Archive for 2012


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NuTouch Touch Screen Gloves

Friday, December 21st, 2012

nutouchgloves1A problem I'm sure is common to most people who live in colder climates in this day and age is that it's quite frustrating when you're shovelling snow or waiting for a bus and you can't use your smartphone without taking your gloves off and risking losing feeling in your hands for the rest of the day.  While there are several touch screen glove solutions floating around out there to ensure our hands live for another day, most will either run you between $20-$30 for a single pair or be of such poor quality that they're essentially useless.  This is where Newer Technology comes in with their $9 NuTouch conductive touch screen gloves.  Do these gloves keep your hands toasty-warm while letting you use your touch devices, or do they leave you out in the cold?  We'll touch on our time with them after the jump.

Saskatchewan is a uniquely perfect place to test winter wear of all kinds.  As I'm writing this it's -26 Celsius outside (about -15 Fahrenheit for silly people still using Fahrenheit) with "light flurries", also known as sun-tanning weather.  Anyways, during the winter months we're no strangers to needing to put a parka on just to go get your mail out of the mailbox.  Being someone who uses their iPhone a lot in these kind of weather conditions, I've often found myself freezing my hands into claw-like nubs while trying to do something as simple as checking my email while waiting for a bus. 

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Before going into the particulars of my glove testing, I'll talk about these gloves' specs.  As pictured above, they come in a dark grey colour and the conductive fingertips are slightly darker, but not to the point of looking silly.  The darker colour of the gloves make them fairly versatile as far as fashion is concerned.  I was able to wear them just as easily with my formal evening wear as I was with my every day stuff.  They're made of 52% Cotton, 24% Rayon, 10% Spandex and the conductive material for the fingertips takes up the remaining 14%, Silver Nylon.  Unlike many of their competitors, the gloves are conductive on all ten fingers, so if you're doing any iPad-ing in a cold environment, you won't have to hen-peck on the touch screen keyboard.  The gloves come in S,M,L,XL sizes ranging from 7 1/4" to 9 5/8" hand lengths respectively, or from smallish to Andre the Giant size.  For most things including hats, shoes, shirts, gloves you usually can't put enough Xs in front of the L for me, but my dainty hands clocked in as a M on the NuTouch size scale.  The large glove sizes show that these are meant for adults more than children. 

For testing, I replaced my usual red Canadian Olympic 2012 mitts with the NuTouch gloves for a week.  They experienced a dressy event, shovelling my driveway, knocking a large buildup of snow off of our garage, many random errands, and a single regular wash (even though it's recommended that you hand-wash them -- make sure to hang them to dry, though) over the test period and I was generally quite impressed at every turn.  Aside from it being a little more slick and not leaving fingerprints, there's no mechanical difference between using the gloves or not.  I never had to worry or even think about what part of the gloves were touching the phone, they always worked perfectly with my iPhone without any missed taps. 

While the gloves are soft and comfortable, the only downside that I can think about them is that they're not terribly insulating.  Just like the regular cotton gloves that they would replace, they're more for temperatures around -15 Celcius or above.  You'll definitely feel the chill if you try to use them instead of something like Hot Paws when it's nearing -30.  NewerTech has thought of this, though, and right on the package it says, "Wear them by themselves, or as liners with heavier cold winter gloves."  That didn't originally make any sense to me (they won't magically imbue gloves put over them with touch screen interactivity), but when I gave it a swing while shovelling my driveway the cleverness of this mitt set-up dawned on me.  Firstly, it makes your larger gloves even warmer, which is great, or even allows you to wear slightly lighter gloves or mitts than you normally would because of the extra insulation.  When you want to do something on your phone, you just pop off a heavier glove like you normally would, but now instead of scrambling to do something on your phone before you need to start filing for a membership to the War Amps, you can take your time because the NuTouch gloves are there to protect your hands for longer than normal.

All-in-all, the NuTouch gloves work exactly as described and are a godsend for smartphone laden Canadians (and people in other cold places).  At a price that is anywhere from 50-75% lower than many of its competitors with top-notch build quality, NuTouch gloves would make a perfect (late) Christmas present for any techies on your list.

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  • Soft and comfortable
  • Work with most fashion attires for both sexes
  • Come in many large sizes
  • Work as well as bare hands with touchscreens (plus no fingerprints!)
  • A steal at $9, much cheaper than competitiors
  • Well-made
  • Could perhaps be a bit warmer

Rated 9.8

A review pair of gloves was provided to us by Newer Technology

This Is Not an App (iOS)

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

notanapp1

Progress: More or less completed all 50 pages

An author and illustrator named Keri Smith has put out a successful series of books including Wreck This Journal and This Is Not a Book in which many of the pages are largely blank and the reader is encouraged to do different creative things on each page.  Attempting to harness the creative potential of iOS devices, Penguin Group has released app versions based on these books and we were given the opportunity to put This Is Not an App through its paces.  Does the app open up a creative wonderland on your iOS device or is it just one of the many apps out there of questionable merit?  Read on to find out if we think it really is an app in spite of its claims to the contrary.

While having a mostly blank journal to encourage people (particularly kids) to use their imaginations and draw fancy things is a fairly novel idea, I had no idea about what to expect from an app built around the same principles.  I'll start off by describing the app in general before I get to my opinions of it.

The app presents you with 50 "different" (I'll explain the quotation marks in a second) pages that ask you to do anything from drawing something, to cataloguing something, to taking pictures of certain things, to recording your voice... and that's it.  You are given several different tools, but no tutorial on how to use them, so I didn't even know you could scroll the tool bar at the bottom until I saw it in different positions in screenshots of the app.  The tools themselves are varied enough, including three different drawing tools, a text tool, a picture taking tool, a photo library tool, and copy/paste tools, but there are also ones that are mostly pointless that I didn't even use other than to find out what they did including a smudge tool, a "make a fake crack" tool, and paint drip tool.

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I had a modicum of fun with some of the pages, like the one pictured above where I included pictures from the photo library on my phone of (from left to right) a donut, a cat, a book on Identifying Wood, a sleeping beagle, and myself wearing headphones to represent the senses of taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing respectively. Or this one where I purposely misinterpreted the word "movement":
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I found probably about 30% of the pages to just be so sappy or annoying that I didn't bother doing them, like the page below:

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The reason I put quotation marks around the word "different" when I was describing This Is Not an App's 50 pages is that many of the pages are very similar to one another bringing the count of totally original pages in the app down closer to 40 or less.  For example: there are three pages that ask you to get someone else to draw something nondescript on the page, two pages that more or less just instruct you to email them to someone, and a single page that instructs you to do nothing to it.

You could say that the reason I didn't enjoy the app is that I'm not creative enough (sure, I only design original websites, graphics, and write articles for a living), but I never felt terribly engaged by the app.  Where selling a mostly blank book with creative ideas on the pages is a pretty cool idea, the concept does not transfer well into the app world at all.  What you get, even if you do humour the inane requests on every single page, is a glorified drawing tool app that provides the same or less amount of enjoyment that a truly creative person could get from a free app like Paper or Sketchbook Express.  I can't recommend this app for anyone at it's current $4.99 price when there are an almost infinite number of cheaper or free apps that can do the same or better job of encouraging creativity.

TLDR

  • This Is Not an App is hard to navigate, as no directions are given on how to use its numerous tools
  • There are small moments of fun to be had, but you could probably come up with similar things to do on your own
  • For $4.99 you get less than 50 original, mostly blank pages that most people would quickly blow through
  • Many of This Is Not an App's features can be better enjoyed through apps that are cheaper or free.

Rated 4.9

(out of 10.0 — see our review system outline here)

A review copy of this app was provided to us by its publisher.

Official Word on Nuketown 2025 on Wii U

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The day the Wii U came out I attempted to contact Activision regarding the Nuketown 2025 map that was promised for Wii U, but then unceremoniously pulled and swept under the rug at the very last second.

This evening I finally received official word from Activision's tech support, and unfortunately it's not great news, but I'm sure it's what most of us expected:

Thank you for contacting Activision Customer Support. I can understand how annoying and confusing that must have been. We’re sorry but unfortunately we are not able to offer Nuketown 2025 on the Wii-U platform at this time. Sorry for the inconvenience and once anymore information about that comes out, it will be announced on our official channels ( like the support website or https://twitter.com/Treyarch ) so please check them out from time to time.

There you have it. It's basically tough crap for Wii U owners for the foreseeable future and makes you wonder just what Nintendo's doing behind the scenes that's forcing all of the third parties to delay or cancel their Wii U DLC.  Whatever it is, I hope they fix the situation soon, we'll keep you posted if anything changes.

Newer Technology Power2U

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

It seems like every electronic device that you get these days is supposed to be charged via USB.   Most of them come with USB/AC adapters, but these can take up a lot of wall outlet and power bar space.  This is where NewerTech comes in with their Power2U wall outlet that features 2 USB ports in addition to the usual pair of AC outlets.  We were able to put a black unit through its paces recently, so is the Power2U the revolutionary space-saver it sets out to be or should it be charged with inadequacy?  Read on to see what kind of electrifying experience we had with the Power2U.

While it's a bummer to start with, I have to lead with a warning that the Power2U has a lot of junk in its trunk, so you need to be absolutely certain that you have roomy 16 cubic inch electrical outlet boxes in your home/office/etc. before rushing out to order some.  Older homes, trailers, bungalows and the like may very well not have enough room for the extra back bits on the Power2U -- it took us a good long while before we were able to find a friend of Game Usagi with a house new enough to have these roomier electrical boxes.

With that said, the Power2U ended up being a fairly impressive product once we found a place for it.  With the choice of four colours, there should be one suitable for colour-coordinated placement in most homes.  We chose black so that it could be easily differentiated from the standard USB-free white outlets we had about the place and it looked super-slick once it was installed.

Installation, incidentally, is a breeze with the Power2U.  We had an electrically-inclined friend install it for us, but when we saw how easy it was to install we could have probably done it ourselves.  Instead of requiring the wires to be shoved into random places like the outlet it was replacing, the Power2U just has four screws on the side to tighten around the cables making it more or less idiot proof (as long as you remember to turn off the power breaker for the outlet before installing, derp).

The USB ports on the Power2U have spring-loaded shutters on them to apparently turn off the ports when they're not in use.  The fact that they automatically close means that you can't just blindly thrust your USB cable into the port as you would with a computer or AC adapter.  While it felt a little inconvenient at first, we found that if you use the USB plug itself to open the shutter while you're inserting it you're able to avoid any fingernail fumbling or having the port closing in the process.  It's also probably a lot more safe and environmentally friendly to have the ports shut off when they're not in use anyways.

The iPods, iPhones, iPads, Android phones, portable speakers, PS3/360 controllers, and bluetooth headsets that we tried charging with the built-in USB ports all charged at least as quickly as with their AC adapters and didn't interfere with plugging other things in to the proper AC outlets.  Even though we couldn't install one in our office, the Game Usagi friends who are still using the Power2U love it and say that it saves them from having to search for adapters or unplug their coffee machine when they want to charge their phones at night.

Overall, if you have the spare outlet box room for a Power2U it's hard not to recommend it for easily and unobtrusively charging your USB devices.  The Power2U retails for $24.99 US, but can be had for as little as $11.50 depending upon where you shop online. We give this product a:

Rated 9.6

Editor's Choice Award

A review unit was provided to us by OWC

Wii U Impressions and Secrets

Friday, November 30th, 2012

wii-U-sagi

Well, it's been almost a full two weeks since the Wii U came out and we've poured tons of time into playing around with many of the Wii U's system features and launch games.  It's been a surprisingly great time overall, so check out our initial impressions and some secrets about the Wii U we discovered along the way after the jump.

System Impressions:

  • Wii U set-up in general is very smooth and quick with instructions appearing on the TV and most of the actions taking place on the GamePad.  The universal remote feature in particular was as easy as selecting "LG" for us and we were good to go.
  • The first update that adds Miiverse among other things takes about an hour to download and install even if your Internet connection is really fast.  This is unfortunate, but not really world-ending.
  • Each game you go to play for the first time will also have an update to download and these usually take an average of about 10 minutes or slightly more to download and install.
  • Miiverse is overall one of the very best things about the Wii U, but is restrictive in a way reminiscent of fascist Germany or the world in George Orwell's 1984.  Big Brother is always watching you on Miiverse, and you'll be surprised with what you can and cannot post.  
  • I got into trouble no less than three times with Miiverse's moderators: twice for putting GameUsagi.com in my profile in different ways and once for my Mii's name MrMiyamoto (which they eventually relented on and let me keep).  When your Mii's name is under review it shows up as a bunch of asterisks (*******) in Miiverse.
  • The screenshot uploading functionality, spoiler marking, and ease of access from the Home menu make Miiverse a truly revolutionary video game community.  I got stuck in Scribblenauts Unlimited a few times and was always able to get answers to my queries on Miiverse in the matter of a couple minutes. 
  • Friend-adding is already far superior to previous Nintendo systems, but still has a little way to go before it's perfect.  To add a friend, you can go into the Friend List app from the Home menu and enter their NNID, but it doesn't inform them in this way that you added them.  People you add only receive friend requests if they're added through Miiverse instead of through the Friend List app.  This disparity is confusing and unnecessary, so I hope it gets patched fairly soon.
  • Even though I've played many different kinds of games on the Wii U, I was surprised that by and large you use either the GamePad screen or the TV, almost never both of them together (even in Nintendo Land).
  • The Wii U Internet browser, aside from no longer supporting flash and some very poor data management decisions that I discuss below, is a definite winner.  Websites (including Game Usagi) all load very quickly, look just as good as they would on a computer, and are easily navigated and used.  Easily beating out the PS3 browser and IE on the Xbox 360, if you're looking for a robust Internet solution for your TV (or on the GamePad) look no further than the Wii U.

Software Impressions:

  • Nintendo Land makes a good case for "asymmetric multiplayer" wherein the person with the GamePad is given a different role than those using Wii remotes or Pro controllers.  While it doesn't feel amazingly revolutionary, passing around the GamePad so that everyone can have a turn being the special character works quite naturally and is much more fun than inconvenient.
  • A downside to having Miis representing actual people roaming around your Nintendo Land plaza is that they share messages from other players, which all too often regard large wangs, and unlike the sometimes stifling moderation on Miiverse, there is no way to report Nintendo Land messages.
  • The selection of games and the number of levels therein in Nintendo Land is quite impressive when compared to games like Wii Sports and Wii Play
  • Black Ops 2 performs admirably on the Wii U in both single player and multiplayer.  Where the game really shines on the Wii U, aside from the free quality online matchmaking (which is just a little short on players at the moment), is the ability to take the GamePad around in a 20-30(-ish) foot radius so that you don't need to skip out on a few more multiplayer matches if you have to do something like go to the bathroom or go to bed.  The lack of clan management through CoD Elite as well as the Nuketown 2025 map and Double XP promotions are major annoyances, but the game still stands on its own without them.
  • Black Ops 2 is also where the Pro Controller really shines.  After only a day or two of getting used to the controller, I now prefer it for FPS' over the 360 controller (*gasp* I know! It's crazy!).  The Pro controller is really comfortable and quickly becomes second nature for any core players.
  • ZombiU is dastardly difficult.  Difficult to the point that I stopped playing it.  I can understand how some people would like it, but for me it felt really clunky having to keep looking down at the GamePad when I was searching bodies or trying to fast travel.  Time doesn't stop while you're doing these time-consuming things, either.  My first attempt at fast travelling resulted in my first demise as I couldn't figure out the fast travel menu fast enough at first glance.  If this sounds like heaven to you and you're a masochistic gamer, then have at it, but I prefer immersion to forced unnecessary difficulties. 
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited is charming and fun as always.  The content level is indeed quite on the low side for a game that costs $60, especially when the exact same game (without the very limited Nintendo characters) can be had on the PC for $30 or without the confusing and hard-to-use item/character creation feature for the 3DS for $40.
  • The Nintendo characters in Scribblenauts Unlimited are neat, but they can't really be used to solve puzzles and you can't do anything fun with them like dress them up or use them in the item creator, which is an enormous bummer.
  • While quite fun, the Scribblenauts Unlimited multiplayer is difficult to use and too restricted to be amazing.  Players with Wii remotes can take control of virtually any item spawned by the player with the GamePad, but when you're controlling them you have to go through menus to interact with anything and since you can't spawn anything yourself or usually help too much in the main starite missions, it becomes a drag pretty quickly.
  • Assassin's Creed 3 I actually haven't played much yet even though we have it.  It looks great from what I've played, but I'm still not sure yet how indispensable or not the GamePad features will be. 
  • There is a uPlay app available where you can manage your u point things that you earn in AC3/ZombiU and this fortunately works pretty well and is a nice feature overall. 
  • The Youtube Wii U app is unfortunately garbage right now.  The Youtube website runs beautifully in the Wii U Internet browser, though, so this isn't that big of a deal.  But since you can't navigate the app or watch the actual videos on the GamePad it's more or less useless until this gets patched in. 

Secrets:

  • If you press X to switch WaraWara Plaza to the GamePad, you can use ZL and ZR to spin the game icons around freaking all of the Miis out.  Also, if you pan to the top of WaraWara Plaza, you can see some of the icons that float around behind the channel menu floating above the Miis.
  • The Miis in WaraWara Plaza express the emotion chosen alongside the message in Miiverse when they talk.
  • The GamePad accepts many headphones that include microphones as headsets including the headphones that come with iPhones and iPods.  Rocketfish does make official Wii U headsets as well, though.
  • In channel loading screens there is a rounded  border near the top of the TV screen and near the bottom of the GamePad screen making it like they're one big screen.
  • In many menus, the sounds and music coming from the GamePad are different than those coming from the TV giving the music a funky surround sound effect if you have them both on at once.
  • The GamePad can be used as a TV remote without turning the Wii U on, just press the TV button and you can use the controls like normal.
  • The Pro Controller connection is handled by the Wii Remote/Other controller menu on the Wii U even though it can't be used in Wii emulation mode.
  • Don't plan on viewing any porn or other sensitive sites through the Wii U's Internet browser unless you want everybody using the console to know, or don't plan on keeping any bookmarks.  While there is a separate clear cookies option, clearing your history can only be done by completely deleting the browser's save data including settings and bookmarks.  This is particularly unusual because the 3DS (and I believe even the Wii) browser has a regular clear history option just like every other decent browser for the past 10 years.

That's a summary of what we think about the Wii U and some of its launch games overall.  Did we miss touching on something you want to know about?  Ask us in the comments section and we'll do our best to answer all of your burning Wii U inquiries.

The Last Of Us (PS3) Preview

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

When did the end of the world ever look so beautiful? Immerse yourself in a gripping post-apocalyptic world in this PS3 exclusive title from Naughty Dog entitled The Last of Us. Throughout the game you travel to abandoned places reclaimed by the power of nature and survive not only monsters but all the dangers that roam in these cities.

Twenty years after a fungus was set loose to infect and kill people turning them into what are called "The Infected", the military is under control of the government and is keeping everyone quarantined. Resources are scarce, so the survivors must scour the quarantine zones for ammunition to protect themselves from each other.

In The Last of Us you play as Joel, a black market dealer selling weapons and drugs and you work with a smart young girl named Ellie to survive everything the world throws at you including the Scavengers, the Infected, and the Military.

The gameplay and environments are as realistic as is gets. Bullets can fatally wound enemies, easily making them bleed out and thereby killing them with a single shot. Take extra precaution, though, as automatic health regeneration isn’t featured in the game. You have to find health packs to heal yourself, but getting them may alarm your enemies. Creative use of items like Molotov Cocktails is necessary if you want to survive. When The Last of Us comes out next year, be ready to carefully plan your move in your fight for survival.

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David Thompson is a fresh and upcoming technology and entertainment blogger who enjoys the challenges of creativity and attention to detail. His specific areas of interest include film, gaming and the mobile industry.

Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Sci-Fi FPS
Players: 1-2 for campaign, 2-4 for single-console multiplayer, 2-16 online
Console: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: 6 hours 47 minutes in campaign, 14+ hours in multiplayer
Progress: Completed the campaign doing the first 3 chapters in Heroic and the last few in Normal. Reached SR 19 in online multiplayer.  Played a good deal of local multiplayer including a lot of Grifball.

The reins for the famous Halo series were handed over to 343 Industries from Bungie after their polarizing release of Halo Reach in 2010.  The release of 343's first main series Halo game was met with considerable hesitation from the gaming community, which is understandable considering how this is one of the first AAA game series to completely and permanently switch development studios in modern gaming history.  Some people were worried that 343 might tarnish their beloved series falling short of Bungie's original magic, while others were hopeful that the switch might cure the Halo series of the stagnation it was experiencing in the hands of its creators.  Is Halo 4 a step in the right direction for Microsoft's flagship game series, or does it fall short of the glory of the series' earlier entries? Perhaps we should just lose faith in the series and start a poker binge on partycasino.com, or whatever it is us gamers do in our spare time instead.  Read on to see what we thought of our latest jaunt with The Chief. 

  • Halo 4 picks up right where Halo 3 left off as far as Master Chief is concerned, but there is technically a 4-year time jump.
  • To avoid spoilers, the story is in short that the human race is now fighting back against the universe that's been pushing it around for the past few games and The Chief is helping them out while also dealing with issues with Cortana and some shiny new enemies known as Prometheans and their puppet-master(s).
  • The main campaign follows Master Chief's exploits specifically while the story in the Spartan Ops mode that replaces Firefight follows the stories of the other Spartans serving on an enormous human warship called the UNSC Infinity.

  • Halo 4's gameplay in campaign mode is more or less standard as far as the Halo series is concerned, and the most comparable to Halo Reach as manually employable special abilities like cloaking and jet packs make their return.
  • Sprinting also returns in full glory, but this time instead of taking up the special ability slot, you can do it just by clicking down the left stick like in most other shooters these days.
  • A very limited Covenant faction appears in the game (without Brutes), so all of the Brute weaponry introduced in previous games like the Brute Shot and Spike Grenades are instead replaced by glowing orange Promethean weapons that more or less function quite similarly to both their Covenant and Human counterparts except for the fact that they can make enemies melt into ash.
  • The campaign is quite short, but it takes you from amazing set piece to amazing set piece constantly introducing new enemies, vehicles, weapons, abilities or some combination of them.  So, in spite of the length, Halo 4's campaign stands out as one of the series' strongest.
  • When playing on Heroic or Legendary difficulties, enemies (including Grunts) become significantly more resilient than usual, even when compared to previous games' legendary modes.  You don't have to worry about 343 skimping on the difficulty in higher levels. I ended up having to bump myself back down to Normal for my initial playthrough because I was getting so frustrated.
  • While it's nice that there is the option to play the game at considerable difficulties, the difficulty of even minor firefights against the lowest-level enemies feels more like a ploy to prolong the single player experience in the stead of additional story development or content.
  • There is a large Metroid Prime feel during the jungle-based missions, not only with the Promethean Knights' similarity to Space Pirates, but particularly with the Metroid and Batman Arkham inspired Promethan Vision ability that highlights enemies through objects in red.  I wish they had gone even further with this ambient feel, but that would have cut down on the explosions per second.

  • Unfortunately the multiplayer aspects of Halo 4 for are a little bleaker.
  • Regular Slayer, now called Infinity Slayer, maintains most of the mechanics from its previous incarnations with the notable exception that there are a lot fewer weapons to pick up around the maps.  This being almost the entire point of playing Slayer, I found this change extremely disappointing and the extra ways to obtain special weapons that they've added only serve to mess with the balance more instead of less.
  • One of the things that counteract the lack of general weapons lying about are Ordnance Drops that act similarly to care packages in recent Call of Duty games (but arrive a good bit faster once called) that allow you to choose from three random weapons (like a sniper, gravity hammer, or a new tommy-gun weapon to name a few) or temporary upgrades (like unlimited sprinting, increased weapon damage, or an overshield). 
  • Ordnance Drops are earned more or less through kills or other point-getting activities like capturing flags or holding the ball in Oddball.  Instead of making special weapons more rare, all this serves to do is put them into the hands of any players that are already beating the pants off of everyone and I'd rather let everybody have a fair chance at grabbing an energy sword or spartan laser than giving them by the bucketfull to the leaders. 
  • The other thing that tries to counteract the general lack of weapons laying about is that any weapons that are laying about have their locations permanently highlighted on the screen so that every player knows that they are available and where to get them.  Again, this often serves to hinder more than it helps, because inevitably there are a lot of plasma grenade or other lesser items scattered about the map that no one wants to bother to pick up and it starts to significantly clutter the screen with arrows and icons pointing them out whenever you glance in their general direction.
  • I'm not sure why 343 decided to mess with the primary weapon spawning mechanic of Halo to this degree and I'm hoping that they eventually patch in a mode called "Classic Slayer" or something similar where there are just more weapons around to pick up and you don't have to worry about the leaders receiving constant ordnance drops or having your screen filled with things telling you that you can pick up another pistol nearby.
  • The amount of players that can play any given multiplayer mode is unfortunately quite random.  Only up to two local players can play the Campaign or Spartan Ops modes, and up to four local players can play any of the other modes in the War Games category (Slayer, King of the Hill, etc.).  For online War Games matchmaking, you can even take up to four players per console online.
  • One of the best matchmaking modes is called Flood and works more or less in the same way as Juggernaut mode from Modern Warfare 3.  Two players start off as flood with a weapon equivalent to an energy sword, extra movement speed, and a choice of a couple helpful special abilities and try to infect the rest of the players (who are armed with shotguns), converting them into flood when they're killed.  The mode is score-based, though, so the players that perform the best overall win instead of just the flood/spartan teams.  (This was the best when we were playing only against MLG players, because it allowed us to be on their team for a while instead of being killed instantly by them all the time.)
  • Grifball is now an official mode from the get-go, but still can't be played in ranked online matches, only in custom matches.  There is also only one Grifball court thus far; it would be neat to see additional ones introduced in the future.
  • I only played the first Spartan Ops mission, and I played it alone, but it seems like a really nice replacement for the Firefight mode in previous Halo games, if only you could play it with more than two people locally.  It's story-driven, so you get to see a lot of pretty cutscenes in between fighting waves of enemies on decently large original maps.  You can also earn experience that goes toward your SR level by playing this mode, which is nice.

  • Perhaps the first Halo since Halo 2 that I can call genuinely graphically impressive
  • Art direction has been changed slightly from the last couple of Halos, and the change is welcome.  Not entirely as refreshing as it was in Halo 3: ODST, but again heading in the right direction
  • I know they worked really hard on the particle effects for the Promethean weapons, but I've seen people explode in many similarly pretty ways in many games, so it didn't move me as much as 343 probably wishes it did.
  • The one bad thing about the game's graphics is how much better they are in the pre-rendered cutscenes than in the game-proper.  Since they have the same kind of art direction, I was immediately disappointed with the in-game graphics having watched the lengthy pre-rendered opening cinematic, but soon enough grew to appreciate the in-game graphics more as the game progressed.  I believe most of the in-game cinematics use the in-game engine, but the beginning and ending ones kind of clash with the game, even though they look quite nice.
  • The in-game mouth movements for characters are much more believable than the ones in the pre-rendered cutscenes, though, all too often dropping the characters right to the bottom of the uncanny valley, which shouldn't really occur in this day and age.

  • The soundtrack for the game ranges from nice and unobtrusively mood setting to full-out sweeping Star Wars-like scoring.  I definitely preferred it when it was less noticeable, though, because I felt that the booming 90-piece orchestra in certain parts made it feel more like a detached movie than the rest of the game.
  • Sound effects are pretty standard throughout, but the voices of the Covenant enemies have changed a bit, most noticeably with the Grunts.  It's neither here nor there, really, but the sound effects are fine overall.

  • Main-line Halo games are usually good for Usagi Factor, and Halo 4 is no exception.
  • The many ranked multiplayer modes are where the heart of the experience ends up, even considering the game's decent campaign.  Once you're done starting the fight back up again, there are plenty of ways for you to have fun shooting at other Halo players across the world.
  • An expanded Forge mode, now so daunting that I didn't even look into it too much, will bring immense amounts of fun to the creative types looking to build their own maps and game modes.
  • Spartan Ops co-op mission-based story mode (promising more than 50 segments when its done) is an Usagi Factor goldmine encouraging you to keep playing as new parts are added every week to expand the story.
  • Achievements for completing the game at Heroic and Legendary levels will keep achievement enthusiasts like myself coming back for more punishment as we vie to have those extra few numbers added to our gamerscore.
  • There are also achievements for doing certain cool things in most levels, like there have been in previous Halo games, so that gives the player even more of a reason to go back and replay the admittedly few campaign levels.

Even though we only had other games journalists and MLG players to play against before the game officially launched, Halo 4 emerged from our play-testing as a surprisingly competent entry in the Halo series. The campaign, while nearly criminally short, is taut, engaging, and as challenging as you'd like it to be depending upon your difficulty settings.  The ranked multiplayer takes a few sharp left turns from convention, as is worse for them, but maintains much of the Halo charm that has been so carefully crafted and polished over the years.  There are many, many game modes allowing you to play around in virtually any way you want: creating levels, competing against the top Halo gamers in the world, working together through multiple campaigns, or just killing/maiming/destroying Grif.  343 Industries stepped up to the Halo plate and while they didn't hit an absolute home run with their first entry, they definitely took a base or two and it's a very encouraging sign for the series' future.

 Rated 8.8

 

A review copy of this game was provided to us by its publisher.

WordTag (iOS)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Genre: Social Word Game
Players: 2 online
Progress: Reached level 13

Social games and word games on iOS are a dime a dozen. Social word games? Maybe a dime per a dozen and a half. Juxta Labs' WordTag is one of the more recent entries into the social word game fray and promises to be like the popular app Draw Something except with words instead of pictures.  Does it do enough to differentiate itself from the crowd or does it fall by the wayside as so many other apps often do? Read on to see what we think about WordTag.

I was pretty interested when I first read about WordTag because I fancy myself to be pretty good with words.  Better at least than I am with my constantly embarrassingly bad drawing in games like Draw Something.  So, I took it for a test drive over the last week or so and had quite a good time.

The basic idea of WordTag is that you are given a choice of three words of certain coin value and you try to describe them without using a certain set of words that would help you the most.  For example, you could try to get your partner to guess the word hot-tub without using the words relax, warm, water, steam, bath or soak (or words that incorporate them like "bathe").  And end up with something like "a large indoor or outdoor basin filled with more than tepid liquid that people sit in for recreational purposes".  In this sense, it's very much like Draw Something, but it engages a different type of creativity that I am more attuned to, so I'd have to say I generally had a better time than with its spiritual predecessor.

Draw Something, a media darling not more than a couple of months ago, has largely petered out (much to Zynga's chagrin) as new and better things have come along and one of the apps stepping up to fill its space in our social phone lives is WordTag.  It's hard to say exactly what it was that made Draw Something become so tiresome after a few weeks, but Juxta Labs has at least taken some measures to attempt to prevent the same thing happening to WordTag.

For your $1.99 you get a handful of each item that helps you both guess and give clues to words such as one that will reveal all of the vowels or the first/last letter in the word you are guessing or one that can unlock one of the restricted words to either assist in your guessing or make writing your description a lot easier.  What I didn't appreciate, though, was the ever-present microtransactions that bare their ugly faces far too often in premium games these days.  Since you only start off with a few of these items, you burn through them quickly and are soon more or less required to purchase additional in-game currency (aside from the pittance you make from correctly guessing words) to obtain more of these items if you happen to require any extra assistance while playing.

Some of the other extra things that Juxta Labs incorporated into the game include badges you can earn (but apparently not show off to people you don't know) for selecting words from certain sets and increased coin payouts when you get on significant sized runs of correct guesses.  The things that prevent these elements from truly making WordTag a AAA iOS game, though, basically come down to poor execution: there's a "SV Bloggers" badge for getting people to guess the last names of famous bloggers, none of whom I've ever even remotely heard of, many of the badges require you to correctly use 20+ specific words that can only be unlocked for play by using another quickly spent item and are therefore impossible to get through regular play, I couldn't tell if others (even Facebook friends) could see your profile with the badges you've earned, and by default if you use Facebook to sign into WordTag it spams your feed with every word you describe and guess without telling you openly or giving you the option to disable it.

While I do have a good number of complaints with how it operates in its current version, the app overall is fairly slick and works well in most circumstances.  I had a lot of fun "using my words" to describe things in a roundabout way.  If you have $2 kicking around, you could certainly do worse than WordTag, and if you have a lot of Facebook friends that are good with words, there's a decent degree of entertainment to be had describing, guessing and earning coins.

  • A lot like Draw Something, but with a restricted word set instead of drawing
  • Has many additional bells and whistles including achievable badges and items to assist in play
  • Good presentation and generally functional app overall
  • Has fairly prevalent microtransactions even though it costs $1.99
  • Many of the badges are near impossible to earn and can't really be shown off

 

Rated 7.0

A review copy of this game was provided to us by its publisher.

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