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Saints Row: The Third

If you've already spent time in Steelport, you know that it's a place where an enterprising gang leader can earn cash and respect by chauffeuring tigers around, protecting friends from attack while perched in a helicopter with a rocket launcher, laying waste to city blocks with a tank, and participating in all sorts of other activities. Genki Bowl VII, the first mission pack add-on for Saints Row: The Third, brings four new activity types to the smorgasbord of mayhem and violence that is Steelport. Unfortunately, only one of these new pursuits measures up to the inspired zaniness typified by the activities included in the original game. Genki Bowl VII is a slight piece of downloadable content that mostly feels downright mundane compared to everything that came before.

Professor Genki, the homicidal man-cat whose Super Ethical Reality Climax competitions are a staple of the Steelport entertainment scene, ups the ante once a year, devising deadly new contests for a select group of proven warriors. As the leader of the Saints, you're given the opportunity to enter this annual tournament and prove yourself worthy of being crowned Genki Bowl champion.

Story is a minor part of this escapade, and laughs are in short supply. There are a few cutscenes in which returning commentators Zach and Bobby set up the events you're about to participate in, but the main game's hilarious scenes featuring your customized character engaging in the business of ruling a gang while naked and speaking in a zombie voice (or sporting whatever absurd characteristics you've selected for him or her) are sadly absent. Without these spirited interludes and the humor they inject into the proceedings, the events of Genki Bowl VII feel a bit lifeless and isolated from the rest of your character's adventures in Steelport.

Your participation in Genki Bowl VII begins with an event called Genki Apocalypse. In Genki Apocalypse, you're tossed into a booby-trapped, mascot-infested gauntlet, in which you must kill your enemies and make your way to the exit alive. If you think this sounds an awful lot like the Super Ethical Reality Climax events you've already played, you're not wrong. The only things that differentiate Genki Apocalypse from SERC are the amusingly cheap jungle set dressings that decorate the obstacle courses, and the shark-infested pools and streams within them. The first time you see a mascot wander into water and instantly get devoured by a great white, it's a delightful surprise that's perfectly in keeping with the cartoonish carnage that helps make Saints Row: The Third so exciting.

But as amusing as this little touch is, it can't keep Genki Apocalypse from feeling like more of something we got plenty of already. And the two instances of Genki Apocalypse don't even measure up to the better SERC events. The Genki Apocalypse layouts are a bit labyrinthine, and although Saints Row: The Third manages to make a surprisingly wide range of activities enjoyable, maze navigation isn't one of them. Failing an event not because you were shot one too many times by a guy in an energy drink costume but because you failed to find the exit before time ran out is no way for a Saint to go down.

After completing your first Genki Apocalypse event, you're invited to take advantage of a Super Ethical PR Opportunity. Here, you must drive the psychopathic professor himself to a public appearance. Professor Genki's ride, the Genki Mobile, is especially effective at mowing down pedestrians, and it sports flamethrowers on the front and sides. These features come in handy, because Genki is a demanding passenger. In addition to keeping him away from the overzealous fans who try to swarm around you, you must appease him by causing a tremendous amount of death and destruction before delivering him to his destination.


EA stock tanks on Star Wars

US markets are largely positive today, due in large part to positive earnings-season economic data and strengthening unemployment data, according to a consensus of financial reporters. However, such is not the case for Electronic Arts, which is trading down more than 6 percent after Brean Murray Carret & Co. analyst Todd Mitchell lowered the company's price target from $28 to $22.

As reported by Market Watch, Mitchell's reassessment of EA came about due to what he termed "creeping concerns" over the future of EA's recently launched massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic.

"Specifically, initial sales appear to be below expectations, and casual observation of early play is causing us to rethink our churn assumptions," Mitchell said in a note to investors.

Released to a strong critical reception on December 20, The Old Republic sold more than 1 million units during its first week of availability. That tally proved to be more than what EA could handle, as the game's launch was marred by long wait times to access many servers.

Mitchell's analysis of The Old Republic's situation isn't without its detractors. Speaking with GameSpot, Electronic Entertainment Design and Research's Jesse Divnich emphasized that it is far too early to measure the game's long-term potential.

"Some sell-side analysts have such bad tunnel vision on the market that they fail to understand the mechanics of the MMO vertical," Divnich said. "Whether MMO, console game, mobile, or social, each have a completely different business model. It is erroneous to apply success metrics from other verticals to the MMO market and that is exactly what a lot of analysts are doing."

Divnich also noted that EA still has a number of options to boost player numbers and engagement, should the company deem it necessary.

Baird & Co. analyst Colin Sebastian echoed Divnich's sentiment, telling GameSpot, "The game doesn't appear to be the smash hit that some had [thought], but I think it's way too early to be signing the death warrant."


Star Wars The Force Unleashed

It’s been several years since LucasArts first asked its fan base, “Would you be interested in playing as a Star Wars villain?” Apparently, this idea was met with some enthusiasm, and the result was The Force Unleashed for console gaming systems. TFU makes its PC debut with the Ultimate Sith Edition with its flashy new packaging and additional game content. Unfortunately, this updated release is just a few banthas short of a herd.

To its credit, The Force Unleashed does a lot of things extremely well. You don’t need to be a Star Wars junkie to appreciate the story, which is lavishly presented in high-quality cinematic sequences. The characters are brought to life not only with terrific voice acting, but facial motion capture that impressively conveys the fluidity of human emotion. For those unfamiliar, The Force Unleashed follows the adventures of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, who is exceptionally talented and trained as an instrument of the dark side. This makes the apprentice a true “wrecking ball” of the Force, indiscriminately blasting through rebel soldiers and stormtroopers alike.

Although dazzling as always, the lightsaber is not really the focal point of the combat. Most of the fun lies within the clever integration of Force powers. TFU is an action game at its core, and the available moves for the apprentice certainly reflect this. Hurling objects at your foes, electrocuting them with lightning, or simply blasting them into oblivion offers players the chance to channel quite a bit of aggression into the game. As you become increasingly skilled, you’ll be able to string powers together for devastating results; lifting a stormtrooper into the air, then impaling him with the lightsaber, might be one of the coolest things seen in any Star Wars video-game.

It’s not until reaching the heavier battles that players may notice the flaws in this alluring gem. The physics engine for TFU, while visually impressive, does not always function reliably or realistically. More importantly, the combat is flawed in a few areas that will cause significant frustration. In the thick of combat, the apprentice can literally get stuck in a loop of collapse as unavoidable attacks from enemies strike him repeatedly. The PC controls feel strangely stiff when compared to the console version, which means the apprentice will not always do what you want, as quickly as you’d want him to do it. The boss fights remain something of a mixed bag. Many of them feel like cheap efforts to exploit flaws in the combatant’s fighting style, while a few are genuinely engrossing.

This release also contains a few missions from TFU’s “alternate universe” of Star Wars fiction, which I will not spoil here. Aside from the exclusive new Hoth level, most of the “bonus” content in this Ultimate Sith Edition was actually released as downloadable content on the consoles. The player skins are basically what they seem – meaningless cosmetic costumes that have no effect on the gameplay whatsoever. Even diehard Star Wars fans may struggle to rationalize the purchase of the Ultimate Sith Edition if they’ve played the original. It is disappointing to see that so many of TFU’s flaws have been retained or even amplified, rather than repaired.

The Force Unleashed remains solid on the graphical front, with plentiful effects and detailed textures to aid the immersion of the experience. Sadly, players may find themselves pushing through the unpleasant sections of the campaign just to find out what happens next in the story. Without getting the gameplay right, The Force Unleashed flounders in its efforts to keep up with its own epic narrative. The Ultimate Sith Edition will provide entertainment for Star Wars fans, but action lovers may find their excitement short-lived.


Resident Evil 6 dated for November 20

The writing's been on the wall for a new flagship installment in Capcom's Resident Evil franchise for some time now, and today, the publisher pulled the trigger on that announcement. Resident Evil 6 will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on November 20.

Resident Evil 6 will feature a split plotline, though bioterrorism remains the motif. In the US, Leon S. Kennedy joins the president of the United States 10 years after the events that defined Raccoon City, ostensibly to offer the truth on what actually happened there. However, in the midst of this revelation, bioterrorists attack, converting the president into a lurching undead.

On the other side of the world, Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance member Chris Redfield touches down in China, which is in the midst of its own bioterrorism outbreak. Resident Evil 6 will be the first installment in the franchise to feature both Redfield and Kennedy, and Capcom noted that new characters will also be introduced in the game.

Development on Resident Evil 6 is being led by Hiroyuki Kobayashi. The developer has previously received producer credits for a number of Capcom's titles, including Resident Evil 4, Killer7, and Dragon's Dogma.

Prior to today's announcement, Capcom had posted to a countdown teaser site for the game, That site now directs to a YouTube page featuring Resident Evil 6's first trailer, which can be found below.


Final Fantasy XIII-2, SoulCalibur V

The past two weeks didn't feature many big ticket items on the new release schedule, but this week makes up for lost time. New titles out this week include Final Fantasy XIII-2, SoulCalibur V, NeverDead, and the Mac version of BioShock 2.

Out in front this week is Final Fantasy XIII-2 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 from Square Enix. The game is a direct sequel to 2010's well-received Final Fantasy XIII. It sees the return of Final Fantasy XIII protagonist Lightning, but focuses much more on her now-liberated sister Serah.

Also out this week on the Xbox 360 and PS3 is Namco Bandai's fighting game SoulCalibur V. The publisher has slated 30 characters for inclusion, and the series' tradition of including guest characters from other games will continue with Ezio from Assassin's Creed confirmed to be joining the mix.

Another major new release out this week is Rebellion's action game NeverDead for the Xbox 360 and PS3. The game puts players in the shoes of Bryce Boltzmann, an immortal demon slayer who is prone to dismemberment. Jumping into the fray is encouraged here, as losing limbs can let players roll into previously inaccessible areas, and the severed appendages can be wielded as weapons or reattached to regain full mobility.

Lastly, BioShock 2 comes to the Mac this week. Ported by Feral Interactive, the game takes place 10 years after the events of the first BioShock game. Players return to Rapture, but this time they control a prototype version of the original's lumbering Big Daddy.

For further details, visit GameSpot's New Releases page. The full list of downloadable games on the PlayStation Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, and Wii Shop Channel will be revealed later this week. Release dates are based on retailer listings and are subject to change.

Tuesday, January 31:
BioShock 2--Mac--Feral Interactive
Final Fantasy XIII-2--PS3, X360--Square Enix
NeverDead--PS3, X360--Konami
SoulCalibur V--PS3, X360--Namco Bandai

Wednesday, February 1:
Rhythm Party--X360--Konami


Infinity Ward crafting next-gen Call of Duty?

In October, a job listing at Call of Duty studio Treyarch indicated that the developer was readying a next-generation entry in the shooter franchise. Now, it appears Infinity Ward is also preparing a next-generation Call of Duty game.

A requisition for a senior animator at Infinity Ward calls for a person with "an interest in working with next-generation technologies."

Unfortunately, the job listing does not offer any additional information about what Infinity Ward may be at work on. As for what next-generation technologies could pertain to, there are numerous possibilities. At the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Activision pledged its support for Nintendo's Wii U, and rumors are swirling that Microsoft and Sony are readying new consoles.

If Infinity Ward is indeed at work on a next-generation Call of Duty title, it won't be the only project the studio is crafting. Last week, Activision announced the Modern Warfare 3 content season, and it named Infinity Ward, Raven Software, and Sledgehammer Games as developers for the barrage of game updates planned over the next nine months.

A new Call of Duty game has been confirmed for release in 2012, but Activision has yet to name this title or mention what developer(s) are working on it. That game has no release date yet, but Call of Duty has had new installments debut between late October and mid-November every year since the franchise was launched in 2003.


Kingdoms of Amalur

Electronic Arts and 38 Studios are giving gamers an incentive to pick up a first-run copy of the fantasy role-playing game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. An online pass included with new copies of the game unlocks seven House of Valor faction quests inside the gameworld.

A new copy of the game for the Xbox 360 provided to GameSpot includes the online pass, and a statement to Joystiq confirms that first-run PlayStation 3 copies will also sport the pass. Downloaded versions of the game for the PC will include the content by default.

It was not made clear if the House of Valor questline will become available as downloadable content for those with a secondhand copy of the game. As of press time, EA had not responded to GameSpot's request for comment.

Writing on the game's official forums, 38 Studios community manager "Muse" noted that the House of Valor quests were not included on disc and then taken out.

"The House of Valor content was not in the finished game/disc at one point, then removed. It isn't there and we're locking you out of it. The House of Valor was created as stand-alone content, and was always intended to be the first DLC. Instead of holding onto it and charging for it later, we opted to give it to everyone who purchases the game new, for free, on launch day."

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is not the first EA-published title to sport an online pass. New copies of Battlefield 3, Dead Space 2, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and several EA Sports titles all included onetime-use codes to download additional content.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is due out for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on February 7. For more on the title, check out GameSpot's latest preview.


Soccer Cup Solitaire

Pass some time and shoot for the win with Soccer Cup Solitaire! Choose one of over 50 international soccer teams and guide them to victory with fast-paced card-matching action.

Get into the game by chaining together passing combos to increase your score. Every point earned brings you closer to scoring the winning goal! Collect Wild Cards and Bonus Cards, and use them to press your advantage on your quest to find the net. Are you ready to square off against the likes of Brazil, England, Spain and the USA? Each team you defeat is one more step on the road to the Cup! It's the world's favorite sport and the world's favorite pastime, together at last!
  • Exciting solitaire action with a soccer theme. 
  • Take control of your choice of teams in an international-style tournament
  • Find bonus cards to play fun mini-games
  • Build up your excitement - and your score - with passing streaks
  • Each tournament is different!

Soccer Cup Solitaire mixes two popular games to create a clever and addictive experience. Accessible for all ages. It's all been cleverly thought out and really gives the game a lot of personality. There's even a commentator who will give feedback every now and again on how the match is progressing, shouting and raving every time a goal is scored.

The game definitely improves on the similar Heartwild Solitaire Book One by not making speed a bonus-getter. The levels aren't even timed. It's actually kind of funny, because that means that the punchy, cartoony and rock music filled Soccer Cup Solitaire actually ends up being the more relaxing game, especially if you switch out the game's soundtrack for some soothing music of your own.
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