Toomb’s Tomb Raider Review

286142-blackangelMaking a new Lara Croft game is a tricky proposition. A franchise that has spawned countless games, 2 Angelina Jolie-starring movies, and inspired one of the best been-caught-masturbating scenes ever filmed (Grandma’s Boy). So when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider-reboot, simply titled Tomb Raider, was announced a few years ago, everyone’s reaction was pretty much the same: “Well of course they are.”

Don’t you love it when you get proven wrong?

2446979-tombraider_2013_03_05_22_24_38_600Holy shit this is one of the best games you can get for any console ever! They hit it out of the park on this one ladies and germs, cause Lara Croft is back in a(nother) origin story that is filled with edge-of-your seat action, palm-sweating-climbing, and so much more. Tomb Raider also comes with the highly coveted “my wife played straight through in a couple days” seal of approval that only comes along maybe once a year. I knew from the moment I first rented it that it was one of those special efforts that transcends the typical “awesome game” experience. In fact I had to return the rental and go trade in some old games so I could own a copy. It’s good enough to go in this broke guy’s keepers collection.

Lara Croft is the most famous heroine in modern fiction. She’s sexy, she’s independent, and she kicks ass in a pony-tail. In Tomb Raider, we find out how she becomes that way. Her character crosses platforms, media, and pretty much picked up where Indiana Jones left off on, and where only Nathan Drake has been able to continue. I mention Drake on purpose here, because it’s so obvious that Square Enix drew heavily on the EXTREMELY successful Uncharted series for their latest reboot. uncharted-2-among-thieves-1902Uncharted and its sequels are hands-down the most fun you’ll have outside a Rockstar Game. They are not video games per se, they are playable action movies. If you’ve never played Uncharted and you’re a gamer, you need to take a look at your priorities… Uncharted 2 is in my top 5 favorite games of all time (a list that, should it expand at all, will undoubtedly include Tomb Raider).

The reason Uncharted works so well, and also why Tomb Raider works even better, is because of the cut scenes. There aren’t any. With traditional “cut scenes” you’ll play a level, then it will cut to a mini-movie that moves the plot forward (if your lucky enough to have a game with a plot) before you play the next level. Rinse, repeat… It’s boring and monotonous and makes most games sub-par. Cut scenes can ruin a game (Dead Island) or, if done right, can truly elevate a game to a different level of entertainment.

lara-7Like Uncharted, and now Tomb Raider, time and effort were put into the story, the voice-acting, the motion-capture animation, and the way they all work together. The result is truly astonishing. Cut scenes stop being just that and become seamlessly integrated into the game. Video games are always STOP-GO-STOP-GO because of cut scenes and I think they break up the action and take away from the immersion. In Tomb Raider, right from the start you’re shot out of a cannon and the action never slows down.

Camilla Luddington has stepped into Lara Croft’s climbing boots, and with the use of some remarkable motion-capture CGI, the new Lara is an unforgettable character. From the first scene where she is shipwrecked, hit over the head, and hung from the ceiling in a scary cave, you empathize for her. When she falls and is impaled (albeit slightly), you feel the shock… Tomb-Raider_2013-1When she scrambles under collapsing rocks in a cave-in, you scramble too, mashing buttons to get away as a scary bad-guy tries to grab her legs, you break out in a sweat… When she jumps across a mind-numbingly-high chasm to barely grasp the opposite ledge, you hold your breath… Any flaws this game might have are so overshadowed by the brilliance of the M-rated action that they don’t even register. Tiny things like handling (Lara has a tendency to NOT turn around and grab the nearest ledge, resulting in more than a few accidental falls) and frame rate issues become insignificant with all this beautiful game going on.

Plainly said, this is what a video game should be… Mystery, suspense, action, vertigo-inspiring climbing, immaculate graphics, hidden treasures, and the best part? It’s open-world for the most part. Once the main story line is over, you’re free to explore the island… Where plenty of side-missions, hidden booty, and of course, tombs to be raided.

“It hate tombs.” Lara says after emerging from the first one. I’ll try not to get offended.

tomb-raider-2013Lara is 21 years old in this prequel. Fresh out of college with a sound theory on the ancient Japanese legend of Yamatai, a forbidden island reminiscent of Lost meets Apocalypse Now. When she and her friends are shipwrecked on the island, it’s up to Lara to learn how to survive in the jungles, caves, mountains, and shanty towns of the island. At the beginning of the game she is a normal girl, in an extraordinary situation, where she must adapt, overcome, and yes, kill in order to survive and save her friends. When Lara has to kill for the first time it is brutal, intimate, and disturbing. On the other hand, because it is still a video game filled with bad guys, within minutes Lara becomes a cold-blooded arrow-shooting assassin telling her mentor, “I had to kill a man.” “Lara, that couldn’t have been easy,’ He responds.

“It’s scary how easy it was…” replies Lara.LaraBloodyGoodTime

You climb to the highest peaks, and zip-line to the deepest caverns, you sneak-attack with arrows or you’re caught in a full-on firefight with the homicidal cultists on the island. Nothing like a homicidal cult to ruin your expedition eh?

Go out and rent or buy this game right now. You won’t regret it. The graphics, the story, the acting, the gameplay, they’re all nearly perfect. Tomb Raider is available on all platforms, PS3, Xbox, PC, and it boasts a fairly-fun multiplayer as well. It’s guaranteed a great time!Tomb-Raider_Screenshots-12-3-9

Cutting the Cable Cord: Week 2

poltergeistWell here we are, 8 days after turning all of our cable boxes in and telling Comcast to take their $130 cable bundles and shove em… And I’ll be Mayan’d… The world didn’t friggin end! Yet.

The true cord-cutters test will come this Sunday evening when we have friends over to watch the Walking Dead and we’re able to pull it off without a hitch. On the other hand, I am starting to believe that I was only afraid of losing cable because cable wanted me to be afraid of losing it. With the set up we have going now, and thanks to some late-night homework on my part, I believe I’m more than prepared for any of my family’s audio/video entertainment needs.

house-of-cards-posterThe name of the game in cord-cutting is cover your bases. You know there is a show you like and you know when it’s on and what channel, there are ways to get those shows as early as 15 minutes after they air. There’s the standards, like Netflix, which has become the cord-cutters banner for streaming media. Seriously, they have about two-thirds of any TV show, movie, or cartoon you could ever want to watch… for $8 a month. Sold. The most exciting thing about Netflix is their original programming. We watched House of Cards a few weeks ago, and it was exceptionally compulsive television. Produced and directed by David Fincher, one of the most talented filmmakers on the planet, Netflix made the bold move of releasing the entire season at once. They plan on doing the same thing for their next original show, the resurrected Arrested Development. However, besides original programming, they don’t add newer content ever… So Netflix is really good for a video library of all the old stuff you love and maybe want to watch or catch up on… But new episodes of Breaking Bad won’t be on until a year after they air.

imagesThen there is Amazon Instant Video. I’m not 100%, but I think these guys get most their new episodes the next day, in full HD (except for HBO, and I’ll talk about that later). Although I have not tried it yet, this is a great option. I hear Hulu Plus is good, but no AMC, no money from me. I can get it elsewhere. Then there is iTunes… But with Apple, I love their technology, but I hate dealing with them in any way, shape, or form. I’m sure I’m missing a few others, but only because I want to get to the meat and potatoes of my point here.

xbmc1My point is XBMC, which I find amusing because it comes from the Xbox which I’ve never owned, and often bashed for its lameness. If I wanted a Wii or an Xbox I’d buy one, but I’m a serious gamer. XBMC is a FREE multi-media player that runs on your computer and organizes all of your movies, shows, music, games, all in one place… and then you plug in your TV as your monitor and GO! I took an “old” Dell Optiplex 960, while not the best machine, still has a few cores to work with, and I simply ran an HDMI cord from the back of the PC to our plasma screen in the living room. Then I tucked it out of the way, turned it on, and let it know where my audio and video files were. Then it sprang to life.

navi-x-08XB uses online databases and scans your library, then throws it all together in a nice user-friendly format that’s completely customizable. You don’t like the way the cross-media bar looks or works? Change it. There are websites full of skins for it, and all of them have individual settings you can adjust to make it how you want it. Then the features! It allows you to use “add-ons” that let you access all manner of live tv, streaming video, all from sites like Hulu, Amazon, Comedy Central, any place that has their shows online for free, you can watch through XB. Instead of going to ABC.com to watch Once Upon a Time, it serves it for you. There are also add-ons that link to material that is slightly less than legally streamed, but it’s not against the law per se to watch, depending on your morality stance and your patience with non-HD content. xbmc-ios-remoteI tried one for academic purposes only and watched the latest episode of The Americans 15 minutes after it aired on cable. Whoever is streaming these shows is on the ball.

Then there’s the remote. Guess what? It’s an app. It’s a really cool app. It not only has the remote as a touch-screen on your phone but it allows you to browse your library on your phone as well. Want to watch a movie? Pull up your XBMC remote, look through your library, then hit “play.” It’s that easy. Oh, and did I mention Air Play? WITHOUT APPLE TV. Yes that means all you suckers who paid hundreds for your fancy little boxes got just that… Fancy little boxes. I can be looking at the IMDB app on my phone, see a trailer I want to watch, and throw it up to the TV from anywhere in my house. If I’m watching or listening to something on my phone I want to put on the plasma screen I tap one button. I love it.

There’s also a nice little app called Splashtop 2 for the iPhone and iPad that will stream any (wirelessly) connected computer to either device. I’ve had this awesome app for a year now, it lets me play Eve Online while I’m not sitting at my computer. It lets me control the Dell from the couch… Or the shower for that matter. So if XB dies I just open Splashtop, start it up again, and go! I’m still working out the kinks, but so far it’s worked fairly seamlessly. photo 3We tried it again last night for academic purposes, we chose a cool add-on program called “Navi-X” that hosts a ton of streaming content. There are a few dedicated genre playlists that people have created, and of course we found ourselves looking through the Sci-Fi movies. There was practically every popular contemporary science fiction movie in that list. My wife had never seen Solaris with George Clooney and Natascha McElhone (Karen from Californication), so we gave it a shot. The best part? All of them are 720p, high-def streams!

Well technology wouldn’t be technology without a few hiccups, and of course 10 minutes into the movie it stopped and we couldn’t get it started again. So with a little ingenuity I was able to find a copy within minutes and we were back up and running… And that seems to be the way it is without cable. Cable is a product, served up for a specific reason and has been updated, perfected, and worked on for decades. It’s designed to bring you TV and movies seamlessly, and it does. The issue is that mega-corporations that truly don’t care about anything other than the bottom line supply that product. Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-Posters-jaime1All of this new technology is only a few years old, there are still a million bugs to work out, so it’s expected that not everything is going to work 100% of the time… But it better come Walking Dead time I tell you!

Game of Thrones starts next weekend, and I’m curious as to how soon I’ll be able to get HD episodes from Amazon… Since HBO wants everyone to use their HBO Go app now, and you can only use that if you have a current cable package with an HBO subscription. Why doesn’t HBO simply make their Go app a stand alone product? Some of us can’t afford to fork over hundreds a month just to get one show! I’d gladly pay HBO a flat fee a month to be able to watch their brilliant programming… But they are so in deep with their cable company partners they can’t even rock the boat without fear of losing what? Their bottom line. I think they could more than cover their losses by making HBO Go a subscription-based service, and bring it to the millions out there who have to pirate Game of Thrones because there is no other way to watch it.

photo 1Long story long, between the PS3 and the XBMC, I think we’re covered. I can get any show just a few hours after it airs, live TV broadcasts, March Madness, and tons of other stuff. So far, cutting the cable has worked okay, however it has only soured me even more for the cable companies. It’s not a jealousy thing either, it’s a have-and-have-nots thing. If we could occupy Time Warner I think it would be a great idea… But what are the options? Pirate movies? Oooo, that’ll show em. Protest? That only gives them more ammunition. I suppose grass-roots legislation, but I’m fairly sure they’ve got their backs covered on that one.

Crysis 3 Tries Really Hard to Take the First-Person Shooter to the Next Level

iRhD5QPRZfw0LI rented Crysis 3 from my local Redbox on a whim. I’d never played either of the first two, in fact I didn’t even know it was a first-person shooter when I got it. With the miracle of modern technology I was able to yank up my Google app and look at some reviews from IGN while I was standing there contemplating getting it, and man am I glad I did. By the time I was finished with Crysis 3‘s main storyline I was sad I had to return the game. I could have played it over, and lately that seems to be the gauge for a good game.

crysis3dammap1First of all, it’s a visually stunning experience. Using the new CryEngine 3 it manages to pack more awesome particles on the screen than any game I’ve seen recently, and that was just on the PS3… I can only dream of how it looks on the PC with the settings turned up. What it really adds up to is very cool looking grass and water effects. I found myself being distracted by the environment MANY times throughout the short storyline, leading me off on little side adventures… Nothing as cool as Tomb Raider, but that’s another review. All in all Crysis 3 is a very well acted, written, and produced game. It almost felt like I was playing something next-generation. Along with a Call of Duty-caliber multiplayer on top, EA’s latest release is a good step in the right direction for this kind of game.

Crysis 3 takes place in the near future, when super soldiers wear special nanosuits made from stolen alien technology. crysis22011032311210878The suits enhance their abilities and let you jump higher, run faster, and best of all: turn invisible! The extremely complicated plot involves a mega-corporation that controls all of the energy on the planet. I don’t want to say too much but they get it from a source they shouldn’t be messing with, so it’s up to you, Prophet, the ultimate super-soldier, to stop them. The game is mostly an open-world experience, where exploring every nook and cranny will net you rewards. The weapons are fairly standard, except when you pick up an alien gun… But even then they’re nothing to write home about. The real fun comes from using the new bow and arrow. You get different tips on them for different situations, and it’s extremely satisfying to put an arrow through an unsuspecting bad guy’s head.

Unfortunately Crysis 3 has some glaring downfalls that really distract from the experience. One is the length, this is the shortest story mode I’ve played. They’ve trimmed off all the fat and made it a straight-forward break in and save the world plot. crysis-3-review-fpsI wouldn’t have minded so much, but it was such a great story, with some top-notch voice acting. Secondly, the use of the cloaking device is not nearly as good as it should be.  Before too long I found myself repeating the same situation over and over, I’d get to a new area, sneak around and arrow a guy or two until their buddies catch on that someone is there and start lobbing grenades everywhere. Then I’d hide until they calmed down and go around trying to take each one out. Then I’d move on to the next area. It wasn’t until the middle of the game when all hell breaks loose that it got really interesting. Then by the time I got around to enjoying the story and the game play it was all over.

Crysis-3-Explosions-Beneath-the-Liberty-DomeWhen I think about it now, Crysis 3 is more of an action movie than a video game It doesn’t feel immersive and it never stops reminding you that you’re playing a video game. You drop in, blast your way through what’s left of New York, watch a lot of well acted cut scenes, and then an extremely satisfying and rousing ending… Then it’s over and you’re left wanting more. I don’t know if it’s because I had rented it and was pressed for time, or if it simply seemed too short, but when I was done it felt like I’d just played the last half of a really cool, epic sci-fi shooter.

It’s a good rent, but other than the arena-style multiplayer, the outstanding graphics, and the above-average voice acting and storyline all add up to something that is less than the sum of its parts. Crysis 3 is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Cutting the Cable Cord: Day 1

cable_cord_byAlyson_Hurt_flickrccHow much is your cable bill? How about when you let it slide for a few weeks? Ever pick it apart and read the fine print? Now let me ask you this: Do you know what Stockholm Syndrome is?

You know, the one where the hostages lose their minds and start to feel a bond with the kidnappers? It’s like the story of the frog in the pot. The water’s warm, it keeps getting warmer, it feels great and relaxing, and then it’s frog soup.

Well this analogy can be used for anything in our society today, from the inability of our government to function on even the basest levels, to the Doritos Cool Ranch Taco at Taco Bell, the water is boiling… and we’re too relaxed to notice we’re about to be soup… But I’m talking about cable television.

infographic-cutting-the-cableWho knows this game? Your bill is too high so you call up Comcast and say you need to cut back some services and possibly switch to Dish… The representative pretends he or she hasn’t played this game every 5 minutes for the last 5 years  and gives you free HBO for six months and a boost on your internet speed… and maybe if you’re lucky will cut your bill down enough to make you feel like you’re empowered, like Comcast really cares about your business and wants to keep you as a customer.

I played this game for over 10 years and I can’t do it anymore. So as of today, as painful as it might be, my family has “cut the cord.” I turned in all of our cable boxes and gave up the charade of cable television. After literally months of back and forth, pros and cons, and swearing “this’ll be the week…”, tonight we are free. We can watch whatever we want without the constraints of “the guide.”

Let’s face it Comcast, “the guide” is the same crappy blue boxes you implemented 20 years ago. I’ve been staring at the same unresponsive menus and horrible interface for the better part of my adult life. Well, all of it actually… And yes I know that says something about my lifestyle, but I assure you, I do all things in moderation… ESPECIALLY moderation. While they might have added HDTV programming and On Demand (which now completely sucks because there and commercials and you can’t fast forward) to the mix, it’s still the same 25-year-old technology they’re selling us as next year’s model.

the-cable-guy-tbi-1Our last bill from Comcast was $601.00. That’s six hundred dollars, and that’s not a typo. That was also the last straw. Yes, it is three months worth of bills cause of their stupid bill-in-advance system, but still… $600??!! We had an HD-DVR in the living room, an HD box collecting dust, and an old black Motorola doing the same… Plus HBO (half price) and Showtime (half price) and a myriad of shit channels we don’t EVER watch. So I packed them in the trunk, went down and took a number in line, and stood there watching Netflix on my iPhone just to say “F you Comcast.” It would have been a much more satisfying experience if the dude at the counter hadn’t been so damn cool. So that plus internet works out to $200 a month. That’s $2400 a year. Are you beginning to see the water bubbling?

We’ve got 2 PS3s, 1 Sony Blu-Ray, a Wii, a half dozen i-devices, and an HDTV antennae. We’ve also ordered the Boxee, which will be here Tuesday. It uses an internal HDTV antennae to record live TV, DVR-style, and stores it on a server without a limit to how much you store. Did you say no-limit cloud storage? We’ve got Amazon Prime, we’ve got Netflix, and we’ve got resourcefulness.

photo_610x357I’ll admit, it was a little overwhelming. Simply because cable has been such a part of my life, especially HBO and lately AMC, but now I can just BUY those episodes when the day they air anyway. Then I’ll own it! In the next month, two of my favorite shows return, and even if I have to pay $40 for an HD season of Game of Thrones, $40 for Mad Men, $40 for True Blood, etc… That’s still less than one goddamn Comcast payment! And it’s a cost that’s spread out over a few months, and lets me add my favorite shows to my video library!

cord-cutting-cableIt’s time to change the channel from cable television… To boldly go where no one has gone before and all that… Huzzah!

To be continued…

Even in the Future, it’s Decisions, Decisions: (Eve Online 1 Year In)

eve_chart_revelations-4096Let’s talk Geek for a few minutes. I’ll try and keep it entertaining for those that just sighed heavily.

In another life I’m an industrialist from the future. Let’s say about 26,000 years in the future. I don’t have time to catch you up on the details, but basically humans live in a galaxy called New Eden… There are 4 races of humans who are always declaring holy wars, positioning politically, and at each others throats… All in the name of the mighty dollar… So what am I saying? That not much has changed.

Anyway long story short: Like I said, I’m an industrialist that means I take raw materials and manufacture things for sale. I’m new here, which is to say I graduated from the prestigious Caldari Naval Academy about a year ago.  You see, long ago the ability to clone ourselves made us immortal. You ever see Battlestar Galactica? We’re kind of like the Cylons, when we die our consciousness is downloaded into a clone, and we keep on trucking.

Retribution_ThumbnailThis is handy in combat. And let me tell you, the galaxy is a rough place for a miner. When I got out of the Academy I got myself a small cruiser with a big cargo hold and I slapped a couple of mining lasers on it. I sat in that thing for hours nervously watching my back, waiting for someone to fly up and mess with me. Pirates are everywhere, and they’re not the singing and dancing kind. They’re the blow your ship to hell and scoop up whatever salvage they can find kind of pirates. The worst of the worst simply because in New Eden, everyone is immortal… Why not be a ruthless bloodthirsty warrior? There’s a profit in it.

After the cruiser I moved up to an industrial ship, then eventually a mining barge, until finally I trained long enough to learn how to fly an exhumer. Now I sit and grind away, clearing asteroid belt after asteroid belt of their precious resources. Then I learned I could take those raw materials and instead of selling them, I could get a blueprint and build something. So built I did. I build guns, ammo, equipment, everything under the sun. Then I found shipbuilding.

For the last six months I’ve been building the biggest ships in the universe, the capitals. I started with a small project and I’m slowly working my way up. These things sell for billions of dollars, and while I might spend a few hundred million on minerals, I’m still pulling in a profit.

3331Now I’ve crossed the Rubicon. I’m halfway through the build on a ship called a Rorqual… and I’m in over my head. You see, this ship is no ordinary one. It’s a capital industrial. It has the ability to use a special fuel to jump from one place in to another without the use of jump gates. Plus it can store other ships and clones inside its massive hull. It can take a small mining fleet, jump out to dangerous low-security space (where all the good mining is) and deploy a space station, a mining fleet, and a huge force field.

From there the fleet of exhumers goes and mines, brings the ore back to the Rorqual, which compresses it and stores it in a special hangar. Rinse, repeat. Then the Rorqual can jump back to high-sec, drop off the ores, and jump back. When the system is clear, everyone loads back into the Rorq, and jumps back home.

This is called Jump Mining… and it is a complicated, lengthy, and extremely profitable thing to accomplish. The only problem is you can’t do it alone… and dealing with other people in New Eden is a total pain in the ass. They’re egotistical, they’re aggressive, they never listen, and they flake out. This is the way of the world.

So the question becomes: do I keep it? or do I sell it? This is the chance to start my very own mining corp, to lead missions to dangerous places in search of the mighty dollar. I’d have to recruit, train, hire protection, I’m talking serious work for a guy who only likes to engage on the shallowest level possible.

Decisions, decisions…

Winning the War on Reality: Playstation 4 is Coming

Sony announced its latest break through in video game technology last night amongst massive fanfare, unimaginable consumer expectation, and an industry that is still unsure of where it will be in the next five years. The Playstation 4 aims to hit that target when it gets here, and to steer the next generation of consoles toward an all-inclusive, social, and online experience.

large1The PS4 sounds awesome, hands down. Out of the gate we’re talking top-of-the-line hardware here, eight x86-64 cores and a native Graphics Processing Unit that has 18 separate “compute units” that produce 1.84 teraflops of processing power. It has 8GB of system memory with a GDDR5-based system that produces an unbelievable 176 GB per SECOND of bandwidth for graphics rendering and performance. It has a completely separate chip for handling downloads as well which means “download in background” doesn’t mean waiting for two days for your latest game or demo to arrive.

largeBasically all of those Teraflops and GDDRs really just mean one thing: the Playstation 4 is a beast. It’s hands-down high-end graphics processing, and some of the videos shown at last night’s event proved that there is a whole new world of entertainment out there that Sony wants to bring to ALL your devices, not just your living room TV. The graphics are truly next-generation. From the millions of objects it can handle on the screen at once to the ability to provide feature-film-like animation. This thing will blow your socks off… And it will further combine all of your entertainment possibilities in one hub, with games, movies, TV, music, and more all rolled into this new paradigm of “the War on Reality” Sony is using. It’s clever.

The PS4 is based on 5 principles that Sony feels are the future of gaming: Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated, and Personalized. For simple, Sony has stripped down the frills and fine-tuned the experience of the User Interface. They have created the largest, fastest, and most comprehensive gaming network on the planet, linked with Gaikai Inc’s cloud technology, that will allow players to browse ALL titles for the system through the Playstation Store. Gone are the days of downloading a stripped-down demo of a game to see if you like it. Now you’ll be able to go to the PStore, select a game, and immediately start playing it.

finalfantasy_versusOne of the most anticipated aspects of the PS4 is this immediate principle. Need to pause your game for awhile and don’t want to leave your system on? Not problem, just hit the power button and the PS4 will instantly freeze and enter a low-power standby mode. Then when you’re ready, you just hit the power button again and jump right back in where you left off. I don’t know how this will work with online games, but I’m sure there will be some version of it integrated. Taking this immediacy one step further is the ability to buy a game from the online Playstation Store, and immediately start playing it. Not like now where you have to wait for a game to finish downloading before you can jump in… With the PS4 you click download, and then start the game. It will continue to download (at full speed thanks to the dedicated chip) in the “background” while you play.

Sony has also gone social. One of the biggest problems with online gaming, in my opinion, is the prevalence of dickheads. Trolls hide behind stupid user names like YourMomSuxIt69 or WeedRulez420, talking smack while sheltered by the mask of anonymity. Well Sony is hoping to oust the dickheads with the PS4. Each user will now create a REAL profile with your REAL name and REAL Facebook integration. Does this mean MomsBasement420 will stop tea-bagging your corpse in a heated match of Battlefield? Probably not. But it will hopefully provide ways to screen out the kinds of players your want to play online with, and at least a real name so you can meet at the bike racks after school.

playstation-4-console-logoAnother huge social aspect of the PS4 is the “share” button. This button is going to kick ass. Ever just finish an epic killstreak on Black Ops II and wish someone else had been around to see your expert shooting and knifing and jumping? Now you just hit the “share” button, skim through the last few minutes of gameplay, select the beginning of the moment you wish to share, and upload it as a video for others to watch. I think this function is going to be unbelievably fun. Creating moments of awe-inspiring fun is what gaming is all about, and now you’ll be able to share those experiences with your friends. That is friggin cool.

Integration is also the name of the game with the Playstation 4, and they’ve gone beyond all expectations with this one.  The new Playstation app will allow iPhones and Android devices to have a “second screen” experience with their favorite titles. Imagine you’re playing Grand Theft Auto 5 and need directions across town. Now I’m completely making this up, but the technology is real, and it would let you do things like pull up a real-time map of the city on your iPad with a route planned out for you… Or Maybe a dossier on a potential client in whatever Hitman-type game could be sent to your Samsung tab for you to read up on different game aspects. These aren’t real game aspects, but the “second screen” experience is very real. Sony plans to integrate ALL your devices into your gaming exploits.

ds4The new Dualshock 4 controller sports a familiar shape and layout, while giving a new touch-pad input and “share” button. They have perfected the art of the rumble, and each controller comes with a more integrated motion-control input. Along with the direct control of the Dualshock 4, the PS Vita, which Sony released last year, will allow gamers to remotely control their console and their games. They introduced a technology that promises to make seamless play possible between the console and the handheld, giving users the ability to play ANY game remotely through the Vita.

Lastly, the PS4 aims to be completely personalized. The console will get to know you over time, suggesting titles from the games you play, and the ratings your give. It will even download games, music, movies, and television for you that it thinks you might like! The PS4 will take snapshots of your entertainment habits and offer up content based on that information.

playstation-4-controllerWhile Sony doesn’t have a physical console yet, the guts are there and the technology is here. In my opinion, they’ve taken a huge leap forward, and in the right direction. Combining awesome processing power with a completely immersive and social experience. If Sony can follow through on the promises they made last night, and deliver it without breaking the bank of the average gamer, they might have just put the future of gaming back on track. The PS4 will be available this holiday season.

Dead Space 3 Proves There’s Still Plenty of Life Left in Sci-Fi

Isaac_DS3Let me tell you a quick story. While it may be one you’ve heard before, I won’t keep you long…

Not long ago, Isaac Clarke was just a clever engineer on a rescue mission to save his girlfriend. This is in the future, after the human race almost caused its own extinction by using every resource it could get its hands on. This is after the Concordance Extraction Corporation (or CEC) unveils the colossal USG Ishimura, the ship that became a symbol of mankind’s endurance and will to survive. Not only was it the biggest ship ever built, but the first “planet-cracker” as well, using gravity tethers to pop giant chunks of rock from the crust of lifeless planets. CEC, and the Ishimura were almost solely responsible for bringing humanity back from the edge of extinction and jump-starting space expansion.

Deadspace_CrackedNearly a century later, our hero’s scientist girlfriend Ellie is stationed in the Ishimura‘s medical research wing when it is dispatched to CEC’s not-so-legal mining colony on Aegis IV. You see in the 26th century, the dominant religion is Unitology… A faith based on the belief that mankind was created by an alien race through the power of an all-power object known as “the marker.” This isn’t one of those flower-holding religions where you’re accosted in the airport, this is the “death is only the beginning” kind where followers adamantly believe they will be reunited with their alien architects after death and their leaders ascend to the highest levels of military, business, and government.

Dead_Space_Vs__Alienware_by_DarkCrash100The Ishimura is sent to Aegis IV to retrieve “the red marker,’ an alien object which is believed to be a holy object and the source of life in the universe… However not long after the marker is discovered, the colonists start to suffer from hallucinations, outbreaks of irrational behavior, and violence. Once the Ishimura arrives at the planet and the marker is brought up from the surface, all hell breaks loose, and all communications are lost.

Unitology_010With religious zealots scheming to bring about the “evolution” of mankind, greedy corporations who are only after what they can exploit, and a REALLY gross alien virus that reanimates dead tissue and turns your dearly departed into twisted monsters called Necromorphs… It’s up to you to help Isaac Clarke and his suspiciously gun-like engineering tools to save the universe.

Dead_Space_3_Ice_Demo_01Welcome to Dead Space… Welcome to science fiction horror gaming at it’s best… Welcome to a silent universe, where new planets are always lifeless, and where only the scuffling of razor-sharp claws in the ventilation ducts is there to keep you glued to your controller at 1:45 in the morning. I’m talking NASTY critters here, the kind your girlfriend is going to hate this game for. The kind that have to have their arms and legs blown off to really slow them down at all. The kind that send you screaming into controller-throwing frenzies when the limbless corpse of your digital hero goes tumbling through a darkened corridor for the fifth time in a row.

This is also really fun.

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I haven’t finished Dead Space 3 yet, EA‘s latest installment in the blockbuster, multi-platform franchise released last week on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, but that’s because I’m deliberately going slow. Normally I cruise through Dead Space games, including the original, the sequel, the spin-off Dead Space: Extraction, and even the two animated movies (available on Netflix). I eat it up like chocolate, pulse pounding and palms sweating… But I always end up completing these games too fast… And while my first inclination is to run through these horribly scary environments as fast as I can, I’ve made the right choice. Visceral Games has given us something worth taking our time.

dead-space-3-ice-planetThere are enough reviews of Dead Space 3 out there right now, so I won’t go into too much detail, suffice it to say that the game has its faults… But you barely notice them. One of the biggest complaints for this iteration is the action-heavy theme this time around. Making Isaac more maneuverable, able to duck and roll and climb ladders, the significant jump in ammo count, but these aren’t just thrown in… I was never happy with the Resident Evil-style slow-walking Isaac from the first game, with his stiff movements and unconventional weaponry. These “changes” feel more like fixes to me, but that’s just my opinion. They haven’t turned Dead Space into Mass Effect… This game is straight up terrifying… And I like horror. I live for the thrill, the jump, the yelp. Dead Space takes it to a whole new level. See, one thing other reviewers are missing is the bigger picture here… And I think it’s because a lot of reviewers have a quota. dead-space-3-pc-1343203492-020They have to rush through and finish 3 or 4 times to test out what most consumers can take weeks, even months to savor… And that’s when I realize that Dead Space, while action-packed this time around, is meant to be savored.

It’s a feast for the senses. A gruesome, suspenseful, and epic sci-fi adventure that takes Isaac and his crew across the galaxy chasing the origins of the marker conspiracy. It looks bright and colorful on my LCD, and nearly flawless on the plasma screen. The crowded corridors and giant machinery of the environments are all accented by the scariest soundtrack I have ever heard in my life. Seriously, turn up the levels on your surround speakers a little and it practically drops you into the game. Noises like creaking ducts, slamming doors, awesome weapons, and all manner of beeps, blips, and alarms fill the scene… But it’s the whispers that truly freak me out. Dead-Space-3-PS3-610x400One of the main aspects of the plot is how the marker gets into people’s’ minds and seeps poison that drives them to insanity and murder. These whispers make you want to turn the game down, it’s that creepy.

I want to stress how visually stunning this game is. It’s easy to forget the graphics in a horror game where everything is dark and gory with disturbing monsters jumping out of nearby air ducts to surprise you as you walk down a seemingly safe passageway… But in Dead Space 3 there is a moment in the first few chapters, when Isaac must use his engineering smarts to fix up a 200-year-old space ship from a floating junkyard in orbit… This is genius level designing… Various half-wrecked hulks and abandoned space stations all connected by a handy little taxi system that lets you explore a staggering amount of free-roaming space… And the best part? It’s all in zero-gravity.

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When Isaac emerges from the taxi to see the ancient spaceship graveyard for the first time, standing on a flimsy metal platform that overlooks the never-ending debris field that orbits a mysterious and stunningly rendered planet… It’s nothing less than poetry. It’s a special kind of magic that only video games can give you, and that’s when you forget you’re playing a game. It’s when you’re transported into the screen. Isaac and EllieWhen you’re actually standing on that flimsy metal platform, with the abyss of space before you. You can feel that first step off the platform…  The vertigo is real… The suspense is maddening. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of pop art that deserves more praise and analysis than I can give. With an intricate plot, professional acting, outstanding graphics, intense gameplay… However it ends I know it’ll leave me wanting more. This is Dead Space.

 

X-tended Terran Conflict 2.0 Brings Modding to a New Level

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Let’s talk fans. Not the plug-in kind, but the obsessed kind. There is a level of fanaticism out there that goes beyond fan fiction, beyond long hours spent twiddling away with whatever the focus of the obsession might be. In the world of video games, that level of commitment has a name, and it’s called Modding. Modding is when you take the original code of a game and tweak it, re-write it, add-on to it, and re-release it. This can take weeks, months, years to do, and the bigger the game, the bigger the task.

XTC_Release_1_12After 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (and apparently a consensual, adult relationship with an office coffee-machine), X3: Xtended Terran Conflict 2.0 has been released to the masses. Do you like learning curves served in healthy portions with your Space Combat Simulators? Then this game is for you. XTC is one of the most beautifully built “unofficial” games I have ever seen. From the ground up, it is filled with gorgeous solar systems, gigantic space stations, and absolutely killer ship designs.

x3screen00018The basic premise is, way in the future mankind exists in a universe with many other races. The galaxies are linked by star gates that allow instant travel between solar systems. These gates are always popping up as they were built millions of years ago, and we’re only finding them and turning them on. Now Pandora’s Gate has been found, a new link to an unkown portion of the galaxy, “the expansion zone.” Of course everyone is hot to settle the zone and exploit it for profits and resources. When you load the game you have many options on how to start out, as there are at least a half dozen different playable races in this game, everything from the human Argons or Terrans, to the aquatic-planet based Boron. the profit-based Teladi, holy crusading Paranid, or war-mongering Split… These are just a few of the different species you can start as, or run into the during the course of the game. Either way you cut it, you start out with a ship and a dream. Plopped down in the heart of a newly discovered galaxy, this expansion zone is being swept up by the different races for their own reasons (the strongest of which is always greed).

FXTC_Release_1_16or the first few days, maybe even weeks of playing, it’s all about learning and exploring. As you fly through different “jump gates” to map different sectors (fully contained solar systems with planets, suns, resources, etc) you come into contact with all manner of pirate, military, and friendlies that want you to go here and shoot down this, haul this over to there, keep pirates off of this transport ship, or give rides to passengers needing to get to other places in the galaxy.

Of course this is all based on your “notoriety” with each race, which can be bad simply based on the color of your skin or the genes in your DNA. The Boron are at war with the Split, the Pirates are at war with your wallet, and the Terrans are at war with everyone else (go humanity!). If you want to get your notoriety up, you’ve got to grind away these missions… Cause the point of this whole thing is to stockpile $ and create an empire..

news_2006_08_24_003The economy of the X Universe is all-encompassing and fully functional. There are space stations that need “energy cells’ in order to produce their products, so you need to buy a freighter to go get some energy cells at a low price, and sell them to a factory that is willing to pay higher. Profit, period. This example is repeated throughout the galaxy. Someone ALWAYS needs raw materials, and YOU’RE the one who can bring it to them, or they’ll get it from some computer-controlled “other guy.” This is how the second stage of any X game unfolds, at first it’s all flying around and exploring, then it’s moving on to trading and expanding.

XTC_Release_1_10The ultimate goal is to get your notoriety up enough to be able to purchase more items from the different races. Cause at first, if they don’t like you, you’re shut out at the door- they won’t even let you in their solar systems, less dock at their stations. In order to fix this, you’ve got to be crafty.

This is empire building in an elegant, grass-roots kind of way. You have the ability to work away building up a fleet of transport ships, and eventually enough cash to start building space stations of your own. The stations can produce anything from energy to weapons to shields to food for the masses… Or if you’re a crafty space pioneer, you’ll hook a bunch of stations together to keep the intermediate raw materials in-house. For instance to build weapons you need a few things, silicon, energy, and a food source for the workers (simplified of course), and each one of those items needs intermediate products as well (to mine silicon you need energy, to produce “energy cells” you need special crystals that are made from silicon and a food source… See where I’m going with this?)

XTC_Release_1_01If you connect enough space stations, you get yourself a self-sustaining space factory pumping out profits. One of the more lucrative business opportunities is the production of more illicit forms of entertainment. Mainly booze and weed. Space Fuel and Space Weed are highly profitable products, but if you’re caught with them in your hold in 90% of the galaxy you’re at least getting your cargo yanked… And possibly getting shot down by pirates who want your goods. If you build a space-still in the wrong race’s territory, they’ll send giant capital ships to blow your station away.

destroyerne4While you’re grinding away at missions and flying materials around the galaxy earning profits, there is a threat hiding out there in the unexplored sectors of the expansion zone. No one knows where the zone goes, exactly, so no one knows what else might be out there, waiting in the dark. You see, thousands of years ago Artificial Intelligence was born, and machines were built to fly out into space on their own to “terraform” found planets, and ready them for colonization. Well as things go, those machines eventually evolved beyond their initial mission, they learned how to build themselves… and disappeared. They are known as the Xenon, a race of terraforming machines that see biological life as an anomaly to be eradicated. That can put a damper on your space-exploring fun if you go through the wrong gate. And who knows… Maybe there’s another threat out there in the darkness of space. Something even more terrifying than a genocidal race of machines. Watching the races, studying them as they expand, colonize, and lay claim to the new areas of space.

galleonxq0This is just some of the complexity of this game. Xtended Terran Conflict is frustrating, it’s buggy, and it’s imperfectly perfect. Made by fans for fans, this is truly the best of the best here. The team behind this re-invention deserves all the kudos, pats-on-the-back, and lots and lots of good booze sent their way…  This game is awesome. Dive in and say goodbye to your social life… And do yourself a favor, stay as far “south” as possible. Good hunting!

Eve Online – The Biggest Game You’ve Never Played

There’s something about far-off galaxies, giant spaceships, inter-factional warfare,  and integrated economies that make the dial on my geek radar spin out of control. After spending countless hours in the single-player X-Universe, I’d grown weary of waiting for the two new X games coming out this year… So I decided to try something I’d only heard of, EVE.

I don’t know what it is about my sci-fi games, but apparently the more complicated  a game – the more it appeals to me. If you’ve never played either universe (X or EVE) then you’re probably asking yourself why anyone would spend hours playing two of the hardest games on the market… And my advice would be to run, as quickly as possible, in the other direction… Save your social life, your relationships, and your friends respect for you…

Not afraid? Don’t heed warnings well? Looking for an excuse to alienate your friends and family? Or just feel like an epic challenge? Then read on…

You’ve been warned.

Eve Online is what’s known as a player-driven, persistent-world MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). In English, it’s a sandbox. There’s no single-player, no storyline, no pausing, and no retries… I repeat… NO RETRIES. If you lose your ship in Eve, it’s because another player sitting in front of their computer somewhere in the real world, has taught you a lesson about where it’s safe to fly, or who it’s safe to mouth off to.

And this thing is big… I’m talking huge. The day-to-day of Eve depends on what your profession is (mining, pirating, military defense, entrepreneur, etc) and where you’re located in the fictional galaxy of New Eden. Most of the time the action takes place in local solar systems, each with planets, asteroid belts, space stations to land at, and plenty of npc (or “rats”) bad guys to deal with. Now multiply that by 7,500. Yes I tapped correctly, 7,500.

There are over 5,000 individual solar systems, and 2,500 discoverable “wormhole” systems, inside the Eve universe. They are all linked by “jumpgates” that players can fly through, they are all individual systems with unique characteristics, and they are all tied together by one massive, fluctuating, and completely player-driven economy. What that basically boils the game down to is what I like to call a galaxy simulator. The creators have made a completely immersive experience, where if you want to buy a ship, somebody, somewhere, has to mine the minerals and then build the thing before it ever reaches whatever market you are in… And players can insert themselves into almost any part of that process…

I’m a newcomer, I’ve been playing for just under six months, and my character is the Vice President of a nice little mining corporation situated in a “quiet” corner of the galaxy. Game time, for me, is mostly made up of constant mining for minerals I need to build products for market. I set out in my mining barge with a buddy and sit on an asteroid belt while they ferry the valuable ores back and forth to our headquarters… Then I take those minerals and combine them with blueprints I’ve purchased to make things like ships, weapons, ammo, and equipment. Some items I sell for cheap, some items for millions of dollars, some for tens of millions… those are the money-makers there. I also spend a lot of time answering questions for people who want to join the corporation, or for people newer than I. Whether by “Evemail” or by the in-game live chat, someone, somewhere, always needs something. Life is busy for a Vice President… And the name of the game in Eve, is money. “ISK” is Eve’s version of cash. Ammo can be bought for a few isk each, or giant spaceships can cost billions… The most expensive item I’ve ever bought was a blueprint for a Mining Barge, which gives me the right to produce ships I can off for $12.5 million each. I can charge more, but I’d have to move my ass further out into dangerous territory to compete with whoever was building them in the area.

My path in Eve is so far wrought with corporate intrigue, failed alliances, and a few of those “where it’s safe to fly” lessons I mentioned earlier… But all in all, the attraction for me is the fact that it’s more than just a game… For a few hours a day, if I suspend my disbelief just a little, I get to transport myself to the future. A future full of epic space battles, pirate-hunting, making money, and that doesn’t even touch the community aspect of the game.

Cause if there’s one thing I’ve learned in Eve, is that the more friends you have, the better.

CCP Games, the makers of Eve, are also prepping a massive free-play extension of the game that reaches all the way to consoles this fall: Dust 514. Dust is a break from the space-faring norm of Eve, and comes in the form of a first-person shooter game that is directly connected to the economy and on-goings of Eve in real-time. Connected in the sense that in the game of Eve, you can set up planetary “colonies” on almost any planet in order to mine raw materials, refine other minerals, or produce products – depending on your abilities… And it’s those “colonies” that are the actual battlefields in DUST 514.

Think on that for a second… A First-Person-Shooter PS3 game that is plugged into the living, breathing economy of a PC Space game… It’s an entirely new way of integrating games. When I say linked, I mean live, as in you can contact (from the PS3) players in Eve (on PC) and have them effect change in DUST 514 itself. Need orbital artillery bombardments? Need new supplies? New weapons? New vehicles? No problem. DUST 514 takes place on the actual planets that are scattered all over the galaxy in Eve. That means if you want to take over another person’s “colony” you hire mercenaries (in DUST) to do the job. Depending on the outcomes of matches in DUST, you can take territory and assets in Eve.

There’s never been a game like this before, that is spread across two different devices (PC and a PS3). Because while DUST is a separate game, it really isn’t. DUST is just an extension of Eve. A really, really cool extension. The thought of being on my laptop raining down fire on actual people on the PS3 is so cool my geek-radar is just spinning out of control… Or the thought of being in a losing FPS match on the PS3 and be able to turn the tide by flying to the planet on my PC and bombing the hell out of the other team… Yeah that’s just neato, I don’t care who you are.

And the best part? FREE-PLAY on the PS3. I didn’t pay a dime.

GAME ON!

the Pinnacle of Play: GRAND THEFT AUTO Returns to Westside

For some of us, playing video games is more than fun… It’s an obsession… but it wasn’t always this way, I swear.

I am a child of the Commodore 64 generation. Growing up, my friends all had Ataris, and SEGAs, and ColecoVisions, and while I might’ve been the last kid on the block with a Nintendo Entertainment System- we did always have the latest and greatest of the home computers. From the Commodore 64XS in all its color glory, to the green lettered IBMjr with its giant floppy disks, the Amiga, and CGA graphics (a milestone in computer gaming), in the Toomb household there was always a newer computer.

Enter the golden era of adventure gaming, and a little company called Sierra. I booted up King’s Quest for the first time in the 4th grade, and was immediately transported into every fairy tale I’d ever read. What I remember as brilliant color graphics and a fully-realized 3D world is mostly sentimental memory, because looking back now the graphics and game play are almost embarrassing. If I showed my kids these games, they would think there was something wrong with me… But I spent hours and hours glued to the mouse and keyboard- frantically typing in commands like “use hammer on door.” Those early adventure games were like an extension of my imagination, where the characters could go anywhere, explore anything, and complete some quests along the way. Sierra put out a slew of these Quest games when I was between the ages of 8-12- ranging from Police Quest to the extremely inappropriate and revolutionary Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Now, my parents weren’t the most censoring parents in the world, and while letting your 10 year old play a game where the sole purpose is to get laid might sound like fun, it’s sad to say that I learned a lot about the birds and the bees from ‘ol Larry (I will never forget the first time I saw digital breasts in VGA… all those pixels… wowza).

As I got older and Nintendo took over the world, I spent hours guiding Mario and Luigi through countless levels and machinations, from Yoshi’s Island to Mario Kart, Mario 64 to Street Fighter II. I also logged countless hours on the computer with flight simulators and open-world driving games like Test Drive, but something was always missing. Call it my young initiation into the Land of the Lounge Lizards, but video gaming was entirely too safe. By the time I was in my late teens, early 20s, the Playstation I had introduced me to blood-splattering fun games like Resident Evil and Siphon Filter, but they were all just plug-in-and-unwind kind of games. To be played with friends on a lazy afternoon, not to be immersed in. I always longed for those days of open-world adventure, where exploring a digital landscape was part of the fun. Nothing matched King’s Quest or Leisure Suit Larry.

Enter Grand Theft Auto III. The game that literally changed the way my brain was wired. In the video game world there is everything before GTA III, and then there is everything after. Before GTA my video game playing was a hobby, an escape, something fun to pass the time.

Grand Theft Auto puts the player into the shoes of a criminal who has just escaped from prison after being betrayed by his bank-robbing ex-girlfriend in the New York-esque town of Liberty City. I cannot impress the impact that this game had on me enough. It was as if every game I’d played in the past was really just building up to this particular game. It had everything I ever wanted in a video game: an open-world with tons of stuff to do besides the missions, a real soundtrack with real music instead of digitally produced noises, and a sense of humor- I repeat- a sense of humor. Until GTA, video games were all “hero this” and “save that,” but suddenly game play was wide open. I could steal cars, drive them at high speeds into oncoming ambulances, I could run from the cops and shoot my way out of going to jail, and most controversially: I could pick up a hooker, have implied sex with her, and then kill her and get my money back. A long way from Mario and Luigi, but not so much from that first game of Leisure Suit Larry.

Over the years, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has evolved- every time taking place in a new locale based on an American city. This is the key point to the GTA games… American popular culture is truly what’s being lambasted in these games. Sure you can sneak up construction cranes and snipe random people on the sidewalk, but it’s really our society’s ridiculousness that’s being assassinated. The games mix satire, social commentary, criminal fun, and whimsical amusement perfectly. Leave it to the British (Rockstar Games North) to skew American culture in such a brilliant “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” kind of way.

From Vice City (Miami) to San Andreas (Southern California) and Las Venturas (Vegas), Grand Theft Auto has clung tight to the criminal mythologies of America while offering up a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek comedy, mostly missed by critics. Grand Theft Auto eventually became sillier, wilder, and yes, funner as the years and locations progressed- culminating in what most see as the height of the series GTA: San Andreas. Taking on the role of CJ, an “LA” gang member, the bustling cities gave way to freeways and landscapes, deserts and ghost towns alike. San Andreas was the first in the series to incorporate 3 major cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas) into the game. San Andreas was a sprawling epic, with almost too much to do. From working out at the gym to become a hulk, or gorging yourself on fast-food until you grew fatter and fatter (even a little binge and purge at the “Burger Shot”). CJ could sneak onto an aircraft carrier and fly a Harrier-like aircraft (complete with missiles), he could even steal alien jet-packs from Area 51. GTA: San Andreas had it all… including base jumping from the Transcontinental Building and Golden Gate. Uh, yes please.

The outlandish qualities of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were eclipsed (much to the chagrin of those who fawned over giving their characters different haircuts and tattoos) by Rockstar Games‘ reboot of the series, Grand Theft Auto IV. The only game I have ever waited in line until midnight for. Boy was it worth it. GTA IV, in my opinion, is simply the greatest video game ever made. Rockstar took a step back from the silliness of some of its previous titles, incorporating more dramatic aspects, free-form storytelling, and cranking up the social satire. Rockstar did this by creating the greatest video game character ever made: Liberty City. Based on New York’s Burroughs and New Jersey, Liberty Cityis a living, breathing monument to what can be done with a video game. When I first got the game I would get lost for hours, looking at scenery, following random street people as they go about their days, watching two drivers duke it out after a fender-bender… I mean,  for all intents and purposes Liberty City is the greatest simulation ever made public. From FoxNews pundits spouting fire and brimstone to reality TV (yes, there are in-game channels to actually sit and watch), GTA IV has it all- especially when combined with the two add-ons Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

But that was almost four years ago.

Rockstar has released Red Dead Redemption and LA: Noire in the meantime, both of which are quality games of the highest marks, however still fall short of the bar set by GTA. Yes I said it, Red Dead isn’t as good as GTA. I know this is camp-splitting issue, and I don’t want to detract from the open-world awesomeness of Red Dead, but it didn’t have city buses I could drive down the sidewalks of Times Square at high speeds, killing hundreds of innocent bystanders while laughing maniacally… ok?! No amount of standing up to zombie bears with a flaming torch as a weapon can match that feeling.

However the wait (or should I say, the initial pre-announcement-wait) is finally over. On November 2, Rockstar officially kicked off the hype for Grand Theft Auto V with a teaser trailer featuring none other than a brand-new, re-imagined San Andreas (specifically Los Santos, the GTA version of Los Angeles). That’s right folks, GTA is returning to the West Coast with a bang.

From jets to jet-skis, the great outdoors to inner-city struggle, Grand Theft Auto V sets its sights on American culture and Hollywood lifestyles. The economy is also a big player in the latest in this franchise, as the trailer contrasts movie stars and mansions with homeless camps and soup kitchens. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to get my hands on Rockstar’s latest opus.