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eternal now "roejoerrer" RSS Feed (mankato)

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Watershed
Watershed
Price: $10.69
48 used & new from $3.31

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Watershed this is not., July 20, 2014
This review is from: Watershed (Audio CD)
Watershed proves that even the best of bands can release garbage. Watershed sounds like a half-baked mix of b-sides that never go anywhere. The momentum Opeth built for themselves on their previous, excellent albums is all but squandered on Watershed,

Opeth saw some line-up changes prior to the recording of Watershed. Guitarist Peter Lindgren and drummer Martin Lopez out, Martin Axenrot and Fredrik Åkesson in, and the change in the band's overall sound is a sad departure from the talent and creativeness of previous albums. It's clear that Peter and Martin brought more to the table than just playing their assigned roles. As a musician that cherishes each Opeth release I was sorely disappointed in Watershed. The more and more I listened to it the worse it got. I kept holding on to the dream that maybe one day Watershed would open up and reveal it;s secrets to me.

That day never came.

I am here today to hopefully help elucidate why everyone should stay far, far away from Watershed.

First off, the melodies and even the general song structure feel generic, mediocre, almost de-evolutionary compared to their previous album Ghost Reveries. Throughout the whole album the only thing I could think of was how safe everything sounds. Every song sounds like rote, run-of-the-mill Extreme Progressive Metal. All of the little nuances that made Opeth stand out among a sea of awful metal bands has been forcibly stripped, leaving boredom in it's wake. Nuances such as the Latin and funk tinged drum beats, and the effective blending of multiple metal sub-genres.

The overall sound of the album still falls within Opeth's Extreme Progressive Metal wheelhouse, albeit a much more stripped down and simpler version. It is the simple aspect of the music that bothers me the most. Every song feels like an underachievement to me, like the band had to play it 'safe' because of the new band members, who fall far from fulfilling the void of Peter Lindgren and Martin Lopez. Unfortunately, in playing it safe Opeth effectively neuter and water down the sound they essentially created. I honestly cannot even listen to the album anymore, and if I do happen to hear it my mouth slowly turns into a frown. To me, Watershed is the absolute most disappointing album I have ever heard.

Let's talk about the vocals. Mikael Åkerfeldt, the front man, all around creationist in Opeth has always had this magical ability to switch from gutteral death growls to angelic singing at the drop of a hat, while still making it sound great and keeping with the flow of the compositions. On Watershed the vocals, and even the lyrics sound poorly conceived, as if they were hocked together moments before the pressing of the album. It's hard not to feel disappointed when the voice of the band seems to have regressed and seemingly went cheesy overnight.

Oh and let's not forget the drums. Gone are the really awesome funk and Latin sounding patterns. Gone are the impromptu complex drum fills and the slightly off-time brilliance that Martin Lopez brought to the band. In place of that we get very by-the-book drum patterns that mostly just keep time. Even when a drum fill is added it sounds like a very standard and boring drum fill. For someone who has a lot to prove in filling the shoes of Martin Lopez, Martin Axenrot confirmed every fear I had once I heard of the line-up change. Boring, boring, boring drum patterns.

Keyboards play a larger part on Watershed, but their use seems way off the mark. Instead of adding atmosphere the keyboards mostly just cheese up the songs with silly sounding riffs. The keyboards are so bad on Watershed I can't help but feel violently offended. I seriously detest the keyboard parts on this album.

Lastly, let's talk about the worst aspects of Watershed, the vocals, lead guitar, and the lyrics. It's as if Watershed somehow was the first album Opeth ever released. The vocals just sound so classic rock/soft rock that it's off-putting. There is no novelty to reviving those dead genres and I will never understand why this style of singing was chosen. The lyrics sound more or less like Mother Goose Nursery rhymes, with oversimplified wordplay and predictable prose. I've never thought that the lyrics to any Opeth album were mind blowing, but Watershed's vocal delivery is just terrible. The guitar parts sound disjointed and simplistic, and even derivative of previous Opeth releases.

A band is allowed to grow and change members, that's perfectly fine. A band is also allowed to have creative control to do whatever they want to express. Watershed is where I draw the line. Disjointed, boring, and an utter disappointment, I would not recommend Opeth's Watershed.


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - PC
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - PC
Offered by Outlet Promotions
Price: $11.95
14 used & new from $7.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!, November 14, 2013
Splintercell: Blacklist is a return to form, a magnum opus stealth masterpiece. Like many fans, Splintercell: Conviction left a bad taste in my mouth. I enjoyed it, but saw the series diverge down a more action/adventure path, eschewing most of the stealth aspects.

Upon receiving Blacklist, I was hesitant. I guess I just didn't want to be disappointed again with another lackluster title in one of my favorite game series'. Needless to say, I love Splintercell: Blacklist. It combines the best of the old school Splinter Cell titles with Splintercell: Conviction. Instead of there being a focus on only one style of play, Blacklist offers 3: Ghost, Panther, and Assault, which translate to: stealth, assassin, and combat respectively. You get different scores and XP depending on your play style. The best part is that the game engine is able to support both a stealthy approach and a guns blazing stance. However, to truly experience Splintercell you will want to play it as stealthy as possible.

Gameplay: True stealth action. Light and sound become your best friends, or your worst enemy. A.I line of sight, especially on realistic and above, is very sharp, able to pick you out in reasonable circumstances, and never too over-powered. You have an arsenal of lethal and non-lethal tools at your fingertips. You can be as stealthy as you want or as blood thirsty as you want.

The game is hub-based. Your home base is an aircraft, and from there you can talk to your team, gather intel, and deploy in sneaking missions. The beauty? You can choose which missions you want to take. Don't feel like taking on any of the side missions? Don't. Feel like putting the main story on hold? Tackle the challenging side missions. This hub also features an upgrade system. Each upgrade you purchase for the various sections of your aircraft boost an ability that your character has on missions. So if you upgrade the hub-ship radar it will boost the radar capabilities in your in-game hud, allowing you to more advanced information about guards.

Just before deploying for a mission you can choose between three customize friendly load outs. You can purchase different weapons, suit and goggles upgrades, and various gadgets. The variety of unlocks encourages earning cash to put toward them, and if you like the stealthy ghost approach then you'll want to stock up on noisemakers and sticky cams.

One other thing to note: character movement feels very fluid. Sliding from cover to cover, or run jumping to some piping on the ceiling feels very responsive. In a game like this where you play as a very agile super stealth agent who can leap from ledges and grapple little bits of ceiling it is important to have a fluid experience, so worry not.

The story, as it is with almost all Tom Clancy games, is banal. The idea is that there is this event called The Blacklist. Certain individuals have an agenda blah blah blah. I won't spoil anything for you lore lovers.

Graphics: Splintercell: Blacklist is a gorgeous looking video game. I have the settings maxed on my GTX 660ti and it runs smooth at a consistent 80fps. WIth the settings maxed the game gets pretty close to photo-realistic at times. There is a full suite of DX11 features that add to the eye-candy. HBAO+ is a god-send for stealtth games, adding even more realistic and immersion inducing shadows.

Audio:The music is pretty much the usual pseudo-techno infiltration music, with climaxes that mirror the on-screen action. The voice actor for Sam Fischer sounds great. Overall a great sounding game.

The campaign is short, probably about 5 hours. There is enough to do outside of the campaign that you won't want to miss it. A lot of the side missions are 'fail-state' missions, where if you're spotted you have to restart at the beginning. In a lot of stealth games a fail state can be annoying and it can feel limiting, however in Blacklist they always fit the mission. An example would be having to place network taps at three terminals in an underground hacking den. In the briefing you're told that if they spot you they will flush their network, and you'll lose the data. Having to stay hidden for fear of restarting that mission adds a much needed tension to stealth. For the campaign I don't recall seeing any failure state missions, so its not pervasive through the game.

Then there is the co-op missions, where you and a friend can both be spies and infiltrate stuff. I didn't play co-op. I also did not play the online portion of this game, though from what I understand its the same Mercs vs. Spies game mode that was in previous Splintercell titles.

Overall, I absolutely love Splintercell: Blacklist. I urge you to give it a shot, especially if you were disappointed with Splintercell: Conviction, because Blacklist will bring you back to the good old days of Splintercell.


Battlefield 4 [Online Game Code]
Battlefield 4 [Online Game Code]
Price: Click here to see our price

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great online play, abyssmal campaign., November 8, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Let it be known that the product page for Battlefield 4 is filled with low reviews based on the performance of the online portion of this game right now. While it is true that you will encounter glitches, stuttering, FPS drops, and crashes, I can say that if you enjoy the Battlefield experience of massive combat, vehicular combat, and the joy of playing an actual role in an online shooter, Battlefield 4 will not let you down. Unfortunately, the campaign is very disappointing, following too closely to the tired formula that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare grandfathered.

Campaign: A low point for the franchise. Not only is each mission a roller coaster ride, but control is taken away from you at every turn. The intro to the game fools you into thinking otherwise (by letting you open doors by yourself!), but you are immediately thrown into an all too familiar situation where you are stuck shooting at baddies on the ground from a window. What follows may be epic in some ways, yet ultimately stilted by what I can only imagine is a play at cashing in on the Call of Duty crowd. The story attempts to tug at your heartstrings multiple times, failing constantly. Dialogue consists of your usual 'Oscar mikes' and other such jargon. The story has you traversing the globe, of course, from China and back, but once again control is taken away from you so much it feels more like a sight seeing tour than an actual war. Battlefield 3 was just as disappointing, but part of me hoped things would change with this iteration. Sadly, I was wrong. It honestly felt, to me, that DICE could have nixed the campaign and released a multiplayer only title for a cheaper price, or even an online download of the multiplayer only for a discounted rate.

Graphics: As always, DICE, the games developer pushes PC hardware to the max. The graphics options are oozing with settings, allowing you to tweak the experience to fit your rig, and believe me, the ultra settings will push your hardware. It is worth it though, as Battlefield 4 is easily in the top-tier in terms of graphics.

Audio: Drone-like music and military jargon; what else needs to be said?

Multiplayer: As epic as ever, the online portion of Battlefield 4 still packs a punch with new maps and the return of destructible environments...and that's about it. The weapons and game types are exactly the same as before. It's still fun, no doubt about it, but the formula hasn't changed. This isn't a bad thing, as there was nothing wrong with the Battlefield 3 formula. Leveling a class still feels good, and playing a class role in the battle is always fun. Assault, Engineer, Recon, and Support are the classes, each offering up different gadgets and weapons.

If you enjoy Battlefield multiplayer you will want to pick this up,unless you are looking for a game changer, as this title is exactly like the previous title. If you're looking for an epic campaign again, Battlefield 4 delivers on some scale, but if you hate shooters that force you to sit and watch while control is taken away for 'cinematic' moments, you will hate Battlefield 4. Coupled with a very short campaign and it hardly feels worth your money. The choice is up to you. Overall the total package is weaker because of the lackluster single player campaign.


Call of Duty: Ghosts [Online Game Code]
Call of Duty: Ghosts [Online Game Code]
Price: Click here to see our price

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Feels like shovel ware, buyer beware, November 7, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Call of Duty: Ghosts is a scathing indictment of how tired and drained the formula has become for the modern First Person Shooter.

Game play: Taking a step back from Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Ghosts has you herded down one path. You enter shooting galleries, kill all the baddies and then control is taken away from you while some scripted event happens. This outlines every single mission. The scripted events are what ruin the experience the most. Simple things such as opening doors are restricted from the player; you have to wait for your A.I partners to open the doors. How insulting is it when the player is not allowed to even open a door? Not surprisingly this is not a new development, as all modern shooters exhibit this bewildering behavior in an attempt to make the game feel more cinematic. Ghosts feels like a roller coaster ride. You're stuck on rails, forced to see the experience as the developer wants you too, for better or ill. Invisible walls and barriers ensure that you won't jump ahead or miss some spectacular set piece that you have no control over. Its maddening to think that developers are still shoveling out games like this. Ghosts was touted as the next generation Call of Duty, meant to complement the next generation of gaming consoles. Don't be fooled; this is the same Call of Duty as all the other Call of Duty's. Worse yet, its leagues below the Black Ops II, as if the primary goal was to de-evolve the franchise.

Graphics: Most disappointing. First of all, textures look just as poor and bland as is known for the Call of Duty franchise. Assets are re-used for many of the environments. Shadows are ugly blotches and terrain is massively low-rez. For all the talk of this title being next generation everything looks so ugly. In fact, Ghosts looks graphically worse than Black Ops II, which came out a few years ago. I'd imagine its due to Ghosts being developed for current-gen platforms as well as the next gen consoles, with the end result being ported to the PC. So what PC gamers get is a very ugly game that attempts to offer some dazzling fidelity. If you check the graphics settings it has quite a few features to toggle, but the end result is still a very low-rez experience. Worst of all, Ghosts is poorly optimized for PC, tanking frame rates and stuttering occurred for me during every mission. I'm running a GTX 660ti, which is not a new card by any means, but I'm able to run Battlefield 4 on High settings so you'd think that I could run Ghosts on full since the graphical difference between the two games is like comparing a wonderfully shot picture to a crayola-smeared child's drawing.

Audio: Oscar Mike this, Oscar Mike that, Ghosts is full of these wonderful cliche's and tiring military jargon that we've come to loathe. Character dialogue is shallow end at best and everything else is forgettable. Don't look for an epic soundtrack or anything memorable, because you won't find it.

Multiplayer: Perhaps the most disappointing feature of Call of Duty: Ghosts. Stuttering, frame rate drops, server lag, and an overall inferior experience to Black Ops II. The maps aren't great, the weapon selection feels smaller, and a lot of the game modes from previous Call of Duty games have been stripped down or removed entirely. Otherwise, if you've played any of the other Call of Duty multiplayers, you've played this one. The only 'new' feature introduced here is the ability to fully customize your avatar, even choosing gender (Welcome to the 21st century).

What I'm saying is buyer beware. If you're a Black Ops II player I'd say stick with that,as it is superior to Ghosts in every way possible. Call of Duty: Ghosts is a stark reminder that modern First Person shooters need to change, and fast.


Batman: Arkham Origins - PC
Batman: Arkham Origins - PC
Price: Click here to see our price
36 used & new from $6.51

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of what we love, October 26, 2013
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Let's be honest; you cannot expect every video game to re-invent the wheel, especially if the established baseline is exceptional. Batman: Arkham Origins brings nothing new to the Arkham trilogy. It quite literally is more of the same, albeit with a much better story than Arkham City and Arkahm Asylum, and for PC gamers, a more stable port.

It's Christmas eve, and a nefarious villain known as The Black Mask has put a hit out on Batman's head. As you can imagine, the call is answered by over-the-top villains in ridiculous outfits sporting ridiculous names. Being Batman for only two years, you're still a little rough around the edges. The cops hate you, and the populace fears you. While this isn't so much an Origin story, it does lay down some of the backstory for the other two games in the trilogy. The story is phenomenal, the villains exceptional, and the voice acting is top notch.

As far as the gameplay goes, its an open world with various side quests, collectibles, as well as a main storyline to follow. In addition to the sprawling, gothic city of Gotham to explore, you can fast travel to the Batcave, where you can converse with your butler Alfred, undertake challenges, and acquire new gear. The series' staple of free flowing combat is still intact and as fun as ever, and Batman sports gadgets a-plenty. You'll even pick up new gadgets along the way.

Crime scene investigations are a little more involved and are much longer than in Arkham City, however the game still holds your hand through them. It would have been nice to see the investigations a little more fleshed out, with the option to completely blunder them if you miss clues.

Origin's Gotham is a darker, more mature setting, caked in snow and teeming with henchmen to pummel. Unlike the previous titles in the series, which portrayed a Batman more akin to the cartoon series, Origins gives us a darker take on Batman, still a rookie to crime-fighting, very similar to Christian Bale's take in Batman Begins. He's more ruthless and brutal than ever, though still following his 'no kill' rule. I won't spoil anything, but expect to see lots of villains from the DC Universe, some of them with a few unique surprises.

Regarding the PC port it is much more stable this time around. Batman: Arkham City was a disaster with its unstable Directx 11 infusion, wonky frame rate and stutters galore. This time around Tessellation is actually utilized, in the form of Batman's highly detailed cape, and the realistic looking and moving snow that covers the city. Physx is also much more prevalent, with signs, banners, papers, and other trash blowing freely without clipping into the scenery. You can even whip your cape around and see papers fly; always a nice immersion touch. I run a Geforce 660ti, not a new graphics card by any stretch, but I managed a 60fps with all the settings cranked to max.

There is a lot of outcry against Arkham Origins because it brings nothing new to the table mechanics wise. You even visit the same section of the city that Arkham City takes place in. I don't see these as bad things. Batman Arkham Origins is a legit game, and I think you should give it a chance before blowing it off, if only for the amazing combat and deep atmosphere and story.


La Noire - Playstation 3
La Noire - Playstation 3
Price: $10.96
227 used & new from $4.98

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More movie than video game., May 25, 2011
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
There is a lot to love in L.A Noire, from the impressive graphics and acting to the well written story, this game certainly delivers value for your money. However not everything glimmers in this solid but otherwise imperfect crime drama.

You play as Cole Phelps, an up and coming cop, honest to the bone and haunted by memories of World War II. Starting as a beat cop you rise the rank and file of the law solving cases and bearing first hand witness to the dark and seedy side of L.A. and life in post-war 1940s. Rockstar Games and Team Bondi spared no expense to bring their vision to life with stunning graphics, a meticulous rendition of Los Angeles, and a story that is just as engaging and gripping as any noire film or novel, filled with deep characters and grisly crime scenes that will definitely stay with you long after you are done playing. L.A Noire sets a precedent that elevates the video game medium into the realm of acting and film more so than any game before. With the use of Motionscan, a process that films actions from many angles with the use of 32 cameras, characters come to life in ways never seen before with realistic facial expressions and movements, adding a whole new realism and believability to the game. In many ways, L.A Noire feels more like an interactive movie than a video game, but it works.

Visual: From the faithful rendition of Los Angeles in the 1940s to the character models, everything is meticulously detailed down to the most minute detail. Zoom in on pavement and you will see the individual cracks and wear, zoom in on a face and you will see laugh lines, creases, pock marks, moles, stubble, crows feet....the list goes on. Everything has been superbly detailed and it fits perfectly in a game where you inspect objects and your surroundings. From a match book to a bloody letter found on a victim, every word is clearly legible and every graphic fleshed out. The character models are downright stunning, thanks to Motionscan. Faces are so realistic its unsettling at times yet does well to immerse you into the story and the experience as a whole.

Audio: From the old time radio jingles and jazzy 1940s tunes permeating the air waves to the excellent voice acting, L.A Noire is no slouch in the audio department. You can try, but you will not find a mediocre voice actor in this game, not even in the passerby or unimportant dialog that is often found in Rockstar titles, and the cut scene dialog is A list quality, which is no doubt due to actual film and television stars acting the parts and speaking the lines. Aside from the old timey and jazz songs that can be heard there is some amazing ambient music that plays throughout the game. When you are browsing a crime scene the music switches to something more ominous and fitting, when you are on the chase the music is intense, and when nothing much is happening laid back jazz can be heard; its all fitting and accentuates the various moods of the game.

Gameplay: I read a review that called L.A Noire the Police Quest for the modern generation, and I have to agree with that statement. The gameplay here is strictly procedural with lots of scene investigation, evidence gathering and questioning of witnesses and suspects. Unlike most of the games associated with Rockstar Games shooting and driving and free roaming take a backseat to story, atmosphere and paced and meticulous police work and overall this is a fairly linear game. You play a good, honest cop, which means you cannot actually shoot at anything other than criminals, and sadly it also means that your character has no time for fun mini games or distractions, so there are none; you cannot even enter any buildings but the ones specified by the current case you are one. Most of the gameplay involves inspecting the scene of a crime, gathering evidence, questioning witnesses and squeezing the truth out of suspects. While true free roaming would have been welcome the linear pace fits the story and the game quite nicely.

Evidence gathering is fun, and you may spend a lot of time looking at red herrings just to make sure you grabbed all the evidence available since having more evidence makes it easier to solve the case. Evidence could be anywhere, and the game does encourage you to think outside the box to find all the clues. The one downside is that a helper was added in the form of audio cues and a vibration in the game controller when you are next to something that you can inspect, making it all too easy to find clues (though this can be turned off in the settings).

Questioning witnesses and suspects is where the true heart of the game lies, and this is where I had the most fun during my play through. You ask questions based on evidence and information gathered and based on the responses you receive you can either assume they are telling the truth, withholding information, or downright lying to you. How you proceed directs the conversation and determines what your witness/suspect will divulge. Believe everything that comes out of their mouths and you will certainly miss essential information that can delay the case or mislead you, doubt what they say too much and they will clam up and become a dead end, and accusing them of lying too much and you'll get nowhere; its all about properly gauging the answers and facial expressions of each character you are questioning. This is where the Motionscan pays off, as there would be no way for this game to exist without that technology. As in real life, the characters in L.A. Noire give off visual clues in their facial expressions and body language that will either confirm their answers or betray them. Its all about the little things; if a witness or suspect frequently looks away its usually a sign that they are hiding something, or if they look like they are about to explode with tension its most likely that they are lying to you. This adds a level of depth not seen in any video games up to this point.

Combat and driving are the more mundane aspects of L.A Noire. Combat is basically third person shooting with a cover system, and its all rather boring thanks to the aim assist and enemies that die too fast. Combat is way too easy and smacks of hand holding feels more like a chore than anything else. Driving is your basic open world style driving that we've all gotten used to thanks to Grand Theft Auto and its ilk. Not much to be said for either of these two aspects, and frankly they are the weakest portions of the game. One more aspect that you will come across a lot is the chase portions of the game. Frequently, and I do mean frequently you will have to chase a suspect, and it always plays out the same: suspect runs from you, you chase, and you either fire a warning shot or kill them to complete the mission. It happens so much that by the second time I was already tired of it.

Since this is a game that bears the name of Rockstar Games on the cover you can expect side missions, however don't expect them to be fun, because they aren't. They mostly involve a robbery of some kind, a chase and a shooting, nothing more. I found them to be rather boring and tacked on to stretch the game out. I would have liked to see some actual variation in the side quests, and this is an area that I felt could have used more development time.

My main gripe with this game is that it seems as if it was designed so that you cannot fail. You barely take damage during shootouts, and auto-aim makes sure you get your man. Worse yet, you can completely botch a case and still pass, which makes no sense; there should be consequences for making the wrong decisions or not gathering enough evidence. My other gripe with this game is that its supposed to be based on noire, which means there should be shades of gray with the main character, but there isn't. You play a good cop, and thats it. I would have liked to see some choices given to the player, hard choices that forced you make decisions outside of what is right and wrong, but rather what solved crimes. It would have been nice to be able to choose to play as a bad cop, if only for the noire aspect.

Overall, the presentation is great but marred by bland side quests, no fun mini games or distractions and nothing to really do in the sprawling city but go to the next marker on your map. Rockstar Games and Team Bondi spent a lot of time making sure that their representation of post-war L.A was incredibly detailed but you can't actually explore it, its a shame really. Since L.A Noire follows a specific attitude of being an honest cop on a mission the linearity fits, it just would have been nice to have more.

Story: There is an over arching story for most of the game but there is also little events that bear no weight to the overall story, however the writing, acting, dialog and atmosphere are so well executed that I think you won't care so much about some grand plot.

L.A Noire is an achievement on many levels, from excellent graphics, gameplay that requires you to use your smarts and tests your ability to read facial expressions, to the richly detailed environments and atmosphere. You really get the feeling that you are an officer of the law and your perception skills are put to the test. The game is not perfect, with boring side quests, a huge beautifully rendered city that limits what you can do and interact with, and too much hand holding, but these are minor complaints in comparison to all of the great things. I highly recommend this game as you will get your moneys worth out of it.


The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Offered by mkxrarefinds
Price: $21.99
44 used & new from $9.90

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally, making choices means something, May 23, 2011
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the sequel to the critically acclaimed PC game, The Witcher, released by Polish developer CD Projekt RED. The Witcher 2 continues right after the ending of The Witcher and takes the player through a boiling conflict in which the main character, Geralt of Rivia, is tasked with resolving order in the four realms. You will fight monsters, make difficult decisions and romance your way through one of the most gorgeous and excellent RPGs ever made. You play as Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, a professional monster hunter and curse remover who gets caught up in more politics than anyone would care to.

Visual: Assassins of Kings boasts the best graphics ever seen in an RPG, and of all titles released up to this point in history (yes, even better than Crysis). The level of detail applied to everything you see in the game is unparalleled; from the lush, green forests, fire-lit caves and castles to the little creases and fading on leather armor, everything is rendered in so much detail its easy to get caught up in gaping at the graphics rather than the game. Rocky paths are made from individual rocks and dirt, trees have clearly defined, individual leaves, weapons glisten in the amazing sunlight effects. Character models have just as much detail, not only in their armor and clothing but in their faces. Every pock mark, pore and mole can be seen in stunning detail. The full day and night cycles provide excellent atmosphere; sunshafts and shadows play a huge role in framing each environment. A sunset in Assassins of Kings is just as beautiful to behold as it is in real life, basking all before it in a golden glow.

I saw a few minor problems, such as minor characters receiving less detail than major plot characters, however these are minor and are overshadowed by the overall graphical experience, which is legendary. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the new benchmark for PC rigs, and you can be sure that your PC will be put through the test if you should attempt to run the game on its Ultra graphics setting. Now, unlike other new PC game releases (think Crysis 2), CD Projekt RED included an advanced graphics setting where you can manually adjust graphics settings (such as enabling/disabling Uber Sampling). This helps in easing some of the burden on your smoldering CPU:)

Audio: Like many RPGs on the market today, The Witcher 2 boasts a massive amount of spoken dialog, not only during cut-scenes but also idle chatter and passerby conversations. All of the voice work is fairly good, aside from a few phoned-in ones (Triss Merigold, I am looking at you!), and feels quite poignant and highly enveloping via accents and lore dialect. The soundtack is expectantly epic and actually worth listening to.

Gameplay: Perhaps this is the biggest bone of contention with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings that I could find. The combat system has been overhauled from the first game, now being more action-RPG like with real time combat hack-n-slash like play; you have a regular and a hard sword swing, a block and a roll/dodge ability. When it works its fun and engaging and it feels great to cut a swathe through foes, dodge attacks and feel like a true blade master. When it doesn't work its a mess. Its all too easy to target the wrong target during intense melee combat and your character will lunge and roll across the battlefield to attack another assailant, leaving your back wide open for attacks. Overall though the combat is great fun and fitting. In addition to sword play Geralt also has simple magic spells, bombs and throwing daggers at his disposal (all depending on how you level your skill tree). One really cool and unique aspect is that Geralt carries two swords, one for human combat (steel sword) and one for monster combat (silver sword). Its not an amazing aspect but it adds a nice lore component to the game.

The skill trees are rather massive, with 3.5 paths to sink points into: Witcher skills, Magic, Sword skill and Alchemy. This allows you to tailor your experience to how you want it. You can sink all your points into magic and deal out area of effect fire spells and powerful knockback stuns, or you can sink your points into the sword tree and be unstoppable with a blade, or you can be a master at alchemy and create tide turning potions and bombs. The great thing about the skill trees is that there aren't too many pointless talents that you are forced to take like in many other RPGs. Sure, you still have a small amount of throw-away talents like 'health +1', but the majority of skills can drastically change the flow of combat.

In addition to all the combat fun there is crafting and potion making. Crafting consists of finding diagrams, finding the right ingredients and taking them to a crafter who will them craft gear or weapons for you. Items consist of herbs and monster parts and adds in a nice collecting aspect to the game. Monster parts are gathered from, you guessed it, monsters, and herbs are scattered throughout the world, waiting for you to pick them. Potion making allows you to craft health regenerating potions, potions that allow you to see in the dark, potions that buff your sword and magic skills etc, and at higher difficulty levels these are a must as they can quickly turn the tide in an unfair fight. Bombs can also be crafted and are very effective.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a brutal game, in that even on the lowest difficulty setting you can find yourself dying a lot, especially during the first chapter. The combat is designed so that you must use block, dodge and potions to survive a majority of the skirmishes. On easy its a little more forgiving once you level up and gain more skills, but on the harder difficulties (most notably insane mode, where if you die you have to start the whole game over) use of these abilities is an absolute must. Many fights will have you surrounded, and since the game animations cannot be cancelled one small mistake can be deadly. Some may cringe at the difficulty but I applaud it, all too often modern games are too easy so its a welcome change to have a truly challenging RPG.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of The Witcher 2 is the story and setting. The world of the Witcher 2 is a dark world full of shades of grey, where there really is no wrong or right, only actions and consequences. Sure, monsters are evil, but so are your fellow man and woman. Corrupt, self-serving and vile, the humans in the world of The Witcher 2 are disgusting and sometimes hardly worth saving. Racism plays a huge role in the game politics, as Elves and Dwarves are mistreated and outcast by humans. Most of the time the people you are tasked with saving are the same that would easily condemn you to death for being a Witcher. This is where The Witcher 2 shines the most; the game world is alive and full of flavor and lore, characters are fully fleshed out with rich back stories, motivations and goals. You will experience the wealthy nobles, the poor folk living in squalor, the rebellious Elves and Dwarves who revolt against the racism and the history that makes each region unique. Books scattered around the world and for purchase in book stores add little bits of lore as well, and dialog options add to the lore. You will see and experience corruption, redemption, hatred, love, joy and sadness, friendship and love.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has a Mature rating and it earns it in spades. From visceral, bloody combat to full-on nudity and sex scenes to more filthy language than a gangster rap album CD Projekt RED fully embody the M rating with no shame. At one point in the game there is a sex scene that lasts for at least a minute or two, interspersed with other scenes mind you, but still. There aren't any true romance aspects of the game, as Geralt can sleep with any woman, provided the option comes up, and there are whorehouses available during moments in the game. With that said, its clearly obvious that Gearlt does have a love interest in the game, as you will find out if you choose to partake in this grand adventure.

Choice plays a huge role in almost everything you do, starting as early as the very first moments of the first chapter. Unlike most of the modern 'choice inducing' RPGs of today The Witcher 2 makes you face the consequences of your actions in game, not at the end of the game or in the form of extra dialog options or extra loot or something equally trivial. If, for example you choose to side with rebels over an elite soldier group you see and experience that choice right away, and the game plays quite differently in the next chapter depending on which side you chose. Not all the choices are this big, some will ask you to save a town from peril, or save/kill someone etc, but each choice you make has weight and consequence, something a lot of the modern morality games fail to provide. Best of all, neither choice you make is frowned upon and the game never berates you for making one choice over the other; after all, its your story and you get to decide how it plays out.

The overall size of The Witcher 2 is arguable as well. Some may say the game is too short with only 3 chapters, however each chapter gives you more than enough to do, more than enough side quests and more than enough dialog to explore and mini games to play. From gambling, fist fighting and arm wrestling there is enough distractions to suck up a few hours. As far as quests go The Witcher 2 features less than most of the modern RPGs on the market, but in the end quality will always trump quantity, and while there may be less quests than one would like they are all great quests and worth undertaking. The main quests are beyond epic and the side quests are actually interesting, from detective style whodunnit mysteries to exploring a haunted mental hospital, everything feels well deserved of your time. The typical 'kill x many monsters' quests that RPGs are known for are present but there are only a few and the fit the lore of what a Witcher does for a living.

As for the world, its not an open world game which may turn off some players, however the game is more an Action RPG than an open world RPG. There is a clearly defined overall story that the game follows. With that being said, each region you visit allows you to freely explore its play area and tackle side quests at your discretion. Invisible walls do play a factor, but to be honest I was so engaged with the stellar content that I never felt bored or the desire to go beyond the game borders.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the best RPG I've ever played, and easily a contender for RPG of the year. With benchmark graphics, a deep story and fully realized world, The Witcher 2 is a must own experience for all PC gamers.


Lost: The Complete Sixth and Final Season [Blu-ray]
Lost: The Complete Sixth and Final Season [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Matthew Fox
Offered by Expedited Warehouse
Price: $19.80
45 used & new from $12.50

22 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...and the circle is complete, August 25, 2010
Lost has taken me on a fantastic journey like no other piece of entertainment has.

I'm no fan of television; I find it boring, trite and highly predictable, with the majority of prime time muck revolving around pathetic attempts at storytelling with no real direction. Heck, you don't even get a sense of mortality for most characters on the majority of television shows because each episode ends with the good guys winning and the bad guys losing. Lost is nothing like that, and that is why I fell in love with it. There really are no 'bad' guys in Lost as each character, even the ones that appear menacing represent just one aspect of humanity that is nevertheless essential to our evolution as a species, and that is the beauty of Lost.

Season 6 picks up where Season 5 left off: did the bomb go of? Were the time travelling losties returned to their present time-line? Did the detonation of said bomb (if it actually went off) make it so that flight 815 never crashed on that mysterious island? What follows is an amazing, if convoluted season that, while answering a great many questions brought up throughout its past 5 seasons raises many more (and leaves some questions unanswered). For those of you that were drawn to Lost because of its 'figure it out on your own' mentality, then all is as it should be. Nothing could be closer to the truth than the finale, which turned away more fans than George Lucas ever could. There are still viewers who don't understand the ending, and all I can say is...it is brilliant!

From the very first episode it was evident that there would be no spoon feeding to the audience, which of course spawned a massive hurricane of theories and what-ifs. As the answers slowing revealed themselves many "fans" found themselves at odds with the writers of the show, as if they (the audience) knew the show better than the writers. Some of the proposed theories turned out to be correct, while others fell flat on their false faces. While I would never make the claim that the writers knew how every episode and every season would pan out from the start (and I would never be so self-important to even assume as such as all great stories are created on a whim from inspiration and such), I do believe that the general outline of the story was known before the pilot episode of Season One aired. I believe they had the beginning plotted out and the very end; everything else in between was either partially planned or envisioned as the show progressed, and what a wonderful progression it has been.

Character progression is a very important element to me, and Lost has it in spades. Comparing the mentalities of the characters from Season One to their mentalities in Season Six it is very evident that these characters have evolved. From Jack's logical science mind to the fate imbued Jack of Season Six, each character evolved in a way that no other show has ever presented. Sure, some of the characters in Season Six (namely Claire, Sun, Jin and Sayid) didn't get their due, and felt largely wasted and more or less served as cardboard cutouts, the majority of the main cast had their stories fully explained. From the beginning Lost has always, I repeat, always been about character development. I challenge you to watch every single episode from Season One on and tell me that this isn't so. The mysteries and the mythology have been there as well, but it has always played a backseat to the characters (hence the myriad of flashbacks and love triangles etc). The mythology served more as an impetus to add unconventional aspects to a drama show, elements that would propel the show far beyond the average swill that usually populates your black box. Lost is a confusing, and at times frustrating experience, but one thing is for sure, it is poignant, beautiful and truly epic.

While the argument that Season Six feels rushed and more or less a season of the writers spewing forth answer after answer is not entirely incorrect, it loses sight of the purpose and crux of the show. The show has always been about fate vs. free will, science vs. faith, black vs. white, up vs. down; the show has always been about the polarities that unite and divide humanity in its plight and journey in this unknowable and mysterious world. The fact that we (the audience) received so many answers in such a rushed pace during the final season of the show is more owed to paying service to all of the angry and demanding fans that couldn't figure things out for themselves, as well as completing the circle that is Lost. Why did the writers wait until Season Six to reveal some of the nagging questions that had reared their head since Season One? Well, for starters they obviously didn't have all of the answers right away, which should be a given since great stories take time to craft and unfold. Second, even if the writers did know the answers to their questions before hand it would have ruined the show if they revealed all of the answers throughout every season. Part of the allure of Lost were the mind blowing finales that left you scratching your head, pondering what it all meant in swift anticipation for the next season. The fact that I can re-watch every season over and over again is a testament to how amazing the show is. If you are a newcomer to Lost, I highly recommend giving it a chance, as you will surely be introduced to a story that is unlike any other, yet so much like every other that you can easily identify with many of the core themes inherent within its masterful scenes.

As for the Blu Ray, the picture quality is unmatched. Detail is abundant and the picture looks very natural. Colors are vibrant and pop off your screen like the best HD has to offer. Audio is excellent as well. As for supplements we get your typical 'making ofs' and such as well as another follow up to the Lost University program, and finally 15 minutes of more Lost, in the form of another episode that answers more questions in a very satirical way.

From the sly literature and pop culture references to the deep, underlying philosophical and spiritual overtones, I highly recommend Lost Season Six on Blu Ray. Oh, and the finale will definitely make you feel something.
Comment Comments (24) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2010 10:26 AM PDT


Halo 3: ODST - Xbox 360
Halo 3: ODST - Xbox 360
Price: $13.72
340 used & new from $1.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive short offering until Halo Reach, April 26, 2010
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Halo 3: ODST pits you in the shoes of a rookie ODST (thats Orbital Drop Shock Trooper for you laymen) during the siege of New Mombasa, a futuristic city on Earth in the Halo universe. Unlike previous Halo games you are not a super soldier, you do not have much of a shield, your health drops quickly and you cannot duel wield like the Master Chief. Nor do you have regenerating health, rather you have to find health packs to heal. Halo 3: ODST offers up a new glimpse into the fabled Halo story, and takes you through another amazing Bungie narrative.

The one thing that has always impressed me about the Halo games the most is the storyline and the voice acting. First of all the story lines are definitely Hollywood A-list cinema quality with epic twists and turns and the right amount of action set pieces and emotional depth to keep the gamer long engaged. Halo 3: ODST is no different, featuring a well written and well executed storyline that is both epic and entertaining.

The game starts out with you and your crew dropping down onto New Mombasa from a ship high above the Earth (Halo 3: ODST takes place during Halo 2). However things quickly go awry and 6 hours later find yourself alone in the darkness and the aftermath of an invasion. Destroyed cars and fires litter the streets and an eerie silence pervades the air (aside from the occasional police siren left unattended and blaring) and your team is nowhere to be found. So, you are left to wander the streets of New Mombasa in search of your team mates, dodging Covenant patrols along the way. The game is actually split into two sections: one portion of the game has you wandering the dark and ravaged streets searching for your team mates, and once you find clues to their whereabouts the game shifts to a flashback and you get to experience what happened to your team mates from their eyes. Its an ingenious method that allows for the player to not only experience different terrain and levels but also experience large scale battles and it fully fleshes out the story of New Mombasa.

Graphics: Most of the game takes place in the dark, forcing you to use your visor night vision to see enemies and the path forward; this lends a creepy essence to the experience, almost desolate and bare. Though you spend a good portion of the game in the dark the graphics are pretty impressive, if a little outdated (Bungie is still using the Halo 3 engine), however they serve their purpose of creating a futuristic looking city that had recently been through an invasion. The city itself looks great with tall odd shaped skyscrapers, futuristic cars, phone booths and UNSC recruitment kiosks; its unmistakable that you are in another world. Character models look good, again with some minor hitches due to the outdated graphics engine (face models look like they could be at home on the original Xbox system), but any graphical issues are easily brushed aside when compared to the epic storyline of ODST.

Sound: Everything you have come to expect from a Halo game is here; from the laser blasts, the taunts from the Covenant to the excellent voice acting to the Hollywood blockbuster musical score, its all here.

Gameplay: Halo 3: ODST plays more like Halo: Combat Evolved than it does Halo 2 or Halo 3. You are not a super soldier so you don't duel wield weapons, you cannot regenerate health so quickly and easily and your shield ain't much. Oh, and they also brought the amazing pistol back! Zoom in with that bad boy and watch the headshots rack up. On easy ODST is a piece of cake, however like all Halo games ramp up the difficulty to Heroic or Legendary and you will surely face a challenge, often eschewing flat out firefights for the safety of the darkness when you spot a patrol. Another really cool feature is that the game is pretty much open ended. No, you can't do anything you want but you can choose how you want to complete the missions you are given, which gives you a sense of freedom. You can pretty much roam around the city at will, however some areas will be cut off until you complete certain missions, but overall its a nice touch.

Halo 3: ODST also offers an up-to four player mode called Firefight, which pits players against wave after wave of Covenant forces. How long can you last? Think of Horde mode in Gears of War 2 or the similar one in Resident Evil 4. It plays out like an old school Arcade shooter.

ODST also comes with a second disc that houses the complete Halo Multiplayer experience. Not only do you get the Forge and Theater modes, you also get all of the DLC content as well as the multiplayer game itself. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Overall I would highly recommend Halo 3: ODST to all First Person Shooter fans, not just Halo fans, since the game plays out more like a Sci-Fi shooter than necessarily a pure Halo game.


Antithesis
Antithesis
Offered by Prophecy Prod. US
Price: $9.99
29 used & new from $2.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Hybrid Black Metal at its best, August 14, 2009
This review is from: Antithesis (Audio CD)
The true success of 'Antithesis' is the fact that Secrets of the Moon don't adhere to the traditional and typical black metal aesthetics; rather they borrow elements from various genres to create an epic and highly enjoyable album that is an instant classic. If you've heard previous Secrets of the Moon albums then you'll be surprised with Antithesis, which sounds nothing like their older albums, adopting the sound that they crafted on their 'Exhibitions EP', which feels more like a hybrid of black metal and rock (black n roll?).

One thing that will not sit well with most traditional black metal fans is the super clean production. Every instrument is clearly audible and has a perfect spot in the recording; a trait that is looked down upon in black metal, but this isn't really black metal, at least not traditional. Though Secrets of the Moon started out as some sort of Symphonic black metal band they've, over the years, evolved into their own sound, a sound that I have yet to hear another band produce. Its an enjoyable, technical, grooving and avant-garde(somewhat) sound that doesn't adhere to any one specific genre standard; and this is ultimately what elevates Antithesis high above most metal albums.

The vocals are delivered in typical black metal rasps; nothing special there, but the lyrics are deep and thought-provoking, which is pretty usual for black metal these days, but nevertheless fitting. The one redeeming factor of the vocals is their rhythm, which can be downright hypnotic at times. The topics covered can be quite convoluted and unintelligible at times, but for the most part you'll understand what is going on. Truth be told I don't listen to Secrets of the Moon for the lyrics, rather its the music behind the lyrics that is attractive. Chugging, droney guitars, octopus-like drumming, wailing solos; its all there, and in the right doses. Nothing overstays its welcome; there are a good portion of songs that are instrumental too, which offers up a nice change of pace from the rasping. While Antithesis is not black metal, it borrows heavily from the genre, using dissonant chords and blast-beats throughout the album when needed, but never straying too long on those features, mixing them up with other playing styles and genres. The guitar riffs are imaginative, original, intriguing and commanding, and the drumming is just plain impressive in how all-over-the-place yet technically precise it is.

I really like Antithesis and its easily one of my favorite albums; with awesome guitar work, impressive drumming and decent lyrics and vocals Antithesis is at the top of the pile when it comes to black metal hybrid albums. For those looking for something new, or for those black metal heads looking for a breather from the traditional and the typical, check out Antithesis.

Highly Recommended

5/5


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