I'm pretty much just stealing this information, but here goes:
Microsoft are having a bit of a secret test of Project Natal with some special guests, including tech-master Jason Bradbury (of Gadget Show fame over here in the UK) and some bald bird, called Gail Porter.
The interesting thing for me though is how Microsoft decided to present it to their carefully selected media guinea pigs, with security guards and guard dogs, see:
...ok. Not quite what you were expecting.
Still, it's interesting that Natal is getting more and more exposure, and I'm sure Jason Bradbury will keep his Twitter feed updated with more news and pictures of the event. Check out his feed here: http://twitter.com/JASONBRADBURY
Obvious announcement is obvious time, as EA decides to cash in on World Cup fever.
That's not official artwork. I just found that out of laziness and boredom.
Following the huge success of Fifa 10 (it very nearly matched Modern Warfare 2's sales here in Europe last year) EA has announced that they will release a World Cup 2010 game, based on the current engine. I'm a huge fan of the series and am thrilled by it's continued improvement over the past few years, yet I'm not excited about this latest news. Traditionally, World Cup or European Championship games are utter rubbish, even though they are based on the same engine as their successful siblings. The major trouble being, they only really have one offline game mode, as opposed to the handful you get on Fifa 10. Plus the current game has the upcoming and improved Ultimate Team add-on that added a huge amount of longevity to last year's edition.
EA have promised all 199 nations that took part in qualifying will be in the game and an online tournament mode that I'm sure some will find interesting...but others really won't care about. After all, the major part of Fifa should be the offline modes.
So, will this year's World Cup edition be different from it's predecessors or will it suffer from the same problems as the others? Either way, it may be the only way for many fans to see their team lift the trophy, and that's almost worth the RRP itself. On that note, there's been no news on what the game will retail for yet but, seeing as it's EA, you can probably bet on it not being that much lower than the full-sized Fifa 10.
Keep up to date with any future announcements on EA's Community Manager's Twitter account or the Fifa 10 Facebook page:
I awoke this morning to find an email saying "Congratulations!" For once, I hadn't won the Nigerian lottery, and no, I didn't have some free penis enlargement pills to collect. That was last week. No, I'd been chosen as one of the few (thousand, probably) to try out Xbox's newest features, including the much anticipated Facebook and Twitter applications. I say "chosen" but I think if you signed up for it, you were almost guaranteed a place on the preview. Nevertheless, I was excited to be one of the first to get a taster of things to come on the 360 and I immediately pressed the guide button to hear the familiar whirring of what I can only imagine is a little person inside the big box, pressing all sorts of buttons and frantically pedelling on an exercise bike connected up to a generator. Yes...I turned the Xbox on and began previewing all the new features.
Now, for the purposes of this articles I'll separate the features and talk about them individually, in the hope that it will make things easier to read. Also, it means you can skip to the one you're most interested in first. Preferably though, read through them all, you might be pleasantly surprised. I know I was. For each review I'll try and keep things quite short, but just in case you don't even have the time or inclination to read each bit, I'll also put a Good/Bad list after each one too, to fully sum things up.
Also, it's worth noting that the Sky Player application isn't featured on this preview. The launch date for Sky on the Xbox is slated to be 27th October, as previously revealed on Faptoid in this article. For now, on with the preview review in the exact order that I clicked on them myself:
It's a huge phenomenon and it was only a matter of time before Facebook linked up with one of the major console manufacturers. Microsoft got there first and now we have a new medium to endlessly tell people about our lives, find out about theirs and wonder what the hell went wrong with society. The first thing worth noting about the Facebook application, as was the case with all these new features on this preview program, is that it needed a download, so you're going to need a hard drive or memory card to enjoy these new additions.
However once it's been downloaded and login details have been entered, it does look very stylish on screen. It's very easy to navigate and I immediately noticed that statuses were refreshing instantly, without the need to exit and re-enter the application as I had previously feared. Pictures loaded straight away and there are options to find Xbox friends on Facebook and vice versa...good start Facebook. However, the main feature of Facebook is status updating and this was where I found my first problem; I don't have a chatpad adapter for my controller or a USB keyboard. Without these extras, which of course cost extra money Microsoft...thanks, it is very awkward to type anything. It seems okay if you're writing a quick message to someone who's just quit a game early or humped your humiliated carcass, but when it comes to typing an extended piece of writing it becomes very, very annoying.
My major worry about these sorts of applications on a console though came true, as Facebook is a stand alone feature and completely separate to gaming. It would make sense to me to have it linked in to the whole Xbox experience somehow, such as status updates about games you are playing or achievements...achieved. Perhaps even have a notification come up while you're playing if somebody has commented on your status or sent you a message? Hopefully in the future this kind of feature will be added. It's a nice addition but I'll definitely be sticking with the web version for now.
Major good points: Great interface, easy to navigate and quick loading.
Major bad points: Needs a chatpad or keyboard, is a stand alone application and doesn't link to games.
Load time from dashboard: 13 seconds.
Ahh Twitter. Even those who use it (including myself of course) wonder why they feel the need to constantly tell the world what they're doing. Whatever the reasons, it's huge. Just like Facebook, it was only a matter of time before it found it's way onto the console market somehow, and here it is! Once again, like the other applications it requires a quick download and for the user to login with their details, but once these things are done, boy it looks beautiful on screen.
The interface is a joy to use, it really is. Tweets pop up in little thought bubbles and the whole experience is seamless. Depending on how many users you follow and how often they actually use Twitter, the updates come thick and fast and in real time when compared to the web version. Also, just like the Facebook app, it's very easy to navigate. Both give you the option to quickly press X if you want to update your status, but then Twitter suffers the same downfalls as it's rival. Without a chatpad or keyboard, I found it very awkward to type long statuses. Even worse for Twitter is that there's no warning of when you've run out of your limit of 140 characters. How such a basic flaw was passed through any checks is beyond me. It's the same story with the fact that you can't view web pages or twitpics on the Xbox and as every Twitterer knows, this has become a major part of the experience.
The other downsides are also in sync with the Facebook application, in that Twitter is not linked up to gaming at all. Personally, I already have a separate program tweeting whenever I unlock a new achievement or play a new game, so why isn't this feature available on the Xbox? It's such a basic and obviously idea that it really does seem strange that it's not implemented. If things are improved, Twitter has a valid place on Xbox. If not, it seems out of place and just a bit of bandwaggoning from Microsoft...surely not?
Major good points: Beautiful interface, very quick updates.
Major bad points: Needs chatpad/keyboard to fully enjoy, not linked into gaming, no character limit shown and not able to view pictures and links.
Load time from dashboard: 7 seconds (including quick login)
Last.fm is the Xbox's update to the music service provided on the console. Regular users of the service will already be familiar with it's finer points, but for those not-so-in-the-know, here's how it works: Last.fm acts as a music manager; organising playlists and recommending new artists and songs to it's users. As you listen to a song, it "scrobbles" it to last.fm's website or desktop program, showing the world what you've been listening to. Personally, I love it. I've discovered many new bands thanks to it's recommendations, based on your current musical tastes, and I also like to keep track of my overall listening habits. Last.fm allows you to view which songs and artists you've listened to most and also puts you in touch with other users with similar tastes. Simply put, it's musical stat heaven. However, I had my doubts as to how the service would translate to the console market, given that the only music I listen to on the Xbox is gaming soundtracks. If I want to listen to my own music whilst playing various games, I tend to just stick iTunes or Spotify on my laptop and then turn the volume down on the game...and to be honest, I think that's the route I'll be sticking to.
It's becoming a regular theme of the preview program, as Last.fm is once again a stand alone application, only available from the dashboard. It's not linked into gaming and doesn't do the one thing that I thought would be a great feature; scrobble a game's soundtrack while you play it. Once again, I really don't have a clue why this feature isn't available. However, I found that this was less of a problem as it was on the previous two applications. In fact, I've already found a great use to Last.fm on the Xbox, as it's been playing in the background while I've been writing this article. I've already found a couple of new bands that sounded pretty cool. (Hey Monday, and Cash Cash for the record). Although, I could do this on my laptop through the web service, so why would I choose to do it on the console itself? Well, I guess time will tell with this application and how much I use it will have to be revealed on a future article. However, I get the feeling this could be the new feature that I use the most.
In terms of presentation and features, it's fantastic. The interface, much like Facebook and Twitter, is very easy to navigate and is easy on the eye too. While you play music, a slideshow of the artist is shown and you can also listen to music while browsing other stations and menus within the app. While doing this, a transparent bar at the bottom of the screen can be brought up with a quick tap of the X button. Within this bar, you can skip to a new song, "love" the track or simply exit that station. It's very intuitive and a classy way of bringing the service to the console market. Other brilliant features are the stations themselves. To go along with their new found home, Last.fm have produced gaming radio stations. They range from "8-bit radio" to video game soundtracks. It's nice to know that they've made a particular effort to bring a smile to a gamers face, and it really does make the service feel more at home than any other. The popular stations also show what other listeners are listening to round the world and "tag" stations allow you to listen to particular genres with a couple of clicks.
The major downside I can see of the Last.fm application, is that you already have to be a regular user of the service to get the most out of it. I have loads of recommended artists but I can't help but think it's only because I've been a user of the service for a number of years. New users may take a bit of time to get the most out of it. Overall though, it's the most thought out new feature and, as such, is the most polished and impressive.
Major good points: Most features of any new applications, great range of stations
Major bad points: Not linked to gaming, have to already been a regular user to get the most out of it
Load time from dashboard: 8 seconds
Microsoft have decided to rebrand their video streaming service as part of the new dashboard update and predictably use their own Zune label. Those who have already used the video streaming service on the console will find things haven't changed that much. Okay...it looks lovely just like all the other applications but it's pretty much just the same old, search for a movie, rent it, eat some popcorn and have a jolly old time. However, one word really caught my eyes on the menu: party.
Xbox introduced the party feature a while ago, so friends could talk privately while playing alongside or against each other on any game. You can also talk to each other while playing different games...so it's a well rounded, good idea. Here's where things get interesting for the Zune service then; you can enter a party to watch movies together. That, to me, sounds fantastic. Just like it excited me for the Sky Player, watching live sports together, it excites me to think that I could rent a movie and invite some friends to watch over Xbox Live. You could do it in person, sure. However, I've got friends scattered all over the country and I like to think it'd be nice to share more experiences like this and so Microsoft have provided it. However, at this moment in time I'm not so certain as to whether everybody has to pay for the movie, or just one of the party can and invite all the others. If everybody has to pay out for it, this could be the service's major stumbling block.
Just like the other new features, Zune marketplace is presented nicely and very easy to navigate. You can choose to search by genre or alphabetically, or just browse through the new releases. It has to be said, I was surprised with how many movies are very recent releases and how many I immediately put onto a mental list to watch at a later date.
However, it is just a rebranding. The video service is still pretty much the same and the costs are a bit much for some movies. That said, HD streaming is brilliant and we're promised that it no longer requires a huge download, which is a bonus for those without much space on their hard drives. It's a valid addition to the Xbox lineup and one that I've already used a few times. I'm pretty sure I'll use it again, especially with HD streaming and a whole host of new releases.
Major good points: Party viewing, HD streaming
Major bad points: Much the same as previous video marketplace, costs of movies
Load time from dashboard: 10 seconds
So, what's the overall review of the preview then? Well, it's good, but not great. Each application will find it's own audience and I'm sure some will absolutely love them. Personally, I can't see the point in Twitter or Facebook on a console when I've got a laptop sitting next to me which aren't limited in features at all. For those without the luxury of a nearby computer, I guess these features will probably have more meaning. However, I just can't get over the feeling of this being a genius bit of marketing from Microsoft. The words "ching ching" must have been uttered quite a few times during the whole process of bringing these applications to the console. For those on the look out for a new console this Christmas, these features will probably raise an intrigued eyebrow. I know that if I was still working in a games store, I'd be using Twitter and Facebook functionality to my advantage when trying to sell the console to a potential customer, and this has got to have been on Microsoft's minds when they approached the various companies.
They all arguably have their place in the console market and I can definitely see massive potential for them. However, until the flaws are solved and the services become truly brilliant, I'll still be using the web versions myself. For the time being, I get the feeling that is going to be true for the huge majority of Xbox users.
Whether you're a veteran rally game racer or just a casual Sunday driver, Dirt 2 takes you on a whirlwind, worldwide tour amongst some of the best created tracks ever seen. The Colin McRae series has long been the king of off-road racers, so will flashbacks and friendships mean Dirt 2 lives up to the rally legend?
Those who remember the original Dirt game (2007) will have fond memories of the menu design created by Codemasters. It was stylish, yet simple. The first thing you'll notice about Dirt 2, is that Codemasters have put just as much effort into 2009's release. The menus are set out in a first person perspective, behind the scenes at a racing event. Outdoors, you can select your car or buy new ones and also check out news of tournaments or your friend's progress. However, inside your motorhome is where the action happens. An event map shows any available races, while the multiplayer and stats menus also find a home here. Some of the world's biggest off-road stars will help you get settled in with voiceovers describing everything you can do. Some of the stars featured include Travis Pastrana, Ken Block and the former BMX king, Dave Mirra.
The event map is almost empty when you first start, but eventually it will be filled with 100 events, covering five different types of off-road racing: Rally, Trailblazer, Rally-Cross, Land-Rush and Raid. Each location has a handful of events of each type, including team events where you will have to pick a friend to compete with you - more about this later. Added to these, each racing type has a World Championship of sorts, and there are three X-Games events, finishing with X-Games America, the game's biggest prize. There is also a brilliant tribute event to the game's namesake, including a video about the rally legend. Cheesy...but undoubtedly moving.
As you can tell, the game has a lot to cover before you'll finish it completely. There are varying difficulties, designing to cater for everyone from beginners to true experts, so you can set the game up to your own abilities. For the added challenge, the game rewards you with more money, more XP (the game's reputation system) and less "flashbacks"; the newest feature to the Dirt series.
Those who have played Codemasters' track racing game, Grid, will be familiar with the "flashback" feature. It gives the player the option to rewind the action and try a corner again - very useful after falling off the side of a cliff or smashing into an unseen rock. This makes the game much more forgiving, but takes away the adrenaline-fuelled edge of rallying; knowing that your one mistake could be your last. While the "flashbacks" work well and aid those who are more prone to mistakes, it's worth stepping the difficulty level up and giving yourself less room for error - believe me, it gives you a lot more motivation to get it right the first time around.
As for the cars themselves, Codemasters have made sure to give you as much variety as is really possible with off-road racing, without putting us in quads or motorbikes - which may have been a nice addition. There are pure rally cars, such as the Subaru Impreza and unlockable Ford Escort Mk2, to trucks and Baja buggies. The handling is spot on, offering a real challenge but still retaining an arcade-style drifting setup. The cars stats are split into three - Top Speed, Acceleration and Driveability. The latter is possibly the most important, as rookie drivers will find the very best, and fastest cars, very hard to control at high speed. It's worth finding a vehicle to suit your own driving style and abilities, as it could make the difference between 1st and finishing head-first in a tree.
The game's main career mode, or World Tour, is non-linear and you can more-or-less choose which event you want to take part in. Early on, there are only a few options available, but after a few hours playthrough, almost every event is open. It seems quite scattered, but is set up in a way that makes sense, as you're invited to new locations by other racers if you impress them and reach a high enough level. If there's one criticism I have of this, it's that the events unlock all too easily. Dirt 2 has an achievement called "As Good As It Gets," for when the player reaches Level 30 in the in-game reputation, or XP. By the time you reach Level 30, I found I still had over 60 events to complete and I'd already won each of the 5 World Championships and every X-Games event. Why Codemasters have set the bar so low, only they can answer.
The other problem I have with the World Tour mode is simply this: in a game involving one of rallying's greatest ever drivers, I expect a lot of rallying events. However, pure rally races only make up about 20% of the career. While some won't find this a problem, I was disappointed that there was so little in the way of timed, solo rallying. Even when you do enter a rally event, the points system remains the same over each course, with the winner getting 10 points and lowering values from there. It would have been nice to see the results based on cumulative times, like real WRC events.
However, any problems like this are small and don't have a real effect on the overall enjoyment of the game. In fact, the game has more than enough rewards and little touches to make up for any problems, such as the in-game "missions" and friendship system. The missions, much like the Xbox achievements or PS3 Trophies, are based on things like amount of cars overtaken or total driving time. While there are no direct rewards for these missions, they do offer more motivation to do certain things. Even the worst of racing drivers will smile when they see that they've unlocked a mission for spinning the car 5 times or more.
The game's friendships are another brilliant addition. As you progress through the game, the stars of off-road racing start to notice you, invite you to events and even become your friend. During races, they speak to you and encourage your progress, or laugh at you if they overtake you. You can even pair up with them for events that require you to race as part of a team. From time-to-time, they will also invite you to "throwdown" challenges. These are 1-on-1 events that are purely for fun and friendly rivallry. The friendships may seem like a novelty extra at first, but it gives Dirt 2 added realism behind the scenes.
Graphically, the game excels. The cars look fantastic, and get splattered with mud and dust, as well as getting bumps and scrapes from all angles. The damage modelling, as we have come to expect from Codemasters, is exceptional. The slightest collision will result in a smashed headlight or a caved-in door. Perhaps the only thing missing from this kind of racing, is mechanical breakdowns - I'm sure I'm not the only one who's not too worried about this being left out. To get the best out of the game, it's worth hopping into the cockpit view. Each car has a unique interior, complete with dashboard and rear-view mirror toys that you can unlock throughout your career. The best of these is probably the option to have your Xbox avatar hanging down on a string from the mirror, swinging wildly around as you drift over gravel and sand.
It's a shame Codemasters didn't implement Grid's car customisation in Dirt 2, however, as it would have been brilliant if you could create your own livery to use on each vehicle. While the in-game liveries are plentiful and unlock in rewarding fashion, the lack of pure customisation is a pity. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would have liked to have a special unlock at the height of your career, allowing you to create your own design.
Dirt 2's one huge downfall is it's lack of split-screen multiplayer. While Codemasters have addressed the original racer's main issue and have included online racing for up to eight people, the lack of offline multiplayer racing is a shame. While the trucks and buggies weren't so enjoyable during the career mode, they are great fun against other people. The online racing is clean, fluid and lag-free, and every car is unlocked from the start. Dirt 2's online action is another success for Codemasters following Grid's lead.
In conclusion, Dirt 2 has taken everything good from the original title and it's sister, Grid, and made for a very satisfying racer. The graphics are slick and react brilliantly to the conditions, and each location is presented beautifully. London's Battersea Power Station is a particular highlight, with some of the best tracks ever created in a racing game. The audio is also fantastic, with tracks from Madina Lake and You Me At Six adding to the excitement, but not overpowering the action. Each car sounds, looks and demolishes just like you would expect, and the unlockable toys give a fun edge to quite a serious title. The career's longevity will suffer with everything unlocking so quickly but there's a lot of fun to be had before the game starts to wear thin. While there are a few bad points, Dirt 2 heavily outweighs these with it's immersive menu system and it's unique mix of simulation and arcade. No other racing title can quite mix the two as well as the Colin McRae series.
* Varied difficulties cater for those of all abilities
* Overall Audio/Visual presentation is excellent
* Tracks are technical and challenging, but still great fun
* Loads of vehicles - lots of variety in vehicle type
* "Missions," friendships and unlockables add to the longevity of the game
* No split-screen multiplayer
* Limited customisation of cars
* Points system in rally mode detracts from realism
* Career's non-linear setup seems scattered
* Career based achievements set the bar too low
* Good mix of online/offline (most offline)
* Too easy to get to 700+
* Best: "Just Drive!" (Drive 100 miles without getting an achievement)
* Worst: "Showboating" (Bask in your success at X-Games - automatically unlocks without doing anything)
Now, for those who don't want to link away and read an entire article, I'll cut it down for you:
Sony may well be cutting down on certain divisions, possibly including it's video gaming department.
Although nothing is confirmed, and to be honest, I'm sure it probably won't happen, it's interesting to think that a major company as big as Sony is obviously affected by the global financial crisis, so will they cut their losses?
The other thing i picked up from the article is that apparently the PS3 is behind the Xbox 360 and the Wii in terms of sales, which I was not particularly surprised at.
One thing I really noticed from working at my local Game store over Christmas, was that no one was buying Playstation 3s. Everyone wanted a Wii, and anyone that was left wanted a 360. Is this due to everyone needing a replacement after a RROD? Or was it the price tag? I did definitely notice a huge amount of Arcade console sales, suggesting the lowered price tag was definitely an issue.
Anyone seriously think Sony will pull the plug on the PS3? Or is this just more panic journalism relating to the global crisis we face?
I've was just leafing through a magazine, when I saw what I definitely want for christmas this year. Even more, what I'll probably be buying my two best mates for their christmas presents too...they'll read that here, and I've just ruined the surprise, but I just don't care.
For those who want to know more...here's the stats.
The one player version is £30.
It's got a LCD screen, TV-out and built-in speakers.
It comes with 20 built-in original Megadrive games, including Sonic & Knuckles, GoldenAxe, Shinobi and Ecco.
The two player version is £20
Two controllers plug straight into a TV
They come with 10 built-in original Megadrive games, including Sonic & Knuckles and Spinball.
I think these are pretty cool, and obviously a lot cheaper than a load of other things. Yes, they're very gadgety, and probably won't have much longevity, but I'd happily play on them, preferably the one-player version.
I know they won't be everyone's cup of tea, and obviously if you've got a DS, you might think these are pretty pointless, but for £20 or £30, I reckon they're all right, and would bring a smile to my face.