XBOX 360 – Halo Reach

Wednesday, September 15th, at 07:30, the local postal service delivered two very large parcels to my home. For my both my sons, all preparations for school were abandoned and whoops of joy echoed through the house – 2 copies of Halo Reach Legendary Editions had arrived.

Each of these large packages contained the game, a Dr. Halsey’s spiral hard-bound notebook, a huge diorama of the “other” (i.e. not you) five members of Noble team plus the all-important download content of the limited edition armor along with the much anticipated flaming helmet that was once the badge of honour of a Bungie employee. My sons spoke of little else for most of the summer; my eldest appeared to spend humongous amounts of time in the “My parents don’t believe it but I really do have nothing better to do than share the hype with my other like-minded friends” forums.

For the next two weeks, the sounds of plasma grenades, needle rifles, bubble shields, & the cries of frustration reverberating across Xbox Live accompanied the children when awake. An unbelievable number of parents have been subdued into buying this latest Halo release.

Finally, a gap appeared, and this father gets his chance to try it out. Like my sons, I started a Legendary Campaign. Oh my god, this game is simply gorgeous with beautifully crafted locations, some lovely lighting effects, and immersive sounds.

And the Covenant troops of the previous games are now a lot smarter and more agile than anything that we have seen before. Each elite & brute has to be hunted and eliminated individually while constantly remaining aware of being flanked.

Bungie are nastier & more devious this time around. On one level, while moving along walkways protected by railings to the next enclosure; a horde ambushes me and, as I reversed quickly back out to the walkway again, I fall to my death because of the one strategically missing railing!

The one major disappointment for both my kids was that their campaigns had glitches. My youngest discovered that the later levels were all marked as complete & re-playable while the earlier levels were listed as never started. This was despite the fact that he had played the solo campaign from start to finish. The elder son had the game hang and when he restarted, his campaign was gone.

I have not played enough multiplayer to form an opinion on it yet. Firefight does make a return from Halo 3 ODST and contains far more settings for the player to alter. It is an enjoyable way to pass the time with a few easy achievements to boot.

In summary, I agree with a comment made elsewhere that every XBOX 360 owner should own this game.

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XBox 360 – Red Dead Redemption

While I have played Grand Theft Auto (1 & 4) from Rockstar before, I never really enjoyed these games and I expect nothing better from the Red Dead series. However, as a steady stream of glowing reviews appeared, I resolved to buy Red Dead Redemption and give it a go.

Quite simply, I could not put this game down; not until I completed it – including the 100% achievement. This games reeks of quality. Forget black and white, good and evil; this is all black and dark grey with smidgen of white around the edges.

From a gaming perspective, I suspect that replacing GTA’s automobiles with RD’s horses allowed Rockstar to build a much more immersive environment. No longer will your vehicle crash into a lamp post that pops up from nowhere due to the graphical draw distance; rather, the more leisurely horseback journey avoids pop-up and allows one to admire the world around you.

I happily rode from the towns out into the wilderness and ‘moseyed’ around the world. There were many memorable moments – such as seeing an agitated cowboy jump off his horse and run into hiding; I went to assist him, only to have him berate me for my nosiness on finding him urinating against a rock!

The missions were varied – chases, bounty hunting, cleaning out gang hideouts, ambushes, animal hunting, driving wagons or riding shotgun, trick shooting, herding, rescuing, escorting, capturing, gathering, skinning, & lots of different shooting challenges. Mini games of poker, blackjack, breaking horses, 5 finger fillet, & arm-wrestling are also included. Random events occur all the time that are neither part of the side quests nor the main story; life continues to go on whether you decide to take action or not, good or bad. Trains, stage coaches and upgrading your campsite allow one to fast travel between points.

As a parent, I got rid of this game as soon as I completed it. The story contains many, many choices where the axiom “the lesser of two evils” applies and many of the characters are morally repugnant people. On numerous occasions, you are presented with the opportunity to remove a thoroughly nasty person, only to find that you have helped another to replace him in all his nastiness – “the King is dead, long live the King”. While this makes a very compelling story, it is not one that I wanted to discuss with the children … yet.

XBox 360 – The New Slim Edition

There are 4 Xbox in the Flanagan household : The original launch Core (i.e. no hard drive) Edition, a Premium (i.e. 20GB Hard Drive), plus both Black & “Resident Evil 5” Red Elites with 120GB Hard Drives. All of these currently have 120GB hard drives and are internet enabled through 802.11b wireless network cards.

The Core edition was nearly 5 years old (bought at launch in December 2005) and, in that time, was replaced or repaired 4 times under warranty. Three of these were the infamous “Red Ring of Death” (RRoD) or “Three Red Lights” (TRL). Now, however, the warranty had expired and the next repair would cost.

However, my family did a trade in replacing this Core for a new XBox 360 Slim on my birthday. This newer model comes with 5 USB ports (2 in front & 3 at the back), internal 250GB hard drive,internal 802.11n wireless network card, black headset, and a gorgeous gloss all black controller (the older elite controllers were matt two-tone black & grey).

The machine is slightly smaller than previous versions. And is so quiet when compared to it’s older brethren.

The power and disk tray buttons react to the slightest touch & provide satisfying auditory feedback.

I understand that this XBox will provide enough power to support the Kinect camera without requiring a separate Power Supply Unit, unlike the original. I must remember to add the Kinect to the Christmas Shopping List.

Because this was a trade-in, I am not in a position to write about the data transfer experience.

One important note is that there are no slots for the original XBox 360 Memory Cards and the whole family is in the process of switching to 16GB USB memory keys. XBox is very particular about these and several different keys failed to work. However, the Kingston DataTraveler C10 with a 16GB capacity worked perfectly and could be found for less than €25 on eBay (including shipping).

Another concern to notes is around the Download Content (DLC) that you might have accumulated. My family consumes 20GB of internet bandwidth in a typical month and my monthly 40GB limit is sufficient. However, I almost exceeded my broadband limit before I had replaced a quarter of the download content collected over the years. Be warned – those Call of Duty & Halo maps plus the Fallout 3 expansions all add up.

In summary, … Hey, it’s an XBox … but it looks & sounds gorgeous and the jet engine noise is banished from the parent cave. Thanks, Microsoft.

Footnote – In addition to the Core, the Premium was replaced once under warranty. No problems at all with either Elite.

Xbox – Mass Effect 2

The boys and I are working our way through Mass Effect 2 at the moment. Bioware continue to demonstrate their reputation as one of the top computer “Role Playing Games” (RPG) companies in the world with a decent plot and great character development involving not just your own character but those non-player characters around you. A really nice feature was that choices made in the original game carried over into the sequel and you see these effects at different stages throughout the game, meeting many people that you interacted with before.

With clever use of mini missions and mining exploration, Bioware manage to convey an impression of a much wider open space within to roam than is actually there

The environment is beautifully drawn but, like the original game, you can get stuck in the scenery in some places and graphical clipping can be annoying in others. It can be frustrating that the game can appear on rails with a single path through the mission and you cannot fall off edges even.

The dialogue tree is improved over the original. The use of key words that describe a sentiment when choosing a dialogue path is a nice feature as it allows for a more concise tree. The use of left & right trigger for bonus paragon & renegade points during the dialogue keeps you on your toes.

No, I have not finished the game yet; I am about half way through. With 35 hours complete to date, I like to do one one of the larger missions or a couple of smaller missions during a single session. More more than this and I am sure that my wife will look for my replacement. I do find myself reluctant to put the game down.

As a parent, this is a game that I am happy to let the kids play. In the original, some atrociously bad US journalism created inappropriate hype around the romance tree. This sequel includes further romance plots for your character.

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