Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Golf Simulator" is awful close to real thing

If you are a golf nut, as am I, there's a unique videogame solution you may want to give a try. Electric-Spin's new Golf Launchpad is really more golf than videogame and it allows you to play some of the world's best courses in your living room, or wherever you've got at least eight to 10 feet of ceiling clearance. You can even play opponents online.

This is a simply ingenious piece of equipment that works with compatible EA Sports Tiger Woods titles on the PC, Mac and PS2. It also works with Links.

What it is, really, is a small mat with a ball attached to an arm -- one of those indoor practice tools you see for sale all the time at Wal-Mart.

You hit the ball and it gyrates in a circle on the arm. Using a USB port, you link the mat up to the game and all of a sudden when you hit the ball on the mat, the ball on the screen reacts.

So instead of using your controller, you use your golf club. If you don't have enough room to swing a driver, you can use a special power meter to allow the sensor to adjust so that an iron swing gives you driver distance.

It adds a serious element of realism to swing real clubs and watch your results on real-life courses. You chip. You drive. You putt. It's almost like getting a good practice session in. Best I can tell, the distances and direction of your shots is pretty accurate and the fun factor is high. I worked up quite a sweat playing 72 holes in one session at Pebble Beach (and I did reach 18 in two shots twice).

This is one of the best games I've tried in a while. At $250, it ain't cheap, but it sure is a whole lot of fun (Grade: A).

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, Wii Version: It's not the near-golf experience that the Golf Launchpad is, but EA Sports Wii version of TW is pretty cool, too. Using the Wii-mote like a golf club, you make golf motions to hit shots.

You've got 18 courses and 35 golfers to play with, including Tiger. But the cool thing, again, is using the motion controller like a golf club (you can add the Nunchuk for a traditional videogame swing; but why?).

The game has all the modes you've come to expect in any TW game, including multiplayer, PGA Season and practice. The 480P widescreen support looks good, too. It's not as sharp as Tiger's game on PS3 or 360, but the controller makes up some of that difference, too.

Honestly, I was waiting on this game when I played golf on the WiiSports game that comes with the unit. I was not disappointed.

Between this and the Launchpad, I may turn in my golf membership (Grade: A-minus)

....OK, just kidding about the membership part.

Virtua Tennis 3: I used to love this title on some of the older game consoles from Sega, which has delivered a new title for Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP. I got to try the 360 and PS3 versions. I always like it when we get both next-next gen versions so we can compare graphics.

PS3 wins here. Players are a little larger, a little sharper and the backgrounds are cleaner. Both versions, though, have excellent graphics, nearly jaw-droppingly realistic representations of players like Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams.

This game is pretty easy to play, but advancing is a challenge. The game gets noticeably harder as you move up the ranks. You can create your own player, which is neat, and bring him or her up through the mini-tours, my favorite mode here, or you can pick one of the 20 pros and play some head-to-head matches.

The mini-games were OK and didn't hold my attention long. Xbox live was phenomenal. It still amazes me to see how stunning the game looks and how it maintains its presentation even while playing online. There's even a specatator mode where you can watch other players or watch replays, including close line calls.

The PS3 version supports the "tilt" feature in the controller fully, so not only can your fingers and thumbs affect play, so can titling the controller, which can help reach for balls that are wide or high (Grade: B-plus).

Armored Core 4: Want to fight? Armored Core 4 is all action and it looks as good as the Terminator movies. Seriously.

I couldn't tell much difference between the 360 and PS3 versions, but I can tell you that playing war games online is awful fun.

In this fourth installment of the popular series, which is only for folks, say, 16 and up, the world is hurting because of population growth and food shortages (sounds like Al Gore's movie warnings). People have turned streets into war zones and governments have turned to a sort of martial law to try to restore order.

Some of the arms dealers got awful powerful and formed their own war factions. Six of these corporations decided to remove power from the politicized nations and started a war against them -- and the corporations won using 30 super machines called Armored Core mechs.

Under this new world order, people were colonized and worked for food and life. A rebel group, called the Ravens, emerged, not accepting this slave-like existence. Using your own mechs, you battle the corporations in a never-ending stream of bullets and bombs and destruction. There are nearly 40 missions and online, you can battle with up to eight other mechs. You can even customize your rig.

This is a very intense game with very real-looking consequences. It's dark and grim and delivered to the right audience, it is a very entertaining title. Parents are warned, though, to be careful about letting kids play this one (Grade: B-plus).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Get better at basketball by playing a PC game

When I got a computer CD from a company called ACE that was designed to make you a better basketball player, I wasn't expecting much.

But the Basketball IntelliGym (Grade: B-plus) was a pleasant surprise. By using a series of game-like screens, the trainer re-creates game situations and actually helps train the players to make better decisions.

I know of about 50 high school and college coaches in the immediate area that need to invest in one of these things.

The concept was originally developed for Air Force pilots and the training regimen is very similar to videogaming. Best of all, the trainer can create a customized program for each player to help with decision-making, shot selection, team play and even peripheral vision (

NCAA 07 March Madness: The NCAA Tournament begins tomorrow and what better time to break this new EA Sports Xbox 360 game out than now.

Bobcat Adam Morrison graces the cover and the game is much improved over last year. It has some of the best sports game graphics I've seen on Xbox 360 (which is rumored for a late spring upgrade with bigger hard drive, black color and HDMI port).

There are several new features that distinguish this title from last year: team intensity control allows players to interact with the crowd, the mascots, the band and can influence the composure of your players. Get rattled and your team can get down quick; you now have the ability to upgrade your facilities (if you're doing well) and you can even play in the McDonald's All-American game.

Of course, it's got school-specific fight songs and ESPN intergration. This just feels like college basketball (Grade: B-plus).

Monday, March 12, 2007

In ear headphones makes gaming easier on your friends

If you've ever sat next to someone, a child, an uncle, a 40-year-old games-addled newspaperman, and had to listen to their PSP make all those pop, crackle and ping noises, well, it can drive you crazy.

A great solution for sanity is the new Icemat Audio Siberia in-ear PSP headset. This little bugger plugs directly into your PSP unit. It gave me peace from my son's attempts at Madden football on a recent trip to Asheville to watch some private school basketball state championship games.

He got to bang away (after his homework) and I got to enjoy talk radio, music and more talk radio. When I tried the Siberia, I discovered it's comfortable, small, blocks background noise pretty well and sounds good for what it is.

Did I mention it's small?

I find myself using it with my laptop and my ipod. It's so comfortable, you can forget you're wearing it. Strictly as a videogame solution this is a very good piece. Given that it can do a few other things, I'd highly recommend giving it a whirl (info?

MVP '07 NCAA Baseball: The best thing about this baseball title from EA Sports is a new "rock and fire" pitching control. You pull back on the analog stick to wind up your throw and then follow through. You can push through hard or soft and right or left, or high or low.

Once you get the hang of it, it's about as realistic an interface as we've seen in a baseball game.

The rest of the game isn't bad either. There are official fight songs, good graphics, even for the fast-dying PS2, and a pretty serious custom game engine, allowing you create Langston U and lead the Langstonians to the title game. Also EA Sports has added ESPN integration courtesy of a real-time sports ticker that provides radio updates every 20 minutes. It's a pretty cool package (Grade: B).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dolby Digital Sound In A Headset

I'm loving the new Triton Technologies "Ultimate Gaming Headset" which are lightweight, and at $149.95, as solid and comfortable as some of the $400 headphones I've tested.

Best of all these are designed with gamers in mind. You can use these with any game system that has a digital sound input, like Xbox, Xbox 360, PC or PS2.

What's cool is that when you're using these, you can kick up the bass and the headphone cups actually rumble. These headphones also deliver true 5.1 sound. It's amazing to hear sound so clear without any distortion. And for people who cannot afford to go spend $500 or more for a true 5.1 setup (and $500 is seriously entry-level), these will make a good alternative.

Games come to life.

I heard so many new things playing especially sports and war games. Watching movies with these was also a special experience. Sounds mixed to only the rear speakers appear to come behind you, so much so that for the first few minutes of the new Superman DVD, I caught myself looking behind me more than a few times (Grade: A-minus).

Burnout Dominator: Racing isn't good enough on this PS2 and PSP title. You want to go really, really fast to achieve a burnout, but don't crash. This is not so hard in the open roads but in city traffic, well, yours truly wrecked more than I'd like to admit. Each car has its own characterisitics, like football players in Madden and the visuals here are about as good as you'll get on these platforms.

The feel of speed is actually more acurate on the hand-held than the aging PS2. And I liked how you could use shortcuts to get back into the race. The cool thing is you bang your opponents through a barrier to enter the shortcut area (Grade: B).

Crackdown: You are a rookie Agent and you have to clean up a mythical city overrun by three gangs in this Grand Theft Auto style game. The Xbox 360 title looks beautiful and parents needs to know this isn't for anyone younger than 16.

This game is built around violence, human cloning, killing gang bosses and collecting orbs. This game is also seriously addicting and could cause you to lose yourself in it for hours. It's beautiful to look at and collecting the orbs and destroying your enemies and gaining new abilities will keep you mashing buttons for hours.

The violence and mayhem are depicted quite realisitically. For players, as you get better, your Agent is able to do more things, like run faster or jump farther. Of course, he'll find more weapons to use. He'll drive cars and other vehicles and is just this short of superhuman. This is the kind of title that will upset those who hate violent videogames. But taken for what it is, it's a very excellent videogame that I would use caution about giving to a teenager (Grade: A).

Wario: Master Of Disguise: Not sure there's enough here to warrant more than a rental. The Nintendo DS game breaks no new real ground. You can change into different forms to move through different areas of each level.

The game begins with Wario seeing a master of disguise on TV. He jumps through the TV, steals the disguise master's wand and jumps into location after location. You can change Wario by drawing a symbol on him. So, boom, he's Cosmic Wario with laser blast ability, or a thief who can tackle people.

I won't lie. This is push-button fun in the Nintendo classic fashion, but I've got a big feeling of 'been there, done that' with this game (Grade: B-minus).

Rogue Galaxy: I've been playing this PS2 title for a month on my PS3 unit. I wish this was a PS3 title as I've spoiled by next-gen graphics now, but this is a massive role-playing game that takes you into deep space with access to 500 different weapons. You can play as multile characters in six really, really big "worlds".

In the end, the game is like a good "Star Trek" movie. You're on a crew in search of a distant planet which may hold the secret to eternal life. Another crew is also hunting this treasure, and they don't care for your group to find it first.

There are more than 100 hours of gameplay and many mini-games, like completing battles under specific conditions, that give players special upgrades.

Had this been done for PS3, it would've been a masterpiece. Without the graphical power, it's still awful, awful good (Grade: B-plus).