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Xav de Matos
Toronto, Canada - http://www.thelevelgrind.com

It’s Xav de Matos. That’s like Have with a Z. Public Relations major by day, gaming journalist by night. Xav has been in the industry for over five years with stints in retail management all the way to blogging for www.Xbox360Fanboy.com; part of AOL’s Joystiq Network. Xav's GamerTag is: Snypz. Why is Xav writing in third-person? Xav doesn't know.

Review: Gears of War 2

Gameplay in Gears of War 2 can do no wrong. I don't mean that in the hardcore, mouth-breathing, 1337 sense that the entire experience is flawless but the gameplay itself is already well established ... and, why shouldn't it be? Gameplay in Gears 2 is nearly identical to the 2006 Game of the Year original from Epic Games with slight tweaks that make the experience less jumpy and more enjoyable. Writing a review that focuses on the gameplay of Gears of War 2 would be about as helpful as explaining the importance of breathing so the focus of this review will be based on the story and additions.

Ultimately, Gears 2 has a few promises to live up to. When it was announced the first marketing spiel thrown out with it was, "Bigger, better and more badass." Does it answer those claims or does Gears of War 2 fall faster than a burning Locust Reaver? Jump in for the full review.

Ed. Note: This review does not include any story spoilers.

Gallery: Gears of War 2 -- Act One

Continue reading Review: Gears of War 2

Review: Gears of War, Part 2

Gears of War 2 includes ten maps on the retail disc and seven game modes. Each mode, with the exception of Horde, can be played alone with up to nine bots -- five per side. Creative modes like Submission, previously known as Meat Flag, really shine out and will be a huge hit with online and offline gamers. Horde pits players against wave after wave of various Locust enemies, scoring them for kills with multiplyers for number of survivors and difficulty setting. Each of the ten maps are well designed with settings ripped directly from the single-player campaign. Multiple maps include beautiful, and some deadly, environmental effects like the rolling avalanche in the map, Avalanche or the intermittent hail in the map, Hail. Yes, both cleverly named.

Major questions have been asked of the Gears of War 2 online experience but unfortunately we do not have the answers. Our experience was not online so questions regarding host advantage and other very specific online questions cannot be answered at this time. But, a significant amount of multiplayer was played.

Epic Games is best known for the Unreal Tournament series, a fast-paced, intense multiplayer shooter famous for its well designed bots. The inclusion of bots in Gears of War 2 is probably one of my favorite features. Jump in with friends or alone and tear up the computer controlled baddies, set enemies to any difficulty setting in the game (Casual to Insane) and go. The experience is insanely fun and literally took hours of my life away in one sitting that felt like ten minutes. The game also allows for all achievements to be obtained offline with progress bars showing up from time-to-time to show you how close you are to completing an objective. By the end of my experience I had downed 1,600 enemies, not even a dent in the 100,000 needed for Seriously 2.0.

Gears of War 2 also includes a very cool screenshot function for use as you wait to play or respawn in multiplayer that can be uploaded to the official Gears of War 2 website. Nothing in the vein as saved films but a welcome addition.

Scattered throughout the world are various collectibles, ranging from newspaper clippings, medial records and pieces of the environment which. The game includes 41 collectables found throughout the game and can be difficult to spot because they only give off a small flicker of light when approached. Replacing the COG tags of the original, these collectibles each include a short blurb on the back-story or current situation in the game. It's another nice addition that fleshes out the entire world for those who care to learn more. If the major push at Epic was to create an interesting, emotional story for its follow-up to the 2005 Game of the Year, Gears of War 2 is a resounding success.

Gears of War 2 is, overall, better than the original. Not only does it include a well-written and superbly voice-acted story (Cole Train stands out again) but the experience will stick with you. While there are boss battles in the original Gears of War I will never forget, the story seemed non-existent. In Gears of War 2 players are sure to remember multiple intense encounters but more importantly players should remember the story and characters.

The narrative isn't ripped out of a Cormac McCarthy novel or anything but in the pantheon of videogame stories, Gears of War 2 shoots the series beyond even the Halo franchise. This isn't meant to be a slight against Halo - another series we love here at X3F - but to go from a completely forgettable story in the first Gears to more emotionally charged than Halo is a big leap. Gears of War 2 shows the desperation of the human race in its last throes of survival, Dom searches for his missing wife, Marcus returns to the only thing he knows how to do and civilians holds onto a fading hope that one day the war will be over. As cliché as it is, it works.

As an overall package, Gears of War 2 is as epic as the company that makes it. Fans and newcomers alike, you will not be disappointed.

Ed. Note: Expect a follow-up to this review when the game is released after we've extensively tested the multiplayer modes online.

Ellen showers audience with Halloween treat, an Xbox 360 Arcade bundle

In a recent episode of The Ellen Degeneres Show, the popular daytime host went through a list of items that could be suitable Halloween treats other than candy. Among twist-ties and fortune cookie fortunes, Ellen decided her last idea was so good she'd give one to everyone in her studio audience. Lifting the veil to reveal an Xbox 360 Arcade bundle, the crowd of guests exploded with excitement -- a sonic boom so loud that hadn't been heard since our readers heard about Gears of War 2, officially. But, less girly ... or maybe more, whatever. We kid because we love.

[Thanks, Jonah]

NXE leaked, installation disables Live until November 19

It took no time at all but the New Xbox Experience has been leaked onto the internet. According to tipsters, someone who was invited to the NXE has made the update available in downloadable form online which -- like all other Xbox 360 dashboard updates -- has the ability to update any console with a USB thumb drive.

If you're thinking of grabbing the update, think again. According to Major Nelson using the leaked update disables Xbox Live on a console until November 19, the actual release of NXE. With Gears of War 2 just around the corner, you wouldn't want to take your console off the grid would you? While no reported bans have been handed down since the leak showed up it isn't hard to imagine Microsoft could take you offline for good. You've been warned.

[Update: Major Nelson wrote on his twitter, "If you get your hands on NXE and you are NOT in the Preview Program. You won't be allowed on LIVE." We will not be linking any websites with information or links to download the NXE - hence the replacement of Major Nelson from the original source in this story. Users who leave links to such content in the comments will have them swiftly removed.]

Quantum of Solace midnight launch in West Hollywood, new Bond theme goes Guitar Hero

Tired of all the Presidential coverage? Want to go British for a day? Activision has you covered. Best Buy and Activision have revealed plans to launch the Quantum of Solace game at midnight for players in the West Hollywood area. Beginning November 3 at 10PM, everyone and anyone is invited to celebrate the launch of the upcoming shooter which takes James Bond through Casino Royale and whatever a Quantum of Solace is. Attendees will also have a chance to score a boat load of prizes ranging from gift cards between $10 and $2,500 as well as a 52" LCD HDTV.

Also on hand will be stations where gamers can practice their hand at the latest Bond theme, "Another Way to Die" from Jack White and Alicia Keys, in Guitar Hero: World Tour. The Bond theme will soon be made available as downloadable content for World Tour but no timing or price has been confirmed at this time.

Not near West Hollywood? Best Buy has revealed 136 other locations will be open at midnight for the launch sans giveaways.

Skate 2 to ollie stores in January 2009

While rifling through their early retail copies of Mirror's Edge, IGN has discovered an advertisement that revealed Skate 2 will be released sometime in January 2009. Included with the retail copies of the upcoming first-person PK title was a sell-sheet that promoted Need for Speed: Undercover on one side and Skate 2 on the other. According to IGN, the Skate 2 side included a small tag in the bottom-corner that revealed, "Coming in January 2009."

Electronic Arts has since confirmed the timing to IGN but has not placed a specific date on the return to San Vanelona. At least we know it's soon.

Bungie update unveils "Lost" E3 podcast

This week's actual Bungie update is light on details but includes twice the podcast punch. As well as releasing a new episode of its popular podcast, Bungie has finally released the "Lost" E3 episode from its cage. After E3 plans to reveal an unnamed title were cancelled by Microsoft, which was later announced as Halo 3: Recon, Bungie has decided the time is right to let fans hear what they thought of what was supposed to be a newly announced title. Head over to the Bungie Weekly Update to download the shows directly and take a look at some Halloween inspired Halo 3 screenshots.

[Living Dead image via Bungie.net]

Video: Left 4 Dead "Check" commercial

"Call these freaks whatever you want." While they're referred to as zombies throughout the commercial and from as far back as we can remember, we realized we're not sure what exactly the enemies in Left 4 Dead are. Misunderstood model citizens? Either way, come November 18 we know exactly what those "infected" punks will be and by that we mean dead from our collective weaponry.

Rock Band Weekly: Presidents of the USA, Fall Out Boy, Hinder

While we already knew about the plans to release the thematic DLC for Rock Band 2, Harmonix added a pair of new tracks to this week's list. On November 4, also election day, gamers can downloaded three tracks from The Presidents of the United States of America for 160MS points each or 440MS points as a three-pack. Not your bag? Harmonix will also offer two single tracks from Hinder and Fall Out Boy priced to own at 80MS points a piece.

Also, get those registration codes ready on Tuesday as well because the 20 free indie tracks will release on Tuesday, as well. Now, just make sure to set those downloads up and vote because remember, if you don't vote you aren't allowed to complain about the government for the next four years. It's a rule.

Presidents of the United States of America (440 / $5.50)
  • "Dune Buggy" (160 / $2)
  • "Feather Pluckn" (160 / $2)
  • "Ladybug" (160 / $2)
Individual songs:
  • "Use Me" - Hinder (80 / $1)
  • "I Don't Care" - Fall Out Boy (80 / $1)
Videos for each track can be found after the jump.

Continue reading Rock Band Weekly: Presidents of the USA, Fall Out Boy, Hinder

Onechanbara trailer reveals women hate zombies

If the latest trailer for the upcoming zombie-slayer Onechanbara proves anything it's that sometimes shopping can go terribly wrong. Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad lands on the Xbox 360 in mid-December from publisher D3 and developer Tamsoft, the team behind ... uh, well we can't think of anything you'd really know or care about. Toshinden, maybe? But hey, it's a good looking woman wearing a bikini and slaying countless zombies. Basically, the most realistic game ever conceived.

Halo 3: November matchmaking update revealed [update]

In its weekly update, Bungie has revealed Halo 3's matchmaking changes for November, which will add a four-day Double XP special playlist inspired by Thanksgiving among other changes. Fans of specific weapons will want to note that Bungie has removed Team Sniper and Team Shotgun variants from Ranked Team Slayer but sniper fans can welcome their favorite variant back into the Hardcore rotation with a ranked 4v4 Team Sniper playlist. Other changes include map variant changes in ranked matches and map frequency. Check out Bungie's Weekly Update for the entire list of changes.

Ed. Note: This is Xav's 777th post at X3F. Fitting, isn't it?

Update: Looks like this was last week's weekly update. We're not sure how we missed it then, but here it is now!

Fan made Castle Crashers arcadestick makes us jealous

Now, this is what friends are for. Creative tipster SodaPopinski shot us an image of this Castle Crashers themed arcadestick which he custom built for a friend. Made from spare parts from his other creations, SodaPopinski has quickly shot his way to our annual "friend of the year" award -- if we had one, that is. Now if someone could convince Microsoft to release a standard arcade style stick for XBLA and fighting game fans, we'd be happy campers.

EA boss says to expect more Mercenaries

According to EA boss John Riccitiello the Mercenaries series will see another installment. During an earnings call, Riccitiello confirmed that Mercenaries will join Dead Space and the upcoming Mirror's Edge as continuing franchises for the mega-publisher along with Will Wright's latest, Spore.

Released in late August, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames has sold 1.9 million units across four platforms. Riccitiello made the announcement when asked if EA's recent releases were considered "sequelable" by the publisher -- who has posted a $310 million loss for its second quarter fiscal release. The EA CEO also stated that each of the mentioned titles were not likely to see annual releases.

[via Kotaku]

EA loses $310 million, totally forgot where they put it

Mega publisher Electronic Arts has revealed its second quarter fiscal results and the situation is less than stellar. Following a $95 million loss in its first quarter, EA has announced a loss of $310 million for the quarter ending September 30. Titles that excelled in the quarter included Madden NFL 09 (4.5 million units sold), Spore (2 million units sold) and the new MMO Warhammer Online (1.2 million units sold).

Due to its continuing losses, EA has also announced company plans to let go about 600 employees -- 6% of its entire work force. Coming into the holiday season, EA expects to close the gap caused by losses but something tells us that at least 600 people could care less.

EA goes Big Brother: Banning on forums could lead to game ban?

Apparently the internet police are in full force for people who want to talk out of turn. According to EA forum user 'eeapoc' -- allegedly, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 community manager Aaron Kaufman -- EA forum users who are hit with a banhammer for acting out could see themselves locked out of their own library of purchased EA titles.

As stated in the post, EA is implementing a new regulation that forum users must tie their message board account with their EA master account, created during the EA game registration process. A ban of the forum account would then ban players from games tied into their master account and other EA titles. Presumably the ban would restrict online capabilities of a master account's purchased games, only.

"If we ban you on the forums, you would be banned from the game as well since the login process is the same. And you'd actually be banned from your other EA games as well since its all tied to your account," the post from user 'eeapoc' told forum goers. "So if you have Spore and Red Alert 3 and you get yourself banned on our forums or in-game, well, your Spore account would be banned to. It's all one in the same, so I strongly recommend people play nice and act mature."

Two things to note, this process only seems to pointed at PC users but EA does run their own servers over Xbox Live and, as Kotaku reported, neither EA's Terms Of Use page or the general Forum Help information list any criteria for behavior that may get you banned, so it may be a moderator's own judgment call.

Well EA, Orwell called. He wants his totalitarian society back, please.

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