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Retro – Review: Halo 3

The final instalment of the original story arc was always going to have to be something special and it delivered. Personally I have found memories of the games release in 2007 as a friend and I hooked the Xbox 360 up to my dad’s projector and surround sound system. The hours of gaming that followed as we ran through the campaign on heroic always comes to mind any time I play the game. So what made Halo 3 almost the perfect shooter…

Game play

Like Halo 2 the major format of game play remains largely unchanged from the original but adds a couple of new elements. The inclusion of “support weapons” made it easier to take down large groups of Brutes or vehicles. Extra firepower comes at a price as caring the two handed weapons prevents you from using grenades and slows movement. Limited ammo in “support weapons” means that you can’t hang on to them forever which prevents the game from getting easy.

The other major addition to overall game play was the introduction of deployable equipment which includes grave lifts, energy drains and different shields among other things. These items can be picked up and swapped like weapons depending on your tactics. This new feature is helpful in campaign but really comes into its own during multiplayer due to the faster pace. While some equipment is clearly more useful then others it does provide players with more opportunity to change their strategy which for me has always been important to the success of Halo.

Multiplayer

Along with the general game play additions Halo 3 introduced a couple of new multiplayer features which allowed it to capitalise on the strength of Halo 2. The most revolutionary element of the game is the introduction of Forge a personalised multiplayer map system which allows players to change the location of vehicles, weapons and items. Historically I haven’t been a massive online gamer and have only briefly tested this out but I can definitely see its appeal.  Considering this It’s not surprising that 343 have promised to add Forge to Halo 5 with an update.

Personally, my favourite multiplayer option has always been cooperative normally on a split screen. Halo 3 unlike most games didn’t ignore this method of gaming as it introduced online cooperative for the first time and to capitalise on players’ competitive nature this included a points rank system. This feature provided a lot of potential which is set to be recognised in Halo 5 as players all had original characters; Master Chief, The Arbiter and two elites. Unfortunately, in Halo 3 game play is the same for all characters which is where Halo 5 will take the next step.

Storyline & Setting

The main campaign starts from where Halo 2 unceremoniously left fans hanging and picks up the story with Truth’s forces occupying part of earth. The first part of the game sees the Chief hook up with some old friends to regroup before moving to attack. At first it’s a bit odd playing through Halo without Cortana’s usual commentary but we are constantly reminded of her presence due to some quick flashes.

Despite your best efforts the Chief can’t stop Truth from reaching the Ark but before he can follow the The Flood crash High Charity into the remains of the city. Thankfully this gives the Chief the opportunity to keep a promise and save Cortana before traveling through the portal to stop Truth and The Flood.

Unlike Halo 2 the campaign is hugely satisfying as it incorporates customary Halo twists where the Chief finds himself temporally allied with different enemies and more importantly an ending. The storyline even works on character development with the forming of a friendship of sorts with the Arbiter and a clear progression of the relationship between Cortana and the Chief which becomes central to Halo 4. In the main storyline Halo 3 even gives homage to the original which gets the nostalgia really flowing and is a real payoff for diehard fans.

Overall

Halo 3 is the most complete game in the series as it continues to develop game play in small ways while retaining the formula that has made the series a success. In addition, it builds on the strengths of Halo 2 while clearly making an effort to improve open it’s weakness through a well developed central storyline. If this is the way the world ends, I’m cool with it.

Game play: 9.5

Multiplayer: 9

Storyline: 10

Overall: 9.5/10

Jono

Retro – Review: Halo – Combat Evolved

Less than 10 days out from the release of Halo 5: Guardians I thought it was the perfect time to look back on each chapter of the Master Chief’s journey so far, starting with the game that started it all way back in 2001. Back then after a Nintendo 64 I was tossing up between a PS2 or jumping on board Microsoft’s new Xbox. Not invested in any PlayStation titles due to my previous experience with the N64 Halo was one thing that helped me reach a decision, one I have never regretted. This is all easy to say but what has made Halo, one of the most successful franchises in gaming and allowed it to revolutionise the first person shooter?

Gameplay

In the late 90’s the first person shooter was dominated by Rare’s Goldeneye and Perfect Dark with an overflowing bag of weapons with multiple firing modes, duel wield and different level objectives. Halo was a departure from this formula as for the first time it introduced a two weapon cap on players which means you had to think about your load out, ammo and the terrain. The addition of grenades and mêlée attacks without holstering your weapon enhanced the speed of combat making it more intense than other shooters at the time. This combination, Bungie’s “golden trilogy” is a large part of Halo’s success as it added strategy to the well-established run and gun experience.

Halo never just relied on the traditional FPS format however as after the first stage the straightforward “The Pillar of Autumn” players are quickly introduced to more open environments with a range of more complex objectives. Once the Chief crashes on the ring the game takes on a whole new life with the addition of a range of vehicles from Warthogs to Banshee’s. Not only does this continue to add diversity to the campaign but vehicles have become a key element of the multiplayer experience. I will never forget taking out a guy in a Scorpion with a shotgun and then repeating it with his brother in a Ghost, priceless.

This diversity is definitely a highlight of the first part of the game whether it’s the covert start to “The Truth and Reconciliation” or the playful beach combing of the “The Silent Cartographer” the game just draws players in with the combination of elements. Unfortunately, the only criticism I have is that some of the later maps just can’t keep this up and become a little to repetitive. In part this is because you are in fact back tracking at times through the same environment while fighting the Flood. Even so Halo’s game play developed a winning formula which has now redefined the way gamers approach first person shooters since the old Rare days.

Storyline & Setting

Being the first entrant into the Halo universe the game needed to introduce gamers to the Covenant, the UNSC and their ongoing conflict without trying to bore us with long explanations. The opening sequence with Captain Keyes does this really well as we know that humanity is at war against a more advanced Alien species and the ship you are on has been trying to escape. Aside from this you are introduced to Cortana and set out to kill some Covenant while trying to escape the besieged Pillar of Autumn.

During game play Cortana is actually able to build your knowledge of the Halo universe whether it is through intercepted Covenant communications about the ring, an analysis of the artificial weather or simply warning the Chief of incoming ‘Hunters’. This is extremely well-done as Cortana’s dialog works within the context of the game to assist the Chief yet teachers the player almost subconsciously to be able to recognise different types of enemies or build their knowledge of the wider backstory. It is through this ongoing communication that we first learn that Halo holds some form of religious significance for the Covenant as this is never mentioned in any of the games cinematics which like the opening tell you enough while avoiding explorations by focusing on the development of plot.

It doesn’t take long before the universe you thought you were getting to know gets thrown upside down with introduction of the Flood. Quickly you find yourself trying to work out this new enemy without Cortana who is temporarily replaced by 343 Guilty Spark thanks to a well-planned series of events that find you a companion who is in a position to give the same style of hints about this new enemy. Lesser games and even poor quality movies would just say that Cortana has hacked a console to find the information rather than providing 343 Guilty Spark to fulfil the role in “The Library”. The monitors betrayal and the revelation of Halo’s true purpose is the final twist that sets up the games conclusion as you fight your way through the Flood, Covenant and the installations drones to destroy the ring.

The main plot is engaging and has always been successful at drawing gamers in to the Halo universe but it is the cultures and history it alludes to that has allowed the franchise to build over the next decade. A mention of the destruction of Reach has grown into its own game and numerous books while the Forerunners are currently being explored in the latest additions to the Master Chiefs story. All of this is ultimately the result of the world presented to us in this original master piece.

Audio

Normally, I wouldn’t comment on the sound of a game as while it is perhaps the most important element that allows gamers to leave their living room and become engrossed in another world it is never usually that memorable. Again this is where Halo is unique like the James Bond theme or the opening to TV shows the score is cemented in our minds and can conjure memories of playing the game. I cannot think of another game with a similar effect and its testament to the strength of the composition to inspire a sense of wonder.

Since 2001 Halo has rightly been recognised as one of the greatest games ever made as it revolutionised the genre and gave fans such a rich world to explore. It is definitely responsible for the success of the original Xbox and Microsoft’s continued presence in the console business. Personally, what still sets Halo apart for me is the well-crafted and non-predictable storyline which is something absence from most shooters.

Gameplay 9/10

Storyline 10/10

Audio 9/10

Overall 9.5/10

Check back in a few days as I take a look at Halo 2,

Jono

Windows 10: A varied experience

D-Day has been and gone for Microsoft’s latest operating system and so far with around 75 million downloads in the first month it appears to be a resounding success, obviously the free upgrade has helped to boost early adaptation. In fact Microsoft’s reservation system most likely tempered the initial rush as the process has deliberately delayed access in stages to prevent over extending their serves. Although the delay makes sense it didn’t take long for me to get annoyed with waiting and use the insider media creation tool to upgrade all my computers as I’m certain others have been doing since the 29th of July. Across my devices I have had a varied experience, including a few little teething problems, yet overall I’m impressed with how the OS has developed from early builds and the new developments that Windows 10 has brought to the PC.

DELL Studio – Intel Core Duo

My old laptop has taken a beating over the years and has been relegated to a portable DVD player over the last year but it has been useful to test out the preview builds of Windows 10. Over the last few months I’ve seen the changes Microsoft has brought to the task screen, notifications and settings all of which work towards making it easier for uses to access information. Many of these elements may have gone unnoticed after the return of the start menu but they more subtly blend elements from Windows 8 and introduce new features like multiple desktops to the Windows ecosystem. The start menu does definitely make the OS more easily adaptable to existing Windows 7 users but I personally feel that its  actually the ability of opening new Modern apps in a traditional windowed UI that makes Windows 10 a massive improvement as a desktop OS, after all who needs a 15″ calculator. The implementation of these developments alongside the noticeable improvements in speed and performance have resurrected my old laptop as if it was almost a new machine, it has even been brought off the bench and used properly for the first time in over a year.

Surface Pro 1 – Intel Core i5

Frustratingly, this has been the device I’ve had the most trouble with since upgrading which considering how much I use it at work has been a little inconvenient. Immediately after the upgrade I was having battery life problems, especially after any substantial period not in use, unfortunately the computer hasn’t been hibernating properly and randomly wakes up inside my case. However, this has been easily solved by shutting down which has only been a minor unconvinced especially since the surface boots so quickly. In addition,  the touch cover sometimes  remains active when flipped back behind the tablet and the screen’s touch points seemed to be less sensitive. Eventually this issues reached a tipping point and I choose to do a clean install using the reset feature built into windows. Despite the added hassle of re-installing all my important apps this has helped to clear the unwanted trash from my surface, freeing up space while solving all my problems.

Regardless of these little headaches I have been generally impressed with Windows 10’s changes to the modern UI introduced with Windows 8 as subtle developments make it blend more seamlessly with the desktop mode. The removal of the maligned charms bar is just the beginning as the desktop like taskbar and vertical scrolling also serve to tie in the start screen with the desktop interface and the revamped start menu. In the same way the notifications centre and task button new across the operating systems remains the same in both interfaces, these element make Windows 10 feel more cohesive and less the Jekyll and Hyde of its  predecessor. Beyond the look of the OS one of Microsoft’s biggest new features, Continuum really comes into its own on this type of hybrid device as it detects the presence of my type cover and changes the interface accordingly. The other major development that has improved usability is the opening of traditional windows applications in a full screen mode rather then automatically kicking the user into the desktop mode. These improvements are more then enough for anyone using a hybrid or touch device to take advantage of the free upgrade and leave Windows 8 behind.

Dell Inspiration 2310 All In One

In recent months my Dell all in one has been struggling so the upgrade to Windows 10 provided an ideal opportunity to do a clean install. Once I finished the upgrade my experience on the desktop has been very similar to my old laptop with a noticeable improvement in performance. The main feature of windows 10 I wanted to test out on the desktop was Xbox streaming which works exceptionally well depending on your home network. Originally, after connecting to my Xbox One and performing a test my network did not even support the minimum requirements. Much to my surprise this did not prevent me from streaming as it was still possible to play the original Perfect Dark thanks to Rare Replay with some shuttering. This was never going to satisfy me, so after a quick network upgrade I was glade to find my system now capable of the achieving the extra high resolute introduced in Microsoft’s update.

Final Thoughts

These are not the only new features and changes with Windows 10 as their is the introduction of a new browser in Microsoft Edge which is a clear improvement on Internet Explorer and just needs to be updated to allow extension as well as the Mac like inclusion of multiple desktops. Additionally, you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana since it has been one of the major developments implanted in Windows 10. Unfortunately, as some of you might know on launch Cortana was limited to just 4 countries and Australia was one of many to miss out. Microsoft have promised to start rolling out the service to more uses later this year with the promise that Cortana will be individual to each culture, hopefully that will mean a digital assistant that can understand the Auzzie accent.  Regardless of these features and the slight disappointment of our Halo themed friend I can confidently recommend an upgrade, just think about talking the extra time to do a clean install.

A half baked release?

It’s official windows 10 is set for July 29 and I’m definitely excited. After months of testing the developing incarnations of the OS my expectations are largely based on personal experience not just reading the thoughts of other tech heads. Since day one I have seen great potential in Microsoft’s latest flagship as it combines the positive aspects of Windows 8 like performance and a touch friendly interface with the usability of Windows 7 by bridging the gap by adding important features like continuum. A fan of Windows 8 from the beta stage I sometimes have been frustrated by the difficulty others have with the duel interface set-up but it does require people to think about how they want to use their computer at any given time while lerning new skills. In theory Windows 10 tries to fix these two issues as the OS seems to be more intuitive with modern apps being able to operate in a traditional windowed layout and the return of the start menu after the charms experiment should make it more accessible for the average user. All this suggests that Microsoft maybe moving in the right direction to leverage their desktop and enterprise dominance to improve their mobile presence.

Except one false start could cost Microsoft the future it has been building towards as the consumer market relies mere on hype and momentum then actual performance. Microsoft has some history failing to capitalise on new products through poor marketing and limited release especially in markets outside the USA. In Australia I know this only to well as I watched the release of the Microsoft Band from across the globe without being able to get my hands on a couple, even the Surface tablets were only released online until poor sales convinced Microsoft of the importance of getting the device in retail stores where people could play with the device. Unfortunately, the news about Windows 10 suggests we might confront similar limitations with possibly missing features at launch and the restriction of Cortana to only a handful of countries. This brings back memories of Windows phone 8.1 and changing my region just to test out Microsoft personal assistant. The absence of headline features at launch is frustrating for consumers like myself and might just prevent Windows 10 from reaching the success that Microsoft dreams of, hopefully they can learn from past mistakes.

Until we learn more,

Jono

Apple Insider: Hypocisy at work

I Bet My Life: Microsoft HoloLens perfectly targets its core competency.

I never really wanted to just rant about Apple on this Blog as I feel like it just takes away from the intelligence of my analysis and makes people think I can’t be objective but after reading this editorial and some of the comments on Apple Insider I have to admit that my blood was up and I felt like tacking apart some of the more ridicules points.

Starting with the idea that Apple’s last 2 hour event actually presented people with more substance and innovation, “By way of comparison, Apple’s last event to exceed two hours introduced iOS 8, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple Pay, Apple Watch, a performance by U2 and another 15 minutes to spare.”  The first announcement was mobile OS which has been updated yearly for sometime and there fore was hardly news, while the next is the latest incarnation of a phone released in 2007 with the same level of minor changes that we have come to expect and of course the same phone with a bigger screen to combat the rising demand for Android Phablets. In fact Apple Pay and the Apple Watch were the only ‘new’ products announced the later being expected for the last few years was also hardly a surprise.

The editorial than continued to attack Microsoft over the features that they are including in Windows 10 “ostensibly free OS updates, a standards compliant web browser with Safari Reader, Office running on a mobile device, third party apps that run on a mobile device, AirPlay wireless distribution and Siri“. I think the first point here is a bit irrelevant because while Apple have released free updates their Operating Systems only run on their devices which people have to buy to begin with and considering the premium cost of these products the argument could be made that the cost of the Operating System is included. He then talks about Safari which is only every used on an iOS device partly because of restrictions on other web browsers, despite this the Reader that he is so proud of does not include the Note Taking mode which is by far the key feature of Project Spartan. Finally, he talks about Siri which we know does not have the same personalised capabilities that make Cortana different  and is restricted to iOS which means it is not available on the 8% of people who use Macs for their computing needs.

If this had not already got me started I would have his next attack on HoloLens would have done the job as it smacked of hypocrisy and someone who buys the coloured version of history that Apple has created. He argues that HoloLens is hardly a unique product with features “that PrimeSense showed off two years ago” this is no doubt true as it is very rare that anything in technology is truly new but is rather a refinement of already exciting products. Apple’s own success is a perfect example the first tablet was launched in 2001 running Windows but flopped because it did not have touch friendly UI and was not very portable along came the iPad and refined these problems. Even the iPhone was based on the existing capabilities of phones at the time which already had internet access, email, games and a range of utilities like calculators  but by boarding this experience and making some alterations to the form factor to make use of a touch screen Apple created smartphones. Finally we come to their latest product the Apple Watch which is following in the footsteps of hundreds of different devices including the Samsung Gear and Microsoft Band just to name a few.

His final attack was on Microsoft sketch record with hardware releases including Zune, Surface, Windows Phone and surprisingly Xbox. Now I would be the first to admit that Zune and Windows Phone continue to be a large stain on Microsoft’s history as they try to make themselves appear credible hardware developers but only in some kind of virtual reality could the Xbox be tarnished with the same brush. Especially considering the success of the 360 as the dominate console of the last generation and strong sales of Xbox One which is admittedly still only the second fasted selling console in history. Finally, we come to Surface whose first two versions have been marred by poor sales tied to the pointless creation which was Windows RT but leaving this behind and focusing on raw power and a full PC experience the Surface Pro 3 has become rather successful, inspiring a few knock offs including the rumoured iPad Pro.

I respect what Apple has done for technology and while I don’t personal use their products unless I’m forced to I understand their appeal however I don not appreciate blind fan boys attacking other companies especially with erroneous and hypocritical statements.

 

Windows 10: A New Beginning (Part 1)

It was a busy day for tech enthusiasts as Microsoft gave us the next look at Windows 10 and even had a few surprises that they had manage to keep secret. After watching this morning’s keynote and checking my preferred news feeds here is the first part of my roundup of what we have to look forward to later this year.

A Universal Operating System

The familiar desktop with the new modern start menu

The familiar desktop with the new modern start menu

 

To start Terry Myerson VP of Operating Systems gave us the news we all wanted to hear that windows 10 will be a free for the first year for anyone upgrading from Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. This serves a practical purpose for Microsoft by trying to compensate for the ill will towards Windows 8 and also by addressing the fragmentation of the 1.5b Windows users which limit developer interest. In the fine print it also suggests that Microsoft may turn to a subscription service like Office 365 since it is only free for the first year, if priced well such a move would still benefit consumers as existing subscribers would have access to the regular updates that Microsoft has promised in this new world of Windows as a service.

It was left to Joe Belfore to do the heavy lifting and showcase the latest features of Windows 10 starting with a recap of what we already know, including continuum the way in which the OS detects and changes between touch and keyboard inputs making it great for a hybrid device. However, it was the introduction of Cortana which everyone was waiting for and it didn’t disappoint as it uses existing features like the notebook to personalise your Windows experience from searching your files and the web to dictating your emails. Cortana like the other apps that Belfore demonstrated including a touch friendly Office with near full functionality are all universal apps across phones, tablets and PC’s with synced settings in addition to a similar UI experience that is scaled to a specific device.

Finally the worst kept secret was on show with Project Spartan, Windows new browser. The streamlined design and new rendering engine won’t really draw much attention but are the key to making a better working experience. The real excitement comes from the note taking mode which allows you to annotate using a pen or keyboard web pages and share them with others. In addition the new reading mode maybe the answer to getting rid of annoying advertising when you’re browsing and combined with the reading list will help keep track of your interests online. Of course Cortana come imbedded and I really liked the idea that if you’re looking at a restaurant she will get you everything from directions to reviews and importantly this can easily be synced with your phone.

Written and typed web annotations.

Written and typed web annotations.

To finish software part of the presentation it was passed to the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, to showcase gaming on Windows 10. Starting with the Xbox app which brings all the social features we have become familiar with on Xbox One including the activity feed and friends lists. This means that we remain connected to our fellow gamers even when we are away from the console and using the new built-in Game DVR function ( Windows + G) we can share our PC gaming experience. However, for me it was all about the games and the promise of Direct X 12 to improve detail so it was Phil’s demonstration of playing Fable Legends on a Surface Pro with a Lauren from Lionheart using an Xbox One. This is something I have wanted for a long time (since Halo was released on PC 10 years ago) as I have never been great with a keyboard but still wanted to play alongside friends who don’t have an Xbox, finally my dreams have been answered. To complete my gaming paradise with Windows 10 we can stream any game from our Xbox One to our PC screen, perfect for when my fiancée wants to watch Sex in the City.

Xbox app complete with games, friends and activity feed.

Xbox app complete with games, friends and activity feed.

That’s it for part one, tune back in tomorrow for my take on the hardware surprises unveiled today.

Cheers

Jono