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Indeed, the GameSpot reviews team has revved into high gear, now that a large number of major (and minor!) releases are forthcoming. This week alone sees reviews of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Rock Band 2, a couple of NHL games, and more. This is what fall brings to us, and along with that litany of games often comes questions regarding when a review will be up and various related questions. Rest assured, we'll work to bring you reviews of every game we can cover as quickly as we can. As you can imagine, it's impossible to review every game by release date for any number of reasons, but I thought I'd give you a peek at my current plate so you know that some games aren't getting forgotten.
Force Unleashed for PS2 and DS will go up today, so by the time you read this, those reviews may be published. As you can guess, I've been pretty immersed in the Star Wars universe after playing four versions of the game (the fabulous Carolyn Petit is reviewing the DS version). A review of the PSP version is coming; before we can publish a review, we need to fully experience the multiplayer, but I am hoping we can have a review of that version on Wednesday.
Most of my other current assignments are heavy on the keyboard and mouse... S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, Warhammer Online, and Crysis Warhead to be precise. In all three cases, you won't see a review by release time, though in the case of Warhammer Online, that's obviously because we'll be taking a good amount of time to play the game in retail conditions. However, my coworkers and I will be updating this space, and our personal blogs, with highlights of the continuing experience before the review posts. Look for screens featuring my Chaos Magus!
In the case of Clear Sky, the issue is related to the TAGES copy protection applied to the game. Because of that, I could not get the game to run on my PC at home (an error message announces vehemently that the disc is not in the drive), and therefore I couldn't play over the weekend. The game runs fine on my work gaming PC, but to maximize my time and get through it, I will download it on Steam on my home PC tonight. In the case of Crysis Warhead, Electronic Arts held a reviews event last week. For those that aren't aware, there are cases when publishers will hold press events in which members of the media play a game for review under controlled conditions. It is our policy not to attend such events. Unfortunately, we didn't receive Crysis Warhead review code until today, so again, I will be playing it this week, and will bring you a review as soon as I can thoroughly play the game's single-player and multiplayer modes.
All of this while gearing up for the Tokyo Game Show next month. So bear with me, fellow PC gamers--I'll get you reviews of these games soon, and in the meanwhile, may the Force be with you.
Did I mention I've been swimming in Star Wars lately?
I saw an entry on MTV's Multiplayer blog yesterday that claimed it could reveal the secret behind PixelJunk Eden's wonky camera when playing with more than one person. I brought up this issue in my own review, so I was curious to see an explanation on why the camera seemingly acted by its crazy rules. You could say that I was pretty surprised to see Gamespot's review was called out by the lead creator of Eden, Dylan Cuthbert:
"Cuthbert added that those at 1Up and Gamespot who have been complaining about the camera have likely based their remarks on a "buggy" pre-release version of the game. He asked me to ask them to keep that in mind. Play the finished game, fellow reporters."
To clear up any confusion, I did not play a pre-release version of Eden. On July 31st, I downloaded the same finished version that was available to the general public. I spent that Thursday and Friday at work playing it thoroughly and, when I felt like I needed more time to properly judge the game, I played it during my free time on the weekend. Our review for the game went up Monday, August 4th. It was a few days after release, but I wanted to make sure I knew the game inside and out before I critiqued it.
Gamespot has a very strict policy on what we review. For the vast majority of games, we play through a finished retail product that is either shipped to us by the publisher or purchased at a local store. Sometimes we are given code with the promise that it is 100% complete, though we always try the retail product beforehand if we encounter any load issues or random glitches that could have potentially been cleared up before they packaged it.
As far as downloadable games go, I've had enough bad experience with pre-release games that I've learned to stay away from them. Our policy to only review 100% complete games is why our reviews sometimes appear a few days after a game hits stores. We would rather be a day or two late than provide false information. The best way to serve our readers is to play the exact same games they have access to; we would be doing a disservice if we dissected unfinished products.
It's been a bit strange reviewing Fable II Pub Games, because so much of its appeal is based on the prospect of coolness, rather than actual coolness. The game has limited entertainment value in and of itself, and most (if not all) of the folks who play it will do so with an eye towards the future, when they will pass on all of their winnings (or IOUs) to a Fable II hero. When that day comes, what will their gold buy them? What trouble will their debt bring down upon them? Will their hard-won items be a substantial boon? Indeed, will any of their time spent at the tables of Albion be worth it?
Personally, I want to believe that the items I win and the gold I accrue will be helpful, though more realistically, I'll be looking forward to an interesting visit from Bowerstone's debt collection specialists. Given the way that Peter Molyneux waxes on about the myriad possibilities within the world of Fable II, I'm inclined to let my imagination run a bit wild.
I picture returning to my abode after months of adventuring, eager to reunite with my wife and children, only to find a big foreclosure notice on my house. Wandering through the town, I spot a clutch of beggers on the street corner that, upon closer inspection, look all too familiar. My sooty, bedraggled spouse runs up to me and starts to lambast me vociferously, while angry negative numbers pop up above the heads of any passers-by as they judge me harshly. I manage to escape her wrath and crawl into a local tavern, where the convivial owner welcomes me like a long-lost son, puts a beer in front of me, and asks if I'd like to play a little Keystone to lift my spirits. Cue the bard, singing an old Albion folksong that sounds suspiciously like "The Gambler," by Kenny Rogers.
Alright, so that was a bit ambitious, but the truth is, there's no way of knowing how things will play out. It's just as possible that whatever winnings I do come away with will seem a paltry sum in the robust Bowerstone real estate market. The only clue Pub Games offers about the relative value of your winnings is in the list of items you can win in tournaments. So I present, for your edification, the names and Albion Market Values of those prizes:
Plaits Hairstyle Card - 100 Gold
Dog Training: Backflip - 200 Gold
Highroller's Coat - 400 Gold
Potion of Will - 800 Gold
Championship Pistol - 1200 Gold
'Deepest Dark' Chocolates - 150 Gold
The Sleepmaster 3000 - 300 Gold
Potion of Strength - 600 Gold
Tribal Warrior Face Tattoo - 1200 Gold
Championship Cutlass - 1800 Gold
Amazing Apple Pie - 80 Gold
'Hat, Headband, Moustache' - 160 Gold
Tribal Warrior Body Tattoo - 300 Gold
Potion of Skill - 600 Gold
Mysterious Ring - 1000 Gold
Not a bad array of stuff, if you ask me. A few clarifications: All items are accompanied by longer explanations that I'll refrain from listing here for brevity's sake. Each potion permanently increases the corresponding attribute. 'Hat, Headband, Moustache' appears to be the Albion version of rocks-paper-scissors. The Sleepmaster 3000 is a sweet-lookin' bed. And the last item in each category is almost assuredly one of the "...amazing items that you can't buy anywhere else in Albion," in the words of the in-game help text.
Fable II Pub Games is certainly braving new territory in the downloadable games space, and for that it is, at the very least, noteworthy. Whether it proves to be a savvy effort that Fablers will be happy to have played or a crude cash-in that leaves dedicated gamblers with little more than the equivalent of free hors d'oeuvres remains to be seen. Here's hoping for the former.
Because I am the go-to role-playing guy, I find myself going through periods where I am pumping out fewer reviews, because I am playing much longer games. I apologize for not getting Spectral Force 3 written sooner; juggling things can get more complex than you may imagine when it comes to stacks of RPGs, and SF3 is a long, occasionally difficult, game.
The good news is that I have three RPGs on my desk, and all three reviews should be published by release day. Atlus is always good about getting us review code early, and Zoids Assault plays on a retail machine, so I can get the achievements for myself! Sadly, the discs for the other two games--Too Human and Tales of Vesperia--play only in developer units, so I will be unlocking achievements for a non-XBL gamertag.
However, you can see some of these achievements pop up in some video I took of Too Human this morning. Microsoft is allowing us to post screens and video in advance of the review embargo date, though they do not wish us to include cutscenes or story points, in order to avoid spoilers. Still, I can share with you some gameplay footage. This isn't official site footage--I recorded using an SD deck, and the image resolution is a bit off. But it should give you an early taste.
Here is a short clip of an early mini-boss:
We've already sent an inquiry asking for permission to post blog entries about Tales of Vesperia; if I get the go-ahead, I will do some entries showcasing gameplay there as well. Keep your eyes on this blog!
Because the only difference between Rock Band and the Track Pack is the setlist, we're not giving it a proper review. Instead, we're using the Reviews Blog to give you the details on the tracklist and help you decide whether or not it's worth your hard-earned cash.
One of the reasons people are still playing Rock Band on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is because Harmonix has consistently made new songs available for purchase online. Unfortunately for PlayStation 2 and Wii owners, their versions of the game don't support downloadable content so the only way to get new songs is to purchase a Track Pack, the first of which is now available.
Rock Band Track Pack Volume 1 contains 20 songs and carries an MSRP of $30 (USD). The songs are as follows:
Blink-182: "All the Small Things"
The All-American Rejects: "Move Along"
30 Seconds to Mars: "The Kill"
Weezer: "Buddy Holly"
Stone Temple Pilots: "Interstate Love Song"
Faith No More: "We Care a Lot"
David Bowie: "Moonage Daydream"
The Police: "Synchronicity II"
Boston: "More Than a Feeling"
The Hives: "Die, All Right!"
Oasis: "Live Forever"
Ramones: "Teenage Lobotomy"
KISS: "Calling Dr. Love"
Queens of the Stone Age: "Little Sister"
Nine Inch Nails: "March of the Pigs"
Smashing Pumpkins: "Siva"
The Grateful Dead: "Truckin'"
Lynyrd Skynyrd: "Gimme Three Steps"
Wolfmother: "Joker & the Thief"
You don't have to own the original Rock Band to play the Track Pack, as it's a completely independent piece of software--you boot it up just like you would Rock Band. The main downfall with this design is that if you want to switch between Rock Band and the Track Pack, you'll need to turn off the system, remove the disc, put the other disc in, and start the game again. This downtime certainly has the potential to bring your Rock Band party to a screeching halt. All of the modes found in Rock Band are also found in the Track Pack, so you won't have to switch discs if you one to play a new mode, or go from single-player to multi-player.
So, is it worth it? That depends on how you feel about the songs on the disc and how much you're jonesing for new Rock Band tunes. If you like a fair amount of songs on the disc, then go for it. If there's not much here to your liking, hope that there's a Volume 2. Oh yeah, and if you don't already own Rock Band and you're trying to decided between it and the Track Pack, Rock Band is clearly the better value (more songs and it comes bundled with instruments), so start there.
If you're interested in our review for Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit you might be wondering why, at the time of this writing, we've rated the Xbox 360 version but not the PlayStation 3 one. I realize that conspiracy theories detailing our supposed hatred of everything Sony can be fun, and I was sorely tempted to come up with one of my own, but the simple fact of the matter is that we haven't got our hands on a PS3 copy of the game yet. I expect the two versions will end up being near-identical, but obviously that's not an assumption we can make in a review. The PS3 version will be arriving in stores tomorrow, so definitely expect a review soon.
For the record, I'm not a big Dragon Ball Z fan and I doubt I ever will be. That's probably quite apparent in the review. What should also be apparent is that I enjoyed Burst Limit for what it is--a fast-paced and accessible fighting game with....well, with all of the other stuff mentioned in the review. Go read it.
In other news, I'm working on a review for the DS version of Arkanoid right now and I'm more than a little disappointed that it the US version isn't shipping with the paddle controller attachment it was packaged with in Japan. I guess I'll probably end up importing one of those.
In reviews land, we at GameSpot have been put in a really tough position by multiple developers and publishers of late. We refused to cater to one of these whims last week, in regards to the review code provided to us for Ninja Gaiden II by Microsoft. In case you weren't aware, code provided to American review outlets was not final, and frankly, did not perform well (oddly, the European press was given retail code. The discrepancy baffles us as much as it baffles you). Microsoft announced that many of these problems, such as loading times and framerate issues, would not be present in the final version. Some outlets published a review early and noted the potential differences. At GameSpot, we chose not to give you a review that isn't based on the same software, frankly because we think that playing along with this publisher-enforced mind game (and therefore enabling it) is unethical and does a disservice to our readers.
The more recent mind-boggling publisher requests have come from Konami regarding Metal Gear Solid 4--requests that we believe cross the line. The first involved an event that we wanted no part of. The majority of the American press was flown to Japan for a so-called "boot camp," where journalists spent two and a half days playing Metal Gear Solid 4 under the watchful eyes of the development team, socialized and dined with them, and then provided focus group-type feedback on the final day. We flatly refused this request, because we believe that this puts journalists in an unethical and awkward position. In our eyes, it would be inappropriate for us to participate in the development process. And we think most reasonable people would agree.
[edit: I reworded the above paragraph to more accurately reflect what this boot camp entailed. It was an invitation for journalists to participate in the development process, not a specific reviews event. However, we don't wish to blur the lines of journalistic integrity by participating in development. This was not a previews event, so GameSpot would have published no content based on this visit.]
It has also been widely reported that Konami blatantly asked the press not to mention two pieces of pertinent information in their reviews: how long the cutscenes are, and how long the installation process is. Publishers routinely ask reviewers not to publish certain story points because they are considered spoilers. That's fair, and we've never resisted requests of that nature. However, cutscene length and installation length are pertinent subjects within the context of a review, and speaking on a personal level, I believe it is flat-out wrong for any publisher to request that pertinent information be left out of a review. The journalist decides what information is most important for the review--not the developer or its publisher.
These are mind games that put us in an awfully awkward position. Of course we want our reviews to be timely and competitive, but never at the expense of accuracy and objectiveness. As reviews begin to trickle out from other publications, our audience complains that we're "late," and by securing exclusive reviews and playing along with these unreasonable publisher requests, some publications foster this idea that the reviews process is a race to publication. Publishers create this environment--but many press outlets enable it, without questioning it, because it brings them all-important traffic. I, for one, am more interested in a review that isn't haunted by these specters, and I think you would want the same.
As of this writing, we are unsure if we will have a Metal gear Solid 4 review published by the game's release date. We have not received review code, and the earliest Konami is willing to provide it is on the 9th, three days before release. It's unfortunate that publisher politics have reached this point, where refusing to meet these unreasonable demands means that we and our readers are effectively punished. Please understand this much: We will bring you a review of Metal Gear Solid 4 when we've played the same code on the discs you buy, and played it in an appropriate, unbiased environment. We think you'll agree that this is the only real choice.
As of this writing, I have put in close to 70 hours of playtime in Age of Conan and seen a good deal of content, both low-and high-level. The apprentice system is quite handy--it lets a mentor pull you up to his or her level so that you can quest and explore together. I am quite proud that I hit level 40. The first thing I did was hop onto my beautiful mammoth and rhino mounts. Sadly, I didn't get any screens of that, but I promise I will get a few, so you can see my gigantic, hairy mode of transportation.
This will be the last chronicle of Age of Conan adventures, though I will continue to play the game. Look for a review on Monday! And now, on to some final thoughts on my travels.
Eat Your Heart Out!
Seriously, one of my finishing moves is to reach into an enemy's chest, rip out its heart, and eat it. Can you imagine anything more visceral and awesome in an MMOG? Can you? No, you can't! Sadly, I have no shots of that either. I do have some video of team versus team PVP. As Shane Carpenter would say, "Boosh!"
I also have a few shots of PvP battles.
As you can guess, I've spent some late nights and long days with Age of Conan, but I will be spending a lot more time, this weekend and beyond. I send many thanks to my guildmates in Veritas, as well as fellow GameSpotters Rasgueado and PopTart (in-game names) for making it even more fun, friendly, and bloody.
On that note, I leave you with one last screen. It's cold and gory, and it's the essence of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.
Hi all! I've had several readers ask me about Ninja Gaiden II, and when they could expect to see a review post. The short answer, of course, is always the same: we will post a review when it is ready.
The long answer is that Microsoft did not send final code to review outlets. The build we received suffers from loading issues, visual glitches, and other noticeable flaws that may or may not be present in the game you buy. Here is the statement we received from Microsoft when we pressed them on the matter:
Just a quick note from Team NINJA below regarding the "Ninja Gaiden II" red discs. Please note that the delay in load times you may experience is not representative of the final game. In the final boxed copy of the game, which you will receive once the game ships to retail on June 3 in the U.S., you will not experience any lag in load times. Team NINJA is aware of the issue and requests your patience as you play through the review red disc.
Xbox 360 spins DVDR media slower than replicated media, so it's not representative of how final media will perform. Also, please keep in mind that this build distributed early to you guys for review purposes is not final retail code (emphasis added -- KV). While the build contains many final gameplay features, story elements, and graphical capabilities, it's a press evaluation build so it is not as fully optimized as a retail product. Generally, load time is one feature that improves between review builds and final product. While there typically is not a major noticeable difference between review builds and retail product, it can vary, so please keep this in mind while working on your review.
You may remember that we reviewed Lost Odyssey based on code provided to us as reviewable, and rightfully called out load times that lasted close to two minutes in our evaluation. The retail game did not suffer nearly as much as our review build did, and we replayed a significant portion of the game and adjusted our review text to reflect as much once the issue came to our attention. We do not wish to repeat that circumstance, and will only post our Ninja Gaiden II review when we know that it is factually correct.
Frankly, we aren't willing to accept any developer or publisher at their word when we're told that flaws in the review build will not be present in the retail game. While we want to bring you timely reviews, we are strongly committed to bringing you accurate reviews based on the same exact game that will be in the box. Games are expensive, and you deserve an honest evaluation based on the final product. Publishing an early review with potentially incorrect information (or one that glosses over important information because we take the publisher at face value) does a disservice to our readers.
We will publish our Ninja Gaiden II when we are fully confident that it reflects the game you will purchase. You deserve nothing less.
As of this writing I am at level 27, and I am proud of my guild, which has purchased its city plot and has begun scrounging gold for building. We're all a little taken aback at just how expensive this stuff is. Perhaps with the player economy in place the flow of funds will speed up, but for now, it will be a while before we're anywhere close to having our city done. We're proud of how far we've come though. If you are looking for a guild, put in an application for Veritas on the Set server. We'd love to have you!
Obviously, I have left Tortage and am now fending off my foes in the parched, sandy lands of Stygia. In the last few days, I've cleared out lions, bandits, hyenas, and plenty more. The most impressive creature I've found yet is a giant winged carrion eater, so it pains me that I wasn't taking screens when my groupmates and I were traveling those environs. There's a major Middle-Eastern vibe to Stygia, and I spent most of my time in Khopshef Province. If you've played Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and explored Khal, you have an idea of what the scenery offers here.
I'm also trying to earn my guild some PvP points, which are used to help determine who battles whom in siege battles. I haven't played the capture-the-flag variant, but I have taken part in team battles, which have a sort of Battlefield vibe to them, with capture points to hold that provide spawn points. As far as I can tell, there is only one map for this game type, which is disappointing, nor do a lot of people seem to be participating in the PvP minigames. But it's a lot of fun, more Guild Wars than Fury (thank God).
Of course, no role-playing game is complete without a bit of dungeon crawling, so fellow GameSpotter Rasgueado and I went head collecting. You can never have too many heads, I always say. I am also in love with my new charge move, which looks absolutely spectacular. Too bad I turned up the game brightness and forgot to turn it down: my new screens look a little washed out.
Note that I am wearing my collector's edition drinking cape. The spirit of booze is always with me!
I have reached level 16 in Age of Conan, a feat I wish I would have accomplished earlier, but the servers were down for several hours yesterday. Many people are rightfully worried about the game's stability. It has its share of problems, but they seem to be no more severe than most MMOs at launch. There has been some server downtime, but when in game, I have experienced no lag issues personally. However, I have encountered a broken quest (I cannot skin alligators; the loot bag shows glowing on the ground but when I click, its empty. Those damn skins are broken!) and some small issues here and there, like the existence of placeholder text in one spot. There is also a region in which some players are getting stuck. I haven't experienced this issue, but it seems to inconveniencing a number of players.
But don't be too taken aback by the fact that I started with some negative information: Age of Conan makes a hell of a first impression. It's a beast, though on my work PC, it runs pretty well at insanely high settings, though in terms of its system requirements, this is the anti-WoW. However, returns are high. From both a technical and artistic perspective, Age of Conan's production values are stunning. Never fear: I will play on a lower-quality machine at lower settings to see how it performs when the PC is closer to minimum requirements. Nevertheless, this isn't a case where high system requirements seem at odds with the result.
But I think it's time to catch you up on current progress!
Part 5: Getting in the Mood.
I recorded the game's intro for Jim to post, and it went up on the site yesterday. It's a great scene and a good way to get you in the mood for the baudy wit and carnage the ensues. See for yourself:
I also took some gameplay video so you can see some of the early game in action.
Part 6. The Heart of the Volcano
Renton knows stuff. And that stuff may be the key to discovering my origins. Seems I have this mark on my body that implies I was to be part of a brainwashed army, and Strom's buddy's got inside knowledge. His quest is part of the single-player introductory missions that take place at night within Tortage. It's a great way to get you engaged with the lore, and its been pretty engaging, though I have been alternating between those missions and the more standard MMOG questing.
In any case, Renton is a wuss, though his guards were tough cookies. This is me looking manly as I buff.
Part 7: Lady of the Twilight
Remember Casilda? I need her body, but not in the way she wants to give it. Rather, I need her blood. There's a volcanic ritual in progress, but if I can replace the virgin's blood used with, er, non-virginal blood, I can wreak havoc and disperse the advancing army. She seems more interested in other pleasures, but I'm focused on more important matters.
Part 8: Lava Go Boom
The trek up to the top of the volcano was not an easy one. I got crushed often, so I died maybe a good four times because I was biting off more than I could chew. Speaking of which, it seems like a good time to mention the death penalty. Before level 10, there is no death penalty. Afterwards, you take a 30-minute small penalty to stats, but you can go find your tombstone to remove the penalty. Finally I made it, but not after handling some lightning-spewing ritualists.
Eventually, I made the ol' bait and switch, and the volcano erupted in glorious fashion. At which point, I high-tailed it out of Dodge.
Look for a review perhaps by the end of next week, and a first-impressions article and video tomorrow. Also, be sure to check out the Age of Conan gameplay marathon tomorrow. See you then!
You might never have noticed it, but it's come to our attention that the review of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (DS) that we posted last week contained inconsistencies and factual inaccuracies. So, we have made the difficult decision to remove the review and will be posting a corrected replacement soon.
We regret the error, and apologise for any inconvenience caused.
Reviewing an MMOG is a tricky process, because I can't in all fairness start playing until the game is officially live. It also needs to played for a long time, more than games from most any other genre. As a result, prospective players often need to wait to get the information they crave, possibly even going so far as to buy a game they regret purchasing later.
Of course, my job is to play the game so you don't have to, and hopefully give you a good idea of whether any given game is worth your money, time, and effort. While you shouldn't expect to see a review for Age of Conan this week, for obvious reasons, I did want to share daily thoughts on my progress, with a little media to whet your appetite. It's 4:30 AM here, so obviously I have no gameplay videos yet to share, but I did take some screenshots of my travels in the last hour and a half. I hope you enjoy them!
Part 1: Delivering a stable launch.
Funcom will never live down its mercilessly buggy launch of Anarchy Online. Both that game and another MMOG, World War II Online, launched with disastrous results in 2001, so it's no surprise that Funcom was aiming for smooth sailing. They got it. Sort of. Funcom delayed the launch time several times throughout the day, finally setting the servers live at 3AM Pacific (the original announcement I read this morning had it at 7PM Pacific). In a world where we must choose one evil over another, I am personally grateful Funcom delayed the launch for a few hours until they were certain the servers were prepared.
It turned out to be a good move from my angle. I have only played for an hour and a half, but I experienced a smooth, lag-free experience without any noticeable issues. If Funcom can deliver this stability throughout the week, after the game has reached shelves across the country, then perhaps they can shed 2001's stigma at last.
Part 2: Row, row, row your boat.
You know, life as human property isn't all it's cracked up to be. But before I had to deal with the consequences of my slave ship's untimely sinking, I had to create a distinct look and choose a race and class. Looking through the manual, I already knew I wanted to play the Herald of Xotli class, which is a melee/magic hybrid. As a result, I went with one of the races that allowed the class: the Stygians. The Stygians value cunning over brute strength, but judging from my exploits later, I think I may have expanded my race's horizons a bit.
Character creation is surprisingly robust, though you can keep it strictly top level if you prefer. My final look was muscular and balding, just like me. Well, half like me, at least.
Part 3: Wherefore art though, oh Juliet?
The opening cinematics are quite well done in Age of Conan, but who has time to notice when you're lying on a deserted beach? Once I picked myself up, I went out into the jungle in search of a way into the city of Tortage. It probably won't be easy: my wrists are still bound by shackles.
In any case, I soon encounter a fair maiden dangling from chains. No, this isn't Lost in Eden 3! This is still Age of Conan, and the beautiful Casilda needs released. I go off in search of the key. As it turns out, I have to fight my way through some brutal battles to get it. Combat is easy to control but bloodily executed. By hitting the number keys, I bludgeon some baddies, but still make time to set a few of them on fire.
I set Casilda free, but it seems she's not content wading through the jungle on her own. Perhaps she forgot her scimitar at home? Anyway, I must escort her to Tortage, so she tags along while I continue beating up poachers and other minor meanies.
I take some time to gawk at the beautiful scenery and fluid animations on my gory trip through the lush vegetation. I dig the contrast between the beauty of the foliage and the thuds of my boat oar against the thick flesh of beastmen. But alas, I can't get too comfortable playing tourist. I continue slaying picts and collecting their nose bones while making my way towards the city. This could get messy. And indeed it does, for who should be blocking my way through the first set of gates than slave trader Saddur, who decides he can't let me pass because we both wore the same dress at his grandma's birthday party.
He goes down easily, but goshdarnit to heck, he doesn't have the key, so I have to make my way through the jungle ruins to the boss guarding the thing.
Part 4: Justin Calvert is right: Monkeys really do make everything better.
I've managed to earn a shiny new dagger by this point, as well as some awesome spells. One of them knocks back my target. Another turns me into a powerful pockmarked demon for a few moments. Good thing I grabbed some Oil of Olay. I'm level 4, and I've still got some ass-kicking to do, so I take out my aggressions on a few apes before I cross the bridge to the city proper. Just outside I meet Turach, who's building a lava dam and doesn't seem thrilled to see me so I move on. The new problem is that Wall captain Laranga can't let me in because I still have shackles on my wrists. Luckily he knows someone that can help. Of course it's the monosyllabic Turach.
Turach reminds me that I can't get something for nothing. And he wants bricks, so I have to fetch him some. This requires a public beatdown of some nearby thugs, though this time I am joined by other players, who seem to enjoy the bloody melee as much as I do. Finally, I tow the bricks back to Turach and he removes all traces of my iron retraints. Now that I can pretend to be a free man, I mosey on over to Laranga, who lets me into the city, where I prepare to crush some skulls.
Thus began my foray into the world of Hyboria. Look for more updates in this space as well as a proper hands-on impressions soon! Also keep your eyes open for a special Age of Conan event we're bringing you later this week.
Caution: Some readers could consider some of the following text and the accompanying video to include minor spoilers about the game Haze.
Hey shooter fans. I was able to get a good bit of time with Haze in this weekend, finishing the single-player story and getting plenty of co-op in as well. You should expect to see a review on Tuesday (I was hoping for Monday, but I need more time in multiplayer), but I know that some of you are chomping at the bit for more information.
I am not prepared to give much away regarding Haze's quality prior to posting a review. I originally planned to do a play-by-play blog as I did with Devil May Cry 4. However, my playtime has been split between home and the office. Rather than writing a timecoded series of updates, I instead opted to provide a compilation video that includes plenty of action and a smidgen of dialogue as well.
I also wanted to briefly cover a few mechanical points of interest. At a few points in the video, you will see me apparently drop dead, but in Haze, it's all a ruse: as a rebel, you can play dead if you take enough damage, thereby fooling your opponents. You may also see a grenade explode into a yellow waft of mist. This happens when you throw a nectar grenade, and it causes Mantel troopers to overdose, and therefore lose control, shooting at anything that comes near them, including their own comrades. Being on the receiving end of a nectar grenade is a fascinating experience, because you can no longer move and shoot of your own free will, but rather watch helplessly as you volley bullets at your unsuspecting buddies.
You will also see action from the opposite point of view. As a trooper, you can inject yourself with a dose of nectar to help you see your enemies, who will then glow brightly and make it easy to differentiate them in battle. Nectar has other advantages as well: you take less damage while the stuff courses through your veins, for example. Zooming in also works in favor of troopers, who see the action through an old-fashioned targeting reticle, rather than view their targets down iron sights, as rebels do.
A few notes about this video. Most importantly, it features vulgar language that is not appropriate for everyone, so I advise extreme caution. Additionally, while Free Radical has been fairly up front about the direction of Haze's plot, readers sensitive to spoilers of any kind should probably not watch this video--or read any preview or watch any interviews regarding Haze, for that matter.
Some new guy showed up at the office today, sat down at my old desk, and announced that he was ready to get started on his dream job. According to a post on the NeoGAF forums, our new reviewer's name is Tom Mc Shea. A subsequent Google search suggests that his previous exploits include work for both Kwanzoo and 1UP, as well as unwittingly starting rumors about the Xbox Originals releases of Jade Empire and Conker: Live and Reloaded.
We're pleased to welcome Tom "Gigglepoo" Mc Shea to the team. Look for his name on GameSpot reviews soon.
This Friday heralds the release of Iron Man into movie theaters and video game retailers nationwide. It also marks the arrival of Iron Man on my desk, six platforms deep and ripe for reviewing. Sega was hesitant to send copies out for fear of spoiling the movie, and 45 minutes into the PS3 version I can safely say those fears weren't unfounded. I've thus far managed to (don't worry, no spoilers to follow) escape from my cave/lab prison with the help of a few missiles and a flame-thrower that puts TF2's pyro to shame. Then I took the Mark II Flight Suit out for a spin that felt vigorously projectile in a manner befitting Iron Man, and was gleefully tearing apart tanks and snapping helicopters in two until an enemy I had destroyed failed to register as eradicated and I was forced to restart the level. I'm back at it now, feeling a little less shiny about the whole thing but determined to score myself a Mark III and throw some missiles around. I'll be at it all weekend so I can give you the word next week, but until then you'll just have to content yourself with seeing the film. Or playing some other game. There were a couple that came out this week, right?
So yeah, as you've probably heard by now, Grand Theft Auto IV is the first game since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 to score a perfect 10 on GameSpot. To paraphrase our review guidelines, this means that GTAIV, at the time of its release, could not have been improved in any meaningful way. That doesn't mean that GTAIV is perfect, because it isn't, but on this occasion it means that a few minor flaws are easy to overlook when considered in the context of everything that the game gets right.
You should know that awarding a 10, or any score for that matter, isn't something we take lightly. All of our reviews have to be approved by the entire reviews team as well as other editors before we post them, and this one was no exception. In fact, as soon as the idea of us awarding our first 10 since 2001 was mentioned in the office, a meeting was called in which everyone who had spent any time with the game or who is involved with reviews on GameSpot was invited to express their opinions.
I'm sorry that GameSpot's review arrived a little later than some of you would've liked, but to be perfectly honest I just wasn't ready to write it until I'd beaten the game at least once (check), spent plenty of time with both versions (check), and played every multiplayer mode online alongside a good number of other players (check). While playing through the story mode I also wanted to take as much time as my deadline allowed checking out some of the optional content, which is clearly a big deal in a game like this. I'm satisfied that I got a good taste of everything that GTAIV has to offer, but even now I'm eager to head home and fire the game up again so that I can complete some of the side missions I skipped.
In fact, I also plan to play through the entire story again. Not only because I want to see how it pans out if I make different decisions, but also because I didn't get to review GTAIV using my own gamertag on this occasion and... you know, I need the achievement points!
At the time of writing our video review isn't up on the site yet, but be sure to check it out when it hits because one of our video guys has been working all kinds of crazy hours to make it something special. Just for you.
Author's note: We'll be using the Under Review blog for a variety of purposes. One of them will be to revisit games once downloadable content is released, whether that content is a patch, an update, an additional feature, or other sundries. We recognize that games can change once these updates are released, sometimes in substantial ways, and we are looking for ways to communicate those changes to our readers.
Our policy regarding reviews remains the same; that is, we will not change review scores based on updates made to games after their release. Reviews provide a snapshot of a game as it existed when the review was written, and we cannot consistently revisit every game based on patches, tweaks, and added content. Nor will we be giving add-on content a score in the traditional sense. Consider the information we cover here to be an adjunct to the original review.
Revisited will be an ongoing column in Under Review, and we are seeking to improve how the content we cover here will be more accessible to readers who may be interested in those changes but may not stumble upon the column. In the meanwhile, if you know of a game that has been drastically altered by downloadable content, send an email to me at email@example.com, and make sure the word "revisited" is somewhere in your topic title. While we won't be able to make a second visit to every game you suggest, we'll use your suggestions to help determine which updates get featured here. I look forward to hearing from you! And now, onto our first Revisited.
Eight months and 256 MB of data add minor control improvements, but can't rescue Lair from the fiery abyss.
Lair was released last August to quite the critical drubbing. Towards the top of our long list of problems with the game were the horribly implemented Sixaxis controls, which made flying the game's impressive-looking dragons a nightmare of epic proportions--a sad circumstance indeed in a game that should have been epic for different reasons. This week, Sony released an update for the game, which added in analog flight options and a couple of extra dragons. We spent a good amount of time with Lair after downloading the hefty 256 MB update, and while we're happy to announce that analog controls have somewhat improved the experience, they haven't dramatically altered the game's awkwardness.
There's no question that flying your dragon is generally easier using the left analog stick, rather than steering with the controller. You can also now use the d-pad to perform a 180-degree turn, as well as to perform a dash, actions previously performed exclusively with motion controls. There's also the added option of a targeting reticle, which helps you target enemies should you want to spew flames at your winged foes in free flight. The reticle isn't always a welcome addition though, since it makes it difficult to see when the red lock-on circle has appeared on your opponents. If for some reason you are a glutton for punishment, the old control system is mostly intact, so you can access the new rides without sacrificing motion controls. However, the option to dash using motion controls has been completely removed. The end result is that jerking upwards to do a full about-face is easier to pull off. And that's good news.
As you would suppose, the new controls make general flight less cumbersome. However, ramming foes in mid flight is still performed exclusively with a jerk of the controller, though this move was arguably one of the more clumsy ones. Yet even if you delegate flight controls to the analog stick, Lair's other glaring problems are as noticeable as ever. The camera's fancy cinematic moves still get in the way; collision detection is crazy; locking onto enemies is still a messy endeavor; the waypoint system is still wildly inconsistent; and mission objectives are as confusing as before. And if you can imagine, there are new problems. For example, several tutorial pop-ups flashed for a split second and disappeared before we could ever read them, and the about-face hint teaches you to use the motion controls without mentioning that there is an analog equivalent (unless that was mentioned in one of the disappearing hints). And the option to tilt the camera by tilting the controller while engaged in ground combat, while proudly announced by a tutorial pop-up, is still non-existent.
The new winged lizards are interesting, particularly the speedy wind dragon, which sports a flexible neck that's intriguing to watch flail about when you engage troops on the ground. There's also a secret ride to unlock, though we'd rather not reveal the specifics of that peculiar surprise; Some Rogue Squadron fans may have an idea of what it is.
Lair is, at its core, the same game it always was. It's still pretty, it's still gawky and uncomfortable to play, and it's still shallow. If you were hoping the update would revolutionize the game, you'll be sorely disappointed. In actuality, the tweaked controls make it easier to notice a variety of other fundamental flaws. It's easier to fly around once you apply the update, but simpler maneuverability doesn't make Lair a good game.
As you're no doubt aware, the GameSpot reviews team is in the process of staffing up after a number of well-publicized departures. Today, we're pleased to announce that our first new hire is none other than Chris Watters! You may know Chris from such literary works as his Nanostray 2 and EA Playground reviews, or from his screen roles in our Halo 3 and Team Fortress 2 Tournament TV shows. You do not know Chris from an episode of Desperate Housewives or as "Major Victory" from Who Wants to Be a Superhero?
In other news, we'll be posting our review of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue later today and, at the time of writing, one of our reviewers is ranked #8 in the world on the Xbox Live Arcade version of Battlezone! It really has been a day for the ages. No, really.
It's only been a month or so since I formally transitioned to GameSpot's reviews team from the previews crew, but in that short time I've already been offered several "exclusive review" opportunities for the site. Some are for high-profile games that would no doubt afford us plenty of traffic were we the first to review them, while others are for games that publishers are likely desperate to raise awareness of, even if that means drawing attention to a review that might end up being less than positive. Regardless, my response is always the same:
GameSpot doesn't do exclusive reviews.
This has been the case here for as long as I can remember, and should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever taken the time to read our Review Guidelines. Not only could agreeing to an exclusive review invite a perceived conflict of interest where scores are concerned, but it would lock us into posting our review on a certain day, probably at a certain time, and almost certainly before we've had an opportunity to spend as much time checking out any online features as much as we'd like. Even ignoring the score stuff that's a problem, because we post our reviews when they're ready, and not before.
Reviewing online multiplayer games in a timely fashion is always going to be difficult because, ideally, we like to play on regular servers with regular folks before making our final judgment. That's a blog entry for another day, though. To get back on-topic, it's my experience (over 10 years ago, admittedly) that publishers involved in discussions for exclusive reviews often have some level of expectation when it comes to the score. Back in the day, when I was working on print magazines in the UK and the games industry wasn't nearly as professional or under as much scrutiny as it is now, I know for a fact that there were exclusive reviews being given to magazines in exchange for front covers and guaranteed scores. For the record, I was never a part of anything like that, but I was still affected by it.
One now-defunct publisher, who shall remain nameless, had the stones to complain about me to my boss when our exclusive review of a much-anticipated Nintendo 64 game, which was promoted on the magazine's front cover, only awarded the game in question the equivalent of a GameSpot 6.0. No score had ever been promised or even discussed prior to the publication arriving on store shelves, but I guess someone at the publisher got in trouble when it hit and tried to shift the blame onto yours truly. It didn't work, and while I still find the idea of exclusive reviews uncomfortable, I'd like to believe that the deals behind them aren't nearly as shady as they used to be.
Still, don't expect GameSpot to be posting any exclusive reviews soon. We'll do our best to be timely as we always have, but ultimately we place more importance on accuracy than on being first.