EA Serves Up Some Spore Flavoured Irony

By Mike on 4:59 pm

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EA is claiming that piracy didn't hurt Spore sales, lauding the 1 million plus copies sold since release compared to the rumoured 500,000 torrent downloads. EA has long claimed that torrent downloads and other forms of piracy have been eating into their bottom line big time. EA's corporate communications officer Mariam Sughayer had something interesting to say on the subject.

"We've talked to people that made several unsuccessful attempts to download the game and ended up with incomplete, slow, buggy or unusable code. In one case, a file identified as Spore contained a virus.

"To say that every download represents a successful copy of the game--or that there's been more than 500,000 copies downloaded--that's just not true."

"Stepping aside from the whole issue of DRM, people need to recognize that every BitTorrent download doesn't represent a successful copy of a game, let alone a lost sale,"

Step on the breaks here. A torrent download does not equal a lost sale? But for years the game industry has been claiming that every single one does and that's when DRM is necessary in games. In fact, EA made that vary claim just last week! I can't help but find that statement to be a little ironic. This begs the question as to whether piracy really is costing the gaming industry as much as they claim and whether the forms of intrusive DRM used in games like Spore are even necessary. Maybe EA is referring to all those people who bought the game and then downloaded it to obtain a working copy. Who knows. Still, this is a startling revelation strait from the horse's mouth. We've long suspected that the publishers have been jacking us legitimate gamers. This seems to be the proof.

Source: CNET

After September's Spore fiasco, I thought I'd put this question to October's survey. Do the new intrusive DRM measures used in PC games effectively stop piracy?

WipEout HD Review

By Mike on 10:50 am

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WipEout HD is probably this year's most anticipated PSN title. Originally set to be released in the Spring of 2008, the game suffered frequent delays. Now it's September and... the game is finally out. Currently, it is only available from the Playstation Store for the princely sum of $19.99. For those who don't know, Wipeout was one of the original 3D anti-gravity racers. The game first appeared on the original Playstation, PC, and Sega Saturn way back in 1995. WipEout HD is the sixth console version in the series. The game spans several racing modes in futuristic anti-gravity racers, complete with combat racing action.

Wipeout HD borrows heavily from the two recent PSP outings: Wipeouts Pulse and Pure. All the tracks from the PSP versions have been transfered over, with Pure getting more attention than the newer Pulse. Gameplay is also pretty much identical to the PSP titles except with a couple notable differences. As with the PSP version, you use the left analogue stick to pitch and yaw your racer. The X button controls your thrust. L2 and R2 control your left and right air brakes respectively. The square button is used to attack. The differences I mentioned take place in how the craft is controlled. For beginners, there's a new pilot assist feature. This is really helpful since it basically prevents you from crashing into walls unless you do something really stupid. The second feature is the introduction of Sixaxis control to steer the craft. You can either set motion control to pitch the craft or to both pitch and yaw. I found the motion control to be a bit more difficult to use than the analogue stick but some might like it.

The game features two modes: a campign mode and a racebox mode. There are eight campaign tickets which get increasingly difficult as the game progresses. Once you pass the first couple of campaigns, be warned that WipEout gets brutally difficult. The game is a true test of endurance for racing fans as the speeds increase with each class. Those being Venom, Flash, Rapier, and Phantom. The classes are the same as the PSP versions, ranging in from 460km/h at Venom class up to a white knuckled 800km/h in the Phantom level. Race types are also the same as the PSP titles so I'll just copy and paste from that review. Race types include single race, head-to-head, tournament, time trial, speed lap, and zone. The first four are self-explanatory. Speed lap involves getting the fastest lap time in a series of laps. Zone is extremely fast paced with all racer stats maxed out. The computer increases the speed for each 10 second zone you complete. The goal is to survive as long as possible, which is harder than it sounds. Missing from WipEout HD is the Eliminator mode featured in Pulse. This mode was a combat mode that saw you racing to take out all your opponents while they tried to do the same. For racers, there are 12 teams you can choose from with 8 to start with. Ships and additional liveries are unlockable by beating certain challenges in campaign mode or getting team loyalty points. Weapons in game are the same as the PSP versions and function in the same manner. For multiplayer, the game supports up to 8 players online or two players in split screen. Additionally, the game also includes trophy support, giving you a wide array of challenges to complete from easy to utterly brutal.

Graphics is where WipEout HD really shines. As I said, it takes what we saw on the PSP and pumps it up on steroids. The game supports full 1080p at a blistering 60fps, something that is unheard of for a downloadable title. As far as I know, the only other game that supports those resolutions on the PS3 is Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. As you'd expect from WipEout, what we have are clean, futuristic, and dangerous tracks. The graphics are razor sharp and the lighting is perfect. There are absolutely no frame rate or tearing issues at all. WipEout HD is probably one of the best looking racing games on the Playstation 3, probably tying GT5 in graphics quality and performace. Unlike GT5 though, your ships look more realistic. Though damage isn't rendered, your craft do at least look reasonably weathered.

For audio, the game features sound in Dolby Digital 5.1. The music in game has been directly copied from WipEout's Pulse and Pure, which is in a futuristic techno style. The game does allow for custom sound tracks though, allowing you to use any album folder or custom playlist on your PS3's hard drive. However, the game only supports playback of MP3 or AAC files. Playlists are selected through the game's audio options menu rather than using in-game XMB.

WipEout has become the benchmark for anti-gravity racing games. While WipEout HD borrows its content from the two PSP outings, what we have is something that is truly a spectacle to behold. The racing is fast paced and brutal and is sure to wet the appitite of hardcore racing fans. The new Pilot Assist mode is a huge improvement over past titles since it opens the game up to more casual racing fans. The game runs in full HD at 60fps, making fast and immersive gameplay. The controls are kept simple and are tight and responsive. Overall, WipEout HD is probably one of the best, if not the best PSN titles we've seen so far. Furthermore, the game is only $20, which is a considerable bargain considering what you're getting. The full game weighs in at just under 1gb. I'd definitely pick this up if you're looking for a racing challenge.

What Works
-Razor sharp full 1080p graphics at 60 frames per second
-Fast paced gameplay enhanced by sharp, simple controls
-Pilot Assist mode helps beginners and causal racers get into the game
-Support for custom soundtracks
-Trophy support with a wide variety of challenges
-Doesn't mess with a winning formula

What Doesn't Work
-Tracks and teams identical to PSP versions. No original content, yet.

Score 9 out of 10

The Force Unleashed Review

By Mike on 7:11 pm

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Ok, so I reviewed the demo of Force Unleashed. The demo was fun all be it underwhelming. How does the full game do when compared to the demo? First a little background on the game. It takes place in 3BBY (Before Battle of Yavin in "A New Hope", this is how dating is done in the Star Wars universe) You play the role of Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice. He discovered the apprentice as a boy after killing his Jedi father on Kashyyyk. Vader takes in the young boy to raise him as a Sith in hopes of eventually overthrowing the Emperor. The game follows the Apprentice as he serves Vader and is forced to make his own difficult choices.

The game's first tutorial level has you playing as Vader himself. The events I introduced above are listed in this level. It also does a good job of showing off the game's highly touted Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) and Euphoria AI. Basically, Vader is there to kill the Jedi and he has to make his way through a bunch of upset Wookiees to get to him. Vader is pretty powerful, allowing you to get close to fully unleashing the force. Vader's attacks include standard saber techniques, force push, force grip, and force choke. Force Grip is probably the most used power in the game since it allows you to pick up objects or NPCs and throw them at other things. When a blue halo is seen around an object or person, you can pick it up with R2. You can move it in the air back and forth, left and right using the left stick. The right stick allows you to move objects up or down. Pushing either stick in a specific direction will hurl the object in the matching direction. There is some degree of auto-targeting for this power but its vary rough. It will throw the object in the general direction of a target but you have to be pretty aligned with it to make it hit. As I said in the review of the demo, the feature is clumsy and useless in fast paced battles. You also can't move when using the technique leaving you vulnerable to attack. When attacked, you'll drop the object. The other techniques are pretty self explanatory. You hit the button and the character will attack in the direction he's facing. Force grip is replaced by force lightening with the Apprentice. Other force powers include force repulse, sabre throw, and lightning shield, which can all be used while blocking with L2.

Combat is interesting to say the least. It's similar to other third-person melee games like God of War. You have your basic sabre attacks, then your combos. You can also block using L2. Combat is fairly strait forward against blaster wielding opponents such as Stormtroopers. You can deflect their shots and then go in for the kill. Melee opponents make things interesting. While the apprentice is quick on his feet, melee attacks feel vary sluggish. While the actual attack is quick, I have noticed a delayed reaction between control inputs and the actual character reaction, if they actually do what you want them to at all. Sometimes I'll press the right buttons for a combo or action but the Apprentice will not follow through. This gets extremely frustrating during boss fights as your mashing the buttons while getting shredded to pieces, while the Apprentice just stands there and does nothing. Oddly, I did not notice this in the demo, though most opponents there had blasters. What ruins the game is the combat controls being so sluggish.

The levels in the game are fairly linear and there's nothing particularly challenging about them. Each level has a sub-boss at the halfway point and a boss at the end. End level bosses are typically other force sensitives wielding light sabres. Boss fights can be difficult and frustrating due to the sluggish control system in the game. In addition, you can also search levels for hidden Jedi and Sith holocrons, which can be used as power ups or to gain additional force points or lightsabre crystals. Force points spheres can be traded to upgrade your force powers or to unlock new powers. You'll need to upgrade whenever possible to stay on top of your enemies. Other than that, there's not much to say about gameplay. If you've played God of War, you'll be familiar with how Force Unleashed plays. Force Unleashed has no online muliplayer mode. The game is surprisingly short lived and can be beaten in 5-7 hours.

Regarding the story, I think LucasArts has done an alright job at filling in the gaps between Episode III and Episode IV, including answering one of the biggest Star Wars questions of all: how the Rebellion started. However, I did feel there were a lot of plot holes in the story. KotOR 2 was known for this but Force Unleashed is somewhat worse. Some things that were poorly explained included Shaak Ti's story. Shaak Ti was heavily featured the games promotional material but here actual on-screen time is limited. I think Star Wars fans were all itching to know how she escaped Order 66. She's also picked up her own apprentice known as Maris Brood, a young Zabrak woman. According to promotional material, Maris seeks revenge on Darth Vader, though the game poorly explains her role. The Databank feature fills in some story with character profiles but who the heck wants to read stuff that should be in-game. Databank entries also have to be unlocked first. The game doesn't include any original locals to visit so it really doesn't add much to the Star Wars universe.

When it comes to technical aspects, Force Unleashed is really a mixed bag. As I said about the demo, the graphics look quite nice but they're hardly in the same league as games like Uncharted or MGS4. The game runs at 720p. Audio wise, we get the same mix of excellent Star Wars movie sound effects combined with John Williams classic score. The music in game, however, is mostly recycled from the moves so there's nothing particularly original about it. The big technical features of the game were DMM and Euphoria. DMM allows metal to bend, glass to break, and wood to splinter as it would in real life. For such a heavily marketed feature, the game doesn't do Digital Molecular Matter much justice. The first level as Vader on Kashyyyk is really the only place where it really shines. The same goes for Euphoria. It's fun to pick up Stormtroopers and watch them flail about and try to grab things, but most of the time, the game is going too fast to notice Euphoria in action. In the end, neither really adds much to gameplay. The game also uses Havok physics but I personally think the physics in game are not vary realistic.

The game also has some technical issues. During the final boss fight, I was just about to finish him off when the game froze. This was followed by a string foul language that would make a navy man blush. This was right after being killed by the final boss once before when the game's camera suddenly decided it wanted to pan below the arena by itself, blocking my view. I've often accused a game of cheating in frustration but this is the first time I've seen a game actually cheat. To add salt to the wound, the game makes you start back at the beginning of the rather lengthy three-part fight should you quit the game. According to LucasArts, the reason Force Unleashed was delayed so long was because of difficulties programming for the Playstation 3. However, can that excuse really be used anymore since every other developer has figured it out. Aside from that, I did not notice any issues with frame rates or sound.

Loading screens with Unleashed are also numerous. Even to load the menus in game, it goes to a loading screen. This is odd since it requires a manditory 2gb install to the hard drive.

In their promotional material, LucasArts promised us a Star Wars game that would rival Knights of the Old Republic. What we got was something that was far from it, in a bad way. The Force Unleashed is not a bad game but it's not exactly a good game either. We were all stoked for it but once again, the hype machine has failed us. It's a pitty because I think such a game has excellent potential had LucasArts done it right. The sluggish and unresponsive controls tend to make gameplay more frustrating than fun. The game is also short lived, taking only five hours to beat it. There's not a lot of replay value. I also felt that the story, while good in concept, was poorly explained. You might want to hop over to Wookieepedia to fill in some of the gaps. Lastly, I don't exactly consider Force Unleashed to be original. It's too similar to God of War and your force abilities in game are not much different than what Kyle Katarn has been wielding. We all thought we'd be able to wreak havoc with the dark side but we got just another generic Star Wars title. With this one, the force unleashed was not. I'd give this game a rent but I wouldn't buy it.

What Works:
-Decent graphics
-Good story concept fills in gaps between Episode III and Episode IV
-Character customization

What Doesn't Work
-Technical flaws such as freezing and load times
-Game doesn't show off much publicized DMM or Euphoria well
-Plot holes in story
-Sluggish and unresponsive controls
-Not original

Score: 7 out of 10

Tips and Easter Eggs:
-On Imperial Kashyyyk, you can find out what really happened to Jar Jar Binks. In the Imperial museum, you can spot him frozen in carbonite. This likely isn't cannon but it's something hardcore Star Wars fans have been wanting to see.
-After learning force lightening, hit Square, Square, Triangle, Circle for a devastating combo.

EA Sued over Spore DRM

By Mike on 10:18 am

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The Spore fiasco continues, on yesterdays news of EA's Spore breaching the 1 million sold mark, today we hear of angry customers suing the gaming giant over its SecuROM DRM system. The class action suit cites the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law stating that EA failed to inform consumers of DRM restrictions placed on Spore.

According to the complaint...

"Although consumers are told the game uses access control and copy protection technology, consumers are not told that this technology is actually an entirely separate, stand-alone program which will download, install, and operate on their computer," "Once installed, it becomes a permanent part of the consumer's software portfolio. Even if the consumer uninstalls Spore, and entirely deletes it from their computer, SecuROM remains a fixture on their computer unless and until the consumer completely wipes their hard drive through reformatting or replacement of the drive."

The suit accuses EA of deliberately hiding the fact that Spore includes SecuROM, which it alleges is "secretly installed to the command and control center of the computer (Ring 0, or the Kernel) and [is] surreptitiously operated, overseeing function and operation of the computer, and preventing the computer from operating under certain circumstances and/or disrupting hardware operations." Furthermore, the suit also complains that SecuROM takes over a portion of the computers processing power to transmit information back to EA.

The suit seeks damages to the tune of $49.99, the retail cost of the game plus additional damages (presumably legal fees) for each participant in the suit.

The suit reinforces what I've been saying about DRM for a while now. Game publishers are deceiving consumers by not disclosing DRM restrictions. Does this lawsuit stand a chance? I can't really say since I'm a political scientist and not a lawyer. Hopefully though it will bring meaningful changes to the way DRM is handled in PC gaming. Developers should be forced to disclose all DRM restrictions on the games packaging. However, this is showing that the more restrictive you make DRM, the more people will not stand for it. Spore is one of the first games that has introduced the non-gaming crowd to the harsh and intrusive restrictions that have been plaguing PC games for several years now. At best for EA, this is still a PR nightmare regardless of whether they win or not. EA is still claiming that DRM is necessary to prevent piracy. This is despite the fact that statistics are proving otherwise. It's planned obsolescence pure and simple and hopefully EA will be made to pay for it.

Source: CNET

Update: The Register contains some more details about the suit. The case seems surprisingly air tight since EA does not provide any warning whatsoever in the EULA about SecuROM.

EA Backs Down on Spore DRM, Again

By Mike on 3:21 pm

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I'm rather puzzled about how companies like Electronic Arts (EA) stay in business. Apparently, they've received a deluge of complaints over the three install limit used in Spore's SecuROM DRM. In response, EA said the following...

"We've received complaints from a lot of customers who we recognize and respect. And while it's easy to discount the noise from those who only want to post or transfer thousands of copies of the game on the Internet, I believe we need to adapt our policy to accommodate our legitimate consumers."

EA plans to do two things. First, they are going to increase the number of installs. However, they did not say by how much. Secondly, the game now allows users to de-authorize a system should they buy a new computer. Therefore, they will not use up one of their installs transferring the game over. However, EA then went on to say...

"We're willing to evolve our policy to accommodate our consumers. But we're hoping that everyone understands that DRM policy is essential to the economic structure we use to fund our games and as well as to the rights of people who create them. "

So basically, they're response is only to relax the already unprecedented restrictions just a bit. As one commentary site put it, it equates moving you from a smaller cage to a bigger one. You're still locked in a cage no matter what. Their last line shows that EA still does not get it and they they still do not think they did anything wrong. So basically, it's ok to deceive and abuse legitimate customers as long as it protects their rights. As I've said before, this is the fundamental problem with DRM. It provides few to no rights to legitimate consumers. The government really needs to step in and amend laws like the DMCA to put a stop to this garbage.

Source: CNET

Update: The install count was increased to five (5).

WipEout HD Finally Coming

By Mike on 12:43 pm

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When was WipEout HD announced? Then we were told, "it's coming soon" repeatedly. Then we found out it was suffering constant delays. Well, now it really is finally coming soon. Mark Thursday September 25th on your calendars, since that's when the anti-gravity combat racer is going to hit the Playstation Store. SCE Studios Liverpool noted that the game is going to be a PSN exclusive (read "download only") and will be priced at $19.99 US. The game features 1080p visuals at 60fps, 8 tracks and 12 teams, 5 game modes (tournament, single race, time trial, speed lap, and zone: see my review of WipEout Pulse for more details), two-player split screen, online mode with 8 racers at a time, optional use of sixaxis motion control, Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, custom music, and trophy support. Early reviews of the game have been vary positive, with IGN UK giving it a 9.2 out of 10. The game itself supposedly borrows heavily from the two PSP outings but ups the graphics factor.

So why was it delayed so much? WipEout HD was originally said to be coming out Spring 08. According to SCE Liverpool, the game had initially failed epilepsy safety tests, therefore the graphics had to be redone in order for it to pass. Fast paced visuals and flashing lights can trigger sizures in some people. Personally, I think you probably souldn't be playing these games if they set you off that easily. But we live in a society with no personal discretion so that's why games like this get delayed. Well, the final version is fixed and it looks good. It should be well worth the $20 entry fee.

Source: PSU, The Register

Online Music Run on Feudalism

By Mike on 9:24 am

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Eccentric UK tech site The Register (aka El Reg) is well known for their off beat sense of humour. In an article today, the site likens the modern music industry to 12th century feudal kingdoms. Surprisingly, this is not much of a stretch.

Read it here.

PS3, Xbox 360 to get Wii-style Nunchuck

By Mike on 1:38 pm

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To be honest, I really don't like the PS3's motion sensing features. They're underutilized and from the games that do implement them, control is pretty wonky. However, the motion sensing Wiimote from Nintendo has been hugely successful and is starting to attract more imitators. In2Games is releasing the Gametrack Freedom controller for both Xbox and PS3 to take advantage of motion control capabilities on both systems. The controller, which looks a bit like a microphone, uses ultrasonic waves to track the controller. Like the Wii, the system has a basestation and two sensor bars. It attaches to either console using a USB connector that interfaces with the basestation. The controller itself is, of course, wireless. In2Games will be releasing a bizarre game called Squeeballs, which is similar to Wii Sports, with the controller. So far, it's the only game announced that will work with the GT. Whether it will work with games that support Sixaxis function is unknown. Being a third party product, I can't see a lot of games supporting it. Both Microsoft and Sony are working on their own Wiimont/Nunchuck style controllers.

Source: El Reg

Assassin's Creed Review

By Mike on 8:28 pm

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Assassin's Creed received a lot of hype when it was released last year. I've been mulling over whether or not to do a review on it though my goal is to do full reviews of each game I own or play. The game was published developed and published by UBIsoft Montreal. I have a lot of animosity towards UBIsoft. While they don't have the infamous reputation that Electronic Arts has, I can certainly say they deserve it. What with terrible games like Lock On and Blazing Angles; and their use of the highly controversial Starforce copy-protection scheme for PC games. Therefore, when Assassin's Creed came out, I was quite skeptical of the game. Being smart, I picked up a used copy for the Playstation 3 (it's on PC now too) and decided to give it a whirl. AC is pretty much the visual masterpiece it was made out to be, but to be quite frank, it's a bad game.

Those who like Assassin's admit that the game is best played in small doses. It's a bit like Metal Gear Solid, but in the 12th century with less action and even less of a story. Genre wise, I guess you could call it a tactical espionage game like MGS4 is. The story is kind of bizarre and poorly explained. I admit I haven't even finished the game yet so bare with me. You're a bartender named Desmond Miles who's been kidnapped by a scientist named Vidic. Apparently, Vidic has discovered that all your ancestors' memories are stored in your DNA and has developed a machine to extract them. Desmond's ancestor Altair was an assassin during the Crusades and Vidic wants to learn more about them. Apparently he wants to adapt the assassin's creed of Desmond's ancestor to modern times. That is, killing a select dangerous few to maintain peace and order in the world. The game doesn't really explain why Desmond is being kept locked up by this scientist. Personally, I would have strangled Vidic with a lamp cord and escaped but I guess he isn't that smart. Desmond in a sense is your PC but you play the game as Altair. The vast majority of the game takes place during the Third Crusade, which lasted 1189 to 1192 AD. In the war, the Assassins are a neutral party attempting to restore order. Your character was one of the best assassin's around but was kicked out of the order for violating the assassin's creed. Eventually, he is let back in but his rank and title have been stripped. Altair has to earn them back by killing nine politically dangerous individuals on both sides of the conflict. The game takes you to several cities around Israel as Altair tries to complete his mission.

Gameplay is neither simple or strait forward. It is hampered by its slow pace and rather clumsy control system. When you arrive at a city, you have to visit the local assassin's bureau to get your mission, gather information about your target, locate your target, kill them, and return the the bureau without getting caught. Most of the game involves aimlessly wandering around the city trying to find evidence. All the while, you have to keep guards from noticing you. A social status indicator blinks yellow if your being watched, or red is guards are aware of your activities. Doing things that are socially unacceptable will send guards after you. When they're chasing you, you first have to loose them and then get to a hiding spot and wait until they call off pursuit.

You have a choice between high and low profile actions. For most of the game, you'll want to remain in low profile to avoid attracting attention. This includes waking, gently pushing civilians out of the way, blending into the environment, and silently assassinating unaware targets. You can also use eagle vision in this mode, which allows you to see potential enemies highlighted in red, yellow, or green to indicate their current awareness mode. High profile action is your combat mode. It allows you to run, jump, and fight. I'll discus combat in a moment.
For gathering information, you can do a variety of things. First is scouting the area by locating towers called view points. You can also save civilians or scholars being harassed by guards, eavesdrop on targets, and pickpocket targets. Some missions, such as saving civilians, require combat. Rescuing scholars (portrayed as older men in robes) will unlock scholars, who you can blend in with to get access to certain areas. Scholars have free reign of the city and can go where guards will not allow civilians. Rescuing civilians will unlock vigilantes who can block guards chasing you.
One of the problems with this mission structure is that its vary repetitive and doesn't really give you any clear idea of what you're supposed to do. You can easily find yourself wandering the city until you get fed up and log onto GameFAQs. The missions are basically identical for all nine assassinations. Another thing worth noting is evidence gathering. Sometimes, you can unlock your target with one piece of evidence, even if it seems insignificant. Sometimes you'll have to go around the entire city gathering information. There's no set pattern to this.
Between cities, you'll have to ride on a horse across Israel to get to the next town. This is pretty strait forward except every guard on the road is trying to kill you. You have to blend not to attract attention, which makes getting from point A to point B vary slow. Fortunately, you can easily escape the guards since they're on foot while you're on horseback.

The combat system in game is pretty clumsy. On the outside, it's simple enough. You get a choice of four weapons. A hidden blade used for assassinations, a sword, throwing knives/dagger, and your fists. The square button unleashes an attack while R1 is used to guard. Hitting square while pressing R1 can counter enemy attacks if you hit it before they strike. X button is used to dodge. However, Altair is very slow and clumsy in combat for someone who's supposedly the top assassin in the land. It's hard to guard, his attacks are slow, and it is difficult to properly trigger combos. Targeting by hitting L1 is useless against multiple enemies. The combat system is probably best described as controlled chaos and is vary demanding on the gamer. Enemies in game can seem unbalanced at times, though it's hard to tell if this is the AI or just the bad combat system. There is a knack to it though, that is learning how to time counter attacks with R1 and the Square button. You have to time it accurately. I have run into occasions though where I've done this but the controls do not respond. All other attack functions besides this are pretty much useless. One last thing worth noting is that if you die in the game, you're returned back to the last Assassins Bureau you visited. This can be a real pain during more difficult missions when your target is way on the other side of the city.

Assassin's Creed is a visual masterpiece of a game. It's not on the level of Uncharted or Metal Gear Solid 4 but it still looks pretty good. The environments fit the time period well, cities are lively, realistic, and filled with all sorts of NPCs. Textures are well done though I think NPCs were not up to par with the rest of the game's graphic level. The game doesn't use a lot of HDR, so lighting is realistic. Effects are also well done. Graphics though can be a tad on the blurry side. One issue I noticed is the game box states that AC supports 720p or 1080i. I have my PS3 set to 1080i mode but I noticed the game would only play in 720p. This means that the box is claiming AC supports a resolution that it doesn't. UBI played this trick again when they released the critically panned Haze, which did not even run at HD resolutions after they said it would. Some people have reported freezing issues with the PS3 version of AC but I haven't run into this. They apparently come up if the game is played for extended periods. However, I have noticed occasional frame rate drops and some image tearing. Another bizarre issue with the game is it keeps claiming the disc is dirty and needs to be cleaned. Of course, the disc isn't dirty or else this error message would make sense. Themessage always pops up the first time I load the game cold, always at the Assassin's Bureau where you start off. Restarting the game corrects the problem.
For audio, sound effects are realistic and even minor NPCs are voiced. The music is pretty good and fits in with the overall cinematic effect of the game. However, one criticism I have with it is that the game's soundtrack is vary cliche. It's similar to what was featured in God of War, and movies like 300. It's not what I call a major problem but they could have been a little more original.

Assassin's Creed has a lot of the same problems that MGS4 does, however, these are amplified ten fold. While UBI has come up with an overall nice looking game, Assassin's lacks substance. Like Metal Gear, the AC is probably too realistic for its own good, though it takes this to a much further extreme. The game suffers from dry repetitiveness, slow pacing, and a clumsy control system. In other words, its just not fun to play. I can only stomach it in low doses. I had not even picked the game up for at least three months before I decided to review it this week. The whole gameplay experience is just not pleasant and the game is pretty boring. I can't really recommend Assassin's to anybody at all. Supposedly the game can be beaten in 10hrs but I have absolutely no desire to finish it. If you want a good espionage/assassin type game, go get Metal Gear. AC is the perfect example of an over-hyped game that falls flat. While it's not a typically poor UBI title, it's not something that's worth spending $60 on.

What Works
-Excellent graphics and sound
-Lively world filled with NPCs making cityscapes realistic

What Doesn't Work
-Clumsy combat system
-Dry and repetitive mission structure
-Confusing storyline
-Too realistic for its own good
-Vary slow pacing
-Does not support 1080i resolution, though box claims it does
-Some frame rate and tearing issues

Score: 5 out of 10

Gamers Not Liking Spore's Draconian Copy-protection

By Mike on 12:58 pm

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When Spore and Mass Effect were first announced for PC, gamers got quite a shock when they learned how the SecuROM DRM scheme would function for both games. Originally, the games were going to phone home once per week to confirm the game's key didn't match known pirated versions. After public outcry at this big brother-esque method, the number of times the game would contact DRM servers was cut drastically. Another big issue is the install limit of the games. Your game is limited to three installs maximum. In the past, a game install has been tied to the operating system, as was the issue with Bioshock. With Bioshock, if you reinstalled the OS without uninstalling the game first, that counted as one install. However, uninstalling Bioshock would roll the install clock back if you kept the same OS install. Spore is different. Intalling and then uninstalling the game counts as one of your maximum three installs. This is regardless of whether you keep the same computer and OS. If you reinstall then delete it three times, you're out of luck and have to phone SecuROM to plead your case.

According to Cnet, this method of draconian copy protection seems to have backfired on EA. As of last week, Spore had only a one star rating on Amazon due to people complaining about its DRM scheme. This very likely could be an example of the people flaming the review site. However, it does give the game a lot of bad publicity that is not unwarranted. Furthermore, it seems the game has already been cracked and has been downloaded more than 500,000 times from torrent sites according to TorrentFreak. Some of this could be real piracy but I believe a lot of it is people who actually bought the game are turning to pirated versions to circumvent the frustrations caused by the game's DRM. It's ironic in a sense. EA introduces the most restrictive anti-piracy scheme to date, and in the first week, Spore becomes the most pirated title in gaming history. The real losers here are legitimate gamers who just want to be able to play the game, but are bogged down by an increasingly paranoid and irrational entertainment industry. Once again, this game is faulty and either needs to be recalled or have a patch issued for it that either removes DRM all together or to remove the draconian three install restriction. There is no need to lock the game down that much. Personally, I refuse to purchase Spore until this issue is corrected. However, the game was supposedly overhyped so you're not missing out on anything by not playing it.

Source: Cnet

Update: We all know that DRM has become a huge issue with PC gaming. It has been shown to cripple sales of legitimate copies. I have come to realize a couple of things since first writing this article. First of all, it came to my attention that Spore uses up one install per user account on a system, where in the past, you got one install per OS key. We also all know that hard drives can fail or you can have OS problems which will require you to do complete computer wipes. That can also use up your three installs quickly. Once your installs are gone, you have to buy the game again. The reasoning behind this strict install limit is two fold. The first is a form of planned obsolescence, a business practice that is widely considered to be unethical. Setting the install limit so low forces users to buy the same copy of something over and over again. Secondly, I think this is being done to curtail the lucrative resale market for used games, a common practise by stores such as EB/Gamestop and some rental outlets. Not only can you not return a bad game to a store, you can't really sell it now either. Therefore, DRM has become less or a war on piracy and more of a war on legitimate (and naive) gamers to milk them of every last dollar. I would like to propose some laws to the way DRM in PC games should be handled in order to protect these consumers from being abused.

1. It should be mandatory for all DRM restrictions to be listed on the back of the game's packaging so consumers can read them before they purchase the title. Just saying the game is copy-protected is no longer enough. Many people who bought Spore had no idea the DRM restrictions were so strict and intrusive. You need to read the EULA to discover the restrictions, which requires opening the box, meaning the game cannot be returned. This is in addition to what was mentioned in Stardock's "Gamer's Bill or Rights".

2. DRM should not be allowed to install hidden registry strings, rootkits, or other hidden malware onto a system. In most circles, it is illegal to install any software on a computer without the user's consent, but publishers skirt around this by mentioning it in the EULA. Most people don't read/understand the EULA and publishers known this. Furthermore, users must be able to remove DRM schemes (such as registry keys, software) from their system once the game has been unistalled.

3. A game's DRM should not be allowed to repeatedly "phone home" to DRM servers. If used, this should only be allowed when the game is being installed and at no other time. Otherwise, I consider it an invasion of privacy.

4. There should be no install limits placed on games being used on the same computers.

Comments and Spam

By Mike on 10:35 pm

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Just some thoughts on a trend I'm seeing in comments. I will reject ALL comments that contain ANY advertising. Just because you make a thoughtful, topical remark on a post doesn't give you permission to start shilling your product in the next paragraph. It's still spam. I don't appreciate my resources (or Blogger's) being used to advertise your products without any sort of compensation. MMN Tech and it's sister blog MMN are ad-free sites and are kept so for a reason.

Soul Caliber IV Demo Review

By Mike on 7:56 pm

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Another week, another demo on PSN. Today, we're looking at Soul Caliber IV, the fourth game in the long running fighting series. PS3 owners are getting a real treat with this game by getting Darth Vader as a playable character. Xbox 360 owners got Yoda. According to others opinions on the game, Vader is a more balanced character than Yoda due to the latter's short stature, which makes him difficult to hit. Starkiller from Force Unleashed is also a playable character in both versions. Of course, with the game revolving so heavily on three Star Wars characters, you'd think the demo would include at least one of them to give you a little taste of what the full game is. Unfortunately, the demo falls a little flat.

Soul Caliber IV is a pretty typical fighting game. These games really haven't changed all that much over the years. The goal is simple, drain your opponent's health to KO them, or knock them out of the ring to win. They're trying to do the same thing. Basically, you just have to hack, slash, block, and dodge your way to victory. SC4 allows you to trigger high, low, and middle height attacks. It's all fought using swords. There's a wide cast of characters to choose from with different attributes such as higher speeds, better attack power, etc. There's not much to say about gameplay since it's pretty self explanatory. It's no different than other games in the genre. The demo features two modes. The story mode features two fights. The first one is three rounds and the second fight is two rounds. There three rings available. A garden, a river raft, and a castle. The second mode is a vs mode, which allows you to play free fights against either the CPU or a second player. The demo features two selectable characters. One is a giant demon like figure who is insanely powerful and the other resembles a cheerleader. She's fast but her defense and attack power is weak. The whole experience is pretty short lived though. You can mow through the story mode in less than 10min. The vs mode will keep you busy long enough provided you have a second player. The vs mode keeps the same two characters from the Story mode but adds several more maps. I believe there are five in total but I didn't count. The final game includes challenge and arcade modes.

On the technical side, the game looks very well done. The graphics are crisp and clean using a nice balance of HDR. Characters are highly detailed with fluid movements and the environments look very nice. I'd probably rate it as one of the nicest looking games on the PS3. The characters are done in a 3D Japanese anime style. I think the music for the game is a little cheesy and the voice acting is exaggerated but from a technical standpoint, the audio is pretty good. Controls are also slick.

What else to say about Soul Caliber IV? It's a pretty standard fighting game. As I said, these games really don't differ much from when I played them on my Genesis back in the day. The graphics keep getting butter but the basic idea remains the same. While I believe the final product is likely very well done. The SCIV demo is a little too short though to get the full experience of the game. Also worth noting is the fact that it was released over a month after the full version hit store shelves. That kind of defeats the purpose of having a demo. Still, this game looks strong if you're a fighting fan.

Score. 8 out of 10

What works
-Excellent graphics in 3D anime style
-Easy to use control layout
-Gameplay is simple and strait forward without the game itself being too easy

What Doesn't Work
-Demo far too short to get a good idea of what the game is like
-Would have preferred one of the Star Wars characters to try
-Demo released vary late
-Music and voice acting is a little cheesy

Blu-Ray Won't Last Five Years: Samsung

By Mike on 1:56 pm

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According to Samsung UK's director of consumer electronic Andy Griffiths (that name made me laugh), Sony's Blu-Ray won't last five years, let alone the 10 years that the company had hoped for. Samsung seems to think that in five years time, digital downloads will surpass traditional physical media as the preferred method of watching movies. Some have considered this move to be inevitable. However, given Hollywood's resistance to digital music, I highly doubt that this will happen. Digital downloading also has numerous problems for the consumer. While there is nothing physical to store, HD movies will still require a lot of hard drive space. Many people also find it unsettling to store their investments on volatile storage, since hard drives fail. Digital media also isn't vary portable. Where as a BD will play on any BD player, DRM locks in digital downloads to one single player. Lastly, internet service providers cannot or are refusing to provide these kinds of services. While MP3 downloads are relatively small, HD movies are over 10gb in size. In attempts to combat piracy, ISPs have been imposing stricter download caps, which will severely limit how many films can be downloaded. Download speeds also haven't caught up to the point where HD video can be streamed, meaning long download times. I personally can't see this changing dramatically in the next five years given that broadband internet hasn't changed much in North America in the last five years. To stream HD video, download rates will have to be at least 30mbits/s for 1080p video unless tight compression is involved, which will ruin the HD experience. This will probably require expensive infrastructure upgrades, or vary costly monthly plans. It may come in five years but I can't see it becoming mainstream in that period. I wouldn't hold Samsungs revelations to be true. At least not from what I'm seeing now. If anything, the future will be video-on-demand from cable or satellite providers. If you have or are considering a BD player, there's nothing to worry about.

Source: PSU

Square Enix to Charge for FF Demo

By Mike on 11:36 am

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Final Fantasy XIII is coming out soon. I admit I've never played any of the FF games. The game is already stirring up some controversy in the gaming community, and no, it's actually not from Jack Thompson this time. The demo of the game is said to include 90 minutes of gameplay and will be included with the Blu-ray release of the movie Final Fantasy: Advent Children. Developer/Publisher Square Enix has said that they will also package the demo separately, for a price. How much is not known at this point.

The demo does include an hour and a half of gameplay but in my opinion, it's pretty cheap to charge for a demo. It's almost as tasteless as having a cash bar at a wedding. The whole point of a demo is that they are free trial versions of a game. That brings us to this month's survey question. Would you pay for a stand alone demo of a game? This does not include demos that come with gaming magazines, movies, or other purchases.

Source: PSU