Review: Kingdoms of Amalur – Reckoning (PS3)

58565-amalur_2-thumb-480x284-58564.jpg

Bethesda Softworks’ first Elder Scrolls game, Arena, took FRPGs by storm in ’94 packaging an entire continent on a set of eight 3.5″ discs requiring only 25MB of space on your hard drive and experiencing it all in first-person.

The randomly generated terrain and quest system created the illusion of endless adventure spanning a vast wilderness rife with cities, isolated towns, secrets, swamps, and barren deserts. Nearly 20 years later, new entries into the series herald hundreds of hours of lost productivity and countless memes as players take extended vacations into the worlds that Bethesda crafts under its banner.

Others have also tried, with varying success, to emulate that success and now 38 Studios’ freshman effort has boldly staked its own claim. After years in development and with EA taking on the publishing duties on this sandbox, history could be repeating itself.
Continue reading

Review: The Darkness 2 (Xbox 360)

58494-Darkness2_4-thumb-480x268-58493.jpg

Jackie Estacado isn’t your typical Mafia Don. He’s young, brash, and possessed by a gut ripping terror from beyond known only as the Darkness. For him, the voices in his head are all too real.

In the last game, it was an unexpected birthday inheritance that put him at odds with the dark power passed down to him from his father. At the same time, it also allowed him to tear apart his gun toting enemies with ease in revenge for the death of his childhood sweetheart, Jenny.

Two years had passed since then and while Jackie still pines for her, life has gone on. And he has turned his back on the Darkness, suppressing it since then. That’s until someone tries to take him out, nearly killing him in the process forcing him to dip into the Darkness’ bloody well once again.
Continue reading

Review: FFXIII-2 (PS3)

58370-ffxiii2_top-thumb-480x269-58369.jpg

Square Enix’s FF13 was a controversial title to a number of longtime fans of the flagship series. Much has been made of its heavily linear area designs, overly long tutorials, shallow world, and its twitch-centric combat system. To more than a few, for a game expected to carry the series forward, it seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

FF13-2 wants to change all of that. Or at least head back in a direction that won’t burn as many bridges behind it. Boasting a new story packed with all of the ludicrously beautiful visuals that HD televisions squee with delight over, Square Enix took much of what was criticized about the first game by focusing on hammering out the rough edges.

It’s not the first time that they’ve followed up on one of the series’ major chapters in this fashion as FF10-2 can testify, but it is probably the first time that the changes aren’t so much experimentation as they are a belated do-over of what didn’t work as well the first time around.
Continue reading

Fan remake of Star Wars is made of fun

What did technologist, Casey Pugh, get when he asked fans to recreate fifteen second slices of Star Wars and then stitched them all together into a director’s cut? You get Star Wars Uncut: Director’s Cut, two hours worth of awesome, collaborative creativity.

So if you have the time to spare, kick back and relax as you see a galaxy far, far away unfold in bizarre, and hilarious, ways. Now what would the Godfather be like…

Hitting the pause button on SOPA and PIPA

57926-sopa-opera-count-thumb-200x250-57925.png

Thousands of sites on Wednesday went dark in protest over the controversial and broad nature of SOPA and PIPA, the anti-piracy bills that are being considered in Congress, bringing awareness to millions of web surfers. Just take a look at this Twitter account scanning through the complaints about Wikipedia’s blackout to get a general idea of how many homework assignments went unfinished (there’s some frank language in there, so tread carefully).

Both bills have been critically debated by many within the tech industry over the dangers that the incredibly broad nature of the powers they propose to use against illegal sites hosting pirated material inherently have.

Imagine shutting down a street because someone decided to paint their house with something obscene, and you’ll get the gist of just how broad those powers could be. Never mind that you buy your groceries at a corner store on the same street. That’s just too bad.

Now it looks like the doubts that many have had over both has finally earned some action on Capitol Hill. Or rather, inaction.

According to Reuters, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had decided to delay a critical vote on the bills scheduled for the 24th for the foreseeable future. SOPA and PIPA aren’t dead, but it’s clear that Wednesday had been a wake up call for many of the bill’s supporters…some of whom have withdrawn their support.

And according to ProPublica’s Nerd Blog, opposition in Congress surged following Wednesday’s blackout as you can see in the image above. That number includes a few of the co-sponsors for bills.

Everyone sees eye to eye that there’s clearly a need to deal with piracy. But it’s just as clear that passing legislation with deep, and potentially devastating, flaws is not the way to do it.

SOPA/PIPA Blackout Day

57856-reddit_down-thumb-200x61-57855.jpg

Today is marked with a number of protests across the ‘net in opposition to two bills: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) which is being considered in the House and PIPA (Protect IP Act) which is in the Senate. Over the last few months, there has been a groundswell of opposition from many notable tech giants such as Google and Facebook aided in no small part by a large number of independent individuals concerned over both.

I’m no lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, though the good news is that there is quite a bit of information out there talking points on why both of these are simply bad approaches to the same problem.

On the surface, both bills propose to do the same thing – fight copyright infringement, such as piracy. The problem is that the language in both is so broadly written creating a legitimate concern for potential abuse.

No one is arguing that protecting copyrights is a bad thing. What many are more concerned about is that both of these bills define their powers in such general terms that they can actually stifle open access to information through the collateral damage caused by censorship.

For example. Tech Out like many others has a number of articles focusing on games. If any of the rights holders decides that we’re infringing on their copyrights simply because we have a screenshot of one of their titles, sites like this could be blocked on the internet and starved of hits from search engines which will be required to scrub their results.

Or worse, the San Bernardino Sun’s website could be blocked simply because it hosts Tech Out. Wikipedia, for example, could be attacked in the same way over its entries on musical artists and film despite having so many other articles on different topics. The bills are attacking the same mosquito in a china shop with tanks.

57859-google_blind-thumb-480x354-57858.jpg

Granted, these are extreme examples, but they fall right under what SOPA and PIPA in their current forms will allow. The White House has also sounded off in its concerns over both bills, tacitly disapproving of their approach while not dismissing their intentions.

This debate has also demonstrated how technology has reshaped dialogue in today’s world by uniting so many groups in the fight ahead across the ‘net. Sites such as “Good Old Games” which specializes in selling classic PC titles has joined in the fight from overseas. Groups of individuals that might never have gotten to know each other have pitched in by gathering online to share their ideas on what to do to help educate and simply spread the word on why this matters to a worldwide audience.

It’s a series of small steps, but ones that have sparked plenty of new debate as politicans and individuals of every stripe have voiced their opposition to what both bills fail to effectively and convincingly address making it a fight against censorship that few can afford to lose.

Doctor Who is looking for volunteers

57721-doctorwho_3-thumb-200x109-57720.jpg

BBC’s time traveling Doctor has his own, free-to-play browser MMO that’s undergoing a bit of a preview. It’s certainly different from any other traditional MMO and it’s not because of the quirky Doctor.

The 2D art style and the puzzle-based gameplay set it apart from some of the more combat hungry F2P titles out there making it something of a mental game than a twitch based one. Though when you’re trying to solve things while on the clock, you might be twitching anyway from trying to beat it.

Right now, the only thing you need to sign up for it is an email address. Once that’s punched in, you’re briefed by Doctor in the TARDIS on what has to be done to keep space-time from unraveling, all presumably leading up to a spectacular climax.

I made it to the second mission where I was promptly mauled by living mannequins when my AI controlled teammates couldn’t unlock a door in time. One can always team up with other living people, though, for a better chance at survival.

57724-doctorwho_4-thumb-200x108-57723.jpg

And everything is puzzle based from rewiring cables, unlocking doors, to combat which is handled through a Tetris-like mechanic. There are also levels earned to grow your character and even a bit of crafting to build new toys. It also looks like the game will use micro-transactions to purchase special “Chronos” points for in-game goodies like clothing or upgrades.

The points slowly generate themselves over time – think glacially slowly – making it tempting to splurge a few bucks to get a slight boost providing a look at how the game may finance itself in the long run. Or you can just stick to what it gives you for free and earn things the old fashioned way as you save the universe.

Join the Illuminati

57645-hq_theoffice_desc-thumb-480x264-57642.jpg

Funcom is making this the “Week of the Illuminati” as they continue gearing up for the release of their MMO, “The Secret World“, expected in April. There’s also a Q&A with the developers coming up on Facebook on January 15th, though Funcom has started taking questions so be sure to check it out.

We’ve touched on Secret World before in the past, but in case you’ve missed some of our coverage, it’s not your usual MMORPG.
Taking place in a version of our modern world where conspiracies are all too real and secret rituals steeped in the arcane are as tangible, the Secret World is set to challenge the usual trappings of its genre. It boasts “no levels” in developing your character allowing you to push them in whatever direction you want with a greater emphasis on storytelling not often seen in other titles.
But if the Illuminati’s “civil” exterior is too pedestrian for you, there are two other factions to throw the dice with. You call roll with either the crusading Templars, or sow chaos with those of the Dragon. 
Each faction also has their own starting area based on real-world locales such as New York where the corporate-minded Illuminati call home. Or take the initiation test to help make your decision.
A batch of nifty screenshots have also been released showing off the Illuminati’s digs and a few of the people that secretly hang with them. Check these out right after the jump or visit the main site for a deeper sampling of its secrets.

Continue reading

Review: Lord of the Rings – War in the North (X360)

57049-witn_7-thumb-480x270-57048.jpg

War in the North takes players back to Middle Earth to fight evil while Frodo and company head to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Taking place in the North, would-be adventurers will play their part in stemming the tide of darkness waiting to erupt from the cold, wintry holds there.
Continue reading