Mastodon - Blood Mountain
(9.8 of 10)
Leviathan was probably the best metal album I've heard in years. It was pure genius and ambitious. Its success marked Mastodon as one of the best metal bands to come out this decade. But the band didn't simply stopped with Leviathan. In their latest and third effort, Blood Mountain, as evidence and album title would suggest, they continued to push their music foward and let it grow even larger than Leviathan.
Listening to the album is quite a fantastic musical journey gone awry. The first track, "The Wolf is Loose", is a perfect introduction, with its ear-pounding drumworks, that will immediately kickstart your adrenaline pumps and grant you the energy you need throughout the entire adventure. Brann Dailor's sterling and adernaline pumping beats continues on as the chase escalates to the second track, "Crystal Skull". The chase mellows down abruptly, but the musical adventure does not, as you stumble upon the complex cacophonies of metal and melodic riffs of the "Sleeping Giant","Bladecatcher", and the "Colony of Birdmen". The album's gut-wrenching single, "Capillarian Crest", clearly summarizes the music in the entire album and showcases the ingenuity of the band's riff and drum craft.
Overall, Blood Mountain is the most brillant rock album released this year, and a new metal classic. If Mastodon continues this trend, pushing themselves and making huge leaps that are enough for them to handle, I think they'll turn from being a great metal band to icons of metal music that defined this decade. If you don't have a copy of Blood Mountain yet, do yourself a favor and get one -by legal means, of course.
Isis - In the Absence of Truth
(9.3 of 10)
In the Absence of Truth is my introduction to Isis, and all I can say about this progressive metal album is that it's heavy and beautiful. The metallic weight of this Isis' music does not come quickly, aggressively, and hard like a punch other bands usually delivers. No, the heaviness is like a concrete block that drags you down to the bottom of the ocean while you listen to the call of whales. Tracks like "Wrists of Kings" and "Garden of Light" baits you with melodic openings, weaved with intricate guitar riffs, and then slowly crushes you with continual pressure and low-growling vocals. If you're looking for a metal album, the kind that puts you to sleep but gives you a hell of a nightmare, In the Absence of Truth is one of the best this year.
The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
(9.0 of 10)
If I can describe the sound of The Blood Brothers' Young Machetes I'd say it's like an At The Drive-In album with mad ferocity and sharp claws. Though that comparison does not even come close, however, except that the two vocalists sounds like a starved-crazy Cedric Bixler-Zabala. But the comparison aside, Young Machetes is really a brillantly mad and intense screamo album with dance rock fillings. "We Ride Skeletal Lightning", an insane sounding song with descending bassline that you can groove to, is my favorite track here. "Huge Gold AK-47" is another excellent track in the album that showcases another sterling bassline. If you crave for something feral and crazy, then Young Machetes is the answer to that.
Brand New - The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me
(8.7 of 10)
I was never a fan of Brand New before. Although their Deja Entendu in 2003 made me turn. This time, however, their third album, The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, definitely made me listen. The band has matured this time, took a giant leap, and eschewed most of their emo trappings. Most of the tracks in this album starts out soft with hushed guitars before it comes alive to full melody. Two tracks here really standout"Jesus", a somber song with sonic riffs and aching vocals, and "Limousine", a 7-minute epic that I didn't really expect from the band. I don't know the reasons why Brand New forged a brand new sound for themselves. Frankly, I don't care because the result was an undeniably excellent album.
Mastodon - Blood Mountain
Neverwinter Nights 2
(8.9 of 10)
Platform: Windows XP (PC)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
I've always been a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, may it be the traditional table-top or the electronic game equivalent. I've spent and wasted countless of hours playing campaigns, delving dungeons and slaying dragons, with my fellow "Magickeros" at the Rotary Park or at the 2nd floor of Signs and Symbols. When I'm home, I'll turn on my PC to play games like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment until my eyes were bloodshot. Those were the days of old, however. Fortunately, and I'm glad, Neverwinter Nights 2 has brought it back.
The main story in Neverwinter Nights 2, unlike its predecessor, can only be described as epic. Albeit the storyline is a standard in fantasy gaming -in which a nobody, a humble villager, from out of nowhere rises up to confront an ancient evil of great power- but the journey to defeat the threat is thick with twists and turns, which are altered and based through your actions and inactions. The ending of the story is quite unexpected as well, and you might, or might not, be disappointed by it.
There have been a couple of changes since the original, and probably the most notable is the utilization of the D&D 3.5 edition rules (whereas the first game uses D&D 3rd edition). Character creation is much richer this time. New prestige classes (like the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster) and sub-races (like the Drow and Tiefling) are made available. You can also choose your deities and background traits, which gives you starting bonuses, for more role-playing goodness. However, if you think that creating a character is too complex or too long, you can always click the "recommend" button -for automatic selection of feats, skills, and abilities- to hasten your creation. If that's not fast enough, you can simply choose a pre-generated character.
The companion system in Neverwinter Nights 2 has been greatly improved. You can have a full party with a total of three companions. Though sometimes, on special missions and situation, you can exceed your limit of three companions. Each one of your companions can be commanded and controlled by you, much like in the Knights of the Old Republic games. Although you can't multi-class your companions, you can still equip and develop them to fit your strategy. Companions are more than just pack mules and meat shields too, since each one of them have their own story and skills. You can talk to them, learn about their pasts, and if you treat them right they'll become more amiable towards you. In addition to that, you can also use their non-dialogue skills and feats, especially their crafting skills.
But even though with all the praises and niceties mentioned above this game isn't free from bugs. I've encountered some of them like the endless scene looping were one cut scene would keep repeating everytime I'm trying to leave an area. There were also times that I can't transit to other areas and would be stuck in one place. I've also suffered from low frames per second (FPS) counts in some parts of the game, even with my above mid-end PC specifications and all settings turned low. In addition to that, I also had a hard time updating my game because the auto updater wouldn't work properly.
Overall, Neverwinter Nights 2 is really a great game. I never had much fun like this, in a computer game, since Baldur's Gate II. Although it was hammered down by multitude of bugs and other technical problems, the whole gaming experience outweighed those annoyances and inconveniences. The stronghold managment, the exemplary storyline, the crafting, and the ability to defend yourself not only with sharpened swords but with sharpened words as well were all awesome. Of course, the adventure of the main story was only the beginning. There is the toolset so you could make your own D&D campaigns, and a bunch of fan-made modules to download and play. But that's a review for another time. For now, just get this game and enjoy it.
PC gaming has been in decline within recent years -but definitely not dying- especially the RPG genre. But as an avid role-play gamer, I denied that fact. I only dismissed the decline as a dry spell that the genre would soon recover from. But when Troika Games -one of the best computer RPG developer- went defunct early last year, I knew that PC RPG won't be the same again.
Troika Games has always been loved and hated by both gamers and game reviewers. Loved, because of the unique design of their games. Hated, because their games are plagued with bugs. Me, I loved them and played all of their games. True, their games were unique and buggy but it's always better to have a unique buggy game than a crappy bug-free game. A buggy game can be patched and fixed but there's definitely no remedy for a crappy game.
Now, more than two years after Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Troika Games' last masterpiece, the founders shares their story with The Escapist: The Rise and Fall of Troika. And here are some interesting things that I found.
"Troika's original goal had been to just be exclusive to one publisher, kind of their external RPG dev team," he says, "so we wouldn't have to always be scrambling for contracts. At first, Sierra seemed to be that publisher - even when they weren't sure about an Arcanum sequel, they had us working on something else. But then Sierra had its own problems, and that was the end of that." -- Leonard Boyarsky
I wonder if there would be an Arcanum sequel, or if Troika would still be around, if Sierra didn't had any troubles.
"The team was also working on the spiritual successor to Fallout, but couldn't find anyone willing to bite on the end of their line." --The Escapist
I guess game publishers minds are hardwired to the fact that RPGs can only be in medieval/fantasy setting. Because if not, many would bite Troika's line to publish another post-apocalyptic game to many deprived fans of the post-apocalyptic genre.
One of the gifts that I received was a gift card for Borders bookstore. Since I wasn't in the mood for heavy reading I got myself a graphic novel, Deadpool vol.1. Deadpool is a Marvel comic anti-hero, and I became his fan since I saw him in X-Force comics. Though I didn't know he has his own comic but I'm glad they bound the 1st 25 issues.
To start with, Deadpool was a government agent with a terminal cancer. Wanting to cure his disease, he volunteered for the Weapon X program. He was eventually given a healing factor -like Wolverine's- and was cured from his cancer. Though in the process of expirementation, he became insane. But his insanity is what makes him special and funny, and in the end -with the aid of Loki- he also broke the fourth wall (he knows that he's a comic book character). After Weapon X, Deadpool became a mercernary and was considered as a villain in the Marvel universe (he fought the New Mutants and X-Force). Though his infatuation with Siryn (X-Force member) made him become a better person, but not entirely good.
Deadpool's comic, however, is more about his struggles of becoming good and there's less fighting (considering he's one of the best fighters in the Marvel universe). Still, the comic is a lot of fun and jam-packed with guest stars (Deadpool even became Thor). But his psycho-babble is the gold in here, and it sure made me laugh plenty of times
I went out to watch Mel Gibson's Apocalypto yesterday, and compared to his other films (Passion of the Christ and Braveheart) this one is less epic. But that doesn't mean the movie isn't great. The authenticity of the film, and its message, makes it a work of art.
What I like about this film is that Mel Gibson eschewed Hollywood flair, in favor of authenticity. There are no pretty looking Hollywood actors and actresses and all of the actors are indian-looking. Even the fierce looking king of the Mayans wasn't a real actor but a worker they found on the docks. The film also uses the Yukatek Maya language (there are English sub-titles, of course, so don't worry) which adds a more authentic atmosphere to the film.
The film shows that the folly of man is responsible for destroying what he had created and had hoped to protect. Apocalypto's setting was at the decline of the Mayans, just before the Spaniards came, where their civilization was ravaged by disease and blight. In hopes to counter these problems they offer human sacrifices to their god, killing hundreds of people a day. Little did they know though that the blood spilled from the dead and the decaying bodies are the result of their problems. In comparison to our recent problems, as Gibson had intended, Mr. Bush is also making human sacrifices -sending men to Iraq- in hopes, or under the guile, to protect the US.
Overall, it think Apocalypto was a great film. Not Academy Awards-worthy like Braveheart though but it's fun to watch.
I went out to watch Eragon just this afternoon. I haven't read the book, though I had heard of it a couple years ago, so I don't know if the film stayed true to the book. I have a strong feeling though, based on the popularity of the book, that the film had strayed far. Bottom line, and to keep this post succinct, the movie sucked. There were more horseback riding/mountainside scenery shots than the story. I've seen porn that has better acting than this movie (even Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich is weak here). In addition to all that, Sienna Guillory doesn't look so hot in this film. Although the baby blue dragon was cute. But by all means, avoid this one.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
(8.4 of 10)
Platform: Windows XP (PC)
Developer: Raven Software/Beenox Studios
There were times when a game, exclusive for console platforms, comes out and I wish, as a PC gamer, I had a console too. One of those games was X-Men: Legends, a game developed for Playstation 2, Xbox, and Game Cube. Fortunately, its sequel, X-Men: Legends II - Rise of Apocalypse, made its port to the PC. Delightfully enough, the game's success also lead Beenox Studios and Raven Software to port another "from comics-to-games", action-RPG into the PC. This time, however, it's not just the X-Men but the majority of the Marvel universe.
In the story, Dr. Doom has formed a group called the Masters of Evil, which is a grand conglomeration of all super villains in the Marvel universe, and boldly attacked SHEILD's helicarrier. To counter the threat, Colonel Nick Fury, director of SHEILD, immediately called in for help and formed an ultimate alliance of super heroes.
There have been several changes made to the gameplay of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance -which you may, or may not, like- but for the most part it still feels and runs like X-Men: Legends II. You can choose from a wide array of characters, each with their own set of skills, to form your four-man team of super heroes. Then hack, slash, shoot mystical bolts, or sling webs to clear out any obstacles or opponents thrown at you in order to reach/complete your objectives. When you've trashed a lot of villains and their underlings, your characters will progress in levels. Simple enough.
Graphics & Sounds
Raven Software entirely eschwed the cell shaded characters this time and upgraded the game's graphics, to next-generation, by using mesmerizing effects, highly detailed 3D environments, and scintillating advance lightings. Your team will also venture into plenty of different areas, all of which are rich and wonderfully designed, giving you a varied scenery. In addition, all the cut-scenes are still as movie-like and gorgeous as they were in X-Men: Legends II.
Overall, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is quite an enjoyable game with an undeniably good story. But with all the changes that have been made, like the removal of stat allocation and introduction of twitch action, I felt it took a step down from X-Men: Legends II (that or maybe I'm biased because Age of Apocalypse is my favorite Marvel story arc). Still, I highly recommend this game to action-RPG afficionados and especially to Marvel Comics fans, because controlling your favorite heroes (Deadpool and Ghost Rider for me) is a blast.
I've never done a ton of job interviews in my life but here's what I learned today: "Never look at sexually stimulating pictures prior to an interview". Unfortunately, I have to learn that the hard way when I browsed through a copy of Maxim UK at the local bookstore to kill time before my interview. Because after seeing the the bodacious body and boombastic boobs of Lucy Pinder, I had a hard time focusing during my interview.
Oh well, at least it was worth knowing the name of this chick. At least it abled me to search for more of her pictures on the net. And if you like what you see here, then here are some more.
Neverwinter Nights 2 is probably the best RPG that came out this year, and my First Impression is a testament to that. While the game is good, it is also plagued with bugs. Worse, I wasn't able to update this game using the autoupdater. Even worse, Obsidian and Atari were playing deaf, tip-toed around this problem, and failed to release a "Critical Fix" patches -like what BioWare did for the original Neverwinter Nights. But finally, after five weeks and many failed attempts to update, I was able to patch my game. Not with the help of Atari or Obsidian, but with the help of a dedicated gamer and lurker at BioWare forums.
So if you're one of those who are having trouble patching their game using the autoupdater. You might want to download the lastest patch (1.00 to 1.03) manually. Then, download this nifty utility called NWN2 patcher made by BioWare forum lurker, TNT220. After you've downloaded both, proceed to this forum link, here, for instructions. I can't guarantee that you'll patch your game successfully though. But it's worth a shot.
After you've patched your game, head on to Tweak Guides and check out their tweaking guide for Neverwinter Nights 2. If you're not that techno savvy or don't understand some of the in-game settings, this guide will clarify a lot of things. Of course, it'll also help you choose and set your game to achieve balance between performance and image quality.
Dungeons & Dragons and The Forgotten Realms campaign setting have provided us with plenty of CRPGs throughout the years (Eye of the Beholder being my first), and consuming our valuable time, leaving many unfinished chores and school projects. However, game developers have been overusing the same Forgotten Realms, making the beloved campaign setting quite unforgettable. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but I just wish that game developers should look into other alternatives. While some developers did explore other RPG systems (Call of Cthulhu, d20 Star Wars, and the upcoming Deadlands and Shadowrun), there are plenty of excellent RPG sytems and campaign settings out there that still remains untapped.
Here a couple of table-top RPGs that I think have great potentials of becoming an entertaining computer RPGs, should they be developed.
A Game of Thrones
7th Sea: Swashbuckling Adventures
Seafaring and swashbuckling is what we lack, and need, in computer RPGs. 7th Sea, a game set in the world of Theah -which resembles the Carribiean- is a strong candidate here. The game uses the d20 system and the D&D classes, though some were modified to fit the game's setting. Like A Game of Thrones, the 7th Sea is not much different from playing a D&D game, except for the setting, the guns, and the ship-to-ship combat.
Space: 1889 probably has the most unique setting in any role-playing game. It's a steampunk game set in the Victorian-era and all theories about space travel during that time are applied, and is a reality, in this game. It's brilliant, like Jules Verne. A historical science-fiction role-playing game. The game uses a far simpler system than d20 as well, so learning curve will be much faster.
To those who are too fond of their fantastical creatures, then Urban Arcana is the campaign for you. In this campaign setting, there are elves, drows, bugbears, and dragons. The only thing different is: they're on modern Earth, wielding Glocks instead of short-swords, and sporting Reeboks instead of greaves made by Cromwell. The game uses the d20 Modern system (modified d20) and has an awesome array of classes like Spellslingers (magical gunslingers) or Shadowjacks (magical hackers) to choose from.
The d20 Future, along with d20 Apocalypse and d20 Cyberscape, are supplements for the d20 Modern Rulebook. The book offers a lot of interesting concepts and ideas if one wants to make a sci-fi or a post-apocalyptic computer RPG using the d20 system. Whether it be nuclear winter, cyberpunk, corporate nation, space colonization, or biblical-judgment day game setting, the d20 Future can defintely cater it.
I found a couple of screenshot previews of an upcoming RPG, entitled Silverfall, over at RPGdot. I wasn't initially impressed with the screenshot since the graphics looks a lot like Dungeon Siege II. In addition to that, I don't know much about the developer, Monte Cristo Games (7 Sins), and the publisher is also Atari (Unknown Developer + Atari = bug plagued game). After the lack of support for Neverwinter Nights 2, I think I'll stay away from anything that Atari published for a while.
Still, I'm a sucker for an underrated game made by an unknown developer. So I went to the official website to check out the game and the elven redhead covergirl, sporting a medieval tanktop and a cleavage, grabbed my attention instantaenously. I read about the game a bit more, then stumbled upon this interesting feature:
"Two separate skill trees each provide 10 special talents (lycanthropy or implant, insect invocations or radioactivity...)."
A game with a "Science vs. Nature" theme, interesting indeed. Reminds me a lot of the game Arcanum, an RPG with a "Technology vs. Magick" theme. Notice that they also mentioned the keyword, which is "radioactivity". Anybody who manages, or even tries, to blend my two favorite things together, which is RPG and radioactivity, then they'll have my buck.
Gaming is really a big part this gift giving season. Though usually, you'll hear games like Gears of War or Resistance: Fall of Man on the pages of shopping guides or from the mouths of sales persons. In truth, they're all good games but their price is a bit steep ($60). Luckily, if you're into PC gaming, or have a friend that is into PC gaming, and don't mind two-year old games, you can easily fill out stockings for just the same, or even less, amount of price.
Call of Duty: War Chest
Call of Duty is one of the best World War II first-person shooter ever made, and the War Chest collection is one heck of a stocking filler. For $50, the box includes 3 games: Call of Duty, the United Offensive expansion, and Call of Duty 2. This game will really give a bang to your buck.
Half-Life 2: Holiday 2006 Collection
Half-Life 2 is one of the highest rated first-person shooter, and probably the highest rated PC game. Besides the Half-Life 2 game, this collection also includes Half-Life: Source, Half-Life 2: Episode 1, and Counter Strike: Source. 4 games for only $50, now that's long mileage.
Star Wars: The Best of PC
Of all bundles listed in here, this one is the gem. For $40, this package includes 6 Star Wars games: Jedi Knight II, Knights of the Old Republic, Empire at War, Battlefront, Republic Commando, and a 14-day trial to Star Wars: Galaxies. Highly recommended to any PC gamer and Star Wars fan.
Total War: Eras Collection
The Total War series are the best strategy games, and Eras is the ultimate collection. For $60, the box includes Shogun, Medieval, and Rome with all their expansions ( a total of 7 games). Plus, it also includes some collector items.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
(8.0 of 10)
Platform: Windows XP (PC)
Developer: Arkane Studios
I've always been a fan of the Might and Magic series ever since I've played Heroes II. In fact, it became one of my first stepping stones that lead me into being a PC gamer. This year, after its long slumber, I'm glad that the Might and Magic franchise was finally reawakened with the release of Heroes V. Under the capable hands of Arkane Studios (Arx Fatalis) and powered by the Source (Half-Life 2) graphics/physics engine of Valve Software, Might and Magic has yet another game (albeit an action game instead of a turn-based strategy) to add in its rich saga, the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.
The story in the single player campaign will put players in the boots of Sareth, a wizard's apprentice who's been assigned by his master, Phenrig, to help retrieve an artifact called the Skull of Shadows. To help you with your missions, your master summons a spirit, with a curvaceous and voluptuous corporeal form, named Xana, whom will be integrated into yourself and act as a flirtatious GPS device. Soon after, you'll meet with Leanna, another wizard's apprentice, and his uncle, the wizard Menelag, to embark in an expedetion to uncover the missing artifact.
While Dark Messiah has been classified as an action-RPG, I don't see many standard features present in the game (such as the ones present in Diablo and Dungeon Siege). There's no central hub, or town, where you can interact with various NPCs and get additional information about the gameworld or optional quests. There are no merchants in the game as well. So you can't sell your loot or buy equipment and potions. The only RPG element present in this game is the set of skills. The skills are classified into three trees: Combat, Magic, and Miscellaneous. All skills from all tress are available to players since Dark Messiah uses a class-less system. Skills can be bought using skills points -which are earned by completing objectives.
Graphics & Sounds
In the graphics department, the Source still does it job, and does it well even for a two year old graphics/physics engine. The models are highly detailed and, coupled with HDR lighting, makes the world look realistic. The slow motion fatality attacks are also great to watch. Seeing how your enemy's limbs or head severed from their person is brutally beautiful. Most of the time, however, you'll be fighting and traveling in dark, similarly looking, dungeons and will encounter the same type of enemies, making the game too generic.
There are some technical problems that plagues the game, however. With my specification -1 GB RAM, ATI Radeon X1600 PRO (512 MB), and Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz- I was able to play the game at 1152 x 864 resolution, with 2x antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, Full HDR, mostly everything at medium settings, and achieved an average of 40 FPS. I've also encountered a lot of stuttering, especially after chapter and area transitions, but it was fixed after I lowered the model and texture detail from high to medium, and without noticeable loss in image quality. Loading times are also extremly long, with an average of 40 seconds during area transitions and 90 seconds during chapter transitions.
Dark Messiah has plenty of technical problems -namely the stuttering and the long loading times. The game moves in a linear fashion and the story is almost flavorless. Though I won't entirely dismiss the game since there are work around to solve the problems, and the story...it's beyond repair but the unique combat and action will definitely make up for it. So if you're looking for some RPG with a sublime story, better look elsewhere. If you're looking for an action game, with RPG and stealth elements, and lots of blood and gore, then Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is your game.