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A Boycott in Danger

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A couple months back, when the whole controversy involving Infinity Ward and Activision exploded, I decided I'd had enough. Activision's antics had become (and still are) too ridiculous and money-motivated for me to have good conscience in buying their products. I decided that unlike the loud mouths that permeate the comment sections of many a Gamespot article, I was actually going to man up and stand by my convictions. Until Activision changed its practices, ammended its approach to game development, and threw Bobby Kotick out of a 10th floor window, I was not going to give them a penny, and I've stood proudly by that. But along comes a curveball...

Starcraft II

Oh. Right. Blizzard merged with Activision. Whoops.

Suddenly, my convictions that were once ironclad are contemplating running around in a knit cap and a skirt. I loved the original Starcraft, and from what I can tell from friends and reviewers, this will not do me wrong in that regard. Couple that with the fact that I've never experienced anything but satisfaction from purchasing and playing a Blizzard game, and I've got a real problem on my hands. After passively wrestling with issue for the past few months, I've come to the decision that there is one instance, a loophole perhaps, that would allow me to purchase this game guilt-free.

After hearing about my plight, my friends (who both bought the game at launch) looked into a few things for me. The first thing that was pointed out is that nowhere on the Starcraft II box is there a single trace of Activision, in logo or in name. This is reassuring since they would never miss a chance to remind consumers whose product they're buying. Secondly, it has been speculated/suggested to me that Blizzard is still autonomous. Activision has pretty much been laissez-faire with Blizzard's development process, and in the words of my friend, "exists only to throw money at them whenever they need it." However, this doesn't change the fact that I still don't know where my $60 are going, whether to one, the other, or both as a whole. (Clearly, my knowledge of business is severely limited.)

So I'm putting it up to you guys. Is it breaking rank to purchase this game, suspecting that somewhere behind the scenes Activision is pulling strings and cashing in? Or, assuming Activision is getting something out of this, is this exactly what I want out of the publisher: for them to allow creative and talented developers to do their job without restraint? Your thoughts are most appreciated.

Oh, right, this thing.

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Ah, yes, it's been a while since I've even looked at you, Blog. I was quite the angsty teen back in the day, wasn't I?

Truth be told, I don't really have much to say right now, but I suppose I could pass on a few opinions on some of the stuff I've played recently.

First off, Toy Soldiers (XBLA) is absolutely fantastic. It's a sort of tower defense hybrid. You set up your turrets and they'll fire automatically, but you can also manually control all of them. Throw in a small handful of tanks, planes, and a sniper tower, and there's a lot to love. It's wonderfully addicting and well worth the 1200 MS points. The soundtrack is also very catchy and fitting.

Assassin's Creed 2: far superior to the original in just about every way. The dual wrist blades and other added weapons mix up combat well, and Ezio is a much more fully fleshed-out character. Unlike with Altair, I actually cared about what happened to Ezio and his family. For those that like achievements, I found that these were much more attainable than in the original, since there weren't 5 billion flags to collect.

Lastly, Red Dead Redemption is everything that GTA couldn't be, including being a game that continues to be fun beyond the 5-hour mark. In lieu of the dreary and repetitive graywash of Liberty City is a vast desert filled with all kinds of different wildlife begging to be shot and skinned. The weapons, though simple, feel and sound right, and each kill-shot is especially satisfying. As for the lead character, John Marston is an incredibly likeable man, despite his flaws, and his story is one that had me hooked on continuing the story to its ultimately satisfying end. The side missions kept me busy after I finished, and the online modes are pretty solid, though I'm much more a fan of the online 16-player free roam mode than any of the competitive modes.

These are just quick summaries of my thoughts, so if anyone has any questions I'd be glad to go more in depth.

RROD: Ruiner of Festive Occassions

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I'm sorry that my returning blog post is one so filled with misery and frustration, but I really don't know what else to do with myself right now. For the second time in a little over a year, my 360 has decided to kick the proverbial bucket.

Last year, the infamous red rings decided to tear the soul out of my 360 the day after my birthday. There I was with a handful of new games, and no console to play them. It was torture. Now I have an even worse matter at hand. My 360 has died AGAIN. I just figured I'd play a few minutes of Rock Band 2 before finishing homework and going to bed. Not to be. No sooner had I gone to check my friends list than the screen became pixelated. I figured it had to do with the NXLE, so I just shut it off. When I turned it back on, no WEEOOW tone or floaty logo greeted me, no BLEEP signifying my successful log in to XBox Live, just the crimson flash of a downed companion.

Normally, I'd just say "whatever, I'll deal," and move on with my life. However, for the second time, this horrible event has taken place right around a gift holiday. Christmas is in a little over 3 weeks, and it's not unreasonable to expect to receive a handful of games. In fact, the majority of my Christmas list is composed of 360 games and controllers and such. The odds of me getting my system back by that time, though, are looking very grim to me. The worst part is that it's not only going to affect my Christmas, but I will be 360-less through my vacation, a time when I'd actually be able to tackle such daunting tasks as the Endless Setlist or just sit and enjoy my free time.

I suppose on a bittersweet note (99 parts bitter, 1 part sweet), I'll now have no distractions from the college application process which has been hanging over my head like a guillotine blade for the past few months. Happy holidays, indeed.

On Too Human and Gamespot's Reviewer Inadequacy

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First off, I'd like to say hello to any of my friends who actually read my blogs. I've been gone for almost all of the summer, so I haven't been able to write very much. It's nice to get back into a regular routine here at home though.

But enough small talk. I should probably make it clear that I haven't put much weight into Gamespot's reviews since the Gerstmann incident. I learned to get over it and use the reviews as a tiny bit of insight, but rely more heavily on demos, a collection of many reviewers, and friends' opinions. I was able to look past the 10 given to the fun but nowhere near perfect GTA 4. I was even able to look past the 10 given to the Metal Gear Solid 4, the latest entry in what is, in my opinion, one of the most overrated gaming series in history. But this 5.5 on Too Human blows my mind.

Let's set some things aside right now. Yes, the camera can be obnoxious sometimes. Yes, the game is short. (I finished one playthrough, looking for all side areas, in about 12 hours.) No, the story isn't all that appealing. But I'm really questioning whether Kevin VanOrd even played the game. To call it "too...frustrating to recommend" is HIGHLY overstated. The levels are big, but frankly I'm not sure why you'd be walking around when there AREN'T enemies. (KVO apparently decided to do so, making me wonder if he's looking for reasons to hate this game.)

Another of his complaints was that the status effects last too long, and that many will kill you since finding health is near impossible. I died a few times from poisoning and such, but those were times that I was already down below 50% health and had already broken the numerous containers (that usually hold health or money) that skirt most of the battlefield. The graphics are better than "decent," I've only experienced one minor glitch in my 20 total hours of play, and complaints about Baldur's "woosh and clank" noises are really trivial. I'd like to give KVO the benefit of the doubt and say that the ludicrous 5.5 score is due mainly to the fact that he expected the world from Too Human and didn't get what he was looking for, but I also feel that would be naive of me.

I urge everyone to give the game at least a rental. The demo is also a good length, and gives you a good feel for how the game plays out. If you go into the game expecting what the game is, a dungeon crawler with unbelievable amounts of loot (many of the items look stunning, by the way), you'll really appreciate what Too Human has to offer. Look for a review soon, once I've played the game a bit more and with all of the other classes.

Insignificant Post Number One: Rock Band

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This is clearly not a full blog. I just wanted to put it out there for anybody else on my friends list that has Rock Band: If any of you like Disturbed, the new pack is totally worth the download. The songs are great, and the expert drum parts are INSANE....loooots of bass.

The Equalizer: aka Mario Kart Wii

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Ok, by now most of us who own a Wii, or know somebody who has one, have played the new Mario Kart game. I'll go out on a limb and say most of us also probably really enjoyed the game, as it's never been a series to disappoint. However, much complaining has been done about how the new game, like others before it, is extremely unbalanced this time around due to the items. The point I'd like to now drive home is again about the lack of balance, but not so much due to the items, but the courses themselves.

This issue really only became apparent to me when I began playing online. I enjoyed it for a little while, until Wario's Gold Mine began getting spammed, and I was treated to courses like Moonview Highway over and over again. For that reason, these are the two I'm going to go at for this blog. First off, Wario's Gold Mine.

To start off, let me preface by saying that my issue isn't so much with the track itself, though its lack of rails for the majority of the course is absolutely devious. My problem is that in the handful of times I've played online, there has been at least one person every time who picked this track in voting, including the times right after finishing that very course. Frankly, I don't want to play the same course over and over again, and I don't know many people who do. But because the track is selected at random from those tracks voted on, I once found myself racing in the mine for 3 out of 5 races. Please, find a new favorite track, or pick random.

My second gripe is with Moonview Highway. For those who haven't played this game yet, imagine Toad's Turnpike from the N64 which was actually a very fun course. Now take those cars that you had to avoid and make them completely unavoidable by allowing them to change lanes with less than a split second's notice. I don't care how good you think you are, when you're in an open lane and a car decides to jump to your lane with no warning, there's absolutely nothing you can do but clench your teeth and hope you manage to get out of the way. And this isn't the exception; it's pretty much the rule. I must've been hit at least 6 or 7 times in the last race I played. The other thing I noticed was that it seemed like one person got extremely lucky each time I played and managed to get out ahead of the pack at the beginning of the race. Thus, while everyone else was in a giant cluster(f bomb) not far out of the gate, this player could be much less reckless, fearing only the odd spiny shell, which strangely enough didn't surface much.

The overall feeling that I'm getting from this game is that in being more ridiculous with its new courses, it's leveled the playing field 10 times better than any game before it. There was always the element of luck before, but now even a strong victory just feels like the cards got dealt in my favor, not that I overcame some nasty red shell hits and made it to the finish line ahead of the pack. This is great for when I'm playing with my younger cousins who don't have the experience I have with gaming, as it allows them to be much more on par with me. But when I'm playing online, I don't want to cross my fingers and pull the slot machine lever hoping for a jackpot; I want my experience to weigh more heavily.

In conclusion, please understand that I do really enjoy this game. It's great when friends come over and for playing with my family and such. I just think Nintendo may have gone a little too far this time in trying to reach out to a broader base of gamers. Then again, maybe I've just grown up a bit more.

Wow Hockey?

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Yes. Hockey. I've never been overly interested in the sport. It's actually odd considering my love for lacrosse, which is very similar. But tonight I had hockey thrown in my face, and I loved every second of it.

My uncle managed to get 2 front row tickets behind the goal to game six of the quarter finals between the Bruins and the Canadiens. Let me just say that I've never experienced such an atmosphere. The crowd refused to quiet down and it was back and forth all game; the teams matched goal for goal. There's nothing like watching the 6'9" Bruins defenseman, Zdeno Chara absolutely jacking someone up against the boards right in front of your face, and having those said boards cave in about half a foot closer to said face. But stats do him no justice; this monster can only be appreciated watching him right in front of you. Thankfully, the Bruins managed to pull off the win in the final minutes and hold it.

Sure, this blog wasn't especially well-planned, written, or conceived, but I really just wanted to get my point out about how much this took me by surprise. I plan to follow hockey much more closely in the coming seasons. It won't touch (American) football as far as I'm concerned, but it certainly makes for a great off-season distraction.

Moss, Missing Emblems, and the Near Future

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Well, it's been quite some time since I wrote my last blog, but seeing as I'm not quite ready to dive into my stats homework just yet, I figure now's as good a time as any to put some thoughts out there.

First off, words can not express my happiness (and relief) that the Patriots have resigned Randy Moss. I honestly thought he'd probably be coming back, but the thought of losing such a crucial weapon in our offense still terrified me. Asante Samuel can enjoy his money and his six years with the Eagles, but I'd really like to see Junior Seau return. Other than that, assuming we can fill in the gaps punched in our secondary, I think we'll be looking at another great season.

My Best of 07 emblem is gone. And it's been AWOL for a good week and a half now. Maybe I shouldn't really care, but it's a bit odd when just about every other person's profile that I've viewed has this emblem...and mine has yet to return.

Lastly, what a couple of weeks we have coming up. Brawl is FINALLY launching this weekend, and I will most definitely be picking it up as soon as I get out of work. It really looks as though Nintendo has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this power-ups, new characters, excellent soundtrack, online play, and of course the stage editor. And unlike some games that just throw a bunch of useless junk together and try to call it a good value, from what I've seen in other sites' review scores and previews, this will definitely not be the case with Brawl. Just what I needed to get me back on my Wii. The only problem is...Rainbow Six Vegas 2 comes out just over a week later. I was extremely impressed with the orginal, and this one doesn't look to disappoint either. Now all I need is an extra day in the weekend so I'll actually have the time to enjoy them.

Anywho, until next time! =)

- Josh

Hey Patriots...

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Where were you guys last night? There was a team out there. They had the blue jerseys with the Patriots logo. A lot of them carried the names of the players we love. But that was not our team.

I'm not going to beat around the bush. The Patriots played like crap. Missed picks, missed SACKS (if you saw the game, you know which one I'm talking about), inaccurate passing, and an offensive line that looked like it could've been knocked over by a slight breeze...all led to a Giants victory, that quite frankly, they deserved.

Yet, now that the shock and frustration has worn away slightly, I realize that maybe I and the rest of my fellow (true) Patriots fans can't be completely let down. Fact is, we're 18-1. Yeah, that one loss is the absolute worst possible loss of the entire season. But on the flipside, '72 Dolphins be damned, 18 wins is still more than 17, regardless of percentage. You can get a 100% win record by playing a single game. The fact that the Patriots did it with a salary cap only adds to the achievement. Sure, they're not perfect, but an 18-win streak is damn-near untouchable.

So rest up Eli, and Peyton (who looked great sitting up in the luxury box, I rather enjoyed it), and anyone else who thinks it's over. You have this year, but you'd better bet your kids' college fund that the Patriots will be back with a vengeance next year.

First Impressions: Bioshock

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I know, the first impression comes months after the release of the game, one lauded for being one of the greatest games of all time. If it means anything, I'm ashamed that I didn't pick it up on release day. This game had me shivering with excitement just minutes in. The atmosphere is what truly makes this game. You swim past your plane as it's visibly sinking Titanic-style into the ocean, only to walk into one of the most ominous welcome rooms ever seen. And of course, the initial view of the city of Rapture is jaw-dropping as well.

Obviously I'm not very far into the game (still looking for my radio friend's family in the medical section), seeing as this is a first impression. However, I'm already very impressed with the environment and combat. The game is set in the 1960s, and music from the time period plays through speakers as you walk through the halls past neon-lit shops. It really has to be experienced firsthand, or you won't understand the feeling you get from it. As far as the combat goes, it's very unique. You have a limited supply of ammo, and your EVE (think mana) runs out quickly from using spells, but at the same time, you never really feel underpowered. There's just enough of a shortage to keep you conservative, but not enough to make situations seem impossible. Now if you'll excuse me (and this poorly-planned, hastily-written blog), I'm off to Rapture.

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