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E3: Lego City battles crime on the Wii U


Jun 05
// Brian Szabelski
During the third-party portion of Nintendo's E3 conference, we got a sneak peek at the next LEGO franchise title, the cirme-fighting LEGO City. Being developed by Traveller's Tales, the team behind the awesome LEGO ...
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E3: Nintendo reveals a handful of third-party Wii U games


Jun 05
// Brian Szabelski
If you were worried about third-party support for the Wii U, it seems that the upcoming Nintendo system is indeed going to have decent support. In addition to Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, Nintendo's montage of thir...
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E3: Wii U to support two GamePads


Jun 05
// Brian Szabelski
[Update: As per the Nintendo of America Twitter, when two GamePads are activated, they'll both run at 30 frames per second, half the default 60 frames per second.][Update 2: Nintendo has posted a video walkthrough of the Game...
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Rumor: New 3DS with larger screen to be announced at E3


Jun 04
// Brian Szabelski
Ahead of Nintendo's E3 press conference tomorrow, Nikkei is reporting that a new 3DS model will be announced at the event, and it'll have a bigger screen. The report states that the new 3DS model will have a 4.3-inch screen, ...
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E3: Forza Horizon confirmed as open-world racing title


Jun 04
// Brian Szabelski
Forza Horizon is on its way to Xbox 360 for racing fans later this year, but first, it had to make a stop at E3 for a quick appearance at Microsoft's press conference. Though it was only featured as a trailer filled with lots...
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E3: Madden NFL 13 gains Kinect voice controls


Jun 04
// Brian Szabelski
Madden fans, prepare yourselves: as revealed at Microsoft's E3 press conference, Madden NFL 13 will be gaining Kinect voice controls that allow you to call plays on the line of scrimmage. Demoed onstage with Hall of Fame quar...
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PopCap announce a bunch of merchandise licensing deals


Apr 30
// Brian Szabelski
Do you happen to like PopCap's franchises like Plants vs Zombies and have wondered to yourself, "Gee, why can't I find much PopCap merch?" Well, even if you haven't, sister site Tomopop has posted about PopCap's licensed...

Review: NCAA Football 12

Jul 13 // Brian Szabelski
NCAA Football 12 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: EA Tiburon/EA CanadaPublisher: EA SportsRelease Date: July 12, 2010MSRP: $59.99 So here we are; another year, another new title in an EA Sports franchise. The good news is since I don't have to sit here and discuss a storyline with you (spoiler: IT'S FOOTBALL), we can jump right into the what's new. So what is new? Well, not the presentation, for the most part. Sure, they've upgraded the ESPN branding a bit to reflect how it looks in the real world better and the entire menu system incorporates some bits and pieces of ESPN College Football's design, but basically, everything's as it was last year. I guess the old saying is true: if it's not broke, don't fix it. Of course, that presentation also matters on the field, especially with an addition made for NCAA Football 11 -- school-specific team introductions. Last year, I bemoaned that some of the classic team introductions like Oklahoma's Sooner Schooner or Colorado's Ralphie the Buffalo charging out onto the field were excluded. Apparently EA Tiburon heard my complaints, because they and a host of other entrances using animal mascots are here. Auburn's War Eagle, Georgia's famous bulldog Uga, Florida State's Chief Osceola and Renegade; they're in the game, as are schools like Oregon and USC. Even some of the smaller schools with traditions, like Wake Forest and Wyoming, are included in the latest batch. Like last year, they're a great touch and really add to the overall feel of the game as being representative of the college game experience. They've also stepped up the actual in-game graphics a bit, changing the lighting to be more dynamic and better reflect the sun's position and time of day. Even the grass has ditched flat textures for fuller 3D animation, allowing for little touches such as greenery poking out of the snow during winter games. The good news is, it works and the game is absolutely gorgeous. The better news is that the fans aren't lost in giant heaps of bloom effects like they were last year either. They are now individually modeled, with deeper stadium effects for a fuller sound, as opposed to using 50,000 fans and doubling the volume, as has been done in the past. The problem of players clipping through one another is still noticeable, though not as bad as in previous games, and there graphical glitches in replay mode remain troubling. I had the sky disappear on me after one game, leaving me with the eternal blackness of what I assume is the vacuum of space. Sadly, we lost the Kent State Golden Flashes to it, but I don't think anyone will miss them. The biggest (and in my opinion, most beneficial) change comes in the form of a much improved tackling system. EA promised that this new system, which uses new animations that begin only when the player makes contact with the ball carrier, would put an end to the dreaded warping, sliding and other graphical glitches that have become the stuff of YouTube legend. The good news, though, is that this isn't just talk; the system and its new animations deliver on EA's promise. Everything looks crisp, natural and fluid in animation for the first time ... well, ever. Defensive players look like they're actually making tackles, and as a side-effect, it looks more natural when the ball carrier breaks a tackle on a defensive player. Also changed this year was the defensive AI, making players in zone defensive schemes able to trade off players and not just stand around in their zone all the time. Again, EA promised this would be improved and make it harder to run short passing routes against the zone, and they delivered. It used to be pretty easy to run crossing routes of 5-10 yards and just keep chaining passes together. This year, my computer opponents were having none of it, even if I had them line up against a bottom-of-the-barrel team like Eastern Michigan or Memphis.  But the more some things change, the more others stay the same. Gameplay-wise, it's fundamentally the exact same game you've seen last year, and the year before, and the year before and so on. The controls remain all but similar to NCAA Football 11, albeit with the tackle button now permanently moved by default to X (Xbox 360)/Square (PS3). Those of you who've played an NCAA Football game in the last 2-3 years should have no problem picking this game up and being able to jump right into it. Dynasty mode is polished up a bit for this year, with some brand new features that, honestly, should have been in the game a few years ago. Chief among those is the ability to create custom conferences, allowing you to freely move schools around and make conferences as big as 16 teams. You can adjust schedules, BCS bowl tie-ins, even division names if you so choose to. It's nice to finally be able to put my created school in a conference without having to kick someone else out. Secondly, EA's changes allow you to start off your coaching career as a coordinator, focusing on one side of the ball, and work your way up to other jobs ... or try to stay off the hot seat. It's a fun addition that adds another level of realism to the game, as most coaches start out as coordinators at one point or another. Outside of these changes, Dynasty mode is almost identical to NCAA Football 11 in terms of recruiting, management and so on. The other main mode from last year, Road to Glory, is back as well, having undergone some rather large changes. The game mode adds a new feature in that it lets you not only start out your career in high school, but play through your entire senior year as well. It's a nice touch, as playing well in games all year builds up your recruiting potential in a much more reasonable manner than just playing through the state playoffs. Along the way, you'll be able to add schools to your interest list, and for the first time, you can play on both sides of the ball, allowing you to be recruited at two different positions. This also might mean more offers; Florida, for example, might be looking for a halfback, but Georgia could be looking for a linebacker, and if you play well enough at both positions, you'll have offers from multiple schools to play on either side of the ball. You can also choose to skip this part if you want and get to the meat of Road to Glory if you want: your collegiate career.   This area, too, has undergone quite a bit of change: you still have to compete for your spot and can move up and down the roster, as well as be challenged by your teammates if you're a starter. Additionally, doing well in practice will garner trust from your coach and allow you perks during the game, like the ability to call more audibles as the coach becomes comfortable with you at quarterback, for example. You also gain experience points that you can spend on temporary stats boosts. However, what gets lost in the changes is the need to balance a schedule between your social life, working out and your studies. Everything's simply been condensed into one lone practice per week and whatever game you have on the schedule. I assume this was done to make the game move a little quicker, but it's sad to see it get so simplified that part of the college experience has been taken out. Maybe they just assume that you get "help" to pass all your classes, but I would have liked to see it remain. And heck, while you're at it, if we're gonna get some special help for keeping our GPA up to the necessary minimums, can't we have a special mini-game where we get to drive around in fancy cars on campus while avoiding NCAA investigators? As far as making the game your own goes, the usual creation and roster management modes are here. TeamBuilder — EA's online create-a-team page — is once again the only option for making custom teams, so if you don't have an Internet connection, too bad. New this year is the inclusion of custom playbooks, allowing you to build a selection of plays that best fits your style. It's a nice addition but one that really should have been a standard for the past few years, especially since I distinctly remember the older Madden games having something like this. And yes, before you ask, the codes to unlock online multiplayer from last year are back as EA continues to discourage buying games used. Did you really expect anything different? But there's one thing kept popping up in my head as I played through NCAA Football 12: "It's more of the same." Or, maybe to put it more precisely, they could have called this game Super NCAA Football 11 Arcade Edition and it would have fit just as well. There's plenty that's been added to enhance the experience of this being a college football game and some (but not all) of the graphical issues from last year's game have been fixed. Dynasty Mode has gotten long-overdue improvements as well, while Road to Glory has been streamlined (a move I'm not completely a fan of). It's basically a slightly better version of last year's game, which isn't a terrible thing at all since I loved it, but those of you hoping for anything groundbreaking are probably going to be disappointed. I'll still highly recommend buying it if you're a college football fan or if you haven't played a game from this series in a while, but if you're content with NCAA Football 11 — and you don't mind seeing your players slide across the field to make a tackle — then NCAA Football 12 might not do much to change your mind.
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Last year, EA Sports decided to take a some risks, change up a few things and make a pretty darn good college football game. Well, apparently, we liked the experimental title enough that they decided to do some...

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E3: More details revealed on Kid Icarus: Uprising


Jun 07
// Brian Szabelski
Last year, one of Nintendo's surprise announcements was the return of Pit with Kid Icarus: Uprising. Today, we got a few more details about the upcoming 3DS title. The plot revolves around he resurrection of Kid Icarus antago...
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E3: Batman: Arkham City coming to Wii U


Jun 07
// Brian Szabelski
During Nintendo's Wii U announcement, it was announced that Batman: Arkham City will be coming to Nintendo's new console. We didn't have details or even screens beyond that, but I must say I sure wasn't expecting that as far ...
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E3: Two Zelda CDs coming this year


Jun 07
// Brian Szabelski
Fans of the great music that often backs the Zelda franchise, you'll probably be extremely happy to know that two new Zelda music CDs are coming this year! First up is the Ocarina of Time soundtrack, which will be made free t...
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Play Arts Kai Master Chief up for pre-order


Jun 06
// Brian Szabelski
[As seen on Tomopop] Just a few days ago, the first news came out about Square Enix's new line of Halo figures. Today, we got the announcement of Halo 4, and the return of Master Chief, so perhaps it's only appropriate that ...
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Sideshow Collectibles' Lara Croft open for pre-order


Jun 06
// Brian Szabelski
[As originally posted on Tomopop] Well, by now, you've probably already heard and seen all about the new Tomb Raider game coming out, so perhaps we can interest you in a statue to match? Sideshow Collectibles has a new Lara ...
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E3: Disneyland Adventures revealed, coming this holiday


Jun 06
// Brian Szabelski
Microsoft and Disney showed off a brand-new title at their E3 press event, Disneyland Adventures, that aims to bring the magic of visiting Disneyland home. They've recreated the park for everyone to explore, allowing you to r...

Review: Poker Night at the Inventory

Dec 06 // Brian Szabelski
Poker Night at the Inventory (PC [reviewed], Mac) Developer: Telltale Games Release date: November 22, 2010 MSRP: $4.99 If you're looking for some long story about how Sam, Tycho, the Heavy and Strong Bad all ended up playing poker ... well, there's not much of one. It's just the four of them hanging out and playing at The Inventory, an underground club that supposedly has its roots in Prohibiton, but offers nothing more than a setting. And that's fine, because really, this game doesn't have a need for a story. Visually, Poker Night's a good looking game. The Heavy, Strong Bad and Max all use models from Valve and Telltale's games, respectively, and their animations are very smooth. Tycho's model, on the other hand, is brand-new, and oddly enough, he's the one who looks a little out of place from time to time. There's also a few graphical glitches if you move the game along too fast: in one instance, I couldn't see my cards for an entire hand because they never actually loaded. I'd folded too quickly and skipped to the end of the hand before the game could make the change, it seems. Another cool little feature is that in the background, the characters will appear as you knock them out of the game. They don't do a whole lot, but it's kind of cool to see Strong Bad playing the arcade machine, or the Heavy at the bar after a bitter defeat at the table. Where Poker Night excels, though, is in the chatter at the table between the Heavy, Tycho, Strong Bad and Max. The scritping and the actual voice acting itself is spot-on, a testament to the abilities of whoever's responsible at Telltale for writing this game's dialogue. Tycho's voice is a bit jarring at first, but you get used to it the more you play, until it seems natural. What's also great is that each character's quirks are also included in their dialogue: for example, there are Heavy's "funny" stories about summer camp that are actually quite morbid, and Tycho's obsession/lust over giraffes makes it into the game, the latter of which made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it. In short, they've nailed the spirit of all four characters perfectly. My only complaint is that they engage each other, but never really bring the player into their conversations. You kind of feel more like an invisible observer than a player at the table with these guys for the bulk of the experience. Outside of their clever quips, the actual computer players seem... well, I'm not sure how to describe them. Maybe a bit erratic? At times, they seem to take unnecessarily big risks or make strange plays, like going almost all in and folding. At other times, the AI seems to know exactly what the flop, turn and river cards are going to be ahead of time, and is able to make strong bets based on that knowledge. I know part of poker is that the game can turn on its head with the draw of the right card and make a winning hand a losing one. But in Poker Night, it feels like those sudden moments are, at times, manufactured by the game more than they would occur naturally. The AI issues seem to get a little better when it's down to just two players, as I had greater success in knocking out my opponent then. Poker Night's gameplay pretty much boils down to good ol' fashioned Texas Hold 'Em, the kind you see on TV. It helps a bit if you know what beats what ahead of playing this game, as it makes it easier to gamble, but you can definitely pick up how to play over time. Navigating the in-game interface to make calls, raises and folds is relatively simple. Plus, in addition to the new items, winning games unlocks new tables and decks to play with, giving you the opportunity to customize the game's look a little bit. On the downside, there's not a whole lot else you can change. The AI has two difficulty options -- normal and hard -- and you can adjust the level of conversation that goes on as well as if it’s censored or not. But you can’t change anything about how much the buy-in is, presumably to keep people from somehow gaming the system to get the Team Fortress 2 items easily, what blinds start at, etc. Maybe adding in a few other options that unlocked once you had all of the items (and they’re tied to achievements, so that’s no reason this could not have been done) would have helped keep some replay value. All this boils down to Poker Night's biggest problem: it gets repetitive very quickly. Once you've heard Tycho and Heavy's tenth Class discussion for the twentieth time, it loses a lot of its initial charm. On top of that, with no real options to modify the game's stakes, you're always playing the same $10,000 buy-in game once you have the new Team Fortress 2 items. Thankfully, Telltale's included the option to right click through any conversation as a means of speeding up the game's pace and perhaps saving your sanity. The only bad part, of course, is right-clicking takes a lot of the fun out of the game because you're not getting those interactions anymore. So it's kind of a catch-22: sit and listen to Strong Bad and Max's conversation for the fifth time, or skip past it and lose some of the atmosphere. Your call. Now that I've played Poker Night for a bit and have all my shiny new items, I find myself at a crossroads. On one hand, the game has energy provided from the fun conversations taking place at the table. And you definitely get more than $5 worth out of that alone. What kills Telltale's latest game is that, really, there's not enough diversity to keep people coming back ... at least not for more than a game or two when you're bored and have nothing else to do. Enjoy the banter between the characters and the new items for you Team Fortress 2 players out there, but just remember one thing: it's a $5 single-player Texas Hold 'Em poker game. Don't expect anything much more than that.
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As a wise man once said, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Okay, that was actually Kenny Rogers’ "The Gambler," but it works in regards to Telltale Games’ newest title, Poker Night at the ...

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F1 2010 patch forthcoming, corrupt save issue possibly solved


Sep 27
// Brian Szabelski
Well, that was certainly quick: after a meeting this morning at Codemasters HQ, a patch for F1 2010 has been announced to be in the works. Right now, the development team is currently investigating, going through feedback and...

Review: F1 2010

Sep 27 // Brian Szabelski
F1 2010 (PC [reviewed], Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) Developer: Codemasters Birmingham Publisher: Codemasters Released: September 22, 2010 MSRP: $59.99 (Xbox 360 and PS3); $39.99 (PC) The largest part of your time in this game will likely be spent in the game’s career mode. And actually, career mode begins right when you boot up the game, as you’ll have to enter your name, nationality, career length (3, 5 or 7 seasons) and pick from one of three teams to start with, all new teams for the real-world 2010 season. This is who you’ll race for during your first season, and as you perform better, you’ll raise your reputation and open up new ride possibilities. It’s certainly not a short-mode either: even a short weekend can take upward of an hour per weekend. Multiply that by the 19 races in a single season and well… if you pick the 7-year career, you’ll be playing for a while before getting to the end. While on your team, there’s plenty to do. You’ll have to deal with interviews that change a bit based on your performance. Positive answers will help your team like you, but if you want to speak your mind, you’d better be prepared to deal with an unhappy team. It’s nice to have this feature but I get asked the same questions a lot, which is a bit of a disappointment. There are also occasional R&D sessions during practice, too, which require you to meet an objective to receive an upgrade for your team. The biggest game-related issue in career mode and grand prix mode, though, happens to be the A.I. While Codemasters touted this as being organic and an accurate sim of the real series, it isn’t. It exists well enough that on a shorter race, it’s not noticeable, but it does feel robotic at times, not to mention computer drivers’ machines wiggle around quite a bit. And the race director A.I. loves handing out warnings and penalties every time you bump into someone because they block you or when one of the A.I. cars runs into you hard. If you guessed this happens quite a bit ... you're correct. Two other things that are missing, though, that really need to be in there in the future are safety cars for full-course caution periods, and perhaps on a lesser urgency, a team building mode similar to what GRID had would be kind of a nice thing. Being able to carry sponsorship with you from team to team, as in real life, would be fun, but sadly, I’m sure the teams and their regular sponsors woudn't allow for that. Still, though, there are plenty of options to pick from when it comes to customizing your experience. All the driving aids are toggleable, the A.I. difficulty and dynamic weather are adjustable and race and weekend length can be shortened or extended out to a full length. The short option gives you practice, qualifying and the race all as single sessions, while the full length is all three practices, three-round knockout qualifying and then the race itself. It’s nice to be able to pick from either mode, depending on what your preference is, as is being able to adjust the game’s rules to however you’d like. Handling is a key part of any Formula One experience, and in F1 2010, Codemasters have done well. They don’t handle like they would in a perfect sim, but they’ve made them feel like the super-powered beasts they are. Even with all the driving aids on, its possible to spin the car out if you’re not careful, reinforcing the idea that you’re always driving on the edge every lap. The actual controls are mapped out like and feel as responsive as the controls in GRID, meaning for veterans of that game, this should feel a bit familiar on the controller. One of Codemaster's promoted highlights of this title is that the weather is supposed to be realistic. from a graphics standpoint, this is mostly true. As the track gets wet from the rain, water does pool on it, the surface does become reflective and a spray plume does pop up from your car, though perhaps not as much as it really should. Likewise, if it stops raining during the race, you do begin to see the track dry out a little bit. The raindrop effect on the cockpit camera angle is very, very cool to see, too. Cars also respond differently in the wet and become more difficult to drive as well as a little bit slower, just as they do in the real world. And speaking of graphics, F1 2010 looks great. Waiting until this late in the season proved to be a very wise move, as it has allowed Codemasters to properly create the 2010 season's cars. Car damage is rendered well and there aren't any noticeable issues with clipping. Framerates do slow down every once in a while, but on the PC version, it's not something I've come across often. It's not game-breaking when it does seem to happen, either, as I've noticed the few times it happens, the lag shows up for maybe half-a-second before reverting to normal. The console versions, I've been told, suffer from more noticeable lag, so keep that in mind when considering this game.As for the tracks, they, too, have a high level of detail and very closely replicate their real-life counterparts. From the woods of Spa-Francorchamps to the buildings alongside the track in Monaco as you run through the principality's streets (seen above), everything looks as it did during the current F1 season -- or at least close enough that most errors pr changes are not distinguishable. There's even quite a bit of depth of field, especially on some of the courses that have beautiful backdrops like Singapore. Even the new Korean circuit has cranes showing that it's still under construction, just like it is in real-life. It's also nice to progress through a weekend and see the racing lines begin to form on the track over the course of practice, qualifying and the race itself. The only thing I can knock them on with design is that pit lane appears to be designed to have your team in the first pit, no matter what team you're with. The game’s soundtrack is probably one of its highlights, as Codemasters has found the right licensed songs, along with some very good original scores, to provide the right mood and atmosphere for the title. Most of the music you’ll hear plays on the menu and loading screens, and each session has its own loading screen theme that fits well. But more so, the actual sounds of the machines are fantastic. The engines really do have that high-pitched and piercing whine that their real-life counterparts do, and collision sounds match up with the on-screen action. The voice acting does sound a little boring at times, but the almost-always calm voice of your race engineer does mesh well with how they sound in the real world. And it still always blows me away when I hear my agent speak my name without a single stutter or pause that might indicate the game’s trying to insert a clip somewhere. Outside of career mode, there are your basic grand prix and time trial modes. Grand prix mode allows you to race up to a full season’s worth of races or just a single race if you’d like. You can also pick from all 19 racetracks in the game, so if you want to do 19 straight races at Monaco, you can do just that. Time trial mode has a single-player mode as well as a party option. If you’re guessing the party option is the mode where you and your friends trade off the controller and each take turns trying to turn the fastest lap, you either are a good guesser or you own the game. There’s also online leaderboards so you can compare who goes around each track the fastest. And what would a game like this be without multiplayer? Of course F1 2010 has it, and as you might have guessed, it’s pretty much the same standard racing multiplayer mode you’ve run into a million times by now, especially if you’ve played Codemasters other online racing titles. That being said, there are, of course, the same idiots doing the same stupid things like punting you off in the first corner of a track, so be warned. It’s also limited to only 12 cars including AI and one car from all 12 teams must be represented. You can blame Formula One and its teams itself for that, because apparently, they didn’t want lobbies to be filled with just McLarens or Ferraris racing around the track. Unfortunately, as much as I love what this game brings to the table, there is one major, crippling flaw with it on all three versions, it seems: save files are somehow corrupting completely. What’s causing this isn’t for certain, but based on my experiences and what a few folks on the Steam forums have uncovered, it seems to relate to doing R&D runs in practice. That would indeed make sense, as in both cases, I suffered corrupt files right after saving following a practice R&D run. Hopefully, someone at Codemasters can try to find out what the cause is and if they can patch it out, because it’s killed two of my career playthroughs already, forcing me to restart at the beginning just to get to the main meat of the game. That’s not fun; that’s pure bullshit. And then there are some assorted smaller flaws as well, mostly that the lollipop man (the F1 term for the pit crew member holding the sign that tells you when to leave the pit after the stop is complete) tends to wait to release you until all the other cars in the pit lane, including ones all the way down at the end that came in after you, are out of the way. There’s an easy workaround or two for this thankfully (pitting out of sequence with everyone or running a longer race to avoid mass pitting), but it’s still a bit annoying. I’ve also run into a few texture glitches here and there, but nothing that wasn’t sorted out by backing out to the paddock and going back into the mode I was in. Codemasters had a significant task in front of them. They wanted to re-create the F1 experience in a way that almost no F1 game had done so before. In the end, they got it pretty close to it on their first try in some areas but fell flat on their faces in others. The game save corruption bug, which was also present in DIRT 2, is by far the biggest of all glitches and the most sinister, but there are several other, smaller ones as well that pop up as well. Hopefully, Codemasters patches these up quickly before they drag the game down too far. And I say too far, because in this case, the save file issue had enough of a negative impact on me that I'm backing up all my save files after every session for my third career attempt. Hardcore simulation fans – the kind of people who build dedicated racing seats and set-ups for their games -- will likely walk away from this a little disappointed in that it’s not exactly like driving one of these beasts in real life, but for everyone else, it’s an absolute blast and a demanding challenge, all in the same game. Let's just hope they patch it before it eats my game save half a dozen times first. Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)   (at least until it's patched)
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Since 2006, Formula One fans have been left without an officially licensed game. Sure, there have been mods for games like rFactor, and the Williams F1 machine is coming to the extremely expensive to play iRacing.com, bu...

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inFAMOUS 2 playable at PAX Prime


Sep 02
// Brian Szabelski
As if people heading to PAX Prime didn't have enough to be excited about, Sony and the crew at Sucker Punch have a little something for the crowds in attendance: a playable demo of inFAMOUS 2. Seven kiosks will be set-up at t...

Review: NCAA Football 11

Jul 09 // Brian Szabelski
NCAA Football 11 (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2)Developer: EA Tiburon/EA CanadaPublisher: EA SportsRelease Date: July 13, 2010MSRP: $59.99, $39.99 (PlayStation 2) To achieve its goal of creating the most realistic college football experience to date, EA has made a few changes to the old NCAA Football formula. One of the most notable changes this year comes through the improved running mechanics. Rather than having players stutter or quickly cut to what appears to be a canned animation, spins and jukes are seamlessly incorporated into a player’s run. Part of this is because of the improved dual analog stick controls for running, which now senses how far the analog stick is being leaned, rather than if it is simply being pushed in one direction or another. This sensitivity does take some getting used to, but after a short time, it becomes easy to use and helps make runs more precise. Only five of the actual controls -- high stepping, jukes, spins, trucks and shielding the ball from contact – are mapped to the right analog stick, and that’s probably a good thing. Otherwise, you might go to do a stiff arm and end up juking right into the arms of an opposing linebacker. The run game also gets a little buff with improved blocking from the offensive line. Offensive linemen react a bit better to picking up their targets, and while there’s still a few blown blocks or bad choices during the game, it’s noticeably easier to get the running game going in NCAA Football 11 … or noticeably more difficult to effectively stop the run when teams are balanced, even on lower difficulty settings. But enough about the running game and how it’s a bit better this year. What’s really going to get college football fans excited is the fact that EA have tried to give each of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools a unique feel that accurately reflects them. This year, that’s not just adding in new mascots (one of which is from my alma mater, Bowling Green State University) and keeping up with new stadiums for some teams: it’s giving 30 of the most well known teams their own unique pre-game run-outs. In this area, the crew at EA Tiburon and EA Canada have done very well, both in picking the teams to use for this, and in recreating their run-outs. Notre Dame’s players slap the “Play Like A Champion Today” sign in the locker room before heading out onto the field. Michigan’s virtual team runs under the same “Go Blue” banner the real team does. Miami emerges from its giant helmet in a cloud of smoke. A Texas player leads the charge out of the tunnel with the American flag flying high, just like in real life. Some of the more complex ones aren’t in this year’s version (Colorado and its buffalo are absent, for example), but these all add immensely to the feel that you’re actually playing for one of these schools, rather than just having a generic run-out like in previous games. Likewise, EA has decided to put its ESPN license to good use, incorporating “ESPN College Gameday” and other elements into the series. The full ESPN broadcast presentation package is in NCAA Football 11 for the first time, including the ESPN transition wipe, and while Lee Corso’s antics are missing from this year’s game, I think I’ll survive without hearing his canned lines every fourth or fifth play from scrimmage. Besides, ESPN reporter Erin Andrews has apparently taken his place in that regard with heir sideline reports, as she seems to say the same couple of things every time one of your players gets injured. Yes, Erin, we know he might not be coming back to the game after he broke his leg; you just told us that about the guy with the concussion. In this year’s game, each team has a playbook tailored more to its actual style, rather than just a generic one with a few unique plays thrown in. Sure, there is some overlapping (as there is in real college football), but seeing these little tweaks and different formations goes a long way in making you feel like you're actually in control of the team you've picked, be it Nebraska’s traditional option running attack or any one of the many variations on the spread offense. Of course, this is on the offensive side of the ball; on defense, you don’t quite have the same variation in play choices. On top of the ESPN license, the playbooks, and the run-outs, NCAA Football 11 looks a bit better than last year’s game, in that the player’s skin textures have lost a bit of their "sparkle." That’s quite a good thing, because instead of looking like plastic dolls or vampires from Twilight standing in the sunshine, they actually look like human beings … even if the mouth animations still look as awful as they did back when I played NCAA Football 2003. On the other hand, if one of the game’s improvements was better lighting, EA has both succeeded and failed. It's succeeded in that the lighting on the field and on the players looks better, of course. But it's failed in that the fans in the stands look like they’re radioactive whenever the sun is shining at a game. Note to the guys at EA Tiburon: chill it on the bloom effects, okay? While there aren’t any new game modes in NCAA Football 11, Dynasty mode has undergone a major expansion, most of which is geared toward the Web. A new Dynasty website allows you to manage your NCAA Football 11 dynasties online and even recruit players. Yeah, you read that right: you can go through the recruiting process both in-game and online, which seems both interesting and a bit unnecessary for anyone but the most hardcore NCAA Football 11 players. Dynasties are searchable and can be made either public, allowing anyone to join, or private and password-protected. And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s a new feature called DynastyWire for hardcore fans and wanna-be journalists. This features allows you to create stories for game recaps in a blog for your dynasty, then share them on social networking sites. While the inner writing geek in me loves this (as I’ve been doing this kind of stuff for years offline) the social networking part of it seems a little much. Do I really need to know how friends are doing in their Duke or North Texas dynasties? Probably not. As for the actual Dynasty mode mechanics, they remain largely the same except for changes to the recruiting process. Coaches can talk directly with recruits on a number of topics, from fan base and athletic facilities to whether they’re a championship contender and how much playing time they’ll get. Recruits will also ask about your school’s weaknesses and after each talk, and you’ll get a grade on each topic to see how you scored compared to other schools. That really turns up the pressure to sell your school in the best way possible, something every athletic program has to go through on a yearly basis, and players can and will pass on you for other schools that will better match their desires. Of course, if all that is too easy for you or you’re something of a videogame masochist, a difficulty slider has been added, as well. The changes tie in very well with the whole “recreating the college experience” theme for this year’s title, as it puts more emphasis on the skill of being able to make a good pitch rather than simply going undefeated and raking in the recruits. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. This year’s control set-up is essentially the same as last year’s, with the exception of the dual analog stick controls for running. TeamBuilder is once again online only, with the only new additions being the ability to play online against other created teams and add custom text on the front of team jerseys, something that should have been doable last year. Road to Glory mode returns, and even with the new name, it’s essentially the same as the Campus Legend mode from NCAA Football 06 to 09, down to the choices you have to make for evening activities. Oh, except this time, Erin Andrews is the “host” and the game will follow your college career with in-game highlights and discussions about your performance. Thankfully, if it sounds as annoying to you as I actually found it to be, you have the option to disable it when you start a Road to Glory save. I’d advise you do so. There’s a handful of other glitches, too, from players continuing their timeout motions and not getting set for the play, to the camera being totally off-center on referees when they make calls or going through players during instant replays, to a noticeable bit of lag toward the end of some games each time after the ball is snapped. Even the ESPN graphics in the game will lag out or be choppy at times, and it’s somewhat distracting.  NCAA Football 11 is also a sign of what’s to come in regards to EA’s plans to make you buy games new instead of used. Each copy of NCAA Football 11 comes with a code that unlocks online multiplayer and the ability to actually use your TeamBuilder teams for free, as well as recruiting reports for Dynasty mode. If you buy it used later, you’ll have to pony up for these features, and in either case, you’ll also have to register an account with EA if you haven’t already done so. It seems like such a hassle, and having to pay just to make good use of TeamBuilder would upset me if I had bought it used, but with no competitors on the market, there’s not a whole lot that can be done about it. When it comes down to it, though, all of these small things don’t take away from what the teams at EA Tiburon and EA Canada have put together: the most realistic college football experience on videogame consoles to date. Sure, the “glowing” fans and the occasional hiccup might remind you that you’re playing a game, but with the new team introductions, the improved and individualized team playbooks, and heck, even the familiar “ESPN College Gameday” logos and theme that plays during the loading screen, NCAA Football 11 feels much less sterile and fake than some of its predecessors. EA Sports’ slogan has always been “It’s in the game,” and while for many years that was a half-truth for the NCAA Football franchise, this year, it’s more of a “four-fifths-truth,” if I may say. There’s still room for improvement, but for the first time in I can recall, I actually feel like I’m playing a college football game and not just Madden: NCAA Edition. If you like college football, definitely pick this one up, because EA’s scored a touchdown with this year’s installment. Crap, that was a pun, wasn’t it? Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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