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Don’t fear the Reapers – A blog about the Mass Effect trilogy

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With the recent release of the Citadel downloadable content we have reached the end of the Mass Effect trilogy, it’s been a hugely ambitious undertaking by Bioware and one which will held up as an example of what is possible with gaming as a story telling vehicle for future generations.

I have to admit that when it was first announced for the Xbox 360 and Pc I was thinking that I wouldn’t pick it up, it was a space RPG that wasn’t Knight of the Old Republic 3 and as such it really didn’t appeal to me but I remember seeing the first trailer and from that point I was hooked and read everything I could about it and I found myself being fascinated with the prospect of being able to make choices that would effect the way people would react to you and I was also intrigued to find out how the game would work as a hybrid of third person shooter and RPG.

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I bought the first game for the Xbox 360 on day of release back in 2007 and immediately fell in love with it, the story was fairly standard in the sense that you’re trying to prevent galactic annihilation but it’s focus on characters immediately made it stand out, and the sheer number of side quests meant that a first play through could take upwards of 40 hours if you did everything. Playing through it the first time I found myself wanting to find all the resources available and complete every side quest as each quest seemed to provide more characters moments and characters like Garrus, Wrex and Tali are fantastically realised and even non party characters like Anderson are done justice. The music has something of a retro vibe to it as there’s a definite hint of synth work to it but this somehow works to for the tone that the game is aiming for and make it even more atmospheric and there are some superb pieces such as the main theme when you’re initially introduced to Commander Shepard. That’s not to say there aren’t problems mind you, the fact that you need to level up your gun skills when you’re meant to be a veteran soldier is fairly silly, the inventory system is a bit arbitrary and the long elevator rides to mask loading aren’t great (though they do provide some cracking dialogue) and the Mako also isn’t a whole heap of fun to drive but these flaws somehow just make the whole package that little bit more endearing. The fact that they could marry the two different game styles together and come away with a game which is better than most third person shooters and also better than a lot of RPGs is testament to the skill of the team at Bioware and the level of detail on the universe (available through the in game codex) tells you just how much of a labour of love it was.

Downloadable content wise there were two packs released, the first pack was Bring Down the Sky in which Shepard is tasked with stopping an asteroid which has been set on a collision course with a human colony and the second pack was Pinnacle Station in which Shepard visits an Alliance training facility which is essentially a combat simulator and you try to achieve the best scores. Overall these packs were solid but felt like more of an experiment and the potential of the downloadable content would be better realised in later instalments of the series.

It was also released on the PS3, much later on, but this can only be a good thing as it gives Sony fans the opportunity to play through the whole trilogy from the very beginning and experience it the way it was originally envisaged by the developers and from a personal stand point I’m not really into the whole console rivalry thing, I think that if a game is good it should be experienced by as many people as possible and this is a fantastic game.

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Moving onto January 2010 I picked up Mass Effect 2, which I had been eagerly waiting for. And what a sequel it turned out to be, it looked fantastic, introduced more fascinating characters while also featuring favourites from the first game and allowed you to port your save file over from the first game which allowed for call backs to the decisions made which was a nice touch. Bioware also came up with an ingenious way of taking you back to level one and also allowing Shepard to be altered from the look chosen by the player in the first game – Shepard is killed off in the first ten minutes during an attack on the Normandy which also destroys the ship in the process. This plot device also serves to radically shift the focus of the game as Shepard’s body is recovered by Cerberus, whose role in the first game had been an adversarial one, and resurrected as part of the Lazarus project which was created to bring Shepard back due to his talents as a leader and his experience dealing with Reapers. The story basically starts with an attack on the Cerberus facility used for the project and flows through to the fact that human colonies are being abducted and no one will help so the Illusive Man, the leader of Cerberus, entrusts Shepard with the Normandy SR-2 which is a new and improved version of the ship destroyed at the start of the game and tasks him with recruiting a squad to end the threat. You then travel around the galaxy and completing missions to the recruit these squad members, including old friends like Garrus and Tali while also introducing new faces such as Thane, Mordin and Legion. Once the squad is assembled you get the opportunity to undertake missions to gain their loyalty and upgrade the Normandy before leading a suicide mission to take on the faction responsible for the abductions.

There also some very large changes to the structure of the game, a lot of the RPG elements have been stripped away, there’s no inventory to speak of and rather than exploring planets in the Mako there is a mining mini game which can be a bit tedious at times. These resources are then used to upgrade the Normandy, upgrade weapons and build heavy weapons which provide considerably more stopping power in a firefight. There is also no levelling of weapon skills this time around, instead the class you choose dictates which weapons are available for use. Also the unlimited ammunition/gun overheating mechanic is done away with and replaced with a more standard limited ammunition system. There was some controversy at the time due to a perceived dumbing down but when the game is vastly superior to most third person shooters and RPGs this type of criticism seems excessively harsh and in my opinion the changes just tightened the game up and it was comfortably the best game released in 2010.

From a downloadable content point of view Mass Effect 2 had a lot released for it, ranging from new costumes for squad members, new weapons and armour and finally additional assignments and squad members. The additional characters, Zaeed and Kasumi, both have their own individual loyalty missions and are just as unique and individual as the other squad mates. The Normandy Crash Site offers a change of tone and pace by allowing you to visit the site where the the original Normandy crashed and collect the dog tags of the crew members lost in the crash, it’s a somber and reflective piece which does a good job of making you feel a genuine sense of loss which shows that the Normandy is very much a character in itself. The Firewalker Pack introduces the Hammerhead hover tank and a number of missions built around the vehicle, which are interesting to play and improve on the Mako segments in the first game. Overlord provides a more straightforward piece of content, a Cerberus facility has been taken over by an experimental virtual intelligence and it’s up to Shepard to sort it out, it’s not the best content available but does provide a nice moment in Mass Effect 3. Lair of the Shadow Broker is a huge piece of content that reintroduces Liara and follows Shepard as he tries to take down the Shadow Broker, there’s a lot to do on the course of this and ends with Liara taking on the role once you take him down, you then get access to the Shadow Broker’s intel centre. The final piece of content for Mass Effect 2 is called Arrival in which it becomes apparent that the Reapers have found a back door into the galaxy and it’s up to Shepard to close it off, it also ties into the start of Mass Effect 3 so is well worth playing. All in all there was a lot more content available and the mission packs were of a good standard and added to the lore of the series, the weapons, armour and costume packs were there if you happened to want them but they didn’t provide anything to the story or character development.

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Which brings us to Mass Effect 3, the final chapter of the saga of Commander Shepard. It also introduces multiplayer to the Mass Effect universe for the first time, this multiplayer has teams of 4 player characters taking on computer controlled enemies in waves and trying to make it through to the end with experience being awarded to players and also galactic readiness being bestowed on on the the galaxy map on the main screen. This galactic readiness has a knock on effect with the single player campaign in that it means the war assets you acquire are more effective in the context of your effective military strength which goes towards the final battle. Multiplayer has also received a lot of support from Bioware in the shape of downloadable content packs, these packs have contained new maps new species for players to play as and new weapons with Bioware offering these packs free of charge. Moving back to game itself it uses a new engine and looks even more stunning than the second game and plays in the same way as the previous game with the exception of the heavy weapon mechanic, rather than having these as part of your arsenal these weapons are found over the course of missions and have a limited amount of uses and also the side missions are predominantly finding war assets which get added to your EMS. Mass Effect 3 is also bigger in scope than previous games as rather than trying to assemble a squad you’re trying to bring together an army of the various species you have encountered over the games and this is where a lot of the emotion comes from and make no mistake there are a lot of emotional moments in the game, leaving Earth after the initial Reaper attack is effective in that you don’t want to leave but it makes you determined to come back with a force that will save the planet. Other standout moments include (and these are my choices, there are other connotations based on your choices in this game and from previous games) the curing of the Genophage, which was a disease introduced to the Krogans to stop them reproducing, the ending of the Morning War between the Quarians and Geth, I chose to make peace between the sides and it definitely felt like an organic and well realised outcome. Thane’s appearances really hammer home just how much these characters have to mean to the player over the course of the series, as does the final conversation between Shepard and Anderson.

That’s not to say there weren’t problems in the original release of the game, the From the Ashes dlc contains a new squad mate in the form of the last Prothean, a race heavily tied up in the Mass Effect lore who were wiped out by the Reapers the last time they wiping out organic life 50000 years before the setting of the games, and as a resullt there is fair amount of additional lore and backstory thats come with him but the decision to make this paid dlc (unless you bought the special edition of the game) rather than being part of the game to start with was met with some controversy however the main and lasting outcry from fans was to do with the ending. The original ending contains 3 choices but the end cinematic is more or less the same except for a different colour being used as part of an explosion, there are also elements which aren’t clear such as why Joker, the Normandy pilot who has been with Shepard all the way through the series is escaping the system and also becomes a victim of it’s on lore in that the mass relays explode which has been established to essentially wipe out a solar systems essentially you stop the Reapers but destroy all galactic life, there is also a general lack of closure as you don’t get any idea of the impact of your actions. The outcry was so great that Bioware actually produced a free dlc called the Extended Cut which while keeping the essence of the original ending filled in these plot holes with additional scenes, changed the destruction of the relays to them just being damaged and added a kind of slideshow complete with a voice over to add some closure to the whole thing. While it personally still wasn’t the ending that I wanted it was still a marked improvement over the original ending and it’s an amazing gesture for Bioware to genuinely listen to their community and act upon it. Dlc wise beyond the multiplayer packs, the Beyond the Ashes pack and the Extended Cut pack there are the usual weapons packs and appearance packs but there are further 3 single player packs. The first of these is Leviathan in which Shepard is tasked with tracking down what appears to be a weapon capable of killing a Reaper and as the the story progresses it actually provides some back story on the origins of the Reapers which is in interesting. The second is Omega which follows on from a conversation you have with Aria in the main part of the game, who was the ruler of a space station called Omega which has been taken over by Cerberus and she wants your help to take it back, which you do. The final pack is Citadel which is the final piece of content of the Mass Effect trilogy, and it feels like a real labour of love by the developers, it has fun with the characters, with some nice in jokes such as a moment where Shepard realises he says “I should go” a lot when ending a conversation. The story is a little hammy but has so much fun with it that you forgive it but the real standout of the dlc is the interplay between the characters and pretty much every squad member from each of the games is present and makes for a very enjoyable send off.

All in all I’m very glad I took a chance on the series as I would go so far as to say that it’s now my favourite series of games and one that I’ve played through numerous times. I’ve loved being able to steer the story by making choices in a way that I thought that my Shepard would, I think it was a real achievement to create a player character that feels so personal to each player. With all that said the things that will stay with me most is the sheer depth of lore and detail which was created for a fictional universe, though it will hopefully serve them if they choose to make further games in that same universe, and also the characters which I met over the course of those three games, from Garrus who was this tremendously realised, morally conflicted character but a steadfast and loyal ally at the same time, to Tali who started as a shy awkward outcast who matured and grew with each game, to every single other character. It’s rare to find such a group of characters who feel so vivid and real and that for me is the true magic of the Mass Effect series. And with all that said it feels like this should be wrapped up with a quote from Commander Shepard – I should go.

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Grumpy Cat: The Video Game Mashup

Join Grumpy Cat in the adventure literally no-one is talking about. Guide him through stunning open world environments in his first ever video game and a never-ending quest for the mystical Happiness! The ability to control the flow of time provides a totally new 4-dimensional gaming experience only possible on Xbox 360.

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Clever, Cool Cat: At the Time Factory, where time is manufactured and managed, Grumpy Cat has worked as Time Sweeper and janitor for years. His daily tasks include collecting lost time crystals before they cause glitches in time. Time Control: Actually control the flow of time, a feature only possible on Xbox. Record actions, play them back and have dual characters cooperate to complete challenges. Upgradeable Weapons and Abilities: Need extra power to move larger obstacles? Grumpy Cat sweeps up trash from the streets to supplement his meager income from the Time Factory.

Halo 4: Xbox 360 review

imageSo the end of 2012 brought us Halo 4 which represented a new beginning for the franchise on two fronts, the first being the start of a new trilogy (the Reclaimer trilogy) and the second more crucial one is that it is the first entry in the franchise created by 343 Industries, the team created solely to continue the Halo series.

Lets start by saying that visually the game is absolutely stunning, quite possibly one of the best looking games released this generation. Everything has been given a complete re-tooling, weapons from the older games are given an overhaul but when all said and done it’s still recognisable as a Halo game. Sound too is very good, Neil Davidge had an impossible task in following Marty O’Donnell‘s iconic score but he does an impressive job of making his own mark (listen out for a familiar tune in the end credits though).

The campaign picks up a few years after the end of Halo 3 and is exactly what you would expect from a Halo game, it’s great to be back with the Master Chief and Cortana again. The only negative side to it is that a lot of the nuance to the story is lost if you haven’t read some of the expanded universe novels or watch the Forward Unto Dawn web series but it’s still a fantastic ride from start to finish.

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Multiplayer is also very good, I don’t usually bother as a rule but found myself playing a lot more than I expected. Firefight mode has been replaced with the Spartan Ops mode which actually has a story and cutscenes to further flesh the mode out and the suspicion is that this will in some ways lead into the inevitable Halo 5.

All in all 343 have crafted a hell of a debut effort, one of the games of 2012 for me, and I look forward to seeing what they can do going forwards as it’s likely to be a hell of a ride.

9/10 Lopez Green

Dance Central Mashup

The #1-selling dance franchise for Kinect is back this fall with new features, including a multiplayer party mode for up to 8 players. With a soundtrack featuring one new track Dance Central Harlem Shake Edition delivers the most electrifying experience yet.

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Featuring the authentic choreography Dance Central is known for, you’ll learn favorite dance crazes from the past and master the hottest moves of today. Get ready to own the dance floor with Dance Central Harlem Shake Edition, only on Kinect for Xbox 360.

There’s a war coming…

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The inevitable Xbox vs Playstation next-gen console war is about to truly begin. Following Sony’s announced of its PS4 back in February it’s now time for Microsoft to bring their cards to the table. Microsoft have made it official, they will be holding an event in Washington on 21st May to unveil the New Xbox. So here’s what we know so far, info taken from the verge –

HARDWARE AND SPECS

The majority of rumors around Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox focus on the hardware specs of the console. In January, VGLeaks published documents that appear to outline the x86 architecture for the next Xbox. The console is said to include an 8-core 64-bit APU running at 1.6GHz, alongside 8GB of DDR3 memory and a large HDD for storage. Kotaku later backed up a number of these specs with the site’s own sources, leading many to believe these are the final retail specifications. A report from Bloomberg suggests the next Xbox will “use an AMD system-on-a-chip that combines powerful ‘Jaguar’ central processing units with graphics chips,” the same chip Sony uses on the PlayStation 4. In other words, the winner of the next big console war — assuming there’s a clear-cut winner — won’t be doing it on specs alone.

BLU-RAY, AMD, AND MORE

Aside from the raw processing power, the next Xbox will also include Blu-ray suport. After Microsoft’s HD-DVD plans failed to gain momentum, the company is now switching to the more popular Blu-ray technology with support for 50GB optical discs. While early rumors said the next Xbox will not feature a disc drive at all, this is not the case for a full console. Instead, Microsoft is also preparing a separate “Xbox TV” device that will provide access to casual gaming and TV streaming. This particular device will likely debut in early 2014.

Surprisingly, there have been no solid rumors about what the next Xbox console will look. Microsoft only recently finalized its design and hardware. The software maker had originally planned to unveil its next Xbox plans at an event in late May, but the company switched to late May to ensure it would have something to show following Sony’s lack of PlayStation 4 hardware at its own event. A tweet from Microsoft’s Larry Hryb would appear to suggest that Microsoft’s approach for its own event will include a look at the console.

On the controller side, Kotaku reports that the next-gen controller will be similar to the Xbox 360’s. Current controllers won’t work with the new console, allegedly, and the next Xbox is said to use wireless controllers exclusively.

KINECT 2

A massive leak of Xbox 720 information back in June revealed Microsoft’s early plans for the Kinect 2. Microsoft references higher accuracy, stereo imaging, improved voice recognition, an improved RGB camera, and dedicated hardware processing. The leaked document also revealed a focus on four-player gaming and potential Kinect accessories that work as props in games such as baseball. More recently, a Kinect 2 developer kit image leaked that showed off improvements in depth and movement data. Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox is rumored to ship with the Kinect 2 as standard.

IMPROVED SPEECH RECOGNITION AND TRACKING

The Kinect 2 will also improve speech recognition for gaming and navigational tasks. Support for wake-on voice, natural language controls, and speech-to-text are all said to be present. Microsoft is also investigating scenarios where a Kinect sensor will detect individuals in a room and suggest appropriate multiplayer games after a user queries the Xbox using their voice. New body- and eye-tracking improvements, and support for hand recognition, will also assist with launch titles Ryse and others. Little more is known about the Kinect 2, but advanced Kinect sensors at Microsoft’s campus suggest that the next-generation will be thinner and smaller than the existing unit.

ENTERTAINMENT, APPS, AND TV

Microsoft has consistently made it clear that Xbox is its sole focus for entertainment and TV in the living room and elsewhere. A move to kill off the Zune brand in Windows 8 in favor of Xbox was one of the first clear signs that Microsoft was preparing to focus on its console brand for entertainment. An Xbox Music streaming service launched for Windows 8, and the company recently sold its Mediaroom IPTV business to make way for Xbox. With rumors of a “Cloud TV” platform, and Microsoft’s own hints at interactive TV plans with original video content, it’s guaranteed that the next Xbox will be a key part of these plans.

TAKING OVER YOUR TV, ONE STEP AT A TIME

Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans have revealed to that the company will introduce a feature that lets its next-generation console take over a TV and set-top box in a similar way to Google TV. We understand that the next Xbox will require an online connection to use the entertainment services, allowing them to be always on for streaming and access to TV signals. The functionality is said to work by taking a HDMI signal and overlaying UI and features from the Xbox onto the existing TV channel or set-top box feed.

The next Xbox is also said to run on Windows 8. It’s not clear exactly what type of UI will be surfaced to end users, but Microsoft has consistently updated its Xbox 360 dashboard to match the Live Tiles found in Windows 8 and Windows Phone, so it’s safe to say this type of UI will be present in some form or another. Microsoft has also previously made Internet Explorer and Xbox Music apps available on the Xbox, so a move to Windows 8 will unify these more closely. Xbox chief Don Mattrick recently said he’s happy with the curated approach of Xbox Live, but the Windows 8 foundation should also make things a lot easier for third-party developers to create apps for Xbox. Microsoft is expected to detail its development plans for the next-generation Xbox at its Build Developer Conference in June.

ALWAYS-ON AND OTHER XBOX HARDWARE

Rumors around an always-on and always connected Xbox surfaced from various sources earlier this year. Microsoft is said to be implementing an activation system coupled with an online requirement to prevent piracy of the next-generation Xbox games. Edge magazine originally reported that games would not be able to be reused on additional consoles due to the rumored activation method. Shortly afterwards, reports from Kotaku and VGLeaks suggested that the next Xbox will require game installations to hard disks.

Former Microsoft creative director Adam Orth spoke out on Twitter about the always-on rumors. “Sorry, I don’t get the drama over having an ‘always on’ console,” he said, before adding a #dealwithit hashtag. Reaction was swift, with many criticizing Orth’s comments. Microsoft was forced to issue a statement apologizing for Orth’s comments and Orth left Microsoft shortly after the controversy. It’s still unclear whether Microsoft will require an online connection for gaming, and whether the company is planning to implement an anti-used games system as previously rumored.

IS THERE AN XBOX TABLET AND SMARTWATCH?

While the focus is on an Xbox console, Microsoft may be preparing other Xbox-related hardware. In leaked documents Microsoft referenced a mysterious “Project Fortaleza,” a plan for Kinect Glasses. There was little mention of the hardware involved, but the glasses appear to be Wi-Fi- or 4G-enabled and incorporate augmented reality in a way that’s similar to Google’s Project Glass augmented reality glasses. Microsoft marked the project for a 2014 schedule. The company also appears to be exploring other augmented reality scenarios for Xbox including IllumiRoom, which appears to use projectors to display and extend games onto nearby walls.

Microsoft is also said to be working on a 7-inch Surface tablet. The secret project, revealed in November, will likely ship later this year with some close ties to Xbox for casual gaming and interaction using the company’s SmartGlass system. Microsoft’s Xbox team is also said to be testing smartwatch prototypes with a Surface connector. Microsoft had originally planned to release a “Joule” heart rate monitor accessory for the Xbox, but the company has since decided to focus on a smartwatch instead. Microsoft’s own Xbox chief believes “10 years from now, we’ll be wearing 10 sensors on our body.”

See the original story here – http://vrge.co/Y6HE2y

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