Alone in the Dark

I’d been slowly composing a quick write up for Alone in the Dark in my head over the last couple of days when I saw Zero Punctuation’s video review and realized I didn’t need to do anything. He’s done it better than I ever could have and my views align with his perfectly… we even stopped playing at the exact same point. So without further ado, here is a review I fully endorse and would’ve written if he hadn’t beat me to it. Just follow the link below for the video review.

NSFW Language

Is Microsoft squandering their lead in the console war?

Microsoft has made a few good changes lately. Upping the warranty for the red ring of death to 3 years, finally doing something about the red ring of death, getting several games that used to be Playstation exclusives released on the 360. But there is one glaring problem that until recently I couldn’t put my finger on. I knew it was out there, I just couldn’t vocalize because there was no precedent, there were no other broadband connected consoles to compare to so I figured it just wasn’t to be. I’m talking about user created content on a console.

It’s actually much broader than that, but essentially, at the core of the problem is the fact that xbox live isn’t an open network. Everything is tightly controlled by Microsoft. Remember the Gears of War maps that came out recently? Epic wanted them to be free, it was Microsoft that demanded the maps be premium content. I’d like to blame Microsoft for the Guitar Hero song pack pricing, but seeing as how Red Octane, or Activision, or whoever owns the franchise now hasn’t spoken up, I don’t know where to lay the blame for that one. The point I’m trying to make is that as nice as a global friends list and voice for every game is, it’s not going to make up for the fact that the PS3 is an open system where developers can release add ons and map packs and even user created content on their own without Sony (or in the case of Live, Microsoft) getting in the way demanding this and that must be charged for, this or that has to be released later or earlier or even stating that content can’t be released at all.

This interview is what crystallized the whole situation for me. The fact that Unreal Tournament III can have mods on the PS3 is enough to break me away from the 360 for that game. If more games continue in this trend and Microsoft doesn’t loosen the death grip they have on Xbox Live they will start losing gamers to the more flexible gaming platform.

Come on Microsoft, I prefer your blades to the Sony Media Cross Bar, I prefer the universal friends list to Sony’s patched together mess. I don’t even mind paying $60 a year for an online gaming service. But when you start limiting what publishers can release, or start messing with a publishers pay schedule, forcing them to charge for something that they themselves would like to be free. I’ll leave. I will pack up my bags and head out the door. Don’t make me…

A couple of multiplayer game betas I managed to get an invite to.

I’m sure everyone has more than enough Halo 3 news to keep them occupied until well after the game actually ships, so I’ll keep this short. It plays great. If you like the feel of either of the other Halo titles you’ll feel right at home with this one. Yes, the graphics aren’t as polished as many hoped they would be, but it’s a beta. They could improve quite a bit before the game goes gold.

The other beta I’ve been playing this week is Warhawk for the PS3. Because of the timing of the betas I really can’t help but compare the two. It’s not really fair seeing as how Bungie has a couple games under their belt to base Halo3 on and Warhawk developer Incognito apparently only has Twisted Metal to fall back on… but hey, life isn’t fair.

Warhawk looks pretty good, arguably better than Halo3 at this point in time. Remember, both are in beta right now and a lot could change before they go gold. Warhawk also has a lot of vehicles to play with, and said vehicles have really good control and feel to them once you get used to the tilt controls on the airplanes. Where Warhawk falls flat is the controls for the soldiers on foot. The reticule moves slowly at first and speeds up as you move the right stick farther out from center. This works well with vehicles, but doesn’t feel right when controlling a foot soldier. It makes precise movement and aiming very difficult and, for me, very frustrating. At one point I basically gave up trying to aim at all and just let the auto aim do it’s thing while I strafed back and forth, shooting enemies. The scary thing is that that worked quite well. What that says about skill I don’t know.

The second group of issues I have with Warhawk is basic multiplayer commands, options, and conveniences. Again Incognito’s lack of experience in this field is the main thing holding them back. The game has some of the more obvious things right, like robust server lists that can be sorted by any column and player lists in game that show ping times, as opposed to the dumbed down green bars. Unfortunately other things are completely missing, like an icon on the player list showing who’s talking, or as was happening last night, who’s creating ear bleeding feedback. Or an easy way to mute said player, assuming you can figure out who it is. Also missing are icons even showing who has a mic period.

Fortunately, the reason for having a beta test is to find out about issues like these and fix them before releasing the game. I still have high hopes for Warhawk (Halo 3 is almost spot-on already) and hopefully Incognito can fix the majority of the game’s issues before shipping.

Logitech PS3 Cordless Mediaboard works with PCs

I’ve been looking for a decent wireless keyboard with a built in touchpad to use with my Media Center PC for a while now and I just thought I’d let everyone know that there is a good alternative to the $200 diNovo, it even comes from the same company, Logitech. It’s sold as a PS3 accessory and as such it was in the games aisle with all the other PS3 goodies. It has a standard, square touchpad that would look right at home on any laptop along with an on/off switch. To save batteries, I guess. There is no numberpad. The good news is that it comes with a standard wireless USB dongle and works perfectly with my MCE PC. So no more goofy mouse-on-the-couch and big-ass full size keyboard sitting on the coffee table. Best of all? It’s less than half the price of the diNovo at right around $80.

Westinghouse 42W2 LCD 1080p Monitor

I decided to go HD after buying my PS3 late last year. After much research I ended up buying a 42″ 1080p monitor from Westinghouse.

First off, everything you ever wanted to know, and some stuff you’d probably rather not know about this monitor (it’s technically not a TV because it doesn’t have a tuner built in) can be found in this thread over at the avsforum site. If you don’t feel like reading over 200 pages of posts, I’ll try and sum it up.

Westinghouse is a value brand, so they cut corners here and there. An example would be quality control. There seem to be a large number of these monitors with banding issues (vertical bands of color that are not lit evenly) and dead pixels. These monitors also have issues with the PS3, notably “sparkling” when displaying 1080p through the HDMI port. Luckily this television has two DVI ports, one which works flawlessly with the PS3 at 1080p. The good news is that, once setup properly, this monitor has excellent picture quality, often rivaling that of sets which cost twice as much, and often these more expensive sets don’t have as many inputs as the Westinghouse.

As a consumer, I took a look at all the bad, good, and otherwise, regarding this monitor and decided that for the most part, I could deal with some bugs in exchange for the excellent value I would be getting.  It also helps your peace of mind if you have a vehicle that the new tv or monitor will fit into so you can easily bring it back to the store.

My experience with the Westinghouse has been very good.  I was lucky and got one with no dead pixels, minimal banding (it’s only noticeable on certain panning scenes with solid color backgrounds) and the HDMI input even works well with the PS3!  There is noticeable sparkling only on still images after the sets been on for more than an hour or so.  If I had to do it again I would make the same purchase.  Just keep in mind, if you aren’t as easy going about some of its drawbacks you may want to look into the Sony Bravia line.  They have a 40″ 1080p set but you’ll pay a $500 premium for it and lose a tiny bit of screen size.

PS3 Network

Anyone else getting odd errors trying to log into the playstation network to get demos or even the update for Resistance Fall of Man? Please oh please don’t let Sony have underestimated the demand put on the network by all the christmas consoles being setup today, on top of everything else please don’t let that be the case here. Normally I’d call a buddy or two and see if they’re having similar issues or if it’s just me, but with the supply issues Sony’s already had I don’t know anyone else with a PS3, so I’ll just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s my internet connection. Cause surely Sony would’ve made sure their network infrastructure could handle the tiny amount of consoles they’ve managed to produce. Surely.

Resistance Fall of Man early impressions

I’ve spent some time with the PS3. The only game I picked up was Resistance, which at first comes off sort of like a Duke Nukem ripoff, having great production quality but with no weight or atmosphere to the game. After a couple of hours of single player it really picks up and starts doing some very neat things. Large battles with lots of AI on both sides all going crazy, throwing grenades and shooting each other with no slow down. So things are looking up, plus the difficulty really starts to ramp up once you get deeper into the single player. Multiplayer on the other hand had me from the first minute. Absolutely kicks butt with 40 players on a map at a time, persistent online characters (like R6: Vegas) and plenty of game types. In multiplayer the weightless, fast pace is a good thing, making the gameplay even more frantic than normal.

I’ve got quite a few thoughts on the PS3 itself I’ll put together and post up later. Sony’s had a lot of mis-steps with this one, but for every couple of things they did wrong they got a couple of things right. We’ll see how they add up next post.