Xbox 360 "Pro" going away?

Will Microsoft be dropping the “Pro” and console from the international lineup?

Recently, pictures of these boxes began to appear on international shopping sites, but only new box designs for the Arcade and Elite have shown up thus far. The new box designs are part of the Microsoft rebranding, to include the new Xbox Live Avatar characters on everything from Microsoft Point cards to Gold subscriptions. The “back of box” shots also include new slogans. For the Arcade: “Fun For One, Fun For All”

And for the Elite: “Unleash the full power of Entertainment”

I guess we’ll be forced to wait and see if a new “Pro” box design appears, or if Microsoft is pushing for maximum storage? Note that, at this time, the box redesign does still show the Elite at 120GB, as opposed to the hopes and dreams of many podcasters and bloggers (including myself) have recently been wondering if Microsoft intended to put out a 250GB drive. Something else we’ll all just have to wait for.

Review: Sacred 2: Fallen Angel

I was recently sent a copy of Sacred 2: Fallen Angel for review. Let me preface this by saying I have not completed the full game. I know, some people think that you are not qualified to review a game until you’ve logged 50+ hours in the game. Well, until someone starts paying me $30 an hour to do this, this “micro review” will have to suffice!

The game was described by others as very much like the classic PC game “Diablo.” After hearing this for the first time, I was already intrigued. I was never great at RPG titles, but there was something about the point and click adventure that was Diablo on the PC that I sincerely enjoyed, even if I was terrible at it.

Sacred 2 does live up to a lot of that hype, but thankfully, there wasn’t much hype beyond that to drive your expectations. If it did, it would have fallen short on many of them.

Again, I have not played through the majority of the game, yet. So I cannot comment too much on the story line or character evolution. But I have played enough to be able to comment a great deal on the game as a whole. First off, my personal nitpick: the voice acting. Anyone who has ever read any of my reviews and previews in the past should know that this is something I pay a great deal of attention to. Unfortunately, “Ascaron Entertainment GmbH” did not. The actors may as well be the interns who didn’t go out for coffee that morning. Okay, I’m over it. Bad voice acting is an unfortunate part of my life, since I enjoy budget games and B Movies.

Back to the campaign mode. I did not play the original Sacred on the PC, and I believe most players of Sacred 2 will be in the same boat. Not something to worry about, though, as the game just sort of drops you in to whatever the story is that’s going on. From the official storyline introduction, you can tell that you are supposed to be trying to get a hold of “T-Energy.” Unfortunately, the game’s poor voice acting and very straight forward objective based tasks have failed to suck me in to the game. I don’t care what’s going on, I just go from city “A” to city “B” and kill everything in between.

Graphically, the game is nothing special. Even the light and particle effects are far behind what I thought they should. Your character models are nothing special, your typical RPG busty blonde, with her naughty pig tails, trying to save the universe with her steel thong of justice.

Unfortunately, even though you are told to create your own character, you are limited to 4 character classes, already determined male or female, and a small (and I mean less than 10) selection of pre-defined faces, skin tones, and hair styles. It’s very limiting, but graphically, I don’t see any reason not to import your Xbox 360 Avatar, at least they are more customizable.

Where this game makes up for some bad acting and poor graphics is in scale. It’s quite possibly the largest console RPG ever. FallOut 3 is huge… Oblivion was massive. But the scale of this game feels absolutely gigantic. Pressing select reveals the map to the player immediately, and you realize just how small of a role you are playing in this universe, and it’s up to you to become someone worth paying attention to. The map is huge, and traversing is made easier as you progress through the game, as you are able to activate teleporters, so that you can hop from any point on a map to the center of some of the larger cities.

What about a shining and totally redeeming quality? The multiplayer (4-player Co-Op) aspect of this game is absolutely incredible. The game feels a bit like Crackdown in the multiplayer aspect, you can hop in and out of games at will, and play online, allowing others to join as you go. You can play in two separate parts of the world doing absolutely nothing together, or you can party up and take on a larger enemy, or a cave/dungeon, etc…

This is where the game really came to life for me. I was able to hop in to other players’ games, help them out, get a few great items as they were dropped by the enemies. The hack’n’slash game play, where you just go from one enemy to the next, waiting to see what they’re going to drop. You gather lots of gold, take items to blacksmiths, get your items fixed up and leveled up – but the game really does come together very well. Controls, on the Xbox 360, had me worried. But they were very logical and easy to get used to, switching between a few equipped weapons, and even defensive weapons, and even the ability to define great spell casting and weapon based combos.

I don’t like to do numerical scores on games, but let me summarize for you all:

-Terrible voice acting
-Sub Par graphics
-story line fails to grab your attention
-“Dungeon” and “cave” levels far too small

-World of a gigantic scale
-Wide open multiplayer experience
-Random item drops (FTW)
-Gameplay that reminiscent of classic 3/4 overhead RPG’s

So, in the end, I can’t say for you if the game is worth $60. In my book, it isn’t. But the classic gameplay style and my anxiousness to get my friends in to a 4-player hack’n’slash adventure the likes of which I haven’t experienced since the earlier part of the decade… these are the things that make me recommend the game to the right kind of people – but only you know who you are. If you’re “just curious” you should probably wait until the game drops in price, because I do see it as inevitable, as the game doesn’t quite stack up to many other RPG’s out there today.

Save your game… to The Cloud!

SkyDrive, MyPhone, Hotmail, Live Mesh… all of the Microsoft “products” give you free webspace for your files. Websites like Meebo manage millions of accounts for users, free of charge, all with massive friends lists. At the time of writing, Google is offering 7.3GB of space with a GMail account. Microsoft offers “cloud computing” on a large scale through services like Azure, for a fee.

“Cloud Computing” has become quite the buzz word, lately… though the concept has been around for quite a while. I’m a huge computer geek, but I’ll try not to get too technical: “The Cloud” is basically any network that is generally spread all over the world, and is sometimes just a generic term to define “the Internet.” If something is saved/stored in “the cloud” you can access it “over the internet” at any time. As cloud computing grows in popularity, several companies are still wondering how to benefit from this, while shelling out for massive amounts of data storage, all in an attempt to impress their customers. If you can have access to your information at any time, why wouldn’t you want that ease of access?

“What does this have to do with gaming?” I hear a few people starting to mutter… the answer is already on the lips of most readers: everything. Through podcasts, written interviews, comments, forum discussions, and phone calls… we have all heard, time and time again, that the Xbox Live Friends List “is what it is.” Sticking users with a limit of 100 friends. Now, true, 100 seems manageable… the majority of us don’t LITERALLY have more than 100 friends, and the “Players” list should facilitate any users that you play with on a regular basis, but aren’t quite friends. But how is it that I can have 7 GB of email space, but the folks at Xbox can’t give us more than 100 friends? AOL’s Instant Messenger gives you 500. But this just isn’t your typical rant about the Friends List. Cloud storage goes so much deeper. Right now, the Xbox team does an amazing job at helping you track and display your Achievements through You also get to share your digital self, as your avatar and gamerpics are available through the website.

Now, true, having more information available over the internet, and the ability to Recover my Gamertag at any location (if I’m patient enough) is also appealing. I can hang with a friend and be myself, from his couch or mine. Now comes the tricky part. The Playstation is getting better at doing all of these things as well, and PSN is also still free. “Here we go again,” you sigh, “another Xbox Live should be free rant.” Not at all. Now pay attention, because this is where it gets tricky. A lot of people think Xbox Live should be free… fine, whatever. I don’t mind paying for it – but the biggest benefit of paying for live is the MultiPlayer aspect. I’m not a big multiplayer gamer, to this day. I love storyline driven games, and playing when I don’t have to worry about whiny voiced brats, or staying up until God awful hours of the morning when my friends get out of work. Trade me features. Make multiplayer gaming free for everyone. But if you do that, nobody would ever pay for Xbox Live again. Unless, another feature was offered in its place. What feature am I talking about? The Xbox Cloud.

The Xbox Cloud would be a featured part of Xbox Live. Much as it exists now with Xbox originals, if you want to download a game and play it, have fun. Do I want to do that with “any” game? Maybe not quite, not yet… but it is a nice benefit to be able to delete the game from my local hard drive, and redownload it later without an additional fee. The Xbox Live Marketplace does a fantastic job with that. But the feature that I would gladly pay for: access to my Saved Game data, via The Xbox Cloud. That’s the highlight, the supreme feature, the boldest bullet point of my argument. Some people may be rolling their eyes, but I would hope that this would expand to “Games for Windows Live.”

You see, this past weekend I reformatted my computer’s hard drive, backing up the “My Games” folder – then reinstalled Windows Vista, reinstalled Gears of War for Windows, copied my “My Games” folder back over, and yet my saved game was gone. I get to start over, and I was all the way to General Raam. Frustrating. This would be a wonderful feature for Xbox Live, Games for Windows Live. You could easily free up space on your Xbox 360’s hard drive, never have to worry about going back to a game and worrying about whether or not you deleted files related to that gaming, never expecting to play it again. It would protect you against hardware failures (although, admittedly, Xbox 360 hard drive failure rate seems astonishingly low). For people upgrading to larger consoles and not bothering with Data Transfers, this would be an easy way to access your old saved games, or would facilitate faster transfer by giving you the ability to move saved games from your local drive to The Xbox Cloud before the transfer.

A feature like this isn’t likely to ever happen, as storing save game data for 20 million users would actually pile up. Perhaps some sort of statute of limitations, like the file must be access within 36 months, should be in place. It would take quite a bit, but I often wonder if every single Gmail user actually claimed all 7.3GB being offered, if Google could actually handle it. Again, that’s another free service – so why can’t at least some of my Xbox Live Gold subscription dollars go in to The Xbox Cloud storage feature? One can only dream. With the next generation of console we’ll see more titles available through digital distribution, but why not something to keep track of saved games? Just something to think about, next gen developers!

Xbox Sales evidently Through the Roof

charts are deceptive… the last update from Microsoft touted 17 million Xbox Live members. How many are there now?

Today, Microsoft made a surprising press release. Months after the Playstation network announced that they hit 20 Million, Xbox Live has achieved that they, too, have arrived at the 20 million member milestone. But that’s little more than a footnote in this announcement. The highlight was just how well the console is selling during this “global economic recession.” According to NPD numbers, “Xbox 360 achieved the highest percentage growth in hardware sales of any console so far in 2009, up 28 percent over the previous year.”

30 million consoles sold. 20 million on Xbox Live. Sales that are far above the pace that was set by their best year of sales, back in 2008. On target to trounce their record year, the Xbox group also pointed out, in the press release, that they have generated more retail sales for third party developers than Sony and Nintendo combined. Microsoft must be more than a little pleased.