Staring me in the face was this neat little glossy faced box of tricks! It was a little smaller than I had imagined, but it wasn’t too small…..or was it?

You can tell that it has been hand made as the screen doesn’t sit perfectly in the surrounding bezel, and sometimes when handling the slate, the screen tends to move away from the main unit. This has something to do with why the accuracy with the screen is not 100%. Obviously we can look forward to a much better build with the final production units.

It was a little heavier than I first thought, but only because I really didn’t know what to expect. Now that I’ve had it and used it for a few days I don’t even notice the weight, which really isn’t that much. (And is even 144 grams heavier that the FP (final production) unit).

The screen is BIG, perhaps it might seem small to you when you first open the box, but once you start to use it, you see that actually you have a lot of real estate on the 11.5″ LCD.

The fan is almost constantly on, which is a bit of a bummer, but we know that this will be sorted in the final production units, and will only come on when needed; however, the unit does get quite hot when on charge (naturally), I only hope that the fan that is used in the FP unit is more powerful but quieter.

In the centre at the top of the screen is the 1.3MP forward facing camera. I’ve tested the camera and it works well for web-cam chats and takes quite good high resolution stills.

In the left upper corner is the light sensor and an indictaion LED which is orange when charging, and blue when first powering on.

Apart from those two above there is absolutely nothing else on the face of the device, just glass.

Turn the Exo on its left side and from left to right you have; Power socket 3mm jack, Mini HDMI port, 2xUSB ports, 3.5mm headphone jack, SD Card Reader & SIM card slot. Flip it upside down and all you have are vents in the casing and a docking port.

The ports are positioned perfectly, I wouldn’t want them anywhere else on the unit. 2 x USB should be ample for most people, I don’t think I ever used both in one go. The HDMI was very easy to use, as you can see in my video, and it was a crystal clear picture, no jumping, jittering and the colours were perfect. You could easily use this to extend the desktop on the unit to another monitor/HD TV. I suppose if you have a main desk but are out and about a lot, if you dock the unit to the ExoPC official dock, with a USB keyboard & mouse already connected, all you would have to do is connect up your HD monitor to the HDMI and you have yourself a desktop PC(!) ready to transform to a mobile device when called in to action.

The ExoPC does not in any way feel cheap! If anything because of the weight, (again its not too heavy), it feels solid as a rock! Like you could drop it out from under your arm and it would just bounce on the floor (not tested!) and be fine.

The casing, on the back and some of the bezel, is coated in some kind of rubbery material which really helps for grip, especially when carrying it with one hand.


The problem with it being a coating is that in time, with wear, that coating will inevitably wear off. Not everywhere mind, but in certain key hands-on area’s.

Even though its not the FP screen, the one in the prototype is very good…….. from certain angles! When you get those angles right the screen is bright, vivid and very clear & crisp & not pixelated at all, all the corners are sharp and the rounded edges smooth, just what you want from an LCD screen.

Windows 7 is a marvelous work of art, it really is the best bits of all of Microsoft’s attempts at creating an astounding OS over the years. The Windows UI is very good, it even has a mode for tablet devices to make thinks like buttons & icons larger for your fingers to hit them easier……. but(!) it’s just not good enough for a solely touch enabled device! Which is where the ExoPC UI layer comes to the rescue!

A couple of occasions, when I was using the ExoPC in Windows, it took me to a screen (full screen on a PDF viewer for example), I lost the start bar and no other buttons were visible, I couldn’t get up the on screen keyboard to close the app or get back to the home page. That’s were you really need a ‘hard’ ‘home’ key, that takes you back to a position where you can recover the app or close it, probably just the same as the ‘show the desktop’ button in Win 7, or perhaps to bring up the Task Manager, that’s the only thing I can say that this unit is lacking. On those occasions all I could do to get back to life was to re-boot.


Edit: 3rd Sep 2010

I tried pressing the hard button on the back of the device, but this just put it into standby mode, when it woke again I had the login screen, but from there all I could do was click the button to log in, no other options were available. Once logged back in it took me straight back to my full screen app and I was back at square one again. If anything this is a limitation of the app, i should have been able to ‘right click’ inside the app and choose to come out of full screen mode.

The general feel, performance-wise of the ExoPC is that of a middle range laptop. The 2GB RAM really helps the CPU, if it were any less I would bet the unit would run rather laggy. Tap the screen and it responds immediately, and even though its the prototype screen (most of the time) its quite accurate.

Loading apps like a web browser, Wordpad or PDF reader is quite snappy, there’s not much loading time, (especially with Chrome). Other apps such as Microsoft Word/Excell take a little longer, 20 seconds or so, but once they’re loaded they’re very snappy.

Edit: 3rd Sep 2010

This was before I worked out the Windows Media Sharing was running in the background and eating up all of the CPU! Having done another test, apps like Word, Excell etc. have a load time just a tad behind the browsers, so quite quick. (Stupid Windows Media Sharing!) . . . . Actually its a good feature if you have a REALLY powerful machine to do it on.

Edit: 15th Sep 2010

With the new SSD in the unit things are really speeding up! The ExoPC was snappy before but now things like office 2010 apps load up and a couple of seconds! Applications install faster and things like Photoshop load quicker too. There really is a VAST difference between these two SSD drives. The upgrade was definitely worth the two week extra wait!

Web-browsing on the ExoPC is an area where it shines, obviously we have so much choice with browsers and because the big three are ‘touch enabled’ there’s no fiddling with the tiny thin scroll bar to navigate up & down the page. Obviously flash is supported (Windows 7 OS) so Youtube and various websites that embed flash, whether it be videos or games or just banners work perfectly and fluidly.

I varied the way I held the ExoPC depending on mood, sometimes I’d use one hand (left) gripping between my thumb and index finger, and tap the buttons and keyboard with my right, other times I’d place the ExoPC in the palm of my left hand and half support it with my wrist, its all down to personal preference.

I found myself in the landscape mode almost 90% of the time, only moving to portrait for testing or reading PDF’s. The current software for rotating the screen is very crude, the screen goes black and the transition is pretty unpleasent! All this will be solved in the final version though and we’ll see a smooth transition with no ‘black screen’ effect. To add to that the software is way too sensitive in this prototype, something that has been ironed out also for the FP units that you will buy.

The basic version of the UI that was installed on the prototype was in fact that, pretty basic, but that doesnt mean it wasnt a good concept. To be able to organise your games, apps, music & videos like they intend it to is genius and the UI itself is simple & easy, just what you want for a touch user interface..

Closing Summary

Considering the ExoPC I had was a prototype, it really blew (and still does blow) me away!

I really didn’t think that you could get the power of a decent operating system in this form factor, a 14mm thick salte for goodness sake!

The combination of the fully functioning Exo UI Layer and the Windows OS will make this unit top of its class, a must have! Ok the design is not as sleek as the iPad granted, but who cares, who wants to pay a lot of money for a big iPod touch and then try and use it as a fully functioning PC? Only simpletons. The ExoPC is a fully functioning PC.

With the ExoPC the uses & possibilities are infinate, there will always be some new USB peripheral that comes out that enables it to do something new, just like with our laptops we have already, only this thing doesnt have to sit on your lap and fry your thighs with its eminating heat!, or be placed on a table to be able to take notes quickly or book that last minute flight. The freedom that the ExoPC gives you has been a long time coming, we should have had this kind of thing years ago, my hat goes off to Jean-Bapstiste and the awesome guys & gals at ExoPC for bringing us this revolution in ultra mobile computing.

Long live ExoPC!

Specs:

– Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
– App Store: Yes
– Display: Multi-touch Capacitive dual-touch, Pressure sensitive
– Display size: 11,6 inches, 1366 x 768 pixels (135 pixels per inch)
– RAM (installed / max): 2GB / 2GB DDR2
– CPU: Intel Atom Pineview-M N450 1.66 GHz — 64 bit support
– Graphics: Intel GMA 3150
– BROADCOM Crystal HD 1080p
– Storage: SSD 32GB or 64GB
– Wireless: Wifi 802.11 b/g/n
– Bluetooth: 2.1 + EDR
– Ports: USB 2.0 x2, Audio jack, Mini-HDMI, Dock
– Card reader: SD/SDHC 32GB Max
– Accelerometer: Yes
– Light sensor: Yes
– Webcam: 1.3 MP
– Microphone Yes
– Speaker: Built-in 2 x 1.5W
– Battery Life: 4 hours
– Dimensions: 295 x 195 x 14.0 mm
– Weight: 950 g

(Tablets)

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The Moron Test (Android)

Posted: September 16, 2010 in Android, Android Apps
Tags: ,

The Moron Test Start Screen

Pros & Cons:

Pros

  • Highly addictive, frustrating and fun all at the same time
  • Great time-waster game

Features:

The Moron Test is one of those highly addictive, frustrating yet fun brain and puzzle games that migrated from the iPhone platform first. Don’t take too much offense it the game labels you a “moron”, it’s all in good fun similar to “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” The game takes you through a series of though provoking questions and actions, the key to the game simply is to pay attention. Many times you’re given subtle clues, straight-forward questions, memory teasing questions, or even deceptive questions and techniques to keep the game interesting and challenging! Maybe you do or maybe you don’t want to share your moronic results, but it’s possible to share with friends on Facebook.

Fun Factor & Addictive:

The Moron Test is totally fun, challenging and addictive! A great time-waster, can even be a cool family night game to get the whole gang involved.

Graphics:

The game hosts shiny fun colorful graphics. For Android specifically, it’s cool the app allows saving to SD card as progressing in higher rounds… the space can add up.

Accelerometer, Vibration & Sound:

The game features background music and sound which can be toggled. (androidtapp)

You can download at : www.androidtapp.com/the-moron-test/

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.

Pros & Cons:

Pros

  • Awesome 3D graphics with integration of real locations for air combat
  • PSP game quality for Android
  • Local multi-player mode for up to 4 players
  • Gameloft offering free trial for high end Android devices
  • Large game saved to SD Card

Cons

  • Not available in the Android Market, you must purchase from Gameloft directly
  • No multi-touch

Features:

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. on Android is the mobile version of Ubisoft’s full game console versionoffering first-person jet fighter 3D game which uses either on-screen virtual joystick or the phone’s accelerometer to control the aircraft. Your goal is to complete numerous missions albeit air combat, bombing ground enemies, or providing air-to-ground support for troops; this game exhibits great 3D gaming experience for Android devices.

On-Screen Controls

What I like about this game (or many other first-person combat Gameloft games license from major game makers) is the walk-through training sessions you can conquer before completing missions to get you acquainted with game play controls. I personally opted for the on-screen virtual joystick over accelerometer controls however one gripe there is the app is not multi-touch supported 😦 so I quickly went back to accelerometer controls. So if you’re playing with the virtual joystick you would have to let it go for a split second in order to use other things like firing, toggling camera, speed or maneuvering.

Controlling the modern planes are computer assisted so you merely only have to worry about pictch (up/down), roll (spin left/right), turns and weapons auto-lock and are fire guided to targets… so all you have to do is maneuver, lock and fire!

Describing the on-screen controls starting in the top left going clockwise you’ll find: pause button, fuel level, mission oblective notes, pictured targets to destroy, machine gun fire toggle, rocket fire toggle, pan left/right controls, (if applicable) vitrual joystick, and camera toggle.

Local Multi-player Mode

Local multi-player mode is cool when you can a few friends have the game and want to do some dogfighting amongst either other and show off your air combat skills. This feature would be even cooler if you could quick battle online like Skies of Glory.

Fun Factor & Addictive:

If you’re into Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. games, or air combat games, or first person shooter games… you’ll love this popular title on your phone. The action and game play gets intense with choice of fighter planes and 3D renderings of real locations you fly and fight over.

Graphics:

As mentioned the 3D graphics are awesome and brings a PSP level of gaming to Android. You can see attention to detail in scenery, visual effects such as winds and cloud streams, on to explosions.

Accelerometer, Vibration & Sound:

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. utilizes the phone’s accelerometer, of course sound effects and even characters within the game instructing your mission plus vibration when taking hits and crashes.(androidtapp)

You can download at : www.androidtapp.com/tom-clancy’s-h-a-w-x/

It’s only been a couple of months and 2010 is already shaping up to be one of the best ever for gamers. If your wallet hasn’t already been emptied, Electronic Arts and development studio DICE have tossed yet another videogame on the pile that can’t be missed. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 ups the intensity and visual prowess of its predecessor, while still delivering one of the most compelling multiplayer games around.

If you were to buy Bad Company 2 solely for the single-player campaign, you might come away a bit disappointed. That’s not to say it’s particularly bad in any way, but it doesn’t feel impressive enough to stand on its own as a great experience. Once again, the multiplayer game is the star of the Battlefield show.

Ultimate Edition Content

The situation with the Ultimate Edition of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is pretty simple. If you already have a copy of Bad Company 2, you’ll likely want to skip this release. However, if you were someone who was hesitant to pick up DICE’s latest high-quality creation because a little game called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was still spinning in your disc drive, then Ultimate Edition is certainly worth your time. Keep reading for the reasons why.

For sixty bucks players get what essentially amounts to the full Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Limited Edition experience (which is to say you get a few weapon and vehicle upgrades along with some fresh maps for multiplayer) as well as the Onslaught co-op mode DLC and the beloved downloadable title Battlefield: 1943.Sadly none of the content in Ultimate Edition is new in any way. Instead, the real attraction of the package is that you get all of this great Battlefield: Bad Company 2 content in one box. It’s a bit of an annoyance that you have to enter in three different download codes on Xbox 360 (two on PS3) to get your hands on everything, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given EA’s new initiative to try to bolster new-game sales through the use of one-time-use codes.

As far as the content itself, everything is just as it was when it was originally released. Given that everything you’ll find here earned high marks in our eyes when it first dropped into the hands of consumers, there’s nothing to knock. Battlefield: 1943 still has an active online following so I never had trouble quickly finding a game. I did encounter a bit of lag which is strange considering I was playing on IGN’s speedy connection, but it dissipated once I switched games. The same goes for Onslaught and the core Bad Company 2 gameplay, which is as enjoyable as ever.

All in all it’s a little disappointing not to get some fresh content in this supposed “Ultimate Edition” but it’s tough to argue with the sheer abundance of quality that you’ll find under this relatively modest (when you consider the fact that you get a free fifteen dollar downloadable game) sixty-dollar price tag. Again, if you played Bad Company 2 when it originally launched then there really isn’t enough original (or any at all) stuff to warrant spending the sixty bucks again, but if you skipped out on DICE’s second iteration of this popular series and want to know what all the hubbub was about, BF: BC2 Ultimate Edition is your answer.

The single-player campaign follows the story of a rag-tag bunch of soldiers as they traipse around the world on the hunt for a mythical weapon of mass destruction which absolutely must not fall into the hands of the Russians. It’s a typical story of unlikely heroes as they attempt to save the world, and it will take you across a great variety of locations that range from frozen mountains to densely packed jungles.

These gorgeous locales are the first thing that will spring out at you as you begin the fight. The vistas and skyboxes look nearly photorealistic in many situations, and DICE did a wonderful job blending the particle effects and game objects in the foreground with the more static backdrops. The result is a sense of depth that few videogame worlds can offer.

Things become more impressive yet when the action kicks in. Returning from the last Bad Company game are nearly fully destructible environments. If an enemy soldier is holed up in a second-story bedroom taking potshots at you, all you have to do is send a rocket at that wall and he’ll either wind up dead or fully exposed. The same line of thinking applies to just about anything you see – send enough firepower at it and you can watch it crumble.

Once you’re done ogling the smoke trails or mountain ranges in the distance, you’ll start to notice that Bad Company 2 has taken a few cues from the Call of Duty franchise. The last Battlefield game was the first to introduce a fully fleshed out storyline and it stumbled a bit in the process. The humor was goofy and over the top, the open mission design was a bit too open, and everything seemed coated in a dense fog. A lot has changed and improved for the sequel.

The big change comes with a more streamlined and cinematic approach to the action. The dialogue is less overtly inane, though it does offer its fair share of humor, and the level design feels more straightforward. While the last Bad Company game couldn’t hold my attention, this one kept me interested and having fun from start to finish.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this Battlefield game has some great mechanics. The guns react well, and sound fantastic. The vehicles handle smoothly and really do a great job of making you feel like the king of the battlefield. The instant-respawns and med kit injections of the last Bad Company have been replaced by the more standard checkpoints and regenerative health bar and that makes the challenge of war feel more realistic.

To top things off, the AI squad mates at your side act like real soldiers in battle. They’ll press the attack while you flank and hold off the enemy while you duck behind cover to recuperate. Many games slap you in a squad of largely ineffective soldiers and let you do all of the heavy lifting. Bad Company 2 is a refreshing change of pace in this regard.

Of course, if you want to start nitpicking, there are plenty of instances to call out. Some of the details and little pieces of the environment stream into view a bit late. There still are no arms drawn on screen when driving a vehicle, causing a poltergeist-like steering wheel to move on its own. On the Xbox 360 version, slow loading from the disc causes the player to be locked out for as much as five seconds from throwing grenades or using the knife when picking up a new weapon or changing kits (this issue went away when installing the game onto a hard drive).

These are mostly small complaints and, for me, the campaign’s only real troubles rest with the presentation and pacing. The B-Company (known as Bravo Two in this game) squad returns with you filling the shoes of Preston Marlowe. At your side is a crew of largely one-dimensional characters who are good for a laugh every now and then. This cast exists mainly to deliver one-liners and to direct you through the battlefield to the next objective. It’s hard to even think of them as people after watching them take a rocket propelled grenade to the face and then get up and go right back into the fight.

Though the action has been streamlined, it feels like Bad Company 2 just missed the “epic” feeling that it seems the developers were going for. Part of the problem is in the direction of the cutscenes, but mostly I feel like it rests with the non-stop high-intensity approach to gameplay. In a given level, you can do everything from sniping soldiers to manning a turret on the side of a helicopter to calling in air strikes – all in rapid succession. You’re something of a Rambo super-soldier, well versed in every facet of war. With the constant action, it feels like there is very little tension building outside of the game’s opening moments. There’s tons of variety to the gameplay and all of it is a great deal of fun, but it doesn’t quite come together to be a top-tier experience.

And with such a frantic campaign pace, it is over in short order. I blew through the game in just a few evenings of lazy play, probably clocking in under six hours. A collectible weapon system does offer a reason to go back for a second or third run, but this isn’t the kind of campaign you’ll be returning to again and again.

For many, the shortcomings in the campaign won’t matter one bit. These people come for the multiplayer online game, and that’s where Bad Company 2 delivers. Here the destructible environments of the campaign take on new meaning. Your target might be waiting inside a shack. An enemy squad may be using a tower as a staging point. This can all change with just a few well placed explosives as you literally level the playing field. It adds an extra tier of strategy to the game as you struggle to work through extended fights, adapting your approach to the fight as the world around you crumbles.

That’s just the first level of strategic planning this shooter offers those that work well together. Battlefield has long been known and adored by gamers as the franchise that offers epic, large-scale online fights and plenty of vehicles to take into battle. That tradition continues here. Personally, I’ve always held it in such high regard because of how it is inherently team-based. The very layout of the game is designed to encourage players to work together, straight down to awarding extra points for working with your teammate.

Little squads can be created, segmenting larger teams into strike forces which can each play a specific role. Then within that squad, players can choose between four load-out kits that range from the light machinegun toting medic to the heavy weapon specialist engineer. Each has its own weapons and unique tools that allow you to set yourself up as a small but integral part in the team’s success. It’s a game that requires a cool head and open lines of communication just as much as it does a deft hand, and that just makes the victories that much sweeter.

What struck me as most impressive with Bad Company 2 is how flexible the multiplayer game is. The class system allows you to choose what your approach to battle will be. It’s the maps and modes included in this package that allow you to choose exactly what kind of game you want to play. There is a huge difference between the giant and extended team Rush games – an attack and defend mode which plays out across expansive maps and features vehicles heavily — and the tighter Squad Deathmatch games which can feel just like your standard frantic and close-quarters shooter. If you care for something in between, you can just hop into a Conquest game to try your hand at the classic Battlefield fight over specific areas controlled by raising and lowering flags. Regardless of your mood, it feels like Bad Company 2 has something for you.

And if the game itself isn’t enough reason to keep coming back, perhaps you’ll find yourself hooked on the class upgrade system. New weapons and gadgets can be unlocked, as well as little perks to give you an edge in the fight. Those familiar with Call of Duty (And at this point who isn’t?) will be right at home with the system that rewards players for completing small challenges as well as winning games or simply playing well and getting a lot of kills. (ign)

Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Number of Players: 1-24
Release Date: US: August 30, 2010
MSRP: $59.99
M for Mature: Blood, Strong Language, Violence
Also Available On: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles should look somewhat familiar to you. It was released in 2008 on the Nintendo DS and in 2009 for iPhone. And now Gameloft has ported the adventure to Android.

If you were a fan of Ubisoft’s ambitious Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 production, you know the set-up. An assassin named Altair is scouring the Holy Land for the means to bring down the Templar knights, an organization with sinister designs on the world in this narrative. The iPhone game serves as a prequel to the console game. Altair is in search of a specific artifact called “The Chalice,” which possibly has the power to bring the ugly Crusades to an early, merciful end. But seeking this relic raises more questions than it answers, setting up the console game, which I consider to have one of the best fictions in videogames in quite some time despite its uneven game mechanics.

As Altair, you must use your stealth abilities to seek the Chalice. The rooftops, awning, and beams that stretch across the grand cities of the medieval Holy Land are your playground. Careful movement above the sandy streets will keep you out of harm’s way for the most part, although occasionally you must descend to the avenues below and draw blood. Altair has a sword that can be upgraded, but there are other devices and items he uses in his quest, such as a grappling hook and bombs. Altair’s signature weapon, though, is his hidden dagger that is used to silently execute enemies and not raise the alarm of dozens of guards and Templar reinforcements.

As you explore the Holy Land, you will pick up hundreds of blue orbs that can be traded in for upgrades, such as expanding Altair’s health bar or the aforementioned sword. Personally, I tended to lean on sword upgrades because I wanted to make sure I could overpower enemies in any combat situation. I would accidentally blow a stealth situation by walking through a crowd too fast or stumble off a rooftop and land on the street below, just within striking distance of a Templar.

Naturally, this raises the issue of control. I think the control stick here is a little looser which does prevent absolute precision and will cause occasional mishaps, but for the most part, I really don’t have any major problems with how the game handles. The combat buttons work great, although the shield button placement over by the control stick is awkward. While there are some automated actions, like scrambling up a wall, I do wish that some small jumps were also self-propelled. The jump button works without a problem, but an auto-jump would help casual gamers by taking one less button out of the mix.

One feature in Assassin’s Creed I do not care for, though, are the minigames. I think they are pointless holdovers from the DS version. They felt tacked-on back then, like Gameloft was trying to integrate the DS touchscreen some way… any way. They don’t fare much better here. They function, but add nothing to the overall game. They feel gimmicky in a game that needs no gimmicks.

As mentioned earlier in the review, Assassin’s Creed looks fantastic. Everything — from the textures on Altair’s robes to the crackling fire effects — is brighter, crisper, and more detailed in this edition of the game versus the DS. However, Assassin’s Creed is not necessarily the smoothest play on a Droid. There is some framerate chugging here and there that mars the experience. However, some users have mentioned that Creed runs better on newer handsets. (ign)

Published by: Gameloft
Developed by: Gameloft
Genre: Action
Release Date: US: September 13, 2010
Also Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC,Wireless, iPhone, Android
Also known as: Assassin’s Creed

Sonic Adventure Review

Posted: September 16, 2010 in Playstation 3, XBOX 360
Tags: , , ,

I was always a SEGA kid. Sure, A Link to the Past is at the top of my all-time list, and I felt a guilty thrill cheating on my Genesis as I played through Super Metroid, but my fondest 16 bit memories were of games like Sub-Terrania…and Sonic the Hedgehog. I remember counting the minutes ’til junior high school was out so I could rush home and play through Sonic 2. I’ll even still get involved in semi-heated Genesis vs. SNES arguments with friends for fun from time to time. I bought a Dreamcast on launch day, driving all over San Diego to find first a system, then a game, then yet another store still to buy a VMU. I bought Sonic Adventure a few days later, and I convinced myself that it was flawed but great.

I was wrong. Sonic Adventure for XBLA and PSN has successfully driven a stake through the heart of my combined nostalgia/Dreamcast launch blinders/residual SEGA fanboyism. Everything from the original release is in there, from fishing mini-games to Chao raising to awful voice acting, like an evidence folder in a trial against what you thought was ostensibly the Dreamcast’s flagship launch title.

The gameplay shifts between 3rd person, behind the hedgehog running, which doesn’t control very well, and 2D side-scrolling sections here and there which control marginally better (since you’re pretty much just holding forward and hitting the jump button). Enemies and bosses are dispatched by rolling through them, bouncing off them, or boosting through them, but Sonic has always been more about lightning fast platforming than kicking enemies’ collective asses. When Sonic Adventure released, the graphics were amazing, and the sense of speed was unmatched.

The game was so fast, in fact, that you probably didn’t even realize how broken it actually is. Sonic Adventure is so fundamentally flawed that it borders on unplayable – the sections that move the fastest, that work most, that are even slightly interesting, require the least input from the player. In fact, in many of these sections, input from the player will result in death or catastrophe, and there’s really no way to know which until you either fly through not completely sure what happened or die, also not completely sure what happened.

This is, of course, when the camera is working — which is about half of the time. There are not enough expletives in the collected languages of humankind to express how broken the camera in Sonic Adventure is (and I am very familiar with profanity). You might hear people talk about games where the camera seems to get “caught on something,” but in Sonic Adventure it’s like the camera is hanging onto random objects for dear life. Its negligence becomes more homicidal as the level design leans toward the punitive side near the end of the game, but it’s always lurking, waiting for a chance to block your view (often by showing the inside of a character model or game object).

The controls themselves are another failure. Sonic and co. maneuver poorly, even at slow speeds, and there are bizarre collision detection rules in place that will cause you to become caught in bizarre invisible traps that require some frantic thumbstick jerking to break free of. This extends elsewhere throughout the game, as the world itself seems fragile and pitted with holes in its reality. I fell through floors, was catapulted outside of the game world, and generally murdered without warning or explanation by failures in Sonic Adventure’s ability to hold itself together repeatedly. And this isn’t counting the times the camera literally broke free of the game world itself to exist outside of the engine’s geometry.

All of this presumes that you can actually figure out how to get to the next action stage. Sonic Adventure has an overworld – or an Adventure World, rather – that features some mild platforming and pronounced frustration. Characters control even worse in Adventure areas than they do in Action stages, as you’ll be walking most of the time, rather than running as fast as possible. Action stages are difficult to find — they’re entirely reliant on paying depressingly close attention to Sonic Adventure’s painful cutscenes and dialogue for esoteric clues as to your next destination. You’ll be just as likely to stumble on the next nonsense “key” to the Adventure area that holds your next Action stage.

If you think that paragraph is confusing, Sonic Adventure will make you feel like you’re stuck in Groundhog Day by comparison.

The bulk of your time will be spent playing through Sonic’s campaign. But as you play, you’ll meet various, er, pals from Sonic’s menagerie, including Amy, Tails, and Knuckles, which you can then guide through their own little journeys through the horrors of broken 3D platforming. Each character has their own wrinkle or drastic departure from the game’s primary mechanics — Tails hovers, E102 shoots, Amy…wields a giant hammer, Big the Cat fishes, and Knuckles glides and punches. Unfortunately, all of these new mechanics are even less functional than the broken platforming of the main adventure.

While it’s difficult to comment on whether the game feels more broken in downloadable arcade form than it did for its US release on the Dreamcast, there is an unmistakeably rushed and shoddy air to the presentation of the port. It’s as barebones as can be, with hideous menus, no widescreen support, and an options menu that forgets your camera settings once you exit the game. Performance is good, at least, as I can’t remember any point where the game dropped below 60FPS.

Sonic Adventure, in hindsight, feels like a game thrown together in a panic, held together by spectacle and the fervent wishes of SEGA fans for a proper return to form for Sonic and SEGA. Unfortunately, spectacle has a short half life, and Sonic Adventure’s basic design and gameplay fall apart under scrutiny. Playing Sonic Adventure for the first time in 11 years, after returning to the franchise a few times over the last decade, I’ve realized that the great tragedy about Sonic games isn’t that they’ve gotten worse over two console generations — they just haven’t gotten appreciably better. (ign)

  • Published by: SEGA
  • Developed by: Sonic Team
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Number of Players: 1
  • Release Date: US: Q3 2010 , Japan: Q3 2010
  • E for Everyone: Animated Violence
  • Also Available On: Dreamcast, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Shark or Die (Android)

Posted: September 16, 2010 in iPhone/iPad/iPod
Tags: , ,

As you might imagine, you are the titular shark in Shark or Die – and you’re on a single-minded mission: eat people. But though you have a simple goal, things are never that easy for a ravenous killer of the deep. You must make sure you don’t cause too many waves by quickly jetting between meals, for example. Let your food settle a little, or else you send those innocent appetizers swimming away in a panic. And if you don’t eat enough on a regular basis, well, expect to go belly up.

There is a little bit of shark management to busy yourself with, too. The more humans you inhale, the more upgrades you can buy for your shark, such as increased speed. And you should always be on the lookout for VIP swimmers (noted by celeb-shark names such as Sharkira). If you eat one of those, you get a little fuller…. which inches you closer to the next stage.

I expected Shark or Die to become repetitive after a while and was not necessarily let down when it indeed happened. But there really are enough secondary gameplay wrinkles in here – such as swimming directly at a human may cause them to scream, which alerts nearby swimmers to flee – to keep things interesting for far longer than expected. And I liked to colorful, crisp art as well as the good sound effects. Shark or Die’s music tip-toes right up to the line of copying the Jaws theme within stepping over it. (ign)

Published by: Handy Games
Developed by: Handy Games
Genre: Action
Release Date: US: August 26, 2010
Also Available On: iPhone

Grand Theft Auto, one of the biggest franchises in videogames, now rides shotgun on iPad. A port of the PlayStation Portable edition of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (which was in turn a port of a Nintendo DS game), the iPad version is a phenomenal play.

You are Huang Lee, the spoiled son of a Triad ganglord. After your father was murdered, you must deliver an ancient sword to your uncle so as to keep the empire in your family’s name. Ambushed at the Liberty City airport and left to die, you now find yourself drawn into the underworld with thoughts of vengeance. But what starts out as a simple revenge tale grows in scope, with a criminal world about to explode as gangs (and cops) square off for control. The Chinatown Wars narrative is strong, full of both humor and real drama, and benefits from excellent writing.

Instead of a 3D behind-the-shoulder view, Chinatown Wars returns to the top-down roots of the pre-PlayStation 2 GTA games. The art style is cartoonish and looks fantastic. The camera gives you a good view of the city around you, and unlike the iPhone version which allowed you to get too far ahead of yourself if you started going really fast, the iPad provides ample space around Lee. It’s great to see one of the few problems with the iPhone edition solved by making smart use of the benefits of the iPad.

Chinatown Wars uses a virtual stick for on-foot movement that is just about as good as you’ll find on the iDevices. Combat controls would benefit from some sort of targeting system, but I experienced few problems with digging into a violent crew and trading bullets or putting shoe prints on their faces. When driving, though, you default to a pair of arrows for turning left and right, which you use in conjunction with gas and brake pedal buttons. All of the virtual buttons (gas, shoot, kick, carjack) are also now just the right size. (They were too small on the iPhone.) However, until you get the hang of things, you often must look at the buttons to make sure you are hitting the right one. In the middle of a big fight or a high-speed pursuit, this is troublesome until you are 100-percent comfortable with the controls. The menus have also been cleaned up a little for the iPad.

The mission variety in Chinatown Wars is one of its strongest features. You are not just driving to a location, shooting somebody, and then returning to home base. You perform in a parade, hijack fuel tankers to turn into giant bombs, run interference during a race, and put out fires. And on top of the main story, there is a plethora of side jobs and races, including the extra content that was included with the PSP port. But most surprising is the drug dealing. I’m not just shocked that Apple was cool with heroin (other games have been rejected for drug- and alcohol-related content), but just how vital it is to the overall game. If you want to make money, you have to juggle this resource management game-within-a-game where you buy low, sell high, and watch out for busts.

Another Chinatown Wars high point: the GPS system. Tapping locations on a map to set a course is intuitive and makes finding your way around town easy. Of course, getting there isn’t necessarily a cakewalk, as you must watch for cops on the lookout for the new kid with the high wanted level. All of the touch screen elements from the DS original are pulled into the iPhone Chinatown Wars, too, such as kicking out the back window of a car in the water, interacting with computers, scratching lotto tickets, or hot wiring a car.

Finally, Chinatown Wars does not have the same kind of licensed music as other GTA games. Instead, it has a series of five stations that play genre instrumentals, like hip-hop and dance. I actually like this quite a bit; over time, I found the licensed music in the GTA games almost look-at-me distracting. You can also create a custom station with your own music, which is cool if you want to shoot up Chinatown while listening to Dean Martin.

I already mentioned that the raised camera and extra screen size of the iPad makes it easier to play Chinatown Wars on iPad. But I must also stress just how insanely good this HD edition looks, too. Rockstar refreshed almost everything for this port, cleaning things up so they look sharp on the large, higher-resolution screen. The attention to detail combined with the cel shaded-esque art direction makes Chinatown Wars one of the best-looking iPad games to date. (ign)

Published by: Rockstar Games
Developed by: Rockstar Games
Genre: Third-Person Action
Release Date: US: September 9, 2010
Also Available On: PSP, iPhone,Nintendo DS, iPad
Also known as: GTA: Chinatown Wars

Halo: Reach (Legendary Edition) ProductLimited Edition

Most limited or special editions are filled with a few trinkets of questionable worth. This, however, is actually a pretty cool set of goodies, all for just an extra $10. Inside the larger box, you’ll find a black DVD case that will make Halo: Reach stand out in your collection. That’s a nice touch, but it’s only the start.

You’ll also find an “artifact bag” that contains notes from Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan program and blueprint for Cortana. This bag is a must for any real Halo fan. Inside a hardbound notebook, you’ll get tons of inside info made to look like it was handwritten by the good doctor, a patch, a mock UNSC security badge, a color map and a whole lot more. Play Halo: Reach and then go back and read through the manual for a deeper understanding of what happened in the game.

Last, but not least, you can find a code to get a special armor set for your Elite multiplayer model.

The Halo: Reach Limited Edition package is a great one, and one that I would recommend to anybody that wants more than the base game but can’t quite afford the very expensive Legendary Edition. It may smell a bit funky when you first open it (seriously), but it’s a great buy for serious Halo fans. (ign)

  • Published by: Microsoft
  • Developed by: Bungie Software
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Release Date: US: September 14, 2010
  • MSRP: $79.99
  • M for Mature: Blood, Violence

Halo: Reach (Legendary Edition) ProductLegendary Edition

The Legendary Edition contains everything the less expensive Limited Edition comes with, plus a lot more to justify the $150 price tag. It’s all housed inside a special case made to look like an ONI security container. This is a pretty substantial set of bonus content, so let’s get right to it.

Like the Limited Edition, the Legendary box has a special black DVD case to house your copy of Halo: Reach. It’s a nice touch, though not as sweet as the Halo 2 metal case I still proudly display on my shelf.

The other crossover content with the Limited Edition includes an “artifact bag” that contains notes from Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan program and blueprint for Cortana. This bag is a must for any real Halo fan. Inside a hardbound notebook, you’ll get tons of inside info made to look like it was handwritten by the good doctor, a patch, a mock UNSC security badge, a color map and a whole lot more. Play Halo: Reach and then go back and read through the manual for a deeper understanding of what happened in the game.

Inside the disc case, you can find a code to download several exclusive pieces of content. There’s a special flaming helmet armor affect for your Spartan (previously only available to Bungie employees), a cool Elite costume, and a Falcon Avatar accessory. This code also gives you two free days of Xbox Live Gold and a behind the scenes video delivered in a unique way. Rather than putting the video on a disc, it can be watched through Halo Waypoint after redeeming the code.

Make sure you play the game before watching the behind the scenes video. It’s two hours long and filled with spoilers, according to the descriptor. It wasn’t available for us to watch in Halo: Waypoint pre-launch, so we can’t comment on its quality.

The crown jewel in the Legendary Edition is the hand crafted statue of Noble Team. This limited statue will surely make your friends jealous — it’s made for the true fan and collector. It’s sturdy, well-crafted, and exactly the sort of thing that will make the Halo fanboys cry tears of joy. (ign)

  • Published by: Microsoft
  • Developed by: Bungie Software
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Release Date: US: September 14, 2010
  • MSRP: $149.99
  • M for Mature: Blood, Violence