Author: Gabriel Vega
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Friday, October 30th, 2009
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/holiday_guide09/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
The holidays are almost here, and it’s time to start gift-hunting, searching for that perfect item for every family member and friend. It can't just be any ol' gift either because you want to make them step back in awe of your buying accomplishment. Here is where we step in.
Yes, it's time for Neoseeker's annual Holiday Guide, full of wonderful recommendations compiled by our staff. Think of it as a "greatest hits" list from us to you, full of stellar gift ideas fit for almost any individual. In the next few pages, you'll find "Part 1" of this year's Holiday Guide. As December rolls around, we'll still be reviewing new products and digging up 2009 highlights.
For those new to the site and our reviews, we have basic scoring on a 1 to 10 scale and product awards. Our guide will include many recommended products over a large range of budgets so everyone can find something in their comfort zone. Feel free to also comment on our article and ask about featured products, upcoming guides, or something you can't find on Neoseeker. If the staff doesn't get to you first, someone in our vast forum community likely will.
Oh, and just to make your lives easier, we've included quick links to each product along with a general price range you'll find it at.
Using the Guide:
ATI HD 5970
" We felt that perhaps the HD 5970 was a touch on the underclocked side. Unfortunately our guess would be that many users out there (none of us of course) will not investigate the overclocking ability of this video card, so, for those people, they'll have a HD 5970 that is only running at %80-%85 of it's safe potential clock speeds. If you get this card, you must, must overclock it. It is underclocked out of the box (to benefit power consumption). No need to push it to the limit like we did in our O/C testing, but at least add 15% to the clocks to get yourself playing games in top-gear.
On the other hand of the overclocking coin, the HD 5970 is such a powerful card offering such great performance that there isn't all that much that will really strain the video card, in the way of games, out just yet regardless. But rest assured 2010's crop of games will no doubt be taxing this video card well before Blizzard puts out there next game.
If you want top-end, no-joke performance right now, then there is only one option really: the HD 5970. "
ATI HD 5870
"While we remain skeptical that Eyefinity will be practical for more than a few of the more hardcore crowd, nonetheless it is a great development for ATI, and having that option of building a crazy resolution meta-display is a welcome new feature to add onto that growing list. That Radeon feature list sure is certainly getting long these days.
With a price tag around the $400 mark, the PowerColor HD 5870 impresses. Certainly the release of the HD 5870 puts a new tail-spin on the video card market -- you can expect prices to be dropping all over. We look forward to see what the future will bring, both from that other unmentionable company, and from the rest of the HD 5000 series line-up. But at least for now, the PowerColor Radeon HD 5870 is a top-dog on a giant pile of video cards, and if you are looking for some big firepower, you don't need to look much further."
BFG GTX 285 OCX
"Though there was one area where the BFG GTX 285 OCX certainly shined: overclocking. The BFG factory overclock was good, but unless we just were extremely lucky with our particular GPU, the overclocking potential of the GT200b has been greatly increased by the shift to 55nm. Our BFG GTX 285 OCX overclocked to impressive levels (especially the memory), and we think it could have been pushed even further. (As a side note, perhaps BFG's water cooling model will knock some socks off.) The overclocking numbers of this card were second only perhaps to the MSI R4830, in recent memory.
While at this stage of the game the BFG GTX 285 OCX does not represent the best value out there, this card is a well built machine, featuring the world's fastest GPU, BFG's superior 24/7 tech support hotline and reputable full lifetime warranty, and no discernible shortcomings besides price. But not every battle comes down to only dollars and cents; in our books, this card is a winner."
Gigabyte GTX 260 Super Overclock
"The sizable overclock on the GTX 260 Super Overclock kept the card one step ahead of the most of the GTX 260 competition. Even when the first heavily overclocked GTX 260 video cards appeared, they -- for the most part -- offered good bang for your buck, giving high-end performance for a reasonable price. Again another big-time overclocked GTX 260 has caught our eye today with the S.O.C.
Right now the S.O.C is selling for $200 USD at a popular e-tailer. This is a reasonable place for the S.O.C to be at. Let's compare it to the close competition briefly. Below the S.O.C, you have non-overclock GTX 260's that selling for as low as around $165 -- here we feel the extra $35 would be worth it, certainly. As for the HD 4890, they are often selling around $200, but we are willing to bet the S.O.C has enough horsepower to beat those out -- it certainly took out our decently overclocked PowerColor HD 4890 in our tests."
ATI HD 4870 X2
"For one thing there's the space. Most motherboards have the PCIe x 16 slots next to either a PCIe x 1 slot or a regular PCI slot. Installing a video card will usually block one of these slots. Installing two video cards will block two extra slots. If you're tight on PCI slots the HD 4870 X2 is definitely your best option. Two more things to take into consideration are the temperature and power usage. If you're using two HD 4870's you're adding two pieces of hardware that are going to heat up your case compared to only one Hd 4870 X2 adding heat.
As for the power usage, the HD 4870 X2 is only one PCB. It's going to require less power then Crossfired HD 4870s. Sapphire's HD 4870 X2 was also a decent overclocker, which only makes it look even better. The HD 4870 X2 is a pretty sweet card, and if you've got the money, then I'd take it into consideration."
PowerColor HD 5750
"One thing the PowerColor 5750 does not do as good as the 4770 is overclock. When overclocked the 4770 was able to match the performance of a 4850, and sometimes go even farther. The PowerColor 5750 on the other hand saw much smaller performance increases.
Who should purchase a PowerColor 5750? I'd say users that are looking for a DX11 capable entry level card. The PowerColor 5750 would be perfect for a rig that's primarily an HTPC for instance. It will be great at decoding HD video, plus it has a built in HDMI port that can carry HD audio. That and the custom cooling should make it great for multimedia PC's that won't be primarily for gaming. Users on a strict budget might also want to consider this card. It's obviously not the top performer, but it does offer playable FPS in just about every resolution."
MSI N260 GTX OC V3
"Quite simply, in every important category, the MSI N260GTX OC V3 excelled. The great cooler kept things quite cool, and didn't make much noise. The power usage was very reasonable for the high-end performance. The overclocking threshold was the best we've seen, for core and shader overclocking...and in the most important aspect of a video card's measure (in this reviewer's humble opinion) -- in gaming performance -- the MSI's N260GTX substantial overclock was enough to reliably fly by the HD 4870 in our line-up, and was enough to out-perform the more expensive HD 4890 sometimes, and even once or twice, come within fractions of performing as well as the next-level up, GTX 275 class card.
What really is the icing on the cake is the attractive price-point the MSI N260GTX OC V3 is currently selling for. A quick check on three online e-tailers shows that this beauty is selling for less than most HD 4890's (which it outperforms), and even less than some more average-performing GTX 260 video cards. All this adds up to a winning package."
Sparkle Calibre P980 (9800 GT)
"This is best of the three or four 9800 GT cards that we've reviewed here at Neoseeker. The P980 has three primary strengths that set it apart from the other 9800 GT's: first off, it has a healthy, factory overclock -- more than just a few token megahertz; second, the cooler is great -- not that loud, and great and keeping the GPU cool; third, the "Graphics Display Port" daughter card, while some might think it a gimmick, probably will appeal to many hardware enthusiasts' fetish for information on LCD displays -- we liked it.
On top of that, the effective cooler and to a lesser extent, the temperature and fan readings on the GDP daughter card also contribute to the P980 being a strong overclocker. You can be confident that the P980 will overclock with the best of rest of the 9800 GT's, and it will not be terribly loud when doing so, if you manually boost the fan power."
MSI R4830 (HD 4830)
"For those that aren't squeamish when it comes to overclocking however, the R4830 is resounding, stand-out sensation. It can sustain performance levels over that of a HD 4850, for a very reasonable price. If you are on a tight budget and want to spend the very requisite amount to get top-end performance, and not a penny more, we can wholly recommend picking up the R4830 and getting to work. For overclockers, this card is a stellar deal.
For non-overclockers, the R4830 is still a good purchase. Put together nicely, with a competent cooler that gets the job done and is not that loud, the R4830 has what it takes to suceed in the incredibly jammed-pack world of video cards selling between $100 and $150 dollars -- and this is no small feat. However, if it all comes down to price, and you don't want to overclock, you might be able to get a better deal with a 9800 GT -- but prices change so fast around this time a year, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for deals, and things could change quick."
"Overall the P193 delivers as a performance cooling case and I have no doubts that it would be an effective cooling platform for more modern configurations given how hungry they are for air these days. One would have to really consider the options and cooling it delivers for the price since it's a case that you buy for current and future builds, the case is so well spaced that even if NVIDIA and ATI lost their minds there would be pleanty of room before it touched the HDD cage. For anyone with the cash to invest the P193 has to be one of the front runners for consideration, the style, function and incredible expansion options are great and really it's not a niche case, it almost commands attention when it's seen."
"With the Skeleton, Antec took creativity right into the essence of case design. Not many companies would be brave enough to try something that Antec has done here, and they should be given recognition for this -- and perhaps even more so because they didn't sacrifice any functionality in trying something so radical.
If you are in the market for a case that looks great (if perhaps a bit different), and makes maintenance a breeze, the Skeleton should be at the top of your list of products to consider."
Cooler Master 932 HAF
"The 932 Haf is a sturdy, well-built case with a military themed look that some users will like, thought it is not my personal favorite. It is designed for high air flow to cool your components and does it very well, whether it is massive video card, or your overclocked rig, it is going to get the job done well.
With three massive 230mm fans and a 140mm it isn’t the quietest case on the market but there is a little give and take for everything. With the all of the options this case has and the great cooling factor there is still some room for improvement, like removable dust filters, or a removable motherboard tray but over all this case at the price point of $140 to $180 this is a great deal and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking to keep there system cool and running smooth."
"When it comes to computer cases, the looks do not make your rig run any cooler, faster or more reliable. What does make your system run better overall is the amount of air that is circulated in the enclosure that you choose to house your equipment. With the Tempest they thought of that with having a grand total of six stock fans in this chassis (3 intake and 3 exhaust ). The volume of air being pushed in and out is at an equal value creating the best possible situation for your air cooled equipment.
NZXT has put a lot of thought into this chassis and it shows, but the only thing I would have done differently is put in a better wire management system and maybe a removable mother board tray for ease of installation."
Cooler Master Scout
"The Scout covers many bases that need to be looked at, like dust filters, ease of use, weight, strength and durability. It weighs in at about 28 lbs loaded and 19 lbs empty, making it fairly easy to move around. This is a great mid-Tower case that will hold all of your components, including full-sized video cards.
It has some great features like the tool-less drive bays and a good cable management system. It seemed to me that the cable management area behind the motherboard tray had been reduced in size just a bit compared to other cases Cooler Master has put out of late, making it just a bit harder to fit every thing in. It's cooling for a mid-tower case is already very good and can be improved further by adding two more 120mm fans to the side panel this obviously would increase the noise a little but for the decrease in temperatures it may be worth the effort."
Antec Two Hundred
"Antec has designed a very sturdy well built case to say the least, although the aesthetics of the Two Hundred are somewhat disappointing, in my opinion. However the looks aside the chassis seems to do the job in which it was designed for adequately. None of the components reached a level where they would be in any danger, I do recommend placing all available fans into the case before any major testing or gaming is evolved."
NZXT Beta EVO
"The Beta Evo is still a chassis that does not give the WOW factor that I like to have when buying a case. NZXT has expanded the cooling capability's which is always a good addition to any chassis, but still only comes with one fan. That being said I still recommend to install all available fans before running any sort of system in it.
The features of the EVO are pretty good: like the tool-less retention systems for the HDD's and Optical disk drives, all of the available fan slots, the painted interior giving that manicured look that we all like to have, and let's not forget the removable dust filter for the optional intake fans under the front bezel."
Cooler Master Elite 310
"The Elite 310 is very light at only 12lbs empty and 20lbs full it seems easy enough to handle and move about if you feel the need, this makes it a great candidate for a LAN case.
The price is just absurd (in a good way) for a case of this quality. At a paltry $40 USD without a PSU, and $60 USD with a PSU, the Elite 310 offers fantastic value. The Elite 310 can be recommended not only because it can maintain temperatures really well, but also because you can't go wrong when it is this inexpensive."GMC R4 Bulldozer
"There were also a few things I liked about this case. The overall look I found very appealing it has an aggressive look that makes this chassis stand out in a crowd and get noticed. The external ODD was very innovative in its placement, the temperature displays were fairly accurate (only out by a degree or two when compared to monitoring software) and the added ease of watching what your system is doing when you're gaming is nice touch.
The GMC R4 Bulldozer is only $90.00US and a paltry 8 pounds empty and 14 pounds full-- this is a very easy chassis to sling about and take with you. This is a very unique case but it is not my cup of tea so to speak, I do however recommend it to the LAN Party goers those on a budget or looking for something out of the ordinary this case may suit your needs."Thermaltake Element T
"Overall being a "budget" gamer's case, Thermaltake has given us a great case in the Element T. The Element T weighs in at 15lbs empty and around 37 full and is not the easiest of things to maneuver about. Costing anywhere from 90US to 130US depending on the e-seller the Element T is a worthy investment and deserves to be considered if you are in the market for a mid-tower chassis with major branding.
I would recomend this case to anyone looking for an inexpensive cooling solution that works there is great value and hidden potential in the Element T. I also recomend to add the extra fans to error on the side of caution before stressing your system to the point of no return."
Cooler Master Storm Sentinel & Tactics
"The Sentinel's build quality is is very good and feels like it should last forever; when I shook it, not even the custom weights wiggled by even the slightest margin. The mousepad, after just a few weeks of use, is already showing tear on the edge where my wrist lays, which leaves me wondering how it'll fare in the long term.
When it comes to looks, Cooler Master opted for a sleek matte back finish for the whole mouse except the top part which is slightly glossy. The mouse is also sprinkled with LEDs, giving it the extra bling gamers tend to like. The one on top is covered by an aluminum mesh, preventing it from being distracting and it looks pretty sweet too."
NZXT Sentry 2 Fan Controller
"Even though the device is fairly intuitive, the lack of a useful instruction manual may leave some thinking the controller is missing a couple key functions. The only thing the supplied documentation mentions is about connecting fans. There absolutely nothing about actually making use of the touch screen. In short, the manual needs reworking NZXT.
With that said, the Sentry 2 also has a ton of positives. First of all, fan controllers have a tendency to look somewhere between mediocre and semi-decent. However, the Sentry 2 looks very modern, thanks to its relatively large (2.5 x 11.4 centimeter) backlit color display. Every bit of information can be read with ease no matter what angle you're looking from.
As some of you may be aware, touch screens are very hit or miss. Sensibility and response time play a large role in making the touch experience a great one. Fortunately, NZXT's controller excels at both of these characteristics. Assuming you press a valid area, the controller never misses an action and response time is extremely short, if not instantaneous."
be.ez LArobe Netbook Case
"Our unit fit a number of 8.9” notebooks, including the Aspire One and the Inspiron 910, and be.ez reports the Fujitsu Amilo MiniSize and HP2133 fit in the sleeve as well. The LArobe also comes in various sizes for portable devices and laptops; DS users can even get a sleeve that covers it in the same dense shell to protect it from scratches and damage. Basically the case spreads shock from most angles thanks to the snug fit and inner lip to help buffer jolting.
Our impressions from the case are definitely good. The chances of sudden impact stressing and cracking the screen are much lower, with pressure dispersed throughout the top and bottom of the case, around the device inside. Taking impacts in a wave ensures that devices have a lower chance of being damaged.
With various sizes it seems like someone could outfit their entire system with matching cases to protect sensitive parts. Fit for students and professionals, this case takes a beating and keeps going strong. Books, tight locations, nuclear disasters -- it seems nothing can defeat this case."
"Sadly we reached the limit taking the gorillapod to the professional level; our Canon 20D held up fine on it with the more forgiving lenses, but when we strapped a Canon 200mm L series lens to the pod the legs literally buckled in anything short of a curled position. I didn’t try to hang the pod from a branch simply because it felt like it had reached the limit with the weight and might have trouble gripping on.
For the consumer or semi-professional the gorillapod provides many opportunities to get great stable shots in any time of the day; the legs flex and grip well and the weight is minimal. For any trip the gorillapod is a must just to get those moments captured the first time without losing them. I found it to be a handy piece of equipment in common shooting moments as I don’t lug a 200mm L series with me everywhere I go."
Fanatec Porsche 911 Turbo S CE
"Our power testing ended there; with more time we would have loved to run the wheel in Need for Speed: SHIFT and next year in Gran Turismo 5. We have to thank the folks at Fanatec for giving us a run with their latest dose of madness -- the 911 Turbo S defines what a solid racing wheel should be with sleek looks and even the choice of interchanging parts with Logitech wheels. The price may be steep for some racers with a tag of $499 for the Clubsport Edition on the Fanatec Shop, but the wheel delivers on every cent invested with great craftsmanship in the construction and rigid handling. Add onto this the ability to play on the Playstation 3, PC and Xbox 360 and it starts to show why it’s such a value, particularly with extremely limited inventory on the 360 platform."
Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360)
"Unlike its predecessors, Halo 3: ODST offers more depth in addition to the stellar gameplay. Bungie seems to take the story more seriously now, and stepping out from Master Chief's shoes is a pleasant change. Intense combat sequences may leave you wishing for a live co-op partner now and then, yet ODST is surprisingly solo-friendly. The developers have crafted a generous explorable environment using New Mombasa, shrouded it in nightfall, and created an exceptionally mood-driven experience most will prefer to tackle alone."
Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
"Capcom should be congratulated for creating yet another delightfully gruesome experience worthy of the Resident Evil name. This latest addition to the longstanding franchise also shows us that a big company like Capcom is still capable of change, for better or worse. When devs alter their formula, it piques curiosity and pisses a lot of gamers off.
These changes shouldn't come as a shock and feels more like the next step in an evolutionary process, with Resident Evil 4 as the previous link. Like Darwinian theory, antiquated traits gradually disappear over time, producing a new generation of games, if you will. Resident Evil 5 is just the latest outcome."
The Conduit (Wii)
"As a core game The Conduit presents itself as a unique title focusing on breaking new technical ground for gamers, so that they feel they have a bit more choice and control with the Wii remote without going the route of new adapters. It also focuses on bringing elements of classic FPS gaming back to the Wii with some puzzle solving and side adventuring, though it avoids being a hybrid genre title. For those that enjoy a good sci-fi shooter with great online play and a fun single player experience, I would say The Conduit is a must.
The focus on function over gimmicks for the control system makes motion control and gestures feel natural on an FPS, and with a growing online community and free multiplayer with ranking system, there really is a lot to enjoy in The Conduit."
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
"Dark Athena on its own would be somewhat mediocre thanks to its difficult (read cheating) AI, a sloppy weapon aiming system, and a nearly non-existent storyline. If you can look past all of that, you will actually find a decent game that helps to give us more background on Riddick's past. The package becomes a real gem thanks to an enhanced port of Escape From Butcher Bay, which Tigon spent extensive time to revitalize for both the 360 and PS3 according to user feedback on the first run. Most players will want to buy the disc for Escape From Butcher Bay to get their Riddick fix, and stick around for the sequel for continuity sake. No matter what the reason for the purchase, Riddick fans will have plenty of action to keep them occupied until the next entry on Riddick's Universe."
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (PC)
"For those sitting on the fence with Project Origin, I would say it’s a safe bet to be able to jump into the purchase. You'll appreciate all the work that went into this game -- in the end it was worth the wait. If this sets the bar for things to come in 2009 then gamers really are in for a heck of a year.
I would like applaud the folks at Monolith for listening to the fans -- not only of F.E.A.R, but of the FPS genre in general. They did many things right here, and they laid down something that is worth digging into for hours on end. F.E.A.R 2 has some claws that'll come out of your monitor and grab your brain, holding you captive for some seriously intense gaming sessions."
Shattered Horizon (PC)
"The title is limited on locations, but for the $20 pricetag, it isn’t a bad title for the PC. Futuremark promises to deliver new DLC as time goes on and the idea of a level ground depending strictly on the player and not the weapons may tempt some gamers. Over the years we have seen many takes on FPS gaming but this is the first that makes us ponder where we can go from here. It wasn’t the graphics engine that blew us away, and it wasn’t the fairly simple story either. Facing truly new gameplay for the first time was exciting and intimidating; when all the dust settled we remained in the same spot, wanting another round to prove ourselves again. Shattered Horizon is visually beautiful in execution of models and landscape but that all came secondary to the experience as a whole, as any game should work to do."
Left 4 Dead 2 (Xbox 360, PC)
"Ultimately, the verdict is this; if you liked Left 4 Dead, the sequel is definitely worth getting into. Between abundant character dialogue and incredible new environments, L4D2 possesses greater depth and looks significantly more stunning than its predecessor. Here you'll find plenty of new challenges that test every gamer’s willingness (and ability) to work with others. You may even unlock some new Avatar Awards along the way."
NHL 10 (Xbox 360, PS3)
"For those coming in from the previous games, it seems like EA has done a large amount of work and given much more control to the player. The precision pass mode is huge to jump forward when combined with board play, push puck, flip dump, the drop pass, and fake shots.
NHL 10 brings hockey to the masses in a form that isn’t intimidating. With so many ways to ease the difficulty it seems like anyone can join in and have a good time even if they never play hardcore with superstar difficulty. Our time with NHL 10 left great impressions, and it's safe to say NHL 10 is truly worthy of the National Hockey League title."
DiRT 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
"DiRT 2 grows with the player; as they complete more races and climb up the ranks, new challenges wait for them. Players will notice the grade of difficulty rising as they go up the ladder, taxing their concentration, not to mention the class-based races they must progress through. In short, the challenge is more than enough to keep players glued to their controllers for some time. For us, DiRT 2 offers a solid combination of single and multiplayer experiences that seems absent in many titles today. Couple that with a difficulty ladder so high it could make even dedicated racing fans weep, it’s hard to deny the game respect and for that, it is one of the must grab racing titles for 2009."
NBA Live 10 (Xbox 360, PS3)
"Gamers have a lot to be enthusiastic about this year; NBA Live 10 isn’t the perfect game for fans of basketball but it is a departure from many of the issues that surrounded the series over past years. Now we're able to feel out dynamic environments, see reactive crowds, and have settings tailored to the occasion; finals matches in this installment see the stadium alive in a new way. It’s a unique experience to see a game grow forward instead of just slapping features on until it's lost itself. Live 10 makes solid strides to bring old fans back to the game and stick around; it is worth the stroll for the latest offering from EA."
Forza Motorsport 3(Xbox 360)
"As a racing game, Forza 3 brings communities together and delivers on its goal of being accessible by a gamer of any generation or any background. One may find himself racing head-to-head with a friend unfamiliar with racing games as they use autobrake to support themselves around the track, not finishing first but doing respectablly well as they feel themselves putting it all on the line. When we first heard about it, it was a unique thrill to find a game that thrives to rise to the next peak of racing while taking a whole community up and introducing them to it. Essentially, Forza 3 combines relentless simulation with consumer friendly control in a mix unlike that which we have seen before.
For us, Forza 3 delivers a great simulation experience with a rewarding group aesthetic. We can play this with friends without alienating everyone in the room, turning it up to 11 on the track and then doing the next race with a new friend bumping and shoving cars around, helping them take first. All told, there isn’t anything like it on the market right now and the execution is spot on."
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (Xbox 360, PS3)
"The Civil War backstory borrowed from the comics actually provides rich story material for the game, resulting in some surprising depth. Okay, so you can't actually compare the two and expect them to be equally complex; nevertheless, MUA2 is blessed with a strong backbone. The game works like a simplified adaptation of the original story on fast forward, told through well-scripted cutscenes and lots of missions -- the way MUA2 wraps things up gets somewhat sloppy. After the lengthy build-up, Vicarious' take on the Civil War arc feels terribly underwhelming. Players with prior knowledge of Marvel lore would have a better grasp of some story events the game glazes over, yet those same players may also be the most disappointed by all the cut material."
X-Men Origins: Wolverine "Uncaged Edition" (Xbox 360, PS3)
"This game should last you more than just a few days on Normal mode, especially given the replay value. Starting a new game will wipe out your previous progress, but there's a nifty "Replay Mission" option for Achievements hunters out there. In fact, I'd attribute most of the game's replayability to its Achievements, and I don't even care about that kind of thing. Wanton destruction, Easter eggs, collectable Wolverine action figures that unlock arenas in "Bonus" features -- this is a game you can keep revisiting even after your first playthrough."
"Madworld delivers things that I frankly thought I would not experience in gaming again for quite some time, given the ill receptions of anything violent in the mainstream culture these days in regard to gaming. The single player experience is fun and easy to play through, offering challenges and a slew of ways to destroy opponents while having a good laugh in the process. The multiplayer option renews that gameplay experience with the ability to battle it out with a friend for a double dose of destruction, but sticks to the plan with being simple and not jumping out of bounds to be a grand presentation.
Honestly, it is nothing short of inspiration for what the Wii could boast if developers who honestly invested in some humor when addressing the theme and stopped bending to the will of the uninformed media. It keeps its eye squarely on entertainment and not offense. One has to commend Sega for backing a title that goes out and blasts anyone expecting a run of the mill brawl experience."
The Path (PC, Mac)
"Perhaps the single most stunning thing about The Path is how well it melds each component of itself together, creating a single entity and providing equal importance for each part of its self. The visuals, gameplay, audio, story -- they're all much more accurately perceived as one whole experience as opposed to separate things pieced together.
For all the Killzone 2's and Final Fantasies and God of War III's of the world, it's kind of hard to believe a game like this exists at times, especially one that uncompromisingly demands a place in the gaming world as much as any other work. For this I hope it gets a lot of attention, because it deserves every bit. And though it is a pretty short game (honestly the closest thing I can think of to a complaint, and it's not really relevant), I don't hesitate to say it is a masterpiece that should be experienced by anyone with an open mind (and hopefully it will open a few minds, too)."
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
"Uncharted 2: Among Thieves will appeal to nearly everyone, even those who aren’t gamers at heart. Every five seconds something explosive and amazing happens which is then balanced by the peerless narration and comedic relief. Beyond the eight hours of single player lies an online mode which serves as a genuinely innovative leader in a new generation of action/shooter hybrids.
If you own a PlayStation 3, you would be an absolute fool to miss this true treasure of a game. Naughty Dog has been an amazing and responsive development team, already overwhelmed with the support and praise given by critics and fans alike. I found it to be an absolute privilege to be playing such a masterpiece; hopefully ND will be rewarded for their hard work when it comes to choosing this year’s Game of the Year awards..."
Hysteria Hospital: Emergency Ward (DS, Wii)
"The core of Hysteria Hospital behaves much like other titles such as Diner Dash; patients arrive, and players have a narrow time frame to treat them before they disappear . There is a minor twist, as players can manage hospital wages, available technologies in the ER, and sell disused equipment. The delivery of the game is entertaining and quickly pits any player against the clock to meet quotas and keep the hospital out of debt. The pressures of management keeps players on their toes, and the game costantly throws wild cards, as patients can come in for basic treatments, surgery, or more complex needs that require X-Ray scans as well."
Pokemon Platinum (DS)
"For new players, the choice between Diamond and Pearl or Platinum is very simple - Platinum has more Pokemon to catch and better online options. The increased difficulty can be frustrating and the sheer absurdity of the whole Pokemon game concept is off-putting. But, there are online guides galore to help you train a strong team of Pokemon. As for the strangeness of the world, you can fight the cuteness or the weirdness, but it's no stranger than a half-dozen other games and, surprisingly, past the cartoony cuteness there's a surprisingly deep strategy game waiting to be found.
For veteran players who are already pretty clear on the whole concept of Pokemon, Platinum isn't a big deal. The increased difficulty, including a stronger Elite Four challenge once you've completed the National Pokedex, more robust online options, 60 new Pokemon to catch, the new forums and general upgrades make this game an improvement over Diamond or Pearl. Plus, all your friends are getting it, and they'll laugh at you if you don't. But, before you fold to peer pressure, keep in mind that the vast majority of the game is the same as Diamond and Pearl."
"Klonoa isn't groundbreaking as a title but it is a lot of fun and does avoid many of the tragedies of gaming on the Wii these days, such as gimmick control design and minigames. For those interested in a nice platformer with extended life after completion, this is a game to seriously consider.
With summer around the corner Klonoa is one of those titles that should fill the need for a decent experience until the pipeline picks up with more games. It won't break the bank either, as it comes in at only $29.99 from most retailers, offering an enjoyable experience for Wii gamers of all ages and levels of gaming experience at a price that won't leave you feeling dry."
My Friends (DS)
"The aim of the title is delivering a fun array of characters across various environments for quick fun without a huge story or complex mechanics. We explored My Friends a bit and found that it would be a great title to throw in for car trips or appointments. Add in the ability of linking with other My Friends users for chat and games and it becomes a very versatile way to the pass the time, especially for younger DS owners."
C.O.P. The Recruit (DS)
"In the end, C.O.P. can't avoid being compared to Rockstar's M-rated sandbox title on DS. Despite whatever similarities they share, however, the two are remarkably different in their targeted audience. C.O.P. The Recruit comes off as a sort of child-friendly GTA (mind the terrorists), but the gameplay is plenty enjoyable for older players as well, and Ubisoft has crammed so much into this tiny platform. The game's creative use of the stylus and mic make it one of the most innovative DS games we've seen, without dumbing down or even screwing up the controls. An admirable attempt was made with Dan Miles' story, but C.O.P. still misses the intensity we crave. Still, if you don't mind the PG-aspect, then this game is definitely worth a shot."
Little Big Planet (PSP)
"Sony's Cambridge Studios and Media Molecule together did an excellent job of recreating the lovable SackBoy and his environment for the PSP. The translation is done so well longtime fans won't notice much difference between the two platforms. While this can pose a problem of sorts for those seeking a different type of game play, it really says a lot for the development team who put in the effort to create a seamless transition onto the handheld platform.
At the end of the day, you can't lose having this fantastic game in your PSP library. With its beautiful levels and the ever adorable SackBoy, LittleBigPlanet for the PSP never fails to deliver. You will find yourself trying to rise to the challenge of creating a spectacular level and becoming the next big hit of the LBP community. With so many washed out ports, it is a real pleasure to finally see one live up to the standards set by its predecessor."
"It's long, easily warrants multiple playthroughs with the different factions and routes you can take, and encourages you to take your time and explore everything. Interestingly, even after three-hour or longer sessions, it was still thrilling to jump back in after breaks.
We can state with great confidence you must own Risen if you love RPGs, and perhaps even if you just appreciate highly believable worlds. PC gamers who've been lamenting the lack of well-done classic titles like this with proper treatment should be overjoyed at the revival of sorts with this one. It's both accessible and "hardcore", and would make an excellent choice for a newcomer to the genre (though it's really recommended to start with Gothic), as well as the hardened veteran."
Half-Minute Hero (PSP)
"Half-Minute Hero is impressive; the story is simple each time around and it often pokes fun at itself. The monsters are clever and comical, not only in the presentation but in their own monologue when they express their motive for world destruction. There’s a lot to love for such a simple approach that provides an enjoyable on the fly gaming experience with half-minute investments. Portability has become less of a problem in gaming but portable gaming is still trying to mature so everyone can enjoy it without feeling tied up for an hour.
For those interested in the game I would say Half-Minute Hero is a worthwhile casual title. The challenge of meeting the reward titles, getting all the bonuses and completing each mission in under 30 seconds isn’t easy. And for those that find it simple, picking hard difficulty often helps cure that; Half-Minute Hero can be a rollercoaster ride on the nerves, trying to squeeze every second for all it’s worth as the difficulty ramps up. In Hero 300 and Hero 3 the game puts up a last line of defense for those with the talent to give it their all without finishing with the title of “Sucky Hero”."
Aion: The Tower of Eternity (PC)
"Aion presents a unique experience this time around for the NCSoft catalog, bringing a whole world together as a single group. Players are able to experience quests together without having to form parties to rush from landmark to landmark; leveling becomes less of a chore as the Kabarah Strip Mine showed all classes can lend a hand so everyone wins. The game also boasts a fluid PVP experience by integrating it into the balance of the world; as players feel they’ve reached their peak, they come across their sworn enemies in the Abyss for an eternal battle for control. Aion feels like it comes in with a solid foundation and much potential for those that invest the time, plus the graphics are impressive and vibrant and the execution is superb. For those looking to invest in a new MMO, this one has the potential to deliver."
Demon's Souls (PS3)
This game is by far the best I have played on the PS3, and well worth every single penny I will be dropping on the store counter. With a haunting sound track and absolutely stunning views, it does very little to disappoint. In a market hungry for a game with a worthy difficulty, I feel this one will be turning up on top ten "must play" lists in no time."
"Atlus has also challenged me personally. Not only with the game play of Demon's Souls, but also with the presentation. The disc I received for this review is a trade demo copy; Atlus will be shutting down the servers and resetting them prior to the October 6th launch. Trophies were disabled for the disc I received and the save data isn't compatible with the retail copy; every bit of the time and frustration I put into this game will be lost forever. Nevertheless, on October 6th it will be time for me to put my money where my mouth is, and I will be doing just that.
Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
"Most RPGs we see today are mixed-genre, and in this context, Dragon Age: Origins is a rare occurrence. BioWare has given purists little to complain about, though you don't need to be an RPG fanboy to enjoy what they are offering -- just some patience. This isn't a game you want to rush. Aside from all the interesting side quests and character-related shenanigans you'll miss, it'll be considerably harder without all the proper skills and gear later on if you’ve progressed too quickly. There's no high level content versus low, as you can access every major region on the map following the prelude, but it pays to go in packing some proper heat. Either way, Dragon Age is worth the trouble, and a patient player will get more out of it than an Achievement-obsessed speed-gamer. That and the one taking it slow won't be dominated as frequently.
Even if someone chose to ignore all the optional content, the game should last for some time. The main quests require a ton of dedication and could very well last up to an hour each. Also remember that there are six uniquely different stories to explore, serving as true replay incentives. Add in the free Blood Dragon armor and "The Stone Prisoner" DLC, and we get one of the few games out there who genuinely deserves its full retail price.
While BioWare’s high fantasy production may not possess the same novelty as its 2007 sci-fi counterpart, it brings something classic and substantial back to the mainstream table, so far lined mostly with shooters, brainless action titles, and remakes. Truth be told, there’s nothing groundbreaking about Dragon Age: Origins, and yet we can’t help but love this game as a restoration of what popular gaming has mostly forgotten. Here is a distinctly BioWare take on familiar material, and anyone who follows their games will fall in love with this one. "
Guitar Hero 5 (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
"How does this stack up with current games on the market? For Guitar Hero fans, this should be a given to add to the collection; the library is huge and it stacks on enjoyable songs for many tastes. The shift to original masters for songs helps make one feel better about the game; instead of paying cover bands to deliver a good experience, they have real tracks and that affects the impact of the song. For Rock Band owners, this is still a worthwhile investment; the game has many songs that will most likely not make it to that series anytime soon. The mechanics of Activision's title are improved, too: notes sync up on screen without delay on harder levels.
The game on the 360 is hard to knock; it feels like a polished title from Activision hoping to convert some of the Rock Band gamers over while the franchise takes a detour. Honestly with how the game turned out we would say it was a wise choice on their part to launch this instead of another dedicated band pack as it has songs that capture a broader market for them. Guitar Hero 5 isn’t perfect but that’s the beauty of it: the game still has room to grow and anyone who is looking for a new music title should consider this as an addition to their fall gaming collection."
Lips: Number One Hits (Xbox 360)
"While dropping in and out of the session, it became clear that Lips is about the ties between people, getting us to sing songs we normally refuse to admit we already sing in our cars and showers. There’s a real energy in the air that just spreads over those who wish to join in, and it encourages everyone to try their hand at the microphone. With no buttons or bars or pads to hit, Lips isn’t intimidating to approach; with a group of friends already playing, there is no reason to hesitate and try.
When music game developers stress new modes of play and new instruments, they tend to forget that sometimes players just want simplicity. Lips: Number One Hits touches right on this point by spreading across generations of pop culture and offering some classics for everyone to enjoy. The only thing we can advise from our group experiment is that letting friends pick the challenge songs can be dangerous to everyone there. Having guys swap off and then set someone up for Fergie only ends in a horrible karaoke covers and a aching stomachs from laughing too hard. You can't go wrong with Lips when hanging with a group, though the game is no less enjoyable in the privacy of your room. In the end, Lips passes every test we put it through -- with flying colors.."
The Beatles: Rock Band (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
"While Harmonix have produced a game that leaps out at consumers in a new way the question is if the game is worth the investment. For new gamers fond of The Beatles we can only say that this should be a given to add to a gaming collection. The animations are great and the scenes bring about a sense of nostalgia. Throw in a remastered stereo soundtrack consiting of all the songs, bringing out their full glory and The Beatles: Rock Band is a standout. For those that are fans of the Rock Band property but not The Beatles, we have to say it’s probably not the ideal investment -- in this case it’s best to hold out for whatever other mixes Harmonix might be up to as they are developing the engine further with harmony tracks and more.
As a whole The Beatles: Rock Band does something new for gamers, giving a total immersion experience in its presentation. Harmonix didn’t approach the game by slapping in new models in the same settings; they pushed to develop a new experience as people played along. It works to bridge generational gaps by making a music game that is easy to approach, throwing in a dash of nostalgia and taking fans and gamers back through the history of the band. Top this off with the return of Drum Trainer and Beatle Beats to play to and it is a great experience to take part in."
DJ Hero (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2)
"DJ Hero may not be the savior to music gaming but it never strove for that; it offers gamers a new music style to jump into when they’re tired of rocking out in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, a chance to mix some tracks and take an alternate route to music gaming. As our experience expanded with each unlock it became obvious the game was a fusion of the score attacking habits of old with new interaction, offering freedom to just have fun. Sadly, DJ Hero lacks a crowd reaction system, letting new players take their time learning the game without failing out of the song seconds into the mix.
Where music gaming goes from here is up in the air, but it seems free experimentation is becoming an acceptable alternative in gaming and publishers are starting to chase it. DJ Hero brings great mixing fun to gaming with a controller that is easy to use and a great selection of exclusive tracks, mashing up everything under the sun. Those interested in stepping into the turntable experience should only bring their sense of experimentation, as everything else loses importance. The title brings a new sense of music gaming to the table without alienating crowds; instead it lets fans of various music types come together and have a great time. "
Boom Blox: Bash Party (Wii)
"Boom Blox: Bash Party is a great game to pick up for family or great casual party fun, regardless of gaming experience. With simple control and easy objectives, it leaves few potential players on the sidelines, producing great results thanks to the physics behaviors in-game. Being able to whip a bowling ball into the fray sending blocks exploding everywhere never gets old; stack on the virus ball and the domino effects and the fun keeps going. Boom Blox works to prove that party games and family titles do not need to be too complex, they just need to be enjoyable. With such a low price point, the game brings easy enjoyment without breaking the bank, and is worth consideration from any casual player or family gamer looking to get everyone back on the Wii."
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