The Witcher 2 is game I had high expectations for. Having played the original enhanced edition, I was ready for more of Geralt's adventures. With a brand new and very modern game engine developed exclusively for the PC, The Witcher 2 promised to prove that PC gaming was still very much a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, while TW2 gets some solid hits on a few points, it misses on many small ones. This is by no means to say that TW2 is a bad game, but the non-RPG faithful may have a hard time liking it.
So apparently I achieved Best Buy's silver status with their reward zone. I did this while not being anywhere near the $2500 requirement. I doubt I was even half way there. Probably a fluke, but one I'm happy to accept.
Probably the best offer to come out of this fluke is the six months of Napster. Napster, as you might be aware, is owned by Best Buy. They claim to have a song library some of some 13 million songs. I can believe that. They've had every song I've thrown at it. They also have an Android app that works really well. If I were looking for an on-demand music subscription service, I'd probably go with Napster. If I was looking. The problem is I don't like messing with playlists or hunting for music. That's why I love Pandora so much. We'll see in six months if I reup or not. Right now... probably not.
There's a certain pathos among PC gamers. When confronted with a game exceeding the the limits of our hardware, we don't turn settings down until a playable frame rate is reached. Oh no... that would be like admitting defeat. Instead, we upgrade our hardware. The Witcher 2 is one such game. Though it may have its issues, it's an RPG that no self-respecting PC gamer should pass up. To keep up with it's absolutely stunning visuals you will need some pretty robust video hardware, though. My aging Radeon HD 4850 could manage better than slideshow rates, but it certainly gave me a headache to play. I picked up a Radeon HD 6950 with 2 GB of GDDR5 from Sapphire. I'm quite impressed with it. It's quieter than my old 4850 at idle, though The Witcher 2 gives enough of a workout to bump the fan speed up to noticeable levels.
A new video card usually means tossing every game at it and seeing what's what. The thing is, almost nothing gave the old 4850 a challenge, so there's not much point. About the only change is that I can run a few games with maxed out AA that I couldn't before. There are some titles coming that promise to push some heavy visual, so we'll see if it was worth the investment.
A couple months back I picked up an Evo Shift 4G on Sprint after my tablet only experiment turned out to be rather impractical. But that's for another post. This is about Sprint's one and only Android landscape slider from HTC.
The phone isn't the greatest looker, but it's hardly ugly. I quite like the dark navy color Sprint and/or HTC settled on. It's fairly hefty, but that mostly seems to be because it's built to HTC's usual high level of quality. The keyboard is quite good, quite a bit better than the Touch Pro I had with Alltel/Verizon a couple years ago. The screen is sufficiently bright and crisp, but it won't give my Galaxy Tab any competition. Battery life handily beats my previous phone, the HTC Hero, though it will still go down quite fast if I'm heavily using it or if I'm in an area with a heavily saturated network. With normal use I can easily get through a day with more than half my battery left.
One fairly unique thing that happened with the Shift is that I tried Cyanogen on it, and wound up going back to the stock ROM. HTC has learned quite a lot about Android since the Hero. Sense is snappy, Android moves with no hesitation, and it's quite stable. The 800 MHz CPU may not be one of the latest or greatest, but it's more than enough to handle Android 2.2 with Sense on top. This is the first phone that doesn't give me the urge to install a custom ROM.
Other items of note... the back-lit keyboard is very nice in dark rooms, and stays off in bright light to save battery power. The slider is not spring loaded, which may take some getting used to, but it has the distinct advantage of being completely silent. The screen turns off and on based on if you have your ear up to the phone, which is a very useful feature. Lastly, as the name implies, this is a WiMax device, though I don't have the service in my area so I can't comment on how well it works.
Overall I'm quite happy with the Shift. I missed the keyboard on my Touch Pro when I had the Hero, and the Hero's screen was always just a tad too small for my liking. The Shift strikes a happy balance between both devices. Okay HTC... now where is our Gingerbread update?
After Final Fantasy 13, I didn't hold a lot of faith in the Japanese gaming industry (Nintendo is a whole 'nother blog post... or several). I didn't have great expectations for Vanquish, Japan's latest third-person shooter. I'm happy to say my low expectations were smashed into oblivion.
The Japanese have not traditionally done shooters very well, but Vanquish is an exception. It's good. I mean really good. It's by far the most solidly constructed shooter I've played in a long time. It's bombastic, over the top, it has the usual Japanese flair for dramatic (if somewhat clichéd) narrative, and their knack for creating jaw-dropping environment design. On top of all that, the gameplay is amazing. It's as fast and over the top as the action. When you take down a elite baddie with a rocket sliding drop kick, you feel like a badass. It's rewarding and satisfying and all those superlatives.
I do have to mention a couple of (minor) nitpicks. The weapon design is fairly uninspired, and once you've upgraded the main rifle to to max, you'll have little need for anything else (though the rocket launcher does occasionally come in handy). The story makes some rather abrupt changes at times which feel rather contrived. Lastly, at times certain gates are tied to killing every enemy in a room, which can get annoying when the last enemy decides to hide in a corner.
Overall, though, it's a tight experience that doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't. It's fast paced, well executed, and supremely fun. And don't skip the credits, you're in for a treat at the end.