Is the PlayStation 3 Dying?  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , , , ,

Fallout from the November sales data continues to mount for Sony and its PlayStation family. CNNMoney's Silicon Alley Insider column pulled no punches in its assessment of the numbers calling the PS3 "A sinking ship" in light of its sales declining 19 percent compared to what it did last year. While that's a bit melodramatic, it's hard to argue with their conclusion that the PS3 needs a price cut soon, and a substantive one at that. Ten year lifespan or not, it stands on the brink of falling behind the Xbox 360 by an insurmountable margin.

The article attributes the PS3's struggles to three key reasons: its higher price tag, no one caring that it plays Blu-Ray, and the lack of system selling software.

Acknowledging the price issue, the other two fall into a much more gray area. Blu-Ray shows more signs of life with each month that passes since it won the HD format war. Netflix announced at the beginning of December that it had seen a dramatic rise in Blu-ray renters, hitting its year-end target over a month early, and that's in spite of an extra fee they added for the format. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president David Bishop also said in a recent interview with Home Media Magazine that Blu-ray sales are growing at a rate of 200 to 300 percent over last year's figures. (full Story)

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , , , , , , , ,

The luxurious, unlocked Windows Mobile–based Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 has plenty of features. But it also has plenty of bugs. And at an exorbitant $799.99 (list), I simply can't imagine anyone buying it when there are so many other solid options available for much less—especially in this economy.

The 5.1-ounce X1 is clad in silver metal, but ultimately feels like a slightly clunky rectangle (4.4 by 2.1 by 0.7 inches, HWD), without the rounded corners of devices like the BlackBerry Storm and iPhone 3G. Closed, it's dominated by its supersharp 3.1-inch, 800-by-480-pixel screen, with a bunch of action buttons and a small touchpad below it. Slide the screen to the right and you'll see a usable QWERTY keyboard of small, squarish, slightly bumpy, well-separated keys, but the top row of keys is a little too close to the screen, making them a bit hard to hit. The phone doesn't have an accelerometer—the screen image rotates only when you open or close the keyboard. On the back, there's a 3.2-megapixel camera with an LED flash. There's a microSD card slot under the back cover. (The X1 rejected our 16GB card, even though Sony Ericsson claims the phone should accept cards up to 16GB.)

The X1 offers two major software features that you won't find on other Windows Mobile phones. The big one is the Xperia Panel interface, a new, interactive way of using your home screen. Press the Xperia Panels button and you'll be presented with a set of varied home screens, each with a different take on your media, the clock, the application launcher and/or your PIM information. The home screens are attractive and well thought-out, and on the whole the interface is more usable than the slow TouchFLO you get on the HTC Fuze.

The second feature is a customized version of the Opera Mobile 9.5 browser, which is faster and displays pages more accurately than Microsoft's Internet Explorer Mobile. But Opera seems much more loosely plumbed into the system than on the competing Samsung Omnia. During testing, when I went to the Google Panel to do a search, for instance, the phone launched the inferior Internet Explorer browser.

The Panel interface relies on the 800-by-480-pixel screen to show its miniaturized panels. The downside of the high-res screen is that it takes Windows Mobile's already-small interface elements down to a tiny size. There's a stylus in the corner of the phone, and you'll want to use it, because with itty-bitty buttons like these, using your finger is out of the question.

A quad-band EDGE phone with HSDPA 850/1900/2100 and HSUPA, the Xperia X1 should hit AT&T's and foreign networks at the highest speed possible. When using the X1 as a modem for a Windows Vista PC, I achieved download speeds of around 700 kilobits per second, lower than I expected. On T-Mobile's network, the phone drops to much-slower EDGE speeds.

The X1 is not a great voice phone; its earpiece is a bit quieter than I'd like, and I heard some clipping at top volume on AT&T's 3G network. Voices are well rounded at lower volumes, but that won't do in a noisy outdoor area. The speakerphone suffers from the same issues. Transmissions sounded a bit rough and fuzzy, with lots of background noise coming through. Speakerphone transmissions sounded muddy.

The X1 theoretically works with both mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets and features a standard 3.5mm headset jack for wired headsets. But our X1 had some trouble connecting to both Plantronics Pulsar 590 and Motorola S9 HD stereo Bluetooth headsets. I finally got the S9 HD connected on the third try. The phone does not offer voice dialing. The good news: Talk time was just shy of 7.5 hours on my tests, an impressive result for a HSDPA handset.

I also experienced some stability and connectivity issues. My first sync with a Windows Vista PC took 30 minutes and ended with a crash. My first attempt to connect the X1 to a WPA2 Wi-Fi network also failed (though I was able to connect eventually). On my tests the X1 was also plagued with strange delays. Whether I was hooking up a headset or pressing 'resume' in the media player, sometimes the phone would just seize up for 10 or 15 seconds.

Plenty powerful, the X1 should run Windows Mobile third-party applications well, according to our Spb Benchmark and CorePlayer performance tests. On Spb's general-purpose benchmark tests, the X1 performed better overall than most other Windows Mobile devices, with the exception of the Samsung Epix. The high-resolution screen drags down video frame rates somewhat, but the X1 still came out ahead of popular devices like the Samsung SCH-i760 and Motorola Q9 series. The device has GPS but doesn't come with any mapping or driving-directions applications. (full Story)

Techs Biggest Broken Promises of 2008  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , , ,

We Start with a Micro Fuel Cell ...
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Amicro fuel cell

Holidays? What holidays? Here at PCMag, we're too busy thinking about the Consumer Electronics Show coming up in early January to stop and smell the nog. We're getting e-mails and phone calls from PR reps by the boatload, each one promising a new product that will revolution the consumer electronics landscape as we know it.

The only thing is, plenty of these products never actually make it to market.

Naturally, this got us to thinking. How many products have we been promised in the past year that never actually hit store shelves? In honor of both the impending CES and the end of the calendar year, we've culled together some of tech's best unfulfilled promises of 2008.

Fuel cells in laptops: As we look more and more toward alternative energy sources, it make sense that laptop manufacturers would also be searching for a change from the old-fashioned lithium ion battery. For a few years now we've been promised the advent of the fuel cell--a more efficient technology than its predecessors. Unfortunately, we're still stuck in the development stages.

Check out the rest of our disappointments, after the jump...

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MemJet printing: This technology was going to revolutionize the way we print, outputting anywhere from 60 to 360 pages per minute. Sadly, the technology has been pushed back to 2009. We'll believe it when we see it.

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Microvision PicoP: 2008 was the year of the tiny projector for plenty of companies--not Microvision, though. The PicoP won't be seeing the light of day (or even a dimly lit board room) until 2009.

Palm Nova OS: Oh Palm, remember when you had the smartphone world in, well, the palm of your hand? The company's eagerly awaited OS didn't debut in 2008, but rumor has it that we'll be seeing it at CES 2009. Right Palm? Riiiiight.

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The Phantom: The irony of this company's name has not been lost on the tech blogosphere. Phantom Entertainment promised this gaming system for years, without much of anything to show for it. However, the company does get points for actually having released an honest-to-god product this year: The Phantom Lapboard keyboard made its debut in June--a full two years after its original release date.



RealDVD:
This "studio-blessed" DVD-ripping software got close to release--really, it did, if only all of those pesky movie companies hadn't gone out and sued the company over copyright issues. Whoops...

Ultra-wideband for PCs: Where was this low-energy, high-bandwidth technology in 2008? In the ether, naturally.

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Duke Nukem Forever: Of course we'd be remiss if we left this perennial vaporware favorite off the list. 3D Realms has been promising this first-person shooter for a staggering 11 years. It's kind of the "Chinese Democracy" of the video game world, only Axl finally got off his leather pants and release that one. Perhaps some kind of Dr. Pepper-related promotion will finally light a fire under the programmers... (full Story)

Wanted: Weapons of Fate Updated Hands-On  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in ,

We check out the bullet-bending action in this Grin-developed game based on the Hollywood blockbuster.


Comic book fans might have been taken aback by the cinematic reimagining of the Wanted comic series from creators Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, but there's little doubt that the movie, which starred Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, had a vision all its own. Full of sexy assassins, global conspiracies, curving bullets, and bloody, bloody kills, the film was the kind of setting and story that just begs for a video game adaptation, and the developers at Grin have been hard at work on their latest project, Wanted: Weapons of Fate. We had a chance to play the game for the first time at a press event in San Francisco this week, and it seems like the game is bringing a good deal of the film's flair to consoles.

The press event featured three brief demo levels from Weapons of Fate, two of which starred Wesley Gibson, the weasely office-slug-turned-superassassin (played by James McAvoy in the film). The third mission starred Cross, Wesley's father. As it turns out, Weapons of Fate will have both Wesley and Cross as playable characters, and the plot of the game (which picks up where the movie leaves off) will focus on the mystery of Cross' background and what happened to Wesley's mother. The first demo level we played had Cross looking to rendezvous with an associate on the well-worn streets of a French village. Standing between him and his objective are a number of bad guys. As Cross, we had to wind our way through buildings and alleyways, taking down enemies in whatever way we could. Weapons of Fate is a third-person action game that makes heavy use of both gunplay and close-quarters kills. The close-quarters kills are vicious and easy to pull off; you simply sneak up on an enemy and press the B button (circle on the PS3) when the icon appears onscreen. If you pull it off, you'll be treated to a quick and bloody animation of a brutal takedown--a knee to the face, a knife to the junk, that kind of thing.

Close-quarters combat is fun, but the real meat of Weapons of Fate is when dealing lead. Both Wesley and Cross have the ability to bend bullets around corners, hitting enemies who otherwise would be safely tucked behind cover. As cool as this ability is, it takes some getting used to. First of all, the ability to curve bullets is mediated by your adrenaline level. To pump up your adrenaline, you need to make some standard kills. Once the adrenaline icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen turns blue, you can pull off your curved shots.

The mechanics behind curving bullets take some practice. To start the process, you press and hold the right bumper (R1 on the PS3), which brings up potential targets in red (even if they're behind cover). A curved arc also appears, showing you the general trajectory the bullet will take once you fire; the goal is to move the left stick until the red target turns white, which indicates that your bullet will hit its intended target. Once the target turns white, you simply let go of the bumper, and Wesley (or Cross) will fire his weapon with the familiar sidearm whip. (full Story)

Prince of Persia (2008) Review  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in ,

Prince of Persia's shimmering veneer and joyous platforming will cast a spell on you.


The Good
Intricate level design * Beautiful art direction * Platforming is entertaining and looks great Cinematic combat moves are cool to pull off and impressive to watch * Elika's presence leads to unique gameplay mechanics.

The Bad
Really, really easy * The new prince isn't a good leading man * Some combat and platforming annoyances.

In many modern games, you rain death upon your enemies; how refreshing, then, that your main task in Prince of Persia is to breathe life into a darkening world. That doesn't mean that the forces of evil aren't on your tail in this open-world platformer, but the most indelible moments of this enchanting journey are uplifting, rather than destructive. Similarly, the latest iteration in this long-running franchise is a rejuvenation for the series, and it's an ambitious one, offering up a new titular prince and casting certain game traditions aside in favor of player immersion. And for the most part it succeeds, eliminating illusion-breaking mechanics like game-over screens and long loading times in the process. This re-imagining comes with a few caveats, however, and if you're a longtime series fan, you'll quickly discover--and possibly resent--that Prince of Persia is, far and away, the easiest game in the series. But if you can clear your mind and let the game's magic wash over you, its easygoing joy and visual beauty will charm you into forgiving a sprinkling of flaws.

In some ways, Prince of Persia represents a return to Sands of Time's storybook vibe, which had been somewhat lost in that game's two sequels. Yet our new hero isn't exactly Prince Charming, but rather a wisecracking nomad interested only in his donkey (named Farah, in one of several nods to previous games) and the riches she apparently carries. His royal status is referenced but never fully explored, though his companion Elika is clearly a princess, and as the game progresses, you'll become much more invested in her past than the prince's. Together, they seek to imprison the evil god Ahriman, who has been inexplicably set free by Elika's own father. To do so, they must restore a series of fertile grounds to their former fecund glory, thereby banishing the inky black corruption that has enveloped the land. Storytelling isn't the game's strong suit, and the dismissive, often unlikeable prince is hardly beguiling, a poor fit for the captivating journey ahead. Thankfully, Elika exudes enough charm for the both of them, and the relationship they slowly forge lends plenty of emotional impact to the game's final moments.

This relationship enriches the very core of the experience, given that Elika is not your standard game sidekick. She isn't just a helpless companion, but an important part of a number of gameplay mechanics. As the prince, you will pull off moves familiar to franchise fans: jumping, climbing, scaling, and wallrunning among them. There are also a few new acrobatics to play with, such as the aptly named roofrun, where the prince scuttles along the roof in a vaguely simian manner. But if the moves are familiar, Elika's presence enriches and enhances them. She will jump on your back as you scale across vines, reach for your helping hand as you climb, and perform an elegant pas de deux with you when you need to pass her on a narrow beam. In some ways, this relationship recalls that of Ico and Yorda in 2001's ICO.

While in ICO Yorda was totally dependent on her companion, here Elika is far more helpful to the prince than he is to her. She is, in fact, your constant savior, because she will not, and cannot, allow you to die. Should you fall, Elika will grab you by the wrist and whisk you to safety--meaning the last checkpoint. There is a checkpoint at almost every platform, so aside from possibly having to repeat a few seconds of gameplay, there is absolutely no penalty for plummeting to your doom. You will never see the words "game over," and you won't need to save and reload before difficult sequences. Nor will you need to ever puzzle over how to make it from point A to point B: Elika can fire off a magical homing orb that will show you the precise way of getting to your destination. Combined with simple platforming controls that require a minimum of key or button presses, these facets make Prince of Persia one of the easiest games you'll play all year.

This ease of use makes each individual action seem relatively meaningless as you string moves together. For many, this will translate to a diminished feeling of reward; aside from a few exceptions, there is no sequence that feels remotely challenging, certainly not for players familiar with the old-school difficulties wrought by the early games in the series. Yet while the unique satisfaction of overcoming hurdles is missing, it is tempered by other kinds of rewards. The platforming is fluid, and seamlessly chaining a number of moves together is simple but visually appealing, making for some silky-smooth motion that you'll get a kick out of. To get the most out of it, however, you will want to use a controller. While the keyboard controls work surprisingly well for platforming, the numerous quicktime events aren't well suited to a keyboard, and the key prompts are more confusing when you aren't using a gamepad.

As you progress through the game and explore some of the more intricate environments, you'll find some truly impressive level design. Each area flows organically into the next, and while the overall design appears a bit more synthetic than it did in Assassin's Creed, platform placement and other architectural features don't seem overtly artificial. This becomes even more apparent when you begin to unlock Elika's various powers--though calling them powers is a bit of a stretch. As you unlock new explorable areas by collecting glowing orbs called light seeds, you will be able to utilize the various colored plates that dot walls and ceilings. There are four types of plates, and each kind initiates a high-flying feat. Red and blue plates are functionally the same (though visually unique), propelling you automatically toward the next plate or platform. Green plates turn you into a sort of Persian Spider-Man, causing you to quickly scale up walls and ceilings while avoiding obstacles. Finally, yellow plates initiate on-rails flight sequences that give you limited room to maneuver around obstructions, sort of like a 3D version of Nights Into Dreams, the Saturn platformer. Many of the sequences combining plate jumps and standard platforming are exhilarating, and the manner in which some of them utilize all three dimensions make the level design all the more impressive. And amazingly, the camera is rarely a liability, which is quite an achievement. Unfortunately, the flying initiated by leaping from yellow plates is a clear weakness. The constant camera movement and overwhelming visual effect used here make for a few annoying sections, and it is never clear whether you need to go left or right, up or down to avoid certain objects. Given that most of the plate-initiated bits are terrific fun, it's a shame these particular flights of fancy were so poorly crafted. (full Story)

Kung Fu Panda Review  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in ,

This movie-inspired action game is fun while it lasts, but sadly that isn't very long.


The Good
Great dialogue * Captures the feel of the film well.

The Bad
Inconsistent visuals * No online multiplayer * Short single-playercampaign * Repetitive gameplay.

Kung Fu Panda on the Wii manages to capture the look and feel of the movie it's based on--but shallow, repetitive gameplay, inconsistent visuals, bugs, slowdown, and a short length are sure to disappoint. The game is intended primarily for those who have seen the film and want to live out Po's adventure as both the bumbling fool and the unlikely Dragon Warrior saviour. For this reason, those who pick up Kung Fu Panda on a whim may find that the character introductions are a little thin and that their experience suffers as a result.

While not impossible to follow, the story can certainly be a little confusing, especially in regards to intercharacter relationships. If you haven't seen the movie, the game comes across as slightly disjointed, and while it can be played like any off-the-shelf beat-'em-up, don't be surprised if you find yourself struggling to make connections to the story at times.

You'll roam the plains of Peace Valley, going head-to-head with the Croc, Boar, and Ninja Cat gangs trying to capitalize on Tai Lung's return. It's no real surprise that you'll play Kung Fu Panda mostly as main character Po, but you'll also assume the role of his sensei, Master Shifu, as well as Furious Five members Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Crane, and Viper. Each has a unique skill set; for instance, Shifu is capable of skull-hopping between groups of foes, and Monkey can scale structures to climb to otherwise unreachable areas. You should be able to rip through the single-player campaign in around four hours, even less if you complete only the minimum-requirement objectives rather than taking the time to do advanced tasks, explore, and find rare items. It is worth noting that though content is almost identical to that of the Xbox 360 game in places, several levels are missing entirely in the Wii version. Collectibles take the form of jade coins that unlock the game's multiplayer modes, playable characters, and short video montages of the characters in action taken directly from the film. Some of these are only a few seconds long, so they hardly justify replaying stages if you didn't find them the first time around.

You'll use the Wii Nunchuk's analog stick to move your character around the screen, while your basic attack is performed with the B button. A more powerful attack is available by swinging the controller horizontally. Double jumping and snapping the controller downwards performs the Panda Quake ability, an area-of-effect knockback move which uses Po's chi, the game's form of energy for special attacks. Defeated foes drop orbs that, when collected, restore chi, while smashing and consuming the contents of dumpling baskets restores health. Gold coins can be collected and used in the game's store to upgrade Po's health, chi bars, and attack power. Unfortunately, the relatively small amount of chi used for specials at the easier difficulty levels and plentiful refills mean the best approach is to pump all your coins into maxing out your Panda Quake ability, lure and corral groups of targets, and then body-slam them into oblivion. It's an effective but incredibly repetitious way to finish the game, and it's usable all the way to the end, with the exception of the boss battles, which often incorporate quicktime remote-waggling events.

These battles become more frequent as you progress, with the number of movement combos you'll need to perform getting higher toward the end of the game. In line with the game's gentle learning curve, if you fail to perform them you simply restart at the beginning until you get it right. There's no penalty for failure, but multipart waggle sections strung together with unskippable cutscenes become frustrating, because one mistimed swing will send you back to the beginning. Because the camera is manually controlled with the C button on the nunchuk, you'll spend much of your time screen-scrolling to stay focused on the action. While it's easy enough to snap back, don't be surprised if your limited field of view means you get hit from behind a lot as you try to find your next target. (full Story)

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Multiplayer Hands-On  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in ,

We were invited to Warner Bros. for an online multiplayer game of Monolith's latest.

It would be fair to say that the first F.E.A.R. was remembered more for its fright-filled single-player mode than its fairly pedestrian multiplayer. However, that hasn't deterred developer Monolith, which is expanding the multiplayer for sequel F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. We were lucky enough to be invited to play some of the game online at the London Warner Bros. offices, where we went up against fellow journalists as well as Monolith staff.

Our preview covered four different multiplayer modes, most of which will be familiar to first-person shooter veterans. The first was an update to the first game's Conquest mode, called Armoured Front, in which two teams battle it out to be the first to capture five points across the map. The F.E.A.R. twist is that each team can activate an automated Elite Powered Armour unit, which is basically a big mech that can tear through enemies or take on another mech. Although this was the first mode we played, we actually managed to win it with relative ease. The mech units are particularly useful, though they are vulnerable to energy weapons such as lasers and rocket launchers.

The second mode that we played was called Blitz, which is Capture the Flag with a twist. The flags are actually canisters called PHLAGs, and they leak a fluorescent substance that makes it easy for the enemy to follow you. There are two PHLAGs on each map, and when one is successfully taken to the base, it respawns in its original location and is ready to be taken again. After one team has defended, the roles swap, and the winning team is the one that steals the most within an allotted time. Again, we managed to win our game of Blitz, and it was undoubtedly the most fun we had in the game.

Failsafe is an entirely new mode for the sequel in which one team has to plant a bomb at one of two nerve-gas locations. If the opposing team manages to plant a bomb, then the other team can defuse it, but it takes only one successful explosion to win the round. Adding to the excitement is that each player has only one life, so it's paramount to work as part of a team. We enjoyed this mode, but at this point in the evening many other journalists had left, leaving us to play a simple two versus two scenario with Monolith and the one remaining foreign journalist. Before we left, we also managed to have a go on the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch games. We're proud to say that we won the former, probably thanks to the amount of practice we got on the other rounds.

Although all of these multiplayer modes are variations on standard FPS game types, we're promised that more multiplayer games will be revealed at a later date. We have to say that we're thankful; though F.E.A.R. 2 feels different enough to carve its own niche, the modes we played won't divert attention from big hitters such as Gears of War 2 and Call of Duty: World at War. Given the single-player game's emphasis on horror, we're hoping for some creative alternatives to the Deathmatch and CTF, and we look forward to hearing what Monolith has up its sleeve in the New Year.

One of the most positive aspects of the multiplayer game is the level design, which is claustrophobic to say the least. We saw six maps in total, and though we reached a maximum of only seven players in our games, they all felt pretty busy. Given that the full game will support up to 16 players, you can expect F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer to be a pretty hectic arena once it launches. We didn't get to see the leveling up in action, but we're promised an XP-based system through which you'll rank up over time. (full Story)

Need for Speed Undercover Review  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , ,

Need for Speed returns to its roots with hokey cutscenes, wild cop chases, and solid racing action.
The Good
* Plenty of cop chases * Instantly join races with press of a button * Doesn't take long before you're driving a cool car.

The Bad
* Lots of quirks and nagging gameplay issues * Emulates Most Wanted, but doesn't necessarily improve upon it * Story isn't much to get excited about.

For the most part, the reaction to the last few Need for Speed games was the same: "Why aren't they more like Need for Speed Most Wanted?" "Where are the cheesy cutscenes and the over-the-top cop chases?" It seems as if EA heard those cries, because for better or for worse, Need for Speed Undercover feels like Most Wanted.

In Undercover you play the role of...wait for it...an undercover officer. Along with agent Chase Linh, played by the attractive Maggie Q, your job is to take down a group of street racers that have somehow become involved in an international smuggling ring. The story is told via campy cutscenes that fail to capture the charm of Most Wanted thanks to uninteresting characters and a predictable plot. Having a story provides incentive to make it through race after race, but the whole "this is cheesy so it's cool" thing feels kind of forced this time around.

Like many other Need for Speed games, all of your racing will take place on the streets of a fictitious open-world city--here it's the Tri-City Bay area. You'll start with a lousy vehicle, but it won't be long before you're able to snag a pink slip to a nicer ride. As you progress you'll earn cash, which can be used to unlock (50+) new vehicles from manufacturers such as Nissan, Dodge, Cadillac, Ford, Porsche, Lamborghini, BMW, Aston Martin, Mitsubishi, and more. If you're into tuning individual aspects of your ride or purchasing individual parts you can do that, but if you're not into tinkering you can purchase an upgrade package and be on your way.

Not only will you earn money for winning an event, you'll earn driving points for dominating it--basically beating it really, really bad. You can power up a number of your driving attributes, but they don't have a noticeable effect on how your car handles. As long as you drive fast you'll probably dominate, but there are occasional races where you'll totally obliterate the time needed to dominate an event, but you'll still lose to the CPU. The game also encourages you to drive with style and drift, draft, and drive really close to other cars, but other than increasing your nitrous there's little to gain from doing so. That said, the new J-Turn mechanic, which lets you bust quick 180s, is invaluable when chasing down rivals or evading the cops. You'll use it because it's useful, though, not because it gets you heroic driving points.

The cops are back in full effect in Undercover, and for the most part, their return is welcome. The challenges in which you must ram and take out a certain number of police cars are great fun, as are the challenges where you must cause a certain monetary sum of damage. Of course, you don't always have to ram cars to take them down; you can also run into log trucks, electrical towers, billboards, and more to leave a little surprise for your pursuers. It's too bad that some odd quirks hamper the cop chases. The environmental hazards that you can unleash certainly look cool and are effective, but quite often you won't see any police cars get hit by the objects, yet when the cutscene ends the cars are trashed. Sometimes you won't have to do anything at all to evade police--the game says "go" and you stay still and nobody finds you. Cops are capable of laying down spikes, but you can go the entire game without them ever doing so. The biggest problem, however, is that the cops don't do much other than bang on the side of your car and yell at you, so if you last long enough they sort of fade away on their own. This makes the chases less challenging than they could have been and also makes them feel artificial, like you're just fulfilling some sort of time requirement until the game decides you've done well enough to escape.

Undercover isn't just about messing with the Man. There are events where you need to maintain a lead for a specific amount of time or get a certain distance ahead of your opponent. Sometimes you'll have to shake the cops while trying to keep a stolen ride in pristine condition, and there are checkpoint races and circuit races as well. There's not a whole lot that's original here and the races are generally extremely easy--you might not see another car for an entire race once you've cleared the starting line. They're difficult on occasion, but this is usually because of the occasionally choppy frame rate, which makes the otherwise great-handling vehicles a chore to drive when it rears its head. What's odd is that there's really no obvious reason for the game's sometimes poor frame rate; the city doesn't look much different than those in Carbon and Most Wanted. (full Story)

WOW: Wrath of Lich King Review  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in ,

The second World of Warcraft expansion doesn't do anything for new players, but there's plenty of great content for anyone who's reached at least level 55.

The Good
* Hundreds of interesting and varied quests * Death knight class is a lot of fun to play * Great-looking environments * Dungeons are now accessible to all players * Your actions have an impact on the world around you.

The Bad
* Some character and item models are recycled * No content for new players.

Four years and well beyond 10 million subscriptions after the release of World of Warcraft, Blizzard's phenomenally successful massively multiplayer online role-playing game is barely recognizable as the same game that sold almost a quarter of a million copies in its first 24 hours. The game has been in a near-constant state of evolution since 2004, and up until last month, the steady flow of new features and improvements had all been patched in for free, with only one exception: the Burning Crusade expansion pack that's required to play Wrath of the Lich King. The recently released second expansion pack doesn't boast as many back-of-the-box bullet points as its predecessor, and it doesn't offer anything for new players, but if you're still playing WOW or you're looking for an excuse to get back into it, this thrilling new adventure is not to be missed.

All of the new content in Wrath of the Lich King comes with a character-level requirement. You can't play the new death knight hero class until one of your existing characters reaches level 55, and you can't attempt any quests in the new Northrend continent until you're at level 68. The most significant exception to this rule would have been the new inscription-crafting profession, but that ended up being patched in shortly before the expansion's release alongside new talents for every character class in the game, an Xbox Live-style achievements system, barbershops, an extremely useful in-game calendar, and numerous user-interface improvements. There's new content for low-level players, but you don't need the expansion pack to get it.

Regardless of where you choose to start your Wrath of the Lich King adventure, it'll quickly become apparent that considerable effort has gone into making the new content compelling. There are still plenty of fetch quests, and there's certainly no shortage of non-player characters looking for heroes to kill a certain number of whichever species or faction they have a beef with. Liberally sprinkled in among those genre requisites, though, are some quite different challenges that not only add some much-needed variety but, in some cases, also do a great job of immersing you in Warcraft's rich lore. Previously, WOW relied on you reading the briefings that bookend quests for its storytelling, but in Wrath of the Lich King, it's often the quests themselves that get the job done along with a handful of in-game cutscenes. You might go into the expansion not knowing your Arthas from your elbow, but after questing in Northrend for a while, you'll inevitably gain some understanding of just why the world of Warcraft needs so many heroes.

Playing through the death knight's starting area also exposes you to some interesting Warcraft lore, and doing so is recommended even if you have no intention of playing the new class beyond that point. It's only fair to warn you that death knights can be tough to put down, though; not only are they very powerful and fun to play, but they also start at level 55, they get a free epic mount, and they're fully decked out with great-looking blue (rare) gear by the time they leave their starter area at level 58 or so. It's unfortunate that you need to gain another 10 levels playing through Burning Crusade content before you can accept any quests in Northrend, but the death knight is such a powerful class with so little downtime that you can get through it relatively quickly. Players sticking with their nonhero classes will almost certainly feel compelled to tell you that your new death knight is overpowered at some point, and they're right, at least as far as leveling and questing is concerned. The death knight is also one of the more complex classes to play well, and unfortunately it's too soon to comment on how they fare in player-versus-player scenarios.

When your death knight or one of your preexisting characters reaches level 68, you need to get yourself to Northrend as soon as possible. Not only is the new continent epic in scale and more impressive-looking than any of the game's previous locales, but it's also bursting with hundreds of quests to complete for the numerous new races and factions that you'll encounter there. To give you some idea of just how many quests there are in Wrath of the Lich King, you need to complete at least 875 of them to unlock the questing achievements scattered across all eight of Northrend's major regions. There's so much new content that you could conceivably level two characters from 70 to 80 without having to repeat many of the same quests, though some of them are so good that you'll want to. (full Story)

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