Friday, January 19

Feeling Blu

Last night, I tried out my first Blu-ray movie. Blu-ray is Sony's latest try at a digital medium- kinda like DVD but not, it has many times the storage space of regular dvds, with a single-sided BD-rom having 25GBs of space. The Blu-ray disc is the medium being used for PS3 games, and for Hi-definition movies coming from, of course, Sony. Well, since I had a Blu-ray player in the form of my new PS3, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Instead of getting some expensive but mediocre PS3 game, I'd be better off getting a Blu-ray disc of a good movie and seeing the loveliness of HD cinema.

Well, I got X-Men: The Last Stand or X3, the final chapter of the Marvel Mutants series of films. I had originally planned on getting Underworld Evolution, but the store didn't have it on stock. Well, naked Rebecca Romjin is just as good as a naked Kate Beckinsale, so why not. The movie, as expected, looks incredible... there is crisp detail in everything, more so on a fine HD TV. Scenes seemed to be more 'alive' than on regular TV or even on the DVD version of the film, with deeper colors and finer detail in stuff like hair and characters' skin. The movie still ends the same though. Unfortunately, the pounding bass of the soundtrack was lost on my non-5.1 speaker TV... hopefully I'll be able to hook up my components to take full advantage of the multi-channel sounds. Someday.

Disappointingly, the 25 Gigs of Blu-ray space wasn't taken up by any extras that weren't in the DVD version... a couple of commentaries and a gaggle of deleted/alternate scenes was pretty much it. But well, it's a fine film to show off great visuals and really, X3 is a pretty cool movie to have a HD copy of.

Will BD take over the world, or will it fall to HD-DVD and go the way of Beta? Only time and the PS3 will tell.

Thursday, January 18

Return to Rome

When last we saw the toga-wearing cast of HBO's swords and sandals mini-series Rome, Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) was being turned into a bloody pincushion by Brutus (Tobias Menzies) and his fellow senators as his friend Marc Antony (James Purefoy) was but yards away. A betrayed Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) watches his wife Niobe commit suicide for deceiving him, while Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) finds a little piece of heaven with his slavegirl, Eirene (Chiara Mistalli).
The first episode of the series' second and final season starts just mere moments after the last blow has felled the great Caesar. From here on, those loyal to the deceased tyrant and those who murdered him are set on a bloody war to the finish. Meanwhile, Titus Pullo tries desperately to help Vorenus recover from his grief. The episode has two funeral pyres, quite a bit of sex, politicking, conspiring and quite a few bloody corpses before the credits roll. Most of the loose ends from the earlier season seem wrapped up (and thrown in to the river...) and a couple of characters bite the dust in this one.

As interesting and gripping to watch as ever, Rome continues to keep me entertained with it's exceptional cast and the gratuitous violence, sex and language we've come to expect from this HBO title (Italy DID spawn the Mafia, after all). Historical correctness be damned, it all makes for entertaining television. As always, the duo of Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus are fun to follow, and once again prove in armor or out, they're the two most bad-ass legionaries ever to swing a gladius. What their part will be in the bloody chaos that will surely come in this season remains to be seen. For now, I give the first episode of Rome's Season Two a hearty (and bloody) thumbs up.
Who Got Game

Not me, apparently. Well, I do have ONE game for my PS3, Fight Night Round 3. To be fair, the game's got great graphics, intuitive and intriguing gameplay and depth, lots of modes and tons of real-life boxing greats to bash heads with. Unfortunately, none of that is worth jack cheese to me. Geh. What's the use of incredible and detailed graphics if they all just portray sweaty, pug-faced, bleedy boxers? What's the use of depth and technique when it's all about swaying and hitting people in the face with your fists (now, hitting people with your fist after you lock their head with your left leg and twisting them into the air with the other leg- now THAT is cool). What's the use of tons of modes when the fundamental game just doesn't do it for you?

Thanks to the PS3's online capability, I've been able to download three (count 'em) demos which give me a couple of levels to play with. One is Genji: Days of the Blade, the samurai fantasy hack-and-slash adventure; next is Gran Turismo HD Concept, the latest version of the popular driving game, and finally there's Resistance: Fall of Man, the 'best' game available right now on PS3- a WWII-meets-aliens FPS. Now I'm pretty glad that I was able to download these demos- while I do like to be able to play a bit of Genji and Resistance, I don't see myself playing the whole game (I especially don't see myself plunking down almost 4K for EACH game), and at least now I know how they play and am secure that I won't be missing much by not getting them.

But now, aside from the demo games, I have looked over the rest of the available PS3 games locally, and NONE of them interest me. One that does, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, is unfortunately a generic swords-and-sorcery action game that is not worth the price for the repetitive gameplay. After that- NOTHING. There IS a possibility of Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection becoming available for download soon, but that's all conjecture for now. I find myself aching to buy Blu-ray discs instead so I have a use for the PS3 aside from playing jaggy PS2 and PS1 games. But I guess I'll do a bit more research before delving into that.

Virtua Fighter 5 can't come soon enough. It's still three weeks away, but darn... once I have it, I need little else. Next Gen is here, but the best is still a ways off. Oh well.
Stark Raving Fantasy

Whoa! It seems that HBO is on the way to adapting the very popular fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by author George R.R. Martin. The projected series, which will be co-produced by Martin himself, is intended to adapt one novel per season, starting of course with 1996's Game of Thrones. Seeing as how HBO did such bloody fine work on Rome, I'm pretty intrigued at how this will turn out.

A high-stakes play of power, conspiracies, sex, love, betrayal, politics, war, old magic and very flawed heroes and villains, the Song of Ice and Fire should make for a very long and colorful piece of mature fantasy television viewing. Just don't ask how long it will take to finish the whole damn series (Martin has estimated 18 movies would be required to tell his whole tale). I might well be in my forties before the war between the Starks and the Lannisters and the whomevers finally ends. Oh well... something to look forward to, I guess.

On a related note, the second season of HBO's Rome has started, and the blood runs freely in the first installment. Set moments after the end of the first season (which ended with Caesar's murder), the stage is set for a final battle between the opposing factions in the embattled empire. Meanwhile, former legionnaires Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus continue their travails in between the pages of history. Good, bloody fascinating stuff. Don't know when local cable will show this though... thank goodness for the internet. Hoho!

Tuesday, January 16

Who You Gonna Play?

There's a rumor going about online (and quite a few videos on Youtube as well) about a Ghostbusters videogame in the works. There's been no official announcement from anyone- it's all coming from some 'leaked' videos showing what seems to be a GB-themed shooter, complete with Gears of War-type handheld cam-POV shots as your character is running across open ground in a ghost-ravaged New York. Like a shooter, the Ghostbusters use their proton packs to take down ghosts, which is pretty different from the movies/cartoon (the proton streams paralyze ghosts but can't actually destroy them). Aside from shooter gameplay, a clip shows the iconic Ecto-1 zooming down a street, and yet another shows a CG-rendered Peter Venkman (Billy Murray) delivering the classic Ghostbuster pitch.

It's unknown if this is a real game in the works or just an elaborate hoax, or perhaps a sign of an upcoming sequel to the beloved movie franchise. If it's a trick, someone had a LOT of free time on their hands and quite a bit of programming skillz. Still, a comedic supernatural shooter would be something fun. We'll just have to wait and see if this proves to be legit or not.

Well, it seems that the rumor WAS indeed true... a Ghostbusters game was in production. Unfortunately, the operative word is 'was'... the title has been indefinitely delayed due to licensing issues. So I wouldn't hold my breath for this one. Whether it actually rises from the game purgatory it's in right now or stays in limbo remains to be seen.

Monday, January 15

The Circle is now Complete.

Impressive. Most impressive.

Today, out of the blue, I finally got the last piece of the ongoing puzzle that is The Sanctum... a shiny, black, Darth Vader-like Sony Playstation 3. I got the console from a different seller, since my previous source had backed out on me. I had to rush a bit to beat any other prospective buyers, but otherwise it was an easy buy at the best price I could get at this point in time for the still-hard-to-find gaming device- 28K, which is about the same amount I paid for the Xbox360.

I lugged the thing home- DAMN it's heavy- and it was out of the box in no time. Looking sleek and shiny with the jet-black casing, the PS3 does indeed look as expensive as it is. On the plus side, it's actually a pretty simple thing to put together, as all of Sony's consoles have been. Installing it is as easy as plugging in the power cord and TV connections, and that's that.

Out of the box, the PS3 can get connected online via a LAN cable, so you can play online (gaming is free) or conduct business at the online Playstation Store (download demos and videos, buy games, etc). But once again the current weird internet situation struck, preventing me from updating the System Firmware (required to get online, apparently). Hopefully I'll be able to remedy that soon. But even without my wanted game and just sitting there beneath the TV, the PS3 just impresses. It's one impressive bit of kit. That much I'll give the thing.

After about an hour of using the thing and getting acquainted, I can give some remarks about it.

The Sixaxis controller ROCKS. No, there's no rumble or vibration function, but the ultra-light, wireless controller otherwise looks like the Dual Shock we've come to know and love. You can connect it to the main unit via USB2 cables in order to charge up the power source. From the controller you can do everything including turning off the system, which is just too cool.

The PS3 buttons are touch-sensitive; no more pressing deep. Just pass your finger over the button to turn it on or off, or to eject a disc. It just feels so... futuristic. The future is here, now! Whooo.

The Blu-Ray disc looks just like a DVD, but supposedly houses many times more storage space- like, up to 50 Gigs. That's a lot of space to put in lots of game. It's supposedly slower than DVD though, but working along with the PS3's Hard Drive should alleviate these concerns.

The packed-in game I got, Fight Night Round 3, initially didn't interest me. I mean, come on... BOXING?? No slick martial arts, no wild characters, no hot babes... nothing but battered guys in trunks punching each others' faces to bloody pulps. I wanted to sell or trade this off at first. But after playing a couple of rounds with Filipino champion Manny Pacquiao, I changed my mind. There was technique and depth to the gameplay, and this would be an awesome 2-player game. So, I guess, it's staying in the PS3 library. Okay, Library-to-be.

I tried some of my old discs. Japanese PS1 and PS2 games play, but as I've read and heard, the graphics are less than perfect with jaggies aplenty. I won't be throwing away my PS2. But still, it's pretty cool to see the PSOne Dead or Alive playing on the PS3. Heh. All-region DVDs play fine, but once again, the region-protected discs are useless... once again, I cannot play my LOTR Extended Version discs... DAAAAAMN.

So, now, I guess, my ride into the Next Generation of Gaming is indeed here. All that's left is a suitable Destination. Virtua Fighter 5, Metal Gear Solid 4, Final Fantasy XIII... The future beckons. See you there!