Ascend: Hand of Kul in open beta today

While the game has been in closed beta for some time now, there had never been any specifics as to when Ascend would see a full release. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that time had come. Available now as an “open beta,” Ascend: Hand of Kul is essentially fully available to gamers on Xbox 360 courtesy of Signal Studios and Microsoft Studios. While billed as an open beta, gamers have access to the entire world and story of Ascend as well as the game’s achievements. I just suspect we’ll be seeing more fine tuning and updates than a standard game release for a while. Stay tuned for a full review.

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Batman prequel series heading to TV

Batman-1989

Fox has secured a deal for a prequel television series centered on a younger James Gordon.  Gordon, who goes on to become Gotham’s commissioner and Batman’s ally, served as a detective in Gotham’s police force before working his way to the top of a corrupt justice system in a decaying city.  The television series will focus on his time as a detective and is said to include some of the iconic villains from the Batman universe, however it will not feature the Caped Crusader himself (though this doesn’t mean that one Bruce Wayne won’t make an appearance in the show in one form or another).

The show is being produced by creator of The Mentalist Bruno Heller with a full series order from Fox.  No word yet on casting or when the show is set to premiere, but we do have a title:  Gotham.

Dante’s Inferno film adaptation in the works

A film adaptation based on the Visceral Games title loosely inspired by the epic poem is currently in the works. The game’s story sends a battle hardened Dante on a murderous rampage through hell in search for his love, Beatrice. While there’s little resemblance to the tale that inspired it, the game (an unashamed God of War clone) was a lot of fun.

The film is being backed by Universal Pictures and will be directed by Fede Alvarez who recently helmed the Evil Dead reboot. A script is being written by Jay Basu.

Feast your eyes on the new The Evil Within trailer

Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami is bringing a new vision of survival horror to consoles and Windows PC next year.  From the trailer below, it looks like it’s shaping up nicely.  In a disgusting and terrifying sort of niceness.

The Walking Dead companion series planned for a 2015 debut

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The Walking Dead is huge.  The TV show is one of the highest rated and most watched series on television and last year’s videogame adaptation by Telltale won several game of the year awards (not the Activision published Survival Instinct that was universally panned).  The comic that spawned all these new properties is still running strong ten years later.  So, with the popularity of the franchise, it’s no surprise that AMC is developing a spin-off of The Walking Dead.

The show is expected to premiere in 2015 and will feature new characters and stories.  Series creator Robert Kirkman will serve as the companion series’ executive producer alongside Gale Ann Hurd and David Alpert.  Kirkman has expressed his excitement for being able to explore new stories in the universe in this new medium.  Whatever is in store with this new series, I’m sure it will deliver.

Insidious: Chapter 2 review

Insidious_Chapter_2_PosterIn film, few genres give me as much joy as horror.  Even the bad movies have this odd charm to them that makes them just a joy to watch.  They fail so hard at being scary that the resulting entertainment is just unintended glee.  When they succeed at tension building and suspense, though, there’s a whole new experience to be had.  “Entertainment” isn’t really the best word to describe a good horror movie because it’s more a roller coaster than a joy ride.  It’s a combination of physical responses and unrelenting dread.  A successful horror movie is an entirely different experience than any other film.  Sadly, successful horror movies are few and far between.  Thankfully James Wan and Leigh Whannell are around to breathe new life into the horror genre.

The two got their start with what birthed the most successful horror franchise of all time, Saw.  While not all the films in the series are winners, it’s undeniable that the first film helped to reshape an entire genre of film while providing one of the most ingenious plot twists of all time.  Since their little torture porn, the horror duo have worked on Dead Silence (while not the best horror film, a fun throwback to campy 80’s killer doll flicks that I still enjoy) and the more recent Insidious.

The first Insidious raised the bar for me in what to expect from a horror film.  The film relied on tension building in tandem with jump scares and completely forwent any gore – being released with only a PG-13 rating.  Something not terribly common in horror films.  Most horror films up to that point had been R-rated murder romps that featured an overabundance of jump scares and creative kills to draw in audiences.  Insidious delivered something different:  a truly terrifying experience.  It was smart, fast, fun, and intense.  This isn’t to say that it didn’t rely on jump scares, but it was able to have lasting moments of constant tension buildup beyond those loud music cues and closets flying open.  Insidious set a new standard for me and its sequel had a lot to live up to.

Insidious

I had high expectations for the film but, with James Wan having directed another 2013 horror film (the well-received The Conjuring which also starred Insidious’ Patrick Wilson), there was a bit of concern in whether or not this film would feel like the lovingly crafted sequel I wanted or a quick cash in to a super successful modern horror classic.  I’m pleased to say that Insidious met my expectations – even exceeded them at times.

insidious-philip-friedman1Insidious: Chapter 2 begins with a bit of back story highlighting story elements that are hinted at in the first film but never delved into.  Josh Lambert had some experiences with astral projection as a child and this back story is more fleshed out in this sequel and plays heavily into the history of both films.  It’s an excellent preface to the subsequent events and really helps to broaden the scope of the film.  After the title card, which is pulled from the first film and “Chapter 2” fades in behind it, we’re taken to an interrogation room.  Picking up almost immediately after the events of Insidious, Chapter 2 reminds us that there’s a dead medium in the Lambert house and Josh is more than likely the murderer – though with the complicated alibi of being stuck in The Further.

The next 100 minutes are filled with answers, more questions, and plenty of scares.  Insidious: Chapter 2 avoids playing it safe by messing with the foundation laid in the first film.  Everything that happened in the first film has some new meaning in the sequel and it’s crazy how well it works.  Repurposed footage is given new life in mindblowing sequences where you’re left thinking, “If this wasn’t planned in the first film, this is damn brilliant.”

Jump scares and exposition play a much bigger role in Chapter 2 than they did in the first.  We’ve already been introduced to the idea of astral projection and The Further, so this time around we’re looking to get some resolution following the cliffhanger finish of the first film.  There’s still that building tension and I had chills running down my arm more than a few times during the course of Chapter 2, but lore building and fast moving thrills are a big part of the experience, too.  It works, too.

The way Insidious ended could have been the end of it all and I would have been okay with it.  It felt like a wonderfully fitting close to a horror film.  With that, it’s nice to know that the events that followed Elise’s death don’t feel shoehorned in.  There’s actually a lot of interesting happenings and the foundation they’ve built for the lore is left vacant at the end of the experience for even more adventures – though maybe absent the Lambert family.

EliseThe film also brings back Specs and Tucker, favorites of mine in the first film, and it brings them to the forefront.  They’re great characters and breaths of fresh air amidst all the tension and jumps.  It’s not always easy to have a balance between horror and comedy in a film, and these characters show that a balance isn’t entirely necessary.  When you’re dealing with absurd and bizarre matters, absurd and bizarre characters can fit right in.  Let’s face it, even when you’re facing a haunted family surrounded by horrors of unspeakable nature, you’d be glad to have a couple of oafish nerds hanging around to make light of the situation.  It was nice to see them back for round two and they were as enjoyable as ever.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is more than a sequel.  It’s a film so tightly knit with its predecessor that it’s almost impossible to think of the two films standing on their own anymore.  With one, you cannot have the other.  This sequel serves as a prequel, and interquel, and a sequel with content so heavily embedded in the first movie that it’s more like the sequel influenced its predecessor than vice versa.  As a continuation of a saga, this film is damn near perfect.  If the ideas presented in Insidious and Chapter 2 do spawn another chapter, I sincerely hope it stays in the hands of the masters of modern horror James Wan and Leigh Whannell.

 

Insidious: Chapter 2:  4 out of 5

Mortal Kombat: Legacy season 2 trailer

The second season of the fantastic webseries based on the ultraviolent videogame series is nearly upon us – being posted online all at once on September 26.  In preparation for this continuation of the reimagining of the Netherrealm fighting tournament, I present this trailer:

Diablo III console edition impressions

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I can’t really label this a review since I haven’t completed the game yet and don’t really have a fully formulated opinion of it.  But, I have spent several hours with the console release (specifically the Xbox 360 version) of Diablo III and have some thoughts I’d like to put down on digital paper.  The game is over a year old on PCs now and so it doesn’t really warrant a review in that sense.  It’s Diablo – the king of dungeon crawlers.  It’s awesome.  Yada yada.  But how does it play on consoles?

Pretty great, actually.  Honestly, for several years now I’ve been favoring console dungeon crawlers over their PC counterparts.  There’s not always a whole lot of ports, but since the days of the Dreamcast, I’ve been doing most of my killing and looting with a controller in hand.  This isn’t to spark a PC vs. Consoles debate, this is just my preference (and you’d damn well better respect my preference).  PC gamers tend to have a bit of apprehension when it comes to ports of their beloved mouse and keyboard exclusives.  Sometimes they’re right to be worried (typically, real-time strategy games (RTS) don’t translate well to console controls), but sometimes their apprehension is unfounded.  Thankfully that’s the case with Diablo III.

diablo-3-demon-hunter-02Personally, I wasn’t worried about the transition.  I had enjoyed Torchlight immensely in its console release (and sincerely hope that its sequel gets some new life on consoles) and knew that Bilzzard was more than capable of delivering a high-quality port.  They did, too.

I think the biggest selling point for me on the console version is the couch co-op.  I can be old school at times and so I’d much rather be playing a game with my friends in the same room as me than as disembodied voices over the internet.  It’s a much more enjoyable experience.  That being said, killing, questing, and looting is so much more rewarding to me when I can sit back on the couch and maybe throw back a couple of drinks with my pals while making clever or not-so-clever quips.  It’s great to have that social interaction mixed in with my favorite hobby.  It also helps that the translation to consoles didn’t affect the fun factor of Diablo.

It would be insulting to say that there’s not much to the game on PC, but in playing games like Diablo it has a missing sense of control.  With playing the game with a controller in hand, I feel much more like I’m playing a game.  My character moves where I’m leading him and reacts to my every move – I’m not just telling him what to do and he follows my commands; I’m given a much greater sense of control.  That is what I like about playing Diablo III on my console.  Does the console version have its drawbacks?  Sure.  It’s not perfect, but it offers to me as a gamer more of what I’m looking for in a game than the PC version does.

The biggest disappointment I have with Diablo III is less of something the game did wrong and more of a hugely missed opportunity.  Couch co-op is great.  I love sitting with my pals and playing this game on the same screen.  However, sharing the screen during inventory management sessions sucks.  Only one player at a time can view his or her inventory or have any interactions with merchants.  This breaks the flow of the game and results in several sessions of checking facebook or playing games on your phone while you wait for your pals to finish up their shopping, crafting, and customizing.  This is something that could have been easily remedied with SmartGlass.  Let’s say that you’ve got 3 friends over and you’re all looking to score some epic loot.  Well, while Johnny McSlowshopper is browsing the shops, you can connect with SmartGlass and interact with a shop keep or examine and manage your inventory on your phone while the television is occupied with someone else’s menu.  This would have been a great solution in keeping the game moving at all times rather than making every trip to town a 20+ minute ordeal because you have to take turns managing your inventory.  With that said, it’s a relatively minor complaint.  It’s not a broken gameplay mechanic or a fatal flaw in the game, it’s just a painfully missed opportunity.

Diablo_III_Character_Classes

Diablo III on the console is a blast.  It’s pretty much everything you can expect from a Diablo game while giving you a little bit more joy with couch co-op.  It’s a welcome addition to my gaming library and I’m sure I’m going to sink many, many hours into its loot-filled world.

 

Diablo III is currently available on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.  A PS4 release is planned and in development.

Fable Anniversary pushed to February 2014

Fable fans waiting for the HD remake of what is arguably the best game in the series are going to have to wait a little bit longer. Lionhead by way of Ted Timmins has stated that the studio needs a bit more time to provide the best Fable experience for fans. He even hinted at some “top secret announcements” for the game. So, it’s entirely possible that Lionhead is working on some new content for the decade old action RPG.

So… Dryft looks cool

dryft

When I first entered the world of smart phones, I opted for one with a physical keyboard.  The Moto Q may not have been the best phone ever, but it served me well many and many a year ago and I was happy with my choice.  When it came time to upgrade, I went with something with a little more screen space – which meant sacrificing my physical keyboard for a full touch phone.  I decided on the Samsung Omnia II.  The only thing that really disappointed me with my decision was the resistive touch screen, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice because my phone supported Swype.

I can be a heavy texter at times and I write a lot.  So, it was important for me to be able to maximize my typing capabilities on my phone.  Giving up my physical keyboard, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t spending 30 minutes to write a 3 paragraph Word document.  Swype addressed my concerns by allowing me to type around 50 words per minute.  Not quite what I’m capable of on a PC’s keyboard, but substantially more than I can with a standard touch keyboard or even a phone’s physical keyboard.

That said, typing on tablets is still a bit of an issue.  Using default on-screen keyboards, you’re limited to skilled hunt-n-peck typing techniques which really limit your potential.  Sure, Swype is an option on tablets, but it’s not perfect.  Enter Dryft – the solution to all your tablet typing problems.

Dryft is a non-static keyboard for tablets that orients itself based on your hand placement on the screen.  Yep, Dryft allows you to rest your hands on your tablet screen without causing any inputs.  Instead, it utilizes the device’s accelerometer to recognize when you’re actually inputting something.  Resting your hands will cause the keys to form around your hand placement, but it will only recognize keystrokes when you actually tap on the screen.  It’s really cool and promises up to 80 words a minute typing.  This is a great idea and will no doubt do wonders for portable productivity.  Check it out in the video below.