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Quinn Popcorn: Variety Pack (Butter & Sea Salt, Vermont Maple & Sea Salt, and Parmesan & Rosemary {3 Pack}
Quinn Popcorn: Variety Pack (Butter & Sea Salt, Vermont Maple & Sea Salt, and Parmesan & Rosemary {3 Pack}
Offered by Quinn Snacks
Price: $16.50

4.0 out of 5 stars My favorite microwave popcorn, August 21, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I've been buying Quinn popcorn on and off since their successful Kickstarter and have been really happy with them. Make no mistake that it's on the pricey side (especially if you don't order direct and take advantage of promotions to stock up, I generally pick up 9 boxes of my choice for around $36 shipped, which beats Amazon by almost $1 per box) but it's still my favorite, most consistently good bagged popcorn I've come across. I wish it was available locally but alas, that's the consequence of living in a rural area - we don't get to have nice things that don't involve shipping trucks. ;)

The popcorn itself is light and airy, though it takes some patience to discover the sweet spot time for your microwave. I usually have less than a dozen kernels left over, though I think there's room for improvement there. Another non-GMO popcorn I've tried had less kernels left over and, honestly, had consistently fresher popcorn per bag. There isn't a huge difference between the two, but it's worth noting if you prefer simple sea salt.

Where Quinn can't be beaten is in the flavorings. I've yet to come across another brand that even comes close that hasn't been pre-popped. Every flavor is delicious (though I still mourn the loss of the lemon/sea salt and hickory cheddar) and there's enough variety for most everyone to find something they like. By coming in separate pouches you also have a great deal of control in how much to use, both for personal preference and for nutritional concerns.

In summary, Quinn has ruined me for other buttered popcorn short of making the entire thing from scratch, which I suppose could be interpreted as a negative due to being a bit pricey. I think it's worth the cost though.


HORI Nintendo 3DS XL Screen Protective Filter
HORI Nintendo 3DS XL Screen Protective Filter
Offered by Healthy Life Resellers
Price: $20.88
4 used & new from $20.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic results in spite of lackluster instructions and my own stupidity., November 29, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
As an excited new 3DS XL owner (my first Nintendo console since the N64!), I decided to take heed of the screen scratching tales of woe and eventually settled on Hori despite the price tag. I watched youtube videos of the process and felt that I had a pretty good gist on the entire thing.

It turns out that I did and didn't. Let me explain.

First of all, don't even bother with the cloth they provide. You're far more likely to scratch up your screens with it then remove actual particles. If you don't have one already, order a small microfiber cloth alongside the filters. The little cardboard "application card" (insert snort of disdain here) is also quite useless. The best strategy I had was to take a thin rewards or credit card, tightly pull my own microfiber cloth around one edge to prevent scratching the screen protector I just applied, and use that to gently smooth out any bubbles that may appear.

Second, read the instructions and carefully examine the screen protectors. The actual screen protectors are adorned quite thoroughly with step numbers that correspond to the instruction booklet. The instruction booklet itself is, to put it lightly, lacking. There's very little in the way of elaboration for the basic instructions, you're supposed to simply "get it" by studying the included pictures. Get an idea of how it's supposed to work and how many protective layers there are.

Then and only then watch tutorial videos on youtube. Watch them in their entirety. Don't be me and say halfway through, "Ooooh, that's how it works - I got it now!" and disregard the printed instructions outside of a quick glance over once everything is in hand. Overconfidence is the first step to future sheepishness.

Somehow, despite watching videos and having instructions right in front of my face, I didn't realize that each filter is comprised of THREE layers - the bottom most layer protects the adhesive until it's ready to be applied to the screen, the middle is the filter itself, and (this is key) the top is an additional protective layer for the top of the filter. You're supposed to line up the filter, affix it to the screen bezel via the included sticky sheets, then slowly pull off the bottom layer while using the "application card" (homemade or otherwise) to smoothly apply the filter, smooth out any air bubbles or imperfections, then remove the top layer.

In theory, it should be a nearly foolproof application method.

And it was. I applied the top screen so perfectly I didn't even realize it had worked. In fact, I thought I had screwed it up because I stupidly didn't realize there was a top protective layer and thought it was the filter itself. Believing some dust got in mid application, I pulled up on the top layer (again, believing it to be the screen protector proper) with the goal of reapplying it and was horrified by the amount of scratches on it and how it didn't seem adhesive at all.

I'll give you a moment to laugh at my expense. It's pretty funny in retrospect.

Believing the top screen to be hopeless I moved on to the touch screen, which I had been most concerned about initially due to the stylus. This went on smoothly and had the added benefit of the top protective layer being tinted, so even a dork like me would realize it was there and what it was. I would actually recommend starting with the touch screen as it seemed much easier to apply overall.

Once on and smoothed out, the filters are nearly invisible - exactly what you want in this case. In fact, despite playing with the device for several hours after finishing with the application, it took me until the next day to realize that the top screen's filter did actually apply after all. From my time with it, the 3D doesn't appear to be impacted by the filter.

I dropped a star for the shoddy cloth, cardboard "card," and anemic instructions but I can confidently say that the filters themselves are fantastic. Just go in better prepared than I was, have some patience, and you'll be rewarded with a beautiful and protected 3DS XL.


Nokia 02733Q1 CC-1043 Cover for Lumia 920 - 1 Pack - Retail Packaging - Red
Nokia 02733Q1 CC-1043 Cover for Lumia 920 - 1 Pack - Retail Packaging - Red

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing case for an amazing phone., February 28, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
While the Lumia 920 is often portrayed as being a nearly indestructible tank of a device, in reality it can be quite easy to cause superficial damage but simply not notice it. The polycarbonate shell is amazing at hiding micro-scratches unless put under direct light and examined closely - I was genuinely shocked to notice a mere week after owning it that the glossy red back looked like it had been dragged across cement once I reflected light off of it. I still don't know how it got so scratched up.

I realized pretty quick that I needed a case or sleeve or something to prevent it from being damaged further. I picked out a lovely suede sleeve to temporarily protect it and started researching what cases were available, how protective they were, and how expensive they were. For the most part I was pretty disappointed by what I found.

Lumia 920 cases tend to fall into two categories: 1) Cheap hastily made plastic that don't even fit the phone properly or 2.) Extremely expensive hand crafted leather cases. There are exceptions of course, but none of them were very appealing to me personally (the Otterbox cases are over the top and make the phone huge, the Incipio cases didn't fit properly with the curved glass front and none of the colors were appealing, etc). While the leather cases were indeed beautiful, I wasn't keen on the idea of paying more for the case than I paid for the phone itself.

The sad truth is that as brilliant of a phone as the 920 is the accessory market is pretty niche, with most preferring to cater to Apple or Samsung device owners. It sucks, but that's the market.

Then I stumbled across reviews for Nokia's previous gel case for the Lumia 900. Reviews were universally positive and praised the build quality and fit and, victory!, they were indeed going to come out with new cases for the 920. Unfortunately, they were backordered for months. The price was certainly right though so I took the chance and trusted in Nokia's build quality. Considering at the time of this review these cases are still listed as taking months to get in stock, is the wait worth it?

Abso-friggin'-lutely.

The case fits like a glove. At first glance and use you don't even notice that there's a case at all, it simply looks like a matte red 920 instead of the normal glossy variety. I still can't get over how perfectly the case fits, even around the curved edges that touch the glass. It is also much, much easier to grip the phone with the case as opposed to the normal slippery gloss, with very little added weight to the phone itself.

It also adds very little bulk, especially compared to some of the other cases I tried and returned (the Trident Aegis was nearly Otterbox huge, it felt like I was holding a walkie talkie!). This means a truly catastrophic drop won't be as protected compared to other cases but at that point superficial damage is probably the least of your concerns.

The richness of the case's color deserves a special note. If the red case is any indication fellow owners of the brightly colored varieties of the 920 will be very very pleased. The benefit of the case being straight from Nokia is that the colors are perfect matches to the phones themselves, so you're not covering up the eye catching shades of yellow, cyan, or red in order to protect it. Envious black or white owners can also dress their 920 up and pretend those colors weren't sold out for so long as well. I admit that I'm tempted to nab a yellow and cyan just for a change of pace in the future.

There are a few downsides to this case but they're all fairly minor.

Obviously this case won't protect the front glass from a fall or particles in your pocket but it also doesn't offer any additional protection when the phone is placed face down. Many cases like this are designed to elevate the device a bit so the glass isn't flush with the surface but Nokia went in a different direction. The 920 has beautiful curved glass that flows into the rounded polycarbonate body seamlessly when you brush across the screen, with this case that refined design is upheld. While it doesn't feel quite as smooth with the case the illusion of being a seamless device remains the same. Whether this is a negative or positive is up to personal preference.

The physical buttons can also be harder to press. The 920's buttons are raised away from the phone and make it easy to brush your thumb along the side and blindly find and press what you're looking for. While the case does have recessed spots for them, the buttons become nearly flush to the side of the device. The buttons still depress smoothly but that tactile feel has been lost. This is likely a tradeoff for the case not being bulky as making the case any thinner around the buttons would make it too flimsy.

Due to the excellent fit it can actually be a bit difficult to get the phone out of the case once it's on. I've found that starting at the middle of the top or bottom and gently prying one corner out at a time is the best way to do so. Compounding that, the sim tray wasn't given a cut out. This is more of a minor nitpick by itself but if you're someone that swaps sim cards often it'll be a pain to constantly remove the case to do so.

For $12 there isn't a case on the market that can compete with this build quality and fit, so those downsides are pretty easy to overlook.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2013 10:37 PM PDT


Portal 2 - PC
Portal 2 - PC
Offered by SJVIDEO
Price: $33.99
33 used & new from $11.57

68 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite possibly Valve's best game., April 20, 2011
This review is from: Portal 2 - PC (Video Game)
UPDATE (November 22 2012): Since the original review several of my criticisms have been resolved as a commentator pointed out (thanks!). Specifically, with the advent of the level editor and Steam Workshop, there is an absolute ton of quality/mind bendingly difficult maps now. Valve has also added an additional co-op campaign. Basically, there's tons of content and the game has dramatically dropped in price, so my concerns about difficulty and running out of content vs the game's price are now moot.

In addition, as of yesterday Valve has added split screen local co-op. Hurray for us HTPC users!

My original review has not been edited as I don't like stealth updates to reviews.

--

There are very few developers that I would pre-order games by pedigree alone. There are even fewer developers that I would pre-order, wait on pins and needles for the unlock, pull an all-nighter during the work week out of pure eagerness to play it, and not regret a thing while I was in zombie mode the next day. As time goes on that list of developers has shrunk to a mere two.

Valve is one them, and they have yet to truly disappoint me. They are, for all extents and purposes, the Pixar of gaming for me.

That's not to say I'm blind to their faults and mistakes, they've certainly made them before and they'll make them again. None of their games are perfect, either -- including Portal 2. But what they do right they do so bloody well right that it makes the bobbles easy to look past.

Half Life 2 may be my personal favorite Valve game for a lot of reasons, but Portal 2 is probably their *best* game when looked at objectively. From the level design and puzzles to the writing and the voice acting to even the subtle touches and animations, Portal 2 is just pure fun and clearly a labor of love. It's a far cry from the derivative sequels churned out by the big publishers that the industry is so often plagued with.

Portal was pretty revolutionary at the time and had a bit of a perfect storm of events that propelled it into near legendary status very quickly. Portal 2 doesn't innovate or try to reinvent itself into something else entirely, instead it adds new mechanics in a very organic way without losing much of what made it's predecessor so special. Some are going to try and make that out to be a flaw and call it "recycled" or even "lazy," but I'd be pretty disappointed if that wasn't the case. I wanted a sequel to Portal because I wanted more of it, not something completely different despite a '2' after the name. Portal 2 strikes the right balance of old and new mechanics, while the story is completely different in tone. There is hardly even a mention of cake, thankfully.

I'm not going to go into detail about the story and characters; I would be doing a tremendous disservice to anyone debating a purchase if I ruined the humorous twists and turns the story takes, and would recommend to go into it as unspoiled as possible. Everybody has a different sense of humor, but I was thoroughly amused throughout the entire game and often laughing out loud. However, the campaign's humor is not as subtle as the original Portal, and that may be a turn off to some. That subtle, almost unintended humor makes a reappearance in the co-op campaign, but the single player is much more overt. You're no longer a confused test subject in a pristine but creepily abandoned facility trying to figure out what's happened while surviving sadistic puzzles, all leading up to a surprise reveal. You already know the game and the major players this time around, the mystery lies in the history of those involved now and the consequences of your prior actions.

The single player campaign is approximately 6-8 hours long over three acts. It can be rushed through even faster, with some beating it in 4-5 hours instead, but I guarantee they haven't found and done everything. There's an entire second subplot hidden in the campaign that continues where the Portal 2 prelude comic left off, along with easter eggs that are very easy to miss that tease of events that took place before and after Portal. Myself and most of my Steam friends list have beaten it in about 7 hours and missed things, including a ton of alternate dialogue from certain characters. Considering that the game can easily be found for $35-$40 and that this doesn't include co-op, the developer commentary playthrough, the future release of the SDK and inevitable user made maps, or any DLC Valve has planned, I feel like I easily got my money's worth already. Portal 2's campaign will be something I replay just for the pure fun of it in the same way I've replayed Portal several times since it was released.

Co-op has it's own storyline that continues immediately after the events in single player and will spoil events if you skip the campaign. As already mentioned, the subtle humor of GLaDOS makes a reappearance here to balance the pure hilarity of trying to coordinate four portals. Co-op is at it's best when you and a friend both go in completely blind not knowing how to solve the puzzles, but it's enjoyable even after the solution is known, too. There's just something amusing about sending your buddy crashing into spiked plates and breaking into a dance, much to GLaDOS' ire. Depending on how many (non)accidental deaths you have, the co-op can last 4+ hours in and of itself. It is also much harder than the sometimes too easy single player campaign.

The PC and PS3 versions also have cross platform co-op, which is honestly really refreshing. I'm a PC gamer through and through and the idea of playing a first-person-anything on a controller is somewhat horrifying, but it's awesome that I can play alongside my console-orientated friends for once! Having played co-op with both a fellow PC gamer and a PS3 gamer, it's hardly noticeable due to the lack of constant twitch reflexes required. You'll notice the PS3 player sloooooowly turning 180 degrees with their silly analog sticks rather than the quick movement of the KB+M, but that's about it. The benefits of a larger pool of players far outweighs any hangups one might have from playing with console gamers.

The item store needs it's own discussion, as it's currently drawing a lot of hate and ire on sites like metacritic. I don't like item stores and really, really dislike this generation's trend toward cutting games up to sell in chunks later. Thankfully, that isn't the case here and anyone that's played a Valve game should honestly know better than to jump to conclusions. There are no maps or gameplay affecting items for sale, they are purely cosmetic and some are unlocked through standard play. There is, for example, a hat for $2.50 that is unlocked for free just for finishing the single player campaign. I've unlocked several gestures and a skin playing halfway through the co-op campaign. None of it is necessary or required to keep up, only one other person at a time can even see whatever silliness your 'bot is dressed up with, and even then it's barely noticeable. If someone is so desperate to equip P-Body in a top hat that they'd spend money on it, that's up to them. But it is completely optional and shouldn't have any bearing on buying the game or not.

With all that said, Portal 2 does have some negatives.

The worst by far is the constant loading screens. Unlike Portal or Half-Life 2 where the loading was effectively blended in and didn't interrupt the flow of the game, Portal 2 suffers from it. You're taken to black screens with an Aperture Science logo showing progress now, sometimes at times that really break the pacing. I have no idea why this was changed from the system Valve had always used to great effect before, but being completely removed from what you were doing during, for instance, partway through a chase sequence on top of between every puzzle is just plain bad. On my PC the loads were quick and painless, but it definitely impacted pacing. I don't know if this is due to multiplatform development or a limitation of the Source engine, but it's overkill. Bring back the old system, Valve!

The PC version, inexplicably, had split-screen co-op dropped as a native feature. I realize that this isn't the most popular multiplayer mode for PC users, but for those of us with HTPCs capable of running Portal 2 it would have been fantastic. This is especially disappointing as the consoles have it. PC users can, through some dev console commands, get a hacked-together version of it running. A menu option would have been vastly preferred to putting in console commands 15 feet away on my tv though.

I was surprised to discover that the FOV is locked at the moment, even through console commands. It's set at 90, which should work for most everybody except those trying to play on EyeInfinity-like displays, but it's still very surprising for a Valve game. Hopefully this will be adjustable later on.

The single player campaign feels very easy at times and most of the Portal-esque twitch puzzles aren't present. The last third of the campaign begins to ramp the difficulty up, but I imagine that this is the reason why complaints regarding the game's length have been cropping up. It's easy enough that advanced Portal players are blazing through it, and unfortunately don't know (or, sadly, don't care) about some of the hidden areas. This is compounded by the game not shipping with challenge levels, so if you don't have anybody to play co-op with as an advanced player and fear random grouping, you might be out of content faster than you'd like. This will hopefully be solved by the SDK's release and the mod community producing new maps.

Those are really my only complaints, anything else is simply nitpicking.

I love this game to pieces and it is by far my favorite of the year so far.

DRM Note: Like all Valve products since 2004, Portal 2 uses Steamworks and requires Steam activation. This is what enables the cross platform co-op. If you're on a very slow internet connection or simply do not like the Steam client, this may be a no go for you. I've used Steam for years now with no problems but I understand some may not feel the same. It is *not* required that you download the entire game regardless of buying the retail copy, you can install it off the disc just like any other game. If you're having trouble doing so there is a very simple way to force it, but keep in mind that you will have to download the latest patches after your installation before you can disable updates and turn on offline mode.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 21, 2012 9:05 PM PDT


Dragon Age 2 - PC
Dragon Age 2 - PC
Offered by Shopville USA
Price: $11.45
44 used & new from $0.03

462 of 498 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars At times mediocre, but usually just painfully average with a handful of good moments., March 19, 2011
This review is from: Dragon Age 2 - PC (Video Game)
For the 'TLDR' crowd DA2 isn't a *bad* game per se, it's just very rushed and often schizophrenic about what kind of game it wants to be. Fans of Origins in particular will want to be wary, but even newcomers should give the demo a try and probably wait for it to go on sale. It likely won't take longer than a month or two, so you won't have to wait long.

For anyone else wanting a bit more detail...

Many, many fans of Dragon Age: Origins have lamented that a more appropriate title for it's divisive sequel would be 'Mass Dragon Effect 2.' I disagree, as aside from the new conversation wheel the two have very little in common. Dragon Age 2 is, in many ways, far more similar to another title of Bioware's: the often forgotten Jade Empire.

Like Jade Empire, DA2 is a console-focused RPG with much of the choices stripped out, shallow party members you don't interact with much, a set protagonist with a set background, an almost completely linear story, and features a combat system with a bent towards action RPGs/button mashers.

Unlike Jade Empire, DA2 is the sequel to a game that was the opposite of all of that and doesn't have the strong overarching story, pivotal decision moment, and detailed art design of Jade Empire to back it up.

I've spent a significant amount of time with DA2 across two different playthroughs in an attempt to be fair and try to understand some of the changes. My first game was as a DPS warrior on Nightmare, I finished the game with all the non-fetch quest (we'll get to that soon) side quests done in 32 hours. My second playthrough was as a mage with healer leanings due to my loathing of a certain party member on Normal, also with all of the quests done, in 22 hours. Act 3 of the second run was incredibly hard for me to get through, not because of difficulty but due to my own boredom. I have no urge whatsoever to replay the game anytime soon. That should speak for itself.

The absolute worst part of DA2 is how it shows the sign of a rushed development in nearly every facet. Music and codex entries from DA:O and it's DLC have been reused, environments and locations are reused over and over and over again, environments in general are nearly barren and devoid of things to interact with, and there is a surprising amount of purely filler fetch quests to try and pad the amount of content.

In terms of locations, I felt like I spent 80% of the time in Kirkwall, 10% of the time in Reused Dungeon X (Beach Dungeon/Cave Dungeon/Sewer Dungeon/Catacomb Dungeon), 1% of the time in the Deep Roads (much of which was reused for the Catacomb Dungeon), and 9% of the time staring at loading screens as I fast traveled between Kirkwall and Reused Dungeon X. The reused dungeons are a huge problem, anyone that is trying to dismiss it as a minor fault is underplaying it. You *will* get utterly sick of seeing the Wounded Coast and Sundermount tilesets to the point you simply don't want to play anymore. Nearly every side quest in the game takes place in these reused locations, and the game is almost entirely made up *of* side quests. They were reused so overtly that the map wasn't even edited, you'll see areas where the dungeon continues but you can't actually access due to suspiciously placed rocks or non-interactive doors or -- and I am not exaggerating -- INVISIBLE WALLS. When Hawke ran uselessly against an invisible wall in one of the repeated areas I exited the game in disgust and didn't come back to it until a few days later. It really is that bad.

Kirkwall isn't much better, and even has one of it's districts reused for a tileset, as it is nearly barren. Streets and important buildings are practically empty with only motionless non-interactive, largely silent NPCs loitering about amongst the occasional vendor or the rare quest NPC. For the ones that do speak when you walk by, they are shockingly repetitive. DA2 takes place over a span of 10 years, and yet the loitering crowds barely change. There will always be that one NPC in the Keep that bemoans not being able to see the Viscount for the entire game, even after a certain event in Act 2 that makes that line completely bizarre. You will quickly memorize who says what when you walk by them. This wouldn't be so bad if Kirkwall was just one of several major locations you spent the game in, like DA:O's Denerim, but this is literally the ONLY major location. At night the streets are even emptier and you will instead find the occasional spawn of enemy thugs/mercs instead, another blatant sign of being rushed.

Remember back to when you played Mass Effect 1 and how sick you were of the reused cave/bunker map for it's side quests. Now imagine if the game was gutted of it's major quest hubs and you were forced to stay on the Citadel the entire game, complete with loading screens for the different districts instead of elevators, and fast traveled to those caves and bunkers for every single side quest. You now have a pretty good idea of what DA2 is like.

DA2's main plot is a very, very slow starter that depends on side quests for almost all of Act 1 and 2 to fill it out. By the time it picks up at the end of Act 2 it's too late, and you're stumbling your way to the ending and realizing just how utterly linear the game is with a sense of "That's it?!" before you know it. The side quests themselves have the occasional high point, but for the most part they're quite simplified compared to DA:O with superficial choices at best and at worst they're little more than MMO fetch quests. This is largely due to the dialogue wheel and voiced protagonist, it's simply impossible to have the amount of ways DA:O had to solve quests with all the dialogue recorded for both a male and female Hawke. Unfortunately this means there is often only two (blatantly good or naive vs blatantly evil or practical) solutions for each quest, with the rare third option usually depending on what companions you've brought along. Even those third options can be deceptive and can result in one of the two good/bad results anyway. The consequences for these decisions have also been almost completely removed, especially in regards to how party members react. There is exactly one side quest that causes companions to turn on you (it's forced, nothing you say/no amount of friendship can stop it from happening, and it's only temporary), one companion quest that can result in that companion never coming back, and two forced main story events that can result in losing a companion each (one of which requires the prior companion coming back only to be sent away again). This is a far cry from how DA:O handled quest decisions and companion reactions. Now the worst that can happen is you'll earn Rival points if you do something completely against what that companion stands for. Lovely.

Your character in general is so much worse than DA:O as well. Dialogue suffers from the change to the wheel, often having "What? Why did Hawke say THAT?" moments even with the new 'emotion' icons. One of the few interesting additions to DA2 was the way Hawke's non-wheel lines would change in tone depending on what you've chosen before, so a snarky Hawke would be more inclined to be flippant or an aggressive/jerk Hawke would be more likely to behave as a jerk when you're not picking the lines yourself. This is hampered by the fact that Hawke is, in general, a complete jerk. The snarky "funny" lines tend to not be funny at all and even if you pick the "nice/peaceful" option all the time every time, Hawke will still spout incredibly inane/idiotic things when you're not in control. And that's the thing about Hawke, you're never in control. You're given a backstory right at the start, with a family you're supposed to care about, but nothing tangible in game to *make* you care about Hawke's personal story. So something tragic happens to Hawke's family member and one of two things happens: A.) Hawke will say something absurdly stupid (this is easily seen in the demo at a certain point, but it isn't the only time) causing a disconnect between the player and their character or B.) Hawke reacts emotionally but the player doesn't care due to the lack of development and is, again, disconnected. Hawke is never YOUR Hawke the way Shepard became YOUR Shepard in Mass Effect, instead it's on level with Jade Empire foisting Dawn Star on you as your best friend at the beginning. The character is incredibly bland and you never form any kind of emotional attachment to her, but you can never actually make her leave no matter how much of a jerk you are. She's just kind of *there.* So when Surprising Plot Revelation Y comes around you simply shrug while your character reacts much less ambivalently.

The companions fair slightly better than Hawke/Hawke's family does, but they're well below DA:O and Mass Effect standards. With the exception of Varric, they're stereotypes that are given little to no depth or just poorly written in general. Isabela is the stereotypical flirty hot video game chick that provides innuendo in banter, her only development (aside from her bust line from DA:O to DA2) is whether she's only slightly selfish or morally bankrupt selfish. Merril is supposed to be similar to Tali as the geeky/adorable character, but comes off as incredibly childish and frankly stupid. This is especially true in her companion quest, which was so obviously a bad idea with no real way to change the ending short of not accepting the quest that it's frustrating; the end to her quest also highlights just how bad the dialogue wheel's summary misrepresents what you actually say in an awful two-for-one representation of what's wrong with DA2. Fenris is a Broody Elf(tm) that stays a Broody Elf(tm) and seems to be inspired by the worst of anime and the Twilight series mushed together into a video game character, though his storyline at least had some promise before it's abrupt ending. Anders loses all of his often bizarre cheer from DA:Awakening and becomes an angry, ranty, obsessive plot device. Aveline is the stereotypical paragon/Knight character, and is as inoffensive but uninteresting as Jacob ("the priiiiiiiiize" romance aside) was from Mass Effect 2.

There simply isn't a character as interesting as Alistair or Morrigan or Shale or Leliana in DA2, and they never develop as much either. This is especially disappointing because Hawke has known these characters for 10 *years* by the end of the game vs your Warden traveling with the original crew for a single year.

Much has been made of the combat, and I can really only nod my head in agreement to a point. Nightmare is genuinely hard, but it's hard for the wrong reasons. The game has been balanced around the console gameplay of "Push the A button and Awesome happens!" leaving you with little room for party makeup. You *must* take Aveline as she is the only tank companion or make Hawke a tank as the 2-hander tanking that worked in Hard won't cut it. You *must* take Anders as he is the only companion that has heal spells or make Hawke a healer mage. With Anders this forces you down a certain story path in Act 3, leaving one of the few choices in the game as a non-choice. In DA:O I could have Alistair or Shale or even Dog tank and I could have Wynne or spec Morrigan to heal. I wasn't forced to make my character a tank/healer or take a character I hated and forced to make a plot decision due to the difficulty level I was playing on. This is because the game is balanced around having NO tank and NO healer and simply popping potions.

This is also the reason why there is no overhead camera or freeform camera, making the placement of AoEs with friendly fire on utterly frustrating. This is the reason why enemies come in magical, teleporting waves every fight, so console players won't get overwhelmed and be forced to swap to a character other than Hawke whilst Nightmare players have a group of enemies randomly spawn onto their mage and gib him. This is the reason why auto attack is borked (watch your selected melee character get knocked back or knock back whoever they were attacking and then stand there stupidly until you tell them to attack again), as auto attack was completely left out on the consoles. This is the reason why Hold Position is now a party wide toggle, so you can't individually tell your range not to move while allowing your melee to pursue. And so on and so on. On Casual and Normal the game is so easy they may as well just present a "Skip Combat?" option at the beginning of each encounter and simply give you the xp/loot.

I could write pages more to express my disappoint and where DA2 went wrong. The change in art style is irksome, as Darkspawn now look like Skeletor wannabes and Elves are hunchbacked skeletons with anime-huge eyes and weapons are reaching Final Fantasy levels of ridiculousness. Companion armor being locked serves no purpose as it's not simplified, you still need to swap out belts/amulets/rings/some weapons, it was solely to cut down on the number of models they had to make for the armor. The friendship/rivalry system is frustrating due to it's limitations. The story was especially disappointing, but it's hard to get into why it's so disappointing without giving out spoilers. In the end if you really like RPGs and in particular really like Bioware RPGs, you'll find something to like. It's just a matter of how much it's worth to you and how long you're willing to wait to play it. Myself, I wish I had waited for the inevitable Ultimate Edition to go on sale for $10 or so. Bioware games were amongst the few games I'd be willing to pay $60 for and pre-order, but that's no longer the case.

DRM note - There has been a lot of bickering and confusion over what, exactly, DA2 comes with. Some claim that SecuROM was used and installed, others say it only used the Release Control functionality and left behind inert files. Suffice to say, if DRM is a huge concern do some research and read through the thread on the Bioware Social forums. Mine didn't install anything extra on my PC before I completely uninstalled the game, but outside of that I have no idea.
Comment Comments (87) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 1, 2015 10:19 PM PST


Mafia II - PC
Mafia II - PC
Offered by eHubExpress
Price: $39.99
71 used & new from $9.92

100 of 103 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable 7-8/10 game, but with some glaring flaws., August 29, 2010
This review is from: Mafia II - PC (Video Game)
Opinions on this game have certainly proven to be as divisive as the initial reaction to the original Mafia in 2002, right down to the 4/10 Eurogamer review. It's understandable because while Mafia 2 does far more right than it does wrong, the wrongs are difficult to ignore.

Mafia 2 is a linear story-driven game set in the 1940s-1950s with an open world city as a backdrop for immersion purposes. This game is not a GTA4 clone and has never advertised itself to be one, any expectations for it to be so are entirely the fault of uninformed gamers. The city is about 10 square miles in size and highly detailed, it's a beautiful recreation of the time period and the devs use it effectively during certain story segments to give the impression of a city evolving with time. There are gas stations, clothing stores, diners, gun shops, body shops and a scrap yard/docking area to interact with throughout the game, along with different living residences depending on where you are during the storyline and locations that only open for missions. You will not find GTA-like mini games like throwing darts or anything like that, but that doesn't mean the open city is devoid of things to do. You can steal cars in multiple ways (breaking the window, picking the lock, or even shooting the lock) then take them to a body shop to change the plates and paint color to legalize it, then customize it further through engine upgrades for better handling and changing the tires for looks. You can pick fights with the various gangs that have established holds on various parts of the city, rob stores, or anger the police to see how long you can hold out. Just like the original Mafia, the city is all about creating immersion and giving opportunity for the player to create their own experiences rather than fill it with mini-games.

Mafia 2's story runs anywhere from 8-15 hours of game time, depending on difficulty level and how quickly you move through it. You play as Vito and are often accompanied by his childhood friend Joe, and spend most of the game in some state of proving yourself to one of the Mafia families in Empire Bay. My initial impression of the story wasn't a good one, but after playing it again it finally hit me what the story was about and my opinion changed drastically. Unlike Mafia 1, this is not a rags to riches story and this is not about the fall of an honorable man. Vito is not Tommy and he's not meant to be. Vito is a guy that is entirely driven by not becoming a loser dockworker like his father: he wants money, cars, women, the nice house, and the nice clothes. To him everything hinges on possessions and thus everything and everyone becomes possessions to him. It's the story of a destructive, selfish man who goes out and takes what he wants and how that devastates everyone around him. I really, really enjoyed the story, including the ending I originally found abrupt, once I realized that.

There has been some criticism leveled at Mafia 2 for racism and sexism, but most of it is not being looked at properly. Yes, the main characters are racist and sexist and there isn't anybody there to tell them off for it...because this takes place in the '40s and early '50s, from largely uneducated, ignorant, poor characters involved with the Mafia. Their attitudes were normal for the time period, social circles, and social stature. And as already said, Vito views women the same way he views cars and money; they are things to be obtained, not people to establish relationships with.

Yes, there are vintage Playboy covers/centerfolds as optional collectibles in-game and feature the nudity you'd expect from them. These have earned quite a bit of ire and are used as support for the game being sexist, but I -- as a female gamer -- don't agree with it. For one, they are completely optional and very easy to miss even if you're looking for them. They don't float above the ground and spin and glow and have a "CLICK ME!" sign above them like collectibles in other games. Instead, they're stashed on desks or half-under beds and other places you'd expect someone to leave them. They blend in perfectly with the environment and look only slightly different from other decorations...they're practically pixel hunts. They don't offer any kind of tangible reward outside of an achievement and completion percentage that would force you to collect them if you didn't want to. They also tie in perfectly with Vito's attitude...he's *exactly* the type of guy that'd grab some poor late night security guard's dirty magazine while robbing the place, and reflects his view of everything being possessions. It's just like the other collectible, the Wanted Posters. Vito would be just as inclined to yank down Wanted Posters as he would steal Playboy mags, there's nothing random or out of place about them. If they were required to unlock guns or cars or something from a gameplay point of view, I'd understand the furor over them, but as is I have no problem with their implementation.

For better or worse the difficulty is nowhere near the original's occasionally punishing level, and veterans of the first will want to skip right to the Hard level to avoid falling asleep. I honestly can't imagine who they tuned the Easy/Normal difficulties for, as I am nowhere near an amazing third person shooter player but even I blazed through Normal as if nothing was even shooting back before turning it up. On Hard if you don't make use of the cover system you'll end up very dead very fast, usually within three shots from a typical pistol. The cover system is standard fare nowadays, if you've played Mass Effect 2 or Gears of War you'll be right at home. The shooting missions all take place in unique areas of the city that you normally don't have access to and the set pieces are great, but just like Mafia 1 you will spend a significant amount of time driving to and from locations, doing escort missions, drop off missions, and so on.

The amount of time spent in the car is both a blessing and a curse, as the city and music is all a fantastic experience, but it also means you get a lot of opportunities to see the quirky AI at work and some people are going to be annoyed at having to obey the speed limit or risk the police. Yes, while they've removed the requirement to stop at red lights, police will still come after you if they catch you speeding. They've added a kind of cruise control to keep your speed under control this time around if needed though. Some of the AI for the other motorists can be very strange. I had one civilian car randomly decide to slam into me on a bridge and send me plummeting to my demise, while another didn't acknowledge my existence and slammed into me and caused the police to chase me for a hit and run. On the other hand, there have been some pretty fantastic moments just watching the AI interact. One occurred while I was stopped at a red light (habit), and one car rear ended another. The victim jumped out of his car to drag the offending driver out to start pummeling him...not noticing the police car that witnessed the entire thing, who also jumped out to break up the fight and issue fines/arrests. Yes, the AI has flaws, but it's worth putting up with it's quirks to have completely unscripted moments like this occur.

So that's been a lot of praise, what went wrong?

It's mostly down to what seems to be cut or just plain held back content. The story is pretty short and there is no option for an after-the-story free roam, so you have to load up previous chapters and ignore current mission objectives to do so, which causes problems with the saving mechanics (more on that soon). Not having a free roam available is pretty hard to forgive, as this was in the original and worked great.

There is also a complete lack of side quests in Empire Bay...but the introductions and NPCs for them are suspiciously still present, and even tell you to come back later for more jobs that don't actually exist. These side missions were either outright cut due to time or held back to release as DLC packs. There are at least four NPCs that are prime candidates for future DLC that the game desperately needed to begin with, and it doesn't stop there. There are shockingly few available cars to steal and clothes to buy in game, so that makes it hard to see all of the pre-order exclusives held back. It's even to the point that one of the car models (the Hot-Rod in the Greaser pack) appears once in-game, and there is no possible way for you to store that car in your garage...even if you go to pains to get both the mission related car and it's variant out into the open world by using one car to push the other out of the mission zone. It's perfectly drivable, upgradeable, and everything else, but if you don't have the pre-order pack, too bad. Which is a real shame and feels like a really cheap move by 2K.

They also cut public transportation and melee weapons, along with all sorts of little touches (sitting down on benches or chairs, newspapers, all kinds of interactive stuff). The melee weapons are especially missed, as the fist-fights often feel very anemic and simple without them.

The save/check point system is also problematic. It's pretty much the mirror image of Mafia 1, but this is something that was a negative back then, too. They didn't need to implement quick saves, but a more thorough auto-save feature would have been a huge bonus. As it is, one of the AI drivers randomly sending you off a bridge can result in a lot of lost progress. In addition to the auto saves being sparse, which can make trying to do a free roam game difficult all by itself, reloading a previous chapter wipes your current progress. There are no save slots, so you either continue from your last auto-save, load up a previously played chapter (thus replacing the auto save), or start a new game (also replacing the auto save). This, quite frankly, sucks. It wouldn't be so bad if there was a free-roam mode unlocked after finishing the story, but add that to the skimpy amount of auto save points and no free roam mode and it's a major oversight.

I also really dislike the health regen mechanic. I realize that this was mostly a change made to try and appeal to the Halo-generation, but in a lot of ways it makes the diners almost useless. Between the regen, the free food at your home, and the auto-healing between chapters, it's very rare that you need to use the diners or food stands unless you're doing some free roam mischief. And (yes, I am harping about it) since there is no free roam mode, this is pretty glaring.

As a side note, Mafia 2 does use Steamworks as it's DRM, so there is no getting around attaching it to the Steam client even if you buy retail and negates whatever used market that still exists for PC games. Steamworks enables some very comprehensive stat tracking (including an amusing stat for time spent looking at Playboys), a smooth DLC store experience (even though you'll likely end up angry at what ends up there), and achievements for the OCD to collect. I do realize that it'll be a dealbreaker for some even if it doesn't bother me at all, but that is something everybody needs to decide for themselves. If you're unsure or have never used Steam before, you can try the demo and see how it works...just make sure to delete your progress on the demo before starting a new game on the full version, as there's a progress-related bug with the save data.

Despite some (pretty major) complaints, I still enjoyed the heck out of this game and recommend it if you enjoyed the first or are just a fan of single player story-based games. I'd actually put the star rating at a 3.5 if possible, but rounded up due to genuinely enjoying the story and game despite the flaws.
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 12, 2013 7:09 PM PDT


Acer AspireRevo AR3610-U2002 Desktop (Dark Blue) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Acer AspireRevo AR3610-U2002 Desktop (Dark Blue) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect as a starter HTPC, but it takes some work., August 14, 2010
I'd been wanting a HTPC for a while but my interest had never been enough to justify planning out an optimum build and putting the system together. Then one of the major HTPC forum communities I lurked in started to get really excited over this system, and after some hemming and feet dragging I decided to go ahead and give it a try. It's been totally worth it, but make no mistake that you're going to be spending some time and frustration to get everything perfect. You won't be plugging it in and getting right to your media library by any stretch of the imagination.

I've been using it for close to three months now solely with XBMC running on top of a minimal install of Ubuntu. The system comes pre-loaded with Windows 7, but don't get attached to the idea that you'll be running Windows Media Center on top of Windows 7 and getting perfect HD performance. The system just isn't powerful enough for that, even if you break the warranty and increase the RAM to 4 gigs as I've done. I did try out using Media Player Classic with graphic acceleration in Win7 and got some decent results, but honestly? If all you want is something that barebones there are far cheaper alternatives that are much closer to plug and play. Western Digital has a few media drives/players that may be exactly what you're looking for. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done. This system, though, starts to shine once you show some patience and get over whatever aversions to Linux/Ubuntu you may have. It can be intimidating if all you've ever used are Windows systems, but it's well worth the effort. Where Win7 lagged just to bring up the uninstaller for the pre-packaged software (more on that later), Ubuntu was downright snappy. If you want the customization/looks of XBMC or it's equivalents but are determined to use Windows, this is not the system for you. You'll be much happier building one from scratch.

With that said, here's what I did as soon as I got the system:

1. Uninstalled all of the pre-installed gunk from Win7. From McAfee to Acer software, the drive is filled with worthless junk that drags the system performance down. Not to mention the HDD space.
2. Gave Win7 a try with MPC and XBMC. Wasn't impressed.
3. Partitioned the drive and installed minimal Ubuntu. Menus were still a little slow due to the stock RAM, but I wasn't willing to breach the warranty until I was sure I was keeping it.
4. Set myself up with a guide for tweaking XBMC specifically on a Revo, and went to town. XBMC's own forums has a ton of guides and users that are happy to offer help and suggestions, don't be intimidated by this!
5. After getting XBMC set up and being pleased with how everything was working, went ahead and yanked the case apart and added the additional RAM. Also noted the dinky wifi included.
6. Grabbed a USB wifi adapter, remote, and enjoyed HTPC nirvana. Mostly.

Make no mistake, Nvidia's ION is what makes this system and it is truly a beast. I've yet to find a piece of media in my library that it doesn't play without a hitch, including my self-made Bluray rips streaming over my network from my main PC. We're talking high bitrate 24 gig rips. The system is also dead silent and fits behind my tv perfectly (on that note, be absolutely sure that your HD TV has options for either full pixel, 1:1 pixel mapping, etc...it'd be a bummer if you got this far only to have the sides cut off!). It's also surprisingly portable with some preparation. I loaded a USB drive with some of my media and brought it and the Revo with me instead of lugging around a bunch of discs for movie night at a friend's. It worked beautifully.

The biggest problem is that the Revo will choke on anything that isn't hardware accelerated, which can make the big streaming sites less than appealing. Getting Flash to work properly can still be a trial due to Adobe dragging it's feet on a Linux release, but it's possible. There's still menu lag in XBMC as well; if you have any experience with the software and some of the flashier fanart themes you'll understand why. The included HDD is pretty pitiful speed wise; a USB 2.0 drive will give better performance and streaming or an external SATA drive will destroy it. The included wifi can be a little flakey and even when it works it's not exactly the speediest, do yourself a favor and grab a USB adapter if you're planning to stream over a network.

As pleased as I am with this system, I can't help but view it as a first step. I fully expect to build a bigger, badder HTPC soon enough and retire the Revo to the bedroom/portable use. Despite the flaws this system is great, the CPU is really the only thing holding it back from being near perfect.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2011 9:48 PM PST


Batman: Under the Red Hood [Blu-ray]
Batman: Under the Red Hood [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Bruce Greenwood
Price: $8.19
46 used & new from $5.68

135 of 141 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best DCU animated movie yet!, July 26, 2010
I've liked most of the DC's recent forays into animation on varying levels, but none of them really hit the mark for me. The scripts in those other titles just weren't good enough and brought the entire production down. Many of them had excellent voice actors and animation, but that couldn't save a poor script.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is different.

Managing to cram five different arcs from the comics into a movie just under 90 minutes is impressive. Managing to do that and keep the entire thing remarkably faithful and have it turn out well is on another level.

The movie starts off with the final moments of the comic arc 'Death in the Family' featured in Batman #426-429, where the Joker sadistically kills Jason Todd aka the second Robin. This scene isn't extremely graphic and most of the violence is kept off screen, but as other reviewers have warned please take the PG-13 rating seriously. From there the story jumps forward five years and compresses Batman #635-650, taking bits and pieces from all four story arcs, to form the rest of the movie. Yes, there are changes. Some are large, including writing out Superboy Prime's role (which is a very very good thing). Others are smaller, from leaving out certain characters and subplots to changing how the Red Hood gets a hold of the Joker. None of these truly matter, as the heart of the story has been distilled and streamlined in a very faithful way.

So faithful are they that some of the dialogue is taken straight out of the comics, including the finale. This is how comic adaptations should be done.

For the most part the cast is excellent, though there will be fans that are disgruntled over fan favorites Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill not contributing. They've defined their respective characters for so long that many, including myself, have a hard time accepting new voice actors in their stead. Bruce Greenwood proved a lot of people wrong though, and I could see him voicing Batman from here on out.

John DiMaggio had the biggest shoes to fill though, and didn't quite do it for me. His Joker was a cross between Ledger's movie portrayal and Hamill's animation counterpart, and while not bad by any means, just didn't sound right to me. It didn't help that I kept hearing Bender from Futurama, either. The laugh was almost perfect, but his speaking voice was just...too husky. This is absolutely going to be up to individual preference though. His line delivery is excellent and there's nothing wrong with his performance. I'm just too used to Hamill, I guess.

The rest of the cast is spot on and practically a dream cast. Neil Patrick Harris is great as the light hearted, cracking wise Nightwing. Jensen Ackles is given the difficult task of voicing a character that covers the entire emotional spectrum during the course of the movie, and does it well. Jason Isaacs is by far the best Ra's al Ghul we've had. But my personal favorite has to be Wade Williams as Black Mask. He IS that character for me now.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is easily on par with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, that other excellent animated film. It very well may end up being better after additional viewings if I can put Hamill as the Joker behind me. I really hope this is a sign of things to come from DC's animation division.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 24, 2013 3:43 PM PST


Battlefield Bad Company 2 - PC
Battlefield Bad Company 2 - PC
Offered by BLS Mart
Price: $19.95
55 used & new from $0.01

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Look past the release day hiccups!, March 4, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
*EDIT* Surprise surprise, almost all of the connectivity issues have been solved. The inevitable server browser patch is incoming as well. When are people gunna learn some patience with online games?

SINGLE PLAYER:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is the sequel to the console game Bad Company. The single player campaign picks up with the same lovable, foul-mouthed band of brothers from the original game and places you in the role of their newest recruit. Playing the first game isn't necessary to understand the plot (what little there is), but figuring out who's who could be confusing to new players. You're pretty much dropped right in the middle of a squad featuring some pretty large personalities and are left to muddle through who they are and who you're playing as. The manual, however, does have a section explaining all of this if you're confused. If all fails, off to wikipedia!

Overall, there isn't much to say about the single player campaign. It's very short at about 4-5 hours with a small amount of replay to find all the unlockables/collectibles and really doesn't break the mold with it's plot or narrative. Unlike that other shooter released last year, Bad Company 2 doesn't put on a pretentious face about being a serious game with a serious message, all the while throwing ridiculous plot hole after ridiculous plot hole the player's way with a fair dose of media controversy to drum up sales. Instead, it's the video game equivalent to a big budget action flick, complete with a ridiculous plot and cracking-wise characters, and it revels in it. It's fluff and unrealistic, but fun with some really great sequences that are a blast to play. It just doesn't last long enough.

The real strength of Bad Company 2 however, is it's multiplayer.

MULTIPLAYER:

The multiplayer will be instantly recognizable to fans of the Battlefield series and fans of the online shooter genre in general. For everybody else that may not be as familiar: you create a soldier, pick a class (Assault, Recon, Medic, or Engineer), and start playing in one of the four modes with up to 32 players on 12 maps. As you play and accomplish goals (kills, assists, taking tactical positions, earning medals/achievements, etc) you level your character and unlock additional weapons and equipment for the class you're playing as and in general. You are not locked into a class once you begin playing, you can switch to another class in the middle of a match if need be, and none of your progress will be wiped. You can also have multiple soldiers if needed. There are also numerous vehicles to try and master depending on the map/mode, with everything from tanks and 4X4s to helicopters and patrol boats.

Bad Company 2 is not meant to replace Battlefield 3 in any way, shape, or form. It is it's own beast and a sequel to a console game. We all know what that last part means: smaller player cap and smaller maps. Just remember, Battlefield 3 is still incoming and will premiere the Frostbite 2.0 engine. Bad Company 2 may be a smaller in scale version of a Battlefield game, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun.

Bad Company 2 uses dedicated servers instead of a person-to-person lobby/matchmaking system. Every server is rented by the community from professional hosters with extremely fast connections to support them, and there are a ton of servers to chose from. It's almost impossible not to find a server playing the mode you want with an acceptable amount of lag. You can use the server browser (currently having some lag issues) to find exactly what you want or have the game place you into an open server running the mode/map of your choice. If not, you always have the option of pooling together the funds with a group of friends to run exactly what you want.

Additionally, as of right now there are no modding tools available. DICE has claimed that this is a result of the current version of the Frostbite Engine not being mod friendly, with promises to fix it in later versions. Chances are that BC2 will not get mods, but Battlefield 3 will.

They've also removed prone for balance reasons, specifically because of snipers being way too difficult to see in the environment. No dolphin diving for you!

The details:

Classes:
Assault - This is the infantry grunt and fairly straight forward. Big guns, likes grenade launchers, excellent at soldier to soldier combat in the thick of things.

Recon - The sniper class. Along with specializing in long distance kills, the sniper can ruin a player's day by slapping C4 on vehicles or calling in mortar strikes.

Engineer - Vehicle specialists. From repairing armor to destroying an enemy tank annihilating your teammates, a good engineer is very much loved. Electrocute enemies with the repair tool if you're feeling particularly amusing.

Medic - These guys can place med packs around the battlefield to heal their team in strategic cover spots and can zap killed players back to life with the defib kit. And you can run around zapping enemy players with the defib for pretty hilarious kill videos, too.

Modes:
Rush - Defend or destroy a base for as long as reinforcements are available.

Conquest - Capture and hold flags across the map, with vehicles unlocking the longer they're held. Probably the most played mode right now.

Squad Rush - A smaller, more aggressive version of Rush. Two squads of four each defending and attacking bases. This mode is great for organized play.

Squad Deathmatch - Four squads with a single vehicle on the map. First squad to 50 kills wins.

THE ENGINE/PRESENTATION:

DICE created the Frostbite Engine in order to have full control over how their games look and sound. With Frostbite 1.5 in Bad Company 2, it's truly paying off. Fully destructible environments add an entirely new dimension to the battlefield as cover is destroyed around you and buildings can collapse on unfortunate squads. The game looks great aside from some low-res textures thanks to the consoles, and scales nicely. You can adjust the FOV in the ini settings to your liking with quite a few graphics options to tweak until you find the frame rate sweet spot for your system. The UI and menus have been designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind, even if it depresses me that this is now considered a feature rather than a standard for a PC game.

Special mention needs to be made for the sound quality. Bad Company 2 uses full HDR sound with multiple settings for speaker type and a truly aggressive beast of a track called War Tapes. There is nothing like this mix in any other game on the market. If you have some nice speakers or quality headphones, switch to this setting and let it rip.

THE DRM:

I tend to be middle of the road when it comes to DRM. I like Steam, but generally loathe anything that imposes install limits or interferes with my ability to play the game I just bought. The DRM here finds a pretty appealing balance. The more militant faction of the anti-DRM groups will still be outraged, but for the most part it's nothing but sound and fury. Bad Company 2 does have SecuROM, but it is not the heavy handed version that outraged so many (including myself). SecuROM is used as a wrapper around the game executable and has a couple of support files in the game installation directory. This means that it does not install kernel software of any kind, only runs when the game is launched, and is completely removed when the game is uninstalled. The game does require you to authenticate it, but you can do this in two ways:

Disc Check: SecuROM will not go online at all, will never go online at all, and has no install limit. The DVD is required to be in the drive every time you want to play.

Online authentication: When the game is launched, SecuROM will *ASK PERMISSION* to go online and authenticate. If allowed to do so, it will communicate to the master server to see how many times the game as been authenticated and to verify it is a legit copy. Once done, it will never go online again for that install and you can play completely offline without the disc. Most hardware changes will *NOT* trigger another authentication with this method, but if it does you simply uninstall the game to restore the original activation and reinstall. That's it. They are automatically revoked when the game is uninstalled. There are 10 available authentications available to be used at the same time, and each authentication is good for 10,000 days without reconnecting to the master server. There are options to simply deauthenticate the game without uninstalling it (if you're wanting to reformat the drive and don't want to bother with an uninstall, for example). This is the only option for digital copies for obvious reasons.

In theory, you could install the game on 10 PCs with the online authentication and an additional PC to be used with the disc. Even if you lose all of your online authentications, you can still use the disc if you have a retail copy until EA grants you more. This is very generous in an age where Ubisoft is trying to push single player games into being forcefully kept online. It should be noted however that the game serial must be registered to an EA account, meaning one game = one account = one legit game serial can be online at a time. This means that as of the time of this review there is NOT an option for LANs. The devs have hinted that it's something they are considering for later, but don't take that as a promise written in blood.

*EDIT* In the latest patch the Steam version of BC2 has had SecuROM patched out. More options for everyone!

OVERALL:

+ Fun single player, but...
- Way too short of a campaign, single player enthusiasts will want to skip this one or wait for a steep discount.
+ Dedicated servers!
+ Fun, balanced, hectic multiplayer. It's not Battlefield 2's huge 64 player maps, but they've compensated with excellent map design.
- A few more unlocks for further soldier customization would have been great. Certain Other Devs definitely offered way too much, but BC2 might be a tad on the skimpy side. This makes the medic feel a bit weak in the beginning due to most of his tools having to be unlocked rather than having unlocks for the tools. This is more of a nitpick however.
- No mods
- Smaller max player size, there was just something epic about BF2's 64 player matches on gigantic maps. However, this does not ruin the game at all and everything has been tuned with the 32 player cap in mind.
+ Removed prone. This very well could be a negative for someone else, but I don't miss it so far. There is plenty of cover and foliage that crouch works just as well without making snipers impossible to spot.
+ Good looking engine with destructible environments
+ Amazing sound
+ Reasonable DRM with options that should suit all but the most opposed
- No LAN options. This is a bummer.
- EA's server instability. This minus should hopefully go away within a week, but it's definitely irking quite a few people right now. I can still play even within prime time, but there is noticeable lag when loading the server browser and accessing my character stats after a match. It wouldn't be a Battlefield game without release day server browser problems though.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 6, 2010 2:17 PM PST


After Midnight
After Midnight
16 used & new from $4.98

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Wait for the official dvd!, September 20, 2004
This review is from: After Midnight (DVD)
Do not purchase this dvd. It's simply going to be a bunch of interviews about the band, but not actually featuring the band themselves.

Evanescence will be releasing sometime this year a dvd featuring one of their live performances, as well as extras. Do yourself a favor and skip After Midnight.


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