World of Apex

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Art of Necromancy

Those of you who were looking to gain knowledge into the arcane science of reanimating the dead should look elsewhere. The title isn't about THAT kind of necromancy. Instead, I'll recount the tale of how a great lua coding wizard and an adept in the ways of Hammer forged an alliance to rebuild that which was lost long ago in the hazy beginnings of Garry's Mod 9.

Once upon a time, there lived a great wizard of the magical programming arts, who went by the name of n00854180t. One day, this great wizard was traveling across the great continent of Garry's Mod game modes and scripts when he came across ship, stuck on the beach, half built. He stopped, admiring what work had been completed on the ship, but was saddened that it had been left on the beach and would never be finished. But then a journeying cartographer named Apex came across the ship and the wizard, and he too stopped to admire the ship in its partially-built beauty.

Then spoke he to the wizard, "Alas, a shame it shall never set sail. What a sight it would be upon the shifting waves of the ocean."

Replied the wizard, "Indeed it would be good sir, a formidable vessel it would be. A great loss to the world, this unfinished ship and its untapped potential."

The cartographer stood a moment more, looking upon the vessel. Just then, an idea occurred to him, and he turned once more to the wizard.

"We could finish it for him!" He exclaimed.

"We might, had we the power," said the wizard, "It would take a grand effort to restore this ship and set it afloat."

"Between the two of us we could do it," replied the cartographer.

And so the two set to work. The wizard used his powers to rebuild the parts and patch the holes in the ship's sides, while the cartographer toiled away to once again make the ship beautiful. After long hours of labor, they stood back to admire the nearly finished vessel and the work they had put forth. But just then the shipmaker EmpV returned from his outing, amazed and delighted to see his ship nearly complete and shining like a diamond in the sun.

"Incredible," said he, "that two travelers may come upon my creation and aid my efforts so. I thank you strangers, now let us set sail!"

The story does not end there, however. The three continue to build their ship, hoping someday it will be seaworthy.


Pirateship Wars Redux by Apex, n00854180t and EmpV

Have fun, and I hope to see some new faces on our test server when it's back up!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Same old, same old

Good day, sports fans! That's right, for the 16th year running* EA has served up a dish of Madden NFL. After the inhumanity that was Madden '06 for the Xbox 360, has EA pulled their collective heads out of their collective asses to make a good football game? The short answer is, not really. The long answer is this review.

Madden '07 (Xbox 360)

Do you know those players in the NFL that have a distinctive style to them, that never changes? A running back with a non-stop smash-mouth approach, or maybe a quarterback that likes to run and gun? They're consistent, which is kind of like Madden has been the past few years. Unfortunately, a consistent player doesn't make a great player. After all, they could be consistently bad. I'm not saying Madden has been consistently bad. It's playable, it's decently realistic, the graphics are nice, but it's just not the real football simulation it's supposed to be. Madden is to football as Project Gotham Racing is to its respective genre: not too over the top and arcade styled, but nowhere realistic enough for the true fans.

Luckily, this time around EA did attempt to fix some of what they broke in Madden '06. They added create a player this time, as well as a score of other missing features from the last iteration. Some overhauled animations, slightly spiffed up graphics, and a tweaked interface round out the majority of the other fixes. However, one very big sore still remains untreated...there is no signature Madden/Summerall color commentary. How can you possibly name the game after someone who's not even in it? Alright, he IS in the "Ask Madden" play chooser thing, but that's not commentary now is it? Overall the differences between last year and this year are much more distinct than most years, if only because this time they released a full game instead of a demo.

Remember what I said about consistency? Here it is, Madden's gameplay. It's been the same for the past five or more years, with small additions here and there. It's still just as mediocre as it was last year. And the year before, and before. Computer AI is still thick up to the highest difficulty, players still clip through each other, stand around dumbly during a play and get stuck fairly often. This year's gimmick feature is the offensive version of the last gimmick the "Hit Stick." The "Highlight Stick" is a fancy way of saying you can use the right analog stick to throw out automatically chosen evasion moves on demand. That is, left on the stick will juke, spin, step or whatever is deemed cool enough at the time, to the left. The move is chosen by the computer based on context, eliminating any need for pressing those pesky buttons to pull of cool moves. Coupled with the new lead blocker controls, you should be teh juggarnaut, right? Well...the lead blocker thing isn't so great in practice. The problem is the same thick AI that controls your braindead opponents and stuck players, also takes immediate control of your ball carrier when you jump into the blocker's shoes. That means your perfectly planned burst through the hole you'll create gets turned into a double reverse for a 10 yard loss. As I said, it may be playable, but it's not the football simulation people seem to think it is.

There's just not that much to say here. Take my previous review of Madden '06, add in all of the features they cut to rush the release last year, then insert the new gimmick stick and lead blocker controls in the mix and you have this year's first and only NFL game. It's a better showing than last year, but that's not saying much.

Presentation: 5/10 - The menus are fine, but the lack of color commentary is disgraceful.

Gameplay: 7/10 - Another year, another gimmick.

Replayability: 7/10 - Well, at least it has Live.

Value: 7/10 - It's a complete game this year, amazing!

Overall/Summary: 7/10 - Same old, same old.

That done with I'll definitely be reviewing Dead Rising now that I've beaten it through the "True Ending" and unlocked Infinity Mode. Next week Saint's Row hits the streets, and I'll be sure to report whether or not the framerate issues of the demo are still there in my full review.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Why Xbox Live Rocks

For those of you in the Xbox 360 loop, right now is a time of rejoicing. The dry summer game drought is coming to a close, and demos galore are hitting the Marketplace screaming for your undivided attention. Some are brand new and long before release, and others will be launching right after you finish the demo. So how many purchases will you be making for your 360 this month? Let's break it down...

1. Saint's Row

Everyone knew a GTA style game would be hitting the next-gen before Rockstar got GTA4 out. While the pairing of THQ and Volition (who together made the Red Faction series) may seem an unlikely one for this type of game, the demo speaks for itself. The graphics aren't the only improvement Volition's made to the free-roaming urban shooter genre. A smooth combat system with equally smooth controls, a much more interactive and destructible environment powered by the famous Havok physics engine, and unrivaled character and vehicle customization are set to step up the competition for Rockstar on their home turf. Full ragdoll physics on every character in the game provides an extremely entertaining and satisfying effect to the game as a whole. The melee combat system is a great feature, adding new depth to brawling with the enemy and fighting in close combat with firearms (who doesn't love pistol whips?). Remember the parts in San Andreas where you could aim manually instead of just left or right? It's here, for every drive-by enabled weapon, on every vehicle. Speaking of drive-by enabled weapons, pistols are included in that as well, which is nice. The story is nothing you haven't heard, seen or played before, but is at least solid and cohearent. It'll be interesting to see how the full version comes out, scheduled tenatively for release the 29th of this month.

2. Dead Rising

A zombie survival horror game from Capcom, with co-op multiplayer, and you can use practically anything as a weapon? Are you kidding me? How can this NOT rock? The demo definitely doesn't dissapoint, despite being only single player. I for one would have liked to try out the multiplayer as well, but I can live with twenty minutes of high-def zombie splatterfest for another four days. To put it bluntly, this demo is superb aside from the unmarked game-ending boundaries and unmentioned time limit. The graphics may not seem truely "next gen" at first glance, but once you zoom out and see hundreds, yes hundreds of zombies in all shapes, sizes and states of decomposition on your screen you'll think otherwise. All of the characters are well detailed by themselves, but en masse it's simply amazing. The environments are moody, equally detailed and chock full of makeshift weapons to battle your undead adversaries with. The demo only allowed a look at the main area of the mall, but there are hints of a much larger play area between the locked doors, blocked off areas and bits from trailers. I'll give the full rundown on this one when I get my copy next week, but until then see how many zombies you can massacre in the demo, I've gotten nearly 300 in one run!

3. Live Arcade releases

After a long wait, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting has finally seen the proverbial light of day. Fighter fans rejoice...right? Maybe not. The visuals have been excellently HD-ized™ and the expected selection of characters and stages is there. The thing that has rubbed most people the wrong way is the cranked up difficulty. Personally, I suck at fighting games anyway, so I couldn't tell you one way or the other how hard it is, but most people I've spoken with have said the same thing. Xbox Live multiplayer should keep the fighter fanatics occupied and their minds off of the single game though. Just ot be sure, check out the trial first.

Last month we saw a couple of arcade classics come back in their spiffed-up HD form. After the success of Frogger and its online co-op mode, more arcade revamps were to be expected. Galaga hit the Live Arcade recently, and is all the vertical space-shooter goodness you remember from the cabinet days. There's not much else to say than it's still a solid arcade title, and fans of the era or the game in particular should grab the demo and maybe the full game.

The final Arcade release is another strange indy game. First we had Wik, then Outpost Kaloki X, and now Cloning Clyde. The game has an endearing 3D comic look to it, filled with comedic charm and platforming action that will keep you entertained at the very least. Our protagonist Clyde has been let loose into a mysterious lab by way of a freak accident that has also put several other Clydes on the lamb, leaving helpful notes to you on their way. Straightforward platforming and puzzle solving blends neatly with belly-flopping, ninja-kicking action and genetic engineering to deliver what can only be described as a decidedly...unique...gaming experience. On the short, it's cool, quirky, and at least worth taking a look at.

That's about it I guess, at least for the moment. I'll crawl back into my hole now and wait impatiently for Dead Rising to get here next week so I can murder more zombies. Speaking week's it really murder when you kill zombies? Think on it!

Friday, July 28, 2006

More, more, more...

I've been spending tons of time recently playing and mapping for Titan Quest. Recent patches, additions to my multiplayer party, and new mods have really started to pull this game from "cool" to "damn good" rating. All but one of the small list of bugs that got on my nerves have been patched, the last has a simple workaround for the moment, and more patches are in the works according to Iron Lore. I'm glad to see they acknowledge their game does have its flaws are are willing to fix them as quickly as they can. Anyway, I won't give a long, drawn out and detailed review of Titan Quest here, since I'll probably be writing it for D-Pad along with the other reviews I've been neglecting. I will say however that if you're a fan of the Diablo style, or like any type of action-RPG, Titan Quest would be a good choice to bring the old style into the new millenium.

I've been busy lately, very busy in fact. I finally got my laptop back from HP support, for the second time in a month. The turnaround was fast, GG FedEx and pre-paid shipping labels so thoughtfully provided by HP. However the actual repair service left much to be desired. When I got it back the first time, I fired it up and was greeted by a blank screen. Great. The backlight on the LCD went out, much to my dismay, so I immediately sent HP an internet to tell them about the new problem. Half an hour later a rather cheery fellow of obvious Indian heritage called me, immediately rousing suspicion as the caller ID read "Texas" and he was most certainly not from that particular meaning of "the south." A conversation ensued. Here is the dramatic re-enactment:

Apex encounters Tech-Support
Tech-Support uses feat STUPID QUESTION
Apex becomes confused
Apex counters with LOGIC
Tech-Support is IMMUNE!

A stalemate ensued, at which time I decided to bring out the laptop and describe the physical appearance of the screen in question if need be, so long as I could get off of the phone with this guy. Right then the impossible happened: the screen blinked to life. I knew then I had been made a fool of by my own hardware. With no explanation for the "specialist" I resigned with a curt thank you and hung up. The crisis was not over sooner did I lift the laptop to move it when, with a silent death wail, the laptop's backlight went dark once and for all. Unwilling to call back the obviously overworked support staff at HP, I sent another email saying the problem had returned as mysteriously as it left not ten minutes before. My reply came in short order: a standard, cookie-cutter support mail asking me to once again diagnose my system by their standards and inform them if the problem persists. Apparently they "understand the system does not work fine" and I should "isolate problem from a potential software problem." I had enough, and without thinking I wrote a mildly scathing email laying out the exact problem, what caused it, what it was that needed replaced and thought seriously about including the part number as well. Less than a day later I had a new drop box, and two days after that, a fully functional laptop.

Overdramatized personal crisis of the week aside, I was glad to note the new demos released on Xbox Live recently, and took the time out of my busy support-slave harassing schedule to evaluate the much talked about 99 Nights and the better-late-than-never DoA4...

99 Nights

This title has been shoved down the throats of the gaming public since its conception. Its hook is the promise of massive battles, flashy graphics and next-gen thrills. Meatloaf says two out of three ain't bad. Apex says it ain't good either. 99 Nights is your everyday cut and dry Dynasty Warriors knockoff, pure and simple. Unadulterated mass hack and slash that will wear both your thumb and the X button on at least one controller into submission. Despite that, the game is quite thrilling. The visuals are more than impressive, with the high detail player models you've come to expect...applied to every character in the game. All two thousand on the screen at once. You'll tear through hundreds of goblin infantry, dodge some arrows, fire some magic missiles and hopefully find some Cheetos in the process. You'll level up, get a new weapon or two, issue orders to your troops, learn new combos and unlock more flashy special attacks. When all of that is done, and you're finally out of things to realize it's only been ten minutes and you haven't finished the demo yet. It's overly simple, overly repetitive, overly flashy, and worst of all overly generic. It's the same large-scale hack and slash you've been playing since the first Dynasty Warriors, except it's HIGH DEFINITION. Don't fall prey to that buzzword though, because unless you really have an addiction to uninspired Japanese hack and slash games that try much too hard to be cool, you should avoid this game and its media-induced frenzy.

Dead or Alive 4

That's right, the DoA4 demo is here. It's only been 8 months since it was released, right? Though the guys behind the game may expect more people to simply buy their awesome game than wait to try it first, they finally gave in and have decided their sales weren't strong enough to let people off without knowing how unbelievably awesome their game is. That last sentance isn't laced with as much sarcasm as you would think. The game is solid, polished, smooth and the graphics are as beautiful as the chicks it features. The environments are detailed, spacious and pleasantly interactive, lending a nice twist to the often button-mashing gameplay that all fighters share. Lots of unlockables, multiplayer options, game modes and an overall very enjoyable experience make DoA4 worth at least spending the bandwidth to check out this demo for fighter fans and non-fighter-fans alike.

As a final note, I recently decided to try out Galactic Civilizations 2, after shunning its turn-based strategy style for quite some time. I'm still not a fan of turn based games in general, including turn-based RPGs. The game seems great all around, with a suffocating amount of depth to it, and everything a turn-based strategy nut would ever dream of. Aside from the pure awesomeness of designing your own ships with a huge array of physical and functional parts from wings and armor plates to weapons, engines and comms equipment, I still find the game somewhat boring. The demo doesn't seem to get the message across, so hopefulyl the full game is better off, but until I know for sure this one will stay in limbo.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Long Time, No See

I'm a very sporadic writer, especially if I'm not required to write on a regular basis. So, that said, every so often a conversation trips my writing instinct and I just have to put something down to get it out of my head. Now is one of those times.

Topic of the day: Gameplay or Graphics?

Now, before you immediately jump up my metaphorical ass and start yelling "GAMEPLAY YOU IDIOT," there is a point to this little rant. The point is, people are too one-sided, short-sighted and closed-minded about this issue. As soon as you ask the question I just asked, you'll get the reponse I just quoted. People these days are starting to turn against visual effects in favor of "new and different" ways of playing their games. It won't matter if it's the same exact game as before, as long as they have some new, fancy way of playing it. Case in point, despite the fact I'll get flamed for saying it, is the Nintendo Wii.

I'm not going to bash the console itself, so don't have an aneurism. The console is fine. However, the reasons people want to buy it are not. Ever since Nintendo used their little viral marketing scheme by abstractly naming their new console to generate buzz, then announced the inclusion of a motion-sensing controller, people have taken arms against the natural progression of videogame technology, jumping on a pop culture bandwagon instead. Gameplay! Gameplay! We don't care about the graphics, it's all about the gameplay!

Let's take a look back at the gaming industry before we go any further, to see how this mindset came into being. Over the past few years, videogames have become much more commercialized, corporate and generally have been made into a giant money machine by the big boys of the industry. EA churns out the same sports games each year with an updated roster and new soundtrack, companies pump out generic first person shooters like freebie fliers at a newsstand, Diablo clones 100 to 125 are made, and people gleefully slap $50 on the desk of their local retailer to buy them. However, even the general public isn't so blind as to wittingly accept this for very long. Catching on to the corporations evil schemes, the public has decided to "just say no" to things that aren't innovating. This isn't completely a bad thing, because it means people might finally wake up to the fact companies like EA are leeching money from their pockets every year for the same game, but it's also not a wholely good thing either. What would happen if people rebel against the publishers and say no to prettier graphics and yes to more gameplay?

In the real world, the publishers would ignore the public and continue on their merry way, because a few black sheep in the flock won't lead the rest astray. Let's be hypothetical for a moment though, and assume game companies actually cared about the customers and did in fact listen. If that were the case, the companies would have no motivation to make games look better whatsoever, and would cease improving visuals completely to save money. Imagine all of the dough they could save by not having fancy graphics! They could fire dozens of artists and cut down staff! Effectively, people would be stuck where we are now for the next ten years (the predicted time frame for the next shift in gamer interest, by my calculations). Games would look exactly as they do right now, on every system. There will be no Crysis, Gears of War, or Spore. All of them use new graphics technologies to improve the game.

You see, what people don't get is improving the graphics is a natural part of game evolution. Graphics have improved since Pong to become what they have today. Look at all of the classics we have today, then think to yourself, "what if people had decided Pong's graphics were good enough?" The art is as much a part of the game as the play style; one can not exist without the other. Gameplay is only half of the equation, on one side of the balance.

So, my final question to you is: Why can't we have both? What's so bad about having a fun game with really nice graphics? This day and age there's no reason we can't, as gamers, have our proverbial cake and eat it too. Giant game companies spend millions upon millions of dollars on development of these games, with hundreds of employees dedicated to them at a time, so why can't it look AND play great?

Aside: Reviews of games I recently purchased, in four words or less!

Hitman: Blood Money (Xbox360) - Hello, Mister 47.
Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (Xbox360) - Xbox Live or bust.
Titan Quest (PC) - Better Diablo, plus Co-op!
HL2: Episode 1 (PC) - Six more hours!
Rush for Berlin (PC) - Rush to return it.

Mod edition...

Dystopia (HL2) - Two words: Freakin' sweet
Hidden (HL2) - He's behind you.
Troy (HL2) - Pitt missing, thank Gods.
MultiTES4(Oblivion) - It's a start.
Star Wars (M&B) - Needs more blasters.
MultiTheftAuto (GTA:SA) - Ghetto blastin' online.

Demo edition...

Prey (PC) - Gravity rollercoaster.

That's all folks. I might post again this month. Maybe.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Oblivion, Part One

So I haven't gotten around to the Oblivion review. Deal with it. If you haven't gotten the memo, go buy this game RIGHT NOW. I've got both the PC and Xbox 360 version, and both are totally worth it. The 360's graphics completely smoke those of the PC counterpart in every way, and make the $400 box more than worth the price compared to the $4000 or more in PC hardware you would need to get anywhere close.

Sometime this week I *might* get around to a full review, partly because I have to write one for Dpad. After over 100 hours put in the game, I'm still hooked. I have three guilds to complete, and 6 more Daedric shrine quests to complete as well. There's much more to the game than that, too.

Trust me. Buy it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"X" Because It's Extra, Baby

In case you're wondering, the title is from a They Might Be Giants song. Furthermore, it's a TMBG song that happens to be currently residing on my new, wonderful Cowon iAudio X5L music player. In FLAC format. Booyah.

I now present to you the first hardware review I've done since the Xbox 360 launched...

Cowon iAudio X5L

I've been using my Zodiac as a surrogate MP3 player for almost two years now, and it finally got to me last week. I'd been mulling over buying a new player for a couple months, and had recently fallen in love with the FLAC lossless format, so finding a new one that could meet my hefty demands was tough. Luckily it's extremely difficult for me to convince myself of buying anything, which means I always spend weeks researching and comparing every single aspect of a product to other, similar ones. My list included basically two brands, iRiver and Creative, but neither played the FLAC format I held so dearly. I knew for sure I wouldn't be buying the overpriced, cheaply made rubbish that Apple puts out and mistakenly labels an "mp3 player," nor would I settle for an old Rio Karma. I was running out of hope I would ever find a player to fit my needs...then I found Cowon. After a few days of studious comparing, reading user reviews and interrogating my friend Ender about his, I decided to make the purchase.

Only two days later I recieved my brand spanking new Cowon iAudio X5L via UPS. I'd gotten a killer deal on it from Newegg: the normally $329 30GB model was on sale for $289. I viciously murdered the annoying, sealed plastic packaging and snatched the player from its evil clutches. The sleek black and silver design caught my eye right away, as well as the well placed buttons and ports along the sides. I noticed that while the player isn't feather light, its weight was reassuring; it was sturdy and well built. The five-way navigator seemed strangely placed, to the bottom right of the screen. The power button was one of those little slide things that you hold to turn on, and it went two directions, one for power, the other for hold mode. I unpacked the rest of the kit, which included the essentials: power pack, USB cable, software CD, and a little black thing. The little black thing was the charger/USB sub-pack, which plugs into the bottom port and has the aforementioned cables plug into it, as well as a line-in and line-out for recording and playing, respectively. The sub-pack seemed a bit awkward at first, but turned out to be no big hassle as I plugged it all in, and then...

BLEEM! I was practically blinded by the screen's brightness and clarity. The screaming blue and white charging screen gave me my first objective: turn down the brightness! A friend of mine said his only real complaint was the menus are a bit difficult to get through, but I had no trouble with it myself. The only difficulty was finding the brightness option in the myriad of other ones, from programmable buttons to display options, playback options and effects. I cranked down the brightness from five to two, noticing you can increase it all the way to ten, which apparently is Holy Light and can destroy undead. I poked about the options some more, trying out the equalizer settings, BBE bass management and the like, until I decided it was time to try out the playback. Luckily, the guys at Cowon decided to use the player as a propaganda medium, with included info videos on each product line they make, as well as a song modestly titled "iAudio Theme Song." I tried a video or two out and was impressed by the quality, which was exceptional for such a small screen. The R&B theme song didn't give much of an impression of the sound, though, so I was off to install it on my PC. I plugged the USB connector into my PC, then the mini-USB side into the player, forgetting all about the software, and probably important drivers on the CD...

Found new hardware: iAudo X5L
Found new hardware: USB Mass Storage Device
Your new hardware is installed and ready to use.

It was that easy. No software to install. In fact, you don't even need to pop in the CD. The included software is decent; one is a media player and the other is a conversion and backup utility. The latter converts most any video to the MPEG-2 format the player uses at a good speed, but otherwise is a fancier looking VirtualDub. Anyway, Windows popped up with a window asking what do with the files on the disk, so I opened it up and looked around the file structure. A folder was there for each media type: pictures, music, movies, textfile. There was also a folder for firmware, so upgrading the firmware is only a matter of drag, drop, and reset. From there I proceeded to copy music from my drive like mad, piling in precisely 444 songs in about an hour's time. Along with the music, which is arranged like so: Genre-->Sub-Category-->Artist-->Album, I tossed my *.m3u playlists for each album into the, you guessed it, playlists folder. My 444 tracks were spread out across a few genres like classic rock, techno and orchestral, and ranged from high-bitrate MP3 to OGG and FLAC. Figuring that was a pretty good spread, I disconnected it from the USB, plugged in my headphones and queued up the Oblivion soundtrack...

Just as I was dazzled by the brightness and clarity of the screen, I was amazed by the quality of the audio. If I were to close my eyes and just listen, I could imagine myself sitting in Tamriel, the quality (and music) was just that good. Thanks in part to a great 3D surround effect built into the player, the BBE bass, MP enhancement, and a nice graphical equalizer, the audio practically came to life. At first I thought it might just be the lossless FLAC doing it, but I was pleased to find out even the mundane, lossy MP3 format sounded much better. Finally assured the quality was in fact as stellar as I first thought, I decided to check out some of the other features...

Getting better aquainted with the menu system took a small bit of thinking. The five way stick thinger wasn't a new experience, since I've used many PDA's before, however I never think of the most obvious way to do things. It makes perfect sense to click down the stick and hold it to bring up the menu, since the horizontal controls skipping and verticle controls volume. A single click will take you to the file browser and let you move about your folders, where you can select songs or folders to either play or add to the Winamp-esque Dynamic PlayList (DPL). Since the nav-stick takes care of moving and selecting, the Pause/Play button on the right side of the player does the actual, well, pausing and playing. Both this key, and the Record key directly above it, can be programmed to do one of a handful of handy functions when you hold it down. Mine are set to change play mode and bring up the equalizer. Speaking of play modes, the ability to change between bounded, which only plays tracks within the specified area in order, and shuffle, which randomizes the tracks in that bounded area, is extremely useful. When I say "bounded area," I'm referring to another option, which allows you to set the area which the player can pick songs from to the entire hard disk, main folders (like genre), or only sub-folder (artist or album). The amount of options you can toy with is huge. After I emerged from the settings menu, I decided to wander over to the picture display feature and check that out, too. Displaying pictures by themselves isn't very useful to me, but you can set your wallpaper that displays behind the track info on the main player screen here. I resized a few desktop backgrounds and made a couple myself for the hell of it, so I've got enough background images to last me awhile. Also listed on the main menu is FM radio, which doesn't interest me much. I've got a library of high or perfect quality music, why use FM? It's nice to know it's there though, and I can record straight from the radio to MP3 if I need to. Upon further inspection of the little sub-pack thing, I can record tracks through line-in, which could come in very handy. Speaking of recording, there's a nice voice recorder built in as well, which has surprisingly good quality.

During the course of the last day and a half, I've been using it almost constantly and haven't made a dent in the battery power whatsoever. The X5L is designated as such because of the larger battery, which adds a whole 1 ounce of weight and 4 milimeters of width to the unit, but raises the battery life to around thirty hours.

All in all, the X5L is an amazing piece of hardware. It's got twice the capacity of my old brick of a player, it's less than half the weight and thickness, has a full color screen that's incredibly clear and bright, and has awesome battery life. The onboard menus and browsing is easy, natural and pretty fast (especially if you use playlists often). Playback quality is stellar, and it even improves those lossy MP3's. The support of FLAC lossless and OGG along with the standard codecs is great, and the effects, equalizer and enhancements make the sound come to life.

Apex's Rating: 9/10

This is the best player out there if you want great audio quality and ease of use rather than a trendy fashion accessory.

ADDENDUM: I experimented with the USB a bit and connected it to my Xbox 360 without a hitch. It works perfectly and playing music off of it is a breeze.

Fight Night is Every Night

Fight Night Round 3

Lets face it, EA's Xbox 360 lineup as been less than enjoyable. Oh hell, why beat around the bush? Their lineup of consistently milked franchise sports games outright sucked. Luckily for all you boxing fans and non-fans alike, the publisher decided not to rush Fight Night the same way, and surprisingly, the game exceeds expectations. Proving that they really can improve on one of their franchises instead of sitting on it and reeling in the cash, Fight Night delivers a genuinely fun and spectacular looking boxing title.

Fight Night is the only game I've ever seen that can render such ugly fighters so beautifully. The visuals here can only be described as an experience, and really show what the console is capable of in only its second generation of games. Boxing is a perfect sport for visual overkill, and EA knows it. From the perfectly modeled meshes, highly detailed textures and animated cloth to dripping sweat and skin that ripples with the impact of punches, everything is here in excess. The environments make liberal use of the bloom lighting effect, while extremely high quality bump mapping gives everything in view realistic depth. All around, the graphics are just plain jaw dropping.

Traditionally, sports games are known for great sound effects and incredibly bad musical selection; both of those are here. While the soundtrack leaves much to be desired for anyone with little taste for rap, the sounds in the ring are excellent. Scuffling feet, the breath of both fighters, and of course the impact of punches are clearly audible and sound like you're ringside at a real fight. Again, the quality and amount of sound effects does lead to some overkill during knockdown replays, but it's bearable enough. The commentary is fairly good, but you will often be unsure who the announcer is referring to, and his rambling can be difficult to follow. Between rounds your trainer will try to perk you up with one of a handful of generic pep-talk lines, but who listens to that guy anyway? The main focus is definitely in the ring, where the game delivers a perfect audio compliment to the incredible graphics.

The graphics do provide the jaw-drop factor, but for once EA shows that graphics aren't everything. The game itself is simply a great boxing game, which does justice to the sport to more than just fans. Amazingly smooth movement and animation, coupled with sensible, easy to learn controls come together to make a game that's simple enough to learn, yet hard to master. Using the left stick to shuffle around and the right to throw punches is fluid and comfortable to use. The two triggers provide secondary modes for the sticks: the left trigger lets you dodge and lean with the left stick, while the right stick is switched to throwing body blows; the right trigger changes the right stick to blocking and parrying, but does nothing to the left stick, allowing you to move and ward off shots. The parry feature is extremely useful in fights, and lets you get a quick shot in on your opponent when he screws up, but takes some practice and fast reflexes to get the right direction in time. The right bumper is the conveniently placed special punch button, so you can let loose your signature haymaker at precisely the right moment. That's right, there's an EA sports game out there with great controls...imagine that!

The single game is exactly what you would expect: a straightforward career mode. The standard "take your created fighter from amateur to champion" type mode is old news, but still enjoyable. Although you have fairly limited options for character creation, it's not that big of a deal. The facial deforming system would be understandably difficult to customize, and you wouldn't want your pretty face getting pummeled anyway, would you? If you get tired of the path to glory you can jump into an ESPN Classic fight, which lets you try your hand at defying historical matches like Ali vs. Frasier. You can also fire up a single match whenever you like for practice as well. All of the single modes are accompanied by pretty decent AI, which is a reasonable challenge even on the lower settings. The higher the difficulty goes, though, it seems your character gets dumber and weaker instead of the other guy getting better (which is trademark EA). The parrying system gives a distinct advantage to the AI's faster reflexes, and you will occasionally get beaten down by a fighter that does nothing but parry punches. The single game wasn't broken, so it didn't get fixed, but then again it didn't really get improved either.

One thing that's very noticeable about Fight Night is that the game has a pick up and play nature to it, which fits perfectly for multiplayer matches. Unlike a certain Ubisoft game, the multiplayer does happen to use the same game engine as the single player modes, so the graphics are just as good there. Since the game is one on one, lag is kept to a minimum and the fights tend to stay fast paced. One thing that would've been a nice addition is an online career mode, similar to the one PGR3 had. Fighting actual people for titles online would add a lot to the multiplayer replayability. Aside from that, what's there is solid none the less.

The replay value is pretty good with Fight Night. Having both an enjoyable multiplayer you can jump right into and a single player you can go through in different ways helps keep the game alive after your first character is king of the ring. If you don't want to just randomly battle people online, you can make a new character in one of the five other weight classes you didn't pick the first time and try there. The difference between heavyweight and lightweight fighters is distinct, and comes off as a whole new experience. A good bit of replayability, even for you single player junkies.

As the announcer in Fight Night would say, the game comes through with a convincing win. It's gorgeous, easy to pick up and play, and has enough depth and replay to keep you coming back.

Presentation: 9/10 - Shock and awe.

Gameplay: 8/10 - Fluid controls and movement are the key to any boxing game.

Replayability: 7/10 - It's there, maybe not in droves, but it's there.

Value: 8/10 - I never thought I would say "the best purchase I made this week was a boxing game."

Overall/Summary: 8/10 - The must have boxing game.