Tagged with review

Apple Watch First Impressions: Beyond the Obvious

Apple Watch
Much has been said about the Apple Watch already. Much of it has been obvious, especially if you’ve been following along with the technology media’s obsession with the device. In light of this, I wanted to write up a quick blog post detailing my experience with the Watch over the past week, while trying to avoid some of the common threads that you’ve likely already read.

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Motivation with Style

Last month, I wrote a post about my weight loss attempts and initial successes. One of the key points I talked about was motivation: losing weight is all well and good, but it’s nice to have something concrete to work toward and show off. Personally, I wanted to improve my wardrobe, so I found my motivation in clothing. To make things even more interesting, I decided to try a couple of new online options that attempt to shake up how men approach style and shopping for clothes.

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Burger King Delivery: Review

About a month ago, we (me and @ndoto) passed a Burger King that had a large banner out front: Now Hiring Delivery Drivers. Delivery drivers? Local restaurants have had a type of local delivery before, using a service called “Waiter on the Way” – but delivery direct from Burger King? This was new, and something I had never heard about previously. Then, last week we received the following postcard in the mail:

Photo Nov 13, 7 45 10 PM

Needless to say, we were curious. So, we decided to give it a try Saturday night.

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iOS 5: The Devil’s Details

iOS 5Question: What is a review?
Answer: A thorough, unbiased evaluation with the intention of determining a final critique.

It may not be a proper dictionary definition, but this is what I expect when I read technology reviews. Most of the time, I am satisfied. But with the release of iOS 5, I was consistently disappointed. Gone was the thoroughness. Gone was the proper critique. They read more like summaries of the features listed in an Apple press release. There were some details, of course, but there was also a lot missing.

This is my attempt to fill in some of the gaps. I’m not going to attempt to do a full review. But I want to look at iOS 5 with fresh eyes, explore some of the details overlooked in other reviews, and briefly sum up how it compares to other mobile operating systems available today.

So, lets begin.

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Quick Review: Machinarium

I posted a tweet the other day about how you should check out Machinarium if you like atmospheric music, point-and-click adventures, or puzzle games. I thought I’d touch on a few more details in a quick blog post.

First thing is first though: if you have any interest in the game, check out the demo on the website. It covers the first few stages, and gives you a pretty good indication as to what the rest of the game is like. It’s the best way to decide if it’s a game you’d be interested in. For me, it was well worth $5 – if for no other reason than to get the soundtrack.

Which leads me to my favorite part of the game: the music. As I mentioned in my tweet, it’s very atmospheric. It sets the mood of the game more than providing actual background music – although there is some of that as well.  As you can imagine, it’s inspired by machines of old, which the game also seems inspired by. It works really well.

If you know what a point and click adventure is, you know what is involved with Machinarium. The game consists entirely of moving from one location to another, discovering secrets, and solving puzzles to open the path to the next location.  The puzzles, and the presentation of the puzzles, are very clever.  Sometimes what you need to do is obvious. Sometimes it requires a lot of trial and error until you discover the one little secret that you forgot. And other times, you hit a brick wall and really don’t know how the pieces fit together. (Sometimes, literally. You have an inventory of items you collect, which you can use to solve puzzles. Those items can be fastened together to create a new item, too.)  In cases where you are stumped, the game gives you two helping hands. The first is a simple pictorial hint, which you can use once per location. This gets progressively vague as the game goes on. The next helping hand is a complete walkthrough. To get to it, you play a simple, sometimes challenging mini-game. Once unlocked, it shows you the progression of what needs to be done in your current locale, in comic-book, pictorial form.  The interesting thing is that it ONLY shows you the current location – it doesn’t tell you how it relates to stuff you need to do in other locations.

The story so far has been the weakest part of the game.  You aren’t explicitly told what you’re trying to do, although pieces start to fill in as you progress.  There is no dialog in the game, just pictures in thought bubbles.  It’s a cute presentation, and it’s interesting to see how well the story is told within these limitations. But it has not been my driving force for continuing to play.

This is a flash-based game, so it runs on any platform that supports flash – Windows, Mac and Linux.  Saying that it’s “flash-based”  carries certain negative assumptions with it, but it’s actually very well implemented. This is how flash SHOULD be used. I’m impressed.

Later on in the game, the puzzles become a little bit trickier to figure out, but it never becomes impossible – and, of course, you have the walkthrough to nudge you in the right direction if you truly get stuck.

All in all, it is a very charming game, and worth your time to experience.  At least try out the demo.  I bought the game on sale for $5, and that was primarily for the soundtrack. But now I’m playing the game too, and I’m enjoying it.

Try Machinarium Now

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Assassin’s Creed 2

Since my Xbox is out of commission, and I haven’t been able to play it recently, I thought I’d share some thoughts about the game I was playing before it bit the dust: Assassin’s Creed 2.

The Good

When details first started to emerge about the sequel to one of my favorite games, I got a little worried.  A lot of people complained about the repetitiveness of the missions.  Personally, I didn’t mind that they were repetitive because they were so fun to do.  But, because of the complaints, one of the points that was driven home whenever Assassin’s Creed 2 was discussed, was that it would have more variety in missions.  That it would be more challenging.  That it would be less repetitive.

Challenge is good.  Variety is good.  But I was worried that the game would explode into something that was so far past its predecessor, that it couldn’t be considered the same game.  I might not have been so worried about this if it hadn’t already happened to another game I loved.  Jak and Daxter was my first PS2 game, and I adored it.  It was pretty simple, but it was a lot of fun.  It was obvious that there would be a sequel, and I couldn’t wait to see where the series went next.

Where it went was somewhere completely different.  And I didn’t really like it.  I mean, it was okay.  The core mechanics were there.  But so much other stuff changed that it became a different game.  And I was afraid the same thing would happen to AC2.

Luckily, it appears that didn’t happen.  They’ve added a lot to the sequel, without changing the fundamental aspects that made the first game so interesting.  They certainly did increase the variety of missions you do in the second game – but there is still repetition.  The similarities are just well-masked, and there is enough going on in between that it doesn’t feel like you’re doing the same thing every five minutes.

I’ve enjoyed just about every aspect of the gameplay so far – the classic assassination mechanics. the pseudo-history surrounding the characters, the new open area “Prince of Persia”-like environments.  Even the ability to buy and sell goods has been integrated well, something I was also worried about before release.  It’s not a very complex mechanic, but it serves the game well.

The Bad

Unfortunately, however, it’s not perfect.  Perhaps my biggest complaint is that there appears to have been no attempt to make the main character easier to maneuver in certain situations.  In the first game, Altair would be more than happy to grab onto any ledge, ladder or climbable surface when you were doing a free run, usually sending you off in a direction you didn’t intend to go.  Sadly, Ezio is just as inclined to do this in the sequel.  There are many times I wanted to jump one direction, but the game decided it would be much better to jump the other direction – usually with disastrous results.  I hope they spend more time on fixing this shortcoming in the third installment.

One of the more compelling aspects to the game is the fact that the past is actually a replaying of memories, encoded in the DNA of the assassin’s ancestor.  The first game frequently cut between reliving those memories, and the events of the present.  But the second game only does this occasionally, and that’s disappointing.  I read one review that considered this a good point, but if you truly are absorbed by the underlying story, this lack of interaction in the present makes it feel like you’re losing a large chunk of the narrative.

Of course, I am only about halfway through the game, so there may be more to come that makes the wait worthwhile.

Finally, there is the case of the missing memory segments.  I actually haven’t reached this point of the game yet, but it’s worth a mention.  Ubisoft actually cut out two segments of the game due to time restrictions, deciding to offer them later on as DLC.  They say this is perfectly acceptable, as the player already gets more than their money’s worth from the content that is provided on the disc.

And I don’t argue that fact.

However, it is a bit disjointed to have to skip over those segments, only to “relive” them later.  My 360 getting its red ring may actually be a blessing in disguise in that the DLC may be available by the time I get to that part of the game, allowing me to play all the memory segments in order.  I understand the reasons for what Ubisoft did, but I question the final execution.


I think that’s it – very brief, very high level.  Overall, I’m enjoying the game considerably, and I highly recommend it for both the likers and haters of the first game.  Just be prepared for the fact that not all the quirks of the first game got ironed out.

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Prince of Persia

Since there was no demo of the game available on XBL, I figured I would rent it to try it out. The reviews sounded promising, but I’ve put too much stock in reviews in the past only to get burned. So renting seemed like a good solution.

I’ve actually enjoyed the game quite a bit. I suppose I should mention that this game is fundamentally different from all the previous games, so that may upset some. I haven’t played the earlier games, so it hasn’t bothered me so much. But having said that, if you keep an open mind, and treat this game more as an “inspired by” than a sequel, it has its charms.

Also, if you’re looking for a challenge, this game isn’t it. I tweeted a few days ago that Prince of Persia is like “Assassin’s Creed Lite” — and that still is my feeling. It’s as if they took the essence of Assassin’s Creed and boiled it down to its essential parts. Your character can do a lot of acrobatic moves to get around the game world. The battle system is essentially comprised of a series of buttons that you press together to form combos. The music is beautiful and non-invasive. In certain environments, the sounds are atmospheric and realistic. And it’s easy.

The only thing that seems to be a little light (i.e. disappointing) so far is story. There are two main characters, and, at the moment, are pretty much the only humans in the game. All dialog is between the two, which is all at once entertaining and annoying.

On a purely sensory experience, Prince of Persia seems worthy of a purchase if the game is on sale. It may just be that I haven’t played far enough into it, but if I use other reviews as a guide, then it would seem like the game does lack some depth. But, you know, I like beautiful, immersive games. And so far, Prince of Persia has delivered that nicely.

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Thoughts on GTA IV

It wasn’t that long ago that the following thought entered my head.

“Wow. I might actually finish a GTA game.”

You see, I never got too much into the GTA series. And Lord knows, I tried. GTA III, GTA III: Vice City, GTA: Liberty City Stories — I played them all. Or rather, I played them for a couple of hours, which is about how long it took to get to an “epic” mission, which would be too difficult for me to complete. At that point, I would switch to just taking advantage of the open environment these games drop you into — taking on the taxi cab missions, for example. Or doing what I could to attract police attention and then attempt a daring escape. But those things only hold your interest for so long.

So you might be wondering why I kept buying the games. Well, I rather naively thought that each version would somehow fix the annoyances of the earlier versions. But more than that, I liked the concept of the games, and appreciated the work that went into them. I wanted to progress, I wanted to enjoy them. But I kept running into a brick wall.
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