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I'm Legend-wait for it-Dary on the Wasteland

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Well, I'm pretty much done with Rage. The single player campaign is done, and as I'd heard it ends abruptly. Even expecting it to end abruptly, I was still surprised when it did. It was a very good game, and the 8.0 review GameSpot gave it feels right. It's pretty enough and does everything well, but a host of outdated mechanics take some of the shine off. I did two public Rage races, but matchmaking is bad, as I was one of three n00bs matched against a veteran whose car greatly outclassed ours.
What was surprisingly fun was the Legends of the Wasteland co-op missions, nine bite-sized scenarios to complete. They open and close with a Dukes of Hazzardish narration, and I lucked into getting matched with a competent teammate who also had a mic. I may try to chase the 'complete a Legend with no one dying' achievement. Unlike the single player, these are a bit challenging.
With nothing I'm desperate to play console-wise, I'm thinking about dusting off the GBA and tackling The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. And I'll keep at MW2, both to stay sharp for MW3 and to earn more titles/emblems just because.

I tried the upgrade to iOS 5 for my 3GS yesterday. Sadly, like many others it failed due to high demand after about an hour. I woke early at started it at 4:45. Since I'd already downloaded the software it was able to skip that part, but since wholly new OSes totally wipe your phone and then do a full restore and sync from a backup, it still took a good 90 minutes to complete.
There's nothing to hate in the upgrade, and lots to like. Italics/bold/underline in email is great. They have some "reading list" thing in the Safari browser, which I'm guessing is temporary bookmarks for stuff you want to get to/read, but don'tneedto add to Favorites. The faster camera access from an off phone shaves precious seconds off getting the camera open to take a quick photo when the opp isn't likely to last long. Cropping and simple editing for photos is also nice. You can also easily tweet stuff directly from your phone. It's all pretty good.

I also have to give continued props to Jeff Probst for his live-tweeting during Survivor. It really takes watching the show to a whole new level. Between observations and behind-the-scenes tidbits, you learn so much. He also responds to questions on his TOUT account (like Twitter, but for 15 second videos). Really if you love the show but aren't on Twitter, it's worth an account just to follow him, and you may be able to see his tweets without even being a user.

Also, I have to thank Ice-T (@FINALLEVEL), who gave me a retweet response over Twitter to me this weekend. He's big into videogames, and I asked if he was psyched for Christopher Meloni being a new playable character in MW3. He actually didn't know about it, but responded all the same.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Raging!

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While I'm not done 100% forever, Dead Island is essentially in the books for me. I wrapped up the story and even have all of the co-op achievements, leaving me at a nice 895GS for the game so far. I'm still slogging through co-op to quickly get xp to hopefully get to level 50, worth another 30GS. It would be nice to push myself over 900GS. Unfortunately, like most other co-op, you rarely encounter people with a microphone. I've played with at least 30 people for varying lengths of time, and I think 3 of them were miked up, and even then you hardly talked; most of us have finished the game so we know the quests and what to do, so the need for cooperation isn't really there. This overall has been a great game, and it's easily worth a purchase. I'll likely trade it back during early November's Uncharted 3/MW3/Elder Scrolls V orgy.

Speaking of trade-in, I took Catherine (which was a disappointment), Madden NFL 12 (which I became disenchanted with), and L.A. Noire (which realistically I was never playing again even if more DLC came out) to GameStop and walked out with Rage and about $8 credit on my PowerUp card. I only played the first real mission or two, but it's really fun so far. I'm playing on Nightmare difficulty (the hardest of the four offered),but really it's not so bad; nowhere near playing a CoD on Veteran. My first impressions, positive:

  • Beautiful to look at with a neat desert-ish, washed outcolor palette.
  • Great alternate ammo types and items to make to help you.
  • Save control. I've seen reviewers say the saves are "broken", which couldn't be further from the truth. Letting me flip between saves and have control over when I do so is exactly what I want. No, the game doesn't auto-save a lot and there is some convenience lost, but this is far more preferable to a game that auto-saves only and doesn't have extra save slots, leaving me worrying every time if this will be when a moron wraps his car around a utility pole and I lose my whole game.
  • Enemies move like I've never seen before. It's like each one has their own mind: some charge wantonly, some evade, some pause to threaten. It really keeps you on your toes and keeps combat fresh.

First impressions, negative:

  • Occasional texture pop-in; Dead Island did it a bit, too, in complicated environments. At times, you'll walk outside and the barebones landscape is there, and the detail morphs in.
  • Could use a world map.
  • Invisible walls. Aren't we passed having one-foot high obstacles that suddenly we can't hurdle?

Also, if you've still got your copy of Portal 2, free DLC is now available. Sadly, while it includes challenge modes for single-player, the new test chambers are just for stupid co-op, so it's not a ton of use to me. It's like giving me dinner of pizza and liver and then offering me more liver, but "sorry, we're all out of pizza." Also, it seems there aren't new achievements, so now there's really no reason to play. About the only incentive is leaderboards for if I were really good at the single player challenges. *Sigh*

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Cheers!

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It's been three years since I've watched CSI: Original Recipe. I've seen snippets here and there, but I don't think I've seen a whole episode since the season 9 premiere resolving the shooting or Warrick. I'd seen enough to know thatLaurence Fishburne'sRaymond Langstonwas far too dark to be popular; he's a prefectly cromulent actor, but the character was not so good.

But Ted Danson has really breathed life into the show. I saw a bit last week after Criminal Minds (that's how out of the loop I was, as I had no idea it had moved) and found his character to be a pretty neat one. It was better for CSI to move a bit quirky, and he is, but not unprofessionally or awkwardly so. I guess Damages proved he can do drama, and this is the sweet spot in between. And as it turned out, I actually watched the entire CSI episode last night. And it was just like it always is, which is mostly a good thing. I doubt I'll bother DVRing it, and I'm not staying up until 11:00 every Wednesday, but I'll likely check out an episode here and there.

In gaming, I'm still on Dead Island and can't recommend it enough. It's been very fun, very challenging, with just a bit of repitition in side missions, as games like this almost always have. The game world is just so huge with a lot to explore. I decided to go back to an earlier area since it feels like I may be advancing to a point of no return climax-wise, and sure enough in a spot on the map I hadn't travelled through there was an encampment with tons more people offering sidequests; it was an area that if you followed the radar/GPS to all missions given otherwise, you never stumble upon. Anyway, it got me another level for my character, Xian Mei the sharp weapons expert. While near there, I also stumbled upon a neat homage to classic horror movies, and got a chainsaw for my troubles (which included double-digit deaths). Fun times!

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt

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So, Two and a Half Men has finally had its Sheen-free debut. As expected, it drew monster viewership for the series' highest ratings ever and also led to 2 Broke Girls having the highest rated sitcom premiere in the past decade. And on a related note, the Charlie Sheen roast (which is sitting on my DVR) was the second highest-rated show of the night. I thought the episode was very well-done. Obviously it had a lot to deal with, so the timing and rhythm wasn't the same as most previous episodes. But from the opening with a host of ex-flings to the cameos during the open house, it was pretty funny. Even if I weren't the TV.com editor I'd still keep watching.

As for the rest of the season, I'm already liking the new Coach/Ozzy Survivor (I'm on Team Coach), and while the How I Met Your Mothers were enjoyable, now they've found two stories to string us along on, which I'm less enthused about. I am looking forward to at long last having the whole Criminal Minds team back together tonight. That one goes to show that if fans make enough of a stink, the producers will reverse course from an unpopular decision. Honestly I didn't really miss A.J. Cook too much (I like her well enough, but her character doesn't do much), but the possibility of no more Paget Brewster would've tempered my enjoyment of the show.

As to gaming, I've soured on Madden NFL 12. It's just a money ploy, and I don't mean in the "it's the same thing every year" griping way; I mean in the "the Ultimate Team can't be made ultimate without spending real money" way. I've also found myself to not be competitive; I didn't expect to have the domination I did in college on Madden '93, but to win at least a third of the time would have been nice. After not playing for so many years, my skills are too dull.

Meanwhile, I've started Dead Island and really dig it. It's fun, fast, and challenging just the right amount; you never feel stuff is impossible, and much is quite easy, but if your attention wanders that random fight against one zombie turns into being surrounded by six and dying rapidly. Of the six zombie types mentioned in the manual, I've only encountered the first two: the slow walkers and the'quickly make a beeline for you'infected. There's also Thugs, which aren't mentioned in the manual. They're huge brutes who seem to be like Cybermen; they pretty much leave you alone unless you're deemed a threat. I've also learned a great technique when near water is to try to kick zombies into it.When they fall from a kick it always buys you some time, but if they fall and their head goes under water they'll take drowning damage, speeding the overall killing process.

On the negative, Dead Island is as immensely fun as its physics are bad. Wading through a pool should not be stopped by an inflatable lounger, which is essentially anchored to the surface and acts as an impediment. I've also found some stairs that I very nearly thought I'd have to reboot because I simply couldn't climb back up; I'd just keep sliding back down once I got near the top, which was a problem since it was to an underground bathroom with no other exit. Oh, well, there's so many people around with so many things for you to do that you can't get too mad as none of these quirks have been game-breaking (so far). And the fact that you can take your time to explore, unlike Dead Rising where you're racing against a clock, is a big plus.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

The Ultimate

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I wrapped up Resonance of Fate and can still say I loved every minute of it. I got a solid 75–80 hours of enjoyment from it, and it was money well-spent. Interestingly, even though battles are very much the same every time and there's not a ton of monster variety, combat stays fun the whole time. The only thing I really ignored of the optionals was the Arena, which at 50 skill levels of three battles each level to advance is just way too long to commit time to. I also didn't do the Neverland dungeons, which don't become available until the second to last boss and you likely don't realize you have access even then. It was really great to get such a positive experience from I game I pretty much took a leap of faith on.

Meanwhile, I'm now onto Madden NFL 12, my first Madden title in seven years. It's in no small part due to the fact that my beloved Eagles are—if not an actual Dream Team, as they've been called—an absolute beast of a Madden team, with forums mostly saying they're pretty much the best Madden team ever. It's also due to the game improvements over the years being a 'must see' for me.

As a disclaimer, yes, the announcing is hella-bad. To be fair Cris Collinsworth's color commentary is actually pretty decent; he gets some funny lines and it's mostly spot-on and technically accurate, especially when he's talking about receiving. There are some minor flubs, as once I batted a pass and intercepted it at my opponent's 2-yard line, basically takinga singlestep for the TD; Cris then delivered a line that much more suggested I'd ran it back 60 yards, evading opponents the whole time. Sadly, the play-by-play is a royal cluster**** of a mess, with wrong names called, completed passes referred to as incompletes, wide receiver's names getting used as the defender who just leveled them. Top it off with the announcer being major-league nobody Gus Johnson and it's the game's sore spot.

Also, the menu music makes itfeel like they think only young blacks play the game. It's all rap, with half the artists I've never heard of before and A Tribe Called Quest's "Award Tour" is the only song I'd ever heard of before (plus many I recognize used as samples). Do they not get that near-40 suburban white guys play Madden, too? Where's the Hall and Oates, Billy Joel, or even Ke$ha or Britney?

On the plus side, it's gorgeous and fully authentic, right down to Andy Reid's ample bosom. Every stadium feels real and plays the right music. The uniforms get the right amount of dirty as the game goes on. In Philly, the fans even sing "Fly, Eagles Fly" after touchdowns and Swoop leads the team onto the field in introductions. It's also really difficult to pass, which is probably very authentic but can be frustrating. This seems to be a 'running is easy, passing is tough' year.

I've really mostly been doing Madden Ultimate Team, the collectable card team-making game that was free DLC in years past, but they've just put it in from the get-go now. It's fun buying new packs of cards with the coins you win and hoping for something great, be it a new stud player or the stadium for your favorite team. Add trades and auctions and the fun increases; I'm hoping the person who's asking for a different stadium in exchange for their card of The Linc accepts my offer of the top-open version of the Colts' Reliant Stadium. Anyway, as I usually do when needing inspiration to name something in a videogame, I turned to TV to get my team name, going with Van Buren Boys, which is both from Seinfeld and also honors Eagles '40s Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren.

Of course, it becomes apparent that since the cards for players and coaches have contracts for about 10 games and contract extension cards are not overly plentiful, it's tough to keep lots of good players (low skill bronze packs of cards are so cheap you can get them forever) unless you're so good that you're earning tons of coins per game. Of course, you can buy contract extensions and card packs with Microsoft Pointsin addition to thein-game coins. Somewhere down the road there'll be a story of a kid who spent $500 building and maintaining a team before his parents figured out why their credit card bill was so high.

I'm still new and often getting slaughtered by people who've played for years and are used to the newer control schemes of recent years, as I often find myself flailing at the controller trying to activate commands that are no longer used. But I win, too, and already have achievements for tougher things like four interceptions in a gameand two pick-6's in a game. I am kicking myself that I ran for 225 yards with LeShawn McCoy, not realizing I was that high or i'd have ran the extra six for the 231 rushing yards acheivements.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to hopefully mastering (at least a bit) more gameplay nuances.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Member of the 10% Club!

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I have to say that Resonance of Fate has proven to be a wonderful hidden gem of a game. It's the right amount of challenging with a host of subtle battle mechanic naunces serve alongside a generous heap of "the J in JRPG" goodness. The main characters are all fun and there's been some interesting cutscenes, none of which drag on endlessly. 30 hours in and the (back) story is slowly coming to bear, which seems to involve children needed for experiments of some sort (one of whom is a main character) and maybe a link to vampirism. Combat has a lot of things to keep track of, and some fights seem very difficult, but they always toss in a way to win if you can just realize it.

Having "bezels" that both are used for powerful "Hero Action" attacks but also replenish characters' HP when they're reduced to zero is quite a concept, and chock full of risk/reward. If they're all wiped away, you go 'critical' and your characters cower in fear and seem weak. Many times I take that gamble and use the last bezel for a powerfulattack, betting I'll kill an enemy or destroy a body part, both of which restore a bezel. It also leads to forgetfulness as I'll find myself critical from not paying attention. This game's been a fun ride. If you like (J)RPGs, get on out and grab this; I only paid $18 for my pre-owned copy.

Meanwhile, CNN just put up a great article. Apparently, only 10% of games purchased ever get finished. It boggles the mind, but it provides a lot of reasons for why that's the case. I can't ever see doing that. I start a game and finish it—period. I only quit if it's terrible, not to just move on to something else. I'd rather play 10 games to completion than 20 games halfway through. I get the reasons that they're saying, but I guess I'll wait for a great new game a few days or weeks to finish what I'm on, partly because I know I'll let the first game fall by the wayside and I'll never go back. That happened to Advance Wars: Days of Ruin; I misjudged how long it would take to play, GTA IV came out (which was really no choice but to get immediately), and that was the end of it. This is also another example of the graph where teens have more time for games but less money and it shifts the opposite way as you get older.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth?

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For starters, here's my pick for best and worst of the new fall show: Person of Interest (even if it feels it might half ripoff Early Edition) looks pretty interesting and could find success. For the worst new show, it's a much easier call: 2 Broke Girls (which is one of those shows that you see ads for and cringe, especially when you assume the terrible jokes are likely the best of the bunch)—and proof it's tough to make even just passable TV if you further assume that of all the sitcoms CBS had to pick from during pilot season, that was the one they felt was best. It makes you have a lot more respect for the people behind a solid, 'Wingsish'B-/C+ show like Rules of Engagement or Yes, Dear that just delivers fairly consistent—if predictable and childish—laughs with no attempt to push boundaries; it's not easy, folks.

I did all four L.A. Noire DLC cases last week and weekend, and they were all decent. It's still maddeningly frustrating figuring the line between an interview subject giving you the whole truth and one holding a bit back, especially when they're not even a suspect and have no reason to hide anything but do so anyway so as to 'not tell tales out of school'. Sometimes I wonder if someone who lived through the 1940s might have a better go at understanding the characters, whom to Rockstar's credit really seem to operate under mid-20th century mindsets and morality. A Slip of the Tongue featured in part Kurt Fuller as a used car salesman, and he was hilarious; the name may not ring a bell, but I'll describe him as many likely know him: 'that guy from that ABC sitcom where he's married to the mom from That 70s Show'. The Naked City finally had Matthew del Negro, akathe guy who played Carmela's cousin Brian Cammarata from The Sopranos, whom I'd seen in screen shots before buying the game, so I'd wondered where he went to, and now I know. And one case admittedly suffered from 'that-actor-always-plays-bad-guys-itis', but that's a minor quibble. Sadly, they almost all have exposition that places them in the middle of the various sets of cases for each crime desk, leading to it feeling like they were 'held back' from the game; if you don't have the game yet but plan to get it, get the DLC at the same time for a more even flow to everything.

I've moved on to Resonance of Fate, another game that really puts the J in JRPG. The combat system will take a lot of getting used to, though a tutorial arena gets you on your way. It's combat that feels like they had a contest to create the silliest fighting mechanic and went with the winner. Between machine gun 'scratch damage' that isn't real unless converted to 'direct damage' by a pistol (which also deals its own amount of direct damage) and the concept of getting these 'Resonance Points' by moving each character between the other two during their attack phases and using them to do this Tri-Attack, it's taking getting used to. I've merely done the prologue, so hopefully things will gel together in Chapter 1.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Catherine the Not So Great

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I really thought if I just stayed away from Hard difficulty on Catherine everything would be okay. But it was still insultingly and needlessly punitive in a way I've never encountered before. I should have realized that if Japanese people were complaining the game was too hard (and the developers obligingly put in a Very Easy mode) then there really mustbe something amiss. It's a shame as the story is top notch and the cutscenes are actually enjoyable—there's a first—and get your blood going; it's to the point that youbeg for the game part to be over so you can get to the next animated sequence, which makes the game-breaking difficulty that much worse.After getting stuck pretty quickly (and seeing that even Easy mode gets horrifically difficult later on) I switched to Very Easy. Sadly, that renders the game so easy as to have no challenge (vs. so challenging as to not be fun). Even when you solve a block puzzle there's no sense of accomplishment. Lower levels of the blocks keep falling away, so you have to keep pushing up instead of sitting for 30 seconds every step up and plotting some moves, resulting in you feeling that you got lucky and finallyflailed your way to the top in spite of yourself rather than feeling like you successfully implemented all the block-climbing techniques you get taught along the way. If you feel like spending 90 minutes per puzzle, this game is still for you, though.

This game won't be a huge seller, evidenced by the simple fact that retailers are barely carrying it. Best Buy had one copy for PS3 and none for 360 at the store I went to. I kept my 'Gift Car' and walked down to GameStop to look for my preferred 360 version. The guy had to grab the box with them from the back. There couldn't have been more than eight copies, and some of those he put aside for pre-orders, but there was at least a 360 version for me. Maybe it'll be scarce enough to hold on to some decent trade-in value. For now, it's back to L.A. Noire now that all four DLC cases are out. First up will be A Slip of the Tongue, the Traffic Desk case.

TV-wise, the big news is a ratings resurgence for Curb Your Enthusiasm. It's never been as well-watched as The Sopranos or Sex and the City, but it's getting its best viewership figures in seven years, and HBO has already said they're hopeful for a ninth season. The third episode "Palestinian Chicken" was pretty much an instant series-great, and finally got the great Larry Miller guest-starring. And we've still no idea how Larry and company end up in NYC, as has been promoted. Five episodes were shot there, and next week is the fifth of ten, so the last half must pretty much all take place there. Anyway, I'm already getting excited for the finale, titled "Larry vs. Michael J. Fox", which just conjures up in my head all manner of ways for Larry to offend, as he usually does.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Using My Gift Car

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Today's the last retail release that's a must-purchase for me for the next three months: Catherine. After this there's nothing until Silent Hill: Downpour at the end of October and then the insane start of November when Uncharted 3, MW3, and Elder Scrolls V hit within eleven days of each other. I do have Best Buy's promotional $10 Gift Car (which really is that, a gift card that's actually a little toy car that I'm guessing they give back to you after you spend it). I forget how I earned it, as it was a complete surprise when the cashier handed it to me during my last trip. Anyway, I'm looking forward to Catherine with its Japanese feel and intriguing storyline, and it's been heartening to see positive reviewsfor a game I've been looking forward to for a while. The only other game I've really got my eye on is the Summer of Arcade title From Dust, coming out tomorrow; people closer to my age who may have played Populous in the late 80s/early 90s should enjoy it.

I also wrapped up Silent Hill: Homecoming, which sadly was a jumbled mess of a game and I'm officially declaring the worst of the franchise. From the controls that only allowed Y-axis invert when using a gun but at no other time to a flashlight that didn't light up as much as in the past (or in Downpour from the looks of advance screen shots), there's not a lot of greatness here. The puzzles (and namely the final one) weren't so hot. Worst of all was that for the first time ever a puzzle was so poorly thought out and constructed that even after consulting a FAQ for the answer, I still couldn't tell why that solution was correct. It was pretty clear the theme of it all, matching two symbols on inner and outer wheels related to four familes' roles in a cult and how they promised to sacrifice a child, but many of the symbols looked nothing like what you'd expect or couldn't have easy-to-understand symbols. Toss in botched achievements (like matched pairs related to two moral choices that therefore can't be obtained in one play-through), and the game just lacked in too many ways to live up to the Silent Hill pedigree. And I'd forgotten how agitating all the 'locked/barred/jammed' doors are (though to be fair, the map keeps great track of it all, qualifying—sadly—as a bright spot in the game).

As for television, Curb Your Enthusiasm picking up steam, with "Palestinian Chicken" just a sheer delight of an episode with plenty of 'Larry being Larry' and a clever comedic riff on the debate of a mosque being built near the 9/11 memorial. And I could scarely believe it's taken so long for Larry Miller to be on the show. Toss in a fantastic Funkhouser appearance and it was a great episode, even without J.B. Smoove's Leon for the first time this year.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

She Blinded Me with Silence

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I'm sweating out the end of the ferocious heat wave that's plagued the US for the past week. It's been most notable for the fact that it's featuredthe highest temperature I've ever experienced (103° yesterday [104° in Philly], while 'just' 100° today), and that after last year having the first time I'd ever had consecutive 100°+ days (a pair of 102°s), it's now happened for a second straight year. And I can only remember about three or four of them in the previous 37 years of my life, so something's up. Even worse this yearis that it stayed 100°+ for aboutseven hours. It is a bit demoralizing to hear my central air run for a few hours, turn off, then click right back on within a minute or two for another few hours. It just gets locked in a stalemate, as once 98° or so gets hit it can only lower it so much, around 73° and I prefer about 70°. I guess A/C units they sell around here just aren't strong enough for this kind of heat. I also felt bad that Baxter's had to be denied his walks due to the heat; he's getting antsy, but it's a good 15 degrees hotter than what I'd ever take him out in.

I did wrap up Star Ocean: The End of Time. It was very enjoyable, but a freeze at some point nearly any day I put a few hours in was a buzzkill especially since the game is stingy with save points, often meaning losing 45 minutes of progress. I tried a bit of the first 'after-dungeon', but it was stupidly difficult and after 95 hours I was done. And I can always go back, but really a dungeon that doesn't open until after the story's done seems pretty pointless. I did at least win the battle tournament solo, though I never did quite get the hang of the bunny races downstairs in the colosseum.

For now I've advanced to Silent Hill: Homecoming. It's down to $20 new, and I wanted to get to it before Silent Hill: Downpour (which looks crazy good) comes out in fall, just so I'd seen all the story. As I'd heard, it's certainly nowhere near as good as 1, 2, or 3—much more a disappointment, like 4: The Room was. The biggest disappointment of all is no inverted Y-axis for the camera (except the option exists when aiming a gun). I'm still getting used to that, and to keep it from being worse I'm aiming the gun without the invert, too. It's also a bit more stingy with the save points than I'd like. It at least look impressive and has some interesting new monsters mixed in with standbies like the herky-jerky faceless nurses. Anyway, I also grabbed Resonance of Fate, a neat-looking RPG I'd just read about. Judging by the low price it didn't sell well, but got near-universal glowing reviews and sounded about my speed.

That's all for today. Have a great weekend, everybody!