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Big N / Sony: Blogging Holiday: MLB PP 2008 Out Today!
Jul 29th, 2008 by Dan

Gonna take a short blogging break to play some MLB Power Pros and prepare for a wedding I have to go to this weekend. Catch you guys on the flip side.

Embedded Reporter: I Am Alive
Jul 28th, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

Just a quick little trailer from E3 for a multiplatform game called I Am Alive. The cool, intriguing part of the trailer is that there’s no mention of just what destroyed Chicago and word from Ubisoft is that the game will actually be character development and problem solving oriented. I hope they deliver on this neat concept with a great game, cause I’m already down for it based on the trailer.

Filmmakers Bleed: North by Northwest Review
Jul 26th, 2008 by Dan

It’s time for a blast to the past today with a Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest (hereafter abbreviated as NNW). #40 on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies top movie list, it’s held in high regard as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best and also is credited with being “the first James Bond film,” by some due to its spy plot, dashing leading man, and daring (at the time) action sequences. Now, I may be a bit more critical of this movie after having recently seen Casino Royale and the trailer for Quantum of Solace, but that’s mainly because I feel this movie would be much better served if it were created in the modern day instead of limited by the constraints of late 1950s film.

SPOILER TIME

The plot revolves around a advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, who is accidentally mistaken for another man, George Kaplan, in one of those classic Hitchcockian moments that always set these sorts of things up. Naturally, the bad guys kidnap Thornhill, intending to interrogate him and kill him, since this Kaplan bloke appears to be a spy. Since Thornhill doesn’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about, they decide to kill him in one of the lamest movie assassinations ever: they make him drink a bottle of bourbon, put him in a car, and intend to drive it off a California escarpment to cover their tracks. What follows instead is one of the most interetsing things I’ve ever seen: a car chase where one of the drivers was drunk. Like I said before, this would be that much cooler if this were a modern movie, since the canned scrolling backgrounds really fail to capture the urgency and difficulty of this chase where modern movie effects could have made it seem a bit more dangerous.

Thornhill clearly survives, but is taken in by the police for driving while intoxicated. He tries to clear his name, but a return to the house where he was kidnapped to just makes him look even more stupid and a trip to Kaplan’s hotel room finds it sans Kaplan and, more suspiciously, none of the staff have ever seen this George Kaplan fellow. Desperate to clear his name, Thornhill heads to the U.N. to look for the man who force-fed him bourbon, but finds out that he was using a fake name. Worse, the man who shares his name is murdered with a knife to the back by Thornhill, who is caught in a picture holding the knife before he flees. So begins the NNW travel that is echoed in the title as Thornhill chases Kaplan to Chicago, meets a beautiful woman (pretty good looking by modern standards too), beds her (he’s just like James Bond), and arrives in Chicago hoping to find Kaplan.

What Thornhill doesn’t see is the scene after the murder in some government intelligence agency where the fact that George Kaplan does not exist is revealed. He is a fake man meant to confound targets into chasing him while the real agents and operatives do their work. Thornhill is on a wild goose chase. When one of the agents asks “Should we help him?” the rest of the agency says nope, he’ll either be shot by the police or the bad guys, but that’s not our problem, it will only help us.

So continues the movie, with the famous plane attack scene and more spy-like maneuvering until Thornhill is eventually recruited by the agency and eventually has to save the girl in a daring chase down Mt. Rushmore. It ends, as these movies typically do, with the guy getting the girl and, we suppose, him returning to his life as an ad executive exonerated of all charges.

SPOILERS END

NNW is actually a pretty strong movie in terms of its themes of mistaken identity which been duplicated in modern times with movies like Enemy of the State. It does, however, suffer from kind of slow pacing (not as bad as other old movies) and awkward dialogue (a relic of the past as well) that may turn you off to the movie if you aren’t really into older flicks. I’d say its definitely worth watching if you like Hitchcock or old movies, but should probably be avoided otherwise.

Game Overview: Rereleases, Ports, and Remakes
Jul 25th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

As you all know by now, I love Chrono Trigger. The prospect of this new port of the SNES classic to the DS has me positively salivating at the thought. It all sounds super cool that I’ll be able to own another cart of this fantastic game and that it will have those nifty little improvements made to it.

Then I look at the new Final Fantasy IV remake released on the DS. It’s not just a port like Chrono Trigger is, it’s a full-blown reworking of the game adding 3D, cutscenes, and even voice acting and I can’t help but feel just a wee bit cheated. FF IV DS launched this past Tuesday for $39.99, since Square Enix knows that they’re the only company that can get away with such exorbitantly priced DS games, but I can more or less justify paying that much for a game that is significantly improved over its SNES iteration. The new version has a retooled difficulty level and added content as well, so, while pricey, it’s still a fully-featured new game of sorts.

How can I justify paying for a straight port of the best SNES game out there when I know that the company is capable of putting some effort into coming out with an improved version? Chrono Trigger may be an absolute classic, but it would definitely be served by improved graphics or even a more significant modification like with Persona 3: FES. In that game Atlus actually added on an epilogue of extensive length and substance.

It’s not exactly out of the question to have rereleases of this nature in Japan. Nintendo as been releasing updated versions of its NES Mario games since the days of the SNES with Super Mario All-Stars. I suppose it brings with it a chance to give a new generation an opportunity to play games which are far beyond what is playable without the Virtual Console or similar service, but I just can’t help but feel cheated knowing that I will inevitably pay quite a large sum of money for yet another marginally improved version of Chrono Trigger, despite my intense love for the game.

I guess there may be a silver lining to the rather lackluster effort involved in this DS rerelease: the hopeful high sales of the rerelease may lead to a proper sequel to Chrono Trigger.

Sony: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Review
Jul 24th, 2008 by Dan

It’s time for the moment many of you have been waiting for: my review of Hideo Kojima’s epic masterpiece: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

SPOILER ALERT: This review may contain story spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Operating mostly on the basis of a promised beautiful, cinematic, amazing future of games, the PS3 launched back in November of 2006 with many of its purchasers anxiously awaiting the arrival of one specific game: Metal Gear Solid 4. Arriving quite some time later, is this the game to finally make the PS3 a worthwhile purchase? Let’s have a look.

The Story

One of the main questions on everyone’s mind when MGS4’s launch neared was whether or not the game would be able to wrap up the multitude of sometimes downright ridiculous plot points laid out by the six or so canonical games that have come out over the last twenty years. I’ll tell you outright that they definitely did manage to get it all figured out in a mostly satisfying way and with a pretty great premise that relates rather well to the previous games in the series. Unfortunately we lack some of the major themes of the typical MGS game, which is quite unfortunate, since the game is now more about Snake getting revenge and, to borrow a marketing blurb from Halo, finishing the fight.

The premise behind this new game is as complex as any other Metal Gear game. “War has changed,” as Snake tells us right from the get-go. The world economy revolves around war instead of oil with major private military corporations handling military operations in lieu of the more typical government-handled warfare of the 20th and 21st centuries. Snake’s major antagonist, Liquid Ocelot, happens to control the five major PMCs and is about to stage a revolt. Colonel Campbell will have none of that, so he’s sending in Snake to put an end to Liquid once and for all.

If you’ve ever seen a clip or footage of old Metal Gear Solid games, you’re no doubt wondering why Snake looks so old in this game. Simple answer, Snake, being a clone of the great Big Boss, is actually suffering from rapid cellular degeneration as a direct result of his cloned nature. So begins the tale of the living legend as he pursues Liquid across the globe. I’ll leave the synopsis at that, since the rest is best experienced in person.

Gameplay

The Metal Gear Solid series has always suffered from rather obscure control decisions, resulting in a finger-twisting control scheme that was definitely frustrating. For the last game of Snake’s career, Kojima teamed up with Ryan Payton to try and “Westernize” the controls of MGS to streamline the obscure decisions that have been a hallmark of the past ten years of Metal Gear. By making these controls work better in the post-discovery, action-oriented parts of MGS4, Kojima also inadvertently made it much easier to NOT play MGS as “Tactical Stealth Espionage” game. Really, what is Metal Gear without the stealth? The game was punishing when you messed up because you weren’t supposed to get caught. Your gameplay should be much more deliberate, slow and controlled than a straight-up action game because this is NOT an action game. That disappointment aside, the reworked controls do make the experience that much smoother and help to bring modern game design to the classic series.

Extra Spoiler Alert

Also new to the mix is the way that the levels are laid out. The first zone, the Middle East, has you more or less in the middle of a battle between the PMCs and militia insurgents. While these two factions are battling it out, you can choose to sneak, stealthily, around the fighting, help the militia take out the PMCs, gaining their trust and making them allies on the battlefield, or kill/stun both PMC and militia alike, making enemies of both. This first section on the game also hapens to be one of the best done sections, with the interesting dynamic of warring factions, tension resulting from battlefield sneaking, and a overall cool locale.

Act two takes place in South America, in a throwback type situation to MGS3. It doesn’t quite take place in the jungle, but its got a similar aesthetic to it and is the second most fun zone in the game. There is one area of complaint, the part where you have to “track” Naomi’s footprints to get to where she’s being kept in S. America. it’s just not as fun as the game thinks it is to look for footprints. This section also features some of the militia/PMC fighting of the desert.

The third act is the weakest of the bunch, taking place in Europe, you mainly follow a member of the resistance in an attempt to locate the headquarters of said resistance and “Big Mama.” It’s just plain not as fn as other parts of the game, even if it forces a bit more the stealth aspect of MGS that I love so much.

Act IV has the third best section of the game, as you return to Shadow Moses Island hunting Liquid Ocelot. The act starts with a dream sequence that pops you back to the PSX Metal Gear Solid making you play the approach into the Shadow Moses Island base. after that bit of nostalgia, you bust into the base itself, hearing bits of nostalgic moments that took place int he island as you pass through familiar locations. The enemies in this section are far less interesting, as they are mostly robotic. and not as fun to sneak by. This act does also contain a very sweet section where you pilot the Metal Gear REX, the model you fought in Metal Gear Solid and a Metal Gear on Metal Gear battle as you spar with the Metal Gear RAY model from Metal Gear Solid 2.

The final act brings you face to face with the Outer Heaven, Liquid’s main battleship and the location he intends to launch his revolution from. The shortest section in the game, it does feature a great boss battle against a foe similar to Psycho Mantis as well as one of the best cinematic and nostalgic gameplay sections as the final boss battle.

No real review can get away without mentioning Metal Gear Solid Online. This game, I feel, suffers from the fact that stealth is not rewarded as it is in the main game. Why would you want to play MGO like any other third-person shooter? I mainly have my fun by refusing to kill any other players, but when I do manage to stun another player, one of my teammates inevitably comes around and shoots him in the head on the floor. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

Graphics

Meet the best looking PS3 game currently on the market. Every ounce of processing power available to Konami and Kojima Productions was expertly utilized to create a beautiful experience that will wow most any naysayer of the PS3’s graphical capabilities. The desert makes you thirsty, jungle makes you sweaty from humidity, Europe feels cool, Shadow Moses Island is appropriately haunted-seeming, and Outer Heaven’s cinematic beauty makes for a great end to a fine game.

Sound

What can I say? The guns sound good, voice acting is as superb as ever (boo to losing the British and Chinese accents of Naomni and Mei Ling, respectively), and the score by Harry Gregson-Williams and company evokes the properly patriotic and legendary aesthetic of Metal Gear.

Final Verdict

Metal Gear Solid 4 is an amazing game, but I found myself just a wee bit disappointed with the epic. While the game does everything really well, I just found the story and, specifically, the acting of some of the characters (Naomi and Sunny) to be rather irritating. Compared to the sublime perfection of Metal Gear Solid 3, this game just needed a little more editing and a little less of the Japanese overacted melodrama. That being said, MGS4 is still one of the best PS3 games out there, gameplay-wise and should not be missed. A definite must-play.

Wednesday Morning Quarterback: Light News
Jul 23rd, 2008 by Dan

You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ‘em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

Having spent a good portion of this last week away from televisions, I don’t have much to say regarding the sports world, so here’s a few different quick things:

Marlins are still a game back in the NL East, tied with the Mets behind the Phillies. The Mets and Phillies are playing each other in a series, which the Marlins can hopefully capitalize on by not losing to the Braves again tonight.

Tampa Bay Rays have moved up to first again after their eight-game losing streak. They’re now 1.5 games ahead of Boston in the AL East.

Brett Favre may be coming back to the NFL, but the Packers are definitely not interested in having him start for them. Will he go to another team?

MLB Power Pros 2008 comes out next week. Sure, it’s not real sports news, but it’s still awesome.

I’ll try and get more and better news for next week!

Filmmakers Bleed/Idiot Box: It’s Time to Play the Music…
Jul 22nd, 2008 by Dan

Two days ago I found myself at the Smithsonian museum checking out the NEW exhibit they created dedicated to Jim Henson. With exhibits showcasing every aspect of his work, from his early commercials to his work on Sam & Friends, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street, it was actually a really neat showcase of the professional life of a very gifted entertainer.

The Smithsonian did have a Henson exhibit before, but it was just a corner in the American History museum and not wholly impressive. This new showcase is in another gallery (the American History museum is being renovated) and it spans about three rooms complete with drawings, projection screens showing Henson’s work, and display cases filled with felt muppets.

It’s definitely a cool piece that they have and, if I’m not mistaken, it is a limited engagement that will be ending next month. Go and check it out if you get a chance.

I leave you with Muppet Media:

These puppets are in the museum:

Bork bork bork…

Embedded Reporter: Play!
Jul 21st, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

Went and saw “Play! A Video Game Symphony” at the end of the last week and I have to say it was pretty cool. Some of the music didn’t do much for me :cough: Super Shinobi :cough:, but a lot of the stuff, even games I didn’t care about, was pretty awesome.

There was one disappointment with the end of the Metal Gear Solid piece. I’ve seen these other symphony programs do better and not leave out the last, heroic guitar part at the end. Granted, it’s only about ten seconds of music, but it’s an awesome ten seconds. Check out the legit MGS version that I was hoping for:

To be fair, I’ve been both thinking about it and listening to some versions of the MGS theme and I think that the Play! guys did the original MGS theme while this video is kind of for the MGS3 theme. Also, don’t get me wrong, it was still awesome.

Big N/PC E3: The Return of a Classic
Jul 19th, 2008 by Dan

It seems that one of my favorite PC games from way back when is about to make a return with The Humans: Meet the Ancestors. A Lemmings-style game in which you guide a tribe of cavemen to the goal, trying to have them not die, The Humans provided hours of fun for me back on our junky Packard Bell until we lost the anti-piracy copy card.

I can’t say that I like the new Humans art style. Here’s a peek at the way the old game looked from some foreign TV station:

The new style is similar, but lacks some of the character of the old style. Oh well, I just might pick up the game anyway when it comes out.

DS Trailer:

PC Trailer (very similar, but spiffier in graphics and with concept art at the end):

Game Overview E3: Now That’s Dedication
Jul 18th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

I’ve talked about how dedicated Capcom is to the old-school aesthetic of Mega Man 9, but just how dedicated are they? Below is the “boxart” for the DLC game:

Mega Man 9 Box ArtSee More Mega Man 9 Box Art at IGN.com

If you remember back to my 8-Bit All-Stars post, you might remember me talking about the Mega Man 2 boxart as being nonsensical for the anime-cutesy style of the game. This is such a return to the old school that it makes me kind of pumped for this game.

I know I said I’d have E3 updates as exciting things happened, but I’ve failed to see much that excited me in this show. That being said, I will close off with a particular trailer that does pique my interest:

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