Archive for September, 2009

MGM: Scar Symmetry-“Dark Matter Dimensions”

Scary_Symmetry_Dark_Matter_Dimensions

Shortly after acclaimed vocalist Christian Alvestam announced that he was departing from Scar Symmetry due to “creative differences,” many fans assumed the band was as good as gone. However, just as quickly as Alvestam left the remaining band members declared that they had found two separate vocalists to fill in the blank spot. It’s been a little over a year since “Holographic Universe” was released and we’re already being given “Dark Matter Dimensions,” the first album with the new front men (now available on the band’s MySpace). Is the band still in top form with two new members? Matt, Greg and Michael weigh in.

Matt’s Thoughts

I have to be frank, I’m really not too favorable towards bands that go for low grunt or growl vocal styles; it just sounds silly when used as a backbone for the sound. That said, whenever a band decides to add some actual singing to match or even soar over the aforementioned vocals it can be tough to complain. This album by Scar Symmetry manages to do a fairly good job at accomplishing this, and it isn’t too bad. Though I’ve given their other material a shot, “Holographic Universe” was the only one that I returned for more listenings. “Dark Matter Dimensions” is, fortunately for me, a fair successor to it. Admittedly some of the songs are easier to like than others, but I’d say this is close to or as good as “Holographic Universe.” If you’re like me and are still on-the-fence towards the more elaborate metal genres, then this release might be worth a shot.

Greg’s Thoughts

Not many bands have worked their magic on me like Scar Symmetry. As far as I’m concerned, their first three albums were all great and just varied enough from each other to avoid sounded redundant. The group’s latest, “Dark Matter Dimensions,” however, finds itself in a bit of a conflicted scenario. This conflict mostly comes out of it sounding a lot like what we’ve previously been given. Granted, if you dug the band’s other albums this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and this proved to be a very enjoyable album, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a little progression. The two new vocalists do a good enough job replacing Christian, though even together they can’t match his superior vocals. I’m hoping that this album was meant mostly to give an idea of what the new vocalists could accomplish, because this feels more like a “let’s see how we can re-do our previous material” scenario than a release of completely new songs. Overall though, if you enjoyed what the band have put out in the past and don’t mind this sounding like a re-hash (for lack of a better word) then it should be worth a purchase.

Michael’s Thoughts

Where do I begin with these guys? If there’s anything I could use to describe Scar Symmetry it would be that they’re amazing at first, but the more you listen the more you find the shortcomings. On a positive note, the lowest the band has hit thus far is fair; nothing they’ve released has really been rotten. And now we’re given “Dark Matter Dimensions,” the first album with Christian’s two heirs which turns out to be very much like the previous material except for one (major) difference: the shortcomings are abundantly clear from the get-go. Fortunately, we still don’t have any bad stuff present here, though some parts did scream “filler” to me. This album’s highlight for me was “A Parenthesis in Eternity,” which has an intro eerily similar to the In Flames title track off “Come Clarity” (and do I hear a bit of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in there too?). The two new vocalists, who alternate clean and harsh singing, aren’t half bad; but I don’t think we’ll see anyone even match Christian. One good thing does come out of this though: the guitarists finally have some shining moments. Since the vocals stood out so much on previous Scar Symmetry albums it was tough to really appreciate the guitars. Here, however, this is a different case and the mixing winds up sounding a bit more balanced. Stylistically and overall, this album is all around its predecessors; rising above them one minute and falling below them the next. Essentially, the progression is nonexistent, so the album does feel a bit cheap for one who wants a bit of change. All told, this is a pretty good album that’s very fun to listen to, but in the long run, I don’t see it leaving much behind.

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MGM: Need for Speed Shift

NFS Shift

EA hasn’t exactly been consistent about their Need for Speed franchise; both in regards to its styles and the overall quality.  Until Pro Street, the vast majority of these games had you driving recklessly and illegally in what were obviously arcade racers.  But then the aforementioned title came around, putting you in sponsored events and attempting to offer a more realistic driving experience.  Unfortunately, this translated into a poor game that had so many issues it could’ve been carried out for a good essay’s worth.  The next game, Undercover, attempted to revitalize the racing action from entries such as Most Wanted yet was about as fulfilling as its predecessor.  Now EA is giving us Need for Speed Shift, the first of three NFS games coming out this year alone, with this one bringing the series back on to closed off circuits.  Have developer Slightly Mad Studios given us a game worth checking out?

Matt’s Thoughts

This really wasn’t my kind of game.  I’ve about lost all faith in the series after the last two installments and Shift did little to reestablish this.  Granted, I’ve enjoyed the arcade-style NFS games since they’re the easiest to get into and the most straightforward.  But titles such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport really aren’t my style since they demand careful, precise driving.  This is not what I want in a racing game; I want speed, recklessness without consequence and an overall fun time.  The latest NFS entry leans more towards the simulation route, however.  While Shift does get fast and reckless, it’s not in a way that I (and I’m sure many others) will enjoy.  The visuals and cockpit view are nice, but I’m so used to driving in third person which really feels awful in this game.  It’s tough to decide whether I’d take this or the previous installments (it’s a disliked style versus obviously bad quality debate), so the best advice I can offer is if you want an arcade racer don’t put this on your list.

Greg’s Thoughts

Shift was definitely an interesting experience; which in my case means it was a mixed bag.  At first (with the default settings) it felt really awkward and imprecise, but after toying with the control sensitivities it became rather fun.  The game opens the option for you to be a precise or aggressive driver, which is definitely a nice touch.  However, the AI is still some of the lousiest you’ll find, especially if you’re trying to be precise (they LOVE to ram, slam and spin you out).  What I loved was the cockpit view (very immersive) and sense of speed, both of which contributed to make for an intense experience in all of the high Tier races.  However, the AI, fairly weak car list and disappointing customization options all bring this title down.  Like previous NFS games, this one feels like another year or so of development could’ve yielded a far superior package.  As it stands, this is a game that those who enjoy most any racing game will probably like in parts.

Michael’s Thoughts

This racing franchise has been in hot water recently but I’m glad to say that this return to form is a (mostly) successful one.  Shift is essentially what Pro Street wishes it could’ve even been even at half-decent quality.  The highly-emphasized cockpit view is a real treat, providing great immersion, a constant rush of adrenaline at high speeds and having perhaps the best racing game audio in a long time.  Racing action itself is also generally intense and quite fun.  Admittedly there are a lack of modes to keep things interesting (with Drift being bittersweet) but the game doesn’t demand you to complete so much.  This means those who just want to beat the game quickly can but those like me who enjoy the racing enough can keep going through for more cash, cars and potential possibilities.  Everything isn’t so great here, however, with the AI being the definition of inconsistent, a bare-bones online portion, too many recent cars included and not enough overall customization options.  If you know what you’re getting and are interested in the game then give it a rent to see if it tickles your fancy and decide if a purchase is in your best interest.  Otherwise, I think most of us will be more than content with Forza Motorsport 3 when it comes out.

Our final verdict is that if you enjoy just about any style of racer or like games that go for a simulation-oriented approach, then Shift might be worth a shot.  Even so, the game has some issues that prevent it from being able to maintain most people’s interest for very long (everything can be unlocked very quickly, car selection is fair, customization is limited, minimal online play).  Fortunately, this is at least a step back in the right direction for the franchise and we hope this will continue to be the case for future entries.

For my personal opinion and more details, you can check out my review on TalkXbox:

http://www.talkxbox.com/review1316.html

Brutal Legend Soundtrack Thoughts

BrutalLegendCover

When it comes to music-centered games, the soundtrack is almost always the ultimate deciding point as to whether I’ll buy the game or even give it a shot.  For instance, the soundtrack to Guitar Hero: Metallica was a key reason I decided to give the game a shot (that and the surprisingly fun demo).  However, looking at the soundtrack for Guitar Hero 5, I already figured the best I’d give the game was a rental, and unless they were to release some better tracks as downloadable content, that’s not changing.  Then there’s a game like Brutal Legend which puts emphasis on music while being an action/adventure game.  Though I had certainly heard about it before, my interest in the game was quite low, that is until I heard about the soundtrack.

For those who are curious, the game will feature over 100 songs, here’s the list:

  • 3 Inches of Blood – Deadly Sinners
  • 3 Inches of Blood – Destroy The Orcs
  • Accept – Fast As A Shark
  • Angel Witch – Angel Witch
  • Anthrax – Metal Thrashing Mad
  • Anvil – March of the Crabs
  • Anvil – Tag Team
  • Apostasy – Sulphur Injection
  • Bishop of Hexen – A Serpentine Grave
  • Bishop of Hexen – The Somber Grounds of Truth
  • Black Sabbath – Children of the Grave
  • Black Sabbath – Symptom of the Universe
  • Black Sabbath – Never Say Die
  • Brocas Helm – Cry of the Banshee
  • Brocas Helm – Drink the Blood of the Priest
  • Budgie – Breadfan
  • Budgie – Zoom Club
  • Candlemass – Witches
  • Carcass – No Love Lost
  • Cloven Hoof Nightstalker
  • Children of Bodom – Angels Don’t Kill
  • Coroner – Skeleton on your Shoulder
  • Cradle of Filth – Her Ghost in the Fog
  • Crimson Glory – Queen of the Masquerade
  • Dark Fortress – Insomnia
  • Dark Tranquility – Cathode Ray Sunshine
  • Deathstars – Blitzkrieg
  • Def Leppard – Rock of Ages
  • Dethklok – Mermaider
  • Diamond Head – Am I Evil?
  • Dimmu Borgir – Progenies of the Great Apocalypse
  • Dokken – Mr. Scary
  • Dragonforce – Through the Fire and Flames
  • Emperor – Thus Spake The Nightspirit
  • Enslaved – Frost
  • Enslaved – Loke
  • Firehouse – Overnight Sensation
  • Girlschool – Bomber
  • Iced Earth – When the Night Falls
  • Iced Earth – Pure Evil
  • In Flames – Goliaths Disarm Their Davids
  • Judas Priest – Battle Hymn
  • Judas Priest – The Hellion/Electric Eye
  • Judas Priest – Leather Rebel
  • Judas Priest – One Shot At Glory
  • Judas Priest – Painkiller
  • Kabbage Boy – Girlfriend
  • KMFDM – Free Your Hate
  • KMFDM – Rip The System
  • King Diamond – Cremation
  • King Diamond – Welcome Home
  • Kiss – God of Thunder
  • Lita Ford – Betrayal
  • Marilyn Manson – Beautiful People
  • Manowar – Die For Metal
  • Manowar – The Dawn Of Battle
  • Mastodon – Crack the Skye
  • Mastodon – Oblivion Instrumental
  • Megadeth – High Speed Dirt
  • Megadeth – Tornado of Souls
  • Metal Church – Metal Church
  • Michael Schenker – Group Assault Attack
  • Ministry – Stigmata
  • Ministry – Thieves
  • Mirrorthrone – So Frail
  • Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood
  • Motley Crue – Kickstart My Heart
  • Motley Crue – Live Wire
  • Motorhead – Back at the Funny Farm
  • Motorhead – In the Black
  • Motorhead – Marching Off to War
  • Motorhead – We Are the Road Crew
  • Nitro – Machine Gun Eddie
  • Omen – The Axeman
  • Ostrogoth – Queen of Desire
  • Overkill – World of Hurt
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Believer
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Mr. Crowley
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Diary of a Madman
  • Prong – Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck
  • Quiet Riot – The Wild and the Young
  • Racer X – Technical Difficulties
  • Racer X – Y.R.O.
  • Ratt – Lay It Down
  • Riot – Road Racin
  • Riot – Narita
  • Riot – Swords and Tequila
  • Rob Zombie – Superbeast
  • Rotting Christ – Ad Notics
  • Running Wild – Riding the Storm
  • Sanctuary – Battle Angels
  • Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King
  • Saxon – Wheels of Steel
  • Scorpions – Blackout
  • Scorpions – Holiday
  • Skeletonwitch – Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery
  • Skid Row – Youth Gone Wild
  • Slayer – Metal Storm/Face The Slayer
  • Slough Feg – Warriors Dawn
  • Static-X – Love Dump
  • Tenacious D – Master Exploder
  • Tenacious D – The Metal
  • Testament – For The Glory Of
  • Testament – More Than Meets The Eye
  • Tvangeste – Birth of the Hero
  • UFO – Rock Bottom
  • Whitesnake – Still of the Night
  • Wrath of Killenstein – Ignisis Dance

I have to say that after seeing this list my interest in the game practically skyrocketed.  I went from essentially ignoring to becoming interested and potentially purchasing this title.  Admittedly I’ll be keeping an eye out for early reviews so I can find out if it’s actually any good and fun, but this is likely my favorite licensed soundtrack to have been put in a videogame (Rock Band 2 had something for everyone, but as a metalhead, I think you can tell my eyes popped a few times here).

Some bands and songs did take me by surprise; both in regards to inclusions and exclusions.  What I’ll get out of the way first is that I’m ecstatic to see Judas Priest has some tracks on here, being my favorite band and all (with a chunk of the tracks being from Painkiller).  Black Sabbath is a great, necessary inclusion as well, with Diamond Head, King Diamond, Slayer, Tenacious D, Scorpions, Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth and Motorhead being other awesome, unsurprising additions.

King Diamond

King Diamond is bringing himself and grandma along, might as well invite Jay and Silent Bob.

But then there’s the song selection for some of these bands and a few bands I’m surprised made the cut.  Most of the songs by the more well-known artists aren’t particularly well-known by less enthusiastic metalheads (heck, even I don’t know some of the tracks-namely because I haven’t looked into them).  Some of the bands/songs that were pleasant surprises for me were Emperor (great song off an amazing album), Anvil (they’re famous enough, but not really talked about), Metal Church, In Flames (only because of the song choice, just glad it’s not a newer track), Enslaved and Dimmu Borgir (easily one of the most hated bands, but I like them).

Of course, the game does have some song/band choices that I think we could’ve done without or seen better song choices by.  For instance, “Angels Don’t Kill” isn’t one of Children of Bodom’s better tracks if you ask me.  DragonForce shouldn’t have even half the recognition they do (besides being painfully cliché, they can’t even do a decent job performing live-they’re all studio fluff), KISS, Marilyn Manson and Ministry really aren’t “metal” acts and the Testament choices aren’t the first I would’ve picked.

And finally, there are some bands/songs that I (and many others) are surprised to see excluded from the game.  Even if I’m not the biggest fan of all of them, where are Iron Maiden, Metallica, Heaven and Hell, At The Gates (since we have In Flames and Dark Tranquility), Death, Napalm Death, Pantera, Queensryche and Sepultura?  Oh well, no list can have everything.

metallica

Wait, we’re the most popular metal band and we aren’t even in this game that centers around…well, metal?

Even with some personal gripes, I’m still very pleased by this soundtrack and will definitely be keeping my eyes open for any new information about this game (more songs put in via downloadable content?).

Eternal Tears of Sorrow “Children of the Dark Waters” Review

Children_of_the_Dark_Waters_album

Eternal Tears of Sorrow are a band that has made a small name for themselves in the metal community.  Their success hit its highest with the release of 2006’s Before the Bleeding Sun, serving as the album to celebrate the return of their hiatus.  Now the band has given us their sixth studio effort, Children of the Dark Waters, which seems intent on satisfying both older and recently converted fans.  And at first, the band seemed to have pulled this off with wonders.

It’s definitely easy to be excited for the rest of the album after hearing the opening track “Angelheart, Ravenheart (Act II: Children of the Dark Waters).”  The song manages to sound eerily familiar to the closing track on its predecessor while bringing a great atmospheric sound of its own.  From there on, however, the album finds itself in a bit of a coerced mess.

Take the proceeding track for example, which has a far different structure and pacing that it can be tough to believe it’s on the same album.  This is the kind of feeling listeners are bound to run into throughout the album.  Fortunately, the album does have some stronger tracks that can feel a bit like saving graces.  The lead single, “Tears of Autumn Rain” manages to be of a quick pace without sounding like it’s trying to push the intensity.  Another good track in similar regards is “Midnight Bird,” easily the loudest, most forceful song on the album.  Fortunately, the synthesizer and keyboard elements are handled well enough to make this song a fun listen.

The rest of the album, however, embodies the predicament the album is caught in.  On one hand, there’s “Sea of Whispers,” which is slow but reminiscent of the sound most are more familiar with from the band.  And it’s this sound that is sorely missed since there are only a few indications of this present.  The other hand brings a song like “Summon the Wild” to the table, which feels like it’s just trying to be engaging but only winds up losing steam by its halfway mark.

With the exception of the album’s only slower track “Sea of Whispers,” there aren’t any songs that bring back the chilling sound found on anything up to A Virgin and a Whore.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Before the Bleeding Sun was a solid effort, but Children of the Dark Waters simply lacks the focus of that album.  As a result, this is an album that tries to appeal to different people but winds up feeling too conflicted and unsure of what direction to take.  Die-hard fans of the band (such as myself) will likely enjoy parts of this album and truth be told, it’s a fairly good effort all told.  Other listeners, however, aren’t so likely to enjoy (or appreciate) this album as much and probably won’t understand the praise behind the band.

Recommended Tracks:

Angelheart, Ravenheart (Act II: Children of the Dark Waters)

Tears of Autumn Rain

Sea of Whispers

3 and Half Blade

Dirt 2 First Impressions

Dirt 2 Cover

Although off-road racing has become the center theme for a fair share of games, not too many have stood out from the crowd save for Motorstorm and the Colin McRae-sponsored releases.  Fortunately, these games have usually offered plenty of solid racing action to keep players entertained for any number of hours.  The latest entry in this line of racing games, Dirt 2, comes sliding across several terrains with moderate expectations after its solid predecessor.  Just how well does the game seem to have improved based on the first few hours?

As with the first Dirt game, Dirt 2 manages to really get your interest with a striking interface.  However, this has changed from a seemingly endless branch of brackets and tables to placing you in the eyes of a racer traveling the world in his trailer.  The menus are all seamlessly integrated by having your character look and walk around in short distances.  Though it can get tiresome having to walk through the same areas again and again, it still does a great job trying to sell the atmosphere of the game.

The events you take part in are broken up according to countries, with the game taking you to Europe, Asia, Japan and plenty other locales.  Having multiple country locations to race in helps keep the races variable though there are still issues with repeating environments even during your first few races.  Race types range from Baja circuits, to Rally races, to “Gatecrasher” events (drive through small boxes to keep the timer going) and the other usual suspects such as time trials.  You’ll also be given the chance to take part in X Games competitions which are essentially tournament-style events and can also race against actual Rally racers one-on-one.  Completing races will upgrade your rank which will give you money (to buy vehicles), new liveries (pre-set paint and vinyls), horn styles and accessories for your cars.  The ability to upgrade your car’s performance is available too but is only done through packs so those hoping to get in-depth with the customization will be disappointed.

When it comes to the racing and gameplay, Dirt 2 is really quite simple.  Select a vehicle to race with, work your way through whatever type of ground is present (dirt, tar, mud, water; the usual suspects) while staying in the lead and try not to bang your car up too much.  Though, if you do happen to total your car or didn’t take a turn so well, you can Flashback to a recent point and proceed with the race from there.  Of course, you’re limited to how many times you can use this feature so don’t expect to constantly hop around the field like you’re Nightcrawler.  Racing is generally fun with the thrills coming more from pushing and sliding through loose landscapes rather than the speed itself.

However, the game has a distinct lack of depth; at least, when compared to other games such as Forza Motorsport and Midnight Club as of recent.  Sadly, this only contributes to how shallow the game is.  Since the tracks are almost entirely closed off it makes the races themselves quite linear.  The only exceptions to this are the Baja races which sometimes an alternative path for a small section of the course and are also noticeably larger than the other areas.  Since this is an arcade racer, however, most people who buy the game likely won’t be bothered by this.

Visually, Dirt 2 manages to look even better than its predecessor with more lively colors, generally sharper texture detail, a far more consistent framerate and relatively brief load times.  Both the car models and locations have been given a great amount of detail; both look equally impressive with pop-ins being virtually nonexistent.  If you take a real close look you might find some blurry, less detailed spots and some off hit detection but this is a fantastic-looking game regardless.

The audio front isn’t nearly as impressive as the visuals, but still has some strong points.  Character chatter comes up very frequently, with Rally racers giving suggestions to guide you through the ever-growing event map.  You’ll also hear racers make remarks every now and again during races which thankfully don’t occur too frequently but help make the events a little more personal.  The same can’t be said for your assistant when setting time trials, especially if you’re not familiar with the terms tossed out like a robot on quick speak speed.  Sound effects, on the other hand, are quite pleasant to hear, with engines revving and stuttering while splashing, sliding and at times crashing all sound great together.  As for the soundtrack, Dirt 2 is mainly composed of alternative bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and The Stone Roses.

Dirth 2 seems to have most of the fundamentals down for a good, enjoyable racing game.  The interface combined with excellent visuals, solid audio work and generally fun gameplay all come off very well.  But the game simply isn’t very engaging and, as a result, is hard for me to imagine justifying a full purchase for.  If you got the chance to try the demo the full game isn’t too far off from what you were offered there.  This is to say if you don’t mind very basic races and are fine with pre-set vehicles performance-wise making up your selections then the game might be for you.  Otherwise, if you’re like me and are longing for more options, than Forza Motorsport 3 and possible Need for Speed Shift will be the best options available.

First Impression Score: 82

Shadows Fall “Retribution” Review

Retribution

*Album is available to listen via stream on band’s MySpace

Shadows Fall’s 2007 studio effort Threads of Life proved to be a bag of mixed results with responses that followed suite.  Though some found the album to be an overall solid addition to the band’s catalogue, others felt it was but a bland and generic slice of American metalcore.  Hoping to gain back old fans while retaining the interest of new followers, Shadows Fall are ready to give us the seeming appropriately titled Retribution.  The album aspires to satisfy all of the band’s listeners and altogether, it should manage to do just that.

Rather than being tossed in the middle of the track listing, a short instrumental starts off Retribution leading to the first full song, “My Demise.”  The first two and a half minutes of this near-seven minute track sound similar to one of the faster, heavier tracks on The War Within with a bit of The Art of Balance tossed in for good measure.  What follows for the rest of the album turns out to be a mix of sounds the band has gone through in the past, albeit with some alterations to try and keep things fresh.  In some ways this works to the album’s advantage, but not everything here is as solid as one might hope.

Take for instance the following track, “Still I Rise” (released as a single with an accompanying music video).  If you’ve heard this song, then you have an idea of what the album sounds like during its less impressive stretches.  Though this single fares slightly better than the weaker tracks on the album, this is mostly thanks to it being heavier with a more driven chorus than the said songs.  Where the album slumps the most is during “The Taste of Fear” and “Picture Perfect”, both of which have the same main issue: the use and implementation of backing vocals.  Guitarists Matt Bachand and Jonathan Donais have proven themselves as talented musicians, but when providing vocal support they’ve admittedly had their ups and downs.  Donais typically does the more “mellow” vocals (see “Inspiration on Demand”), which is a key reason the aforementioned tracks don’t work so well.  While Donais had tolerable vocals in the past, here they feel like too much with how the songs are pushed forward and driven by his singing.  It also doesn’t help that lead vocalist Brian Fair seems like he’s trying to match the placid singing during these sections.  This might not necessarily ruin the tracks per say, but its unlikely most will want to hear them after their first one or two listenings of the entire album.

On the other hand, Retribution has its share of solid material to compensate for these less stellar tracks.  Both “My Demise” and “King of Nothing” manage to be two of the album’s heavier and thus more enjoyable moments, with the latter featuring guest vocals from Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe (lending to an irresistibly catchy chorus).  Yet it’s the album’s two closing tracks that really seal the deal.  The first of the two, “A Public Execution,” manages to be six minutes of the excellent, thrash-influenced heavy metal/metalcore that the band has become known for; I’ll even argue it as a contender for the band’s best overall song.  As for the last track, “Dead and Gone,” it blends very well with “A Public Execution” by retaining the heavy nature yet bringing some more melodic vocals from Donais in.  The main difference with this track is that his voice doesn’t feel nearly as prominent, so the song is left (mostly) untarnished.

But of course people want to know how good the band is playing here, and the answer is as good as ever.  In fact, the musicianship here is arguably the best the band has been since The War Within or even The Art of Balance.  Once again, Donais and Bachand are in top form here, providing some great riffs and shredding solos that will, for the time they last, make you forget the weaker songs weren’t so great.  Drummer Jason Bittner has also given us yet another solid performance, helping to feed the strong bass lines that are matched and played by Paul Romanko.  Then there’s vocalist Brian Fair, who seems to have taken a lot of flak for his rather blunt and generally straightforward vocals.  I, however, think he’s a perfectly decent lead singer (not amazing but he does a good enough job).  He’s comparable to Chuck Billy; his vocals might not be impressive, but they fit the music very well, and I think that at least warrants some praise.

What Retribution sets out to do is try and satisfy as many fans as possible, and admittedly not everything on the album works due to this.  However, it offers up some solid and, in a couple instances, excellent music.  Fans who’ve at least enjoyed anything from The Art of Balance up to Threads of Life should at least be able to find something to like in this album.  As for those hoping to see a true return to form, the entire album isn’t quite up to snuff, but it’s still worth a listen for any longtime or diehard fans of the band.

Recommended Tracks:

The Path To Imminent Ruin/My Demise

King of Nothing

A Public Execution

Dead and Gone

3 and Half Blade

Guitar Hero 5 First Impressions

Normally I do full-fledged reviews, but since I rented this game and had my time cut short due to visiting my grandparents in New York, I’m providing a first impression article instead.  Anyways, the blog:

GH5

Activision are a publisher that seem to value quantity over subtlety, with the recent release of their third Guitar Hero game this year alone being as much an indicator as anything.  In addition, with the success and acclaim Rock Band has achieved with only two (three this Wednesday) game releases, one might get the impression the Call of Duty publisher isn’t so concerned with integrity.  But fans keep on buying and, for the most part, the games themselves haven’t been too shabby.  Arguably the first full-fledged Guitar Hero game since World Tour, the series fifth main installment has hit shelves; have the first few hours of playing left me wanting to purchase it?

The game’s Career mode has gone through a few alterations this time around.  Taking a slight cue from Rock Band, songs are organized into sets at various locations and allow you to play any two songs at the end of each set.  What’s nice about this is that there are several venues to play at, most of which look fairly impressive.  Unfortunately, even though the set-up might be different the progression is ultimately the same: play some songs, unlock some new ones, play those and repeat.  Though the way to join in as a band is handled smoother and, like Guitar Hero: Metallica, unlocking songs isn’t too demanding, this is still the same trod-along through songs you’ve seen before.  On the other hand, all of the songs are available to play from the get-go in Quick Play, meaning those strictly playing for the party aspect won’t have to worry about this tedium.

Other design choices in the game, however, are welcome and help benefit the overall package as well as potential band experience.  The first to note is Party Play, which can be tested at the opening menu whenever a song plays.  In this, players can drop in or out of any song during any point (so if a friend comes over while in the middle of “Sympathy for the Devil,” they can join in wherever you are; no restart required).  Another pleasing addition is how gamers can now play any instrument they want even if someone else is playing that same instrument (got four drum sets and want to play the same songs cooperatively?  Go right ahead).  Changes have also been made to the song creator to make it at least a little more accessible, which dedicated players will definitely appreciate.  Though I didn’t have the time to mess around with the other changes (namely online and competitive multiplayer), what I did manage to try out was very pleasing.

But of course the main concern with Guitar Hero or any other game is how fun it is, and this series has admittedly had its highs and lows (Metallica and Rocks the 80’s, respectively).  In regards to what I played for this entry (which was about one third to half of the total set list), the entertainment was rather mixed.  One key reason behind this comes in the form of the game’s demographic which, outside of the soundtrack, is how it appeals to either newcomers, series veterans or both.  The note charts are overall some of the easier ones found in the series, especially for those developed by Neversoft.  In fact, there are barely any challenging songs at all, with none of on-disc inclusions hitting the highest difficulty on guitar.  This might turn off experts looking for practice-worthy tracks, but in the long run it helps make the game more manageable for when in a full band playthrough.

Then there’s the game’s soundtrack which, like any other collection of songs, will appeal to some and repel others.  On a positive note, there are some great, long-awaited songs included such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the Queen and David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure,” “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down and my personal favorite, “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits.  However, other inclusions and selections for certain bands are rather questionable.  For instance, including a band like Attack! Attack! is rather silly and the continued addition of the Beastie Boys in a still guitar-oriented game feels out of place.  As for the track selection for certain bands, just look at Megadeth and Children of Bodom with “Sweating Bullets” and “Done With Everything, Die For Nothing” being the song selections, respectively.  I think I can speak for many other fans that the song choices for both are rather disappointing.  But for what it’s worth, the soundtrack is a decent mix, but it does have a distinct lack of strong, memorable song.

My time with Guitar Hero 5 was simultaneously surprising and disappointing.  Even though just about all of the design choices are very pleasant; the soundtrack, overall gameplay and thus entertainment did leave me feeling unfulfilled.  Even though I’d normally say spending more time could yield more fun, all of the previous iterations (save for the lackluster Rocks the 80’s) at least provided satisfaction from start to finish.  As of now I’d have a tough time trying to justify shelling out $60 for this game; let alone over $100 for a bundle.  If the price goes down anytime soon and more, better songs are made available via download, it might be worth a purchase but as it is, the game is only worth a lengthy rental.

First Impression Score: 77

District 9 Review

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Peter Jackson isn’t exactly a director that one would associate with small-scale films.  After releasing The Lord of the Rings trilogy and a remake of King Kong, he’s essentially become a leader of epic film directing.  Yet with District 9, a film he’s produced with the uprising director Neill Blomkamp (originally slated to bring us the Halo movie), scale takes a backseat to the rather gritty and personal story told in this ambitious sci-fi project.  There are a number of hints of inspiration from other movies and events to find here, but it manages to utilize these aspects very well to make for what is an overall high quality release.

District 9’s plot is one of many ways it’ll grab your attention and keep you engrossed from start to finish.  The film opens with an exposition of how an alien race arrives here on Earth which, after three months of hovering, drop from their mothership to the ground (later to derogatorily be called “prawns”).  Over the course of twenty-eight years, the aliens grow to reach a count of nearly two million, yet are confined to a single large chunk of land which the film’s name is derived from.  At first the movie seems to be going for a fictional documentary approach with several individuals talking about the prawns’ history on our home planet.  However, the middle chunk of the film goes for a more cohesive story by telling the events of a government agent who gets closer to these creatures than anyone else.

Something that’s very striking about District 9 is how it almost feels like a modern, fictional satire of the Holocaust with the awful conditions the prawns live in and how disparagingly they’re treated and viewed by humans.  Even the inclusion of gangs reminded me of Blood Diamond with the truly low-end standards (if any at all) upheld due to no real authorities present (any that are simply contribute to the slum conditions).  There’s also a feeling of similarity to the Clive Owen picture Children of Men that viewers will likely find during the middle of film’s runtime.  Though unoriginality might be the first term to come to mind after hearing this, District 9 manages to utilize these seemingly inspired aspects to adequately tell its own tale, making it feel more like an original throwback than a flat-out rehash.  Also strongly present is a sense of depression and lack of hope, with filthy conditions and strong content (blood, gore, language-the usual suspects) all over the place.  This also helps contribute to the morbid nature the film encompasses, making it a very engaging watch (think Cloverfield’s intensity).

Even though District 9 has a lot that it does right, this isn’t quite the masterpiece that some might make it out to be.  The key reason behind this is how the film opens so much up to the viewer yet ultimately the plot and details are too vague.  Many questions kept coming to mind that remained unanswered and it was surprising to see that these weren’t even attempted to be explained with a brief montage.  Admittedly this was most prominent during the first act which serves mostly as a short exposition while the rest of the film goes for a more personally involved approach.  So in regards to this, the movie was handled very well.

Overall District 9 is a very solid effort and a great first step for director Neill Blomkamp.  Although we’re left with too many questions even after the film’s story arc has concluded, what we’re offered is some truly breathtaking and creepily nostalgic material.  Those looking for a film that will offer a truly unexpected and riveting experience won’t find a better deal than this in theaters.

4 crossed blades