AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack – Review

If you'd rather not pop a disc in to rock out, the AC/DC tracks can be imported into the three main Rock Band games.

With a pal by my side and a set of plastic instruments surrounding us, we were ready to ROCK! You see, days before I bought AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack, a Wal-Mart exclusive addition to the Rock Band series of games. Being in a mood to ROCK! we decided to play through it in one sitting, plus there was an achievement for doing so…

I’m not the biggest fan of AC/DC, but I enjoy a ton of their songs and can respect what they’ve been doing since the seventies. Since they’ve been making music for so long, they have many popular songs and most are present in the game.

The eighteen songs included are taken from a 1991 concert AC/DC put on and as such, are all live tracks. Live tracks usually aren’t my thing, but these were alright. I knew of the majority of the songs and after scanning through a list of the band’s singles (prior to 1991) the only omission I saw was “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.

Playing through the entire set list took us a good while and I was perplexed by two things. Firstly, there wasn’t an option for the concert to seamlessly play out. Instead, with the completion of each song, we were kicked back out to results screen and then the song selection screen to choose the next song in the concert. Secondly, during load screens, Rock Band games include facts about bands, songs, etc. Playing through the game, my friend and I only ever came across AC/DC facts twice. This was a missed opportunity to enhance player’s knowledge on the renowned band.

Still, it was a fun multiplayer experience. The game was originally a Wal-Mart exclusive, although it’s easy to find elsewhere. However, because it was a Wal-Mart exclusive, and the stores around me have always had too many copies, I was able to find a copy on clearance. Like I said though, copies are readily available everywhere and cheap, like, five dollars or less. AC/DC might not be everyone’s taste, but it’s worth checking out if you’re in a mood to ROCK!

Journey – Review/Interpretation

thatgamecompany co-founder Jenova Chen wants his medium to mature and he believes that can be achieved by producing video games that satisfy a wide range of emotions.

Lauded by many as a purveyor of the intellectual evolution of video games, thatgamecompany has received high praises in recent years for developing minimalistic video games that leave an emotional impact. Released just a few weeks ago for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network, Journey continues this trend.

Journey, is about just that, a journey. The journeyer in question travels through harsh environments on an unspecified quest. Lacking dialogue and an overt narrative, Journey is open to interpretation, which is what the bulk of this review will encompass – my interpretation of Journey. Before that, I’d like to briefly discuss the game.

Controlling the journeyer I navigated deserts, ruins, and mountains, all the while figuring out how to get around the occasional impediment, usually by jumping. When connected to the internet, people would randomly join my game and we’d attempt working together. Groups never exceeded two players, although I met three or four throughout the length of the game. These few players were never a hindrance but cooperation was tough due to the inability to directly communicate with each other, more on that in my interpretation. Speaking of which, let’s dive into it.

One ruin in particular was fascinating. It appeared to be underwater.

Set in the far-flung future, the journeyer I controlled was on a mission of enlightenment. The world he lives in might at one point have been described as the pinnacle of civilization. But the people eventually turned against each other and nearly destroyed the world in a process of unending war. Now, remaining humanity is in search of a reason; a reason for the past, a reason for the future, a reason to continue living in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Believing the enlightened one residing high atop a mountain at the peak of the world would have an answer to his questions, the journeyer set out. He didn’t get to skip down a yellow brick road either; his quest led him through an unforgiving desert that never seemed to end. Blanketed throughout this near-infinite desert were the ruins of the long destroyed ancient civilization. Their murals contained descriptions of similar journeys from ages ago. The wall paintings mirrored the journeyer’s travels with uncanny precision, and helped lead him to his destination while reminding him that he was no different from those who lived generations before him.

Along the way, the journeyer occasionally met contemporaries who also sought enlightenment. Lacking a common language but sharing a common destination, the journeyer aided the fellow travelers he met and developed an emotional bond with them. Even though communication was difficult because of the absence of a shared language, the journeyers were able to cooperate by studying body movement and using simplistic noises. The journey was tough and those he met did not always make it. The journeyer missed their presence, but knew he had to continue.

Obstacles in the journeyer’s way became ever more prevalent as he continued. Getting past them required thinking through straightforward puzzles, executing tricky jumps, and navigating around enormous enemies.

These giant pillars at one point formed a bridge, one that needs to be reconstructed.

It wasn’t long until the journeyer reached the foot of the mountain. It was there that the red-orange of the desert ended and the white of the mountain began. Snow pelted the journeyer as he made his ascent. Fortunately he was not alone in this stretch of his journey. A fellow journeyer also reached the foot of the mountain and they inched forward, body against body, fighting with all their might to push forward against the howling snow. At points the winds were so strong that all they could do was brace onto windbreakers sticking out of the ground to not get blown off the mountain, no doubt placed there by journeyers before them. This part of the journey was tougher than anything previously encountered, but the journeyer prevailed, albeit alone.

When he crossed into the summit, the journeyer met with the figure that he’d seen scrawled onto the ruins, the figure that he’d been seeking, the enlightened one. Though he made noises that the journeyer was unfamiliar with, he could somehow understand the enlightened one. He said little, but what he said left a major impact on the journeyer.

“The civilizations before your time destroyed each other because they focused on their differences rather than their similarities. You may think you and the journeyers you met on your way here are far different, but you share more than you think. Without cooperation, you never would have reached me.”

“I can’t tell you what the future holds, you decide that. You pushed forward, now reflect on all that you’ve done. You sought enlightenment and you achieved it. It wasn’t the destination that you needed, it was the journey. Now shut up about Mass Effect 3’s ending.”

So that’s one way I interpret Journey. Pretty bleak huh? Civilization, reaches a pinnacle and then freefalls into a rapid decline through never-ending war culminating in the near destruction of EVERYTHING. So, does this interpretation reflect my inner lack of faith in humanity? Personally, I’d say yes and no. I’m an optimistic person, but I can foresee a future where humanity eventually destroys everything (although I imagine everyone can picture that). I’d also say my interpretation of Journey is derived from similar stories in entertainment. The story I envisioned is in no way a new idea and I know I’ve encountered it in multiple formats, such as books, movies, and other video games.

Although my interpretation also has positive messages too, namely that we can overcome any differences we perceive in each other. Cooperation eased the journeyer’s travels, even though he worked with journeyers far different than he, they couldn’t even speak the same language! Yet, the journeyers found a way to understand each other and overcame many obstacles.

With their destination seeming nearer, these two journeyers must've breathed a sigh of relief at this point, but their journey wasn't over.

The minimalistic nature of Journey has left me ruminating on it more so than any other game I’ve played. It was a brief, however enjoyable experience that is very open to interpretation. I’d recommend Journey, especially if you’re able to experience it with someone else.

If anyone else has played Journey, what’s your interpretation?

In Between Posts, March 25, 2012

At night, the 66' tall soda bottle lights up in what else but neon.

Spring break was fantastic. I accomplished a lot, spent time with friends and family, and took a minor road trip, and played a lot of Mass Effect 3. I wrote more than I usually do, and I still have many articles I didn’t get around to writing. My friends and I hung out, played disc golf, and a ton of video games. Lastly my girlfriend and I took a road trip to Arcadia, Oklahoma to visit POPS (on Route 66) and then made our way to Oklahoma City and visited a few museums.

I’m not sure what this week has in store for me, but I guess I’m ready to get back into the swing of things, I don’t have any other choice. One thing spring break showed me? I can’t wait for summer and more free time!

Mario’s Picross – Review

Mario really doesn't need to be present; Nintendo probably thought he'd sell a few copies though.

Nintendo’s two Picross games for the Nintendo DS (Picross DS and Picross 3D) easily top the list of great timewasters. In them, players use logic and a hint of math to fill in empty grids that then yield an image. They can take anywhere from a few seconds to a half hour depending on the size of the grid, and each game contains hundreds of puzzles. The ease of playing them and the sense of accomplishment fuels their drive to consume any of my free time.

Mario’s Picross was the original Picross game from Nintendo and it was released on the Game Boy in 1995. It’s also available as a downloadable on the Nintendo 3DS via its Virtual Console storefront. I recently picked it up, and as is always the case when I play one, it consumed my time and had me staying up late saying to myself “just one more” over and over.

Picross puzzles are grids of blank squares that need to be filled in. Beside each row and column are numbers designating how many squares are to be filled, and in what order. For example, imagine a 15 x 15 puzzle with a row that has the numbers 7 and 7 beside it. Because the row is 15 squares long, I know that the first 7 squares are going to get filled in, there’ll be a space, and the last 7 squares will be filled in. That’s an easy example because the numbers indicating how many squares to fill in total 15; 7+1 (blank space)+7=15. It gets trickier when a row or column has only a few filled in squares. In situations like that, players really have to examine other rows and columns and view puzzles in their entirety.

Notice the Egyptian-like pictures; it's as though Mario was an archaeologist.

In the Nintendo DS games, when I’d fill in squares, their corresponding numbers beside the row or column would become grayed out, making it easier for me to keep track of what I hadn’t done yet. This feature isn’t present in Mario’s Picross and it made solving puzzles not necessarily tougher, just a little more annoying. Another facet that hinders my play sessions is the size of the screen. If you don’t remember, the screen on the original Game Boy was tiny; it’s probably the reason I wear glasses today. I tended not to play Mario’s Picross for extended sessions to avoid eye strain. The screen is enlarged on the 3DS, I just wish you could distort the perspective to make it fit the handheld’s screen entirely. Still, Mario’s Picross is a great timewaster and a great game for just a couple of bucks.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Collector’s Edition Review

The contents of the collector's edition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I’ve written three articles covering collector’s editions of video games so far and they’ve all been similar. Namely, they all came in metal DVD cases; of course they contained other bonuses too but nothing spectacular in my opinion. Well, when it came to releasing a collector’s edition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda Softworks decided to do it big.

The collector’s edition of Skyrim is hard to miss in a store thanks to the massive box it comes in. Because it houses a foot tall statue of the dragon Alduin, it takes up a lot of space, which is also why it’s been marked down from its original retail price of $150 to $100, so stores can get rid of them. That’s still a lot of money and the game itself is FANTASTIC and definitely worth playing, but maybe you don’t need all the extras the collector’s edition comes with.

Alduin is really solid, like, made of rock hard plastic, and he has many protrusions, so he’s hard to grasp and handle. Luckily he comes with a stand resembling a word wall from the game, although the stand is hollow and feels cheap, the opposite of Alduin. Regardless, that’s not disappointing because it does its job of displaying Alduin well. If you’re unashamed in your love of dragons it’s a wonderful display piece, if you’ve got the space.

Another bonus included in the collector’s edition is a massive art book, definitely the biggest and best I’ve ever received with a game. It’s not miniature like the ones I’ve received with other games; no sir, it’s a full size book. It contains nearly two hundred pages of concept art, computer-generated art, and descriptions of almost anything you can think of that’s in the game. It’s a seriously nice art book.

Lastly, the collector’s edition features a documentary DVD distilling many facets of the game. It never delves very deep into any particular subject, but, like the art book, covers so many features of the game. I wished I watched it before playing through the game or at least before beating it, but listening to the developers discuss various features of making Skyrim was still interesting.

The collector’s edition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim sells for around $100 now and personally, I think the premium over the standard edition is worth it, if you’re into displaying massive statues of dragons. The statue of Alduin is badass, the art book is ridiculous compared to the ones that usually get bundled with collector’s edition of video games, and the documentary DVD provides some deeper insight into the game. Too bad the game doesn’t come in a nice SteelBook though.

Mass Effect 3: From Ashes – Review

In From Ashes, Commander Shepherd and crew get a more vivid look at the Protheans.

From Ashes is the first major piece of downloadable content for Mass Effect 3. It was included in the collector’s editions of the game and is available on each platform’s respective digital store. In it, Commander Shepherd receives word that Cerberus, the pro-human ne’er-do-wells, has unearthed Prothean artifacts on Eden Prime. Whatever they’ve found is said to be important and could aid Shepherd in his quest to defeat the Reapers. What he finds is much more important than simple artifacts though, it’s a living Prothean frozen in time.

Mandatorily joining Shepherd is Liara T’Soni, the resident Prothean expert. With her intellect and Shepherd’s insight into the Protheans (thanks to the visions he received in the first game on non-other than Eden Prime), they’re able to piece together how to release the Prothean from his contraption and keep him alive. As the crew searches the dig site, they discover evidence of Cerberus troops attacking civilians, a puzzling move that reveals ulterior motives for the dastardly group and ties into their work in Mass Effect 3 proper.

When the Prothean is revitalized he joins Shepherd to take the fight to the Reapers personally, after all, Javik is extremely distraught upon learning of the events of the past 50,000 years. Back on the Normandy, Javik answers many questions one might have about the Protheans, such as Liara, but what I got a kick out of the most was hearing other people’s reactions to him. When using him as a squad mate, people would occasionally reference his presence and the conversations that ensued were interesting.

As far as combat goes, I used him quite a bit after he joined up, but he’s fallen by the wayside now that I’ve found my “go to” teammates. He uses biotic powers like slam and pull so he’s still of use to my biotic-less soldier Shepherd. Javik also brings along a new assault rifle, one of Prothean origin. It operates differently from just about every other weapon in that it doesn’t require ammo. It had a meter that depleted when used, but if I used the gun properly and didn’t exhaust its charge, it’d fully recharge. Plus it fired a neon laser beam that melted enemies and that’s pretty cool.

When it comes to knowledge about the Protheans, no one can top Liara T'Soni. Well, except for a Prothean.

I’d recommend From Ashes. It doesn’t add to Mass Effect 3’s plot in any substantial way but playing through it will provide players a deeper understanding of the Protheans. The ancient civilization was influential in shaping the universe and they’re often mentioned, but details on them have always been a little murky. Beyond gaining a deeper understanding of Mass Effect’s lore, gaining a new squad mate is a great perk and personally I really like the new assault rifle.

Alfhedil’s Journal – Fredas, 16th of Frostfall, 4E 201

The Hall of Valor, inside the Nordic realm of the afterlife, Sovngarde.

After formulating a plan to capture a dragon, Lydia and I returned to Dragon’s Reach. Standing on the giant porch of Dragon’s Reach, I let loose a shout that Paarthurnax taught me which summoned a dragon. After a minute or two a dragon flew in from the east and he began attacking us. After bringing him to the ground with Draongrend, we lured him in into the cacophonous porch of Dragon’s Reach and dropped a massive piece of lumber onto him. We made a deal that he would fly me to Alduin’s entrance to Sovngarde if I released him afterwards.

Flying on the back of a dragon was incredible. Getting to see Skyrim from their perspective left me speechless as we glided in between the clouds. He flew me to the far east of Skyrim to an ancient ruin nestled in mountains. Before finding Alduin’s portal, I had to face down Draugr and dragons and a strong dragon priest.

I breached the portal and was whisked off the Nordic afterlife of Sovngarde. It was a fascinating place, filled with the towering mountains of Skyrim but with more trees and flowers and hot springs. But also, more mist. I met a Nord looking for the Hall of Valor, but he complained of this mist. I used Clear Skies and made myself a visible path, eventually making it to the Hall of Valor. It was a giant building separated from the rest of Sovngarde by a bridge constructed of the remains of a dragon, also a large brute named Tsun. He wouldn’t let me enter unless I could defeat him in a traditional battle. I did and he allowed me to pass. Inside the Hall of Valor I met Hakon, Gormlaith, and Felldir, the legendary heroes who battled Alduin in the past.

They were ready to face down Alduin again and get it right this time,especially since he was feeding on the lost souls inside Sovngarde. We left the Hall of Valor and began clearing the mist. Alduin kept bringing it back. We continued this trend a few times before Alduin sought us out. I hit him with Dragonrend and plummeted to the ground; the legendary heroes and I wailed on Alduin until he took to the sky again. He called down flaming rocks from the sky and we dodged them as best we could and healed when we couldn’t. I kept hitting Alduin with Dragonrend grounding him and we dealt damage to him as best we could. We prevailed and destroyed Alduin for good. We watched as he died and his body disintegrated before our very eyes. The heroes were pleased beyond belief and we celebrated before I was transported back to Skyrim.

I landed back on the Throat of the World where Paarthurnax knew I’d conquered Alduin. Dozens of dragons joined Paarthurnax on the peak and they flew around the mountain circling me. I’m completed my birthright. As the dragonborn I rid Skyrim of Alduin, this time for good. But there’s still much to do in Skyrim. On this quest of mine I’ve met many people who’ve needed help. My adventure is just beginning…