Kobe, Phelps, Tony Hawk and A-Rod love Guitar Hero

If you haven’t seen this yet, here it is: The Guitar Hero: World Tour commercial featuring the above mentioned stars re-enacting the Tom Cruise ‘Risky Business’ scene. The Mamba is on the microphone.

There are some people still that think video games aren’t mainstream. Riiight.

Review: NBA 2K9

I’m not sure if it was the classic Lakers-Celtics matchup in the Finals, the emergence of Chris Paul as the best point guard in the world or watching King James do his best Atlas impression with the Cavaliers — but this is most excited I’ve been about a new NBA season in years. I’m probably not alone.

“NBA 2K9″ seems to understand this, which is why it comes to us this season with an even stronger game than in years past.

There’s a laundry list of new features in this game, but the one thing that stays with you is the overall on-court experience.

You get the full TV-style treatment the moment you fire up the first game, complete with video footage spotlighting a certain player on both teams, a look at the announce team and the starting lineups. You even get slow motion mini-replays in between quarters.
What really sticks out is the pure realism of the visuals, from the players to the crowd to the arena itself.

The player models are exquisite — when you have the ability to actually READ some of the words on Allen Iverson’s tattoos or count the stars on LeBron’s ink, you know you’ve reached a special level of detail.

That kind of approach extends to the players’ individual talents, as they play and move like their real-life counterparts.

Shawn Marion still has his drop-dead-ugly jumper, Dwight Howard destroys everyone under the rim, Kobe is practically unstoppable, while Chris Paul can toss perfect alley-oops to Tyson Chandler. It’s especially fun to play with Paul, as the announcer and crowd unleash a “Wooooo!” cheer when he scores — just like the real crowd in New Orleans. I also learned the value of now being able to change my shot in mid-air, so you can take it to the rack with a little more confidence.

All this realism extends to the strategic part of hoops as well, as players have the chance to run and perfect a number of set plays from the various playbooks of all of the NBA teams.

However, the price of all this realism is that the control scheme is one of the most complicated you’ll find in any sports game.

If you’ve never played a 2K hoops game before, you’ll be stuck trying to play a lot of run-and-gun as you attempt to learn the multitude of techniques used for post-up play, pick-and-rolls and even the difference between spin moves and hesitation dribbles. Basketball is meant to be a fluid game, but this Bible’s worth of controls would probably scare off some people.

One more feature I wanted to mention was the ability to meet up with nine other ballers online for a nice game of virtual 5-on-5. There are few things better than setting up a cutting teammate for an easy bucket or playing a classic inside-outside game with your buddy in the post. It’s hoops at its best.

It’d be easy to say this is the finest hoops title out there, but like I said before, it’s also the most complex. Practice makes perfect.

NBA 2K9
2K Sports
Multiple platforms
Score: 9/10

Albion is voting ‘no’ on Prop. 8

I rarely, if ever, want to bring politics into this space, but I thought I’d share this little tidbit with you.

Just for the hell of it, I decided to target some journeying women on the road to Bowerstone (one of the towns in Fable II) to see if my female character could dance, whistle, pose and fart her way into their hearts. One of them came away impressed and adoring (in a fan sort of way — there’s an info screen that indicated that she thought my character was just really cool).

But the other, a noblewoman, was ready to marry her. My character was thisclose to pulling it off, but there was just one problem — the ring my character was carrying around wasn’t good enough for her.

Fear not, my sword-swinging, rifle-carrying, eyepatch-wearing heroine. Albion’s a big place.

First take: Fable II

Woman_Hero_02.jpg

With games like Fallout 3, Gears of War 2 and LittleBigPlanet highlighting my calendar, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to make time for Fable 2, the much-hyped sequel from Peter Molyneux’s Lionhead Studios. I spent a few hours poking around the fictional land of Albion, and here’s some mental notes I took.

- OK, I know that online co-op isn’t available yet, so I can’t speak to that. However, I’m trying to figure out if I’m annoyed or intrigued by the floating orbs. The orbs represent your friends playing the game online — all you have to do is interact with the orb and your buddies can jump into your game (or you into theirs). The problem is, they can sometimes be an eyesore. I had one of my “friends” practically floating over my face while I was trying to forge a sword for some extra cheddar. That sucked.

- If you’ve played God of War, then you’ll have no issues slicing through people in Fable II‘s tweaked combat system. I built a female character dressed in crimson wearing an eyepatch, and there’s something quite satisfying about mauling a group of bandits with some who looks like that. It’s like the badass commander I made in Mass Effect with a scar over her eye who really didn’t have any problems killing the last of an ancient alien race. I’ll make sure my character falls somewhere in the “chaotic good” category, with some evil deeds mixed in. Let’s see how that works.

- I need to play with the dog more. He’s helped me find treasure, he’s really easy to train, and I enjoy the fact that I have an unlimited supply of little rubber balls to play fetch with him. Just to be sure, I wanted to see what would happen if I tossed a ball (by mistake) over a cliff. The answer? Nothing. Nice to know that I can’t kill my dog via raging stupidity.

- Albion is huge. Thank goodness for the shortcuts on the maps.

- I like Albion’s general look, which was apparently inspired by forest scenery in martial arts movies. I always think adventure environments should carry a sense of wonder, and Albion has certainly done that.

- Maybe it’s my self-diagnosed ADD kicking in, but I get really annoyed when a bunch of citizens start talking to me all at once. I’m one of those people that likes to listen to every conversation, mainly for fear of missing something important, if not entertaining.

- I could spend all day chopping wood and hammering steel to make money in the game. It’s strangely addicting.

Review: Dead Space

You can count on any work of space horror to boast some time-tested elements: An abandoned experimental ship, a frightened crew sent to check it out and massive death and dismemberment as said crew is taken apart by whatever creature, virus or mystic force is left on board. And, of course, a lot of this happens in extremely poor lighting.

What I like about Dead Space is that it doesn’t run from these elements. Rather, it embraces them and weaves them together with such skillful efficiency that it enables the player to fully enjoy other important things, like story and atmosphere. It’s a tense, frighteningly exciting experience that can easily be called one of the best of the year.

You play Issac Clarke, a member of a repair team sent to the massive starship Ishimura to fix its communications problems. Long story short, all the lights are off on the outside, you and your team end up crash-landing on the ship, then you eventually find out that everyone on board has been mutated into monstrous creatures and raging nutcases. Naturally, you’ll want to try and get off the ship.

The story, though slightly predictable for extreme sci-fi buffs, is a cool mix of horror, religion and a dash of personal tragedy. It serves as the undercurrent for the game’s creepy atmosphere.

You can tell the designers had fun working with this brand of terror, devising ways to screw with the psyches of players. The ship’s empty halls rattle with the sounds of the creatures running through the vents. Metal randomly crashes and clanks in the distance, while a blanket of shrieking and quivering violin riffs always seem to play at the right moments.

Then, there’s the gore. There is unmerciful bloodletting in this game, which actually adds to the tension. Issac himself has plenty of weaponry he can use to take apart the creatures he encounters (which the game encourages), such as plasma cutter or a weapon that shoots out buzzsaws. The more limbs you cut off, the more damage you do, and there will be many instances where the limbs will fly.

One of basic fears people have in a survival horror game isn’t just dying, it’s dying horribly. Consider your fears confirmed as far as this game goes. One nasty monster with bony blades for arms not only impaled Issac, but also cut off all his arms and legs before deciding he didn’t need a head anymore. You can also get crushed by some of the ship’s larger machines or get splattered by a malfunctioning anti-gravity panel. This all adds to the feeling of perpetual danger throughout the game.

Among the cooler elements in the gameplay is the concept of zero gravity. Much like Prey did its best to alter perspectives by having people walk on walls and ceilings, players are going to enter certain areas where they have to physically “jump” on walls and ceilings to get to certain doors.

Of course, the mutated freaks also find their way into these rooms, which leads to some intriguing moments in terms of sound and visual appeal. Nothing quite beats the thrill of seeing corpses of your own making floating around in a zero-g environment.

The last things I wanted to mention were the visuals, which turns what could have been a drab environment into the intergalactic equivalent of a haunted house. The Ishimura is a gigantic ship, and Issac finds himself traveling everywhere from the engine room to the chillingly eerie crew deck, which is littered with candles and pervaded by someone singing a tune that sounds like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” That not what I want to hear when I’ve been fighting screaming monsters for 13 hours.

Dead Space got a lot of buzz at E3, and it should get plenty of recognition now, even in the crowded holiday field of games. It’s been called gaming’s answer to “Aliens” and “Event Horizon,” and influences from both of those movies can be found here. If you’re looking for some extra horror this Halloween, this is a game you want.

Score: 9.5/10

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Information:

Dead Space
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Rated: M for Mature

Play N Trade stores commenting on female gamers

I got this release from Play N Trade today about girls who game, citing some data from the Entertainment Software Association. Just so you guys know, there are Play N Trades in Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Pomona. Check it out:

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Ontario, CA (Grassroots Newswire) October 8, 2008 — There was once a time
when video games were dominated and mastered by the male gender, with only the occasional token female joining the club. But evolution has led the virtual world into uncharted territory as a new generation of “geeks” has emerged.

According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2008 report, over 40
percent of “gamers” are women, and today, women 18 years or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).

The multitude of games with themes that women are more interested in may be fueling the trend, says Tom McMahon, CEO of Play N Trade, one of the largest video game franchises.

“Games such as American Idol, Guitar Hero, The Sims and even Tomb Raider are appealing to females and so the market is changing. We’ve seen firsthand how both girls and women are gaining interest in video games and making up a big part of our customer base,” McMahon said.

Play N Trade is meeting the demands of those new customers by increasing their inventory in stores to accommodate the female gamers’ selection. Store employees and staff are also educating them on what types of games they may like that are new to the market and they can try that in the store before they buy. Some of the company’s tournaments are now being geared towards the females.

And with the trend comes more video game blogs and Web sites dominated by girl gamers, as well as marketing campaigns directed specifically to females – something that was once an anomaly in the industry.

In addition to being consumers, as the number of “female gamers” grows and
widely accepted games develop, the motivation for women to become more dominant in career fields such as video game development and programming becomes a possibility, McMahon said.

“It’s very exciting to see women getting involved and becoming gamers. It opens up a whole new world of concepts: they are force driving and reshaping the gaming industry,” McMahon said. “It’ll be interesting to see how things unfold with this new trend.”
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Review: Lego Batman

Forget the critical accolades, fan worship and commercial success — if you have a Lego game made after your franchise, you can officially call it a cultural icon. It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Indiana Jones — and now it’s happening with Batman.

Lego Batman, developed by Traveller’s Tales, deftly feeds off the momentum created by the recent Christopher Nolan films while paying cute, comical homage to the entire mythos surrounding the Caped Crusader. What you get is a romp fit for Batman fans of all degrees.

While the Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones games were essentially goofy-but-faithful remakes of the movies, the story of Lego Batman is entirely original. All of the inmates of Arkham Asylum — Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Scarecrow — have managed to escape, and it’s up to Batman and Robin to round them all up.

The highlight of any Lego game is the simple, user-friendly gameplay, and that still hasn’t changed. Batman and Robin use their supreme hand-to-hand fighting skills to bash their enemies into scattered pieces most of the time, but players also get to use Batarangs and grappling hooks to traverse the multitude of creative obstacles they come across.

The Batarang mechanic is especially cool, functioning a little like a Robotech missile-lock system, where you can “trace” the path of the Batarang to strike multiple targets. You can also “build” a variety of funny items like ice cream trucks, balloon cannons and mini-areas where you can change costume.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the game is the gadgetry, where our heroes can don different “tech suits” equipped with different abilities. For instance, Robin can wear a suit which lets him walk on walls, while Bats can get a suit which lets him set bombs, or a “sonic” suit which lets him shatter glass.

Of course, you’re also get command of the various Batman vehicles, such as the Batmobile (the one from the Tim Burton movies, not the tumbler), which comes equipped with machine guns and a tow cable.

Another cool twist in the game is the ability to play as villains, complete with their own missions of treachery. While one of Batman’s missions might be to protect Commissioner Gordon, the mission for the Joker and Harley Quinn would be to kidnap him. Each of the villains has their own unique attacks, like the Joker’s joy buzzer of death.

Other parts of the Batman universe that are in the game are the Batcave, which serves as your mission hub level, and Arkham Asylum, which serves as the hub level for the villains.

The only small gripes I have with this game deal with rare spells of tediousness, where I feel live I’ve been doing nothing but bashing enemies for hours. You’ll also get the occasional moment where you’re not quite sure where to go or what to do with a puzzle. You never really “die” in the game, which is good, considering there’s a lot of platforming here.

Other than being the best-looking Lego game out there, Lego Batman might be also the most complete. There’s more than enough action and subtle comedy to be enjoyed by multiple players, and it should be more than enough to satisfy even the darkest of the Dark Knight’s followers.

Score: 8.5/10

E for All starts today …

Just for kicks, here’s the list of exhibitors there at the L.A. Convention Center. If you’ve never heard of this before (and judging from what I saw last year, that’s possible), learn more about it here.

Here’s who’s there:

Academy of Art University Booth #735

Beijing Fontelysee Film & TV Co, Ltd. Booth #1142

Beyond Protocol Booth #643

BoomChair Booth #940

Boston America Corp Booth #1434

CH Products Booth #1235

DDR Game Booth #1335

DeVry University Booth #937

Dude Thing Creations Booth #841

EA Arcade Booth #1000

Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) Booth #1601

Fatal1ty Booth #301

Fusion-io Booth #345

Fusion-io Booth #635

Game Arts Booth #1534

Gamer Grub Booth #935

Gameskulls Entertainment Inc. Booth #1334

Girls Entertainment Network Booth #1040

Intel Dell Extreme Gaming Tour Booth #313

Intel Extreme Masters Global Challenge Booth #1211

LapWorks, Inc Booth #941

Mad-Gear Booth #1436

Mana Energy Potion Booth #1034

Mayflash Limited Booth #1603

Mindark / Entropia Universe Booth #434

Music Wizard Group Booth #440

NOVA Gaming Booth #1043

National University Booth #1036

Nexon America, Inc Booth #601

NoS Energy Drink Booth #1605

PlayHut, Inc Booth #835

Signature Devices, Inc. Booth #1609

TN Games Booth #428

Target Corporation Booth #723

Target Corporation Booth #835

Tritton Technologies Booth #742

Ubisoft Booth #743

Westwood College Booth #1435

World Cyber Games Booth #649

Xbox 360 Games for Windows Pavilion Booth #1012

YNK Interactive Booth #335
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I’ll be checking this out on Saturday, but I’m not really expecting any big highlights like last year, where people got to play Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Konami’s not there this year. Neither is Sony. Or Nintendo. Or a lot of other companies.