Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Rumors and hopes of fans existed for years, but a movie starring the Simpsons never seemed to materialize...until this year. And now you can own it on dvd. But, is it worth owning?

I tried not to get my hopes up because things we wish for don't live up to our expectations. Being that I have been watching the Simpsons since their early days, it would have been easy for me anticipate the greatest animated film ever. There's a reason they have been America's favorite dysfunctional family for what seems to be a millions years. But, again, I need to be realistic about this.

The movie started and it didn't take long for me to again be thrilled by the twisted humor of creator Matt Groening as I find myself watching the Simpson family watching a movie. Overly creative? Not really, but it's one of those subtle things that Groening and crew do so well. Now they have to prove that they can continue to produce laughs for almost 90 minutes -- the equivalent of three regular TV episodes.

The story revolves around, what else, Homer screwing up in a big way and trying to make things right. Despite pleas from Lisa and the government in Springfield, Mr. Simpson adds to the pollution in the town's lake (by dumping a silo of poop from a pig he saved earlier in the film) and makes it so toxic that the EPA sees it as a threat to all. As a result, the town is sealed off from the rest of the world. When the other citizens find out that Homer is the cause, they form an angry mob and go after the newest public enemy.

I really don't want to give away too many details because part of the beauty of anything involving the Simpsons is not knowing just what might happen. I want to leave that suspense for the viewers.

Along with the movie, you also get a decent set of extras. I have seen better, but this isn't a set of add-ons that is there just as filler. You should enjoy the deleted scenes, bits from "American Idol," the intro from "The Tonight Show," and well as the commentary from Groening, Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith and others.

Basically, here's what you need to know: if you're a fan of the television show, you should enjoy this dvd. I didn't get my hopes too high, but it probably wouldn't have mattered if I did because this movie probably would have met them. Is it good enough to be ranked with the top episodes of the past? Definitely not. After almost 20 years there are many, many treasures to be found and any movie or TV show will be hard pressed to equal the very best of the series. However, "The Simpsons Movie" provided a fairly continuous stream of funny moments -- some just downright hysterical -- and is very much worth watching. And, if you are a fan, it's definitely worth dropping the $15 or $20 to have this in your video library.

SCORE: 8/10
"The Simpsons Movie" isn't going down as a classic but it provides laughs and plenty of them. Take it for what it is -- an extra long cartoon -- and you should enjoy it. Of course, if you can't stand the Simpsons, maybe you should check out a drama or horror flick.

Rated: PG-13
- Commentary from James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Al Jean, Mike Scully
- Deleted scenes
- "Special stuff" (includes previously mentioned "American Idol" and "The Tonight Show" clips)
- A lot of trailers

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I am not a musician, although I do play one on a virtual kind of way. No, I haven't been fitted for any kind of motion technology like the anchors (and Xavier University's Blue Blob) in the ESPN commercials. But I can live out my rock fantasies thanks to Activision/Red Octane and the smoking hot Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

The concept is simple, which might be why this is such a great game. Basically, you create your virtual musician, join/create a band and, well, rock the crowd. You start out slow, passing some easier tests and earning money, but the ultimate goal is to be a star. That should be obvious. You're not buying this title to pluck the strings for a butt-kicking garage band.

As you play your way to the top, you'll face occasional challenges from level bosses. These are the top dogs who can already rock the house and your goal is to knock them down a peg or two. You need to earn a rep. Battling the pros and surviving will help achieve that goal.

If you want some on-line competition, it's available. You can opt for Face-off, Pro Face-off or Battle modes. Or, if you think your skills need sharpening, feel free to jump into the Training mode. Here you can work on any song you have already accessed in the game and you have the option of playing it at regular speed or trying a slowed down version. Hey, there's no shame in admitting you need work. I'm sure Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page or The Edge weren't masters the first time they hammered the strings!

You have your choice of wired or wireless controllers, with the wireless costing a little extra. The added freedom might be worth a few extra bucks, but you shouldn't feel as if you'll be handcuffed by a wired controller. You still have a pretty good range of movement and it's not like you'll be standing that far away from the screen to begin with. So, basically, both controllers will work, it's just going to come down to a matter of preference.

Five color-coded buttons and a strum bar serve as the strings on the guitars and you also have a whammy bar at your disposal. In order to play songs, you'll have to hit the colored button and the strum bar together as the notes appear on the screen. On easier levels you'll be required to use three of the five colored buttons. It increases to four buttons, then five for the tougher songs. The suggestion here is that you start off at the lower levels if you aren't an established Hero already.

The game has over 70 songs, including tracks by The Who, Guns 'n' Roses, Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam and others. You'll even get to hear the re-united Sex Pistols kick out "Anarchy in the UK," although it's generally believed to be a lesser version of the original. More tracks are also available on-line.

So, are you ready to rock? Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is not a perfect game, but it's pretty close. This isn't a title you play for graphics, strategy or to see things blow up. It's one you throw in the console when you want to shred. Period. And GH3 helps create that opportunity and does it well. You may never be a real rock star, but you can play one on TV.

GAMEPLAY: Terrific. The button layout is great and the response is very good. Battling the bosses doesn't really add much, but it's not really a drawback either. Again, the goal of this game is to let you rock...and you can.

GRAPHICS: Not truly awful, but nothing to get excited about. Some of the characters are just plain ugly. (Of course the argument can probably be made that the same can be said about many real rockers.) With the new breed of consoles, gamers are used to sharper, more realistic graphics than what this game offers. But, if you're buying this game for its looks, you should probably reconsider playing video games at all.

SOUND: Very good. If you're playing on a TV and don't have additional speakers, you'll be forced to really jack up the volume to get totally into it. But, if you pump Guitar Hero III into surround sound, let the concert begin!

EXTRAS: The on-line features offer nothing special. You can access a scoreboard and get into some head-to-head matches, but there's not much to get excited about here.

SCORE: 85%
This game isn't one that I would be comfortable letting young ones get at. It's probably more suited for those in their teens and up due to some song lyrics and a couple of the animations. But, overall, it shouldn't really be considered offensive.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Activision has been publishing hunting and fishing titles for years and they all seem to give gamers a taste of what it's like to be outdoors. The recent release of "Cabela's Big Game Hunter" is no different.

Having played several of the past titles, I tend to agree with the game's claim that this one allows you to take on the most challenging targets yet. That doesn't just mean squaring off with a monstrous bear that wants to rip your face off (and that does happen), it also includes the small animals that run in the fields and dart behind high weeds and boulders. In fact, I would almost prefer taking on one of the giants in the game instead of dealing with the frustration of repeatedly firing shots that land well behind a shifty little animal. Seriously, I probably could have put on a blindfold and had just as much success when I first started playing. Don't get me wrong, it's not a drawback. In fact, it's something that tends to make the game more challenging than many others.
While you're chasing these animals in some of the world's top hunting spots, you'll also be able to unlock hunts and gear. You'll even need to rely on the aid of local guides to bag the biggest game of your hunting career. The box states that the game "may be a virtual adventure, but you'll still need to implement real-life hunting strategies to be successful," and that's pretty true. Obviously it's not the equal of really being in the outdoors, but it's a pretty good option when the real thing isn't possible.
You'll track 24 big-game species (such as elk, moose, mule deer, caribou, and grizzly bear) and have chances to unlock hunts for more than 20 species of small know, the kind that won't threaten your life! In order to bring down whatever prey you are chasing, you'll be able to equip yourself with authentic weapons and gear that provided an impressive level of realism.
For hunters looking to pass the time until they can actually get out into the field, this is an excellent option. You'll feel the pressure of the hunt as you stalk wild animals and, in some cases, as they stalk you. Big Game Hunter won't make you forget about life in the real outdoors, but it's definitely worth playing. For those not at all interested in hunting, real or simulated, you may obviously want to look elsewhere.
GAMEPLAY: Controls are pretty simple and easy to use/understand. Even a casual gamer should have no problem picking up the controller and playing. The realism of Big Game Hunter should allow for entertaining hunts and a title that has lasting power.
GRAPHICS: The look of this game is excellent. It's definitely not at the top of the list graphically, but it still looks good and provides a quality representation of what you'll find in the real outdoors.
SOUND: Like many other titles, you have to take it for what it is. You're not going to get insane explosions, a moving soundtrack or great chatter. But the sounds of nature are well done and the guides are easy to understand.
EXTRAS: The in-game unlockables are a nice touch and provide a little something more to aim for, other than just the animals.
Here's a quick look at some the features of the game:
- Accurately simulates a real hunting experience with authentic weapons, detailed environments, changing seasons and realistic animals
- Hunt for 24 big-game species in 10 trophy legend hunts: elk, moose, mule deer, caribou, kudu, red stag, big horn sheep, cape buffalo, wild boar and grizzly bear and 20 species of small game as well as waterfowl and upland birds
- Hunting locations including British Columbia, Montana, New Zealand, Africa and Argentina
- Stalking, tracking, long-range shooting, baiting, stand, blinds and other hunting strategies used in real-life hunts
- Dangerous game that attack until you strike them down
- Use adrenaline, stalking and tracking modes and hunter sense to lock on and track animals as they move
SCORE: 79%
This is a game with animated hunting violence and parents should make their decisions accordingly. Hunting and gun control are hot topics and this is a game that, to some extent, fits into that discussion. It should be noted, though, that there was no excessive or over-the-top violence noticed while reviewing this title.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


The Judd Apatow crew is back and as "Superbad" as ever. If you have seen "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" or "Knocked Up," you are familiar with their work. This movie takes the same approach of mixing situational/sexual humor, clever dialogue, familiar-feeling characters and I can't believe they went there comedy.

The story was written by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg and they say it was based on their lives as awkward teens. It focuses on two high school kids, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), who are trying to get booze and sex. Oh, the originality! I'm pretty sure I've already seen this one once, twice or a dozen times. At least that's what I thought.

Luckily this one has something different about it, giving it a freshness that doesn't allow it to fall into the garbage pile with so many other bland, teen movies. Whether it's another enjoyable performance from Hill, seeing some relatively new faces on the screen or the enjoyable exploits of an oddball named Fogell, "Superbad" delivers.

Seth and Evan are like all other males their age and are interested in girls. Unfortunately these two guys aren't really popular and the objects of their affection seem to be out of reach. But they still decide to make it their goal to score with these girls. The problem is that they don't know just how to do that. But the stars to align and present the perfect opportunity.

Seth is asked by Becca, the girl he has the hots for, to pick up alcohol for a party she is throwing. As fate would have it, an acquaintance of his, Fogell, got a fake ID that day and could help him pull it off. Once they had the booze, it would be easy for Seth and Evan to get drunk with the girls and then get them in bed. Of course it would be way too easy if things went according to the plan.

The problems start when Fogell returns with his fake ID and his new identity is that of a 25-year-old Hawaiian name McLovin. The outlook gets worse when you throw in a couple incompetent cops, relationship issues among friends and encounters with some very unique individuals.
As far as the performances, Hill and Rogan continue to show the ability to produce in comedic roles, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is suprisingly good as Fogell and Bill Hader ("Saturday Night Live") provides a steadying presence. Cera might be a little too bland, but it does help to counter the high energy of Hill. Martha MacIsaac and Emma Stone work well as the love interests. They aren't asked to do much, but it's nice to see someone new instead of running out the same old faces.
Yes, this has elements of the typical teen-booze-sex comedy. It's a formula that has proven to be successful when done well and, as usual, the Apatow-Rogan-Goldberg connection comes through. "Superbad" isn't a perfect film and does have some slow periods, but the overall product is definitely worth a look if you need a chuckle. Because, while Seth and Evan deal with their highs and lows, there's always one thing that the viewers can count on: laughs.

Grade: 7.5/10 (the extensive list of extras might bump it to 8/10)
"Superbad" is an enjoyable film that most people should be able to relate to. It's never going to be confused with the truly classic comedies, but it's definitely worth a couple hours of your time on a weekend night. So get a bowl of popcorn and a tasty beverage...just be careful when you drink it because it may wind up coming out of your nose!

Rated: R
- Pineapple Express: Exclusive First Look
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Gag Reel
- Line-O-Rama
- Cop Car Confessions
- Making of "Superbad"
- Original Table Read 2002 - Seth Rogan reads for the part of "Seth"
- Dancing Title Sequence
- Vag-tastic Voyage (contains nudity)
- Cast Audition Footage
- Press Junket Meltdown
- The Music of "Superbad"
- "Everybody Hates Michael Cera" - The Unfortunate True Story
- On-set Diaries
- "Snakes on Jonah" Featurette
- Michael's Voicemails from Jonah
- TV Safe - Watch Jonah Hill try to record alternate "safe" lines appropriate for TV
- Table Reads

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I’m a fan of Jerry Seinfeld and I plan on seeing “Bee Movie.” So, being a gamer, it’s only natural that I had an interest in Activision’s appropriately titled Bee Movie Game.

First and foremost, it needs to be pointed out that Seinfeld was secured to provide the audio for the game’s main character, Barry B. Benson. This is the same character the comedian voices in the movie. Without him on board, gamers would have been left asking (as part of a bad Seinfeld impersonation), “a ‘Bee Movie’ game without Jerry, what’s the deal with that?”

The game follows a pretty simple storyline. Barry spends the early part of his existence going through the repetitive activities of life in New Hive City. After going through the monotonous daily grind, he decides to check out life on the other side, New York City. Being that I haven’t seen the movie yet, I can’t tell you how closely the events follow the film. But, based on some in-game interviews of Barry done by a bee reporter, it seems like the game may focus on post-movie life for our buzzing hero.

The gameplay is not complex and it’s pretty easy to get right in and play. While in the hive, Barry has the option of walking, flying or driving. It’s pretty easy to maneuver in each mode and switching between them is also a painless task. Triple-B wanders around the bee city completing various tasks and jobs, collecting honeycombs and interacting with other bees. He can access several areas including his house, the Honex company, an arcade where you can unlock and play in-game video games, a car dealership, etc. Barry will even have the opportunity to purchase his own beehicle, I mean, vehicle.

After he makes his way into the Big Apple, Barry has to defend himself against humans, other insects and various elements of nature. He will also have to perform tasks such as removing pollen from healthy plants and injecting it into flowers that aren’t doing so well. This requires the use of the pollinator and is a pretty easy task. The pollinator will also be used to battle other insects that present a threat to Barry. My personal favorites when in NYC is when you are required to buzz in the face of humans will the sole purpose of agitating them and trying to get them to swat at you. I was also impressed by the Bee Reflex option which, in theory, allows you to move so quickly it appears that time has slowed down. This function lets you dodge rain drops (who knew they could be so deadly?), obstacles and strikes from humans.

Obviously there are more features in the game (a clothing store, street races, photos and wax statues to view in a museum), but the guts revolve around Barry completing tasks in New Hive City and doing the same, while also trying to stay alive, in New York City.

Bee Movie Game is a cute title that has some very enjoyable moments, but it never offers anything exceptional. Of course, it probably offers plenty when it comes to satisfying the younger gamers. So, for adults interested in playing this, do so as a rental. But, if you have little ones, the cartoon nature and non-stop movement of Bee Movie Game should make it worth a purchase.

GAMEPLAY: The game is smooth, although you will encounter an occasional frame-rate issue (but it really doesn’t detract from the game). Controls are easy to use, which is a good thing for the younger crowd. This isn’t the most challenging title you’ll play, but it does offer a relaxing alternative to the high-intensity games (shooters, sports games) that saturate the market. Plus, kids should love it.

GRAPHICS: New Hive City is cartoonish compared to many of the ultra-realistic graphics we see in many of the new games, but it probably wouldn’t be authentic if it wasn’t. It has the look of the movie and, to be fair, that’s what people getting this game will want. Who buys Bee Movie Game and expects to see real bees flying around?

SOUND: Very well done. The soundtrack fits the game and the inclusion of Seinfeld’s voice is huge.

EXTRAS: Races, minigames, and on-line leaderboards add a little to this title, but they won’t make it a “can’t take it out of my console” game.

GRADE: 72%

This game is rated "E" for Everyone (mild cartoon violence) and should be good for even the youngest gamers. I don't recall anything that would be objectionable, although I'm sure some may feel Barry B. Benson shooting other insects with his pollenator is too violent.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

DVD REVIEW: Chinatown - Special Collector's Edition

If you look at a list of the greatest movies of all time, you’re sure to find titles like “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather,” “Schindler’s List” and “Casablanca.” Another film that tends to make appearances when listing the best of the best is “Chinatown.” But, oddly, it seems many people haven’t seen it and I’m not sure why.

Jake Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, is a private investigator hired to investigate an extramarital affair. Of course, like most detective stories, it can’t be that simple (it would probably be pretty boring if it was). While working on the case, Gittes uncovers discrepancies involving L.A.’s water system and soon after finds himself in a world of violence and deception.

During his investigation, Gittes encounters many of the usual elements of a private eye story, including the love interest. That role is played brilliantly by Faye as Evelyn Cross Mulwray. He also must deal with the typical character that obviously has something to hide. John Huston handles that task in convincing fashion, giving life to Noah Cross, a wealthy business man with ties to the water supply.

It’s interesting to note that Cross always mispronounces Jake’s last name. This wasn’t something planned, but was born out of Huston’s normal mispronunciation of “Gittes.” The creators felt it added something to the character and didn’t attempt to correct it.

The film continues to follow many of the same twists and turns that other P.I. movies have taken, but it always seems to be a little better at it. Perhaps it’s the depth of the screenplay, for which Robert Towne won an Academy Award. Maybe it’s the non-stop display of talent in the performances by the cast. Whatever it is, it’s something special and “Chinatown” has it.

Once the movie ends, the extras included provide excellent insight to things that went on behind the scenes. For example, in one of the bonus features the story is told about how Nicholson and producer Robert Evans got into a very public argument on the set. Nothing special about that, except for the fact that Evans smashed the TV in Nicholson’s trailer so he couldn’t watch Lakers games and, adding a comic element to the incident, Jack was in his underwear.

Viewers also learn about how the musical score was changed after a preview of the film and how director Roman Polanski influenced the ending of the movie.

GRADE: 9/10
This movie is often lumped in with the best ever for good reason. All the elements – acting, writing, directing, etc. – are excellent and come together in a way that translates perfectly into to the film. Add in a set of extras that are more than just filler and it makes for a dvd that any movie fan should check out.

Rated: R
Chinatown: The Beginning and the End (19 1/2 min.)
Chinatown: Filming (25 1/2 min.)
Chinatown: The Legacy (9 min.)
Theatrical Trailer


Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I’ll be honest. I received my copy of Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same and figured it would be the typical concert dvd. I know, there were claims that it wasn’t the same, but that’s what all promotional items say. “A mesmerizing movie” featuring Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. Mesmerizing? I was skeptical but it deserved a chance.

The film started with what might be the oddest collection of scenes I have ever seen. Naked children playing in a stream while the parents watch from the bank, a father telling stories to his children…a group of guys ambushing a back room and lighting it up with gunfire. One guy has his head blown off only to have streams of colors shoot out of his neck. Huh?? I was baffled by what I was seeing, although I was intrigued as well. Call it my sick side.

Apparently these scenes were part of the band’s fantasy sequences and shouldn’t be subject to much over-analyzing. Just take them for what they are, an added element to break up the monotony of the usual concert film.

A few minutes after the scenes from The Godfather in Oz, I was taken to the band members exiting a plane and heading toward their destination, Madison Square Garden. That’s when the fun began.

I’m not someone who would be considered a big Led Zeppelin fan, but I do enjoy the music and appreciate the group’s place in history. The band helped change the face of rock and continues to influence today’s musicians. So, to watch this group of talented men perform in 1973, amidst tons of hype and electricity, should be considered a gift.

The performances include many of the expected songs, the first being “Bron-Yr-Aur.” As the journey continues with “Rock and Roll,” “Black Dog,” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” video clips (including more of the band member fantasies) are inserted and provide viewers with something more than watching four guys on stage. This is the general flow of the film and, at some point, I started to feel like it might be losing its entertainment value.

That’s when “Stairway to Heaven” kicked in. Unless you have been locked in a cave for about 40 years, you’ve heard this one. I have talked to numerous people who believe it might be the best rock song ever, without question one of the top ten. But the version in the film is different than the one always pumped over the radio. This time it’s live and there are added dimensions of feeling, entertainment, showmanship, etc. It’s a different, exciting twist on a classic and was surely going to be my favorite part of the movie. At least that’s what I thought.

When “Stairway” ended, Plant called attention to Bonham on drums and introduced the song “Moby Dick.” That’s when the drummer went on an impressive solo show that had me on the edge of my seat. I was especially entertained when he put down the sticks and started playing with his hands. Now, this may be something that other drummers do, but seeing a legend like Bonham do it provided a special quality. Seeing his intensity and focus only added to the experience. During his solo, video clips once again appear, so viewers don’t have to just stare at a man behind a drum set. The clips were somewhat sad to me, leaving me wondering what would have happened had he not passed as a result of alcohol poisoning.

When the rest of the band came back out, apparently going backstage during the drum solo, Plant summed up the performance by saying, “John Bonham, 130 pounds of glory.” Perfect.

Two songs, “Heartbreaker” and “Whole Lotta Love,” finish out the concert footage. The film then follows the band as it boards a plane and heads off. The more familiar version of “Stairway to Heaven” plays as they take flight, continues through the end of the credits and then plays on over black. It was a fitting end to this surprisingly entertaining film.

Even though, after almost two hours of concert video, it seems like I may have had enough, I still felt the urge to pop in Disc 2. It’s full of standard “extras,” from the BBC interview of Plant and Peter Grant (while boating on the Thames) to the added concert footage, including the never-before-released “Over the Hills and Far Away” and a cutting copy of “Celebration Day.”

As a member of the media, I was fond of the Tampa News Report (from PULSE in Tampa, includes airplane footage of the band’s arrival) and the news report about the band being robbed while on tour. While my interest in those to features comes from being in news, those outside of the business should also enjoy them simply because they are a look at elements of an exciting time in music history.

Also included are the original film trailer and a unique radio profile by Cameron Crowe (who also has a printed commentary in the booklet included with the 2-cd set).

(For fans looking for more, a Limited Collector's Edition is also being released and includes: Exclusive T-shirt with Album Artwork Design • Collectible Lobby Cards • Clippings and reproductions of Original Premiere Invitations • Original Tour Schedule • Press Memorabilia • Mail-in Poster Offer.)

GRADE: 8.5/10
Obviously, for fans of Led Zeppelin, this is an item they must have and it’s probably already on their wishlists. But, what about those who aren’t diehards? If you’re a fan of music, I highly recommend it. It’s a chance to see a band that holds a key place in music history as it approaches its peak. It’s an opportunity, in today’s world of lip syncs and choreographed dance shows, to actually see what an old fashioned rock and roll show was all about. And Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones definitely knew how to entertain. This type of performance is what helped create a spot in the Rock Hall for Led Zeppelin and why that name still carries weight today. Add in the fact that it’s just plain great music and you have a top-shelf concert video. If you are a fan of music, look into this title.

Rated: PG

Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same (Warner Home Video)
Disc One Performances
- Bron-Yr-Aur
- Rock and Roll
- Black Dog
- Since I’ve Been Loving You
- No Quarter
- The Song Remains the Same
- The Rain Song
- Dazed and Confused
- Stairway to Heaven
- Moby Dick
- Heartbreaker
- Whole Lotta Love

Disc Two
- Tampa News Report
- “Over the Hills and Far Away” (never-before-released)
- Boating Down the Thames (BBC interview with Plant/Grant)
- “Celebration Day” (cutting copy; never-before-released)
- The Robbery
- “Misty Mountain Hop”
- Original film trailer
- “The Ocean”Radio profile spotlight by Cameron Crowe

AVAILABLE NOW (HD DVD and Blu-ray available December 11th)


Have we all had enough of video games based on war, first-person shooters and alien attacks? Ok, probably not. And that's a good thing because they're not going to stop appearing on store shelves. One of the titles you can currently drop some cash for is Blacksite: Area 51 and it fits into the war/first-person/alien genre perfectly.

Honestly, it's becoming difficult to talk about many of these games because the premise is usually the same: you're a soldier fighting against an invader, alien or otherwise, and you need to save the world or universe. The same holds true for Blacksite, although it has a nice twist to it. It isn't immediately stated that aliens have attacked and you need to kill them. Obviously you know the idea when you get the game, but the gameplay doesn't start out that way. Instead, you're participating in the fighting in the Middle East and your character, Aeran Pierce, is focused on taking out the normal, human enemies.

While over in the land of sand, you eventually encounter some lifeforms that a fellow soldier explains as mutations due to powerful chemicals. Sounds good enough given the history of chemical warfare in that region. But, oh, how things change when you get back home to the states.

You are almost immediately sent on a quest to save Rachel and Area 51. At this point you know you're battling aliens. They walk, they crawl, they pop out of the ground...and they're all deadly. The foundation of the story has been set and it is pretty much business as usual for the game.

Being that the majority of storylines are similar, graphics and gameplay are the two things that make or break games in the current war/1st-person/alien arena. Of course, isn't that the way it should be?

Blacksite's controls are simple, well placed and easy to master. The same goes for the times you need to drive a vehicle. The Midway development team didn't get carried away with too many special moves, weapons, gadgets, etc. While it can be a slight negative, it seems to help by not bogging the user down with 8,000 things to worry about. The game is about the nuts and bolts and does a good job with it.

But that doesn't mean there are no extra features to be found. The game employs a "morale" feature which can mean life or death for your character. When your squad's morale is high, they will fight like the elite team they are supposed to be. You'll do your share of fighting, but your mates will do their share of the heavy lifting. However, if morale is low, they'll back down like Arnold Jackson when confronted by the Gooch (apologies for the "Diff'rent Strokes" reference). At that point it's all on your shoulders. Be sure to find cover and be smart about how you attack. Eventually your team's morale will increase and you won't be alone in the fight.

Visually the game scores. Do some games look better? Without a doubt. But Blacksite is no slouch. Hey, if I ran a baseball team I would obviously want a hitter like Albert Pujols. But I wouldn't scoff at a stick like Justin Morneau. Consider Blacksite to be Morneau...maybe not elite, but plenty good.

One drawback to the environment is the inconsistent interaction you will have. At times it seems like you'll be able to move or shoot anything around you. In fact, the ability to destroy many of the barricades and various forms of cover is a great part of this title. But it's a little disappointing to turn and then not be able to shoot out a light pole. It's a minor issue, but it's enough to mess with the continuity of the game.

Add to the basic mission a list of extra games that can be played on-line from 2-10 players. The usual options are there: Capture the Flag, Abduction, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. Nothing carrying the WOW factor, but a solid group of time killers.

In today's flooded video game market it's tough for games to stand out. And, when compared to the likes of Halo 3 and Call of Duty, this title doesn't. But don't totally overlook Blacksite: Area 51. It's fun, entertaining, fast paced and looks good. When you're looking for a game and don't want to go with the old stand-by titles, give this one a look.

GAMEPLAY: Simple and easy to use controls make this one that you can jump right into. The "morale" based play is a Jekyll and Hyde feature but is still decent.

GRAPHICS: Very nice, allows gamers to feel like they're part of the environment. Inconsistent interaction with the surroundings is a slight setback.

SOUND: It is what it is. Quality war sounds: explosions, gunfire, voices of squad mates and enemies. Soundtrack is decent but didn't leave a lasting impression.

EXTRAS: Capture the Flag, Abduction, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch all make for a nice complement to the main feature.

GRADE: 84%

Blacksite: Area 51 is rated "T" for Teen so it should go without saying that this is not a game for young children. The core of the title is violence, as is the nature of a first-person shooter.


Crossing board games over to the video game world hasn’t always been the recipe for success. Sure, it can sometimes provide a serviceable game, but it usually produces a rather bland product that doesn’t provide the same fun, exciting atmosphere of a real board game. Plus it tries to eliminate the place where all the important action takes place, the board. Luckily, Scene It: Lights, Camera, Action is far more successful than its predecessors in making the conversion.

OK, the reason Scene It has made the transition is pretty simple. It never was a true board game as the guts of the game were on the television. People played this game for the movie clips, not necessarily to see who could get across the board first.

For those concerned with winning the game, it now uses a scoring system. Points are earned for correct answers (and sometimes deducted for incorrect ones) based on the amount of time the user takes to answer. Less time means more points. You can also earn bonus points at the end of a round for achievements such as quickest correct answer, three correct answers in a row, running a category, etc.

There are three playing options: short play, long play and party play. In short play, contestants play three rounds, with three puzzle types per round. In long play, the rounds expand to five puzzle types. In each format, a final round (appropriately called “Final Cut”) wraps things up, kind of like Final Jeopardy without the wagers. Party Play is basically a non-stop series of movie trivia that doesn’t stop until you return to the menu screen.

There are many puzzle types and all are simple and easy to play:

Anagrams – Unscramble the movie titles.
Child’s Play – Figure out movie titles from a childlike drawing of a famous scene.
Credit Roll – Name the movie based on selected credits from that title.
Distorted Reality – Photo of an actor, actress or movie slowly forms.
Invisibles – Guess a movie by looking at a photo of a scene where the actors have been erased.
Montages – Watch a montage of footage and guess the movie.
Movie Clip – Watch a film clip, then answer questions about it.
Now Playing – Guess a movie by identifying its gradually forming poster.
Pictograms – Figure out the movie or actor by putting together the clues.
Pop Culture – Answer questions about the subject.
Props – Guess a movie title by looking at a prop from the film.
Quotables – Fill in the blanks to finish a movie quote.
Rising Stars – Identify the actor/actress shown in the pictures.
Sequentials – Arrange the movie titles in order of release.
Sketches – A sketch representing a movie gradually appears.
Songs, Slogans, and Sayings – Name the film associated with the song, slogan or saying.
Soundclips – Listen to a clip from a movie, and then answer the questions.
Star Trailers – Guess the actor or character based on provided clues.
Take 3 – Guess the movie, actor or character based on three clues.
Visual Puzzlers – Look at four movie photos and guess the title.
What’s Missing? – Figure out what has been removed from the picture.

In order to answer questions about the categories, participants will use one of four buzzers that come with the game. Sure, you can also use regular controllers, but why? Each buzzer has the A, B, X and Y buttons lined up in a row on the base of the controller. They also have the standard Xbox Guide, Select and Start buttons. But, more importantly, each comes with a big button at the top, leading to the name “Big Button Pad.” Some questions allow for all teams to answer, while others require teams to buzz in first in order to have a chance to answer.

Is Scene It perfect? No, it has its flaws. Screenlife could have spent more time tending to things like not having the option to disable things like the bonus points, questions that can be tough to read and the overused “You Don’t Know Jack” commentator approach. But, in the whole scheme of things, these are minor detractors and don’t eliminate the fun from the game. One major issue is the number of questions. With only 1,800 currently available in the game, the need for expansion packs is evident. Otherwise the snazzy new controllers will wind up as paperweights.

GAMEPLAY: The game has a quick pace and provides the excitement of the original Scene It games. 1,800 seem like a lot, but are a relatively small number for those big on movie trivia. Without future trivia expansion packs, the longevity of this game will be very limited. The Big Button Pad is a nice addition and adds to the enjoyment of the game.

GRAPHICS: Adequate, but do they really need to be great? The majority of clues use authentic clips or pictures, so graphics don’t really play a big role. When they do, they are done well enough to not be a drawback. It does need to be noted that some of the questions can be difficult to read. Main Menu has an option for adjusting video.

SOUND: It might be time for trivia games to lose the “You Don’t Know Jack” approach, or at least alter it enough so you don’t feel like you’re playing “YDKJ.” Otherwise, the audio is just fine. The Main Menu has an option for tweaking audio.

EXTRAS: No Live support, inability to adjust rules or other main gameplay options…really no extras to speak of.

GRADE: 79% (Future expansion packs could boost this rating.)

This title has a Teen rating, but seems suitable for most gamers. Parents may take issue with a clip or two, for whatever reason, so they should supervise and make decisions based on each family's preferences.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I have never been one to kid myself into thinking I could handle the struggles of war. I couldn’t do it and have great admiration for the men and women in uniform protecting our country. I imagine many others feel the same way and that contributes to the popularity of first-person shooter video games. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is such a game.

The game comes with the usual options of playing solo (you’ll play as a U.S. Marine and British S.A.S.) or multiplayer campaigns. The easiest thing to do is to jump into a single player game and that exactly what I did.

It doesn’t take long to get the feeling that this game isn’t going to be like anything you’ve played before. Sure, it’s a Call of Duty game, but there’s something different. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re no longer in a WWII setting. Maybe it’s the graphics that take you to another level. Whatever it is, you know right away you’re going for one heck of a ride.

After an initial training session, which is more enjoyable than most in-game tutorials, you start your mission on a ship in the middle of the Bering Strait. Going from compartment to compartment you explore the entire vessel in an attempt to overtake it. Once you do, your mission changes to getting out alive as you race to a higher point while the ship begins to take on water. This is done surprisingly well as you get the sense that you are fighting to keep your balance as the floor’s angle shifts beneath your feet.

I won’t go into too many details because I think being surprised is important in games. Why would anyone want to know all the details before playing? But I do have to say that two elements are extremely fascinating. First, as you start the second level, you see things through the eyes of a kidnapped Middle East leader. You are helpless in the backseat of a car as the kidnappers driver you through the streets of a dirty, crime-ridden town. You are walked to the center of what has the feel of a bull-fighting arena and you are the main attraction. The only problem is you aren’t facing a bull, but a gun that is pointed straight at your head. Click…

Honestly, it’s one of the creepiest things I have ever experienced in a video game. But I’m glad it was in there. I won’t be dumb enough to say it gives a gamer the real feeling of being in the shoes of someone about to be executed, but it does provide a different perspective than most would have without it.

Another thing that I found amazing was being the gunner in a helicopter over a town in the Middle East. I’m not talking about the typical “shoot out of the side as you fly quickly by the targets” mode either, although that’s in the game too. No, I mean you’re literally hovering above the town and your sole purpose is basically to blow up anything that moves (except your allies, of course). Having the ability to chase the enemy out of buildings and to track them as the run across fields or down a road…it’s intense. (See the picture above for an idea of what you’ll see.)

There’s a third level and, in all, expect to spend anywhere from 4-10 hours on the game, depending on setting you’re on and your familiarity with shooters. For experienced gamers playing at Normal difficulty, it will probably take five or six hours. Yes, that is short. But it’s action-packed and just about every second of the game will be intense, so it’s a very good 5-6 hours.

Once the campaign is over, an arcade mode is unlocked, as well as some cheats. Again, I won’t spoil it by telling you what you’ll find, but you can probably guess just from the fact that there’s an arcade mode. That equals CoD with added fun.

For those looking for multiplayer action, you’ll get the same stuff, only you’ll have the added element of other humans helping with the campaigns instead of characters controlled by AI. You’ll also access 55 multiplayer ranks and six different classes. You’ll also have unlockable gadgets, weapons and special abilities (called perks).

To be honest, only an extremely lengthy review, with descriptions of all the bells and whistles, will do justice to this game. But, getting to the point, it’s an unbelievable experience with outstanding graphics, terrific audio, amazing environments and heart-pounding action. I never thought of myself as a fan of first-person shooters, but Halo 3 made me re-thing that. Now, with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in my machine, I know I’m a fan. Well, at least I’m a fan of incredibly good shooters!

GAMEPLAY: The controls are responsive and I had no problems controlling my travels and actions. The game moves fast, but it’s never out of control to the point that it’s not enjoyable. Yes, it’s on the short side, but it’s one of the most action-packed titles I have ever played…right there with Halo 3. Oh, the storyline is top-notch too.

GRAPHICS: Very good. The details, the movements, the environments…they’re all about as realistic as you could hope for. I’ll put the interaction with the environment a notch below Halo 3, but that’s still pretty good.

SOUND: Everything is there to provide you with a great gaming experience. The war sound effects are perfect (at least as far as I know!) and the soundtrack helps move the game along. The voices of the other characters are understandable and convey their emotions well. Some games seem to just track some actors and stick the voices in the game, but that’s not the case here. None of the audio seems out of place.

EXTRAS: Multiplayer, arcade mode, cheats, etc. CoD gives you everything you could expect (Halo 3’s map editor and replay feature went above and beyond).

GRADE: 93% (Same as Halo 3, being that there's some give-and-take in a few areas; ultimately it all evens out and they're both unbelievably good.)

NOTE: Just like Halo 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare carries a Mature (17+) rating that should not be ignored. It’s a brutal game, full of violence, and really is not suitable for the younger crowd. Obviously some parents may feel their kids are mature enough to handle this game, but that’s an individual choice. As a general rule, this isn’t a title for the little ones.


OK, I admit it, I’m a sports junkie. I watch the games, join fantasy leagues and, of course, play the video games. That’s why I was excited by the arrival of NBA 2K8. Perhaps I could make up for the Cavs’ poor showing in last season’s Finals by leading LeBron and company to a ring.

As soon as I started the game, I decided to skip single games or a single season and jumped into the Association mode. That’s really just 2K’s fancy name for its franchise option. As with most sports titles these days, you have the choice of starting with the standard rosters or participating in a fantasy draft. You can also adjust the usual options such as computer trading, trade deadline, etc. My first order of business was to add David West to my team via trade. However, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Thanks to salary cap restrictions, I had to tinker with the trade offer in order to make things work. In the end, I was able to find a suitable offer (Drew Gooden and a 1st Round Draft pick were part of it) and the pride of Xavier University was my new starter at the Power Forward spot (and Morris Peterson my new Point Guard). If I wanted, I could have tried to make things happen by performing a three-team trade, a very nice feature of 2K8. Now it was gametime.

I won the opening tip, and then it was brick city. It’s not that the gameplay is that difficult, but the instruction manual doesn’t give a great idea how to use the features. You have the choice of using the “X” button to shoot or you can utilize the shot stick. But, how does the shot stick work? The manual doesn’t really tell you and, like many games these days, you have to use tutorials loaded into the game. Of course I probably could have practiced before jumping into a franchise, but who wants to do that? Eventually I got the hang of things and started winning some games (including my first “W” in a buzzer-beating three by Peterson). I do have to say, though, that I may have done a little better early on if I didn’t miss so many inside shots. But, after talking with some others, the inside inconsistency is a common complaint. Luckily it’s not so bad that it ruins the experience.

During the season you can change the roles of your players. Starter? Role player? Sixth man? Bench warmer? You decide who gets the minutes and how many. But be careful. Players who aren’t happy with their role can affect the team chemistry. Scheduling practices is another in-season feature.

You also have the option to scout players from the college game. This is done by either using players created by the game or by importing a draft class from College Hoops 2K8. Being that the college version hasn’t hit shelves yet, I went with the created version. Either way, it’s something that adds to the experience and is well done. You also jump into free agency after the season and have a chance to improve your team by throwing big money at players who can help your team. You even have “No Trade” clauses at your disposal.

If you are getting a little bored with using the same team all the time, you can mix things up by entering a three-point shootout or a slam dunk competition. When I first saw the dunk option, I was skeptical. But 2K did a nice job with it and it’s a plus for the game. Just be sure to practice before you jump into action.

The usual on-line options are there, as well as leagues utilizing a fantasy draft. Log on and try to take your favorite players to a title.

Truth be told, I didn’t take my Cavs to a title. But with some off-season tinkering and an improved post game, all courtesy of the franchise mode, I’ll have another chance…and another…and another…and another. Hey, in Cleveland we’re use to the “wait ‘til next year” line.

GAMEPLAY: The game is smooth and provides a quality sim. The controls function well, although it would have been nice to have a more descriptive instruction manual. The inside game could use a little tweaking, as could the shot stick, but both are minor issues.

GRAPHICS: Well done. Players' faces are, for the most part, recognizable during the games and the sizes for the players is pretty representative of what you’ll see in a real game. The courts/arenas are good, although the crowds are nothing special.

SOUND: Announcers are about what you would expect. Nothing great, but they do add to the game – until the get repetitive.

EXTRAS: Slam Dunk Contest, Three Point Shootout, Amateur Draft, Fantasy Draft, Free Agency…it’s all here. Unless you want to scout grade school kids, NBA 2K8 has about all the features you could ask for.

GRADE: 89%

This title should be good for anyone old enough to play it. I didn’t come across anything obscene or mature in nature while playing. It’s just good, old basketball.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Are you a control freak? How about a hockey fan? If you answered, “yes,” to both of those, NHL 2K8 might be the game for you.

This game is about hockey – no big shock there. But, what is surprising, is just how much hockey. Other titles have offered franchise/dynasty options, most of which are done well. But it often seems like there are glaring weaknesses such as free agents signing too easily, simple manipulations of other teams in trades and the feature is just too shallow. That’s not the case with this title.

You are the supreme ruler of your franchise and handle just about everything you can imagine…well, except for the wants and needs of the players. As the owner/GM, be prepared to have players hold out because they want more money or a longer contract. Expect free agents to turn you down, walk away from negotiations and sign with a rival team. Be ready to deal with salary cap issues. Basically, if it’s in the game, it’s in the game. Wait, did someone else used to say that? In this case, it’s 2K Sports that can make the claim.

Of course, the main reason people buy a hockey game isn’t because they want to negotiate player contracts. It’s because they want to play hockey. They feel the need to sharpen ‘em up, lace ‘em up and hit the ice. So, when it comes to gameplay, does 2K8 light the lamp? Like Sidney Crosby standing alone in the crease attempting an empty-netter!

One of the best things in this game is the stick control feature. It essentially gives you full control over your hockey stick. Thinking back to the days when the goal in a hockey video game was to drop an opponent and see blood on the ice, it’s amazing to think just how far 2K8 has brought simulated hockey. Skating up the ice and cutting left, all while having your stick move to the right, is amazing. This is done by using the right stick to control your hockey stick. No longer do players have to use their player control button/stick to do everything. With 2K8 the right/left stick actions are independent of each other, just like real hockey.

Are there drawbacks to this game? Sure. Getting used to the stick control feature can take a little while, especially if you’re used to the old style. Of course you can use the practice mode to hone your skills. Another issue is the fact that during games your players don’t seem to have the same resiliency as the computer’s guys. It seems easier for the computer to separate your guys from the puck than it is for you to do the same to the cyber-skaters. Of course, some may feel it just makes for a more challenging game and that’s not always bad.

So, if you like total control and frozen pond action, give NHL 2K8 a try. Chances are it’ll get you fired up enough to drop the gloves, just not the controllers.

GAMEPLAY: The game is smooth and sims a real hockey game very well. The total control functions well and, after time, improves the play over the typical control layout many may be used to. Still might be a little too much for casual gamers. Menu screens leave something to be desired, but they are manageable. The life of this one should be long…at least long enough to last until 2K9.

GRAPHICS: Players are represented well and their movements are fluid. The lines are pretty clean. The same can’t be said for this ice, as the surface shows more abuse as the game goes on. The crowd is the typical blah filler that doesn’t add anything, but who plays a hockey game to see the fans?

SOUND: Announcers are the typical sports game announcers – not cream of the crop, but not bottom of the barrel. Quality soundtrack and pretty good in-game sound effects. I’m not sure there’s a way a sports title can go wrong when Quiet Riot is one of the tracks!

EXTRAS: Practice modes, mini-games and a pond hockey mode all add to the life of the title. The pond mode, for whatever reason, was more entertaining than I anticipated, although it’s probably nothing special if you play it too much. Overall, there are enough options to give you a break from the franchise/season stuff and to extend the replay life of this one.

GRADE: 86%

This game should be safe for all, except for the youngest of gamers, to play. Basically, if watching real NHL games is OK, playing this title shouldn't be a problem.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

DVD REVIEW: The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Vol. 1

If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones.

That was the line at the top of a promo poster for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" back in 1984. Based on the popularity of the Indiana Jones titles, many moviegoers must have agreed. The success of the movies, combined with George Lucas' love of history, led to the appearance of the hero on the small screen.

"The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones" originally aired on ABC (as "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles") and received critical acclaim. However, after its initial acceptance by viewers, ratings began to drop. The series was not providing the action and excitement of its big screen predecessor, something fans and the network were expecting. After two seasons, ABC pulled the plug. But Lucas, believing the shows had something to offer, pressed on and found a new outlet, the USA Network.

The new home didn't air episodes in series form, but offered them to viewers as TV movies. They were basically the same as the series, offering more of a history lesson than the action/adventure of the trilogy. Eventually the attempted edutainment hybrid had run his course on television. After a short lifespan, 1992-1996, young Indy drifted away, apparently lost like the artifacts he often pursued.

However, thanks to a charge led by many loyal Indy fans, the series has been rescued from the past and is now being offered on DVD. It did make a brief showing on VHS, but that's like something being available on CD and being told it was once on 8-track too.

The series has been put into 22 episodes that will span three volumes, the first being available now. It not only contains seven of the episodes, but also 38 historical documentaries. These extras are based on the figures and events the young Indy encountered during his adventures. If Henry Jones, Jr. encountered someone of historical significance, there will be a documentary to accompany the episode. T.E. Lawrence, Sigmund Freud, Leo Tolstoy, Teddy Roosevelt and Giacomo Puccini are just a handful of the those featured in the extras. Documentaries about women's suffrage in America, the American invasion of Mexico, Eastern spirituality and ecology can also be found in this edition.

Of course none of that would be important if the stories weren't worthwhile. Thanks to quality performances from Sean Patrick Flannery (teen Indy) and Corey Carrier (10-year-old Indy), the adventures flow fairly well and keep the attention of the audience. For fans of Dr. Jones, it's also interesting to see what made this man the hero they came to know. It's also fun to watch Lloyd Owens' portrayal of Henry Jones, Sr., knowing that Sean Connery eventually became the face of the elder Jones.

Viewers will also be able to watch guest appearances by some of acting's bigger names. Lukas Haas, Max Von Sydow, Elizabeth Hurley and Vanessa Redgrave can all be found in the episodes of Volume 1. In addition, these works also offer the skills of some of Hollywood's most talented writers and directors (DIRECTORS: Mike Newell - "Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire," Joe Johnston - "Jurassic Park III;" WRITERS: Frank Darabont - "The Shawshank Redemption," Jonathan Hensleigh - "Die Hard with a Vengeance")

It's true that this series isn't really a smaller version of what Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford brought to the movie theaters. But that really shouldn't be considered a bad thing. "The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones" still offers action, adventure, comedy and romance, but its focus is history. But it doesn't get so wrapped up in itself that the concept of entertainment is lost. It's a well done series that provides families with the opportunity to sit down together and enjoy some old-fashioned television fun. And, in the process, everyone might learn something too.

Maybe a new slogan will even start popping up.

If history has a name, it must be Indiana Jones. (OK, maybe that's a bit much.)

GRADE: 8.0/10
This is a quality release that everyone can enjoy. It was created more as a means to educate and bring history to a younger crowd, so it couldn't get carried away with whip-cracking, fancy horseback riding, melting faces, etc. However, it probably would have benefited from a little more action, especially considering that's what the title implies to most people. But, thanks to clever stories, quality acting and the expected settings for an Indiana Jones title, it was still entertaining enough to hold the attention of an audience, while providing a brief history lesson. Education and entertainment...that's a good combination.

"The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume One" - available now
  • "My First Adventure"
  • "Passion for Life" (guest star: Lukas Haas)
  • "The Perils of Cupid" (guest star: Max Von Sydow, director: Mike Newell)
  • "Travels with Father" (writer: Frank Darabont)
  • "Journey of Radiance" (writer: Jonathan Hensleigh)
  • "Spring Break Adventure" (director: Joe Johnston)
  • "Love's Sweet Song" (guest stars: Elizabeth Hurley and Vanessa Redgrave)

Volume 2 - scheduled release: December 18, 2007
Volume 3 - scheduled release: Spring 2008

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


You’ve seen the ads: “Halo 3. Believe.” I’m here to tell you to listen to the message. No really, you should believe…the hype, that is.

Having never played a Halo game, I was somewhat puzzled by the loyal following the series has generated over the years. Despite that, the advertising blitz had me anticipating the arrival of my copy like a child does Christmas presents. I felt like Ralphie Parker and the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle in "A Christmas Story." I had hope because of the possibilities, but still prepared myself for the potential disappointment.

When my game arrived, I popped it into my 360 and was greeted by a fairly bland main menu. I started a single-player game and was taken to a transitional screen featuring what I assumed to be a representation of the famed halo. So far, there was nothing to erase the skeptic in me.

The first cinematic clip popped up and grabbed my interest. Was it enough to convert me to a believer? Not yet, but it was enough for me to start believing this was going to be, at the very least, a quality title. When the gameplay started, I took a little tour of the area around me, trying to get a feel for the controls. What I saw was impressive. Looking down and seeing the movement of objects I walked into, having the ability to go anywhere, noticing the detail in the surrounding environment – it was all like shiny wrapping paper that immediately catches your eye. But would I find my Red Ryder if I peeled away the paper?

After getting used to the controls, I set off on my mission to save humanity. I was taken to several environments during my travels as the famed Master Chief. I encountered a seemingly endless string of blood-thirsty enemies. The array of vehicles available was quite impressive. And the weapons…oh, the weapons. Everywhere I turned there was something new, something different, to help me on my quest.

Ultimately, when I peeled away the pretty wrapping, I didn’t find a Red Ryder bb gun. But I wasn’t upset. No, I was actually very happy about that. A little toy like a Red Ryder wouldn’t have had any effect on the creatures I had to battle. So I was elated when I opened up my present and found a Needler instead. And, thankfully, I didn’t shoot my eye out!

GAMEPLAY: For those not used to first person shooters or those who prefer using the pad to move, it may take a little time to adjust to the controls. Once you do, however, your character responds well. Controlling the vehicles (of course you can be a passenger or be on the gun in some vehicles) is pretty much the same. It can be difficult at first, but you'll get used to it after a little time at the wheel.

The game flows nicely, mixing up the pace and the objectives. Some games make the mistake of being a top speed free-for-all, never allowing you to catch your breath. Halo 3 gives you plenty of crazy, intense battles, but also allows you to gather yourself so you don’t lose your mind. Sometimes this is done with cinematics, other times it’s through a less stressful mission. Regardless, the creators found a great mix.

I have heard some complaints about the length of the game. Oddly, some have said it’s too short, while I have heard others argue it’s a touch too long. For me, it turned out to be a strange mix of both. After playing through several levels, I found myself thinking, “I hope I’m getting near the end,” although that thinking was probably fueled by the curiosity over what the big ending would be. Of course, when I finally got there, I was somewhat disappointed that it was over. I guess that probably means the length was just right.

GRAPHICS: You can lose yourself in the false reality of this game, in part because of the attention to detail found in the environments. Whether it’s the leaves on the trees, the damage on the vehicles, the scurrying rats, the footprints in the sand or even the fish swimming in front of you in the water (no, I didn’t make up that last one), it seems everything was covered. Sure, there’s an occasional area that may not reach the level of excellence that the overall look of this game has, but it’s rare and doesn’t take away from the experience.

AUDIO: Movie fans will tell you that a soundtrack can often make or break a movie. Think about how the Indiana Jones and Star Wars films use music to not only capture the emotion of the characters and, to some extent, the audience, but to also further the story. Halo 3 provides the video game equivalent. (OK, so maybe not quite on the level of the legendary John Williams, but you get the point.)

Sometimes the music gives you the feeling of being in the middle of a bumping club, albeit one with aliens, monsters and lots of things blowing up around you. Other times it makes you feel like you’re having a religious experience. The soundtrack for this game is done as well as, if not better than, any game I have ever played.

The sound effects from the battles, as well as the chatter from troops (allies and enemies), also add quite a bit to the experience. The explosions, gunfire and sounds of equipment all make you feel like you’re right in the middle of the battlefield. Pump it through surround and you might actually dive for cover a time or two.

ADDITIONAL: The characters in the game are terrific. You play as the Master Chief, with The Arbiter as your main sidekick. This is probably more meaningful for the Halo faithful, but it’s still a pretty cool combo for a newcomer (even though The Arbiter gets filled with alien lead quite a bit). Other characters of the alliance are good, although none seem to have any unique effect on the actual game. The bad guys, the Covenant Species, are a bunch of ugly, nasty, relentless creeps. They are done extremely well and you immediately have the urge to blast them off the planet.

The assortment of weapons is amazing, with my personal favorites being the Needler and the Gravity Hammer. You also have the chance to use a plasma pistol, a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle, a carbine, an energy sword, and several other futuristic weapons. You can even rip guns off a turret in order to go mobile with their outrageous power. As if that’s not enough, you can also toss three types of grenades.

Getting around on foot can get a little old, so it’s a good thing you have the chance to hop into several different vehicles. You can zip across the land in a variety of 2- and 4-wheel rides, as well as take to the air in a hornet. While some of the vehicles are limited, they all provide enough to the game that their inclusion isn’t just for the sake of adding things.

As stated before, some feel the base game is a little short. Don’t worry. With all the added games – such as VIP, Slayer, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill – the replay value is great. Plus, the real joy of this game is jumping on-line for some multi-player campaigns. That should guarantee countless hours of fresh, new experiences.

A pretty neat feature is the ability to save and share video from your battles. Did you pull off a move that your friends won’t believe? Well, seeing is believing and now you can simply save the video and show it to them. This is similar to the ability to save highlights in games like Madden, only it has been taken up a couple notches.

OVERALL: This is a game that is a sure winner, whether among the faithful followers or the Halo virgins. I had no experience with the series and was hooked once I entered into battle. The graphics, the actions, the sound, the replay factor – it’s all top-shelf stuff. It’s possible to nitpick little things here and there, but that’s true with any game. And I suppose there are some people who just absolutely do not enjoy shooters, so maybe that small segment should pass. But for anyone on the fence about this game, do yourself a favor. Go drop the jack and get Halo 3. It’s going to be a great value, especially considering you’ll be able to play it over and over and over, while still having it stay fresh.

GRADE: 93%

Just like the motion picture industry, the video gaming world has a rating system. While some don’t like it, it’s there for a reason. Halo 3 carries a Mature (17+) rating that should not be ignored. It’s a brutal game, full of violence, and really is not suitable for the younger crowd. Obviously some parents may feel their kids are mature enough to handle this game, but that’s an individual choice. As a general rule, this isn’t a title for children.

What's the purpose of this blog?

The market is flooded with home entertainment options for families. Unfortunately the numerous possibilities can be confusing for many. This blog will, hopefully, provided information that can help people make decisions about what products will be most beneficial to them. The primary focus will be on dvd's and video games for consoles and PC's. Why? Those seem to be two of the most prevelant forms of entertainment in the home today. When the opportunity presents itself, there may be reviews for other types of products, but movie and game reviews will be the foundation of this blog.

Video games will reviewed on a 0-100% system, while movies will be 0-10. There will also be a comment regarding the recommended audience for each title. Be aware that this is just an individual recommendation and that each person is different and the suggestion may not pertain to everyone. Also be sure to pay attention to the official rating for each title.

Remember, the reviews are merely the opinion of one person (either myself or a fellow reviewer) and should not be considered the final word on a subject. They are merely there as a tool for people to use when trying to figure out which titles might be right for them.

Hope it's useful!