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Ars Reviews the 5th Gen iPod: Stiff Competition, Or None At All

So Ars Technica has reviewed the new iPod Touch.

http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/10/the-price-of-progress-2012-ipod-tou...

The new iPod touch improves on its predecessor in every way, but at $299 it faces stiff competition.

Gears of War 3

I thought I'd just list a few things I liked and disliked about Gears of War 3. Warning: SPOILERS!

LIKED: The series finally spent more time outdoors than indoors or underground, and we got to see some color. I liked that. The near-monochromatic color scheme worked well in introducing the game world back in the first game, but as things moved faster and became more crowded, it became monotonous.

DISLIKED: GoW3 is only marginally less set-piece happy than GoW2 was, with plenty of sequences that turn the experience from a third-person shooter into a rail shooter.

LIKED: I liked how we got to see how the actions of two separate squads came together to result in the defeat of the game's first boss enemy, the Leviathan.

DISLIKED: I disliked how jarring the transition was, going from Marcus and Dom defending the ship, to Baird and Cole looking for groceries. Ultimately, though, the gameplay for the second team was more enjoyable.

Welcome To Terra, Stupid

I'm not sure why I had high hopes for this show, but inside of five minutes the indications were not good. Inside of an hour the show was struggling under the weight of all the improbabilities it had accumulated, and it was a major effort to stick it out to the end.

The program spends very little time in the future, 2149, to establish the current hostile conditions from which people are fleeing. There's a shot of a smog-covered Chicago looking not much different from present-day Beijing on a bad air day. The protagonists, the Shannon family, are violators of a law that limits families to two children-- their third child, a daughter, Zoe, is unlawful. We're given almost no time to see the family in its current condition, as police are at the door looking for Zoe within moments. Despite being a police officer himself, when the police find Zoe-- hiding behind the largest, most obvious air vent in the room, after an "exhaustive" search of overturning furniture-- Jim decides to attack the police. He is arrested.

We then jump years into the future, when the wife, Elizabeth, visits Jim in prison to tell him she and their two lawful children have been recruited to travel into the past, to the Terra Nova colony. A predictable plot where the husband then breaks out of jail and brings his third daughter with him to reunite his family in Terra Nova. Here is where the stupid starts.

Jim Shannon is a vice cop, so presumably whatever area of law enforcement that deals with population control is not his area of specialty. Still, presumably he would have known what his oldest son confronts him with later: that assault on police officers is a more serious crime than the original population control violation, and as a result, he's done far worse harm to his family. He is sentenced to six years in prison, where he's supposedly put into what looks like solitary confinement in a facility that is referred to as "maximum security". Why an overpopulated and overpolluted future is willing to spend cash on this kind of incarceration for what is presumably a first offense, and a simple assault at that, is baffling.

More confusing is the fact that despite being "maximum security" the cell door has an opening in it, without any gate or lock, large enough to pass objects through. The wife smuggles a laser weapon inside a rebreather, which the guard allows her to pass to her husband uninspected.

Portal 2

Portal 2 feels very different from the first game. The first game seemed a lot like what it was: a new idea that came in from the outside-- outside Valve's usual Half-Life universe, and outside the usual thinking. Portal 2 feels a lot like that idea brought into the Half-Life universe, and expanded-- which is a good thing, I think.

L. A. Noire

LA Noire just oozes atmosphere. It's got a frame story (soldiers returning to the US from WWII and adjusting to civilian life) that I found interesting, especially where it tightly integrates into the gameplay, namely in the Vice and Arson desks.

The expanded Black Dahlia plotline of the Homicide desk I found less satisfying, in no small part due to the fact that you're nearly always dealing with wrongly-accused suspects. Your character knows this, since the serial killer theory is one he supports, even when his boss and partner don't.

Pixel Hunter: The Demon's Forge (Of War)

When I picked up Alice: Madness Returns, I was generally well disposed towards the title. I had enjoyed the previous game, so I expected to enjoy it.

With Dead Space 2, I was a bit more leery. I had skipped the first installment due to lack of interest, and picked up the game only on the suggestion of a friend. It took me a while to warm to the title, due in part to some severe reservations I have about its very traditional design (monster closets) and ways in which some encounters are deliberately unfair and limit the player's options in ways that most of the game's encounters don't.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge took me until the end of the first playthrough to really appreciate what it was trying to do, and even so, parts of the game are very rough. Like the previous two games mentioned, it's built on the Unreal engine by Epic Software; but unlike the previous two titles, it displays a slavish mimicry of Epic's own flagship Unreal engine franchise, Gears of War, that makes it difficult to perceive and enjoy some of the title's unique features. In the end, a game that I found flawed and frustrating in many parts completely ambushed me with a moral choice gameplay element that had been expected in Bioshock, but was so poorly implemented as to be pointless, here, polished to a shine that is present nowhere else in the game.Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Dead Space 2

A friend of mine happened to mention how much he enjoyed Dead Space 2, and although I had skipped the first installment, I decided to take a look at the franchise's new game. There's a lot to like here, and an interesting mix of old and new elements borrowed from a lot of different games, and a lot of different sources.

Warning: spoilers ahead! This is not intended as a "find out enough to see if you want to buy it" sort of article, but a detailed look at a lot of parts of the game's story and design, and it WILL spoil the ending for you if you haven't played the game.

Derivative Space

This may be an unfair criticism, since one of my favorite franchises, Halo, draws heavily on concepts from other works: Aliens, Ringworld, Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, and several others. A broad-stroke summary of Dead Space's story would end up reading a lot like a mismash of ideas from other films. A strange, inscrutable artifact is found that holds vast and terrible power-- much like the Monolith in 2001, like the Halo array in the Halo series, and like the Beacon in Mass Effect. The artifact, which is called the Marker, sends out a signal that makes ordinary people go insane, and makes "smart" people see symbols, at least one of the side effects of which seems to be imparting the knowledge and abilities necessary to build Markers, as well as a drive to take the steps necessary to use the Marker to achieve Convergence, which appears to be a unification of all humanity into a single being, much like Instrumentality in the Evangelion universe. The Marker is revered as a holy artifact by a religion called Unitology, a thinly-veiled doppleganger for Scientology, and they are one of the groups struggling for control over the Marker and those exposed to its signal. They seem to be actively working towards Convergence, while others attempting to exert influence over the Marker and those exposed to it-- namely Earth's government-- seem to be working towards something else.

The supposed immense power of the Marker explains why our protagonist, Isaac "I See What You Did There" Clarke is so important. In the first game, the mining ship Ishimura, with Clarke's significant other on board, found a Marker on a planet called Aegis VII. The Marker's signal caused people to transform into Necromorphs-- hideously distorted, murderously violent zombies with a wide variety of super powers and biological attacks. In other words, space zombies. There are a lot of similarities between Dead Space and Left 4 Dead in their pantheon of opponents: large, powerful creatures with devestating melee attacks, creatures that attack from range with fluids, little creatures that hop on your back until you throw them off. The Marker, I guess, is Dead Space's version of the AI Director, choosing what combinations of necromorphs to send after the player.

Returning to Alice's Madness

Confession time; I had a soft spot for American McGee's Alice, a 3D platformer I played back on my PowerBook back in the post-Myth, pre-Halo era. Bungie had just abandoned the Mac gaming scene and entered the embrace fo Microsoft, in order to influence and promote the Xbox platform, and there was not a lot that I could play on the limited Mac hardware I owned. I did not want to build a Windows rig just for gaming.

There's also the appeal of the (superficially, at least) literary theme. So there's no doubt that nostalgia played a role in my decision to get Alice: Madness Returns for the Xbox 360, a sequel to that game that also included a code to download a port of the original.

Less Than Zero Punctuation

Yahtzee makes a number of excellent points in his Zero Punctuation review of the new game, but I thought I'd follow up on just a few and perhaps put in a few good words for a game that I've had a good deal of fun playing in the past couple of weeks.

Merrimack Against The Semifinal Teams

Some more number crunching...

Through 27 regular season games and four best-of-three playoff series, the Hockey East field has been reduced from ten teams down to four. It's worth noting that Hockey East is the only one of the five division 1 conferences that tells any of its teams to hit the links after the regular season with no chance of playoff action.

So since there are only four Hockey East teams left standing, let's take a look at how they finished:

Team GP W L T Pts GF GA

Boston College 27 20 6 1 41 101 58

New Hampshire 27 17 6 4 38 90 59

Contempt Of Cop

The events listed below ocurred some months ago, but seeing a vaguely similar story on the Universal Hub blog and some of the comments on that entry, I felt prompted to write them up.

Late last year I attended a Hockey East game at Northeastern's Matthews Arena.

I had with me a consumer grade video camera in a black camera bag, and a mobile phone.

I had not been to a game in recent years.

What's In The Bag

I handed my ticket to a ticket-taker, who refused me admittance on the basis of my camera bag. I was referred first to someone referred to as the "manager" behind a ticket window, then to an usher, then finally to a Boston police officer, presumably on a paid detail.

I was never asked what was in the bag. I was never asked to open the bag. The bag itself was black with a shoulder strap. My wife carries a red bag with a shoulder strap, one that is quite a bit larger than the camera bag in question. No reference was ever made to this bag. No one asked to see inside this bag, or asked what was inside it, either.

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