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Hulu Plus for Xbox 360 Review April 30, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Reviews.
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The Hulu Plus service launched on the Xbox 360 this week and due to corporate sponsorship is offering a free trial to Xbox Live Gold subscribers.

I signed up for the trial last night and tried out the service for the last 12 hours watching various provided shows and movies and using as many aspects of the interface as I could.

Now, I must stress that this review is only of the Xbox 360 portion of the Hulu Plus service and not of the Internet based portions of it. I know that Hulu Plus subscribers on the 360 will get web access to the service and if you are a current Hulu Plus subscriber you can simply log into your existing account.

Signing up for a new account became almost scary at moments. You have to create a Hulu account to watch any content on the service although anyone can browse what’s offered. Oddly, you can’t create an account in the program, you must use your computer or smartphone to create an account on Hulu’s website. The program will provide you with an unlock code you can redeem a few free days of service without the need of a credit card. However, something terrifying happened while I signed up. When I redeemed the provided code and created a Hulu account the program suddenly and without user prompt froze and I started getting notifications of very suspicious generic sounding files downloading. I almost terminated the program I thought someone hacked my 360. Actually because I redeemed the code, this notified Hulu that an account was created and it was automatically setting itself up with my user account without any prompt from me. As a PC user, this kind of scared me, I want to be prompted about stuff like this, and I didn’t like the system automatically logged me in based upon just the unlock code being redeemed.

I used the program at first to search for typical shows I enjoy that I knew were provided through the Hulu service. I did like the amount of options offered of both popular and obscure shows. Unfortunately some of my more obscure tv loves were not offered, but this is no slam on the service.

What I didn’t like was that there were a lot of shows that were listed as offered by the service but not watchable on the Xbox 360. These were mostly older episodes of currently airing shows and it was annoying that I couldn’t watch some specific episodes of shows I liked. I know these episodes can be watched on Hulu’s website but if I’m paying money to watch a service only on my tv through my Xbox 360, I want to be able to watch EVERYTHING offered through the service on the Xbox 360.

I did like the fact that a lot of niche movies were made through the service. This could be the best way that most of these movies could get viewed. I enjoyed watching the film “Jedi Junkies”, which was not a film I had heard of before and probably never would have seen it had I not signed up for the service. Also I can assure you that these videos are not censored in any way. I will admit to watching a featured movie just to see how uncensored the service was. Needless to say, nothing was blurred out or beeped. I appreciate that, we are talking about an online service, the FCC’s censors have no place in it.

I also tried the Kinect features of the program and I must admit while I loved having voice command during video playback (preventing the need to pick up a controller or remote) the Kinect version of the Hulu Plus interface was extremely lacking. Any major functionality with Hulu Plus requires a controller. That said, the Kinect’s audio range is fantastic, it just won’t be able to understand you while you’re brushing your teeth.

You will only be able to access popular videos with a hand gesture interface. If you want to do a full search of the Hulu videos (and there are FAR too many options to simply list here), you’ll have to pick up a controller to go looking for them.

Finally I want to talk about video quality. I’m sitting on a 12Mbit/s service and a wired connection to my HDMI connected Xbox 360 slim, outputting in 1080p. At first I noticed my obscure shows were not coming through in HD, and the bandwidth monitor was confirming that. When I switched to alternate content that came in HD I noticed that the show I had previously watched, even though it was shot in HD and premiered on tv in HD, did not have an HD option in Hulu, and I was extremely disappointed. That said, video quality, even in standard, has been fantastic across the board, as well as the quality of the images in the interface.

Audio so far has been limited to PCM stereo. It sounds perfectly fine, but the 360 can do 5.1 Dolby Digital, I haven’t watched any content on the service that supports it.

So, for my final thoughts. It’s not a perfect system by any means but with a few tweaks it easily could be. However I do not plan on renewing my service after my trial expires, nor do I plan to register a credit card to extend the trial. There are too many other free options I have for watching this content including Crackle (which has the obscure shows I love) or even my cable provider’s On Demand, which I’m paying for anyway.

The biggest flaw to me is even though this is a paid premium service (on top of a Gold Subscription), I’m still forced to sit through commercials. There is no excuse for that.

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Portal 2 DLC Announced, Free on All Platforms April 29, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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Valve Software has announced that the first DLC pack (dubbed DLC #1) will be released this summer for Portal 2.  The DLC will include new test chambers, challenge modes, and multiplayer leaderboards.

The DLC is expected for PC, Xbox 360, Mac and PS3 and will be free on all platforms.

I’m curious how these new features are going to be integrated into the core game.  The multiplayer and singleplayer components of the game are pretty self-contained, there would be no way to expand them with new test chambers.  My guess is they’re going to have to update the game in some way to add menus to access the new content, which is probably going to be self-contained.

Sony Sending Out Playstation Rewards Gifts April 29, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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I got an envelope today with the Sony Playstation logo as the return address.  I figured it was probably some kind of long catalog or binder.  When I opened it up, there was an extra-large black t-shirt with Japanese lettering on it that spelled out Playstation.

Enclosed with the t-shirt was a thank you from Sony for participating in the Playstation Rewards Beta Test.  Because I had tiered during the Rewards test, I had gotten the shirt.

For those of you who were also beta testers for the Playstation Rewards program, you will probably be getting your goodies soon as well.  I don’t know what higher tiered users will be getting, but I was the lowest tier and I got this shirt, so if you were on a low tier, you’ll probably get that.

Sony did announce they’re not following through with fully launching the Playstation Rewards program just now.  It’s likely that they decided it just wasn’t worth it when they made that decision, so unfortunatly if you weren’t part of the Rewards beta, I don’t think they’re going to do another one just now.

If anyone else got something different from Sony since you got a higher tier, please post a comment!

Mortal Kombat: Legacy Episodes 2 and 3 April 27, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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Wow these episodes are getting posted up faster than I can talk about them!

The second and third episodes of Mortal Kombat: Legacy have hit the web.  The second picks up where the first left off with Jax, Sonya and Kano, the third is about Johnny Cage, that’s right the famous Hollywood star, and is done in a different style.  There’s also cameos by Ed Boon and Victor Lucas, which is always a plus to any series.

This is machinima.com’s YouTube embeds we’re talking about so make sure to disable all captions before the video starts or you’ll never be able to see half the screen.

Meanwhile, Mortal Kombat is out for PS3 and Xbox 360 right now.

Latest Prey 2 Details April 25, 2011

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Human Head has started doing a bunch of interviews with the press about the upcoming Prey 2, the sequel to 2006’s Prey. In the interviews, they’ve been dropping a lot of tidbits about what to expect about the game.

The game appears to be using a heavily modified version of the engine that powered Doom 3. They promise to retain all the bells and whistles that engine provided, including the lighting and shadowing systems, but also the ability to support LARGE enviroments, something that will be provided in the game.

There will not be any multiplayer. I’m really bummed out by this. I mean, I know that the Xbox 360’s multiplayer was practically unplayable, but the PC’s multiplayer (dubbed MultiPrey) was playable, and really a lot of fun. All the game mechanics, portals, and weapons made for a fun multiplayer experience.

The game will not have portals. Their reasoning is that the portal system would only be on the Sphere, which was the major enviroment of the first game. Since this new game isn’t taking place on the Sphere, there would not be portals.

Finally, the game will have a whole new protagonist. As previously reported, the new character will be an air marshal who was on the 747 that crashed into the Sphere during the first game. To survive, he has become a bounty hunter, and will use weapons and gadgets unique to the game both for killing and capturing targets, as well as a scanner for detecting targets.

As for the fate of the first game’s hero, Tommy? Well, that’s currently unknown. However they did tease we might run into him in the new game.

Well, with that all out of the way, here’s my take on this. Why this game has the Prey name is beyond my comprehension. It has nothing to do with the spirit of the first game. The entire basis of the Prey property revolved around being respectful to Native American roots, and using that heritage to defeat a technologicially superior alien race. None of that is going to be in this game.

However, this design reminds me a lot about the very FIRST game design for Prey, as written by Tom Hall. I’ve looked like crazy to find that original game design document but I think the original site hosting it has been shut down. It was about a regular human, abducted by aliens, being forced to compete in alien gladitorial games. Along the way he had to mingle and gain the trust of three distinct alien species, and learn the secrets of a special fourth species that exists behind the scenes.

The new game design documents for Prey 2 remind me a lot of this design, opposed to the revised design which basically was father to the first game. Still upset over losing multiprey, but they are promising a deep open world single player campaign.

Prey 2 is coming for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. If you’re interested in playing the first Prey, its out for Xbox 360 and PC.

New Max Payne 3 Screenshots, Some Actually Look Like Max Payne Now April 22, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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Max Payne 3 has not had a positive mention in most gamer dialogs since the initial previews of it hit the internet.  Originally developed by Remedy, the same developers who went on to make Alan Wake, Max Payne was a Hard-Boiled New York City detective who went rogue after being framed for murder and staged a personal vendetta against the mafia family that framed him.  Along the way he uncovered a government conspiracy and single-handedly destroyed an entire designer drug operation.

He also fell in love with a mafia hit woman, the identical twin of the Don’s wife.  Twice it appeared she died, and with the multiple endings of Max Payne 2, it was left ambiguous if she had survived or not.  For years fans clamored Remedy and publisher Rockstar for a third game to the series.  They wanted Max back, they wanted to know where the story was going to go from there.  But Remedy was busy working on Alan Wake and no longer had the rights to the game.  Rockstar promised a third game would come, and fans eagerly awaited to see it.

Then the first screenshots and synopsis hit the internet and all that eagerness turned into a collective groan.  Max Payne 3 showed Max in a completely different city in a completely different country. He no longer looked like the character we knew and loved and instead like a flabby bald failure.  What does this have to do with the third game to the series so many know and love?  Well, nothing.

The game had a definite release date which I don’t think anyone was looking forward to.  But some time after the previews and the solid release date were announced the game was pulled from release and the project, which had a pretty steady momentum to release up to that point, went dark.  I think a lot of people figured that the negative press from fans made Rockstar think twice about destroying their extremely expensive property.  I personally was secretly hoping that they’d cancel the game altogether and apologize for the insult that was the initial screenshots.

Well from the looks of it, they’re still going ahead with the project, but these new screenshots show that at least some respect for the property is being added to the game as they do now intend to show the story of how Max went from where he was in the previous games to where the game developers are putting him now.

The game currently has no release date but the site says it’s coming for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Duke Nukem Forever Uncensored Trailer April 21, 2011

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Gearbox Software and 2KGames decided to finally throw caution to the wind and release a bona-fide uncensored trailer for Duke Nukem Forever.  Lets face it, if you decided to censor every Duke Nukem Forever trailer that you were releasing, you’re not really going to be able to see very much of the game (as was shown in the initial release date trailer).

I remember a lot of people on the Gearbox Software Forums were concerned that the fact that the footage was censored on YouTube meant that the game was going to be censored as well.  No, it’s just not happening.  Want to see the game uncensored?  YouTube be damned, here you go.

Duke Nukem Forever is coming June 14th, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

Splatterhouse, Review Travesty of Decade? April 21, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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At the end of last year, a remake of the cult classic game series Splatterhouse was released for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  It received scores ranging from below average to abysmal and these reviews generated a lot of negative press for the game.

For those of you unfamiliar or unaware of the history of the famous video game series Splatterhouse, let me forward you to some very insightful history courtesy of Derek Alexander, who calls himself The Happy Video Game Nerd.

He even did this cool little video about the differences between the classic arcade version and the Turbo Grafx 16 CD version of the game, the only home console port of the game released in the US.

Like most people, I was faintly aware of the game series from its history as an arcade game.  After I inquired, some of my peers were also familiar with the sequels of the game released to the Sega Genesis.

I started catching tidbits about this game back when promotion was being done for it while it was in development.  When it was released, I remembered watching Yatzee’s review of it (and his standards are higher than a kite for what is considered good) and that was pretty much all I saw of it at release.  Because I was pretty broke after buying a dozen collector’s editions over that year, and I hadn’t heard much about Splatterhouse after it came out, I didn’t give it a second thought.

But then I started to see reviews of the game from people other than mainstream reviewers, and they were painting a much different picture of Splatterhouse than what the reviewers were.  Here’s the HVGN’s take on the new game.  My apologies for constantly referring to him in this article, but his videos were what brought this to my attention and I think he deserves a lot of credit, and his opinions about the game are shared by many players.

Then I read THIS article at the West Mansion (post dated 1/14/2011, sorry it doesn’t have a dedicated page yet), considered by many to be the biggest Splatterhouse fansite on the web.  You guys may think I’m controversial whenever I post something, take a gander at what the webmaster of that site had to say.  The short of it is, he was pretty sure the reviews were unfavorable because Namco decided to pull advertising for the game from sites just before release.  He figured, without ad revenue to warm reviewer’s stomachs the review sites had no reason to be generous to the game and they universally destroyed it.  So even though the game was fun to play, the review scores were abysmal, the bugs were exaggerated and hopes of sales of the game were destroyed.

But he had some evidence to back up his claims.  According to actual people who played the game, the review scores (and comments) about Splatterhouse were completely unmerited at best or outright wrong at the worst.

Now there are games out there that I personally enjoy which are not by a lot of means perfect, but they’re still a ton of fun to play.  The typical term for these kinds of games are usually unpolished gems that just need a little love.  They’re games that despite the flaws that a little more development time could’ve fixed were still really enjoyable.  A personal example I would consider fitting that description would be Troika’s 2004 swan song Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines.  That is a game that despite its performance issues, control bugs, memory leaks and cliffhanger endings, I happily play each and every summer because it’s still enjoyable to play, and fans have done everything they can to fix and modify the game to give it the polish that Troika never could.

Of course there is always the inverse of that, the game that is bad no matter how much polish it did or didn’t get.  Alone in the Dark (2008), was that kind of game.  It did receive abysmal scores across the board and I can tell you personally looking back on my playthroughs of the game, they were merited.  The bugs and glitches HINDERED the game being fun, instead turning completing it into a chore (making the scene skip menu, something that I normally would never consider using, SERIOUSLY tempting to use through the whole game).  The claim that it just needed some extra time for polish was quickly tossed as the one version of the game that got the extra six months of polish the game reviews thought the game needed (The PS3 version) was still an awful buggy mess, only it was now a little bit easier.

So these guys looked like they had fun playing the game, and the low scores from the reviewers was looking more like there was a fix in place.  The major tell to this was that some of the glaring problems reviewers had with the game, particularly framerate issues, were not actually in the game.

In all, the webmaster of the West Mansion, the BIGGEST Splatterhouse website on the internet for the past 10 years, has announced he will retire in two months but there’s a mention that someone else will pick up the site after he leaves.  Namco has shut down the American development house that made it, making seeing any further games highly unlikely.

It’s kind of reasons like this that have made me hesitant to start doing full reviews for games on this site (micro-reviews for odds and ends are different, but I still haven’t officially reviewed a full game on this site yet, although I have been considering it for some time).  I believe that a game should be fun above all else, and I am able to overlook issues I’m having with the game if I’m enjoying the game regardless.  The real tell for me is if I’m able to REPLAY the game repeatedly even with all these issues.  I also will take price into account since no one has ever sent me a video game for free (and I don’t expect them to).  I just haven’t been comfortable enough to do a full review (video or written), since some people who visit this site think I’m opinionated enough as it is.  However, if someone wants to send me a new game with the hopes that I’d review it, I would be more than happy to oblige them.

I’m writing this all to tell you all in general, don’t put 100 percent faith in the review system.  If you’ve waited years to play a game that has gotten bad reviews, don’t let that deter you from picking it up and forming your own opinion about it.  Don’t let some paid intern who gets tons of free swag sitting behind a computer all day tell you how you should feel about a game you’ve never played.

So the question stands right now, is the game as bad as the reviewers say?  Well, my copy is coming this weekend, and I’ll be able to see for myself.

Do Not Adjust Your Networks, PSN is Down April 21, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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Yeah, I’m writing this little tidbit to everyone with a PS3 that gets a rejection notice from the PSN whenever they try to log in.  You also might notice that your Steam Cloud support in Portal 2 is no longer working (which is what tipped me off that their was a problem, my cloud saves were no longer syncing halfway through my second playthrough).

The Playstation Network is not functioning very well right now, and Sony is looking into it.  That said, they have no definite timeline as of the point I’m typing this, as to when the issue is going to be resolved, and it could easily last a day or two.

Needless to say, if you want to play an MP game on your PS3 right now, you likely won’t be able to, nor will you be able to access the Steam service through the PSN right now either (Steam Service through PC is functioning perfectly fine however, if you’d rather continue your Portal 2 game on your PC or Mac, feel free to.)

The current ramifications on this site are as follows.  I had wanted to do a recording of the inFamous 2 beta software which I got access to and was in the process of downloading and show you what was up with it.  I can’t do that until this issue is resolved.

Maniac and diskreader117 Play Gears of War 3 Beta April 19, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Site Videos.
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It’s time for another match of Team Deathmatch on Thrashball.  This time, Maniac is joined by diskreader117 in this video, a person who has not played a single Gears of War game in his life.

The controller switches hands a few times, but you can hear both of our comments.  As you can see, it is EXTREMELY difficult for a person completely unfamilar with Gears of War’s controls to get a handle on this game, and most attacks that will cause death in this game will usually happen instananously, making conventional machine gun attacks impractical.

We still won the game, overall, but that was probably more due to us being matchmade with a better team, and for the fact I made a consious effort to not get killed, since I knew that killing enemies the way I wanted to (with stop and pop) was just not going to happen.

Of course this is still a beta, and the weapons all have time to be tuned before the game ships in September.  If you got a copy of Bulletstorm feel free to join the party and unlock everything you can.  If you had just preordered the game, your codes won’t be active until the 25th.

Gears of War 3 will release September 2011 exclusive to the Xbox 360.