prologue demo through the paces and so far, each of these titles uses the rumble functions to great effect. Of the aforementioned titles, the Gran Turismo 5: Prologue demo was the most impressive.

Overall, the DualShock 3 was impressive. There isn’t much to say about it aside from the new vibration functionality because, in terms of design, it’s practically identical to the Sixaxis. Is it worth the five dollar premium over the cost over the price of the Sixaxis? Yes. I must say I’m disappointed Sony couldn’t work out their differences with Immersion sooner and package this controller with the Playstation 3 in the first place and being was forced to pay extra for a feature I’ve already had with both the Xbox 360 and Wii does sting a bit. Despite that, I feel the DualShock 3 is a worthwhile investment for upcoming titles such as Metal Gear Solid 4, which should make great use of the controller’s functions, considering the franchise’s history.

If you’re in the market for a new controller or just can’t do without a little rumble in your games, the DualShock 3 ultimately makes for a worthy buy.

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Dark Sector Review

April 6, 2008

The following is a brief excerpt of my review of Dark Sector for the Xbox 360, one of the first titles announced for “next generation consoles” in 2004.

“In 2004, one of the first games in development for next generation consoles was announced. This title was Dark Sector, originally slated to be a science fiction game, possibly based in space, in which the hero donned a powered suit of armor, affording him special abilities. In the nearly four years since then, Dark Sector has undergone a number of changes in both setting and design. The end result is what we have before us today. Okay, history lesson over. I hope you’ve learned something.”

Justin McBride – Talk Xbox

Full Review

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GTA IV Final Trailer Reactions

April 2, 2008
GTA IV Logo Banner

Mere days ago, Rockstar released the final Grand Theft Auto IV Teaser trailer entitled “Good Lord, What Are You Doing?” (a.k.a. Everyone’s a Rat) for fans to chew on, a mere appetizer for the potentially delicious main course that is GTA IV. Being one of those fans, steadily marking off days on my calendar as GTA IV’s release approaches, I tend to devour any scraps of information about the game that are thrown to me. Needless to say, when I got home from work to find a new trailer awaiting me, I didn’t hesitate to watch it.

GTA IV Trailer Image 1

This trailer shows more of what you’ve likely come to expect, meaning very little actual gameplay footage and short snippets of GTA IV’s storyline, which if Rockstar’s tradition holds, should be excellent. Niko Belic and the few characters we’ve seen so far seem rather compelling. It’s worth noting that the voice acting is pretty good as well as I’ve come to appreciate about the GTA series as of late, especially considering the excellent performances delivered in GTA: Vice City and San Andreas.

GTA IV Trailer Image 4

The game’s many vehicles appear to be the star of this show, much more so than in the previous trailers. Aside from the helicopter seen flying over Liberty City at the very beginning, a number of interesting cars made their appearance, as always, looking very much like their real life counterparts. In this short trailer, there appeared to be a few Dodge Charger clones, a Chrysler 300 clone and, most intriguing of all, a car that looked very much like a Lamborghini Murcielago, which Niko performed a stylish reverse 180 and sped away from the pursuing police.

GTA IV Trailer Image 3

Many of the game’s sure to be extensive selection of firearms made an appearance here, as you should expect. Numerous shotguns, handguns and assault rifles were brandished by both sides of the law. Yes, even the police were seen taking a few shots. One particularly interesting moment occurred when Niko blew some poor sap away with a pump-action shotgun, sending him tumbling down a series of steps. The animation for this was quite fluid and impressive, and something I hope to see during gameplay as well.

GTA IV Trailer Image 2

To be frank, I’m a bit underwhelmed. This isn’t because the trailer wasn’t good, because it was, I just feel as though the third trailer, “Move up Ladies” was better. It’s sort of like eating Filet Mignon from an upscale establishment and then eating a cheeseburger from a less upscale place a few seconds later. Sure, the cheeseburger is still good, but your palette has evolved since then and naturally, you expect more. Despite these minor complaints, this trailer did much to whet my appetite for GTA IV and leave me salivating for more. Well, the full game will be here in less than a month. it’s all a matter of enduring the wait.