Dante’s Inferno

February 26, 2010

Delightfully sick and twisted in all the right ways!

Wow, where to begin? The art style of this game blew me away. The Hi Def cut scenes are incredible. The opening movie, where you watch Dante stitch the cross from his crusader’s outfit INTO his chest is unbelievable! The amount of detail in his face, the intense pain you see in his eyes and facial expression as he’s pulling the string tight against his flesh is something I have NEVER seen before, not even in a big budget 3d movie. Though admittedly I have yet to see Avatar, so that one might come close, I don’t know yet. Anyways, that scene almost hurt to watch, it was stunning. Kudos to the team who pulled THAT off.

The level design of this game is just amazing! The design for the Circle of hell devoted to the sin of Lust reminds me of the work of H.R. Giger, although no one could surpass Giger’s attention to detail when it comes to sci-fi alien vag imagery. The Gluttony level is like walking through someone’s intestines, all moist and pulsating. The fighting is intense, with lots of enemies on the screen at the same time, but it’s not ridiculously cluttered and confusing the way I found Bayonetta to be. The combos are pretty cool, and can be powered up and tricked out with the souls you collect by slaying your enemies. There are plenty of Holy and Unholy relics to find and collect throughout the game which offer subtle tweaks to the gameplay when equiped. Also hidden throughout the game are “Judas coins” and special Damned Souls that you can choose to either damn or absolve for bonus souls and experience on the Unholy or Holy paths respectively. Absolving them offers the most bonus souls through a little mini game that I only found tiresome on my second playthrough.

What I find strange is that all the so called “expert” game reviewers all seem to be complaining that this game is a God of War clone. It’s a fun game style, why NOT use it in other games. No one complains about new FPS games being clones, despite the retarded number of WWII games on the market right now. Besides, considering that the God of War franchise has been a Playstation exclusive and I have never (and WILL never) own a Playstation console, I found this style of gameplay to be new and enjoyable. So they can all eat a fat one.

The only thing I had a problem with is that the game felt short to me. My first playthrough clocked in at about 7-8 hours, and after the amount of time I put into Mass Effect 2 this game just felt like it was over too quick. I would still totally recommend picking this game up for it’s unique and disturbing atmosphere though. And over all I’d say it was about an 8 out of 10.

And as a side note, EA plans to release a downloadable “multiplayer” mode to the game sometime in March (I think). But as far as I can tell, all it will do is allow you to create gauntlet style arena battles for other people to fight their way through, and then post online scoreboards of the time it took them to complete each arena. It sounds lame to ME, and I sure as hell don’t plan on paying EXTRA for it, but hey, that’s just MY opinion.

~Penguin out

Mass Effect 2

February 26, 2010

Ok, this post is a bit overdue, but here it is. Mass Effect 2, as I’m sure you all know by now is an INCREDIBLE game! It feels a bit more stream lined than the first game, but keeps everything that made the first one bad ass. The conversation trees; how your in-game actions and interactions with NPC’s affect both your character’s appearance, the story line, and how other characters react to you. All of this makes the Mass Effect games feel more like a playable movie than a videogame. Like the first game Mass Effect 2 is a massive game set in a massive and incredibly detailed universe, so expect to drop about 50+ hours on your first play through if you like to soak in all the details like I do. And speaking of, it amazes me the amount of effort they put into fleshing out all the worlds, races, and technologies in the Mass Effect games. It really helps pull you into the story and makes you care more about the world they’ve created. It gives you more of a reason to WANT to save this universe and all the people in it.

Another cool feature of Mass Effect 2 is the ability to upload your save file from the first game into this one. So all of your actions that affected your character traits, and the universe as a whole, can be imported into Mass Effect 2 to custom tailor the storyline to YOU and your play style. Fear not however, because you can have a fully enjoyable experience with this game even if you never played the first one. Unfortunately for me I DID play the first one, but like an idiot, I deleted my old save files to free up space on my 360’s hard drive. At the time I had NO idea Mass Effect 2 would have this awesome feature. But I totally intend on picking up another copy of Mass Effect 1 (traded in my original copy) and playing through it again so that I can see just how it impacts the story and over all experience of Mass Effect 2. This game is definitely a 10, no doubt about it!

~Penguin out!

Ubisoft has announced that they will be releasing a new, stand alone “episode” into our greedy palms sometime between April of this year and March 2011. And they’re also saying that it “will be the first in the series to have an online multiplayer mode.”

Now, I remember feeling disappointed that the first title didn’t have a multiplayer mode in it. But to be honest with you, I’m not sure if I think it would be a good idea anymore. I was thinking about it off and on during work today, and I’m not sure how it would work, or IF it would work at all. Does that story really NEED 2-4 over powered assassins running around in the same world at the same time? Seems like overkill. Trying to sneak up on each other would be a lame waste of time, and I’ve never been a fan of time trials. Why race to see who can complete an objective first? Racing through objectives prevents you from fully appreciating the richness of the environments in my opinion. And while “free run” races might be fun, I’d get sick of it in a day or two and go right back to my FPS games.

What do you think about the franchise’s multiplayer potential?

Here’s the link to full (though mostly hearsay) article: http://www.gamespot.com/news/6246318.html?om_act=convert&om_clk=hot-stories&tag=hot-stories;title;1

Have you heard of Sony’s upcoming device, the “Torne”? It’s a peripheral attachment device that allows you to record and store tv shows directly to the console. It’s set to launch in Japan in March for $110. They say you will be able to record shows even while watching DVD’s or playing PS3 games… but my guess is it’ll cause massive lag if you were to try and use it while playing online. And while I DO think it’s cool that you can then transfer your recorded shows to your PSP to watch on the go, I still think the device would be a waste of my money.

Here’s a link to the Gamespot article: http://www.gamespot.com/news/6246396.html

~Penguin out

Assassin’s Creed 2

November 20, 2009

Want a quick review? AWESOME GAME. BUY IT!

Still here? Ok, good. This game is absolutely golden. I’m having such a good time with it. I love me a good story driven action/adventure game. And treasure hunting too, as I’m sure I already mentioned in a previous post. If you enjoyed the free running of the first game as well as games like Wet, Mirror’s edge, and Prince of Persia; then Assassin’s Creed 2 will definitely scratch that itch. And scratch it good! And with the addition of DUAL hidden blades you can now climb to the rooftops, sneak up on two unsuspecting archers, and bury a blade up to the hilt into the neck of each one of them. And then watch as their limp, bleeding bodies flop and fall to the ground, to the shock and dismay of the unsuspecting villagers below. I should mention that, because I’m a nut, I’ve been playing this game the past couple days with a hoodie pulled up over my head to help pull myself into the game world. When I get into a good story I like to get as deep into it as possible. 🙂

In Assassin’s Creed 2 you reprise your role as Desmond, using the Animus to experience the memories of a different ancestor which are locked in your DNA. Namely, a 17 year old guy name Ezio Auditore Da Firenze. The time period is mid to late 1400’s, during the great Italian Renaissance. Ezio seeks vengeance for the murders of his father and two brothers, one of which was MAYBE 10 years old at the time. Let me tell ya, watching a 10 y/o swing from the gallows with his father and older brother was a bit disturbing, even for me.

The architecture in this game is simply amazing, and while I’m no expert on the topic, seems accurate to the time period. The game points out the most elaborate/historically important buildings as you approach them, and offers you some colorful details about the building’s past. There are many cultural and historical references to study and enjoy. There are also many classical paintings to view and learn about, paintings I remember from the Art History class I took a few years back. So next time someone says videogames don’t teach you anything, you can point to this game, and tell them to shut up.

There’s even a brief nod to the Mario Bros. early on in the game. I won’t go into detail about it, cause I don’t want to spoil the moment for you. Is it cheesy? Perhaps. Is it disruptive to the otherwise well maintained time bubble of the story? Mildly I suppose, but it lasts maybe 2 seconds, and I thought it was funny. I enjoy it when games make “in-joke” nods to our gaming history. If anything, it simply shows that the industry we know and love is growing up and coming into it’s own. The movie industry does this kind of thing all the time, and you don’t hear complaints when they do it.

A quick caution to you gamers out there with kids: There are some conversations in this game which use language inappropriate for children. Words I have NEVER heard used in any game before it. There’s no beating around the bush here, and I honestly wonder how the ESRB let this slip by them. I don’t mind the language personally, it’s nothing I don’t hear online on a daily basis anyway. I’m just amazed the ESRB didn’t red flag it. Even WITH their M(17+) rating. I mean, have YOU ever heard the word “vagina” used in conversation while playing the story mode of a game before? Most of the other bad language is spoken in Italian, but if you turn on the captions from the options menu it will translate everything for you at the bottom of the screen. So if your kids don’t speak Italian, and are too young to read quickly, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Being from New York I find the cussing to be funny and completely understandable in context to the story, but you may feel differently.

The enemy AI is more advanced in this game than it was in it’s predecessor to be sure. The enemies will now search hay stacks for you, plunging their blades or spears in to check if you’re in there. Of course, you now have the ability to reach out from the hay bails while hiding in them, slit the throat of a nearby guard, and pull his dead body into the hay to hide it; so there’s no reason to be too worried. And if you piss them off they WILL chase you up onto the rooftops, so keep that in mind before to rush into a fight with 4-5 guards.

If you’d rather, there are a variety of things you can do now to avoid a fight entirely. You could throw money to the ground near a crowd of people. They’ll scatter excitedly to pick up the coins, and the guards will focus on them instead of you. You could leave a dead body in the street somewhere to distract guards from what you’re doing elsewhere. Just don’t be near the dead body when they find it or they’ll rightly assume you were the one who killed the guy. You can sneak up behind one guard on patrol and poison him. It takes a little bit to take effect, giving you time to sneak away, but when it DOES the guy will go nuts before he dies which will distract the guards.You could run right up to a group of guards and throw a smoke bomb. This will blind, choke, and confuse them; allowing you to cut them all up quick before they have time to realize what’s going on.

You can also hire 3 different groups of 4-5 people to help you out. Each group has it’s own set of skills and will follow you around after you hire them, until you focus on a guard and tell the group to attack/harass him.

(1) There are the Thieves, who will run up and harass the guards, then run away. The guards will run after them, leaving behind whatever area they were guarding. The thieves are also the only group who can follow you up onto the rooftops, but they aren’t as good at free running as you are and are prone to falling off rooftops and dying. You’ve been warned.

(2) Then there’s the Mercenari, or Mercenaries. Hire them and you can order them to go and fight a group of guards. They’ll start a fight and it’ll continue till either they or the guards are all dead, giving you time to sneak past and get whatever you were after.

(3) Last but not least, there’s my personal favorite, the Courtesans (aka Prostitutes). Their groups are versatile and multi-purpose. No pun intended. 😉 First, they can help you stay anonymous while following you around if you simply want to walk down a street full of guards without being detected. Stay in the middle of their little group and no one will even know you’re there. However, if a group of guards does get close to you, one or two of the courtesans will break off from your group and personally distract those guards with a dance or the like. So keep an eye on your crew so you’re not surprised when they’re all gone and you have to search for a new group to hire. Secondly, they carry daggers and they’ll fight along side you if they have to, but they’re not very good at it. So don’t expect them to last long against a group of the better equipt guards. And the final thing they can do for you is a big group distraction. Point them at a group of guards and press the “Distract” button and the girls will work their magic. The guards in question will walk a little ways away from your target to hoot, holler, and make cat calls and rude gestures at the courtesans; completely ignoring you so that you can sneak past.

It may just be the way that I’m playing the game, completing all side quests and finding all hidden treasure chests, etc before moving on to the next city, but this game feels a lot bigger than Assassin’s Creed 1. I’m a completion-ist to be sure, but still. The cities are huge, and incredibly detailed. Venice in particular is simply MASSIVE. Speaking of Venice, I gave myself a row boat tour of the city last night for the hell of it. I figured this was as close as I’d ever get to seeing the real thing, so I should see it the way it was meant to be seen. 🙂

I’m about halfway through the game right now, and I believe my save file says I’ve logged around 32 hours. So even WITHOUT a multi-player experience Assassin’s Creed 2 is well worth your money.

The other aspect of the game that’s worth mentioning are the puzzles. The save file that is being used to help you access your ancestor’s memories have been hacked by a mysterious character known only as “Subject 16”. He was another person that the evil Abstergo corp. had put through the Animus experiments. In the machine for days at a time without food or water, the man lost his mind. He started seeing ancestor memories without being connected to the Animus, and went crazy as a result, losing the ability to tell what was real and what wasn’t. How someone like that has the ability to hack Abstergo’s operating system and insert files into your memories is beyond me, but I enjoy the puzzles anyway.

The puzzles include basic ciphers, picture puzzles, word associations, and hunting through images for hidden content. I’ve even found a few hidden ciphers in some of the pictures, and while they weren’t necessary to solve the puzzles, they added an extra glimpse into the story and it’s interpretation of some major historical figures and events. Besides, I enjoyed decoding the secret messages, made me feel like a secret agent.

I give Assassin’s Creed 2 a 9 out of 10. If they would fix the glitch that keeps causing ghost objective markers to linger on my HUD’s map I would gladly change my score to a 10 out of 10. It’s a small glitch, and the only one I’ve found, but when you’re doing a mission and there are 3-4 ghost assassination target icons on the HUD map that don’t really exist it’s really damn frustrating.

~Penguin out.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

November 2, 2009

I had rented this game months ago and never had a chance to finish it. Just picked up a used copy last week and I’m still having a great time with it. I missed my sledgehammer. There’s just something downright magical about being able to take a sledgehammer to everything you see and reduce it to rubble. This game is massive, and as I just said, damn near anything you see can be destroyed in a remarkably life like way. The buildings, bridges, etc. all react to structural damage the way their real world counterparts would. Want a building to go down fast? Take out the support beams and the load bearing walls first. When you start to hear things give out, that’s your cue to get the heck out of there as quick as you can. Oh, and try to get to a safe viewing distance. Watching the taller buildings collapse in on themselves is beautiful.

You play as Alec Mason, a man who’s come to mine the surface of Mars. When he gets there he discovers that Mars isn’t the cake walk he thought it was going to be.  The oppressive control of the Earth Defense Force (EDF) and the mega corporations running all the mining operations on Mars keep the miners under their heel.. You discover that your brother is a member of a rebel group trying to fight the EDF for control of the planet. Alec doesn’t want to get involved, until the EDF kill his brother. From then on you’re on a personal quest for vengence.

The missions are varied, but the treasure hunting aspect can get annoying if you don’t go print yourself a map off the net. The world is just so damn big that searching for ore deposits, EDF propaganda, and radio tags can get frustrating.

The multiplayer is a refreshing change of pace from my usual Halo3 matches. There’s quite an array of different levels and modes to keep you interested, and the downloadable map packs include extra game modes as well so they’ll be well worth picking up. The weapons are varied and clever, as are the backpacks that allow you to do things like fly, go invisible, blast your foes with sonic shock waves, you name it.

I’d have to say this is easily one of the best games of the year and I’d give it a 10/10 without a second thought.

Ok, so while wandering around some gamer sites just now I saw an advertisement for Assassin’s Creed 2 that I found to be a bit disturbing. It said “Pre-order now for an exclusive in game map!” Now, I’ve only been gaming since like 1985-86 so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about here, but isn’t an in game map something that should come standard?!? Especially for a game world as big as I’m sure this one will be. If the size of the first game’s world is any indication I DO NOT want to wander around a world that size without some sort of in game map to keep from getting disoriented.

Am I crazy? Is our whole gaming universe going to shit at the hands of greedy corporate MF’rs or is it just me? This is getting way out of hand. I’ll pre-order a game if you include something cool. Hell, I bought the Legendary edition of Halo3 just for the replica Master Chief helmet. But asking me to pre-order your game so that I can have access to the only thing that would make playing a game this size feasible without hours of wandering around lost and frustrated? That’s extortion kiddies, and extortion is bad. These corporations are really starting to piss me off. We need a revolution, we need to take back gaming. Before it gets to the point where main characters start walking around with company logos for faces.

I REALLY hope I’m blowing this out of proportion and the map offered to pre-orders is a hidden item map or something. I’d like to think that my hobby isn’t being controlled by complete pricks. But after seeing what Microsoft plans to dish out with the new 360 dashboard update… I just don’t know what to think anymore. Other than that, the only prick I can think of off hand that makes games is “Cliffy B” wunderkind uber-whore extreme. I’m sure if I weren’t so tired I could probably think of at least one or two more.

~Penguin Out.

The Beatles: Rockband

November 2, 2009

This should be a pretty straight forward review. Especially since this game did not star the voice acting of Mark Hamill. 😉

All in all I’d have to say this game was a pretty solid and enjoyable experience. A decent addition to the growing library of Rockband titles. The story mode seemed to be just the right length, so it stayed enjoyable without getting tiresome. I found most of the tracks to be an absolute blast to play, especially with 4-5 friends there to enjoy them with me. Everyone has heard classics like “Eight Days a Week” and “I Saw Her Standing There”, so there’s little worry about having a band member feel left out because it’s the first time they’ve heard the song you’re playing. If you’ve played any other Rockband game there’s no learning curve because the game is basically set up the same way. Only difference is that you unlock period band pictures for getting 3-5 stars on each song. Each picture also comes with a small factoid about The Beatles, so they serve as an interesting distraction when/if your hands start to get tired from all the rocking.

The only problem I encountered with the game occured while singing. I had a hard time activating “Beatlemania” (star power) while trying to sing several of the songs. My only guess as to why would have to be that the songs in question didn’t offer much time between verses with which to actually ATTEMPT to activate it. But the ability to sing harmonies with my friends DID make for an enjoyable party experience.

I grew up listening to oldies radio stations with my father, so I thought I had a pretty good idea what The Beatles were all about, but apparently I was wrong. I had never heard most of the songs from the latter half of the band’s career. I’m assuming that’s because the average “oldies” fan isn’t a big fan of hippies. I’m sure they’ve got scientists wasting taxpayer money researching this as we speak. But sadly, we may never know the truth. Either way, you cannot deny that the Beatles’ songs from the mid to late 60’s got quite… trippy, for lack of a better word. If you enjoy that time period in the band’s history then rest assured that the game’s visuals are just as psychedelic.

All things considered I think I’d give it an 8/10 score.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

October 29, 2009

Yes, I realize this game has been out for a few months now. There were a bunch of games that came out this summer that I felt were worthy of my attention. Unfortunately, I’ve been experiencing a bit of a monetary dry spell due to being unemployed. (Hence this attempt at game review notoriety.) So it took me longer to get my hands on this game than I would have liked. Cut me a little slack. Oh, and as a warning, this review will probably include a few spoilers and assorted rants. Since the game’s been out for a few months that probably won’t bother anyone. But just in case, you’ve been warned.

Now that THAT’S out of the way, I shall begin with an “OMG!!” shouted up to the heavens from the highest peak in Kansas… which just might have to be my neighbor’s F-150. (Kansas is pretty flat. It’d make a better parking lot.)

Batman: Arkham Asylum has got to be the best Batman game I have EVER played! Maybe even the best superhero game I’ve ever played, but don’t quote me on that. It was The game is dark, moody, and atmospheric. The level design, color palettes, music, storyline, and voice acting all combine beautifully to bring us the kind of Batman experience I’ve been longing for since childhood. Remember that dark and moody Batman cartoon on Fox back in the early 90’s? This game has a very similar feel. And, as a matter of fact, some of the same actors from that show return to reprise their roles in this very game. Namely Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. They both play their parts like they were born for the role and I enjoyed listening to every minute of their performances. Harley Quinn and a few others might also have been voiced by the same people who so perfectly portrayed these characters in the cartoon series, but since Eidos and Rocksteady didn’t see fit to sufficiently credit these individuals, I’m unable to say for certain. I’ll properly express my feelings on actor credit in a little bit.

Believe it or not, but it was posted on the game’s official site (www.batmanarkhamasylum.com) that it even made it into the Guinness Book of  World Records for ‘Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever’. Now THAT’S impressive. I’m obviously not alone in my amazement and appreciation of the quality Rocksteady and Eidos were able to deliver.

Arkham Asylum is a completely single player experience, but that’s fine by me. I’ve always thought Robin was a punk anyway. The entire game takes place in the buildings and caverns on Arkham island, but since the missions are varied and interesting you don’t feel the least bit confined. And fear not, there are always plenty of escaped convicts and mental patients running around for you to take out your crime fighting frustrations on. The occasional run ins with The Scarecrow and his fear inducing nerve gas spice things up as well, with their surrealistic events and level construction. In addition to the main campaign there ‘s also a challenge mode who’s maps you can unlock, for when you feel like taking a break from the story to focus on breaking noses. Challenges vary between 4 round beat-em ups to timed stealth missions where the focus is to disable opponents without being seen by doing things like dropping down from a gargoyle and stringing up bad guys by their ankles.

Throughout your quest to bring down the Joker you’ll  face off against classic villains like Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, and of course the Scarecrow. Characters that we’ve all come to know and fear, but love anyway.

There’s a small treasure hunting aspect to the campaign, and if you know me, you know I love me some treasure hunting! Don’t worry though, because unlike games such as GTA: Vice City, with it’s tiny pigeons and complete lack of in-game help, one of the hidden items in each area of Arkham is a map to help you locate the rest of the items in that location. So it’s still more of a fun break from the action, as opposed to a frustrating chore you begrudgingly complete for a few extra gamer points. Along the way you’ll also be able to unlock things like character models so you can marvel at fine work the modelers did, and character bios for the in-game characters as well as some classic Batman villains that weren’t crammed into the game unnecessarily. Thank you Rocksteady for not repeating the mistakes of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin. (What a disaster THAT was.)

I was quite pleased with the character animation all around. Whether it be the slick moves you can pull off as you’re beating your foes to a pulp, or the more subtle ones, like the hand and body movements Joker makes while giving one of his many off handed speeches. The extra effort put towards the latter really help you get a feel for just how unstable the guy truly is. As in all things, it’s the small details that really help sell it and make the characters, and the world as a whole, more believable.

The one thing I don’t understand is why, if you have such an amazing cast of voice actors, would you not display/advertise their names more prominently?  Other than a brief, side note-esque mention of Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (The Joker) on the back of the case there isn’t a list of cast members anywhere on either the manual or even the official site. If you bother to sit through 15-20 minutes of credits you’ll get to see all the voice actors names near the very end for…. MAYBE 5 seconds. I realize that this is how it’s normally done, and if this were any other game or under any other circumstances I probably wouldn’t care. But this is different. We’re talking about freakin’ MARK HAMILL here people! The man is a tv/movie LEGEND! He’s not just a man, he’s an icon! Our generation grew up knowing Mark Hamill as a force-wielding god among men who trains hard and saves that precious galaxy far far away from death, destruction, and enslavement at the hands of a dark emperor. Surely MARK FREAKIN HAMILL’S name deserves more screen time than the French and German branches of Eidos’ marketing team. Who gives a rat’s ass who posted up the ad fliers in Paris or Berlin? He’s freakin MARK HAMILL, and he could snap you in two at a whim. You know the amount of effort you put into considering if you’ll have toast with your eggs and bacon on sunday morning? That’s how much thought and effort it would take for Mark Hamill to snap your soiled carcass like a twig. F^#% the marketing guys.

There you go. An early morning review from a late night gamer. Be sure to leave me a comment to let me know what you thought of my review!

~Penguin

Ok, no better place to start than with a review of a console’s dashboard framework. And boy is this one going to be a mess. I managed to get myself into the update preview test group and “not impressed” is the nicest way I can describe the mess they’ve made of things. Microsoft has added an inadequate Facebook app, twitter, last.fm, MSN.com news, and the Zune marketplace.

I don’t use twitter, because I’m not interested in minute by minute updates on the lives of others. I’ve seen what it does and how it works online, but I’m unable to comment on it’s 360 counterpart.

The Facebook app HAD potential, but they thinned down the experience to the point that it’s become little more than another form of twitter. You can post status updates and read the updates of your friends, as well as view and comment on pictures of your friends… and that’s about it. There is no game support for you would-be farmers or mobsters out there. You can’t even post notes to your profile. I was unable to even view the group posts from my Halo clan’s group page. That may have something to do with the fact that our group was made private/hidden due to it’s name: TNT or Tea and Tacos. If you play fps games today I’m sure that name needs no explanation.

Last.fm is a nice addition, especially if you’re like me and listen to a genre of music that isn’t represented on your local radio stations. Living in Kansas it’s damn near impossible to hear or buy any new industrial/electronic music. And no, you can’t even find any in Wichita’s local cd stores. The only problem I have with the Last.fm app is that I have a hard time justifying the electric costs of simply listening to music and viewing band pictures on my massive 65″ projection tv. The Last.fm app isn’t something you can run in the background while you’re playing games, so don’t go putting away your mp3 players just yet. Oh, and as a side note, be warned. Depending on what band you happen to be listening to, not all of the pictures you’ll see are safe for children. I saw blood, gore, WW2 pics, and pics from a live concert/S&M show. The last group was DEFINITELY NOT child safe.

The MSN.com news feed is ok if you’re looking to take a break from gaming to catch up on what’s going on in the world beyond your couch. They also have Dilbert animated cartoons and political cartoons from the New Yorker. I didn’t even realize Dilbert was still being made! It was lame and out of touch with reality from it’s inception, so I had just assumed that the artist would have lost his funding YEARS ago. They’re no funnier animated than they were in print, so don’t bother wasting your time.

But the Zune marketplace addition is what really gets me. Why would Microsoft think their gaming community would still be interested in paying for video content on a console that already has support for Netflix’s fast and high quality digital streaming greatness? Doesn’t Microsoft have enough of our money as it is? The part of this disaster that makes me mad is that they integrated the Zune marketplace into our console’s video library section. So now, if you want to view a game video that you’ve already downloaded to your console, you have to wade through a vast pool of uninteresting pay per view filth in order to see it. Now let’s say you’re currently downloading several new videos of potentially great upcoming games like Metro 2033, Assassins Creed 2, and Mass Effect 2. Due to your excitement you click over to your video library so you can view these teaser trailers just as soon as they’ve downloaded. Unfortunately you’ll now have to back out and re-enter your video library each and every time a new video’s download completes because the system won’t recognize it’s there if you don’t. And you’ll have to wait as the app finds your newly downloaded content, because all of the Zune marketplace garbage takes precedence over the things you’re actually interested in seeing. What a lousy addition to an otherwise excellent console.

I put up with the direct marketing on my dashboard, that I’m forced to see every time I turn on the console, because it’s occasionally interesting. But this time they’ve gone too far.