We got your princess right here.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

News: Two People Arrested For Xbox Modding. Sign in front of the store shouldn't have said "WAREZ INSIDE"
Posted by Chris :: 10:55 AM

(c/o Xbox.ign.com)

Two people were arrested for selling modded Xbox consoles, according to a Reuter's story posted today. Three Washington, D.C. area Pandora's Cube game store locations were raided by federal authorities. Two store employees were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and conspiracy to traffic in a device that circumvents technological protection measures.

The arrests in Maryland and Virginia were a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Justice's computer crimes unit, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Maryland and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Entertainment Software Association says the Pandora's Cube stores were selling modified "Super Xbox" consoles for $500. The systems had been rebuilt with larger hard drives, software to enable full games to be copied to the drives, some pre-loaded with up 15 or more games.

These consoles were on open display, the ESA reported. It is not clear, however, whether the stores were selling the pre-loaded versions of the modified consoles.

Seriously, what the hell? Why promanently display something that is righteously illegal? They deserve to get caught for being such flaming dumbasses.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Sleigh Bells Ring...
Posted by Shocker :: 10:32 PM

...I just fragged Brew....

We're winterizin' a bit here at AC in preparation for Christmas and other lesser holidays (I kid, I kid. Or do I? Yes.). In any case, don't expect content to slow down just because we're entering the holiday season; I'm officially out of school tomorrow, and a two-month subscription to Gamefly means that you'll get reviews of action packed sequels Viewtiful Joe 2 (GC/PS2) and Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (XBox/PS2/GC). Additionally, I hear there's a (guest?) review coming for Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (GC), we'll get some playtime in on Knights of the Old Republic 2 (XBox), while World of Warcraft (PC) is being talked about. JayGo and I will, at some point, team up on a Half-Life 2 (PC) review, while Chris is contractually obligated to share some thoughts about Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (XBox/PS2/GC). Even Josh has been making noise about doing some reviews soon, which is good, because I always like to think long-term.

Oh, and how could I forget about retro-reviews? Ariel's got reviews of Spiderman 2: The Movie (XBox/PS2/GC), Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (XBox) and Ninja Gaiden (XBox) queued up. Not to mention our end-of-the-year Awards Extravaganza*. Let me go ahead and run down the categories:

Platform Awards:
These awards are pretty self-explanatory. Multiplatform games will not be considered for individual console game of the year awards unless there was a large gulf in between its initial release and its multiplatform release (more like Splinter Cell 1 than Splinter Cell 2).

Best Game of 2004
Best Playstation 2 Game
Best Gamecube Game
Best XBox Game
Best PC Game
Best Handheld Game

Genre Awards:
Games for any platform so long as they're released within the consideration dates are eligible. There's some ambiguity among the categories, especially in the Action and Adventure categories, but we'll attempt to justify any discrepancies as best we can if they come up (I think the general concensus was that traditional "platformer" games are considered as Adventure, whereas games like Ninja Gaiden are considered Action. But the truth is that there's a giant gulf where most games fit, thus our attempts to break it up. If it doesn't work, we just won't do it next year, and will pretend it never happened. So there.)
Best Sports/Driving Game
Best Role Playing/Strategy Game
Best Action Game
Best Adventure Game
Best First Person Shooter Game
Best Other Game

Open-Ended Categories:
Somewhat self-explanatory. Each AC member will give their opinion on what they think the biggest disappointment, innovation and defining moments were of 2004. Not so much an awards as an end-of-the-year sort of thing.
Biggest Disappointment of 2004
Biggest Innovation of 2004
Defining Moment of 2004

As for the open-ended categories, we're looking for comments from any and everyone. Use that email link over at the side, and we'll throw up your opinions. We'll cap the eligibility period from 12/16/2003 to 12/15/2004, and announce nominees sometime after the 15th. As soon as we stop arguing about it.

Game on, folks!

* P.S. -- taking suggestions for a name for said awards period and the awards themselves (use comments).

Monday, December 06, 2004

Review: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)
Posted by Shocker :: 7:24 PM

"Snake is Dead"? You don't say...

I loved Metal Gear Solid (PS). Back in 1998, I bought (okay, back then my parents bought) a Playstation for me, and, hearing MGS was the official Next Big Thing, I went out and rented it immediately. What I played was nothing short of innovative. Tense, solid stealth gameplay that defined the genre. Interactivity with the music, dual-shock controllers (still new at the time) and innovative boss battles (remember Psycho Mantis?). I loved listening to and reading a story that played out over the course of a few hours of superlative gameplay.


What happened?

Granted, I didn't play Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2), because after hearing about the story from Ariel, who's cursed with a much better memory than I am, I was instantly put off. As he told me all the twists and turns and inconsistencies, I started thinking he was messing with me. When Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance came out for the XBox, I went ahead and rented it to try it out. What I was met with was a wall of cutscenes, and, by 2002, gameplay that just didn't seem all that innovative anymore, in light of all of its imitators.

I'll say it right now, up front: Splinter Cell is a far better game than this. Not just because of the story (which I'll not spoil, Lord knows why, though), but because of the gameplay. While I don't really particularly like SC's stealthy missions, I recognize how effectively they're pulled off, and I'm thankful for all the excellent control they give you to implement Sam Fisher's missions. Moreover, compared to Metal Gear Solid 2, which looked like a slight upgrade from MGS1, Splinter Cell sported nearly photorealistic graphics and lighting effects that set a standard that most games wish they could achieve.

So when MGS3 was coming out, with me in my (patented) anti-hype chamber, I waited for its release tentatively. Recalling how much I enjoyed MGS1, and how I'd only played MGS2 for 10 minutes or so, I tried to give this a fair shot. Here's what I found:

Metal Gear Solid 3 sucks. I don't mean "It's an average game", I don't mean "It's a good game that I just don't like". I mean anyone not hooked into an IV pumping pure hype into their veins should run away, far and fast while you still have good memories of what this series used to be. I mean anyone will be hard pressed to have me take them seriously for liking this game.

Man, where do I begin? ... Let's begin with the most important aspect: Gameplay. Metal Gear Solid 3 plays exactly like you'd expect a 6-year-old game to play. Yes, they added in a "close quarter combat" (CQC) system, that lets Snake pull off a "variety" of moves once you're close enough to your opponent to engage in hand-to-hand combat. But for a game that's supposed to be a stealth game, why am I engaging in so much hand-to-hand combat? Why can I run up to enemies who have guns trained on me, who are shooting me, and casually engage them in a fist-fight? Why, for all the hype, is this so-called CQC system so unintuitive? If I am standing over a downed guard with my hands bare, what would you want to do? Punch the air or snap the prone guard's neck? What do you think the game has you do?

Then there's the game's "Stealth" play. Splinter Cell requires you to, in some missions, maintain complete stealth. That is, if you are seen, and the guard who sees you is able to call for help, end of mission. This is done because some crazy radical government is going to destabalize the world if they find out America is sending operatives in to disrupt thier coup (or whatever the story is in Tom Clancy's mind). Splinter Cell has caught a lot of flack for this; not because it's unrealistic, but because it makes for a bad game (lots of restarting), goes the claim. Yet in MGS3, I was told nearly 6 times within the first 40 minutes (and not because of me breaking stealth, but because of all the cutscenes) that this is a "sneaking mission" or a "stealth mission". Why is it a stealth mission? Because MGS3 is set in the middle of the Cold War, with Snake being thrown into the middle of Russia to rescue some regretful scientist/engineer who's building the Uberweapon, which, if Russia finds out about Snake's presence, will trigger a full-on nuclear war. Please tell me which makes more sense to have the mission restart if you get caught?

There are no serious consequences for being seen here. The Caution meter lasts for a fair bit longer than it did in MGS1, which keeps the guards on alert, but once it goes out, the guards go "Oh. I guess everything's okay." and move back into regular positions.

Another gameplay enhancement in MGS3 is the ability to change camouflage. For the first time in the MGS series, a stealth meter has been added. The meter is pretty straight forward: the more camouflaged you are, the less likely you'll be seen. You can change outfits on the fly; Snake initally starts with 5 or 6 different outfits and 5 or 6 different facepaints. Rather than making the process trial-and-error, though, the game tells you exactly which outfits will work best given whereever you are (this costume decreases your visibility by 20%, this facepaint by -5%). Their choice to do so renders what could have been a cool feature into mandatory exercise: as soon as you move to a new area, you're switching clothes again. This gets old before the first mission ends.

Running through the menus is an exercise in frustration by itself. Rather than using X to advance, and either circle or triangle to back up, now circle is advance, and pressing X backs up. This seemingly minor change goes counter to every game ever released on the XBox or PS2, and is another frustrating point in an already frustrating game. If I step away from MGS3 for more than 2 minutes and come back, I'm guaranteed to screw up entering or leaving a menu more than once.

Speaking of menus, let's talk about another "realism" aspect added to MGS3: As Snake is basically dropped into the world with no weapons, no supplies, etc, he has to procure all this. For the first time in series history, you actually have to feed Snake. This is done by killing local fauna, then picking up little, floating boxes that represent the fully edible meals that come from them, and going into a menu to eat it. This was added to make the game more realistic. The other beautiful addition is that Snake can get wounded seriously and have to stop, go through a menu, and administer first aid to himself. Not only is the implementation poor (It's the equivalent of pressing three buttons), but simply putting a broken, say, leg, into a splint in the middle of a firefight is not only unrealistic, but is completely unlikely to do anything to help anything for a period of, say, 4 weeks. It raises the question that recurs with this game: Why bother?

The story's of course, completely laughable. It's not initially as awful as the Metal Gear Solid 2 storyline, but you still have to climb Mt. Exposition after every three feet you walk in the game. You'll get calls from people telling you how to walk, how to shoot, how to climb trees, how to save the game, how to use your menu to change your clothes, how to interpret the story... Moreover, you'll get lectures from people during inappropriate and unrealistic times (the middle of a fight is not the appropriate time to tell me about the importance of Godzilla), meet up with old friends/enemies, get lectured on the art of being a warrior after being told it is impossible to tell someone how to be a warrior... The codec scenes (Snake talks to people over a radio, during which any action on screen pauses while they talk) can at least be read and skipped through. The cutscenes, which make up a giant bulk of this game, are the ones you can't skip because you'll not be able to understand anything that's going on if you do.

Much of the voice acting here is laughable. The dialogue is corny, and contrived, and David Hayter, playing Naked Snake (who is not Solid Snake but has the same voice), sounds like he's forcing 60% of his lines through his "cool" voice. Dialogue seems like it's intended for people who are stupid; an example: Colonel: Our operatives inside Russia have leaked information that says Russia is very close to developing the next stage in nuclear weaponry. Snake: The next stage...? Colonel: Yes, a weapon so powerful it could change the course of history. Snake: Change the course of history...? Colonel: Indeed. You will be going to Russia. You will meet up with a very important scientist. Snake: A very important scientist...? - you get the idea. Stretch this out over 40 minutes and see how eager you are to play.

That's really the problem with this game. It relies on the conventions it invented 6 years ago when MGS came out as though other games haven't made innovations in the genre. Can you imagine how terrible Mario Sunshine would have been, even with the same gameplay, if it forced you to control the camera as much as Mario 64 did? These things don't detract from the original experience, both MGS and Mario 64 are both classics. But there's so many smarter, better ways to do what MGS3 is trying to do. For instance, if the people in your head want to talk and advance the story, let them. But don't stop the action in order to do so. Don't tell me everything in the game manual, have a training mode. One of the best points elcyberGoth at elcyberGoth.com made in his hilarious Metal Gear Solid 2 review was that a game should never remind me that it's a game. Especially one that's actively pissing me off, because once it does that, it's going directly off.

The sacrifices made, supposedly, in the name of realism here detract mightily from the game. MGS 2 was playable despite its aging gameplay because you at least still had a radar that functioned, and could move around tight environments with it. MGS3's open, random forest environments lack a clear direction or a suitable radar ... In fact, you're given a battery powered one that resolves to uselessness because it lacks any ability to see how far enemies can see. The camera, hung high over Snake, makes it hard to see around obstacles or corners. While MGS2 had clearly defined points for you to execute your stealth moves, MGS3 has trees, sticks and grass to see from. When you are crawling around in grass, the camera forces you into a first person mode that makes it impossible to peer above the grass without exposing yourself. Realistic? I suppose. Fun? God no.

MGS3 is inherently inconsistent everywhere. Does the game want to be a movie? Fine, but how many rambly, pseudo-historic, self-important 20 hour long movies have you watched? Does it want to be a game? Then let me walk for more than 10 seconds without having to hear an essay on the Magna Carta and how it's importance shapes modern history. It's a game that desperately wants to be something more than it is, when what it could be wouldbe more than sufficient. For all that I knock the series, Solid Snake is instantly more marketable than Sam Fischer is, yet Kojima and company continually squander what could have been: a standard-bearing, standard-setting game that shapes the course of the genre for years to come. It's happened before with games like Halo 2, and Resident Evil 4 (potentially). This isn't where the stealth genre is going. Even series devotees would likely not want to see a ton of clones of this. Frankly, it's a god damn terrible movie, and somehow, an even worse game.


The Rundown: 10th to 16th January
Posted by JayGo :: 7:28 AM

And now, later than advertised.. welcome back to The Rundown! Yeah, see, this is what happens when you say you're going to make your return on a day that doesn't actually exist like Monday 5th. Anyway, back now, and I actually have a fair few releases to plow through. So, let's get back into the ol' routine, and start by looking at the two big titles of this week.

Given that I'm not a big fan of the whole survival horror genre, I'm probably entirely the wrong person to be the first to mention the apparent greatness of Resident Evil 4 (GC). What I'll do, then, is mention that all reviews so far are calling it by far the greatest ever game in that genre, and that Hogie will almost certainly be along with further thoughts on it in the near future. Maybe. Suffice to say, if you're even vaguely interested in this title, it's almost certainly well worth a purchase.

Grand Theft Auto, in the army. That's as good a summary of Mercenaries (PS2, XBox) as you can probably get. Tanks instead of cars, airstrikes instead of machine guns and hostage retrieval instead of gang warfare. Of course, it's inferior to San Andreas - most things are - but it's still a fine third-person action game.. albeit one saddled with a slightly lame 'pack of cards' gimmick to represent the most wanted list. And it looks and sounds great, too.

Amazingly, there have been some games released in the past few weeks while this column has been away. Chief among these is MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf (XBox), the vastly improved sequel to the first big XBox Live game, which Dan should be reviewing soon enough. If you were a big fan of the first NFL Street, then maybe a rental of NFL Street 2 (PS2, XBox, GC) is in order to see if the few new features improve it enough for it to be worthwhile. If you were a big fan of the first The Getaway, then you enjoy inflicting harm upon yourself and should see a psychologist before you do something stupid, like say, buy The Getaway: Black Monday (PS2).

And finally for the big titles, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA) is another installment in the adventures of Link, and represents two firsts for the series. It's the first Zelda game to be developed by Capcom as opposed to Nintendo, and perhaps slightly surprisingly, it's also the first true single-player Zelda title for the GameBoy Advance. And hey, it got released first in the UK a few weeks back. Miracles do happen, clearly.

Also out this week:

So, none of those take your fancy? In that case, here's a list of everything else that's been released since the last column:
  • Playstation 2: Airborne Troops: Countdown to D-Day, Suikoden IV, Virtua Quest
  • XBox: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, GunGriffon: Allied Strike, Tork: Prehistoric Punk
  • Gamecube: Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2
  • PC: Advanced Battlegrounds: The Future of Combat, American Chopper, Civil War Bull Run, Dragon Puzzle, The Guy Game, Hearts of Iron 2, Hoyles Casino 3D, SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon 3D, Shadow Vault, World Championship Tennis,Yourself!Fitness
  • Gameboy Advance: Banjo Pilot, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for Girls
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom:

Think the release list is barren in the US? Well, it's worse in the UK. The sum total of what's coming out over here this week are the ESPN 2K5 series of sports games for PS2 and XBox (still at a low price, but stupidly with all the online options removed) and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GC), which is a great game provided you've spent a fortune on all the required hardware. Still, if you've got four GBAs, four link cables, three other players, and a GameCube, then make the most of it and buy the thing.

So, that's all for now. There's not much out next week.. so how about we meet up again in two weeks, hmm? That's Monday 24th.. and before you check, yes that date does actually exist. See you then.

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